A look at baseball’s greatest teams – one for each franchise
The 2017 baseball season has in many ways been defined by the dominance of three teams.
The Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians all surpassed 100 wins, each enjoying extended runs that removed almost all doubt from their division races. The Astros were 42-16 by early June, then the Dodgers took off, winning 56 of 67 games during a stretch that almost defied description. When Los Angeles finally slumped, Cleveland stole the attention with a 22-game winning streak that set an American League record. The Dodgers finished 104-58, followed by the Indians at 102-60 and the Astros at 101-61.
Even before Los Angeles and Houston made it to the World Series , this had been a special year in the history of the Dodgers, Astros and Indians, and that raised fun questions that any fan could appreciate: What was the best team in Dodgers history? Or Astros? Or Indians?
How about the greatest team in the storied history of the Yankees, Red Sox or Cardinals?
So AP writers all over the country teamed up to try to identify the sport’s 30 standard bearers, the best team in the history of each current franchise. It’s a subjective exercise, of course. Comparing eras is difficult, and the term ”best” is hard to define. Is it simply the team that won the most games? The one that performed best in the postseason? The roster with the most Hall of Famers? There was no one-size-fits-all way of answering the question, especially since integration, expansion and free agency have made the sport vastly different now than it was in the early 20th century.
What follows, however, is undoubtedly a timeline of baseball greatness – teams that dominated their seasons in rare fashion, or at least lifted their franchises to significant heights. A World Series title was not a prerequisite for inclusion on this list, but postseason play was certainly considered, along with all the other factors that make these debates so compelling. Only seasons from 1900 on were considered, and the 2017 teams are left out for now – although this year’s Astros and Dodgers are certainly building strong cases for themselves as they pursue a championship.
1902 PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Manager: Fred Clarke
Pythagorean Record: 103-36
Hall of Famers: Clarke, Honus Wagner, Jack Chesbro
Details: A year before the first modern World Series, the Pirates stormed through the National League with a .741 winning percentage – the equivalent of a 120-42 record today. They outscored their opponents by 335 runs and never lost more than two games in a row. Wagner, who played more in the outfield that season than at shortstop, led the league in runs, RBIs, stolen bases and OPS. Although Pittsburgh was dominant, it was a tumultuous period for baseball, with the NL and the new American League competing for players. The leagues finally reached a detente, and in 1903, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss approached Boston owner Henry Killilea and suggested a postseason series. The two league champions met in the inaugural World Series, with Boston beating Pittsburgh in eight games.
Honorable Mention: Wagner, Clarke and the Pirates finally won the World Series in 1909 after going 110-42 during the regular season. Pittsburgh’s next great era wouldn’t come for a while. In 1971, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente led the Pirates past an outstanding Baltimore team for Pittsburgh’s first of two World Series titles that decade.
1905 NEW YORK GIANTS
Manager: John McGraw
Pythagorean Record: 105-48
Postseason: Beat Athletics 4-1 in World Series
Hall of Famers: McGraw, Christy Mathewson, Roger Bresnahan, Joe McGinnity
Details: Mathewson won the pitching triple crown and backed it up in the World Series with three shutouts in six days. McGraw used only six pitchers all season, led by Mathewson (31-9, 1.28 ERA) and fellow 20-game winners McGinnity and Red Ames. In a sign of the times, the Giants stole 291 bases and hit 39 home runs – and both marks led the National League. One of the most noteworthy players on the team made only one appearance and never came to the plate. Archie ”Moonlight” Graham – made famous in the movie ”Field of Dreams” – made his only major league appearance June 29.
Honorable Mention: A few years after moving to San Francisco, the 1962 Giants, led by Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal, beat the Dodgers in a best-of-three playoff for the pennant. San Francisco lost Game 7 of the World Series that year, 1-0 to the Yankees. Two the best Giants teams never even played in the World Series. In 1904, the Giants won 106 games, but McGraw and owner John Brush balked at the idea of playing the American League in the World Series and the event wasn’t held. Barry Bonds’ best team in San Francisco may have been his first, which won 103 games in 1993 but finished one game behind Atlanta in the last great division race before the wild card.
1906 CHICAGO CUBS
Manager: Frank Chance
Pythagorean Record: 115-37
Postseason: Lost to White Sox 4-2 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Chance, Mordecai Brown, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers
Details: There wasn’t a great deal of parity during the first decade of the 20th century, when teams routinely surpassed 100 victories despite a shorter season. Chicago’s record win total has been matched only once, by Seattle in 2001. The 1906 Cubs featured the famed Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double play trio, and Brown (26-6, 1.04 ERA) had one of his best seasons on the mound. The blemish on this team’s legacy was the loss in the World Series to the White Sox. Even in the old days, anything could happen in a short series.
