The Top 10 Most Unlikely Playoff Teams in MLB History
The postseason in MLB provides us with multiple hair-raising situations that are as indelible on the mind as our childhood memories. Situations such as the unexpected sweep, a nail biting Game Seven, and the unthinkable rally, are all a big part of nearly every postseason game in MLB history.
But rarely do we remember the stories of those unexpected teams who made it to the playoffs.
I tried to cover at least one team from every decade as far back to the 1950s, and while there is only room for 10, I will say there are plenty more teams in MLB history that did the unthinkable, so please feel free to leave your choice at the end of this show, and I hope you enjoy.
10. The 2007 Colorado Rockies
One of the biggest “bipolar” stories of MLB playoff history has got to be the Colorado Rockies. In 2006, the Rockies finished with a record of 76-86 and while their goal was to improve upon that record, no one expected them to actually make it to the postseason, win a franchise record 90 games, and have the apparent Cinderella run they did.
But in the end, there was no prince charming.
The Rockies started things off by sweeping another team very similar to their own model, in the Phillies. They then rode that wave of success, and swept the Divisional winners and rivals, The Arizona Diamondbacks.
Suddenly, everyone began to think another miracle team was in the making. But 2007 held no miracles for the Rockies, as their flashy heated ride came crashing down in a four game sweep in the World Series at the hands of the storied Boston Red Sox.
9. The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies
Dirty, unkempt, burly, and “Macho Row.” These were just a few terms that described the team that went from last to first in just one year, and that team was the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies.
Led by players such as John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, and Curt Schilling, the Phillies grabbed first place at the beginning of the year and never let go.
The Phillies played tough, hard-nosed baseball that often found themselves doing the unthinkable…very similar to the modern day Phillies in the sense that they simply could not be held down.
Sadly, it all came to an end in the World Series at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays.
8. The 1984 Chicago Cubs
Aside from the controversial release of Fergie Jenkins prior to the 1984 season, the Cubs built a team that thundered their way to their first postseason appearance since 1945.
It was considered highly unlikely that the Cubs would even finish third after their dismal 71-91 season in 1983. But the Cubs showed versatility and know-how by keeping teams such as St. Louis and Philadelphia at bay nearly the entire year.
The Cubs pitching staff included 1984 Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe, and the lineup included 1984 Baseball Most Valuable Player Award winner second baseman Ryne Sandberg and newly acquired outfielder Gary Matthews.
Unfortunately, the Cubs were defeated in the 1984 National League Championship Series by the San Diego Padres three games to two.
7. The 1972 Cincinnati Reds
In 1972, the Reds won the National League West title with a record of 95-59, a 16-game improvement from their 79-83 record of 1971.
With a revamped offense led by newly acquired second baseman Joe Morgan and a healthy Bobby Tolan (who missed the entire 1971 season) with league MVP Johnny Bench and first baseman Tony Perez, the Big Red Machine marched toward the World Series with a historic fury.
Gary Nolan (15-5, 1.99 ERA) and the NL's top closer Clay Carroll (37 saves) led a strong pitching staff. The Reds rallied to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates in five games to win the National League title.
In Game Five, Johnny Bench's ninth-inning home run tied the game before George Foster scored the game-winner on a wild pitch. The Reds basically dominated most of the seventies, but 1972 is a particular year that highlighted the club’s ability to rise from the ashes of mediocrity and adversity.
Unfortunately, as favored as they were to win it all, they would wind up falling to the Oakland A’s three games to two in the World Series.
6. The 2008 Tampa Bay Rays
They finished the 2007 season a paltry 66-96, and were coined as having the worst bullpen in MLB that same year.
In 2008 they were considered one of the biggest long shots to finish the season with a winning record let alone make the playoffs. So when the Rays turned their squad around—winning 26 more games than last year, taking that bullpen from worst to best, and making the playoffs—a lot of people were in total disbelief.
They continued their storied franchise run in the postseason beating out the White Sox in a divisional matchup in four games. They then took that momentum and became gridlocked in a best-of-seven series with the Red Sox and winning four to three.
But it was a meeting with a team already bound for destiny in the Philadelphia Phillies to derail what was looking like another miracle team and another miracle run.
5. The 1954 San Francisco Giants
In 1953, The New York Giants finished an admirable 70-84 with little hope that they would get any better in 1954. Willie Mays was off serving his country at the time, and the Giants played in a division with competitors such as the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Milwaukee Braves.
But the 1954 season would wind up being their most memorable with Mays returning to the team to become the Associated Press Athlete of the Year, and the underdog Giants sweeping The Cleveland Indians; a feat no team had accomplished in World Series history.
4. The 1991 Atlanta Braves
If there was any improbable team to make the playoffs in MLB history it had to be The Atlanta Braves—for that matter the honorable mention goes to their competition in the World Series the Minnesota Twins.
The Braves went from last to first, edging out the heavily-favored Dodgers by a single game to take the division.
But the unthinkable was just getting started.
Led by Sid Bream, Ronnie Belliard, Lonnie Smith, and David Justice, the Braves put on a seven game stress-fest versus the favored Pirates in which the Braves won. The matchup against the Twins was an even bigger nail biter that, still to this day, is considered one of the greatest seven-game World Series in history.
3. The 1995 Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners' 1995 season ended with a record of 79-66 and it was the franchise's first ever American League West division title.
The Mariners pulled off the unthinkable after trailing the California Angels by as many as 13 games during the season, only to mount a major comeback to tie the Angels at the end of the regular season, and defeated the Angels in a one-game tiebreaker.
In the postseason, the Mariners defeated the New York Yankees in the best-of-five American League Division Series after being down two games to none, before being defeated in the American League Championship Series by the Cleveland Indians, 4-2.
One very noteworthy mention is that the year prior, the mariners finished an embarrassing 49-63, so this sort of accomplishment is as unique as it is rare.
2. The 2002 Anaheim Angels
The Anaheim Angels' 2002 season afforded the Angels their first American League pennant and World Series championship.
The Angels finished the regular season with a record of 99-63; 24 games better than 2001. Despite being four games behind the Oakland Athletics, they still qualified for the franchise's first ever Wild Card playoff berth and their first trip to the postseason since 1986.
Led by greats such as Garrett Anderson, and Jarrod Washburn to mention just two, the Angels went on to make several statements defeating the Yankees in the Divisional Series, and the Twins in the Championship Series.
But it was in the World Series where the Angels made their biggest statement, with a 3-2 series deficit to the San Francisco Giants. The improbable champions overcame a five-run deficit in the late innings of Game Six to force a winner-take-all Game Seven, which they won to clinch the series 4-3.
1. The 1969 Miracle Mets
The never finished higher than ninth place prior to 1969.
They never won more than 73 games prior to 1969.
In 1969, the Mets were projected to place sixth at best. In fact, the last thing any fan would’ve thought to have happen was the Mets to win 100 games AND pull off one of the biggest upsets in World Series history.
Tom Seaver, Gary Gentry, Don Clendenon and Cleon Jones to name just a few helped the Mets claim their first winning season as an expansion franchise, and helped claim their first division title, pennant and World Series by beating Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, and the rest of the heavily vaunted Baltimore Orioles.
In my opinion, the '69 Mets epitomizes some of the biggest aspects of baseball. They showed why you should never underestimate the underdog, they proved that anything is possible in this wonderful game, and they etched that indelible mark in MLB history that will forever serve a higher purpose for fans and players alike.
I hope you all enjoyed!