So you're saying there's a chance: teams that snuck into postseason

The Carolina Panthers, as you’ve probably heard by now even if you despise the NFL, are in the playoffs with a record that sits a notch below .500.It’s not pretty, that 7-8-1 mark. But the Panthers are in the postseason — and that’s what matters. Are they lucky the NFC South was relatively miserable this season? Sure. But that part of the winning-a-championship equation is finished. The question now is this: What will they do with their opportunity?Baseball teams that have found themselves playing in October under similar circumstances have actually done pretty well. Some haven’t, of course, but we’ll get to them later. First, let’s take a look at baseball’s best chip-and-a-chair playoff squads. 1. 2006 Cardinals, 83 winsThese guys nearly wound up on a different list after they saw their massive lead — seven games on the morning of Sept. 21 — nearly disappear as they lost seven in a row down the stretch (the lead was a half-game at one point). In fact, the Cardinals were four games under .500 for the second half of the season.But they held off the Astros to win the NL Central, then beat the Padres in the NLDS and the 97-win Mets in the NLCS before topping the 95-win Tigers in five games in the World Series. Their regular-season .516 winning percentage is the worst by a team that won the World Series. It also was the franchise’s second-worst record since 2000.2. 1987 Twins, 85 winsMinnesota won the AL West that season, which had to be upsetting to the Blue Jays, Brewers and Yankees. Those teams won more games than the Twins (96, 91 and 89, respectively) but played in the East and missed the postseason. The Royals were the only other team in the West to top .500, and they were under .500 until winning their final five games.In October, though, the Twins played their best baseball. They dispatched the 98-win Tigers in five games and the 95-win Cardinals in seven games in the World Series. That was the franchise’s first championship since moving to Minnesota from Washington, and only the second in franchise history. The Walter Johnson-led Senators won in 1924.3. 1959 Dodgers, 88 winsFrom 1920 through 1960, baseball played a 154-game schedule, with two teams making the postseason — the winner of the AL played the winner of the NL in the World Series. In those years, only five times did a team qualify for the series with fewer than 90 wins.These Dodgers won 86 games and finished in a first-place tie with the Milwaukee Braves, but then swept the best-of-3 tiebreaker. Those two wins, by the way, counted toward their regular-season total of 88. After losing

the World Series opener to the White Sox 11-0, the Dodgers won four of the next five games to claim their first championship in Los Angeles.4. 1973 Mets, 82 winsA loss on May 30 dropped the Mets to 21-22, and the club didn’t see the sunny side of .500 again until Sept. 22. That’s an incredibly long stretch of mediocrity, but it was enough to win a division that was swimming in it; the Cardinals (81 wins), Pirates (80), Expos (79) and Cubs (77) were within shouting distance, too.Given October life, the Mets eliminated the 99-win Reds in the best-of-5 NLCS and held a stunning 3-2 lead in the World Series before losing the final two games in Oakland as the A’s claimed their second consecutive championship. They won again in 1974.5. 2008 Dodgers, 84 winsThis season will go down in Dodgers history books as the season Clayton Kershaw made his major league debut (he had a 4.26 ERA in 107 2/3 innings). The NL West, though, was a disaster. Only the Dodgers and Diamondbacks won more than 74 games, and the Dodgers needed a 17-8 September to get above .500 for the season.But everything starts over in October. The Dodgers swept the 97-win Cubs in the NLDS. Manager Joe Torre’s club outscored Chicago 17-5 in the two games at Wrigley Field and finished off the series behind a brilliant Game 3 start by Hiroki Kuroda. The Phillies ended the Dodgers’ dream in games in the NLCS, though.And here are the worst of the worst ...1. 1981 Royals, 50-53 (strike-shortened season)The Royals were mired in fifth place in the AL West at 20-30 when the infamous player strike brought baseball to a halt. When the season restarted, the determination was that the pre-strike, or “first half,” division leaders would play the post-strike (“second half”) division leaders, after schedules were wiped clean.Given the do-over, the Royals took full advantage, going 30-23 to claim the playoff second berth, despite a .485 overall winning percentage, which was fourth in the division. They were swept by the A’s in the division series.Side note to the 1981 playoff debacle: The NL playoffs were a farce. The Reds and Cardinals had the best overall records in the West and East, respectively, but because neither team finished first in a “half” neither made the playoffs. Sheesh.2. 2005 Padres, 82 winsSan Diego had a bit of last-day drama that season, but it had nothing to do with earning a playoff berth. No, in the putrid NL West that season, the Padres had long ago locked up a postseason berth (at one point, they were two games under .500 and owned a three-game division lead). The question was whether they could finish above .500. They did, beating the Dodgers 3-1 to end up 82-80.A playoff exit was predictable for a team that finished with a negative run differential for the season (minus-42, and their Pythagorean record was 77-85). The Padres were swept by the Cardinals; they lost all three of those games by at least three runs.3. 1984 Royals, 84 winsThe only team to finish above .500 in the AL West that season (the Angels and Twins ended with identical 81-81 records), the Royals were swept by the Tigers, losing three games by a combined score of 14-4.4. 2007 Cubs, 85 winsA year after the Cardinals claimed the NL Central with 83 wins, the Cubs won with 85. Not exactly the salad days for the division, eh? The Diamondbacks swept the Cubs in the division series, by a combined score of 16-6.5. 1997 Astros, 84 winsMost seasons, a team with 84 wins would be without any hope a playoff berth for the season's finals weeks. For these Astros, 84 wins meant they won the division by five full games over the Pirates. Their luck ran out in the division series against the Braves; they were swept and outscored by 14 runs in the three games.

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