Gather up the last 10 World Series champions, and you'll be holding a fascinating collection of narratives.
There were the slump-breakers. The 2004 Boston Red Sox, 2005 Chicago White Sox, 2008 Philadelphia Phillies and 2010 San Francisco Giants all snapped lengthy title droughts.
There were the unexpecteds. The Florida Marlins came out of nowhere to win the 2003 World Series. The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals won it all, despite winning only 83 games in the regular season. The 2011 Cardinals qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the season and ultimately snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against the Texas Rangers.
Then there's the "could kinda see that coming" crowd. The 2007 Red Sox and 2009 Yankees had the look of champions all along, and the Giants' triumph in 2012 was their second in three years.
It's a darn shame we can't round up all 10 of these teams, put 'em in a bracket and make 'em play in a winner-take-all tournament just to serve the interests of what-the-heckery, might-as-wellery and good, plain, old-fashioned fun.
While we can't do that, however, nobody says we can't allow ourselves to ask, "What if?" and then get to pondering some simulated matchups.
And that's what we're here for today. If you'll follow me this way, we'll see about whittling the last 10 champions down to one champion to rule them all.
Setting the Brackets and Laying the Ground Rules
Setting brackets for this hypothetical what-have-you would be a lot simpler if the Rangers had been able to capitalize on either of their chances to get that final strike in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. Had they done that, the last 10 World Series champs would consist of five American League teams and five National League teams.
Since that option wasn't available, I figured that the next best thing was splitting the last 10 champions based on the span in which they won: 2003-2007 and 2008-2012. I then seeded the teams by regular-season winning percentage, with run differential serving as a tiebreaker.
Here's how the 2003-2007 bracket ended up:
|2005||Chicago White Sox||.611||1|
|2004||Boston Red Sox||.605||2|
|2007||Boston Red Sox||.593||3|
|2006||St. Louis Cardinals||.515||5|
And the 2008-2012 bracket:
|2009||New York Yankees||.636||1|
|2012||San Francisco Giants||.580||2|
|2010||San Francisco Giants*||.568||4|
|2011||St. Louis Cardinals||.556||5|
The matchups will follow the same playoff structure MLB is currently using: No. 5 and No. 4 will be the play-in matchup, the winner will face the No. 1 seed, and so on.
To keep things as fair as they can be, the 10 clubs will be treated as the teams they were at the time they won the World Series. Postseason statistics will take priority as will postseason rosters.
That does it, so let's sound the bell and get to hypothesizing.
2003-2007 Play-In: 2006 Cardinals vs. 2003 Marlins
The 2003 Marlins would not have won the World Series in 2003 without Josh Beckett. All he did was post a 2.09 ERA and throw two complete games while amassing a 44-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Those numbers gave birth to a superstar. And in this context, they would make him the best pitcher on either side of the matchup at hand between the '03 Marlins and '06 Cardinals.
However, the Marlins didn't have much outside of Beckett. Brad Penny and Mark Redman both posted ERAs over 6.00 in October of '03. The Marlins, as a team, posted a modest 4.30 ERA.
The 2006 Cardinals, on the other hand, saw their hurlers heat up at the right time. Chris Carpenter had a 2.78 ERA, and Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan and Anthony Reyes all ended with ERAs of 3.00 or better. Then-closer Adam Wainwright was one of three primary relievers who didn't allow an earned run.
So in a matchup between the '03 Marlins and '06 Cardinals, much would come down to Florida's offense coming alive. And given what the Marlins offense did that October, that would be a tall order.
The Marlins only mustered a .698 OPS in the '03 postseason, and just four of their regulars managed an OPS of at least .700. By comparison, St. Louis' offense posted a .727 OPS and had five regulars post an OPS of at least .700.
Not even Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have a theory for what happened with the '06 Cardinals. But in this context, they look like a legitimately superior team.
2008-2012 Play-In: 2011 Cardinals vs. 2010 Giants
The 2010 Giants had two things in abundance: general weirdness and pitching.
