Ranking the 10 Most Dominant MLB Playoff Teams of All Time
Every once in a great while, a team catches fire at exactly the right time and waltzes through the MLB playoffs with the ease of a mid-afternoon stroll through the park.
Only time will tell whether a 2013 juggernaut joins the ranks of these postseason powerhouses of yesteryear, but we've ranked the 10 greatest playoff teams of all time.
Some dominated their opponents on the mound; others did so at the plate. But what they all had in common was the ability to completely suck the life out of the team in the opposing dugout again and again.
So join me on a walk down memory lane as we reflect on the teams who still strike fear into the hearts of those who tried to stand in their way.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com
1905 New York Giants
The Giants' pitching staff absolutely had its way with Philadelphia's batters in this series, allowing zero earned runs in 45 innings of work. However, they only receive an honorable mention because they lost one of the games—allowing three unearned runs to score in Game 2—and because it was more of a one-man show than an exhibition of team domination. Christy Mathewson incredibly pitched three complete-game shutouts.
1910 Philadelphia Athletics
The A's also lost one game during their dominant postseason, letting the Cubs eke out a come-from-behind victory in Game 4, but they deserve some recognition for scoring 36 runs in five games while batting .322/.388/.469 in a season that saw the entire league bat .249/.318/.326.
1983 Baltimore Orioles
A far cry from New York's zero earned runs in five games in 1905, but the 1983 Orioles allowed a still-impressive 10 earned runs during their postseason run. Though they lost the opener, they outscored the White Sox 19-3 in the ALCS before taking four out of the five low-scoring games against the Phillies in the World Series.
1998 New York Yankees
Easily the toughest omission, because they did go 11-2 in the postseason after winning the third-most regular season games of any team in history, but it's hard to be too blown away by them with the knowledge of their even more impressive run through the playoffs in the following season.
It's worth noting, though, that this may have been Mariano Rivera's most incredible postseason, allowing just six hits in 13.1 innings of scoreless work in converting each of his six save opportunities.
No. 10: 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers
World Series: 4-0 over New York Yankees
During the 1963 regular season, the Yankees struck out less frequently than any other team—whiffing in just 13.3 percent of their plate appearances.
Perhaps that would have been different if they had faced Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale prior to the postseason.
The Dodgers' pitching staff recorded 37 strikeouts in the series, sending Yankees back to the dugout after strike three more than twice as often as they were accustomed to during the regular season.
Bobby Richardson led the team with 668 plate appearances but only struck out 22 times all year. His 3.3 percent strikeout rate trailed only Nellie Fox for best in the majors. Yet, he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in Game 1 against Koufax.
The Yankees were helpless from the beginning. They scored just four runs in the entire series and never once held a lead in any game.
This one would rank higher on the list if the Dodgers had any offense of their own, but they batted just .214 in the series and failed to win any of the games by more than three runs. Even though the Yankees didn't hit many of them, it's hard to argue that the Dodgers thoroughly dominated the series when they were quite regularly one swing away from giving up the lead.
No. 9: 1995 Atlanta Braves
NLDS: 3-1 over Colorado Rockies
NLCS: 4-0 over Cincinnati Reds
World Series: 4-2 over Cleveland Indians
As far as the regular season is concerned, Atlanta owned the National League in the 1990s. Between 1993 and 1998—in the middle of their run of 14 consecutive division titles—the Braves' starting rotation submitted the five best seasons in the majors. And even though only 114 games were played during the strike-shortened 1994 season, it still ranked 21st on that list.
However, that only once translated into a championship.
The pitching struggled against Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette and the high-octane Rockies offense in a four-game NLDS that had a combined 13 home runs and 46 runs scored, but Marquis Grissom (11-for-21, 3 HR, 2 SB) and some rookie named Chipper Jones (7-for-18, 2 HR) helped carry the team into the latter stages of the postseason where the pitching staff took over.
The Reds scrounged together just five runs with no home runs before getting swept out of the playoffs by the likes of Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.
Smoltz took his lumps in Game 3 of the World Series, lasting just 2.1 innings and allowing four earned runs, but Atlanta's other three aces led the way by giving up just seven earned runs in 36 innings of work. Glavine won Games 2 and 6 against the 100-44 Indians and took home the MVP trophy.
