Ranking the 10 Greatest World Series Champions of the Last 20 Years

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2020

Ranking the 10 Greatest World Series Champions of the Last 20 Years

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The 2020 World Series will kick off Tuesday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. 

    While we await the 116th edition of the Fall Classic, let's look back at the past 20 MLB champions and rank them, highlighting the 10 best.

    This is a subjective exercise. But in compiling these rankings, we considered three main factors:

    Overall performance and dominance: How many games did a team win in the regular season? How stiff was their postseason competition?

    Number of star players and all-time greats: Sometimes, the playoffs are about role players rising to the occasion and etching their names in the history books. But just as often, stars and future Hall of Famers shine under the October lights and cement their legendary legacies.

    Historical significance and memorability: Every championship is meaningful. But some carry extra weight because of extenuating circumstances, including the breaking of a prolonged drought or winning for the first time in franchise history. How likely are people to be talking about this team in another 20 years?

    To sum up: "Greatest" doesn't simply mean most dominant, talent-laden or historically unforgettable, but a know-it-when-we-see-it melange of all three.

The Other 10

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    20. 2006 St. Louis Cardinals

    The National League featured few dominant teams in 2006, with only the 97-65 New York Mets reaching the 90-win mark. The Cardinals won the NL Central with just 83 victories, then streaked through the postseason to defeat the Detroit Tigers in five games and claim their first of two post-2000 titles.

            

    19. 2007 Boston Red Sox

    This is the forgotten title of the Red Sox's recent run, won in a mostly dull postseason. Only one playoff series went more than five games that year, and the Sox swept the Colorado Rockies in a Fall Classic that was, well, kind of a snoozefest. OK, now build a time machine, go back to pre-2004 Boston and try explaining all of that to a diehard fan in a threadbare Bill Buckner jersey.

         

    18. 2014 San Francisco Giants

    Yes, for completists, this is part three of the Giants' even-year title trilogy. And yes, Madison Bumgarner authored one of the greatest postseason pitching performances in baseball history, carrying his team across the finish line in a thrilling Game 7 against the Kansas City Royals. But this team won just 88 games in the regular season, barely slipped into October and was far from the best of S.F.'s trophy-hoisting triad.

         

    17. 2003 Florida Marlins

    The 2003 Marlins made the playoffs as a 91-71 wild-card qualifier, then went on to win the World Series in a six-game upset over the New York Yankees, with key contributions from exciting young players such as Dontrelle Willis and World Series MVP Josh Beckett. This one suffers only because it was the second championship (after 1997) in the franchise's still-young history.

         

    16. 2000 New York Yankees

    This Yankees club won just 87 regular-season games but pushed to the World Series and won it in five against the crosstown Mets. It was the 26th title in New York's storied history. But it gets bonus points for being the final chapter of a three-peat, the first and only one we've seen since the Oakland Athletics accomplished the feat in 1974.

               

    15. 2012 San Francisco Giants

    The middle part of the Giants' even-year run, this team was probably the most complete, talent-wise, of the three. They won the NL West with a 94-68 record (the last time any club other than the Los Angeles Dodgers would claim the division) and swept the Tigers in the World Series. But, you know, middle parts are middle parts.

                

    14. 2011 St. Louis Cardinals

    The Cards' second title of the 2000s, this team got in as a 90-win wild-card entrant and then put together a magical postseason run that included an epic Game 5 clash between the Philadelphia Phillies' Roy Halladay and the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter in Game 5 of the division series. And, of course, there was the unforgettable David Freese-fueled Game 6 comeback in the World Series against the Texas Rangers followed by a Game 7 victory.

             

    13. 2008 Philadelphia Phillies

    Philadelphia would build stronger teams on paper in subsequent seasons, but this 92-win club led by Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utleyall in their primeswas the only Phillies squad since 1980 to win it all, taking the title in five games over the Tampa Bay Rays.

              

    12. 2009 New York Yankees

    Prior to the 2009 season, the Yankees went on a title-or-bust spending spree, shelling out massive bucks for the likes of Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia to join a cast that already included Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera, among others. And it worked, as the Yanks finished 103-59 and went on to win it all in six games over the Phillies. Notably, it's their most recent title, which counts as a prolonged drought in the Bronx.

           

    11. 2017 Houston Astros

    Setting aside the, ahem, extenuating circumstances, the 2017 Houston Astros have a lot going for them. The team featured a gaggle of exciting stars, including Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer. And they won the first championship in franchise history in a thrilling seven games against the Dodgers. But, well, you know the rest. This team was indeed historically memorable...but ultimately for the wrong reasons.