Giants pitchers combined for a 2.47 ERA in the 2010 postseason. Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner both posted ERAs in the 2.40 range with a combined K/BB of 59/13. Matt Cain didn't allow an earned run all postseason. Ditto the modestly (at the time) bearded Brian Wilson.
The catch is that the Giants didn't hit a whole lot. They combined for just a .666 OPS in the playoffs, and only one of their regulars had an OPS over .800 (Cody Ross at 1.076).
The 2011 Cardinals offense, on the other hand, was stacked. They compiled a .782 OPS in the playoffs, with six regulars managing an OPS of at least .700. Albert Pujols, Allen Craig and unexpected hero/destroyer-of-worlds David Freese all topped 1.000.
If the Cardinals offense were to be up to the task of hitting the Giants' starting pitching, bullpens would be a huge factor in this matchup. And the edge there goes to St. Louis.
While the Giants did have Wilson at the height of his studliness, the 2011 Cardinals bullpen featured a deep and diverse mix. Newly anointed closer Jason Motte, Octavio Dotel, Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn and Arthur Rhodes were among their primary relievers who posted 3.40 ERAs or better.
The 2010 Giants only had two relievers do that well: Wilson and Javier Lopez. Since the latter is a humble LOOGY, the only inning they really had under wraps was the ninth inning.
So two picks in, I'm already coming off as a huge Cardinals homer.
[Shrugs. Says, "Oh well." Moves on to the next matchup.]
2003-2007 Semifinal: 2007 Red Sox vs. 2004 Red Sox
Ah yes, the ultimate Boston bar conversation. Which team was better: the '04 Red Sox club that killed the curse or the '07 Red Sox club that gave it the double-tap?
The 2007 one-two punch of Beckett and Curt Schilling takes the cake over the 2004 one-two punch of Schilling and Pedro Martinez. Though he pitched well with it, Schilling's ankle injury did render him a lesser pitcher. For his part, Martinez was wilder than usual with 13 walks in four starts.
Beckett and Schilling ('07 iteration) combined to allow 12 earned runs in 54 innings in the postseason, with a ridiculous K/BB of 51/5. Beckett, in particular, couldn't be touched.
The '07 Red Sox also boast the superior bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon didn't allow a run in the '07 postseason, and he was one of three Boston relievers to post an ERA of 3.18 or better. On the '04 Red Sox, only Keith Foulke and Alan Embree did that well.
As for offense, you can take your pick between the '04 Red Sox and the '07 Red Sox. Both were really good. But as far as postseason production goes, it's actually not close.
The '04 Red Sox had a wrecking ball in David Ortiz, but the 1.204 OPS he posted in '07 is on par with the 1.278 OPS he posted in '04. To boot, Boston's offense was deeper around him in '07 than it was in '04. The 2007 Red Sox had an absurd .911 OPS in the postseason, and Ortiz was one of four regulars who posted an OPS over 1.000.
The '04 Red Sox were a team for the books, but they'd meet their match against the '07 Red Sox.
2008-2012 Semifinal: 2008 Phillies vs. 2012 Giants
Against all odds, the Giants managed to be about as inept swinging the bats in the 2012 playoffs as the 2010 Giants had been.
Giants hitters only mustered a .674 OPS in October 2012. Only three of their regulars did better than .750, and Pablo Sandoval was the only one with an OPS over .800.
On the other side, the '08 Phillies posted an OPS of .798 in October. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Pat Burrell all posted an OPS of at least .800.
So like with the matchup between the 2010 Giants and 2011 Cardinals, it would be up to the Giants' pitching to save them.
The one thing the Giants did have in 2012 that they didn't have in 2010 is a deep bullpen. Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt combined to allow two earned runs in 28 innings. Tim Lincecum had 17 strikeouts in 13 innings as a reliever.
The 2008 Phillies, however, also had a great bullpen going for them in the playoffs. Their relievers combined for a 1.79 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 40.1 innings. Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson were particularly lethal with 25 strikeouts in 22 innings.
