MLB Power Rankings: The Top 30 'All Heart' Teams of All Time
In sports, the team that has the most heart oftentimes can overcome great obstacles and turn into a winner.
That has certainly been the case in Major League Baseball.
Fans get behind the underdog—the team that doesn’t seem to have the better talent on the field, yet has that “never say die” attitude that propels them to the top. Whether it’s a team that has faced adversity, dealt with a spate of injuries or just a team that plays hard every day despite facing a heavy favorite, they are the teams that fans rally behind.
In 2012, the New York Mets could certainly be a team classified as an underdog, and a team that has displayed tremendous heart thus far. With a starting rotation that features a man with a shoulder that has been patched together, (Johan Santana), and a knuckleballer who is the talk of the National League, (R.A. Dickey), the Mets have once again endeared themselves to the their fans through tremendous will to win despite preseason predictions that had them finishing in the cellar in the NL East.
Throughout the history of baseball, there have been a number of teams that fit the description of a team with heart, rising from the ashes to taste victory or facing insurmountable odds on the way to the top. While not every underdog gets to savor the flavor of ultimate victory, they nonetheless etched themselves in the memories of fans because of their inspired play.
Here, then, is a list of 30 teams in MLB history whose inspired play is fondly remembered by their fans.
30. 1973 New York Mets
Four years after their first world championship, the New York Mets had a few returning veterans from that squad—Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jerry Grote, Bud Harrelson and Tug McGraw—and also some rookies and offseason acquisitions, most notably center fielder Willie Mays, to help fill out the team under manager Yogi Berra.
The Mets struggled through much of the regular season, sitting in last place in the National League East as late as Aug. 30, 6.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
However, the Mets never gave up, winning 22 of 29 games in September to leapfrog every team all the way to the top of the standings, winning the NL East title by 1.5 games over the Cardinals. With a record of 82-79, the Mets were the worst team in history ever to make it to the postseason.
Undaunted, they faced the heavily-favored Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS. The Mets upset the Reds in a hard-fought five-game series to capture their second National League pennant in five seasons.
Although the Mets lost to the high-flying Oakland A’s in the World Series, they scratched and clawed throughout before bowing 5-2 in the seventh and deciding game.
29. 1924 Washington Senators
The Washington Senators had been one of the charter members of the American League when it was formed in 1901, yet had never come close to a pennant, achieving a winning record only six times in their first 23 years of existence.
In 1924, however, the Senators finally broke through, riding the back of 36-year-old star pitcher Walter Johnson who captured the Triple Crown of pitching, and 22-year-old star outfielder Goose Goslin, who led the team with a .344 average and a league-best 129 RBI.
The Senators captured the American League pennant for the first time, and in a World Series that was largely considered the most thrilling to date, beat the New York Giants in seven games to win their first and only World Series championship.
28. 1906 Chicago White Sox
The 1906 Chicago White Sox were not a very good-hitting team. In fact, they were the worst-hitting team in the American League.
However, this team was undaunted. After losing a game on Aug. 1, the White Sox proceeded to win an AL record 19 games in a row, a mark that stood until the Oakland Athletics won 20 games in a row in 2002.
The Sox held on in the month of September to capture their second AL pennant and first trip to the World Series. However, they were up against the crosstown-rival Chicago Cubs, who set the MLB standard with a regular-season record of 116-36 and were heavily favored to beat the Sox.
Again undaunted, the Sox bested the Cubs in six games to capture their first World Series title.
27. 2003 Florida Marlins
After the Marlins captured their first World Series title in 1997, the team was literally dismantled by owner Wayne Huizenga, and the Marlins proceeded to suffer through five miserable seasons mired at or near the cellar of the NL East Division.
Things looked brighter in 2003, however. New owner Jeffrey Loria was in place, and the team signed free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez, traded for leadoff man Juan Pierre and relied on a solid homegrown starting rotation that included Josh Beckett, Brad Penny and Dontrelle Willis, who would go on to capture NL Rookie of the Year honors.