Honorable Mention: The Cubs dipped to 107 wins in 1907 and 99 in 1908, but they won the World Series both those years. It would be over a century before their next title, and the team that won it in 2016 was a worthy one, outscoring opponents by 252 runs during a 103-win season. After Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and the rest of the Cubs made it through three tough postseason rounds and brought the championship to Wrigleyville, the franchise appeared set for an extended run of success.
1912 BOSTON RED SOX
Manager: Jake Stahl
Pythagorean Record: 102-50
Postseason: Beat Giants 4-3 in World Series (one game finished tied)
Hall of Famers: Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper
Details: In the year Fenway Park opened, the Red Sox won the pennant by 14 games, going 19-2 against the not-yet-rival and not-yet-Yankees New York Highlanders. Speaker batted .383 to claim MVP honors. Smoky Joe Wood went 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA and 35 complete games, and he beat Walter Johnson 1-0 in a memorable September matchup at Fenway. In the decisive game of the World Series, Wood, pitching in relief, allowed the go-ahead run in the 10th inning. But Boston rallied in the bottom half after an error by Fred Snodgrass. Speaker tied it with a single off Christy Mathewson, and Larry Gardner’s sacrifice fly brought in the winning run. It was the first time a team won the World Series with a walk-off victory.
Honorable Mention: The 1946 Red Sox had Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio back after World War II, and they won the pennant by 12 games. Boston lost Game 7 of the World Series to St. Louis when Enos Slaughter scored from first on an eighth-inning double. Pesky, who double-clutched on the relay, was blamed for holding the ball too long, a charge he long denied. The 2004 team won the franchise’s first World Series title in 86 years behind David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, and Boston’s 2007 champions – with Ortiz still in his prime – might have been even better.
1917 CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Manager: Pants Rowland
Pythagorean Record: 101-53
Postseason: Beat Giants 4-2 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Eddie Collins, Ray Schalk, Red Faber
Details: Two years before their scandalous appearance in the 1919 World Series, the White Sox won 100 games for the only time in franchise history. Eddie Cicotte went 28-12 with a 1.53 ERA and 29 complete games, and Shoeless Joe Jackson batted .301. Happy Felsch hit .308 and led the team in RBIs. Faber won the final two games of the World Series, pitching the last two innings of Game 5 in relief, then going the full nine as the starter in the finale.
Honorable Mention: Chicago’s ”Hitless Wonders” took the pennant in 1906 despite hitting an American League-worst .230. The bats came around when the White Sox beat the 116-win Cubs in the World Series, scoring eight runs in each of the final two games. Tony La Russa managed the White Sox to 99 wins in 1983, and Ozzie Guillen guided them to the same total in 2005. The `05 team went 11-1 in the postseason to win the franchise’s first World Series championship in 88 years.
1927 NEW YORK YANKEES
Manager: Miller Huggins
Pythagorean Record: 109-45
Postseason: Beat Pirates 4-0 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Huggins, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Waite Hoyt, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock
Details: The sport’s most successful franchise reached mythical heights in 1927, when Ruth hit 60 home runs and did not even lead the team in total bases. That distinction went to Gehrig, who batted .373 with 47 homers, 52 doubles and 18 triples. By themselves, Ruth and Gehrig outhomered every other major league team except the Giants, who barely surpassed that duo with 109. The Yankees’ supporting cast was impressive too, with Combs leading the American League in hits and Hoyt winning 22 games. Ruth hit the only two homers of New York’s World Series sweep.
Honorable Mention: Joe DiMaggio’s 1939 Yankees outscored their opponents by 411 runs, an even higher margin than the 1927 team. Charlie Keller hit .438 during a World Series sweep of Cincinnati. The best of Derek Jeter’s teams was the 1998 edition, which went 114-48 and finished with a World Series sweep of its own against San Diego. That exceptionally balanced team just put its first player in the Hall of Fame with the induction of Tim Raines this year, although Jeter and Mariano Rivera will surely follow.