Lastly, the ace advantage would lie with the Phillies. Cole Hamels had a 1.80 ERA and a 30/9 K/BB ratio in the 2008 playoffs. Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong both had superior ERAs, but Vogelsong's K/BB was a pedestrian 21/10, and Zito's was an even more pedestrian 13/6.
So I'd side with the 2008 Phillies. Once those who feel like cursing my anti-Giants' propaganda have it out of their system, we can move along.
2003-2007 Semifinal: 2006 Cardinals vs. 2005 White Sox
The flukiest champion of the last decade against a club that won 99 games before going 11-1 in October. Kinda reminds you of that one Biblical story with the big guy and the little guy.
And unfortunately for the 2006 Cardinals in this (hypothetical/fictional/whatever) matchup, the 2005 White Sox really were that good.
Nobody could touch Chicago's pitching in the '05 postseason, as their hurlers combined for a 2.55 ERA. That was mostly thanks to their starters, who accounted for 92 of the team's 113 innings (no, seriously). Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia and Jon Garland each pitched a complete game and combined for a 0.93 WHIP and a 50/14 K/BB ratio.
St. Louis' starters were awfully good in the '06 postseason. But with 99.1 of 141 innings pitched and a 1.13 WHIP and 63/33 K/BB ratio, they weren't that good.
A deeper bullpen would still be a matchup advantage for the '06 Cardinals...but only to a degree in this case. Though they weren't called on that often, the trio of Bobby Jenks, Neal Cotts and Cliff Politte allowed only three earned runs and six hits in 13.2 innings.
It's unfair that the '05 White Sox could hit, too. Their .821 OPS in the '05 postseason is almost 100 points higher than the .727 OPS the Cardinals posted in the '06 postseason, and the White Sox had a staggering six regulars post an OPS of at least .800.
Like they did in every series they played in '05, the 2005 White Sox would win this one in a rout.
2008-2012 Semifinal: 2011 Cardinals vs. 2009 Yankees
Unlike that one (hypothetical/fictional/whatever) time they went up against the 2010 Giants, the 2011 Cardinals would not being going up against a vastly inferior offensive opponent in this one.
The 2009 Yankees had a lineup that featured Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui. The best lineup money can buy indeed.
The bright side, however, is that the '11 Cardinals would be catching the '09 Yankees at the right time. Teixeira, Cano and Swisher were underwhelming in the playoffs with OPS's under the .700 mark. In fact, the only Yankee hitters who really excelled were Jeter, A-Rod and Mastui.
All told, the '09 Yankees only had .772 OPS in October, merely on par with the .782 OPS of the '11 Cardinals. So as these things usually do, this matchup would come down to pitching.
The Yankees would have the advantage in the ace-closer combination department. CC Sabathia was money with a 1.98 postseason ERA, and Mariano Rivera allowed only one earned run in 16 innings. Chris Carpenter had a 3.25 ERA and Jason Motte allowed three earned runs in 12.1 innings. Not quite as good.
The deal-breaker would be Andy Pettitte. He had a 3.52 ERA in his five starts in the '09 postseason, whereas none of the starters behind Carpenter in St. Louis' rotation did better than 4.21. And while the 2011 Cardinals did have a righty-heavy lineup in 2011, Pettitte was actually a reverse-splits guy in 2009, holding righties to a lower OPS than he did lefties.
Give me the '09 Yankees in this one.
2003-2007 Final: 2007 Red Sox vs. 2005 White Sox
Now we're talking. A showdown between these two clubs would put the old "great pitching always beats great hitting" adage to the ultimate test.
White Sox pitchers would have to walk a fine line against the '07 Red Sox's lineup. Because if Chicago hurlers had one weakness in '05, it's that they didn't miss bats. Throughout the whole postseason, they only managed a K/9 of 5.7.
Pitching to contact successfully against the '07 Red Sox would be tricky, for they had a deeper and more dangerous lineup than the '06 Cardinals or any lineup that the White Sox came across in the '05 postseason. Also, the Red Sox were quite good at making contact, striking out only 15.2 percent in the postseason.
