There is an old adage in baseball that you can’t win a pennant in April, but you can lose it.
The Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks all lead their respective divisions after the first month of the season. While these teams are off to fast starts, the same can’t be said for the clubs at the bottom of the standings.
Eight teams including the Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres won fewer than 40% of their games in April.
In a sport with a 162-game schedule that spans eight months, does first place matter on May 1, and how many teams have made the playoffs after a bad April?
To find out if the first month of the season actually matters, I pulled every first-place team on May 1 from the Bet Labs database, then determined how many of those squads won their division and/or made the playoffs.
Since 2005, 79 teams (there was a tie last year between the Yankees and Orioles in the AL East) were in first place on May 1. Of those squads, 35 (44.3%) won their divisions and 46 (58.2%) went on to make the playoffs.
An early lead doesn’t guarantee a division crown. But a hot start does position teams to make the playoffs, and sitting atop the standings has also been an indication of title success. Of the past 13 World Series champions, eight were in first place on May 1, including each of the last five champs.
If you are fan of one of the eight teams that won fewer than 40% of their games in April, I have bad news for you. It is unlikely that any of these teams will reach the postseason after their sluggish start.
Since 2005, 67 teams have started the season with a sub-.400 winning percentage, and only seven made the playoffs. The last team to accomplish the feat was the Rangers in 2015. Texas began the year 7-14 (.333) and then went 81-60 (.574) the rest of the way.
Per FanGraphs, the Twins (10.7%) are the most likely of the bunch to reach the postseason. A playoff team last season Minnesota trails Cleveland — which has a negative run differential — by only 4.5 games despite starting the season 9-15.
Still, slow starts are killers. Nothing can be won in April, but history suggests a playoff spot can be lost.
Top Photo: Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers (11) celebrates a win with right fielder Mookie Betts