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Rough Times at the Playground
2003-08-19 09:06
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Of all the warped scenarios one can envision for a kid at recess, imagine the horror of playing leapfrog, being leapfrogged by the other kids and not being able to get your flailing body to leapfrog in return.

Yep, we're pickin' at scabs today, folks. We're going to show just how frustrating it has been to be a Dodger fan in the past six years. While some teams have dominated the playgfound for years, and others have learned how to play leapfrog, no team has come closer to making the playoffs without succeeding than the bullied boys in blue.

Games Out of a Playoff Spot, 1997-2002

Team199719981999200020012002Total*
Atlanta00000006
N.Y. Yankees00000006
San Francisco0110.502013.53
Cleveland0001020.521.54
N.Y. Mets41.50062031.52
Seattle011.51500632.53
Houston00022011.533.54
St. Louis116.52100038.53
Boston18002.513.56402
Los Angeles26.519.5863.545.50
Oakland25147000463
Chicago White Sox6918.50813.5551
Anaheim63249270691
Cincinnati812.5192717.5750
Toronto204104.5162175.50
Texas1300202927892
Minnesota18.51930226095.51
San Diego14022.5181329.5971
Colorado712.524.5121922.597.50
Chicago Cubs16029.529518.5981
Philadelphia2414.519.5292151040
Baltimore0131613.532.5321071
Florida035.532.514.51216.51111
Pittsburgh520.518253123122.50
Montreal1424.528.5272012.5126.50
Milwaukee815.522212539.51310
Kansas City1916.529.5142632.5137.50
Detroit172424.5122539141.50
ArizonaN/A24.5090033.53
Tampa BayN/A2925183443.5149.50

*Seasons in the playoffs

From 1998 to 2002, nine teams made the playoffs after having been farther away than the Dodgers the season before:

1998: San Diego, Chicago Cubs, Boston, Texas
1999: Arizona
2000: St. Louis
2001: Houston, Arizona
2002: Anaheim

There will be more this year, because the Dodgers came closest to making the playoffs of any team that didn't make them in 2002. As many as five teams could leapfrog the Dodgers in 2003.

Of the teams that made the Dodgers look silly, while some were flukes, others were establishing themselves as perennial contenders. Overall, of the 40 playoff spots passed out since 1998, 10 of the teams were 10 or more games out of the playoffs the year before. That means that 25 percent of the playoff teams came out of anything resembling nowhere. Take comfort or consternation from that figure, as you wish.

More bullet points flying at you, like it was your worst dodgeball nightmare:

  • The Dodgers have missed the playoffs by an average of 7 1/2 games per season.

  • They have been within 10 games of a playoff spot in five of the past six seasons. No other non-playoff team has been that close in more than three seasons.

  • To look at it another way, the Dodgers have been more consistently competitive for a playoff spot than nine teams that have made the playoffs.

  • Unlike the Dodgers, 19 out of 30 teams have made the playoffs since 1997. Philadelphia and Kansas City could bring the total to 21.

  • The Angels made the biggest leap out of nowhere, winning the World Series a season after finishing 27 games out of a playoff spot. The Dodgers haven't been that far back since 1992.

  • Florida has not finished within 12 games of a playoff spot since 1997, yet could make its second playoff appearance at the Dodgers' expense this year.

  • The next-most frustrated team after the Dodgers, Cincinnati, actually forced a one-game playoff in 1999.
Barring a significant rally in the season's final 40 games, the Dodgers will solidify their standing as the playground's top recess reject.

The question for Dodger fans is this: Would you trade your recurring near-misses for the highs and lows of a Florida or Texas?

Another question for Dodger fans would be: How long will the above question have to be asked?

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