The Washington Nationals led the race for the top wild-card spot by 4 1/2 games over the Chicago Cubs in early September and were seven up on the Philadelphia Phillies for the second spot.
But through Sunday’s games, the Nationals fell into a tie with the charging Milwaukee Brewers and led the Cubs by four for the second spot. Washington’s magic number is down to four, helped out in part by Chicago’s recent losing streak. But with a five-game set with the Phillies beginning Monday, nothing is set in stone.
If the Nationals don’t make the playoffs, they would join a long list of teams that fell apart in the closing weeks of the season. Here is a look at a few of them:
2011 Boston Red Sox: Boston led Tampa Bay by nine games on Sept. 4 for the wild-card spot. But Red Sox blew a lead in the ninth and lost on the final day at Baltimore while Tampa Bay came back from 7-0 deficit to beat the New York Yankees and gain the wild-card berth.
“It was almost like a movie,” said Rays radio broadcaster Andy Freed. “There was no indication in early September this would turn into something memorable.”
One beneficiary of that collapse was Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who the Tampa Bay bench coach at the time.
2011 Atlanta Braves: The same year as the Boston collapse, the Braves led the wild-card race by 8 1/2 games on Sept. 6 and by three games with five left to play but lost the spot to the St. Louis Cardinals. Atlanta went 9-18 in September to seal its fate.
This was the final year before MLB introduced the two-team wild-card system in 2012.
2009 Detroit Tigers: The Tigers became the only team to blow a three-game lead with four left to play when Minnesota Twins beat them out for the division title. That Tigers team included reliever Fernando Rodney, now with Washington.
2007 New York Mets: New York led its division by seven games on Sept. 12 but fell apart down the stretch. The Philadelphia Phillies swept a three-game series in New York that month and went on to win the National League East.
1995 California Angels: California lost 26 of its last 38 games after leading the division by 11 1/2 games on Aug. 9. The Angels then lost a one-game playoff to the Mariners, who made the postseason for the first time.
1978 Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox led the division by 14 games in July but the New York Yankees stormed back, helped along by sweeping a four-game series at Fenway Park. They finished the season with identical 99-63 records. In the famous one-game playoff at Fenway, New York shortstop Bucky Dent hit a homer just over the Green Monster in left field to give the Yankees the AL East title.
1969 Chicago Cubs: In the first year of division play, they led the National League East by 9 1/2 games on Aug. 14. But they lost 17 of their last 25, while the Amazin’ New York Mets caught fire, won the title and then stunned the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
1964 Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies led the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds by 6 1/2 games with 12 games left but the Cardinals came back to win the National League pennant. St. Louis won the World Series in seven games over the Yankees.
1951 Brooklyn Dodgers: Brooklyn led the league by 13 1/2 games in August. But the New York Giants went 37-7 and won 16 games in a row at one point to set up the one-game playoff. Bobby Thomson hit a walk-off homer, the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” to win that game for the Giants.