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Division lead in July not what it used to be

As was the case at the end of April, the statistical relevance of being in first place at the end of June now pales in comparison to what it meant in the late 90s.

In the first four full seasons of the current format (1996-99), 23 of the 24 division winners, including all 12 in the National League, were sitting atop the division to begin July. Only the Texas Rangers, who were 4½ games behind the Angels in 1998 went on to win the division despite trailing at this point in the season.

Since 2000, only 56 percent of the teams to win the division were in first place on July 1, hardly a guarantee. Last year it was three in and three out as the Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins and Rangers were all in first while the Tampa Bay Rays, Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants came from behind. In 2007, none of the eventual NL division winners --Arizona Diamondbacks, Phillies and Chicago Cubs -- were in first place on this day.

Number of Teams in First Place on July 1
Won Division

Overall, the percent of division winners to be in first place on the morning of July 1 is about 67 percent, with 60 of the 90 division winners holding at least a share of first place after the opening three months of the season.

That is up from 54 percent of division leaders on May 1, and 62 percent on June 1, with both numbers recently being higher among American League teams.

The Yankees and Rangers can feel safe that they are headed to a division crown, despite a lead of fewer than three games for each. Each has held an outright lead in its divisions at the end of the first three months of the season, the 10th and 11th American League teams to do so in the last 10 seasons. Each of the past nine teams went on to win the division crown.

Still, Boston Red Sox fans should be happy they trail the New York Yankees at this point. Five previous times the Red Sox were the AL East leaders on July 1, yet they only went on to win the division in one of those cases (2007).

The Phillies find themselves in the same boat as the Yankees and Rangers as outright division leaders to open May, June and July. However that has not worked out well recently for National League teams. Over the last four years the 2010 San Diego Padres, 2009 Los Angeles Dodgers, the 2008 Diamondbacks and the 2007 Milwaukee Brewers each did so. Only the 2009 Dodgers won their division.

St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Reds fans can all see some hope as 2011 marks the third consecutive odd numbered year (2007, 2009) that the Brewers were on top of the standings at the end of June. They did not win the division either year.