As such, the '05 White Sox's pitching would probably be rendered less mighty by Boston's offense, which would only make it easier for Beckett and Schilling to make up for the disadvantage the Red Sox would have in starting pitching depth.
Beckett, in particular, would likely match up well against a Chicago offense that struck out a bit more frequently in the '05 postseason (16.2 K%) than Boston's offense in the '07 postseason.
If it came down to the bullpens, much would depend on the key trios: Jenks, Cotts and Politte for Chicago and Papelbon, Hideki Okajima and Mike Timlin for Boston. The latter would have a very slight edge in its ability to miss bats, as the Boston trio posted an 8.3 K/9 to the Chicago trio's 8.2 K/9.
This one's a toss-up, but in the end Boston's lethal offense and solid pitching staff would make the Red Sox the winners.
2008-2012 Final: 2008 Phillies vs. 2009 Yankees
The only question that matters here is whether the 2008 Phillies would be a better match for the 2009 Yankees than the 2009 Phillies team that lost to them in the World Series.
Right off the bat, I'm going to lean toward...no.
The '09 Phillies were better offensively in the postseason than the '08 Phillies were. The '09 club posted an .817 OPS in the playoffs and had five regulars post at last a .900 OPS. The '08 Phillies only had a .798 OPS and had one regular post at last a .900 OPS.
The '09 Phillies also had Cliff Lee, who had a better postseason than the one Cole Hamels had in '08. Lee pitched two complete games and finished with a 1.56 ERA and a 33/6 K/BB ratio in 40.1 innings, superior numbers to Hamels' 1.80 and 30/9.
The one big advantage the '08 Phillies do have is relief pitching. Lidge regressed mightily in 2009, and the rest of the bullpen was weaker as well. Philadelphia relievers combined for a 4.20 ERA in the '09 postseason, a huge step back from the 1.79 ERA the bullpen had posted in October '08.
But given that the '09 Yankees got excellent work out of Rivera and watched their bullpen post a collective 2.91 ERA in October, the '08 Phillies' excellent bullpen would only be worth so much.
Certainly not enough to make up for an inferior offensive attack and a lesser ace, anyway. I'd go with the 2009 Yankees.
And that leaves...
The Overall Final: 2007 Red Sox vs. 2009 Yankees
Let this be a reminder to you, kids. In baseball, as in life, everything invariably comes down to the Red Sox and the Yankees.
But hey, at least this would be a good one.
Beckett would have another crack at dominating the Yankees like he did in the 2003 World Series. And in this case, he'd have an edge over Sabathia. Beckett posted a better ERA (1.20) and a better K/BB (35/2) in the '07 postseason than Sabathia did in the '09 postseason (1.98 and 32/9).
Schilling, another Yankees nemesis from 2001 and 2004, would be a good match for Pettitte. Schilling didn't pitch as many innings or rack up as many strikeouts in '07 as Pettitte did in '09, but he did post a better ERA (3.00 to 3.52) and WHIP (1.17 to 1.21).
As for the bullpens, the '09 version of Rivera and the '07 version of Papelbon make for fine arguments for one another, but the Red Sox's core trio of Papelbon, Okajima and Timlin would be superior to the Yankees' core trio of Rivera, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. They had an ERA of 2.87 in the '09 playoffs. Boston's trio had a 1.66 ERA in the '07 playoffs.
And once again, the Red Sox would have a difference-making advantage on offense. The 2009 Yankees' lineup was truly tremendous on paper, but Boston's lineup was significantly more tremendous between the lines with that collective .911 OPS. Teams just aren't supposed to hit that well in the playoffs, but the 2007 Red Sox did.
As regular-season teams, I'd side with the 2009 Yankees over the 2007 Red Sox in a heartbeat. And probably over the other nine teams that have won the World Series in the last 10 years as well, for what it's worth.
But given how balanced their attack was when they won the World Series, the 2007 Red Sox just so happened to be a good fit for a totally non-scientific simulation carried out in the interests of what-the-heckery, might-as-wellery and good, plain, old-fashioned fun.
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