Every MLB Franchise's Most Heartbreaking Team Since 2000

Joel ReuterSeptember 23, 2022

Every MLB Franchise's Most Heartbreaking Team Since 2000

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    Chicago Cubs outfielder Moises Alou attempts to catch a foul ball during the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS in 2003 (Photo by John Biever/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

    There is something about heartbreak as a sports fan that sticks with you above almost anything else, even the ultimate success.

    As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, the 2003 season is just as vivid a memory for me as the 2016 World Series title, and every fanbase has that missed opportunity that haunts them even when the team is doing well.

    Ahead we've revisited each MLB franchise's most heartbreaking team since 2000, focusing on teams that gave the fanbase tremendous hope, only to come up short.

    As you take this painful trip down memory lane, take solace in the fact that every fanbase has a team that haunts them—you have company in misery.

American League East

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    Aaron Boone (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)

    Baltimore Orioles: 2015

    Coming off a 96-win season and their first division title since 1997, the Orioles returned essentially the same roster for the 2015 season. The only notable loss was slugger Nelson Cruz, yet they finished 81-81 and fell to third in the AL East standings. The 2016 season that ended with All-Star closer Zack Britton watching from the bullpen while Ubaldo Jiménez gave up the game-winning hit in the Wild Card Game is also worth a mention.

    Boston Red Sox: 2003

    With a 5-2 lead in Game 7 of the ALCS, the Red Sox left a tiring Pedro Martínez in too long, and he allowed three runs in the bottom of the eighth to eventually send the game to extra innings. Aaron Boone then launched the first pitch he saw from Tim Wakefield in the bottom of the 11th over the left field wall, clinching the series and the pennant. The 2011 team that collapsed with a 7-20 record in September also belongs in this conversation.

    New York Yankees: 2004

    A year after the Yankees crushed the Red Sox's hopes in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Boston returned the favor with arguably the greatest comeback in sports history. Down 3-0 in the ALCS, the Red Sox stormed back to win four straight behind a memorable steal from Dave Roberts, some all-time clutch hitting from David Ortiz and one bloody sock.

    Tampa Bay Rays: 2010

    The 2010 season was the end of an era for the Rays. All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford, slugger Carlos Peña, closer Rafael Soriano and several others would all depart in free agency that offseason. They captured the AL East title with 96 wins but were upended by the Texas Rangers in the ALDS as ace David Price took the loss in Games 1 and 5.

    Toronto Blue Jays: 2013

    Expectations were sky-high for the Blue Jays heading into the 2013 season after they swung a pair of blockbuster deals to acquire Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Miami Marlins and reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets. They ended up improving by just one win, finishing in the AL East cellar with a 74-88 record.

American League Central

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    Pablo Sandoval and Justin Verlander (AP Photo/Ezra Shaw)

    Chicago White Sox: 2022

    After making their first postseason appearance in more than a decade in 2020 and then winning 93 games and a division title last year, the White Sox entered the 2022 season looking like a sustainable contender on the rise. Instead, very little has gone right with the out-of-touch hand of 77-year-old Tony La Russa steering the ship, and because the team has hovered around .500 most of the year, it will take a strong finish to avoid missing the postseason.

    Cleveland Guardians: 2016

    Cleveland fans no doubt still flinch every time they hear the words "rain delay" after a 17-minute break in the action turned the tides in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. After the team battled back from down 6-3 in the bottom of the eighth to force extra innings, Mother Nature seemingly intervened and helped shift the momentum back to the Cubs as they plated two in the top of the 10th en route to an 8-7 victory and a long-awaited title.

    Detroit Tigers: 2012

    With a lethal starting rotation of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Doug Fister, and the one-two punch of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder anchoring the offense, the Tigers were heavily favored over the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 World Series. However, a three-homer performance from Pablo Sandoval in Game 1 set the tone early, and the Giants went on to sweep the series, tossing shutouts in Games 2 and 3 before scoring an extra-inning clincher in Game 4.

