ST. PETERSBURG — It’s not Labor Day. It’s not even the Fourth of July.
It’s just the day after Memorial Day so how pumped should you be that the Rays are currently leading the American League wild card race? Quite a bit, actually.
Since MLB adopted the two wild-card system in 2012, exactly two-thirds of the teams in the lead on Memorial Day went on to clinch a postseason spot.
Not good enough for ya?
Then consider Tampa Bay currently has a .627 winning percentage. Of the teams with a winning percentage above .600 on Memorial Day, a robust 83 percent went on to reach the postseason.
It’s a fairly small sample size and obviously guarantees nothing, but the available evidence suggests the Rays are in pretty good shape even though June is still days away.
Here’s a quick look back at the applicable seasons:
2018: The A’s rise, the Nationals fade
The six division winners were all in first place on Memorial Day. Unfortunately, there was a seventh division leader that fell short. Washington was tied with Atlanta atop the NL East but stumbled so badly that it didn’t even get a wild card berth. The biggest comeback was Oakland, which was 5.5 games out of the wild card race but chased down the Mariners.
They could have virtually quit playing on Memorial Day. Of the six division leaders and four wild card leaders on the final Monday in May, nine went on to clinch postseason berths. The only team that failed to follow through was the Brewers, which had a 1.5 game lead on the Cubs in the NL Central.
The Mariners have not reached the postseason since Lou Piniella led them to a 116-win season in 2001. This was one of two times in three seasons that Seattle was in contention for a wild card spot on Memorial Day and fell short. Meanwhile, the Royals had a 1.5 game lead in the Al Central but ended up in third place, 13.5 games behind the Indians.
Not a good omen for the Rays. Tampa Bay was in first place in the AL East, but failed to make the postseason. The major difference is that Rays team wasn’t all that good. Tampa Bay was only two games over .500 on Memorial Day, and finished the year two games under .500, so it wasn’t that much of a collapse.
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None of the three division leaders in the NL went on to win the division, although the Giants did clinch a wild card spot. The Royals were three games out of the wild card lead on Memorial Day, but came back to clinch a spot and eventually win the American League pennant.
The Rays were in fourth place in the AL East on Memorial Day, but went 66-47 the rest of the way to pass both the Yankees and Orioles to earn a wild card berth. It was a monumental disappointment for the Yankees, who were 10 games over .500 in late May but went 55-57 after that.
Oakland had one of the great summer turnarounds in recent seasons. The Athletics were five games under .500 and nine games out first place in the AL West on Memorial Day. The A’s were the hottest team in the American League the rest of the year and swept the Rangers on the final weekend of the season to win the division by one game.
Contact John Romano at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.