1929 PHILADELPHIA ATHLETICS
Manager: Connie Mack
Pythagorean Record: 100-50
Postseason: Beat Cubs 4-1 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Mack, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, Eddie Collins
Details: After back-to-back years as runners-up to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the Yankees, the A’s broke through in a big way, beating out New York by 18 games to begin a run of three straight pennants. Simmons led the American League with 157 RBIs and 373 total bases, Foxx posted a league-best .463 on-base percentage, and Cochrane hit .331. But the team really excelled on the mound, giving up 97 fewer runs than anyone in the AL. Grove went 20-6 with a league-leading 2.81 ERA. The highlight of the World Series came in Game 4, when Philadelphia scored 10 runs in the seventh inning to wipe out an 8-0 deficit. In the following game, the A’s scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth, wrapping up the title on Bing Miller’s double.
Honorable Mention: The 1972 A’s started a run of three straight championships in Oakland with a star-studded roster led by Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers. Oakland won three straight pennants again from 1988-90, but only the `89 team won the World Series.
1935 DETROIT TIGERS
Manager: Mickey Cochrane
Pythagorean Record: 97-54
Postseason: Beat Cubs 4-2 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Cochrane, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Goose Goslin
Details: Greenberg surpassed 100 RBIs by the All-Star break and went on to win American League MVP honors, finishing the season with 98 extra-base hits. Cochrane was both the manager and the team’s catcher, hitting .319. The Tigers won the pennant despite a 2-9 start, and the Cubs came out of the National League thanks to a 21-game winning streak in September. Detroit won its first title despite hitting only one home run in the World Series. Goslin’s single in the bottom of the ninth inning brought Cochrane home with the winning run in Game 6.
Honorable Mention: The Tigers won over 100 games in both 1968 and 1984, but those two World Series winners had a longer season to do it, and neither could match the 1935 team’s run differential of plus-254. The `68 team included 31-game winner Denny McLain and rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat St. Louis in the World Series. The keystone combination of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker helped Detroit to a 35-5 start in `84.
1942 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Manager: Billy Southworth
Pythagorean Record: 107-47
Postseason: Beat Yankees 4-1 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Southworth, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter
Details: The 21-year-old Musial showed signs of stardom in his first full season, while teammate Mort Cooper won MVP honors by going 22-7 with a 1.78 ERA. Slaughter led the league in hits and total bases. The Cardinals went 43-8 to finish the regular season, setting a franchise record for victories and outlasting a 104-win Brooklyn team for the pennant. They then made quick work of Joe DiMaggio and the 103-win Yankees in the World Series. From 1927-53, the Yankees played in 16 World Series, and this was the only time they were beaten.
Honorable Mention: The 1944 Cardinals won 105 games and a World Series title, although Slaughter didn’t play that season because of military service. Musial won MVP honors in 1946, and St. Louis beat Boston in a seven-game World Series. Two of the franchise’s best teams from more recent years didn’t win the World Series. The Cardinals lost in controversial fashion to Kansas City in 1985, and after winning 105 games in 2004, they were swept by Boston.
1948 CLEVELAND INDIANS
Manager: Lou Boudreau
Pythagorean Record: 104-51
Postseason: Beat Braves 4-2 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Boudreau, Joe Gordon, Bob Lemon, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Satchel Paige
Details: Cleveland’s most recent World Series winner was loaded with Hall of Famers, and Boudreau, the manager, was also the shortstop. He hit .355 in an MVP season. Gordon contributed 32 home runs and Ken Keltner hit 31. Lemon won 20 games and pitched 10 shutouts, Gene Bearden led the league in ERA, and the ageless Paige made his major league debut, going 6-1 down the stretch to give the Indians a boost in a tight American League race. Boudreau homered twice in a one-game playoff against the Red Sox that decided the pennant, and then Cleveland beat Boston’s National League team in the World Series .
Honorable Mention: The 1954 Indians won 111 games, although the 1948 team actually had a higher run differential. Cleveland was swept in the World Series by Willie Mays and the Giants in `54. The Indians went 100-44 in a shortened season in 1995, when baseball returned from the strike that had begun the previous year. Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Kenny Lofton turned that team into an offensive powerhouse, but Cleveland couldn’t overcome Atlanta’s pitching in the World Series.
1955 BROOKLYN DODGERS
Manager: Walter Alston
Pythagorean Record: 95-58
Postseason: Beat Yankees 4-3 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Alston, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Sandy Koufax, Tom Lasorda (inducted as manager)
Details: Four times in the previous eight years, the Dodgers had reached the World Series and lost to the Yankees. In 1955, this beloved group finally brought Brooklyn the title. Campanella won MVP honors, Snider hit 42 home runs, and although Robinson and Reese were nearing the end of their careers, they were still significant contributors. Don Newcombe headlined the pitching staff with a 20-5 record.
