ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Sports and Recreation»
  • Team Sports

Detroit is AL's 7th-best team: Is that a team that should be playing for the championship?

Updated on October 25, 2012

This year’s World Series features something we’ve never seen before – and may not ever want to see again.

When Detroit defeated the Yankees to reach the World Series, it marked the first time ever that a team with the seventh-best record in a league has made it to the Series. Announcers talk about them being the No. 3 seed, which technically is true since as a division winner they ranked ahead of the Wild Card teams.

But in terms of record, six teams in the AL were better in 2012. The Tigers went 88-74 to win the weak Central Division. In the East, New York won 95, Baltimore 93 and Tampa Bay 90, while in the West Oakland won 94, Texas 93 and Los Angeles 89.

No team worse than 5th had been in series

Previously, no team who had worse than the fifth-best record had ever made it to the Series, and the fifth-best team did so only three times – the 2006 Cardinals, 2000 Yankees and 1987 Twins. Surprisingly, all three won the Series. Strangely enough, all three teams were division winners those years, just like the Tigers are this season.

Interesting Side Note: Had St. Louis defeated the Giants we would have seen another first – both teams with fewer than 90 wins in a full season. It has happened twice but not in full seasons. Once in 1918 when World War I shortened the season to 130 games, and again in 1981 when the players’ strike wiped out a third of the season.

Team with fewer than 90 wins is WS rarity

A team with fewer than 90 wins reaching the World Series is something of a rarity. In the American League, it had occurred only seven times before 2012, but two of those were in 1918 and 1919 when the war shortened the seasons to 130 and 140 games respectively, and in 1944 and 1945, when most of the big stars were gone because of World War II.

The first time an American League team reached the World Series with fewer than 90 wins without a world war or strike affecting the season was in 1987 when Minnesota won its division with 85 victories, defeated the 98-win Tigers to reach the Series, then beat the 95-win Cardinals by holding an amazing homefield advantage.

The 1997 Cleveland Indians made it to the World Series with 86 wins and lost to Atlanta, and in 2000 the Yankees won 87 games and went on to defeat the Mets in the Series. Since then, only one AL pennant winner had fewer than 95 wins (the 2010 Rangers with 90) until this year.

World Series teams with fewer than 90 wins

Year
Team
Wins
1918*
Boston Red Sox
75
1918*
Chicago Cubs
84
1919**
Chicago White Sox
88
1926
St. Louis Cardinals
89
1938
Chicago Cubs
89
1944
St. Louis Browns
89
1945
Detroit Tigers
88
1959
Los Angeles Dodgers
88
1972
New York Mets
82
1987
Minnesota Twins
85
1997
Cleveland Indians
86
2000
New York Yankees
87
2005
Houston Astros
89
2006
St. Louis Cardinals
83
2012
Detroit Tigers
88
*Season shortened to 130 games
Bold – Won World Series
 

There have been seven times that the National League representative in the World Series had won fewer than 90 games. One was in the shortened 1918 season. After that the 1926 Cardinals won 89, the 1938 Cubs 89 and the 1959 Dodgers 88 (but all of those in 154-game seasons).

When the league was divided into two divisions, the Mets went to the 1973 Series only a game over .500 with 82 wins, defeating the 99-win Reds. Every NL pennant winner from then until 2005 won at least 90 games. In 2005 Houston won 89 games and made it to the Series against Chicago. The following year, St. Louis managed just 83 wins but went on to defeat Detroit in the Series.

The closest the World Series has come to having two sub-90 win teams in a full season was in 1997, when the Indians won 86 and the Marlins 92.

Until 1968 best teams always got in

Of course, until 1968 the best team from each league always got into the World Series. After the leagues were split into divisions in 1969, the possibility existed that the best team would no longer reach the Series and created more possibility that a sub-90 win team would get there. Once three divisions were created in 1995, with a Wild Card team, that outcome increased.

Interesting side note: Even though a Wild Card team frequently reaches the Series and even wins it, they aren’t necessarily the worst team in the league. In 2007, for example, the Wild Card Rockies reached the World Series, but their 90 wins were tied for the most in the NL. The 2004 Red Sox had the second-best mark, and in 2005, Houston’s 89-win season ranked third best.

Two divisions still allowed best team to get in frequently

The World Series started as a way to showcase the best team in each league. That’s how it was until 1968.

But even after that, you still stood a good chance of seeing the best teams in each league, or at worst, the second best in each league. Nine times during the 24 years of two divisions (not counting the muddled 1981 strike season) the best teams from each league faced each other (1969, 1970, 1971, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1992). Only four times didn’t the best or second best team reach the Series from 1969-93 – the 1972 Mets (4th), 1980 Phillies (3rd), 1985 Royals (3rd) and the 1987 Twins (5th).

There were only four World Series during that time when neither No. 1 team from either league made it – 1972 (should have been Baltimore vs. Cincinnati), 1977 (Kansas City vs. Philadelphia); 1980 (New York vs. Houston) and 1983 (Chicago vs. Los Angeles).

Interesting side note: Had the leagues remained without divisions, where only the teams with the best records met, the Cubs would have made World Series appearances in 1984, 1989 and 2008.

