There have been many instances in which the team with the best record didn't win the pennant.
In 1973, neither New York's most beloved team, the gutsy New York Mets, nor the New York Yankees' former unofficial farm team, the Oakland (Kansas City) A's, had its league's best record, but both were pennant winners.
The World Series, pitting two similar teams in what was to become a riveting showdown that went seven games, opened in Oakland, with the A's favored to win.
The New York Mets won only 82 games, but they were the only team in the National League's Eastern Division to play better than .500 baseball.
The Mets beat the highly favored, Pete Rose—led Cincinnati Reds in the playoff series to win the pennant.
In the junior circuit, Oakland won 94 games and beat the Baltimore Orioles, who had won 97 games, in the playoff round.
The Mets Had Great Pitching but were Offensively Challenged
The Mets strength was pitching. With a rotation of Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack, Jerry Koosman, and George Stone, the Mets had four solid starters.
In one of their better trades, the Mets had sent Gary Gentry and Danny Frisella to the Braves for George Stone and Felix Millan.
Stone became the Mets' fourth starter, going 12-3 with a 2.80 ERA, while Millan teamed up with shortstop Bud Harrelson to give the Mets a solid double play combination.
The Mets' bullpen was basically Tug McGraw, who had a sub—par first half of the season, but then returned to form to lead the Mets to their improbable championship run.
The Mets' hitting was virtually non—existent.
They finished with a .246 batting average, which was second worst in the league, averaged only 3.78 runs a game, which was also second worst in the league, and hit only 85 home runs.
The A's Had Great Pitching and Good Hitting
Like the Mets, Oakland's strength was pitching.
With a starting rotation of Catfish Hunter, Ken Holzman, Vida Blue and Blue Moon Odom (how many teams had one player whose last name was another player's first name?), Oakland finished second in team ERA with a 3.29 ERA in the first year of the designated hitter.
Their bullpen consisted of Rollie Fingers, Darold Knowles, Paul Lindblad, and Horacio Pina.
The A's hit only .260, but led the league in runs scored and hit 147 home runs. Both the Mets and A's were solid defensively. The difference was the A's had better hitting.
Bert Campaneris and Reggie Hit Home Runs
Oakland beat the Mets in seven games, but they had to win the final two games at home to do it.
Catfish Hunter out—dueled Tom Seaver in the sixth game, as the A's won, 3-1 to extend the Series.
In the seventh game, the A's superior offense was the difference as Bert Campaneris and Reggie Jackson each hit a two—run home run in a 5-2 Oakland win.
Pitching Wins Titles
The A's held the Mets to 24 runs, four home runs, and a .253 batting average, while the Mets' pitchers held the A's to 21 runs, only two home runs, and a .212 batting average.
In the second game, the Mets scored 10 of their 24 runs, got 15 of their 66 hits, and hit 2 of their 4 home runs. The A's' team ERA was 2.32. The Mets' was 2.22.
Both teams were well suited for a short series because both teams had great pitching.
While Oakland was solid over a full season, the Mets were not, due to their lack of offense. Once the Mets won the Eastern Division, they became a very dangerous team for the playoffs and World Series.
Purists can go home. The best teams in the regular season don't always translate into a gripping World Series showdown.
The 1973 Mets, the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, and the more recent 2006 St. Louis Cardinals illustrate that teams that are challenged in the regular season but make the playoffs can surprise the experts and even some fans.