No. 8: 2007 Boston Red Sox
ALDS: 3-0 vs. Los Angeles Angels
ALCS: 4-3 vs. Cleveland Indians
World Series: 4-0 vs. Colorado Rockies
When the 2007 Red Sox felt like scoring runs, there was nothing the opposition could do to stop them.
In total, they scored 99 runs in 14 games for an average of better than seven runs per game. They won seven of their 11 games by a margin of five runs or more and scored at least nine runs six times.
Mike Lowell was named the World Series MVP after batting .400 and homering in Game 4, but David Ortiz carried the team throughout the playoffs, going 17-for-46 with 14 walks and three home runs.
The pitching was sporadically unstoppable as well. Josh Beckett won each of his four starts, posting a 1.20 ERA and a 17.5 K/BB ratio in 30 innings of work. On the back end of things, Jonathan Papelbon worked 10.2 scoreless innings and picked up saves in the four games that were actually close enough for a save situation.
No. 7: 1950 New York Yankees
World Series: 4-0 over Philadelphia Phillies
Prior to an error with two outs in the 9th inning of Game 4 which gave the Phillies two unearned runs, they only scored three runs over the course of the entire series.
It was more than just the scoreless innings, though.
During the regular season, the league had a K/9 of 3.92 and a BB/9 of 4.08. It was the last time that the league had a K/BB ratio of less than 1.00, and the Phillies' pitching staff followed suit with 13 walks and 12 strikeouts in the series.
New York, on the other hand, had 24 strikeouts against just seven walks for a K/BB ratio of 3.43.
Philadelphia's top four walkers—Richie Ashburn, Willie Jones, Andy Seminick and Dick Sisler—combined for 256 walks and 172 strikeouts during the regular season. In the World Series, they collectively struck out 15 times while receiving just one free pass to first base.
Vic Raschi's complete-game, two-hit shutout in the series opener set the tone for Whitey Ford, Eddie Lopat and Allie Reynolds to mow down the competition.
No. 6: 1966 Baltimore Orioles
World Series: 4-0 over Los Angeles Dodgers
There are dominant displays of pitching, and then there is what Jim Palmer and company did to the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series.
Dave McNally struggled in Game 1, lasting just 2.1 innings, walking five batters and allowing two earned runs to score. After those first three innings, however, the Dodgers had no chance whatsoever.
Over the final 33 innings of the series, the Dodgers batted .138/.175/.156 and struck out 26 times. Palmer, McNally and Wally Bunker each threw a complete-game shutout in Games 2 through 4, with the latter two games each being won by a 1-0 margin.
Baltimore's offense had some struggles of its own—the Orioles batted .200/.267/.342 in the series—but did just enough to complete the sweep in the lowest scoring World Series ever.
No. 5: 1928 New York Yankees
World Series: 4-0 over St. Louis Cardinals
The batting prowess of the late 1920's New York Yankees is essentially an urban legend with statistical proof. Led by Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, the Yankees hit 127 more home runs than the next-closest team from 1926-1930.
Right smack dab in the middle of that impressive run of regular seasons, the 1928 Yankees carried some of that power into the postseason.
Against a Cardinals pitching staff that had a better ERA than most, Gehrig and Ruth combined to go 16-for-27 with seven home runs. The team hit nine home runs and outscored its opponent 27-10 during the four-game sweep.
The Yankees hit at least one home run in each game—including five in Game 4—and won each game of the series by no less than three runs.
No. 4: 2005 Chicago White Sox
ALDS: 3-0 over Boston Red Sox
ALCS: 4-1 over Anaheim Angels
World Series: 4-0 over Houston Astros
Since the playoffs expanded to a three-series format in 1995, no team has yet gone 11-0 to win the World Series. In fact, the 2007 Colorado Rockies are the only team to have entered the World Series with a perfect 7-0 postseason record, and they promptly got swept by the aforementioned Red Sox.
Though a flawless October hasn't happened, the 2005 White Sox were one of the two teams to have gotten the necessary 11 wins in a span of only 12 games.
In nine of those 12 games, they scored at least five runs. In 10 of the games, they allowed four or fewer runs to score. In total, they outscored their opponents 67-34, hitting 18 home runs and finishing each series with a team ERA of 3.00 or less.
Oddly enough, it was the series in which they lost a game that their domination was most clearly on display.
Complete games by pitchers aren't anywhere near as prevalent as they used to be. In 1978 there were 2,102 games played and 1,034 complete games. In other words, roughly one out of every two games featured a pitcher going the distance.