The Marlins made the playoffs as the NL Wild Card and proceeded to eliminate the San Francisco Giants in four games and the Chicago Cubs in a thrilling seven-game matchup.
Facing the heavily-favored New York Yankees in the World Series, the Marlins were backed by the stellar pitching of Beckett, whose complete-game five-hit shutout in Game 6 gave the Marlins their second World Series title in seven years.
26. 1985 Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals of the late-1970s to mid-1980s were a powerhouse, winning their division four times between 1977 and 1984. And yet, they were unable to climb to the top of the baseball world, losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1980 World Series.
The 1985 season was different, however. Guided by popular manager Dick Howser and led by the bat of Hall-of-Famer George Brett, the Royals again won the AL West Division title and captured their second-ever AL Pennant in a thrilling seven-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Royals were facing the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, the best-hitting team in the majors. In classic fashion, led by a young pitching staff headed by Bret Saberhagen, the Royals battled back from losing their first two games at home and a 3-1 deficit, defeating the mighty Cardinals for their first and only World Series title.
25. 1984 San Diego Padres
For the first 15 years of their existence, the San Diego Padres were pretty used to looking up, finishing last in the NL West Division eight times and never placing higher than fourth. However, under new manager Dick Williams, things were looking up as the Padres finished with a .500 record in his first two seasons.
In 1984, the Padres had a mix of older veterans (Steve Garvey, Goose Gossage, Graig Nettles) along with some rising young stars (Tony Gwynn, Kevin McReynolds, Carmelo Martinez). Manager Williams successfully guided his team to the top of the NL West and faced the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS.
Led by Garvey’s .400 average and seven RBI, including a game-winning home run in Game 4, the Padres fought back to win a hard-fought five-game NLCS over the Cubs to capture their first-ever National League pennant.
24. 1997 Florida Marlins
The Florida Marlins were entering their fifth season of play in 1997, hoping to build on a solid finish the year before at just two games under .500.
The Marlins featured an eclectic group of stars, many of whom were considered “problem child”-type players. Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Kevin Brown and Devon White all had fiery personalities that oftentimes led to issues with previous teams.
However, in 1997 they gelled together, posting a regular-season record of 92-70 and qualifying for the playoffs as the lone Wild Card representative in the National League.
The Marlins easily swept the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS and moved on to face the heavily-favored Atlanta Braves, who finished nine games ahead of the Marlins in the NL East and were led by the stellar pitching quartet of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Denny Neagle.
However, the Marlins, led by the spectacular pitching of rookie Livan Hernandez, roared past the mighty Braves in six games to win the National League pennant.
The 1995 World Series saw the Marlins facing the Cleveland Indians, making their second trip to the Fall Classic in three seasons.
With a high-powered offense led by right fielder Manny Ramirez, the Indians were the clear favorites. But once again, the Marlins relished the role of underdog, taking down the Indians in a thrilling seven-game series that was decided by a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning by second-year shortstop Edgar Renteria.
23. 1987 Minnesota Twins
For much of the early part of the 1980s, the Minnesota Twins were a pretty miserable team, finishing under .500 each year from 1980 to 1986. In the latter part of the 1986 season, manager Ray Miller was fired, replaced by coach Tom Kelly.
In 1987, the Twins featured a young core group of players such as Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett and Tom Brunansky, with a pitching staff anchored by veteran Bert Blyleven and young 27-year-old southpaw Frank Viola.
The Twins were horrible away from home, with a record of just 29-52. However, they made up for it at home in the Metrodome, winning a major league-best 56 games. It was that home cooking that helped the Twins capture a weak AL West Division with an 85-77 record.
Hrbek, Gaetti and Brunansky each hit 30 home runs to supply the bulk of the power for the Twins, and center fielder Puckett was fast-becoming one of the most popular players ever in Minnesota in just his fourth full season.
