The 5 Most Unlikely World Series Teams of the 21st Century
There are surprise teams in baseball every year. A club that was terrible the year before, suddenly gets a breakout player or an overperformer, who elevates them into the realm of annual contenders. Most of these examples, however, are nice stories that fizzle out in the playoffs.
On the other hand, a few of these squads keep the run going into the World Series, and those runs will never be forgotten. In 2011, the Cardinals faced "insurmountable" deficits repeatedly in the season's final month and a half, and they have overcome to this point.
Teams are listed chronologically, not in order of unlikelihood.
2002 Anaheim Angels
The 2001 Angels finished 75-87, third in their division. Only one player (Garrett Anderson) had over 300 at bats while maintaining a batting average over .285. Jarrod Washburn was the only starting pitcher with an ERA under four (3.77). No starter won over 13 games.
In 2002, After a 6-14 start, the team exploded to go 99-63. Five starters batted over .285. Washburn's 18 wins and 3.15 ERA led a rotation with three starters over 13 wins. Troy Percival added 40 saves, with an ERA under two.
The Angels went on to beat Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants in a closely contested World Series to bring home the team's first title in their first appearance in the fall classic.
2003 Florida Marlins
The 2002 Marlins finished 79-83, good enough for fourth in their division. A.J. Burnett was the only starter to manage over 155 innings, or more than 10 wins. Vladimir Nunez led the team with 20 saves. A 22-year-old named Josh Beckett had his first full season in the majors.
In 2003, the Marlins saw Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo combine for 86 steals at the top of the lineup. A 20-year-old third baseman named Miguel Cabrera got hot and the team had four starters win 12 or more games.
The Fish rolled defending National League Champion Giants in the divisional round, overcame the Cubs in seven games to win the NLCS and beat the heavily favored Yankees in six games to bring home the title.
2007 Colorado Rockies
The 2006 Rockies were 76-86. As with most Rockies teams, they could hit with the best teams in baseball, but their pitching was a mess. No starter had an ERA under 3.70, and no pitcher had an ERA under 3.40 (minimum 10 games).
In 2007, the team was looking at a similar end to their season. They were 76-72 after a 10-2 loss to the Marlins on September 15, and the playoffs were a long shot. And then everything changed.
The team lost just one game from September 16 until Game 1 of the World Series. They won 13 of their last 14 games of the season, swept Philadelphia and Arizona in the playoffs and then ran into the ball of momentum that was the Red Sox, fresh off their 0-3 comeback in the ALCS.
The Rockies never had a chance in that series, but it was quite a run for Colorado.
2008 Tampa Bay Rays
The 2008 Rays might have been the least likely member of this list.
In 2007, the Rays finished 66-96. Three starters had ERAs over 5.50. They had as many pitchers with double digit losses as wins. Alberto Reyes led the team in saves and almost notched a 5.00 ERA himself. But baseball minds saw the potential in a team fielding Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford and BJ Upton. There was just one missing piece.
The team ended up getting two. The arrival of Evan Longoria catapulted this team into the ranks of division rivals New York and Boston, winning the division out of nowhere. Making his MLB debut late in the season was David Price, who went on to pitch five playoff games for the Rays, as they beat the White Sox and then the Red Sox on their way to the fall classic.
While the team fell short against a dominant Phillies' team in the World Series, their run through October will stand as one of the most unlikely in history.
2011 St. Louis Cardinals
Go ahead and tell the Cardinals they can't win without Adam Wainwright, their ace who went out for the year before the season began. Tell the Cardinals they will be too distracted by Albert Pujols' impending free agency to focus on the season. Tell them they can't win when both Pujols and outfielder Matt Holliday spend significant time on the DL. Tell Chris Carpenter he's finished as an elite starting pitcher.
People said all those things going into this year, and said it again when the Cardinals found themselves 10.5 games out in September, but the team refused to believe the talk.
The Cardinals had three starters make over 30 starts with ERAs under 3.60. They all won 11 or more games. Fernando Salas came out of nowhere to lead the team in saves with a 2.28 ERA and a WHIP under one, and they beat the "unbeatable" Phillies' rotation of aces.
Now they face the Texas Rangers in one of the most unforseen matchups in recent memory.