It came down to Game 7 at Yankee Stadium, and there would be no more waiting for next year. With the help of a stirring catch by Sandy Amoros in left field, Johnny Podres shut out New York in the finale.
Honorable Mention: The 1953 Dodgers won a franchise-record 105 games, but military service kept Newcombe away, and only one regular starter had an ERA under 4.00. After moving to Los Angeles, the Dodgers swept the Yankees in the 1963 World Series, with Koufax, Podres and Don Drysdale pitching 35 ? of the 36 innings. New York managed only four runs. In 1974, Los Angeles won 102 games behind the steady infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey, but the Dodgers lost in the World Series to last of Oakland’s three straight title teams.
1957 MILWAUKEE BRAVES
Manager: Fred Haney
Pythagorean Record: 93-61
Postseason: Beat Yankees 4-3 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, Red Schoendienst
Details: Aaron won the only MVP of his brilliant career at age 23, leading the National League with 44 homers and 132 RBIs while batting .322. He teamed with Mathews (32 HRs, 94 RBIs) to give Milwaukee a potent 1-2 punch in the middle of the lineup. Spahn, the winningest left-hander in major league history, finished 21-11 at age 36 and took the Cy Young Award. Lew Burdette had three wins against the Yankees in the World Series, including shutouts in Games 5 and 7.
Honorable Mention: The Atlanta Braves won a franchise-record 106 games in 1998 in the midst of their run of 14 straight division titles. Tom Glavine won the Cy Young Award, while teammates Greg Maddux and John Smoltz finished in the top five of the balloting. But, like all but one of those great Atlanta teams from the 1990s and 2000s, the Braves fell short in the postseason. San Diego beat Atlanta in the NLCS, denying the Braves a shot at the 114-win Yankees in the World Series.
1965 MINNESOTA TWINS
Manager: Sam Mele
Pythagorean Record: 100-62
Postseason: Lost to Dodgers 4-3 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Harmon Killebrew
Details: Zoilo Versalles was the American League MVP and won a Gold Glove at shortstop to lead the Twins to a club record in victories, and teammate and fellow Cuba native Tony Oliva earned his second straight batting title. Six Twins played in the All-Star game that summer, and the team won its first pennant since moving to Minnesota from Washington in 1961. But after winning the first two games of the World Series, the Twins couldn’t close out Los Angeles. They struck out 10 times against Sandy Koufax in a 2-0 loss in Game 7.
Honorable Mention: Only five times has the World Series come down to a winner-take-all game in extra innings – and this franchise won two of them. The 1991 team led by Kirby Puckett, Jack Morris and Chili Davis went 95-67 and beat Atlanta in the World Series when Morris threw a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 . The 1924 Washington Senators took Game 7 against the New York Giants in 12 innings, with Hall of Famer Walter Johnson pitching four scoreless innings of relief to earn the win.
1970 BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Manager: Earl Weaver
Pythagorean Record: 104-58
Postseason: Beat Twins 3-0 in ALCS; beat Reds 4-1 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Weaver, Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson
Details: Weaver’s Orioles were at their peak from 1969-71, when they won 109, 108 and 101 games. They only won one World Series in that span, but that title came in emphatic fashion, with Brooks Robinson hitting .429 in the series against Cincinnati to go along with his usual sparkling defense . Jim Palmer went 20-10 that season, while Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally won 24 games each. Boog Powell hit 35 home runs en route to the MVP award.
Honorable Mention: Pitching was the backbone of those great Baltimore teams. Cuellar won a share of the Cy Young Award in 1969, and the Orioles had four 20-game winners in 1971. After Frank Robinson won the Triple Crown in 1966, Baltimore swept the Dodgers in the World Series. The Orioles allowed two runs in the first three innings of Game 1, then shut out Los Angeles for the rest of the series.