The Twins went on to defeat the favored Detroit Tigers in five games for the right to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, the first time the Twins had been to the Fall Classic since 1965.
The Twins, again the underdogs, beat the Cardinals in seven games, backed by two wins from Viola including the deciding seventh game.
22. 1993 Philadelphia Phillies
The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies were a lovable group of rag-tag, mullet-wearing players who quickly earned a reputation for being unkempt and dirty. However, they also became the darlings of the Philadelphia fans who quickly fell in love with their gritty, hard-nosed style of play.
Led by the bats of Darren Daulton, John Kruk and Lenny Dykstra, the Phillies led the National League in several offensive categories, including runs scored, on-base percentage, walks and total bases.
The pitching staff was pretty terrific as well, led by Curt Schilling and Tommy Greene with 16 wins apiece and at least five pitchers who contributed 12 wins or more. Throw in closer Mitch Williams, who saved 43 games, and the Phillies made up a pretty solid group.
Their 97 wins were the best since 1978, and the Phillies captured the NL East title by three games over the Montreal Expos. In the NLCS, the Phillies went up against the Atlanta Braves, who were pretty formidable in their own right, winning 104 games to narrowly edge out the San Francisco Giants by one game in the NL West.
The Phillies prevailed over the Braves, beating Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux in Game 6 to win the National League pennant.
Phillies famed broadcaster Harry Kalas summed up this band of Phillies best with his call of the final out that clinched the NL East, calling his beloved Phillies a “wonderful band of throwback players.”
21. 2008 Tampa Bay Rays
By the time the 2008 season rolled around, the Tampa Bay Rays had already experienced a decade of losing ways, finishing last in the AL East in nine of those first 10 seasons, including a 66-96 record the year before.
However, under third-year manager Joe Maddon, the Rays put it all together, winning 97 games to win the AL East Division title by two games over the Boston Red Sox. The Rays were led offensively by first baseman Carlos Pena and rookie third baseman Evan Longoria, and a great young pitching staff led by James Shields, who was the old man of the group at age 26.
The Rays easily beat the Chicago White Sox in four games in the ALDS and were set to face the Red Sox in the ALCS. In a bitterly contested series, the Rays prevailed in seven games, with young left-hander David Price shutting the door on the Red Sox's hopes to close out the series and give the Rays their first American League pennant.
20. 2010 San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants have had a history of great hitters, from Willie Mays to Willie McCovey to Bobby Bonds to son Barry. Yet in 2010, it was pitching that saved the day.
With a core group of starters in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, a big contribution from 20-year-old rookie Madison Bumgarner, and a great bullpen that included Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson, the Giants captured the NL West Division by two games over the San Diego Padres.
There was some offensive support, as Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff were big bats down the stretch.
The Giants again rode their pitching in the postseason. Backed by stellar performances from Cain and Lincecum, they won the first World Series championship for the Giants in 56 years.
19. 1914 Boston Braves
On July 18, 1914, the Boston Braves beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-3. However, even with the win, the Braves were in last place in the National League, a full 10.5 games behind the New York Giants.
No one expected anything else from the Braves at that point—they had put together just one winning season thus far in the twentieth century, so they seemed destined to continue on their path of losing.
But the Braves had other things in mind.
They proceeded to win 25 of their next 31 games, leapfrogging six teams along the way to tie the Giants at the top on Aug. 25. The Braves didn’t stop there—after see-sawing back and forth with the lead at the top, they took it for good on Sept. 8 and never looked back, eventually winning the pennant by a full 10.5 games over the Giants.
Heading to the World Series for the first time, no one gave the Braves a chance against the mighty Philadelphia Athletics, led by hitters Frank “Home Run” Baker and Eddie Collins, and supported by an outstanding starting rotation headed by Eddie Plank and Chief Bender.
Again, the Braves proved everyone wrong, easily sweeping the A’s on the way to their first-ever World Series championship, the only one achieved while the franchise was located in Boston.
