Halfway home: A decade of World Series champs at the 81-game mark

We are officially halfway through 2016, baseball fans.A dozen teams played their 81st game of the season on Sunday. Some of those teams (hi, Rangers!) are sitting pretty while some of those teams (hi, Yankees!) are wondering if the playoffs are already too far out of reach this year.  How can you tell? Well, obviously, you can’t know for sure. So without knowing the future, we decided to take a look at recent history.Here are the past 10 World Series champions and how they were doing at the 81-game mark. MORE: Sporting News 50 – Ranking the best players in baseball today2015 Royals81-game record: 48-33, first place in the AL Central by 4.5 gamesTrending: The Royals were in the early days of a 17-6 run that pushed their division lead from 3.5 to 9.0 games.What happened from there: Their Central lead reached double digits for the first time on August 8, and it never fell below that benchmark the rest of the season. Final record: 95-67Making moves: The Royals were aggressive at the non-waiver trade deadline, trading for Cincinnati ace Johnny Cueto on July 26 and the versatile Ben Zobrist a few days later. Zobrist was invaluable from the moment he arrived, and even though Cueto was frustratingly hit-or-miss for KC, he pitched very well in pressure-packed playoff games. 2014 Giants81-game record: 47-34, first place in the NL West by 2.5 gamesTrending: The Giants were dropping like a rock at the halfway point, in the midst of a 4-18 freefall that saw them go from 10 games up in the division to a game back.What happened from there: San Francisco never really rebounded in the regular season. The Giants were mediocre in the second half of the season, going just 41-40 the rest of the way, but it was more than enough to land the second wild card. Their 88 wins were well ahead of Milwaukee’s 82 (the Brewers’ collapse that year was especially cringe-inducing). And then, of course, the Giants rolled to the World Series title behind Madison Bumgarner channeling Sandy Koufax. Final record: 88-74Making moves: The Giants made just one trade, but it worked really well. Jake Peavy made a dozen regular-season starts and compiled a nifty 2.17 ERA, then threw 5 2/3 shutout innings in his NLDS start against the Nationals. He struggled the rest of the way, but with Bumgarner tossing up zeroes, it didn’t matter. 2013 Red Sox81-game record: 48-33, first place in the AL East by 3.5 gamesTrending: They were early in a streak of nine wins in 10 games. What happened from there: Boston fell out of first place by the end of July, then moved back ahead of Tampa Bay and into the top spot for good (though they shared the division lead late in August. A streak of 17 wins in 21 games secured the division. Final record: 97-65Making moves: Jake Peavy was the big trade-deadline acquisition, and he had a 4.04 ERA in 10 starts in a Boston uniform. MORE: Close but no cigar: These .500 teams need to sell2012 Giants81-game record: 45-36, first place in the NL West, by 0.5 gamesTrending: They were all kinds of streaky at this point of the year — they won six of seven, then lost seven of nine, then won nine of 11. What happened from there: The Giants and Dodgers traded turns atop the division through July and most of August, but San Francisco went up for good with a three-game sweep on the road in L.A. August 20-22. From there, the Giants couldn’t lose (28-13 the rest of the way) and the Dodgers kinda fell apart (19-21). San Francisco’s division lead reached as high as 11 games in September. Final record: 94-68Making moves: As for trade additions, they picked up Marco Scutaro, who hit .362 after the trade in the regular season (and .500 in the NLCS against the Cardinals) and Hunter Pence, who didn’t have a great average (.217) but had a knack for big moments (45 RBIs in 59 games).2011 Cardinals81-game record: 43-38, second place in the NL Central, 1.0 backTrending: They had just recently ended a stretch of 12 losses in 15 games, which dropped them from 2.5 up in the Central to 3.0 back.What happened from there: The Cardinals went 13-13 in July and 15-13 in August and never were a factor in the Central, falling as much as 10.5 games behind the first-place Brewers and finishing the regular season six back. Final record: 90-72Making moves: Their big transaction was head-scratching at the time. A couple days before the non-waiver deadline, they finally gave up on the development of Colby Rasmus, trading him to Toronto for veteran pitchers Octavio Dotel, Edwin Jackson and Mark Rzepczynski, along with outfielder Corey Patterson. The pitchers all played huge roles in down the stretch and in the postseason, though, and the Cardinals won an unforgettable World Series.2010 Giants81-game