As the season winds down there has been a lot of talk about how the Red Sox, Mets, and the Padres are sputtering and clanging their way into the post season (if they're lucky, anyway). It's probably worth mentioning, however, that out of all of the teams that would make the playoffs if things were to end today, the Padres are the only ones without a winning record over their last 20 games, and even they are at .500 as the bulldog goes to press.
For fun, let's look at how the world champs from the past decade wound up the regular season (record is for the final 20 games):
2006 St. Louis Cardinals: 8-12
2005 Chicago White Sox: 12-8
2004 Boston Red Sox: 12-8
2003 Florida Marlins: 14-6
2002 Anaheim Angels: 11-9
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks: 12-8
2000 New York Yankees: 5-15
1999 New York Yankees: 13-7
1998 New York Yankees: 13-7
1997 Florida Marlins: 8-12
Three teams won it all despite finishing below .500 in their final twenty, with the 2000 Yankees serving as the gold standard for backing their way in.
Does it help to be hot late? Sure -- seven out of the last ten champs were playing winning baseball as the season wore down -- but it's not essential, and none of the current crop of contenders should be written off simply because they back their way in.
UPDATE: OK, maybe we can write off the Padres. Which only helps my point here, because the Phillies are 13-7 in their last 20. Helps my point in the previous post too, as Philly is a much larger television market than is San Diego.