18. 1954 New York Giants
In 1952 and 1953, the New York Giants were unable to return to the World Series after a remarkable September finish to win the pennant in 1951. That was partially due to the fact that they had lost the services of their young center fielder Willie Mays, called to duty during the Korean War.
In 1954, the war had ended, and Mays returned with a vengeance, hitting .345 with 41 HR and 110 RBI to help put his Giants back on top in the National League once again.
However, they were to face the Cleveland Indians, who put together one of the best regular-season records in baseball history with a mark of 111-43. The Indians were loaded, with Larry Doby and Al Rosen leading the way offensively, and Early Wynn, Bob Lemon and an aging Bob Feller anchoring a stellar pitching staff.
Mays took the air out of the Tribe’s tires in Game 1 with an outstanding running catch in deep right-center off the bat of Vic Wertz. The Indians were unable to recover, getting swept by the Giants for their first World Series victory in 21 years.
17. 2006 St. Louis Cardinals
It’s not every day that a team gets into the postseason with a record of 83-78, but that’s what happened to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006.
Playing in a weak division certainly helped, but with their record, the Cardinals became the second-worst team (1973 Mets) ever to qualify for the postseason. But the Cardinals showed their heart, and in the process proved that sometimes it isn’t necessarily the best team that wins, just the hottest.
The Cards eliminated the San Diego Padres in four games in the NLDS and prevailed over the favored New York Mets in seven games to capture the National League pennant.
The Cardinals capped off their fantastic finish by defeating the Detroit Tigers in five games in the World Series, becoming the worst team ever (in terms of regular-season record) to win the World Series.
16. 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates
We Are Family.
Those three simple words, captured in song by Sister Sledge, became the rallying cry for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1979 season.
Led by aging veteran Willie “Pops” Stargell, the Pirates soared to the top of the NL East Division standings with 97 wins. Stargell won MVP honors at the advanced age of 39.
With their signature rallying cry and the entire city of Pittsburgh caught up in the excitement, the Pirates handily defeated the Cincinnati Reds in a three-game sweep and headed to their first World Series in eight seasons.
The Pirates, again riding the bat of Stargell (.400 average, 3 HR, seven RBI) defeated the Baltimore Orioles in a thrilling seven-game series, putting a cap on their “We Are Family” storybook season.
15. 2004 Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox had a new manager and several new additions to the team when they began play in 2004, just six months after famously losing the 2003 ALCS to the New York Yankees courtesy of a questionable managerial decision by Grady Little and a walk-off home run by Aaron Boone.
In 2004, with new addition Curt Schilling anchoring the rotation and new closer Keith Foulke spearheading the bullpen, the Red Sox again made the postseason, aided by a great offense led by Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.
After defeating the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS, the Sox were once again up against the Evil Empire, a term used by team president Larry Lucchino to describe the New York Yankees.
However, this time it looked like the Red Sox wouldn’t get to a seventh and deciding game, falling behind quickly three games-to-none, getting embarrassed in Game 3, 19-8.
But the team that first baseman/designated hitter Kevin Millar referred to as “idiots” refused to die, winning Game 4 in extra innings after a crucial stolen base by pinch-runner Dave Roberts and subsequent run-scoring single by Bill Mueller tied the game in the bottom of the ninth.
The Sox went on to win the next three games, becoming the first team in Major League Baseball history ever to win a postseason series after losing its first three games.
The World Series was almost a foregone conclusion after the Sox’s thrilling ALCS victory. They swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games to capture their first World Series championship in 86 years.
Millar and the band of “idiots” are forever etched in Red Sox lore as a result.
14. 1966 Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles moved from St. Louis in 1954, and for the first several years continued losing as they had for so many years in St. Louis. However, at the start of the 1960s, things finally started turning around.
After experiencing five winning seasons in the previous six years, the Orioles made one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history that would prove to make the difference, acquiring right fielder Frank Robinson from the Cincinnati Reds for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson.