1976 CINCINNATI REDS
Manager: Sparky Anderson
Pythagorean Record: 103-59
Postseason: Beat Phillies 3-0 in NLCS; beat Yankees 4-0 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Anderson, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez
Details: Since the start of divisional play in 1969, the Reds are the only team to make it through a postseason unbeaten. After sweeping the 101-win Phillies, they dominated the Yankees, with Bench hitting .533 in the World Series. Bench homered twice and drove in five runs in the final game at New York. Morgan won National League MVP honors for a second straight year, and George Foster drove in a league-high 121 runs. Pete Rose led the NL with 215 hits. The Big Red Machine had no major weaknesses. Cincinnati led the NL in runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, stolen bases, walks, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Honorable Mention: The Reds stamped themselves as a great team in 1976, but the 1975 version actually won more games, going 108-54. Cincinnati then swept Pittsburgh in the NLCS before outlasting Boston in seven games in the World Series.
1982 MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Managers: Buck Rodgers, Harvey Kuenn
Pythagorean Record: 97-65
Postseason: Beat Angels 3-2 in ALCS; lost to Cardinals 4-3 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, Don Sutton
Details: The Brewers went 72-43 under Kuenn, with Yount – who was still a shortstop back then – winning MVP honors and Pete Vuckovich taking the Cy Young Award. ”Harvey’s Wallbangers” came into the final series of the regular season with a three-game AL East lead over the Orioles, only to drop the first three games at Baltimore. Milwaukee avoided an epic collapse by winning the finale behind two homers from Yount and eight solid innings from Sutton. In addition to Yount and Molitor, the Brewers got big offensive seasons from Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie and Cecil Cooper, all of whom surpassed 30 homers. Milwaukee rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the ALCS and came within a victory of winning it all.
Honorable Mention: After winning the pennant in 1982, the Brewers didn’t make the postseason again until 2008, and their next division title didn’t come until 2011. By then, they were in the NL Central, which they won with a 96-66 record. Ryan Braun won the MVP, and Prince Fielder hit 38 homers. Again, it was St. Louis that stood in the way in the postseason. The Cardinals, who had finished six games behind Milwaukee in the division, beat the Brewers in the NLCS and won the World Series as a wild card.
1986 NEW YORK METS
Manager: Davey Johnson
Pythagorean Record: 103-59
Postseason: Beat Astros 4-2 in NLCS; beat Red Sox 4-3 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Gary Carter
Details: After winning 98 games but falling just short of the playoffs the previous year, the brash and cocky Mets set out to demolish the competition in 1986, and that’s exactly what they did. Loaded with pitching, power, speed and depth, the Mets outscored their opponents by 205 runs and ran away with the NL East behind Carter, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Then they outlasted Houston and Boston in epic postseason series. New York wrapped up the pennant with a 16-inning victory over the Astros, and the Mets fought off elimination in the 10th inning of Game 6 against the Red Sox, finally winning on Bill Buckner’s error before vanquishing Boston in Game 7. Amid all the wild tales about parties and brawls, this team’s dominance on the field is sometimes overlooked. The Mets and 1975 Reds are the only National League teams since 1910 to win 108 games.
Honorable Mention: Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver and the ”Miracle Mets” went 100-62 in 1969 and then beat Baltimore in the World Series, bringing the franchise a title in its eighth season of existence. The Mets had lost over 100 games in five of the first seven. New York went 100-60 in 1988, with David Cone’s breakout year boosting an already-impressive rotation. That team fell in seven games to the Dodgers in the NLCS.
1993 TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Manager: Cito Gaston
Pythagorean Record: 91-71
Postseason: Beat White Sox 4-2 in ALCS; beat Phillies 4-2 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Rickey Henderson
Details: Fresh off their first World Series title the previous season, the Blue Jays began their pursuit of a repeat with the help of a torrid first half by John Olerud, who was still hitting over .400 at the start of August. Olerud won the batting title at .363, with teammates Molitor and Alomar finishing second and third. It almost seemed unfair when the Blue Jays added Henderson in late July. Joe Carter capped Toronto’s two-year run with his World Series-winning home run against Philadelphia.
Honorable Mention: The 1992 Blue Jays had a similar roster to the 1993 team. Instead of Molitor and Henderson, they had Dave Winfield and late-season addition David Cone. In 1985, Toronto won a franchise-record 99 games under Bobby Cox before losing to Kansas City in a seven-game ALCS. The core of that team – Dave Stieb, Jesse Barfield, George Bell and Jimmy Key – was outstanding but has been somewhat overshadowed by the title winners from the following decade.
