For the first time in a regular Major League Baseball season, the losing team made the playoffs.
Midway through the season, the Minnesota Twins led the American League Central with a 40-41 record. Behind them are the Cleveland Guardians (38-40) and the Detroit Tigers (34-44). Someone has to win the division, and even if the team loses more games than it wins, the winner qualifies for the playoffs.
In contrast, all five teams in the AL East are .500 or better, and even the bottom-placed Red Sox (40-40) may be a little frustrated with the low hurdles in the Central. do not have.
One factor in the weaker team leading the division is the balanced schedule that started this season. The team is now down from his 19 to just 13 games against district rivals. Previously, due to the high volume of district matches, even weaker districts were strengthened in matches against shaky rivals and at least managed a winning record.
In many sports, the losing team advances to the playoffs. For the most part, this is a situation similar to what is happening in baseball this season, with the postseason format and the rigidity of division play making it difficult for teams to qualify despite better options available. will be obtained. In other cases, individual seasonal quirks can cause anomalies.
In MLB, three teams advanced to the playoffs while losing, but all were unusual season results.
In 1981, after a mid-season strike, a split-season format was introduced. The Kansas City Royals struggled in the first half with a record of 20-30, but then went on to win the American League West in the second half with a record of 30-23, earning playoff berths despite a combined record of 50-53. bottom. .
The 2020 season has been shortened to 60 games due to the pandemic and the playoffs have been expanded to 16 teams. The Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros (both 29-31) qualified. The 1981 Royals and 2020 Brewers lost in the opening series, but the 2020 Astros won two consecutive series and advanced to the American League Championship Series, but lost in seven games to Tampa Bay.
No MLB team has qualified for the playoffs with fewer than 82 wins in a standard season.
The playoffs of other North American professional leagues have few losing teams, but a team or two with various quirks can slip in.
Six NFL teams advanced to the playoffs after losing. The first time it happened was in the 1982 strike season, when only nine games were played. The Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions went 4-5 and qualified for the extended playoffs. Both lost the lead.
The 2010s were a time of glory for teams that were eliminated in the NFL playoffs. The Seahawks (7-9) in 2010 and the Panthers (7-8-1) in 2014 both advanced and were able to win the season opener.
In 2020, the playoffs have expanded to 14 teams, opening the door for more losing teams to enter. So far, the 2020 Washington Football Team (7-9) and the 2022 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9) have qualified. Both lost in their first playoff games.
In the NBA, where eight teams qualify from each conference, it’s not uncommon for a team to be eliminated in the playoffs. Both the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder entered play-in tournaments last season with losing records, but neither made the playoffs. A year ago, the New Orleans Pelicans went 36-46 and made the playoffs.
But those teams were far stronger than the 1953 Baltimore Bullets, the worst NBA playoff team ever. Under the rules at the time, 4 of the 5 East teams made the playoffs. Three teams in this division performed well. Two were not.
As a result, thanks to the fact that the Philadelphia 76ers had an even worse record of 12-57, the Bullets clinched the playoffs with a dismal 16-54 record. Baltimore swept two games in the first round series against the Knicks.
Under current rules, eight of the 12 teams have made the playoffs, and the losing team is also a regular in the WNBA playoffs, with at least one team making the playoffs each year since 2012.
But the most extreme example might be the US Football League, where 2 of the 4 teams in this year’s playoffs have a losing record. Only in its second season, the league has found the division unbalanced and in chaos. In the South, all four teams were above .500. None of the four teams in the North did. Under USFL rules, the playoff semi-finals are played against the top two teams in each division, with the two losing teams advancing to the playoffs and the winning two teams being eliminated.
Thanks to this format, the Pittsburgh Maurers (4-6) played a postseason game against the Michigan Panthers (4-6) on Saturday. After extra time, the Maurers won 31-27 to advance to the final against the Birmingham Stallions (8-2) on 1 July.
Can a losing team actually win the pro title? It’s 60 minutes to the Maurers.