Robinson, whom Reds GM Bill DeWitt had called an “old 30,” went out and proved his old boss wrong, hitting .316 with 49 HR and 122 RBI to capture the Triple Crown and American League MVP honors.
Behind Robinson and a strong pitching staff led by Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Eddie Fisher and Stu Miller, the Orioles won their first pennant since moving to Baltimore and then dispatched the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games in the World Series, holding the Dodgers scoreless from the third inning of Games 1 through 4.
13. 1990 Cincinnati Reds
The 1990 Cincinnati Reds were not considered a powerhouse team, nor were they blessed with a roster full of All-Stars. But collectively, they made magic.
Led offensively by Eric Davis and backed by an outstanding bullpen headed by the Nasty Boys—Randy Myers, Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble—the Reds captured the NL West Division title and dispatched the Pittsburgh Pirates in three games to win the National League pennant.
But their run was sure to end there, as they were about to face the powerful Oakland Athletics, defending World Series champions who were making their third consecutive trip to the Fall Classic.
But these Reds didn’t flinch. Backed by two outstanding performances from starter Jose Rijo, including a dominant two-hit performance in Game 4, the underdog Reds swept the A’s to win their first World Series championship in 14 seasons.
12. 2007 Colorado Rockies
In the brief history of the Colorado Rockies, they had only been to the postseason once, losing in four games in 1995 in the NLDS to the Atlanta Braves.
In 2007, it certainly didn’t look like they were postseason-bound either, facing a 6.5 game deficit to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West and a 4.5 game deficit to the San Diego Padres in the wild-card race on Sept. 15.
However, the Rockies would win 13 of their final 14 regular-season games to force a tie with the Padres in the wild-card race, setting up a one-game playoff on Oct. 1. The Rockies would go on to win that game in spectacular fashion, scoring three runs in the bottom of the 13th inning to defeat the Padres 9-8.
The Rockies stayed on their roll, winning their next seven games—three against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS and four more over the Diamondbacks in the ALCS—to capture their first-ever National League pennant.
Their run would end there however, as the Boston Red Sox swept the Rockies in the World Series. But these Rockies captivated the hearts of fans with their never-say-die attitude and tremendous will to win.
11. 1968 Detroit Tigers
In 1967, the Detroit Tigers were involved in one of the closest pennant races in American League history, being eliminated on the final day of the regular season. They would not be denied the following season.
In 1968, the Tigers once again bared their teeth, this time winning the pennant with a 103-59 season, outdistancing the runner-up Baltimore Orioles by 12 games.
The Tigers were facing the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, who were returning largely the same team that defeated the Boston Red Sox the prior year. Behind the pitching of Bob Gibson and the bat of Lou Brock, the Cardinals quickly built a commanding 3-1 series lead.
But the Tigers refused to quit. Backed by two powerful performances from starter Mickey Lolich, the Tigers roared back to win the final three games, upsetting the Cardinals to capture their first World Series title in 23 years.
10. 2011 St. Louis Cardinals
Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals were seemingly on the outside looking in, a full 8.5 behind the Atlanta Braves in the race for the NL wild-card slot.
However, the Cardinals heated up at the right time, winning 18 of their final 26 games while the Braves won only nine games in the month of September.
Starting pitcher Chris Carpenter’s two-hit shutout over the Houston Astros on the final day of the regular season, combined with the Braves losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the 13th inning, propelled the Cardinals into the postseason in one of the most improbable comebacks in baseball history.
The Cardinals kept rolling, defeating the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers to win the National League pennant, and then defeating the Texas Rangers in a terrific seven-game series to win their 11th World Series title.
9. 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks
The 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks captivated the desert denizens in Phoenix with a pretty magical season of their own.
Aided by a mid-season trade the prior year that brought over starting pitcher Curt Schilling from the Philadelphia Phillies, the D-Backs were anchored at the top of their rotation nicely with Schilling and defending Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson.