1994 MONTREAL EXPOS
Manager: Felipe Alou
Pythagorean Record: 70-44
Hall of Famers: Pedro Martinez
Details: Winners of 20 of 23, the Expos had the best record in baseball and a six-game NL East lead on Atlanta when a strike in the middle of August ended the season. Montreal was then left to wonder what might have been if the Expos had been able to keep their young roster together. Reliever John Wetteland was traded to the Yankees and won World Series MVP honors in 1996, and Larry Walker signed with Colorado and was the National League MVP in 1997. Martinez won the Cy Young Award for Montreal in `97, then was traded to Boston and won that honor two more times for the Red Sox. In the decade following the strike, Montreal finished above .500 only three times and never made the playoffs. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals after the 2004 season.
Honorable Mention: The 2012, 2014 and 2016 Nationals won the division before losing in the NLDS, which went the full five games in `12 and `16. The 2016 team had Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and MVP runner-up Daniel Murphy.
1998 HOUSTON ASTROS
Manager: Larry Dierker
Pythagorean Record: 106-56
Postseason: Lost to Padres 3-1 in NLDS
Hall of Famers: Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Randy Johnson
Details: Bagwell and Biggio were mainstays by the time the Astros reached their peak, winning four NL Central titles between 1997-2001. The `98 team took the division by a 12 +-game margin. Biggio became the first player since Tris Speaker in 1912 to reach 50 doubles and 50 steals in a season. Houston turned the division race into a rout after acquiring Johnson from Seattle in late July. The tall left-hander went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA for the Astros, and he actually received National League Cy Young votes despite making only 11 starts for Houston.
Honorable Mention: The Astros won 97 games and another division title in 1999, losing again in the NLDS. Johnson was no longer on the team, but Mike Hampton won 22 games and Jose Lima won 21. Houston’s first pennant came in 2005 with a team that went only 89-73 during the regular season. The trio of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt gave the Astros enough pitching to be a threat, and Oswalt won twice in the NLCS before Houston was swept by the White Sox in the World Series.
1998 SAN DIEGO PADRES
Manager: Bruce Bochy
Pythagorean Record: 93-69
Postseason: Beat Astros 3-1 in NLDS; beat Braves 4-2 in NLCS; lost to Yankees 4-0 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Tony Gwynn
Details: Invigorated by the acquisition of Kevin Brown, the Padres won a franchise-record 98 games but were still an afterthought heading into the playoffs, where they had to beat the 102-win Astros and the 106-win Braves to win the National League pennant . Then the 114-win Yankees awaited in the World Series. Gwynn hit a two-run homer off the facade at Yankee Stadium in Game 1, but that was the only really memorable moment for San Diego in New York’s four-game sweep. Trevor Hoffman led the majors with 53 saves – this was the season when he began entering from the bullpen to the ominous strains of ”Hells Bells” by AC/DC. Greg Vaughn hit his 50th home run in the final game of the regular season.
Honorable Mention: The Padres also reached the World Series in 1984, but just like in 1998, they ran into an American League champion that was having a remarkable year. The 104-win Tigers beat San Diego in five games.
2001 SEATTLE MARINERS
Manager: Lou Piniella
Pythagorean Record: 109-53
Postseason: Beat Indians 3-2 in ALDS; lost to Yankees 4-1 in ALCS
Hall of Famers: None
Details: After losing Alex Rodriguez to free agency, the Mariners tore through the American League with one of the greatest regular seasons in baseball history. Ichiro Suzuki arrived from Japan and immediately won MVP honors by hitting .350 with 56 stolen bases. Bret Boone drove in 141 runs, and Edgar Martinez and John Olerud provided steady production as well. The Mariners tied the single-season wins record set by the 1906 Cubs, but like that Chicago team, they weren’t able to cap their tremendous year with a World Series title. The Mariners dropped the first two games of the ALCS at home, and the series never went back to Seattle. The Mariners were held to three runs or fewer in each of the four losses to New York.
Honorable Mention: The 1995 Mariners were 13 games out of first place in early August before rallying down the stretch. They eventually beat California in a one-game playoff for the AL West title, then followed that up with a five-game victory over the Yankees in the ALDS. The decisive game ended in extra innings with Ken Griffey Jr. scoring the winning run on Martinez’s two-run double – the seminal moment in franchise history.