Four-team playoffs hurt best teams

Once there were four teams in each league competing for a shot at the World Series, the chances increased that not only wouldn’t we see the best team from each league but possibly not even the second best.

Since going to the four-team playoff format, the best team in each league has faced each other only twice, in 1995 and 1999, although you could count 2007 on a technicality. Boston was tied with Cleveland for the best record in the AL and Colorado had the same number of wins as Arizona, most in the league, but finished half a game behind the Diamondbacks because Arizona played one fewer game.

There have been nine years since 1994 that neither best team has made it to the Series – 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012 (this is the third year in a row). And there have been five years now where not even the second-best team in each league made it – 2000 (New York 5th in AL, New York 4th in NL); 2001 (New York 3rd, Arizona 3rd), 2002 (Anaheim 3rd, San Francisco 4th), 2006 (Detroit 4th, St. Louis 5th) and 2012 (Detroit 7th, San Francisco 3rd).

How World Series would have looked between best teams since 1995

Year
Actual (AL vs. NL)
Best Teams (AL vs. NL)
1995
Cleveland vs. Atlanta
Cleveland vs. Atlanta
1996
New York vs. Atlanta
Cleveland vs. Atlanta
1997
Cleveland vs. Florida
Baltimore vs. Atlanta
1998
New York vs. San Diego
New York vs. Atlanta
1999
New York vs. Atlanta
New York vs. Atlanta
2000
New York vs. New York
Chicago vs. San Francisco
2001
New York vs. Arizona
Seattle vs. Houston or St. Louis
2002
Anaheim vs. San Francisco
New York or Oakland vs. Atlanta
2003
New York vs. Florida
New York vs. Atlanta
2004
Boston vs. St. Louis
New York vs. St. Louis
2005
Chicago vs. Houston
Chicago vs. St. Louis
2006
Detroit vs. St. Louis
New York vs. New York
2007
Boston vs. Colorado
Boston or Cleveland vs. Colorado or Arizona
2008
Tampa Bay vs. Philadelphia
Los Angeles vs. Chicago
2009
New York vs. Philadelphia
New York vs. Los Angeles
2010
Texas vs. San Francisco
Tampa Bay vs. Philadelphia
2011
Texas vs. St. Louis
New York vs. Philadelphia
2012
Detroit vs. San Francisco
New York vs. Washington

The team most hurt by not being allowed to go the World Series by virtue of the best record is Atlanta, which would have been the NL representative in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2003. The Yankees would have lost out on 1996, 2000 and 2001, but would have gained entry into the Series in 2004, 2006, 2011 and 2012, and possibly 2002 when they tied Oakland for the best record.

In the 18 years from 1995 to 2012, the best team in the AL reached the World Series seven times and the second best team four times. In the NL, the best team made it that far five times and the second best team four times. The only teams with the best record in their league to win the World Series during that time are the 1995 Braves, 1998 and 1999 Yankees, 2005 White Sox, 2007 Red Sox and the 2009 Yankees.

Counting this season makes 18 years with the three-division format. In half of those years, neither No. 1 team has made it to the World Series. Of the 36 teams with the best records during that stretch, only 12 have made it to the World Series and six have won it.

Baseball championship should be about best teams

Baseball has always, more than any other sport, based its championship on an entire season, playing far more games than anyone else. Baseball, because of a smaller home field advantage and the natural ebb and flow of games, simply takes longer to shake out the best teams. That’s why the World Series isn’t just one game, like the Super Bowl. Even seven games can sometimes be too short to determine who’s truly better (in 1960, for example, the Yankees were clearly the better team and over the course of a season would have finished five or 10 games ahead of the Pirates. But because baseball is such a funny game where a bad hop can change the tenor of a game, Pittsburgh was able to hang on for the win).

Still, even a seven-game series wasn’t so bad when you knew one of the two best teams was going to win. It wasn’t even too bad if you knew one of the three or four best teams was going to win. But as baseball fans, do we really want a championship that is played between the third-best and seventh-best teams? Or even between the third and fourth best? Now there is actually a much better chance that we won’t see the best teams in the World Series than that we’ll see them.

I realize Detroit and San Francisco fans are ecstatic this year and I have nothing against either team. They certainly played the best under the current format. But wouldn’t it be more fun for the rest of us to see New York vs. Washington, or at least Oakland vs. Cincinnati? Somehow it just doesn’t seem like a “championship” contest when the seventh-best team in the league has a chance to win it.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • GaryKauffman profile image
      Author

      GaryKauffman 4 years ago from North Augusta, South Carolina

      Due to an error in my source material, the Giants were incorrectly listed as having only 85 wins in 1937 when in reality they had 95. I have edited this article to reflect that.

    • GaryKauffman profile image
      Author

      GaryKauffman 4 years ago from North Augusta, South Carolina

      In the eight-team league, though, they played 154 games, so 88 wins was a .571 winning percentage, which is the equivalent of 92.5 wins in a 162-game schedule. I assume they played a balanced schedule in the eight-team leagues, which means 22 games against each opponent. And we think the 18 games against each division team these days is a lot.

    • e-five profile image

      e-five 4 years ago from Chicago, Illinois, USA

      Great article. I learned a lot. Stunning to think that teams could win an 8-team league with only 88-89 wins. Now THAT's parity!