With the two combining for 43 wins and with an offense backed by a tremendous season from Luis Gonzalez (.325 average, 57 HR, 142 RBI), the Diamondbacks captured their first-ever NL West Division title.
But their work wasn’t quite done. After a tough five-game win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, the D-Backs dispatched the Atlanta Braves in five games in the NLCS to advance to their first World Series appearance, facing off against the three-time defending World Series champion New York Yankees.
Behind the pitching of Johnson and Schilling, the D-Backs defeated the Yankees in an emotional World Series, just a few weeks after the events of Sept. 11. Gonzalez would deliver the win in Game 7 with a single over a drawn-in Yankees infield to score pinch-runner Jay Bell with the Series-winning run.
8. 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers
It may not have been a huge surprise that the Brooklyn Dodgers won the 1947 National League pennant considering they had finished in second place the prior year, just two games behind the pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals. However, considering the adversity they faced with putting an African-American on the playing field that year, it was indeed special.
Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player to play in the majors since 1880, effectively and finally breaking the color line in Major League Baseball.
The Dodgers dealt with racism inside their own clubhouse, with several players threatening a mutiny if forced to play with a black man.
Manager Leo Durocher quickly put that to rest, saying:
"I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a f****** zebra. I'm the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What's more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded."
While that quelled issues in the clubhouse, Robinson faced an incredible amount of jeers and threats from both fans and opposing teams alike.
Undaunted, Robinson and the Dodgers posted a spectacular season, winning the National League pennant by five games over the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Source: Bill Kirwin: Out of the Shadows: African American Baseball from the Cuban Giants to Jackie Robinson.
7. 1967 Boston Red Sox
In the 1960s, the Boston Red Sox had become used to losing, suffering through eight straight seasons under .500 from 1959 to 1966. But things were about to change.
General manager Dick O’Connell hired Triple-A manager Dick Williams to take over as skipper of the Red Sox, with Williams famously pronouncing that the Sox would “win more games than we lose” prior to the start of the regular season.
A bold statement indeed, considering the recent fortunes, or misfortunes, of the team. And the Fenway faithful weren’t buying it either, with only 8,000 fans in attendance on Opening Day.
But Williams’ words proved prophetic. The Sox indeed started winning, and by mid-August became involved in one of the closest pennant races in American League history.
Backed by the bat of Carl Yastrzemski and the arm of Jim Lonborg, the Sox went into the final weekend needing to win two games over the Minnesota Twins in order to have a chance.
Yaz and Lonborg both delivered that weekend. Yastrzemski went 7-for-8 with six RBI and Lonborg won his 22nd game on the final day of the regular season, handing the Sox their first American League pennant in 21 years.
By the end of the season, the Sox were regularly selling out every game, and baseball once again became an institution in the city of Boston.
6. 1950 Philadelphia Phillies
Affectionately known as the “Whiz Kids,” the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies captured the imagination of fans throughout the City of Brotherly Love.
The Phillies had only tasted victory once before in their first 66 years, winning the National League pennant in 1915. In 1950, backed by youngsters Richie Ashburn, Willie Jones, Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons, the Phillies captured the NL pennant for the first time in 35 years, defeating the runner-up Brooklyn Dodgers by two games.
The Phillies were swept in four games in the World Series by the New York Yankees, but they had already etched themselves in the memories of Phillies fans forever.
5. 1983 Philadelphia Phillies
While the 1950 Phillies were known as the Whiz Kids, the 1983 Phillies became well-known as the Wheeze Kids.
Seven prominent members of the team were above the age of 38—Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Ron Reed, Bill Robinson, Tug McGraw and Steve Carlton. But these veterans weren’t quite ready to be put out to pasture just yet.
Backed by relative youngster Mike Schmidt (33) and his 40 HR and 109 RBI, along with a combined 34 wins from Carlton and John Denny, the Phillies captured the NL East title with a 90-72 record.
