Every one of the six National League teams battling for the four spots in the Major League Baseball postseason is going to draw more fans to the ballpark this year than they did a year ago. Here is the second part of TicketNews’ look at the performance at the gate of possible playoff teams. Part one about the American League appeared yesterday, September 20. (All attendance figures through Sunday, September 19)
Cincinnati Reds (up 3,375 fans per game, third-highest in MLB): Considering MVP candidate Joey Votto had just turned 12 the last time the Reds made the playoffs 15 years ago, it’s no surprise the Reds, whose magic number to win the NL Central is six, have enjoyed the biggest increase in attendance among NL contenders. But has the anticlimactic nature of the Reds’ postseason pursuit — they are just 8-11 in September yet their lead hasn’t fallen below five games thanks to the St. Louis Cardinals going 8-12 in the same span — affected attendance lately?
The Reds have averaged just 19,454 fans in their first eight home games this month, down from their overall average of 25,380. The Reds drew a season-low 12,061 to the opener of a four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks Monday, September 13. Yet as Yahoo! Sports noted Tuesday, September 14, the Reds had trouble drawing down the stretch the last three times they were vying for a playoff berth. The Reds averaged 27,099 fans at Riverfront Stadium in 12 home games in September 1999, 24,383 fans in 13 home games in September 1995 and 25,012 in 17 home games in September 1990.
But a wide-open NL race and the far smaller capacity of Great American Ballpark (42,271) should allow these Reds to avoid the embarrassment endured by the ’95 Reds, which didn’t sell out either of their two NL Division Series home games.
Colorado Rockies (up 3,234 fans per game, fourth-highest in MLB): Fans in Colorado were enthusiastic even before the Rockies went on a September run reminiscent of their historic surge in 2007. The Rockies were 11 games out of first place Sunday, August 22, but are 20-7 since then and have won 13 of their last 16 games through Sunday, September 19, to shave their NL West deficit to a single game. The Rockies have been sparked by blistering hot shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who hit 14 homers in a 15-game span from Friday, September 3, through Saturday, September 18.
The Rockies, of course, made one of the most improbable playoff sprints ever in 2007, when they won 13 of their final 14 games to force a one-game playoff for the NL wild card, won that game over the San Diego Padres and then swept the three-game NLDS and four-game NLCS to advance to the World Series for the first time, where they were swept by the Boston Red Sox.
The Rockies are still reaping the benefits of that run at the gate. This marks the fifth straight season the Rockies’ attendance has improved (from 2,104,362 in 2006 to 2,650,367 with six games remaining this year). In addition, the average crowd of 35,452 during the 10 home games earlier this month was up only a tick over the 35,321 average during the first 65 home games.
San Diego Padres (up 2,187 fans per game, fifth-highest in MLB): Baseball’s Cinderella story endured an anti-Rockies run from August 26 to September 5, during which time the Padres lost 10 straight as their six-game lead fell to one. The Padres have since been passed out by the San Francisco Giants, who enter play Tuesday, September 21 a half-game ahead of the Padres and 1.5 games up on the Rockies. But the Padres’ surprising summer-long emergence has boosted ticket sales: The Padres have drawn at least 30,000 fans to eight of their last nine weekend games dating back to Friday, July 30 and have averaged 27,987 fans in their last 22 home games. They averaged 25,215 fans in their first 52 home dates.
San Francisco Giants (up 1,617 fans per game, sixth-highest in MLB): Aided by the bulked-up homer exploits of Barry Bonds, the Giants drew at least three million fans to AT&T Park in each of the stadium’s first eight seasons. A return to respectability and the days of three million fans was much quicker than expected: The Giants, which finished below .500 in each of Bonds’ final three seasons and once again in their first post-Bonds season in 2008, won 88 games last year and are on pace to edge past the three million mark during their final homestand. The Giants have drawn crowds of at least 40,000 13 times in 26 home games since July 29 as opposed to just 16 crowds of at least 40,000 in their first 49 home dates.
Atlanta Braves (up 1,009 fans per game, eighth-highest in MLB): Like the Reds, the end of summer has resulted in a dip in attendance for the Braves, which have welcomed fewer than 20,000 fans to Turner Field eight times in their last 21 games after drawing less than 20,000 just three times in their first 54 home dates. The Braves have also struggled lately — they fell out of first place Tuesday, September 7, after leading the NL East for 109 straight days and are four games back following a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies Monday, September 20 — but still have the lure of the wild card race (they lead the Padres by two games) and Bobby Cox’ final homestand as manager from September 27 through October 3 to lure fans to the park.
Philadelphia Phillies (up 524 fans per game, 11th-highest in MLB): Like the New York Yankees in the AL, the Phillies cannot get any higher than they are now. The Phillies have sold out 119 straight games at Citizens Bank Park, the second-longest streak in baseball. Nor can the Phillies do much better on the field: They are 16-3 since September 1 and 34-13 since August 1, have reduced their magic number for clinching the NL East to eight, and have a 4.5-game lead on the Giants in the race for the best record in the league. There’s little doubt postseason tickets will be scarce in Philadelphia as the Phillies try to become the first NL team since World War II to win three straight pennants.