At least a handful of teams played the "what-if" game during the first round of Major League Baseball's playoffs, which-for the most part-ended over the weekend. Would the Chicago White Sox fare as well or better against the Yankees as did central division winner Minnesota? Jerry Manuel coached the talent-rich White Sox to an early September lead over their division rivals, but his team faded in the season's final weeks. The White Sox' disappearing act cost Mr. Manuel his job after six seasons with the club. The Chicago squad was the heavy favorite to win the weak central division with a talented rotation and a heavy-hitting lineup including Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, and Paul Konerko. But an early season collapse put the White Sox in an 85 game hole by early June.
Houston also lost its divisional race in the late season. The Astros held a lead over the rival Cubs with just nine games to play. But Houston floundered late.
Perhaps the best near-miss story of the season was the Kansas City Royals, who lost 100 games in 2002. The Royals' decision to hold over Tony Pena, who was the third manager in 2002, may have been the club's best decision in years. He ignited the Royals, who achieved a 17-4 mark in the first four weeks of the season. The Royals, who finished 83-79, finally slowed when injuries and a piecemeal bullpen finally caught up with them.