10. 2015 Kansas City Royals

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    Tim Donnelly/Associated Press

    After coming agonizingly close to a title in 2014 but running into the Madison Bumgarner buzzsaw, the Royals got over the top in 2015.

    Because Kansas City is a small-market franchise that has made the playoffs just twice since 1985, it's easy to recall this club as a Cinderella story.

    But the 2015 Royals finished with the best record in the American League at 95-67 and had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and World Series.

    Thanks to a deep, balanced lineup that featured the likes of Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain, a shutdown bullpen and a rotation augmented by trade-deadline acquisition Johnny Cueto, K.C. defeated the Astros in five games in the division series and outlasted the Toronto Blue Jays in a six-game ALCS.

    And this time, they didn't allow for any Game 7 heartbreak, as they dispatched the Mets and their stable of rising young arms (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard) in five.

    The Royals would soon break up their core and are now back in rebuild mode, which means this was their only real shot to ease the heartbreak of '14—and they didn't miss.

9. 2002 Anaheim Angels

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    REED SAXON/Associated Press

    Since Mike Trout, the best player of his generation, joined the team in 2011, the Los Angeles Angels have been to the postseason just once. That was in 2014, when they were swept in the division series by the Royals.

    But Halos fans can warm themselves with memories of when the then-Anaheim Angels won 99 games and a wild-card berth in 2002 and then rode a cast of characters including sluggers Tim Salmon and Troy Glaus and under-the-radar contributors such as Scott Spiezio and David Ecksteinplus a sea of rally monkeysto a Commissioner's Trophy.

    The Angels defeated the four-time defending AL champion Yankees in the ALDS in four games and then knocked off the Minnesota Twins in five games in the ALCS to set up a date with Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants.

    Bonds did his early-2000s thing, as he swatted four of the Giants' record-setting 14 home runs. In Game 6, San Francisco held a 3-2 series edge and carried a 5-0 lead into the seventh inning.

    Undeterred, the Angels mounted a furious comeback against the Giants' bullpen kicked off by a Spiezio home run and won Game 7 to claim the first and only title in franchise history.

8. 2019 Washington Nationals

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    On May 28, 2019, the Washington Nationals were 22-32 and had less than a 0.1 percent chance to win the World Series, according to MLB Stats.

    But a hot summer fueled by co-aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and an offense led by Anthony Rendon and sophomore sensation Juan Soto helped them finish 93-69, claim a wild-card spot and go on a postseason tear that culminated in an inspired, fittingly come-from-behind World Series win.

    After a thrilling 4-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card Game, the Nats upset the Dodgers in five games in the division series and then swept the Cardinals in the NLCS.

    That set them up against the potent Astros, who were seeking their second trophy in three years. 

    The series went the distance. In Game 7, Houston carried a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning. Washington mustered one more get-off-the-mat moment, won by a final score of 6-2 and brought home the first title in the history of a franchise that traces its roots back to the Montreal Expos.

7. 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks

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    ELAINE THOMPSON/Associated Press

    It's unfair to say the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks were entirely a two-man show. Luis Gonzalez led a strong offense with 57 home runs, and there were other key contributors throughout the roster who helped the Snakes win 92 games and an NL West title.

    But it was the two-headed pitching monster of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling that made this an unforgettable team and carried Arizona to its only championship.

    After finishing first and second, respectively, in NL Cy Young Award voting, Johnson and Schilling helped the D-backs defeat the Cardinals 3-2 in the NLDS and Atlanta 4-1 in the NLCS.

    Next up was the Yankees, who had won the past three World Series and were playing for a city that was still reeling from the events of September 11.

    In an emotional, hard-fought seven-game series, Arizona's aces went a combined 4-0 in 39 innings with six runs allowed.

    Gonzalez ended it with a walk-off bloop single against Hall of Fame Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, but the Fall Classic belonged to Johnson and Schilling.

6. 2018 Boston Red Sox

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The most recent of the Red Sox's 2004-and-onward title teams, this one was probably the most dominant. They won an MLB-best 108 games in the regular season and then bulldozed through the playoffs. 

    First, they knocked out their archrival, the 100-win Yankees, 3-1 in the division series. Next, they cast aside the 103-win Astros 4-1 in the ALCS.

    And finally, they defeated the two-time NL champion Dodgers in five games to win their fourth title in 15 years.

    It was also the first trophy the 2000s Sox won without franchise anchor David Ortiz, who retired after the 2016 campaign. Instead, Boston relied on a gaggle of newer stars such as Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts and a pitching staff fronted by left-handers Chris Sale and David Price.

    Boston is headed for a rebuild or at least a serious retool after a last-placed finish in 2020, which means this will be remembered as the capper of an impressive, dynastic run.