    Kansas City Royals: 2017

    The 2017 season was truly the end of an era in Kansas City, as it was the last time Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were teammates. The front office could have blown things up earlier knowing full well it couldn't afford to keep those veteran stars, but instead the team kept the core together for one final run. The Royals were in contention throughout the first half, but a 10-18 August proved to be a crushing blow.

    Minnesota Twins: 2011

    The Twins have lost 18 straight playoff games dating back to Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS, so there has been plenty of October heartbreak, but we're going with a group that fell miles short of expectations in 2011. After back-to-back division titles, the Twins went 63-99 to plummet to the bottom of the AL Central standings. It's not often you see a team win 31 fewer games than it did the previous year, and the Twins' 13-41 record over the final two months was next-level bad.

American League West

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    Nelson Cruz (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

    Houston Astros: 2019

    The Astros led 2-0 heading into the seventh inning of Game 7 of the 2019 World Series behind a brilliant start from Zack Greinke. After a one-out solo home run from Anthony Rendon and a walk from Juan Soto, Greinke was lifted for reliever Will Harris, and the red-hot Howie Kendrick immediately broke things open with a two-run homer en route to a 6-2 Nationals win. Did manager A.J. Hinch pull Greinke too soon?

    Los Angeles Angels: 2014

    The 1986 Angels were one strike away from the World Series and the 1995 Angels suffered one of the worst regular-season collapses in baseball history, but as far as recent history is concerned, it doesn't get any more disappointing than the 2014 season. After posting the best record in baseball, the Angels were swept by the wild-card Kansas City Royals in the ALDS, and that still stands as Mike Trout's only playoff appearance.

    Oakland Athletics: 2001

    "The Flip" is all that really needs to be said about the 2001 Athletics. If only Jeremy Giambi slid into home plate after Derek Jeter's memorable flip to the plate, things might have turned out differently for a team that won 102 games during the regular season while playing in the same division as the 116-win Seattle Mariners.

    Seattle Mariners: 2014

    The Mariners are on their way to snapping the longest playoff drought in baseball this season, and they have had some close calls since their last trip to the postseason in 2001. The closest of the bunch came in 2014 when they missed claiming the second wild-card spot by one game despite winning four in a row to close out the season. Of course, that four-game winning streak came on the heels of a five-game losing skid that proved fatal.

    Texas Rangers: 2011

    After coming up short against the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 World Series, the Rangers were one strike away from hoisting the trophy for the first time in franchise history the following year when the legend of David Freese was cemented. If only Nelson Cruz had managed to track down what turned out to be the game-tying, two-run triple with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6.

National League East

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    Ryan Howard (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

    Atlanta Braves: 2011

    The Braves had an 8.5-game lead in the NL wild-card standings entering the final month of the 2011 season, but a 9-18 September that coincided with an 18-8 month from the St. Louis Cardinals left Atlanta on the outside looking in when the playoffs began. Over the team's final five games, it went 0-5 and was outscored 22-7.

    Miami Marlins: 2012

    Looking to usher in their new stadium with a contender, the Marlins spent a combined $191 million to sign Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in free agency while also bringing in Ozzie Guillen as their new manager. The result was a disastrous 69-93 record, and after only one year with the team, Reyes and Buehrle were traded to Toronto, Bell was traded to Arizona and Guillen was fired.

    New York Mets: 2007

    With a seven-game lead in the NL East on Sept. 12, the 2007 Mets went 5-11 over their next 16 games to enter the final day of the regular season tied with the Philadelphia Phillies atop the standings. Veteran Tom Glavine allowed seven earned runs while recording just one out en route to an 8-1 loss in the finale, and the Phillies clinched the division with a 6-1 win over the Nationals.

    Philadelphia Phillies: 2011

    The Phillies won a franchise-record 102 games in 2011 behind the starting rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, punching their ticket to the postseason for the fifth consecutive season. Viewed by many as the favorites to win it all, they were instead ousted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, and on the final play of the series, Ryan Howard suffered a torn Achilles. The MVP slugger was never the same, and the Phillies have not made the playoffs since.

