We know that a Boston Red Sox collapse or a Tampa Bay Rays comeback, however you want to put it, would be extremely notable. In fact, both would rank among the largest in baseball history, right up there with those you hear about from your father's father.
The Red Sox held a nine-game lead over the Rays on Sept. 3. Based on coolstandings.com, which simulates the remainders of seasons one million times to determine playoff chances, Boston finished that day with a season-high 99.6 percent chance of making the postseason.
Essentially, the site's engine calculated that if the rest of the season was played out a million times, the Red Sox would make the playoffs roughly 996,000 times and miss it about 4,000 times.
We are not suggesting that Boston will completely fall apart, and a 4 1/2-game lead with 18 games to play remains sizable. But if the club somehow missed the playoffs, it would rank as the third-largest collapse in major league history, just behind the 1995 California Angels, who peaked with a 99.9 percent chance of making the playoffs on Aug. 24, and the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers, who blew a 99.7 percent opportunity after Aug. 13.
Both of those teams were forced into a one-game playoff to decide the postseason entrant. As we all know, they both lost.
Conversely, Tampa Bay has a chance to record the sixth-greatest comeback based on the percentages. It began play on Sept. 4 with a 0.5 percent chance to reach October. According to coolstandings.com, only five teams have ever rallied from a smaller percentage — the 1914 Boston Braves, the 2005 Houston Astros, the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals, the 1973 New York Mets and the 1951 New York Giants, who caught those Dodgers with just a few days to spare in the regular season.
There's still a long way to go before the Red Sox or Rays are grouped with these memorable teams, but they are at least trending in that direction. Entering Sunday's critical matchup in Tropicana Field, Boston has seen its playoff probability reduced to 93.1 percent, while Tampa Bay's is up to 6.7.