After all the hype, after all the hoopla, after all the predictions from fans and analysts alike picking the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies as favorites not to just get into the World Series but to win it, something happened on their way to the championship.
Not only did the Phillies not win the World Series, they won’t even be competing in it.
The Phillies were eliminated in a stunning upset by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, the very first round of the playoffs.
How could this happen? They were the best team in baseball this season finishing with a league-leading 102-60 regular season record. Shouldn't the best team in baseball always make it to the World Series? Well, apparently not.
In fact, since 1995, the team with the best record has only won the World Series twice. And guess how many times the team with the worst record that still makes the playoffs has won the World Series? Yep, twice.
So at least the Phillies are in some pretty good company as we count down the 10 best teams that never made it to the World Series. But Phillies fans, be forewarned, it won’t make you feel any better.
OK, I’ll admit it, this first one is kind of sneaky. The Montreal Expos seemed to have it all in 1994. Pitcher Ken Hill led the league in wins and the team fielded five All-Stars. They had speed with young players like Cliff Floyd and power with future stars like Moises Alou and Larry Walker.
The 1994 Expos led the league in everything from shutouts to team ERA and were in first place with a record of 74-40. 74-40? Wait a minute, that’s not 162 games. No and they never got there as the Players Union went on strike that year and the owners would not give an inch.
The season was never finished and there would be no World Series for the Expos. And about twenty years after that, there would be no Expos!
If you are a fan of a team in the NL East you are most certainly familiar with the Atlanta Braves. There was a stretch when it seemed that the Atlanta Braves won that Division every year. That’s because they did. From 1991-2005 the Braves won an unprecedented 14 straight division titles but only 1 World Series which is why this is the first of several appearances the Braves will make on this list.
The 2003 team finished with a 101-61 record only to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Chicago Cubs. It was a memorable and closely fought series but the Braves lost the deciding fifth game in front of a dejected home crowd.
On September 10, 2008 the Anaheim Angels clinched their seventh AL West Division title. It was the earliest time in history that any team had ever clinched the AL West. They also set a franchise record for single season wins that year with 100 making them three games better than any other team in baseball that year.
And what did they do for an encore? They promptly lost the ALDS in four games to the heavy underdog Boston Red Sox, who had only gotten into the playoffs as the Wild Card.
2002 was the Yankees 100th season playing in New York and they celebrated by going 103-58 for the season. They ran away with their division finishing 10.5 games ahead of the second place Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees, managed by Joe Torre, entered the playoffs with high hopes and great expectations only to lose in the first round to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Angels took complete control of the ALDS winning easily against the mighty Yankees in four games. Small consolation to the Yankees and their fans but 2002 was just he Angels year as they went on to win the World Series as well.
I told you they’d be back. The Atlanta Braves went 101-61 in 1997. With a starting rotation of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Denny Neagle and Greg Maddux they seemed unstoppable. Add to that team leader and perennial all-star Chipper Jones and it seemed this Braves team couldn’t be beaten.
And they weren’t in the NLDS sweeping the Houston Astros to advance to the NLCS against the underdog, wild card Florida Marlins. OK, you know the deal by now, the Marlins beat the Braves in six games.
Strangest of all, it was the Braves pitching that let them down giving up totals of five, five and seven runs in three of the Marlins four wins. The Marlins went on to defeat the Cleveland Indians to win the 1997 World Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals finished with a record of 100-62 in 2005, 11 games ahead of the second place Houston Astros. Their roster included MVP Albert Pujols and Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter along with all-stars Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen.
The playoffs got off to a good start for the Redbirds as they swept the San Diego Padres in the NLDS, 3-0. Their opponent in the second round of the playoffs, ironically, was the wild card Houston Astros. Despite finishing way ahead of Houston during the regular season, the Cardinals fell short in the NLCS losing to the Astros in six games.
They were known as the “Big Red Machine” and for good reason. With a line-up featuring Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, it was like fielding an All-Star Team every night. They went 99-63 during the regular season and were considered by many at the time to be one of the best teams in baseball history.
That, however, did not impress the New York Mets. With their 82-79 regular season record the Mets were clearly considered the underdog but that did not stop them from putting an end to the Reds World Series hopes beating the “Big Red Machine” three games to two in the National League Championship Series
We all know this story by now. The Phillies put together a pitching staff some considered the best in MLB history: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt were the class of baseball in 2011, at least in the regular season. The Phillies finished with a 102-60 record, the best in baseball and set a franchise record for wins.
But their regular season success did not carry over into the postseason. The Phillies were beaten in the NLDS in five games by the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that just made it into the payoffs on the last day of the regular season. While the World Series winner is yet to be determined there is one thing we do know, the highly favored Phillies will have to watch this one on television.
The third time’s the charm? Not really. But this is the last time the Braves will appear on this list. I promise. In 1993 the Braves seemed to have it all. Their offense led by Fred McGriff, David Justice and Ron Gant led the league in home runs but their real strength was their pitching. Four Braves pitchers had 15 wins or more: John Smoltz (15), Steve Avery (18), Greg Maddux (20) and Tom Glavine (22).
This legendary pitching staff gave up the fewest hits in the league and led in ERA and shutouts. So what happened? The heavily-favored Braves were beaten by the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS in six games even though the Braves outscored the Phils by 10 runs.
The Seattle Mariners had a record of 116-46 in 2001, setting an American League record for single-season wins. They were a well-rounded team leading the league in both most runs scored and fewest runs allowed.
The 2001 season also marked the debut of Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki and his exciting brand of baseball mixed well with Mariners stars Edgar Martinez, Mike Cameron and Brett Boone. In fact, in addition to runs scored, they also led the league in stolen bases, batting average and on-base percentage.
Add to that the surprisingly dominant pitching performances of Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Paul Abbot and Aaron Sele and the Mariners seemed poised to compete for the World Series. Although they did win the ALDS in a close series against the Cleveland Indians, the New York Yankees beat the Mariners handily in the NLCS in just five games.
So there you have it. The best teams during the regular season are just that. And all too often, their supremacy over 162-games may have little bearing on what comes next. In fact, in seven of the 12 World Series played since 1999, neither of the top teams made it to the Fall Classic.
Not much consolation to the fans of the Phillies and the Yankees who both made early exits from the playoffs this year but if it’s true that misery loves company, there seems to be more than enough misery to go around.