By 2005, there were only 189 complete games in the 2,430 games played for a ratio of nearly one complete game for every 13 games played. As an entire team, the White Sox had just nine complete games during the regular season.
You wouldn't know it from Ozzie Guillen's extremely conservative use of his bullpen against the Angels.
Jose Contreras lasted 8.1 innings in Game 1 before Neal Cotts took over in the 9th inning of Chicago's sole loss in the 2005 playoffs. It was the last time in the series that a relief pitcher entered the game for Chicago, though, because Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and Contreras each had a complete game victory in Games 2 through 5.
No. 3: 1999 New York Yankees
ALDS: 3-0 over Texas Rangers
ALCS: 4-1 over Boston Red Sox
World Series: 4-0 over Atlanta Braves
The Yankees won four of the five World Series between 1996 and 2000, but it was the 1999 team that had arguably the greatest postseason in Yankees history.
The Rangers had one of the most potent offensive attacks in 1999. Their .293 batting average and .479 slugging percentage were the best in the majors. They averaged nearly six runs per game during the regular season and belted 230 home runs.
Against the Yankees, they batted .152 and scored a grand total of one run.
Their one loss in the postseason was a 13-1 shellacking at the hands of the Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALCS, but they outscored Boston 22-8 in the other four games of the series. Orlando "El Duke" Hernandez started Games 1 and 5, holding the Red Sox to three earned runs in 15 innings of work and winning the ALCS MVP.
The Braves won five more games than the Yankees during the regular season, but couldn't pick up a single win against them in the playoffs. New York scored eight of its 21 World Series runs in the 8th inning or later, finally getting to a fatigued Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in Games 1 and 3, respectively.
Led by seven shutout innings from David Cone and a win and two saves from WS MVP Mariano Rivera, the Yankees held the Braves to just nine runs and batting totals of .200/.283/.277. Andruw Jones batted .275 with 26 home runs and 24 stolen bases during the regular season, but went 1-for-13 with zero of either in the World Series.
No. 2: 1976 Cincinnati Reds
NLCS: 3-0 over Philadelphia Phillies
World Series: 4-0 over New York Yankees
Back when the World Series was the start and end of postseason baseball, it was almost commonplace for a team to win the whole enchilada without so much as a loss in the playoffs. Between 1907 and 1968, there were 12 instances of a team winning the World Series by means of a sweep.
However, since they added the ALCS and NLCS in 1969—and subsequently the ALDS and NLDS in 1995—the 1976 Cincinnati Reds are the only team to win the World Series without a single postseason loss.
Setting the pace for the seven-game winning streak, Johnny Bench went 12-for-27 with three home runs and seven RBI and caught a pair of Game 1 gems from Don Gullett, who had a line of 15.1 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 6 BB and 8 K in his two postseason wins.
Bench's three home runs were more than the two home runs that the Reds pitching staff allowed in the playoffs.
In total, they outscored the Phillies and Yankees by a score of 41-19, scoring at least four runs in each of the seven games and only once allowing an opponent to score more than three of its own. The Reds had walk-off victories in the 9th inning of two of the three home games that they played and won each of their four road games by at least three runs.
No. 1: 1970 Baltimore Orioles
ALCS: 3-0 over Minnesota Twins
World Series: 4-1 over Cincinnati Reds
During the 1970 regular season, both the Twins and the Reds had a better batting average than the Orioles. The Reds had the highest batting average in the majors and led the National League in home runs hit.
But it was Baltimore that put on an offensive display of domination.
The Orioles batted .307, hitting 16 home runs and scoring a total of 60 runs in their eight postseason games. Brooks Robinson won the World Series MVP and batted .485 (16-for-33) with two home runs in the playoffs.
Scoring 7.5 runs per game is a pretty distinct advantage for any team, but the Orioles also had three of the top five finishers in the 1970 AL Cy Young race starting each of those eight games. Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer and the bullpen held the Reds and Twins to 30 runs on a combined postseason batting average of .223.
To help put that domination in context for the younger generation, imagine if the 1998 Braves had given nearly endless run support to the trio of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. And in return for that offense, those three aces simply decimated the high-powered offenses of the Yankees and Rockies.
Also, for what it's worth, Cuellar and McNally each hit a grand slam in the 1970 playoffs, so Maddux and Glavine would have to do the same in order to really cement that comparison.