record: 41-40, fourth place in the NL West, 7.5 backTrending: Their 10th loss in 12 games dropped that record to 41-40 on July 4.What happened from there: Something clicked, immediately. The Giants didn’t lose back-to-back games again until August 4-5, going won 21-5 in that stretch to pull within a game of the division-leading Padres. Another swoon, though, dropped them as far as 6.5 back by late July, but another big push lifted them into first place, and they wound up winning the division by two games. Final record: 92-70Making moves: The Giants made a couple bullpen trades that turned out well, picking up lefty Javier Lopez (1.42 ERA) and right-hander Ramon Ramirez (0.67). Jose Guillen hit .266 with three homers after he arrived in a trade. But the key acquisition was one that went mostly unnoticed; the Giants selected Cody Ross off waivers from the Marlins on August 22, and all he did was earn NLCS MVP and hit .294 with five home runs and a 1.076 OPS in the postseason. 2009 Yankees81-game record: 48-33, second place in the AL East, 1.0 backTrending: After a pretty mediocre first half, the Yankees won for the 10th time in 11 games to get to 48-33. What happened from there: That run was a sign of things to come. They moved into first place shortly after the All-Star break, and their division lead never dipped below five games after early August. The Yankees went 18-9 in July, 21-7 in August and 20-11 in September/October and won the East by eight games ahead of Boston, which still won 95 times. Final record: 103-59Making moves: They only made two moves of note, and neither guy did a ton. They traded for Erik Hinske on June 30; he hit .226 with seven homers. They traded for Jerry Hairston on July 31; he hit .237 with two homers. MORE: Not a buyer’s market: Teams looking to buy should be wary2008 Phillies81-game record: 43-38, first place in the NL East, by 1.0 gamesTrending: After a 20-2 win in St. Louis gave them a 41-28 record, the bottom kind of fell out as the Phillies lost 10 of 12.What happened from there: The Phillies spent most of the second half in second place in the East, behind the Mets (never by more than three games, though). They finished the regular season by winning 13 of their final 16 games to catch and pass the Mets to claim the division crown. Final record: 92-70Making moves: In mid July, they traded three players to Oakland for pitcher Joe Blanton, who had a 4.20 ERA in 13 regular-season starts and a 3.18 ERA in three playoff starts (and he hit a homer in the World Series, too). On August 30, they traded for veteran slugger Matt Stairs; he hit .294 mostly as a pinch-hitter in the regular season, and his pinch-hit two-run homer in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS broke a 5-5 tie .2007 Red Sox81-game record: 50-31, first place in the AL East, by 10.5 gamesTrending: After racing out to a quick start (36-16 by the end of May), the Red Sox went just 13-14 in June.What happened from there: From the 81-game halfway point, the Red Sox went 46-35. The Yankees went 55-27 and trimmed that once massive division lead (as much as 11.5) all the way down to 1.5 games with about a week left in the season. Boston, though, won four of its final six to hold onto to the East title. Final record: 96-66Making moves: The big pre-deadline acquisition didn’

t turn out so well. Eric Gagne had a 2.16 ERA and 16 saves (in 17 opportunities) for the Rangers, but just a 6.75 ERA in 20 appearances for the Red Sox. 2006 Cardinals81-game record: 44-37, first place in the NL Central, by 1.0 gamesTrending: The Cardinals were near the end of a disastrous couple weeks of baseball, a 3-13 stretch that should have cost them the top spot in the Central, but the division was really bad that year. What happened from there: There was very little consistency from this injury-plagued team. They followed a stretch of 13 wins in 16 games with an eight-game losing streak. And, famously, they almost blew a big division lead in the final two weeks of the season. They were 80-69 and had a seven-game lead in the Central (told you it was bad that year), but they lost eight of their next nine as Houston caught fire and trimmed St. Louis’ advantage to just a half-game. The Cardinals, though, won two of those last three, then rolled through the playoffs and won the World Series in five games over the Tigers. Final record: 83-78Making moves: Preston Wilson, who had been released by the Astros in August, hit eight homers and stole six bases in 33 games. Trade pickup Ronnie Belliard hit .237. Jeff Weaver, acquired in a July 5 trade, had a 5.18 ERA in 15 regular-season starts but pitched like an ace in the postseason, rolling up a 2.43 ERA in five starts—including eight brilliant innings in the World Series clincher.