    Washington Nationals: 2015

    A year after winning 96 games and a division title, the Nationals held a two-game lead in the NL East standings at the end of July. However, that lead devolved into a 6.5-game deficit during a 12-17 August, and they wound up finishing seven games back in the division and 14 back in the wild-card standings to miss the playoffs. That late collapse squandered an NL MVP performance by Bryce Harper in the best season of his career.

National League Central

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    Gerrit Cole (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    Chicago Cubs: 2003

    Long-suffering Cubs fans now have the 2016 World Series, but in 2003, their collapse was yet another chapter in a long history of disappointment. Casuals were quick to blame a fan for interfering with a foul ball down the left field line, but the complete and total lack of composure from veteran Moises Alou and a critical error from generally sure-handed shortstop Alex Gonzalez was what truly led to the team's downfall in that fateful eight-run eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS against the Florida Marlins.

    Cincinnati Reds: 2012

    The 2012 Reds were one of the healthiest teams in MLB history, especially on the pitching side of things, where their Opening Day rotation wound up starting 161 of 162 games en route to a 97-win season. They seized an early 2-0 lead in the NLDS, but an extra-inning win by the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 swung the momentum and the Reds ended up losing the series in five games as the Giants went on to win the World Series.

    Milwaukee Brewers: 2007

    Prior to claiming a wild-card spot on the back of deadline pickup CC Sabathia in 2008, the Brewers had not been to the playoffs since the 1982 World Series. That drought was nearly snapped a year earlier when the Brew Crew was 14 games over .500 at the end of June, but a 20-34 record in July and August proved to be a death blow and they finished two games behind the Cubs in the NL Central race.

    Pittsburgh Pirates: 2015

    The Pirates were in the postseason for the third year in a row in 2015 after snapping a 20-year playoff drought. Despite winning 98 games, they had to settle for a Wild Card Game matchup with the 97-win Cubs after the St. Louis Cardinals won the division with an even 100 victories. In a clash of titans between Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole, the Cubs came out on top 4-0 as the Pirates were shut out in the Wild Card Game for the second straight year. They have had just one winning season in the seven years since.

    St. Louis Cardinals: 2012

    After beating the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card Game and upsetting the Washington Nationals in the NLDS, the 88-win Cardinals looked to be on their way to the World Series when they took a 3-1 lead over the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 NLCS. However, they were outscored 20-1 in three potential series-clinching games as the Giants advanced and won the World Series.

National League West

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    2017 World Series (Jerritt Clark/Getty Images)

    Arizona Diamondbacks: 2018

    The D-backs went from 69 wins in 2016 to 93 wins and a wild-card berth in 2017, and they looked poised to continue their rise up the standings the following year when they held a one-game lead in the NL West at the end of August. A month later, they were nine games out of first and watching from home when the playoffs started after a disastrous 8-19 showing in September.

    Colorado Rockies: 2008

    The 2007 Rockies went 14-1 over their final 15 games during the regular season to clinch a playoff spot and then swept their way through the NLDS and NLCS before getting swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. That disappointing end to a magical second half paled in comparison to what was in store the following season. Failing to build off the previous year's success, they were 11 games out of first place by the end of May and finished 74-88.

    Los Angeles Dodgers: 2017

    The 2017 Dodgers season stings for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal that cast a cloud over the entire World Series. That said, even facing off against a dugout full of cheaters, they still took the Fall Classic to seven games. After a thrilling first six contests, Yu Darvish was tagged for five runs in 1.2 innings in the clincher, and the series ended with a thud.

    San Diego Padres: 2010

    The Padres lost 10 in a row from late August to early September in 2010 and watched their 6.5-game lead in the NL West standings shrink to just one game. They limped along to a 14-13 record with a minus-18 run differential to close out the year after that skid, and that was enough for the San Francisco Giants to win the division by two games.

    San Francisco Giants: 2002

    The 2002 Giants had a 5-0 lead in Game 6 of the World Series with a chance to close things out and take home the title, but a huge three-run home run by Scott Spiezio in the bottom of the seventh and three more runs in the bottom of the eighth forced a Game 7. The Giants also scored first in that game with a sac fly by Reggie Sanders in the top of the second, but the Angels answered with four runs to snatch the title that had once seemed so firmly in the Giants' grasp.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.


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