If the Orioles live up Dan's projection and win 82 games while still finishing at the bottom of the division, they would be the first last-place team to post a winning record. The 2005 Nationals and 1991 Angels are the best cellar-dwellers, going 81-81. Below are the post-1993 last-place teams that lost fewer than 90 games
|1995*||AL West||OAK||67 (75)||77 (87)|
|1994*||AL East||DET||53 (75)||62 (87)|
|1994*||AL Cent||MIL||53 (75)||62 (87)|
|1995*||NL West||SF||67 (75)||77 (87)|
|1995*||NL East||MON||66 (74)||78 (88)|
* I've included three teams from 1995 and two from 1994 that were on pace to make this list in a strike-shortened season.
The first season of the reincarnated Washington club was a pretty successful one despite the last-place finish. Under skipper Frank Robinson, the Nats had a standout bullpen. Lights-out closer Chad Cordero (225 ERA+, 0.97 WHIP, league-leading 47 saves) teamed up with Hector Carrasco and Luis Ayala, who had a combined 2.32 ERA.
The rotation featured good seasons from their top three starters. Livan Hernandez (in a league-high 246.1 IP) and Esteban Loaiza both had sub-4.00 ERA's. John Patterson finished in the top ten in bWAR (4.6), ERA (3.13) and strikeouts (185). There wasn't much behind them however, as Tony Armas Jr. and Ryan Drese both put up an 82 ERA+ in 161 total innings.
The high points for the offense were a 24-homer season from Jose Guillen and a rare healthy season from Nick Johnson. Johnson hit .289/.408/.479 over 547 plate appearances in one of only three seasons in which he batted more than 450 times. The offense was hampered by RFK Stadium, a pitcher's park that the old Senators called home while the new ballpark was constructed. Cristian Guzman came up ten PA's short of qualifying, or else his .219/.260/.314 line would have placed him last in the NL by at least 17 points in all three categories.
Still, an 81-81 season was a pretty solid debut for D.C. They finished eighth out of 16 NL clubs, but fifth in the East. There was parity throughout the Senior Circuit, with only the 100-win Cardinals, 90-win Braves and 89-win Astros doing better than 83-79. The Nationals were last in the division but only three wins from being in third by themselves and nine wins behind front-running Atlanta. Robinson received two first-place votes and came in fourth in the NL Manager of the Year vote.
Here's the list covering divisional play from 1969-1993:
The Angels had an even more impressive last-place finish in 1991, since the AL West had seven teams. The 95-win worst-to-first Twins won by eight games, but the six clubs behind them were only separated by six games.
Tied for first place on the Fourth of July, the Halos faded into a 17-30 stretch before manager Doug Rader was fired on August 25 for Buck Rodgers. The former Angels catcher guided the team to a 20-18 finish to land at 81-81.
The best part of the team was the pitching staff, led by Jim Abbott. The lefty was in the top five in most categories and finished third in the Cy Young voting. His 7.4 bWAR trailed only Cy winner Roger Clemens. Mark Langston (7.0) finished third in bWAR behind Clemens and Abbott, won 19 games and took home a Gold Glove.
In the pen, closer Bryan Harvey and the historically-underrated Mark Eichorn pitched to a 1.80 combined ERA.
The bats are what doomed them. While the staff was the second-best in the league behind Toronto's, the offense was the second worst, only ahead of a miserable Cleveland team.
Dave Winfield led with 28 homers, Wally Joyner had a strong season (.301/.360/.488, 21 HR) and Luis Polonia hit .296 with 48 steals. The rest of the O struggled with poor seasons from Gary Gaetti, Lance Parrish (.285 OBP), Luis Sojo (73 OPS+), Dick Schofield (61 OPS+) and Dave Parker (76 OPS+ in his final season).
The best pre-expansion last-place team is the 1915 Giants team that went 69-83. That projects out to an 88-loss team over a 162-game schedule. The best AL bottom-feeder from its eight-team days is the 1924 White Sox, who went 66-87 (92 losses in 162 games).
Can the five American League East teams all finish .500 or better? It's a tall task but the conditions are right for this season. There doesn't seem to be one great team in the bunch, which suggests a tightly-packed group from one to five. The other divisions will have some pretty bad teams like the Astros and Twins, which could boost the win totals a bit.
This will be a very fun division to follow in 2013 and I can honestly say I could see any team finishing anywhere between first and last. We'll see if history is made and all five can win 82 games.