Over at SI.com, Tom Verducci lays some harsh truth on us, looking at the historical precedent for teams who entered June at least five games under .500 and five games out of first place.
I looked at where every team stood in the standings through May 31 in the 15 full seasons with the wild card format (1996-2010). I checked the closest they were to any playoff spot, whether it was the division title or the wild card. Here are the facts:
• Of the 143 teams that began June at least five games under .500, 136 didn’t make the playoffs — a 95.1 percent failure rate.
• Of the 184 teams at least five games out of any playoff spot, 174 didn’t make the playoffs — a 94.6 percent failure rate.
• Of the 126 teams both at least five games under and five games out, 121 didn’t make the playoffs, a 96.0 failure rate.
After last night’s loss to Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies, the Dodgers now stand six games under .500 and 5.5 games out of first. It’s tough to think that this team, one that we knew was severely flawed even before the season started and the massive injuries occurred, is going to be the one that bucks history. That’s particularly true when you look at the other members of Verducci’s “five out and five under” club, some of whom came back with either a historic hot streak (17 wins in 18 games for the 2009 Rockies) or overwhelming offense (968 runs for the 2007 Yankees). It’s not like those teams had to deal with the crippling off-the-field issues this crew is facing, either.
This all seems pretty bleak, but I’m not completely ready to give up hope just yet, because the Dodgers do have a few things in their favor. First, there’s no runaway favorite in the NL West. Who really thinks that Arizona is going to stick in first place all season? While I do think the Giants and Rockies are each more talented clubs than the Dodgers, neither have been able to put the pieces together just yet – and the Giants could really be in trouble now that Buster Posey is gone and last year’s collection of mediocre veterans having perfectly-timed career years have predictably turned back into pumpkins. Being in a weak division is how one other member of Verducci’s group made it back – the 2007 Cubs, who won the Central with just 85 wins.
Second, the Dodgers are slowly getting healthy. Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake have each returned, and Vicente Padilla, Marcus Thames, and Juan Uribe all should be back within the next week. Those three might not be the most appealing names, I grant, but the more we have of them, the less we need to suffer through names like Lance Cormier, Juan Castro, and Russ Mitchell. Plus, as Jon Weisman points out at Dodger Thoughts, the bullpen vacuum has led to some unexpected contributions from younger members of the system. If this team ever gets to full strength, it’s not too hard to see them playing better than they have been.
In addition, I think the numbers Verducci uses are just a bit skewed. Sure, it sounds bad to say that 96 percent of the teams who were down and out at the end of May never made it back – but how many of those were never expected to do anything in the first place? Just to pick out a random example, it’s hardly relevant here that the 2009 Nationals, who were 15 games out and 18 games under at the end of May, finished 59-103. This Dodger team isn’t necessarily a good one, but they still have hope at this point, and so many of those other clubs never did.
For a team that’s faced all sorts of adversity this year, having the historical odds stacked against them like this seems like just another hurdle among many. And to be honest, I don’t think they’ll do it, and I do think we’ll be sitting here in July pointing to this post as we pull out our hair watching young players get traded for mediocre veterans in a futile attempt to remain relevant. But history aside, it’s not over quite yet – and it’s too soon to act as though it is.