Carlton’s two wins in the NLCS helped propel the Phillies over the Los Angeles Dodgers to win their second National League pennant in four years.
4. 1991 Minnesota Twins
There may be no greater satisfaction than going from worst to first.
That’s exactly what the Minnesota Twins experienced in 1991. After finishing in the cellar of the AL West with a record of 74-88 in 1990, the Twins weren’t expected to do much the following season.
However, they had different ideas.
Backed by veterans Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett, the strong bat of designated hitter Chili Davis and a combined 54 wins from starting pitchers Jack Morris, Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani, the Twins did indeed go from worst to first, winning 95 games to capture the AL West title.
After dispatching the Toronto Blue Jays in five games to win the pennant, the Twins matched up with the Atlanta Braves in the World Series, one that would become largely known as one of the greatest World Series' ever played.
The Braves and Twins fought toe-to-toe, and with the Twins down three games to two, Puckett hit a game-winning walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 7 to send the series to a deciding seventh game.
Game 7 became one of the most memorable in history, with Morris pitching a 10-inning gem for the Twins and left fielder Dan Gladden scoring the winning run on a single to left by Gene Larkin.
3. 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers
There was really nothing about the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers that screamed “great team.”
Offensively, they were nowhere close to being the best team in the National League, led by right fielder Kirk Gibson with 25 HR and left fielder Mike Marshall with 82 RBI.
Pitching, however, was a different story. Led by Orel Hershiser and his 23 wins along with an outstanding bullpen including Jay Howell and Alejandro Pena, the Dodgers won the NL West by seven games over the Cincinnati Reds.
The Dodgers had a battle on their hands in the NLCS, facing the heavily-favored New York Mets, who had captured the NL East with a 100-60 record, a whopping 15 games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Hershiser and the Dodgers came through once again, however, beating the Mets in seven games, backed by Hershiser’s five-hit shutout in Game 7.
The 1988 World Series featured the Dodgers once again as underdogs, doing battle with the powerful Oakland Athletics. Gibson’s dramatic pinch-hit home run in Game 1 set the tone, as the Dodgers once again pulled off the upset, defeating the A’s in five games.
2. 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates
In 1960, the Pittsburgh Pirates won the National League pennant with a 95-59 record, outdistancing the Milwaukee Braves by seven games to win their first NL title in 33 years.
Facing the heavily favored New York Yankees in the World Series, the Pirates remarkably found themselves in a seventh and deciding game despite being outscored 46-17 in the first six games.
The Pirates were down 7-4 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7, yet roared back to score five runs to take a 9-7 lead. The Yankees answered right back in the top of the ninth, scoring two runs to tie the game at 9-9 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
With Ralph Terry on the mound for the Yankees, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski took a 1-0 pitch and launched it into the left field seats, giving the Pirates their first World Series championship since 1925.
1. 1969 New York Mets
The New York Mets had become known as the “Loveable Losers” during the 1960s, finishing last or second-to-last in each of their first seven years, setting the benchmark for losses with 120 in their inaugural season of 1962.
However, the 1968 team showed a glimmer of hope. Young pitchers Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman showed signs of promise and new manager Gil Hodges started instilling an attitude of winning.
In 1969, the Mets indeed put everything together.
Seaver and Koosman led the way with 42 combined wins. Relievers Tug McGraw and Ron Taylor providing superb relief and an offense backed by Tommie Agee and mid-season acquisition Donn Clendenon provided enough firepower to support the efforts of the pitching staff.
The Mets, however, were still 10 games behind the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 13. That would change quickly, as the “Loveable Losers” turned into a fine-tuned machine, winning 38 of their final 49 games to easily overtake the Cubs and win the NL East title.
After sweeping the Braves in three games to win the National League pennant for the first time in franchise history, the Mets faced the powerful Baltimore Orioles, winners of 109 games.
The Mets completed their storybook season, defeating the Orioles in five games to transform themselves from the “Loveable Losers” to the “Amazing Mets.”
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.