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As May ends, even weaker teams have hope

By NOAH TRISTER

AP Baseball Writer

The Detroit Tigers are 25-26 and haven’t spent a day above .500 all season. They’re also one game out of first place.

The Chicago Cubs have the worst record in the National League but are only 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot.

As Memorial Day arrives, some of the weaker teams in baseball are still very much within striking distance in the postseason race. In fact, FanGraphs lists only five teams in the major leagues with less than a 5% chance of reaching the postseason: the Royals, Athletics, Nationals, Reds and Rockies. And even Cincinnati is only four games out of first in the NL Central.

On May 29 last year, there were 11 teams with less than a 5% chance of a playoff berth.

There are a handful of factors this year that are helping teams stay in contention even when they’re not playing all that well.

1. The worst teams are REALLY bad. Oakland is 10-45, and the Athletics might very well challenge the modern record of 120 losses by the 1962 Mets. Kansas City, currently at 16-38, isn’t much better.

That means more wins for other teams that could use the help. Seattle, for example, might be in some significant trouble right now if not for a 7-0 record against the A’s.

2. A lot of the mediocre teams are bunched together in the same divisions. Minnesota leads the AL Central at 27-26, and that means the Tigers don’t even have to be at .500 to be close behind. Cleveland (23-29) is 7 1/2 games behind the final wild card but only 3 1/2 behind the division lead, and even the White Sox are only six games behind the Twins despite being 11 games under .500.

It’s a similar story in the NL Central, where only 5 1/2 games separate division-leading Milwaukee (28-25) and the last-place Cubs.

3. While it may take a very good record to secure even the third wild card in the AL, there’s real parity in the NL. Right now, the third wild card in the NL belongs to San Francisco (27-26) and there are nine teams within 4 1/2 games of the Giants.

TRIVIA TIME

One of the most fascinating stats about the A’s is that of their 10 wins, four have come in walk-off fashion. Only one team has more walk-off wins than Oakland. Who is that?

COMEBACK OF THE WEEK

The Philadelphia Phillies rallied from a 5-0 deficit in the sixth inning against Arizona on Wednesday. Trea Turner tied the game with a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, and then Alec Bohm’s single in the 10th gave Philadelphia a 6-5 win. The Diamondbacks’ win probability reached 98.6% in the ninth, according to Baseball Savant.

LINE OF THE WEEK

Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler pitched eight scoreless innings and struck out 12 in a 2-1 victory over Atlanta on Saturday. He allowed three hits.

With Aaron Nola sporting a 4.59 ERA, the Phillies could really use more performances like that from Wheeler as they try to make up ground in the NL East. Dylan Covey did not make it through the first inning in Sunday night’s 11-4 loss to Atlanta. Philadelphia allowed 20 hits in that game.

TRIVIA ANSWER

The Yankees lead the majors with five walk-off wins. They had two this past week — Anthony Volpe hit a sacrifice fly to beat Baltimore in the 10th inning Tuesday night, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s single in the 10th wrapped up New York’s win over San Diego on Saturday.

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