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Checking out past playoff teams with negative run differentials

Taking a look back at other teams that overcame getting outscored to make the playoffs and seeing if they share commonalities with this Yankees team.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It's not easy to have a good record when you score fewer runs than your opponent. It takes a lot of close, skin of your teeth wins and some really lopsided losses. But thus far the Yankees are managing it, and with Thursday's 1-0 win it doesn't seem like things are going to be changing much even with the team's fancy new acquisitions. Even scoring ten runs yesterday only got the team to a -19 run differential. While the playoffs are far from a sure thing, I had my curiosity piqued by wondering just how frequently teams manage to make it to the postseason while getting outscored during the regular season. And while doing that, see if there were any similarities between those squads and the one that's trying to duplicate their feat.

Since division play was adopted, it looks like there's been four. Let's look them over.

2007 Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 90-72

Run Differential: -22

Pythagorean W-L: 79-83

Finish: Lost in NLCS

This squad had the distinction of having a pitcher (Micah Owings, 159 wRC+) being their best hitter. Other than having Brandon Webb in the middle of his three year run as one of the best pitchers on Earth, this team just had very little going for it. A 32-20 record in one-run games and Jose Valverde's 47 saves certainly helped get the most out of their runs.

1997 San Francisco Giants

Record: 90-72

Run Differential: -9

Pythagorean W-L: 80-82

Finish: Lost in NLDS

Just before Barry Bonds "Superhuman Era", but he still anchored a potent offense at this point. Allowing the 3rd most runs in the NL was this team's issue as having Shawn Estes as your ace isn't doing yourself any favors. Their problems were pretty much the complete opposite of those of this year's Yankees squad.

1987 Minnesota Twins

Record: 85-77

Run Differential: -20

Pythagorean W-L: 79-83

Finish: Won World Series

The only one of the team's listed that managed to win it all. Comparatively, their opponents in the series, the St. Louis Cardinals, had a +105 run differential. So don't let the numbers discourage you from picturing that parade, Yankees fans! This was the same corps of players (Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti) that would finish last in 1990 and win it all in '91, so the only thing I can say for sure is that the Twins franchise was very screwy around this time period.

1984 Kansas City Royals

Record: 84-78

Run Differential: -13

Pythagorean W-L: 79-83

Finish: Lost in ALCS

Being 16th in runs scored and 17th in runs is about as mediocre as you can be without skipping the postseason. Even George Brett (118 wRC+) had a season below his normal standards. The Royals would have finished sixth in the East Division, so if you're going to get outscored it pays to play in the division where your rivals all stink. In case you were wondering: yes the hard luck Yankees had a better record than Kansas City that year.

In the end, it doesn't seem like there's one specific trick to managing to overcome being outscored by your opponents. I'm sure the Yankees dominant bullpen doesn't hurt, and all these teams had at least competent closers, but it's not necessarily a mandatory component. I don't like when people chalk it up to luck because the players are still deciding the games, so I'll call it good play with better timing. We'll see if the Yankees continue marching towards the playoffs in this fashion or just maybe the changes they've made means they'll make the playoffs the old-fashioned way: by scoring more runs than the other guys.