Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Weakest Series winners

Kansas City won 89 regular season games, seventh most in the majors. San Francisco won 88, tying with Oakland for eighth. Neither won its division title. But one of them will win the World Series.

Which prompted me to wonder: What was the weakest World Series champ?

I'll base this on the teams relative to their time. I am quite certain that baseball today is played at a higher level than in the past. It's certainly played differently.

And this list will be heavy with relatively recent teams. It has to be, because for generations, the World Series always pitted the teams with the best records in their respective leagues. That hasn't been guaranteed since 1968, and as the playoff entrants have inflated, the chances of a team with a lesser record winning has increased.

So I start with the 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers, who somehow won the National League pennant with 88 wins, a total they reached only because they had to win a best-of-three series with the Milwaukee Braves after they finished the 154-game schedule of the time with 86 wins apiece, an absurdly low total for a pennant winner. The Dodgers were probably only the third best squad in the league, but they prevailed.

It's an odd team, with three 30-something holdovers from the great Boys of Summer team in the lineup and a few pieces of the almost-as-good 1960s teams, It was a bit late for the Brooklyn holdovers and a bit early for the next generation,

(I am fascinated by their shortstop situation. Don Zimmer is listed as the regular; he hit .165. Maury Wills got almost as much playing time; he had an OPB of .298 and a SLG of .298, which is a tough trick to pull. Three years later, Wills would win the MVP award, but you sure couldn't see that coming in his rookie year.)

Next up, a team close to my heart: the 1987 Minnesota Twins, winners of 85 regular season games and outscored for the season. Four American League teams had better records than the Twins, but they were all in the other division.

They are quickly followed by the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, who won 94 games although it's hard to see how. Orel Hershiser was great, Kirk Gibson won the MVP, and Tim Leary and Tim Belcher gave them two more sub-3.00 ERAs in the rotation. There's not much else there. But they beat a 100-win Mets team in the playoffs and a 104-win Oakland team in the Series.

Once we get into the wild card era, the chances for mediocre records to win it all multiply. The 2000 Yankees only won 87 regular season games, but I'm inclined to cut them some slack because 2000 is the Yankes' third straight World Series win.

The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals won just 83 regular season games, which is hard to figure. They'd won 100 the year before, 105 the year before that. Winning in '06 is something of a make-up for not winning the previous years with better teams. Still, 83 wins is the all-time low for a World Series winner, and I sure hope we never have a champ with less.

I'm never going to be all that impressed by the credentials of any wild card team, even though we've seen a number of them win (the Marlins in '97 and '03, the Red Sox on '04, Cardinals in '11). We'll have another one soon. But I don't think either is as unlikely a champion as the four teams linked to above.

My choice as the weakest Series champ? I'll take the 1987 Twins, and say it's better to be the weakest  team to win the World Series than the strongest team that didn't.

1 comment:

  1. Not factored in is the quality of the other teams they played... I remember the look of Jack Clark as he sat injured and unable to play in the '87 injury or an otherwise unexpected performance can change outcomes and that's why you play the games.