2001 ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Manager: Bob Brenly
Pythagorean Record: 95-67
Postseason: Beat Cardinals 3-2 in NLDS; beat Braves 4-1 in NLCS; beat Yankees 4-3 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Randy Johnson
Details: After adding Curt Schilling the previous year, the Diamondbacks had a 1-2 punch for the ages at the top of their rotation with him and Johnson. Luis Gonzalez carried the offense in 2001 with 57 home runs, and Johnson won the third of his four straight Cy Young Awards, with Schilling finishing second. Arizona took a 2-0 lead in the World Series over the three-time defending champions from New York. Then the Yankees went back home and won the next three games, pulling out two of them after being down to their last out. The Diamondbacks bounced back in memorable fashion, forcing a Game 7 and then beating Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of the finale. Gonzalez delivered the winning hit , and Johnson won three games in the series – including Game 6 as the starter and Game 7 out of the bullpen.
Honorable Mention: The Diamondbacks gained instant credibility in just their second season of existence, winning 100 games in 1999 before falling to the Mets in the NLDS.
2002 ANAHEIM ANGELS
Manager: Mike Scioscia
Pythagorean Record: 101-61
Postseason: Beat Yankees 3-1 in ALDS; beat Twins 4-1 in ALCS; beat Giants 4-3 in World Series
Hall of Famers: None
Details: The 2002 Angels were easy to overlook. They finished second to AL West rival Oakland after the Athletics won 20 games in a row during the second half of the season. Garret Anderson was Anaheim’s lone All-Star that year. The team may have been best known for its Rally Monkey that would appear on the big screen during games, but after entering the postseason as a wild card, the Angels promptly slugged their way to a championship. Anaheim scored 101 runs in 16 postseason games, and reliever Francisco Rodriguez – who had just made his major league debut in mid-September – was a difference maker. The Angels rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win Game 6 of the World Series, then denied Barry Bonds and the Giants again in Game 7.
Honorable Mention: The Angels have largely failed to capitalize on Mike Trout’s greatness, but they did go 98-64 in 2014, posting the best record in baseball before being swept by Kansas City in the ALDS. Twice in the 1980s, the Angels came achingly close to a pennant under Gene Mauch. They wasted a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five ALCS against Milwaukee in 1982, and they squandered a 3-1 advantage – and a three-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 5 – in a seven-game loss to Boston in 1986.
2003 FLORIDA MARLINS
Managers: Jeff Torborg, Jack McKeon
Pythagorean Record: 87-75
Postseason: Beat Giants 3-1 in NLDS; beat Cubs 4-3 in NLCS; beat Yankees 4-2 in World Series
Hall of Famers: Ivan Rodriguez
Details: The Marlins were 16-22 when they fired Torborg and hired McKeon, who came out of retirement at age 72 to lead an improbable turnaround. Florida called up left-hander Dontrelle Willis and 20-year-old slugger Miguel Cabrera from the minors, and the Marlins won the National League wild card. They won 32 of their last 46 games, including the postseason. Rodriguez anchored the lineup, and the rotation included a young Josh Beckett. Florida came from behind in all three postseason series, most famously in the NLCS against the Cubs. Beckett threw a two-hit shutout in Game 5 of that series, and he also closed out New York in the World Series with a five-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium.
Honorable Mention: The Marlins’ only other playoff team also was a wild card that won the World Series. The 1997 team was led by Kevin Brown, Moises Alou and manager Jim Leyland, and beat the Indians in an 11-inning Game 7 to win the World Series. Edgar Renteria’s single won that game. Right-hander Livan Hernandez was MVP of both the NLCS and World Series.
2007 COLORADO ROCKIES
Manager: Clint Hurdle
Pythagorean Record: 91-72
Postseason: Beat Phillies 3-0 in NLDS; beat Diamondbacks 4-0 in NLCS; lost to Red Sox 4-0 in World Series
Hall of Famers: None
Details: The Rockies won 14 of 15 to end the regular season, including a one-game playoff against San Diego for the wild card. Then they swept Philadelphia and Arizona to enter the World Series on a 21-1 run. After a lengthy break before the World Series, Colorado was swept by the Red Sox, but the Rockies’ surge had the term ”Rocktober” taking hold of Denver. Colorado beat Trevor Hoffman and the Padres in the playoff on a sacrifice fly in the 13th inning. Matt Holliday slid in for the winning run, although replays were inconclusive on whether he actually touched the plate. Holliday led the National League in batting average, hits, doubles, RBIs and total bases.
Honorable Mention: The Rockies have never won a division title. They also made the playoffs as a wild card in 1995 and 2009, losing in the NLDS both times. The 2009 team set a franchise record with 92 wins behind young shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez.
