What Was the Last MLB "Superteam" to Actually Earn the Hype?

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterAugust 21, 2015

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NEW YORK — The best team ever didn't win.

No, that's not right. By definition, the best team ever is one that won.

However, the "BEST TEAM EVER!" didn't.

It was the 2011 Boston Red Sox, and we know it now as the team that collapsed in a mess of beer and fried chicken. But the day before Opening Day, we knew it as the team the Boston Herald called the "BEST TEAM EVER!"

"I thought we were good," Terry Francona said Thursday. "And we were good, until the middle of September. We were on pace to win 100 games."

They didn't win, and it cost Francona his job as manager (and allowed him to move on to Cleveland, where he still looks much happier than he did in Boston). They didn't win, because in baseball, the team we're all sure is going to win often doesn't.

Ask the Washington Nationals.

Bryce Harper got all the attention on the first day of spring training this year by asking, "Where's my ring?" But the truth is most of us saw the Nationals as a superteam with an unbelievable rotation back then. Now we see them as a group that has been anything but super for four-and-a-half months and spent a day under .500 just this week.

Or ask the Detroit Tigers.

When they added David Price to a rotation that already included Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander last July, we couldn't stop talking about how a team with three Cy Young winners was going to be unstoppable in October. Then they got to the playoffs and didn't win a single game.

What is it about baseball? How do these superteams always end up proving themselves so un-super?

One thing is it's not easy to win a World Series, even if you put together an incredible team.

"It's really not," CC Sabathia agreed.

And his superteam won.

They were the 2009 New York Yankees, and the year before, they had closed the old Yankee Stadium by missing the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Determined not to let that happen again in the first year in the new park, they spent $161 million on Sabathia, $180 million on Mark Teixeira and $82.5 million on A.J. Burnett.

They were the kings of the winter...and then they were the kings of the summer and fall, too.

"That team was really close for a team considered a superteam," Sabathia said. "I don't know if that was all according to plan, but sometimes you just get lucky. [General manager Brian Cashman] did a good job of [finding] pretty good guys, along with good talent."

Sabathia has been on other talented teams in his 15-year career, and he has played with a lot of other groups of pretty good guys. That 2009 group is the only one that won a World Series, though.

Sometimes, you've got to get lucky.

Before they both left Boston, Terry Francona and Theo Epstein tried to explain how a superteam went bad.
Before they both left Boston, Terry Francona and Theo Epstein tried to explain how a superteam went bad.Elise Amendola/Associated Press/Associated Press

We never like to say that, because we always want to think that the best team wins. We always want to think that if a superteam doesn't win, it's because of some fault it had or because it wasn't so super in the first place.

Year after year, we're asking the questions, because year after year, a superteam falls short of super.

Take the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies won the 2008 World Series and made it back to the World Series with the team that lost to Sabathia's Yankees in 2009. A year later, they won a free-agent battle with the Yankees over Cliff Lee, adding him to a rotation that already included Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. Then they traded for Roy Oswalt to give them four aces.

How do you lose with four aces? The Phillies did.

They won 102 games in the regular season, but Halladay lost 1-0 to Chris Carpenter in Game 5 of the Division Series, and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to win the World Series. The Phillies thought they were pretty super in 2010, too, but they lost that year's National League Championship Series to the San Francisco Giants, who won the World Series.

The Giants won the World Series that year, and won it again in 2012 and in 2014. They didn't make the list of superteams, because they've never been a team we've thought of as super in April or July.

They're a team we only think of as super in October, and when you think about it, that's a lot more important.

The 2012 Los Angeles Angels never got there.

The 2012 Angels looked super when they traded for Zack Greinke.
The 2012 Angels looked super when they traded for Zack Greinke.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Angels went to the playoffs six times in eight years from 2002-2009, but when they missed in back-to-back seasons, owner Arte Moreno went to the free-agent market for Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. The Angels also added Mike Trout, who was the Rookie of the Year and almost the Most Valuable Player. They traded for Zack Greinke at midseason.

They didn't even make the playoffs, winning 89 games and finishing third in the American League West. They got off to a bad start, in part because they had a terrible bullpen, and even after they added Ernesto Frieri in a midseason trade, they watched Frieri turn back-to-back brilliant Greinke starts into losses in September.

At least they were in a pennant race. The 2013 Toronto Blue Jays never even got that far.

The Blue Jays, determined to end a postseason drought that had extended since 1993, made two huge trades in the winter. They got Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Miami Marlins, and they got Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets.

On Opening Day in Toronto, the excitement was back. It didn't last. The super Blue Jays never spent a day in first place. They finished 14 games under .500 at 74-88.

"In baseball, you can set up your roster in April, but if you have pitchers go down, it's tough," said Francona, whose 2015 Indians were never considered super and have had a disappointing season. "You've not only got to be good, but you've got to be situated to deal with things."

The 2011 Red Sox were good, but they certainly couldn't deal with everything that came their way. They did have pitching injuries to go along with the beer and fried chicken, and by the end of September the Boston Herald was saluting them with a very different cover, caught here on Twitter:

김에밀 @Peria1024

Red sox - 8 games back, but best team ever! lol @richie_bambara @TBTimes_Rays http://t.co/cWzEQdxAjA

Not every best team ever goes down so spectacularly, but recent history has shown us that not many of them win, either.

Sabathia is right. Even when you're super, it's not easy to win it all.

It's really not.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball. 


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