Playoff teams haven't always been dominant
The 2005 Padres and 1973 Mets each made postseason after winning 82 games
The Indians got lucky two week ago. Despite losing their fourth straight and falling to two games under .500, the Tribe remained just 3 1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central.
A week later, the Phillies beat the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. That left their record at a modest 34-38, which was still good enough to be within 3 1/2 games of the lead in the National League East.
"I'd say we're fortunate," manager Ryne Sandberg said with a grin. "That's the positive thing. That's the way we're looking at it."
The American League Central and National League East have been baseball's equal-opportunity divisions so far this season. Even the teams in last place are one good streak away from being right back in contention. And while it's true that the second Wild Card, added in 2012, has something to do with that mindset, the reality is that there's nothing new about making the playoffs with an unimposing regular-season record.
In the past 10 years, eight of 60 division champions finished first with fewer than 90 wins. Three others advanced as a Wild Card ... and 11 more would have had the current system been in effect for the entire decade.
Here's a look at the teams with the fewest wins to finish in first place since Major League Baseball adopted the 162-game season in 1961:
82: 2005 Padres. With six games to go, San Diego was 77-79. The Padres won four straight, lost one and then won on the final day of the regular season to barely finish above .500, before being swept by the Cardinals in the Division Series. Two remarkable facts: San Diego won the division comfortably, finishing five games ahead of the second-place D-backs -- and were outscored by 42 runs in the regular season.
82: 1973 Mets. New York actually had a slightly better winning percentage (.509) than the '05 Padres because it had one rainout that wasn't made up. The Mets were 13 games under .500 going into August, but went 38-22 the rest of the way, including winning nine of their last 11 -- as fans took up reliever Tug McGraw's "Ya Gotta Believe" mantra. The Mets went on to beat the Reds in the NL Championship Series, becoming the pennant winner with the lowest winning percentage ever, before falling to the Athletics in seven games in the World Series.
83: 2006 Cardinals. St. Louis had a seven-game lead with 12 games to play. With three games left, the lead was down to a half-game, but the Cardinals ended up winning two of their last three to hold off the Astros and make the playoffs. St. Louis also had one postponement that wasn't re-scheduled. In October, the Cardinals regained their stride. They knocked off the Padres in the NL Division Series, the Mets in the NL Championship Series, and then upset the Tigers in the World Series to become the team with the lowest winning percentage (.516) to win a World Series championship.
84: 2008 Dodgers. Los Angeles was seven games under .500 on June 15 and endured an eight-game losing streak at the end of August. The Dodgers entered the postseason on the strength of a 17-8 September and beat the Cubs in the NLDS before being eliminated by the Phillies in the NLCS.
84: 1997 Astros. According to the "Pythagorean" formula developed by stats guru Bill James, Houston should have won 93 games based on its 777 runs scored and 660 runs allowed. But the Astros ended the season going 23-28, and were swept by the Braves in the first round.
84: 1984 Royals. With a chance to control its own destiny, Kansas City lost three of its last four regular season games but won going away, as the second-place Twins finished up with six straight losses. The only team in the division to finish above .500, the Royals were outscored by 13 runs during the regular season and were swept by the Tigers in the playoffs.
85: 2007 Cubs. After Chicago finished in last place the previous season, Lou Piniella was hired as manager and the front office signed significant free agents like Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis. Nine games under .500 as late as June 2, the Cubs were 10 games over three months later, and ended up edging the Brewers for the NL Central title before being swept by the D-backs in the NLDS.
85: 1987 Twins. Minnesota went 36-37 in its final 73 games, including losing five straight to end the season after clinching. The Twins also had a minus-20 run differential for the season. But it didn't matter once the postseason started, as Minnesota beat the Tigers in the AL Championship Series and the Cardinals in the World Series.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.