2008 TAMPA BAY RAYS
Manager: Joe Maddon
Pythagorean Record: 92-70
Postseason: Beat White Sox 3-1 in ALDS; beat Red Sox 4-3 in ALCS; lost to Phillies 4-1 in World Series
Hall of Famers: None
Details: A year after finishing with the worst record in baseball, Tampa Bay improved by 31 games and won the American League pennant, a remarkable accomplishment by a team with one of the lowest payrolls in the majors. That turnaround began a stretch of four postseason appearances in six years. Melvin Upton Jr. hit seven of the Rays’ 26 postseason home runs in 2008, and rookie Evan Longoria hit six. The ALCS MVP was 24-year-old Matt Garza, who went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA. David Price, who had only five big league appearances before that postseason, beat Boston in relief in Game 2 and got the final four outs of Game 7 to send the Rays to the World Series.
Honorable Mention: The Rays led the American League with 96 wins in 2010, with Price, Longoria and Carl Crawford leading the way. They also won 91 games in 2011, when Longoria’s homer to win the final game of the regular season put them in the playoffs. In 2013, Tampa Bay won 92 games, including a one-game playoff against Texas for a wild card. The Rays then beat Cleveland in the AL wild-card game.
2011 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Manager: Charlie Manuel
Pythagorean Record: 103-59
Postseason: Lost to Cardinals 3-2 in NLDS
Hall of Famers: None
Details: The Phillies cruised to their fifth straight NL East title while setting a franchise record for wins behind one of the game’s greatest starting rotations. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt combined for 59 wins, and even rookie Vance Worley chipped in an 11-3 record. Halladay pitched eight complete games and finished second in the Cy Young vote, one spot ahead of Lee, who threw six shutouts. The balanced lineup included Chase Utley and former MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins. Philadelphia was stymied in the postseason, however, by another top pitcher. Chris Carpenter of St. Louis beat Halladay 1-0 in the NLDS finale, bringing the Phillies’ season to an end.
Honorable Mention: Led by Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, Philadelphia won 101 games in both 1976 and 1977. Those teams lost in the NLCS. The franchise’s two World Series titles came in 1980 – with Schmidt and Carlton joined by an aging Pete Rose – and 2008. The `08 team had the same core of hitters as the 2011 Phillies, but Halladay and Lee hadn’t arrived yet.
2011 TEXAS RANGERS
Manager: Ron Washington
Pythagorean Record: 98-64
Postseason: Beat Rays 3-1 in ALDS; beat Tigers 4-2 in ALCS; lost to Cardinals 4-3 in World Series
Hall of Famers: None
Details: With a lineup that included Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus, Texas set a franchise record for victories and won its second consecutive American League pennant. Young hit .338 on the season, and C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland won 16 games apiece. Cruz slugged six home runs in the ALCS, and then the Rangers came agonizingly close to winning it all against St. Louis. The Cardinals were down to their last strike in both the ninth and 10th innings of Game 6, but they were able to extend the World Series and eventually win it.
Honorable Mention: The 2010 Rangers also won the pennant following an MVP season by Hamilton. They beat the Yankees in the ALCS but lost to San Francisco in five games in the World Series. In 1996, Juan Gonzalez had the first of his two MVP seasons for Texas. Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez was also on that team, which won the franchise’s first AL West title.
2015 KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Manager: Ned Yost
Pythagorean Record: 90-72
Postseason: Beat Astros 3-2 in ALDS; beat Blue Jays 4-2 in ALCS; beat Mets 4-1 in World Series
Hall of Famers: None
Details: The Royals won their second straight pennant, and after losing in seven games to San Francisco in 2014, they finished the job against New York a year later for the franchise’s second World Series title. Kansas City seemed to get stronger as it advanced through the postseason. The Royals were almost eliminated in the ALDS, but they won the last two games against Houston, rallying from a 6-2 deficit in the eighth inning of Game 4 . The Royals were a unique team anchored by one of the best bullpens in baseball history, with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland giving them an edge in the late innings. Herrera and Davis became even more crucial when Holland was lost to an injury late in the season. Kansas City also relied on speed, defense – and an ability to hit for contact that matched up well with the hard-throwing Mets in the end.
Honorable Mention: The 1977 Royals, led by Hall of Famer George Brett, won a franchise-record 102 games before losing to the Yankees in the ALCS. Brett was also on the 1985 team, which won only 91 games but edged St. Louis in a seven-game World Series.
(The Pythagorean record, a popular sabermetric innovation developed by Bill James, is estimated using a team’s runs scored and runs allowed. Those figures and other information for this report came from Baseball-Reference.com.)
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