The Milwaukee Brewers won their first division title in a generation in 2011 needing every one of their 96 victories to do so. If the Brewers hope to repeat and make a return to the postseason the history of past champions help point to what it will take.
Just Win Baby
Of course the absolute prerequisite to winning your division is to win more games than the second place team. This makes the actual number of victories somewhat meaningless as it relates to taking home the division crown. However, there are several benchmarks for victory totals that if reached seemingly assure beating that second team out. There are also some that if you do not reach you can start hoping for the expanded format to come soon.
100 Wins = 95% Division; 100% Wildcard
The 2011 Phillies led the majors with 102 wins becoming the 20th team since 1995 (the introduction of the wild card) to get to the century mark. The most wins for a team in the wildcard era was 116 by Seattle in 2001. That same year Oakland finished second in the AL West to Seattle with “only” 102 wins and remains the only team to fail to win their division with 100+ victories.
95 Wins = 88%; 99%
Arizona had the fewest victories by a division winner in 2011 with 94. The average for division winners in the wildcard era has been 94.4 but if you remove the strike shortened 1995 numbers it rises to 94.9.
13 teams that reached 95 victories failed to win their division that season during the wildcard era but not all was lost as only the 1999 Reds failed to at least secure a wildcard with at least 95 wins.
90 Wins = 60%; 90%
There have been 102 division winners in the wildcard era and only 20 of those teams failed to reach 90 victories.
42 teams have failed to win a division with 90 or more wins so you are starting to see the threshold for confidence. Meanwhile, only 13 of those teams failed to at least get the wildcard. Three of those teams came from 2002 alone but every year there does seem to be a team like 2011’s Boston Red Sox that come up a game short despite getting to 90 wins.
The likelihood of gaining the wildcard will usually ease the pain for these teams.
85 Wins – 4%; 0%
Teams failing to reach 85 wins have very little chance of winning their division under the current alignment. Only four teams have captured a division title winning 84 or less.
*1995 – Seattle and the LA Dodgers won their division with 78 wins in 144 games which would equate to 87 victories in a full season
The 2005 San Diego Padres managed to win their division in 2005 with just 82 wins marking the lowest winning percentage for a division winner.
You have to be in a seemingly weak division to pull this off and other than the Cardinals in 2006 these teams generally bow out quickly in the playoffs when they face a superior wildcard team or strong division winner. In each of these years the wildcard team had at least five more victories than the weak division champ.
There seems to be some certainty to a new playoff format for 2012 with the addition of a second wildcard team. The two wildcard qualifiers would then have a one game playoff to set the division series. This change would increase the value of winning a division over a wildcard spot and perhaps make teams push harder for a division crown.
The Brewers have a strong pitching staff and Ryan Braun for the full season. While manager Ron Roenicke is setting his goals for 2012 with the team he may want to point to these historical win plateaus to give his squad an idea of what it will take to repeat as NL Central Division Champions.