Besides being a solemn reminder to those who have fought in various wars, Memorial Day is also the first of the so-called Mileposts in baseball’s 162-season marathon.
Over the years its meaning evolves as the format of the match evolves. Until 1969, if you were getting close to Memorial Day, the pennant was unlikely. Then with the advent of the divisional game, hovering around gave you a . 500 chance depending on the quality of the division with the first notable example being the 1969 Mets.
In 1969, the Mets were 18-22 on Memorial Day, then went 82-38 the rest of the way to win eight games over the Cubs and eventually the World Series in five games over Baltimore. Four years later they were 20-21 on Memorial Day but that year only 82 wins were required, allowing the Mets to have a chance at beating the 99-win Reds.
The two-division format continued through 1993 and in the last few years of that system some teams managed to go from the middle on Memorial Day to the division winners.
Among those teams was the 1987 Tigers, who went from 21 to 98 wins and won the league by two games over the Blue Jays. A year after the Red Sox won the division after two games passed . 500 and seven games, the Blue Jays went from nine games to besting the newly minted Orioles for the 1989 AL East title.
Perhaps the most notable example in the past few years of the two division format is the Atlanta Braves. In 1991, they were 21-19 and only struck out 2 1/2 games before finally winning the NL West. In 1992 it looked even more serious as the Braves were 20-26 and returned six games. 500 and 4 1/2 but eventually caught up to the Giants and won the division by one game on the last day of the season.
These days with the expansion of the postseason to 12 games, if you’re average, your playoff hopes probably won’t fade. As of Monday night, every National League team is five games away from the third-best wild card spot and which team gets a showdown with the third-best division winner.
Among those teams was the high-paying San Diego Padres, who looked like they were part of the dynamic team Friday at Yankee Stadium when Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis hit teammates in the second. After those homers, the Padres fell to 24-29 due to a variety of things like not getting key hits, seeing Yu Darvish lose control in the third inning and Tatis being singled out to end the sixth inning.
While the record is hardly anything to brag about, it puts them in the same spot as the Cincinnati Reds at 3 1/2 games. One team ahead of the Padres is the Mets, who haven’t quite kicked off their offseason hype due to a combination of injuries and inconsistent performances that have sent their fans into fits of frenzy now and then. The Mets reached the one-third mark at 27-27 but one game from last in the Championship.
Last year at this point, the Phillies were 21-28 and a day away from sacking Joe Girardi. Just over four months later, they were celebrating their first NL pennant since 2009. To a lesser extent, the Mariners were 20-28 but ended up making the postseason for the first time since 2001, ending baseball’s longest drought.
In 162-game years with the wild card game adding just two more teams from 2012-2021, it happened with the Nationals in 2019 when they went from 22-32 on Memorial Day to World Champions. Another example is the 2015 Blue Jays, who went from 21-26 to hover around . 500 by the deadline and eventually beat the Yankees by eight games to capture their first AL East title.
There are others like the 2013 Dodgers, a team that was 21-28 at this point and then won their first of 10 titles. Another is the 2007 Yankees, a team that was ravaged by pitch injuries and 21-28 at this point and then caught in the second half to win the card. Wild before ending the Joe Torre era with a four-game loss to Cleveland in the ALDS.
The ideal way is not to fall too far under . 500 although being between 18 and 32 didn’t stop the Astros from coming back and returning to their first World Series in 2005.
With more chances unless your team is just as horrible as the Oakland Athletics at 11-45 or the Kansas City Royals at 17-38 on average, that’s reversible enough.
And for those teams that are not currently in the wild card position, you can point to the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers as inspiration. Since both teams have barely made it into the playoffs and will now compete for the champions.