Following a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on June 10, the Tampa Bay Rays were 18 games under .500 at 24-42, the worst record in Major League Baseball. Since then the Rays are an MLB-best 29-12. Just how rare is a turnaround like this?
Should the Rays win Wednesday (12:10 ET vs Milwaukee Brewers), they’ll reach .500 for the first time since April 22 when they were 10-10. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only three times in MLB history has a team reached .500 after being as many as 18 games under .500 in the same season. None of the previous three, however, would go on to make the playoffs.
Reached .500 After 18+ Games Under .500
Single Season MLB History
The 1899 Louisville Colonels were led by a 25-year-old shortstop named Honus Wagner. That ball club started the season 16-38 but rallied to go 57-35 over their next 92 games. They finally returned to .500 baseball on October 3. Unfortunately, it was too late in the season by then and the Colonels finished ninth in the National League, 28 games out of first place.
The Tampa Bay franchise has actually been here before. Then known as the Devil Rays in 2004, the team found itself at 10-28 on May 19 but went 25-7 over its next 32 games to reach .500 on June 25. The turnaround was short-lived, however, and the team posted a 35-56 record the rest of the way. While the comeback fueled a then-franchise record 70 wins, the team still finished fourth in the AL East and 20 and a half games out of playoff position.
The most-recent such comeback came in 2006 by the Florida Marlins. That team was led by 23-year-old Miguel Cabrera and 22-year-old rookie shortstop Hanley Ramirez. The Marlins tumbled to an NL-worst 11-31 record on May 21 before proceeding to go 57-37 to reach .500 on September 3. However, the Marlins went 10-16 the rest of the way and finished fourth in the NL East, again with no playoffs to show for it.
So what's fueling the Tampa turnaround this season?
The Rays have been one of the most disciplined teams at the plate since June 10. Prior to that date the Rays ranked 17th with a .317 OBP as a team. From June 11 on the Rays have a .346 OBP as a team, the best mark in baseball over that time span.
And finally, the Rays have chased only 25 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone from June 11 on, again the best mark in baseball over that time span.
David Price 2014 MLB Season
While trade rumors have quieted for their ace David Price, the Rays could make a run at history and become the first team ever to make the playoffs after being 18 games below .500 in the same season.