For the first time in a normal Major League Baseball season, a team with a losing record could make the playoffs.
At the halfway point of their season, the Minnesota Twins lead the American League Central with a 40–41 record. They are followed by the Cleveland Guardians (38-40) and Detroit Tigers (34-44). Someone has to win the division, and whoever wins it qualifies for the playoffs, even if that team has lost more games than it has won.
opposite of this. All five AL East teams are at or above .500, even the last-place Red Sox (40-40), which may feel a bit upset at the bottom of the Central.
One factor helping the weaker teams lead the divisions is the balanced schedule introduced this season. Teams now play only 13 games against divisional rivals, down from 19. In the past, the heavy dose of division games meant that even the winner in a weak division, coming off stronger from games against their weaker rivals, could post at least one winning record.
The losing teams in many games advance to the playoffs. In most cases this is a situation similar to what is happening in baseball this season, where the postseason format and the rigors of division play allow teams to qualify despite better options being available. In other cases, the quirks of an individual season can cause a discrepancy.
In MLB, three teams have made the playoffs with losing records, and all have come as a result of unusual seasons.
In 1981, following the midseason strike, a split-season format was instituted. The Kansas City Royals struggled in the first half with a 20–30 record, but then went 30–23 and were crowned second half champions in the AL West, thus qualifying for the playoffs despite a combined 50–53 record. to be done. ,
In 2020, the season was shortened to 60 games due to the pandemic, and the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams. This allowed the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros (both 29–31) to qualify. While the ’81 Royals and ’20 Brewers lost their opening series, the ’20 Astros won two series in a row and advanced to the American League Championship Series before losing to Tampa Bay in seven games.
No MLB team has qualified for the playoffs with fewer than 82 wins in a standard season.
While the playoffs in other North American professional leagues are rarely filled with losing teams, various quirks occasionally allow one or two to miss out.
Six NFL teams have made the playoffs with losing records. The first time this happened was in the 1982 strike season, in which only nine games were played. The Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions qualified for the expanded playoffs with 4–5 records; Both lost their openers.
The 2010s were glorious years for losing teams in the NFL playoffs. The 2010 Seahawks (7–9) and the 2014 Panthers (7–8–1) both made it, and both managed to win their opening games.
The playoffs expanded to 14 teams in 2020, opening the door for more losing teams to enter. So far, the 2020 Washington Football Team (7-9) and the 2022 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9) have qualified. Both lost in their first playoff games.
It is not uncommon for teams to lose in the playoffs in the NBA, where eight teams qualify from each conference. Last season, the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder both made the play-in tournament with losing records, though neither made the playoffs. The year before, the New Orleans Pelicans made the playoffs at 36–46.
But those teams were surpassed by the 1953 Baltimore Bullets as the worst NBA playoff team ever. Under the rules at the time, four of the five teams from the East made the playoffs. The three teams of the division were excellent. There weren’t two.
As a result, the Bullets qualified for the playoffs with a terrible 16–54 record, due in part to the fact that the Philadelphia 76ers were even worse at 12–57. Baltimore lost a two game first round series against the Knicks.
With eight of the 12 teams making the playoffs under the current rules, losing teams are regulars in the WNBA playoffs, with at least one team making it every year since 2012.
However, the most extreme example may be the United States Football League, where two of the four playoff teams this year had losing records. The league ran into trouble in its second season due to poorly balanced divisions. In the South, all four teams were .500 or better. In the north, there were none of the four teams. Under USFL rules, the playoff semifinals match the top two in each division, placing the two losing teams in the playoffs and the two winning teams out.
Thanks to that draft, the Pittsburgh Maulers (4-6) played a postseason game on Saturday against the Michigan Panthers (4-6). The Maulers won 31–27 in overtime, which advanced them to the final on July 1 against the Birmingham Stallions (8–2).
Can a team with a losing record really win a professional title? Maulers is 60 minutes away.