This season, a lot has been made of the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs won 98 and 97 regular-season games respectively, yet finished 2nd and 3rd in the National League Central and were forced to play each other in the Wild Card game.
When the Cubs emerged victorious, Pirates fans were the most vocal, feeling that they were somehow cheated. After all, the Pirates, with their 98 wins, would have won ANY other division in baseball in 2015. But because the St. Louis Cardinals won 100 games, the Pirates were forced into the single-elimination game.
And while I’m sure Pirates fans are upset – you can’t spell Pirates without IRATE – this situation is hardly without precedence. Before 1969, only the team with the best record in each league went to the World Series. There was no Wild Card, no Division Series, no Championship Series. In fact, there have been multiple teams over the years that won over 100 games in a season, only to see their season end on the final day of the regular season because they were still looking up at a team or two in the League/Division.
So, Pirate fans, you were just short of 100 wins this year, which would’ve earned you a spot in this exclusive fraternity if there wasn’t a wild-card spot. Regardless, these fan bases certainly share your pain.
1909 Chicago Cubs
Cubs fans have been waiting for their beloved team to get back to the World Series for the first time since 1945. But in 1909, they were defending back-to-back world champions. Led by player-manager Frank Chance, the Cubs stormed the National League to a 104-49 season (more wins than they had in 1908).
The only problem, was that the Pittsburgh Pirates won 110 games in 1909 and went on to win the World Series. The Cubs would make it back to the Series in 1910, but, we all know what happens next.
1915 Detroit Tigers
The Tigers fans had reason to complain in 1915. With a record of 100-54, they finished 2nd in the American League behind the Red Sox, who had 101 wins.
But it was the Tigers’ 8-14 record against the Red Sox that did them in, in 1915. With a winning record against every other AL team on the season, the Tigers just couldn’t get it done against the eventual World Champion Sox.
1942 Brooklyn Dodgers
Coming off losing the 1941 World Series, the Brooklyn Dodgers were favored to make it back in ’42. The St. Louis Cardinals had other plans.
When the dust cleared, the Dodgers had a record of 104-50 and finished two games behind the Cardinals (106-48). Like the 1915 Tigers, the Dodgers were hurt by their head-to-head record against the eventual champs. The Dodgers had a winning record against every team in the National League, except the Cards, whom the Dodgers finished with a 9-13 record against in ’42.
A .500 record against the Redbirds that year would’ve forced a one-game playoff. But instead, the Cards went on to win the ’42 World Series.
1954 New York Yankees
Casey Stengel‘s 103 wins would have been enough to win the American League in any year from 1947-1960 with the exception of 1954. Unfortunately for the Yanks of ’54, the Cleveland Indians stormed the AL for a then-record 111 wins. A record that would be broken in 1998 by, fittingly, the Yankees.
The Yankees had a winning record against every club in 1954, with the exception of the Indians, whom they finished 11-11 against. The Indians pulled away by dominating most of the league. They lost only 13 games to the Red Sox, Senators, Athletics and Orioles combined (playing them 22 times each).
Yanks fans got some payback however, when the Indians lost the ’54 World Series.
1961 Detroit Tigers
As baseball fans, all you have to do is look at the year and you know that if it doesn’t say Yankees, nothing else matters. After all, it was in ’61 where Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle exchanged home runs until Maris finally passed Babe Ruth‘s single-season record of 60.
But the Tigers of ’61 posted a record of 101-61 but a 14-14 September did the Tigers in as they finished eight games back of the Bronx Bombers who went 21-8 in the month.
1962 Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers and San Francisco Giants ended the regular season with identical 101-51 records. So, the teams played a best-of-3 series The two teams split the first two, but the Giants took the final game to claim the pennant.
Because these games were considered an extension of the regular season, the Dodgers ended with a record of 102-53 and missed the playoffs. The Giants would go on to lose the ’62 World Series.
1980 Baltimore Orioles
A slow start doomed the Orioles of 1980. With a record of 7-11 in the month of April, the Orioles couldn’t quite catch the Yankees – who went 103-59 – despite going 45-18 from August on.
The closest the Birds got was a half game back from August 22-28. The Orioles basically split the season series between the two clubs, winning seven of 13. The Yanks would end up being swept by the Royals in the ALCS.
1993 San Francisco Giants
Likely the last time we will ever see something like this happen again. The Giants and the Atlanta Braves traded jabs all season. Barry Bonds, in his first year with the Giants, was looking to exact some revenge against the Braves, who had beaten his Pirates in each of the last two NLCS matchups.
It came down to the final weekend series. The Giants were in Los Angeles, winning the first three games of the four game series, while the Braves were beating up on the new expansion Colorado Rockies. Both teams were still tied for the NL West title going into the final game.
On that Sunday, the Dodgers torched the Giants 12-1 while the Braves completed the season sweep of the Rockies (winning all 13 games against them). The Giants ended the season at 103-59 while the Braves finished 104-58, but lost to the Phillies in the NLCS.
With the current playoff format, with two wild-card teams per league, it is highly unlikely we will ever see something like this happen again. Still, seeing a team with 98 wins miss the formal playoffs is a tough pill to swallow for a fan base.