The Rays did everything they could. Down 6 games in both the AL East and Wild Card with 14 games to go, the Rays proceeded to win 12 of their final 14 games, a run that had to remind fans of the Rockies’ desperate charge to make the Postseason back in 2007. But unlike the Rockies, the Rays fell short, pulling within 3 games in the Wild Card but no closer as they never received the type of help they needed from the teams playing the Athletics and Orioles (with the Athletics, in fact, sweeping the Rangers to win the AL West at the end of the year and make Texas a Wild Card). How historic with it that the Rays finished so strongly but could not nail down a Postseason berth?
The Rays became the 34th MLB team team since 1900 to finish the season 12-2 or better in their final 14 games. Only 17 of those teams, exactly half, made the Postseason. But in the Wild Card era with 4 and now 5 teams in each league making it to the playoffs, all six teams that pulled off the feat, the 1995 Yankees, the 1998 Braves, the 2001 A’s, the 2005 Angels, the ’07 Rockies, and the 2011 Rangers, did make the postseason. The Rays became the first since the start of the Wild Card era to miss the postseason despite a finish of 12-2 or better. The last team that finished that well and did not participate in the Postseason was the 1994 Expos, who were first in the National League at the time of the strike. For the last team that missed the Postseason when there was a Postseason, you have to go back to the 1980 Twins, who actually finished below .500 at 77-84, one of just 2 teams to finish 12-2 or better in their last 14 games and finish below .500.
We saw the stat that just half the teams who finished 12-2 or better made the postseason. But with just 1 team making it per league until 1969 and just 2 making it until 1995 (other than 1981), that isn’t the best way to look at the data available. Let’s at the teams’ final winning percentage, which will also help us because we’re dealing with seasons of different sizes- 154, 162, and different numbers for the strike-shortened seasons. As it turned out, 26 of the 34 teams won the equivalent of 90 games in a 162-game MLB season (I added the Rockies in there even though they needed 163 games). Since 1942, all 18 teams that finished 12-2 or better in their last 14 games either made the Postseason or finished second in their division or league, which would have been good for a playoff spot nowadays. Even going back to 1900, just two teams who finished 12-2 or better in their last 14 games and finished at a 90-win pace over 162 games did not finish at least second in their division or conference.
What did the Rays do? They picked a terrible year to finish strong and they also pulled off their 12-2 feat to end the year after going 1-7 in their previous 8 games. You have to go all the way back to the 1931 Chicago Cubs to find a team who went 1-7 or worse in the 8 games before going 12-2 to end the season. The Cubs that year also finished with just 84 wins (the equivalent 88 wins over 162 games). So in the history of baseball, no team before the 2012 Rays managed to go 12-2 in their final 14 games after going 1-7 or worse in their previous 8 before that and win the equivalent of 90 games in a 162-game season that year. The Rays had to be more consistent to make the Postseason. They were a streaky team all year between’s Evan Longoria‘s absence and simply terrible runs like their 1-7 stretch in mid-September. It’s frustrating. The 2012 Rays were a team like no other in history, and if they had played just 3 games better earlier in the season, they would have had a chance to go deep into the Postseason and have their storyline remembered like the 2007 Rockies. But the momentum of their finish could also carry over to next season. 9 of the 34 teams who finished 12-2 or better in their last 14 games made it to the World Series the next season. The Rays have the ability to be next, and although this season fell short of expectations, they hope this strong finish can spring them to a 2013 season where everything comes together.