5. 2010 San Francisco Giants

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Entering the 2010 season, the Giants had never won a World Series since moving west to San Francisco in 1958. They'd come close in 2002, but we've already chronicled how that one ended.

    By 2010, the Giants were emerging from a period of fecklessness in the late-Bonds and post-Bonds era, but they hadn't been to the playoffs since 2003.

    Led by an entertaining core that included rookies Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, young aces Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and closer Brian Wilson, the Giants won the NL West with a 92-70 record.

    Broadcaster Duane Kuiper famously described their style of play as "torture," but San Francisco finished with the second-best run differential in the National League at plus-114 and had the elite pitching and enough timely hitting to be dangerous.

    They proved it by defeating Atlanta 3-1 in the NLDS and dispatching the favored Phillies in the NLCS 4-2.

    That left the Rangers, who had a potent offense and ace Cliff Lee. But the Giants ended the torture with a decisive five-game series win.

    The club's San Francisco-era drought was over, and its even-year run had begun.

4. 2013 Boston Red Sox

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Red Sox had already won titles in 2004 and '07 and had another one coming in 2018. But the 2013 championship was unique because of what it represented for the city of Boston.

    Played in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Sox's 2013 postseason push took on extra layers of meaning.

    At the center of it all was David Ortiz, playing in what would turn out to be the last of his three ring-winning go-rounds with the Red Sox.

    Ortiz rallied his team. He rallied Boston.

    And the Red Sox, who went 97-65 that year and won the AL East, defeated the Rays in four games and the Tigers in six before winning it all in six games against the Cardinals.

    Sometimes the real world and the more trivial world of sports come together. It happened at Fenway Park in 2013, to great emotional effect.

3. 2005 Chicago White Sox

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    MARK J. TERRILL/Associated Press

    The Red Sox and Chicago Cubs each ended infamous, generation-spanning championship droughts in the past two decades, as we're about to discuss.

    But the 2005 Chicago White Sox are the forgotten third member of the drought-busting club. That's too bad, because the '05 ChiSox were a heck of a team.

    The South Siders won an AL-best 99 games that year thanks to a deep pitching staff and a balanced offense. They weren't laden with superstars, but manager Ozzie Guillen's bunch was built to go the distance.

    That's exactly what they did. Chicago swept the Red Sox in three games in the ALDS and rolled past the Angels in five games in the ALCS.

    In the World Series, they defeated the Astros in what might be the most compelling sweep in Fall Classic history.

    Each game was decided by two runs or fewer, and Game 3 was a taut, 14-inning affair. The White Sox prevailed, however, and hoisted their first Commissioner's Trophy since 1917.

2. 2004 Boston Red Sox

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Say what you want about the emotional heft of the 2013 run or the sheer dominance of the '18 club. Nothing will ever replace 2004 in Red Sox lore.

    You know all about the Curse of the Bambino. So did the Red Sox players, who finished 98-64 but settled for a wild-card berth behind the 101-61 Yankees.

    Boston beat the Angels 3-0 in the division series but then fell behind 3-0 to New York in the ALCS. The cries of "here we go again" rose up from Beantown like a sad, familiar song.

    Boston mounted a comeback in Game 4 sparked by Dave Roberts' iconic stolen base. Then they won Game 5, Game 6 and Game 7, doing something no team had ever done before by overcoming a 3-0 deficit to win the series.

    More importantly, or at least just as importantly, they did it against the Yankees. Their nemesis. Their eternal foe. The title-rich bane of their existence.

    And they did it with a cast of characters that included franchise icons such as Ortiz, Schilling and Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez.

    All of that made their sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series feel almost inevitable and a tad anticlimactic. But never mind. The curse was lifted, and that was all that mattered.

1. 2016 Chicago Cubs

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    The 2016 Chicago Cubs went 103-58 with an MLB-leading plus-252 run differential. They had a strong pitching staff fronted by 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and playoff-tested lefty Jon Lester. They boasted a potent offensive core that included NL MVP Kris Bryant and other rising stars.

    Yet, entering the postseason, it was safe to assume most North Side fans were in a pessimistic mood.

    These were the Cubs, after all, cursed by billy goats, haunted by Bartman nightmares, destined to never again win a World Series.

    It wasn't an easy run for the Cubs. They won a tough four-game series against the Giants in the NLDS and made it through a six-game challenge from the Dodgers in the NLCS.

    Then came Cleveland, with its own longstanding championship drought. 

    The series went seven games, because of course it did. It went to extra innings after Rajai Davis' dramatic home run off Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman. There was a 17-minute rain delay.

    Then, finally, in the bottom of the 10th in Cleveland, the Cubbies closed it out.

    The cheers erupted from the Windy City, and they echoed all the way back to 1908.

                      

    All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.