Best MLB teams to miss the postseason

From 1st World Series to now, these are strongest teams to fall just short

September 29th, 2023

Sometimes, being a powerhouse isn't enough. Over the century-plus since Major League Baseball's inaugural World Series in 1903, many a strong team has found itself on the outside looking in when the postseason begins, thanks to the even better performance of another club.

Below, looks back at the best teams, by win total, to miss the playoffs. Postseason history is divided into three periods -- the "pennant race" era (pre-divisions), the divisional era (1969-93) and the Wild Card era (1994-present).

Not on this list: the 1994 Expos, who didn't have a postseason to miss -- they had MLB's best record at 74-40 when a strike ended the season. The list also doesn't include the curious case of the 1981 Reds, who missed the playoffs despite having the best overall record in the National League West -- because of a midseason strike, the season was split into two halves, and the 66-42 Reds finished second in their division in both.

Teams are listed in order of wins, and, when tied, beginning with the most recent season.

Wild Card era (1994-present)

1. 1999 Reds: 96-67

The 1999 Reds battled the Astros down the stretch for the NL Central title, with both clubs also in a tight competition for the Wild Card with the Mets. The Reds were led by their veteran Hall of Fame shortstop, Barry Larkin; a 24-year-old Sean Casey, who hit .332 in his breakout season; and newly acquired slugger Greg Vaughn, who crushed 45 home runs.

The Reds took the lead in the Central on Sept. 28, but Houston seized the division in the season's final days. Meanwhile, the Mets' walk-off win in Game 162 tied them with the Reds, forcing a one-game tiebreaker to determine the Wild Card. The Reds' run came to an end there, as Al Leiter pitched a shutout to send the Mets to the NLDS.

2 (tie). 2019 Indians: 93-69

The 2019 Indians were coming off three straight AL Central division titles, and were almost unanimously picked to make it four. The Tribe's 93 wins were an accomplishment, considering that their three aces -- Corey Kluber (broken arm), Carlos Carrasco (leukemia diagnosis) and Trevor Bauer (traded to the Reds midseason) -- were largely unable to contribute, and slugger Jose Ramirez struggled to a .731 OPS through the end of July.

But the Indians ultimately fell short of the Twins, who finished with an MLB single-season record 307 home runs and topped the Tribe by eight games. Cleveland turned an 11 1/2-game deficit in early June into a half-game lead in mid-August, but Minnesota rallied for a doubleheader sweep of the Indians on Sept. 14 to put the division away for good.

2 (tie). 2005 Indians: 93-69

The 2005 Indians had some big bats and big arms. Travis Hafner hit .305 with 33 homers, and , Johnny Peralta and breakout 22-year-old Grady Sizemore filled out the lineup. Cleveland's rotation featured the one-two punch of Cliff Lee and C Sabathia, as well as the surprising Kevin Millwood, who led the AL with a 2.86 ERA in his only season with the Tribe.

The White Sox controlled the AL Central for most of the season, but the Tribe surged into contention with a 12-1 run in September, cutting a 9 1/2-game deficit to 2 1/2. The Indians' final series of the season was against the White Sox, and they entered it three games back, with a chance to tie Chicago. But in a hard-fought series, the White Sox took all three games by a combined four runs -- including the opener in 13 innings -- and the Indians missed the playoffs.

2 (tie). 2003 Mariners: 93-69
The 2003 Mariners got off to a great start. They went 58-35 in the first half, and led the AL West as late as Aug. 24. But the A's overtook them down the stretch to win the division, while the Red Sox took the Wild Card. Seattle got strong seasons from (.312 batting average, 212 hits) and Bret Boone (35 homers, 117 RBIs), as well as an All-Star duo of 40-year-olds -- Edgar Martinez won a Silver Slugger in his penultimate Major League season, and Jamie Moyer went 21-7 with a 3.27 ERA.

2 (tie). 2002 Red Sox: 93-69

The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry dominated the AL East around the turn of the millennium, but the Yankees always prevailed in the division race, winning nine straight titles from 1998-2006. In '02, New York pulled away from the Sox early and won the AL East by 10 1/2 games. Boston had a closer competition for the Wild Card, but that went to the Angels.

But the '02 Red Sox were a talented bunch. They had seven All-Stars, and got superstar seasons from Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. Ramirez hit .349 to win the batting title and slugged 33 homers. Martinez went 20-4 with an MLB-best 2.26 ERA and AL-best 239 strikeouts.

2 (tie). 2002 Mariners: 93-69

This is the year that kicked off the longest current postseason drought across the four major sports. The Mariners won an MLB record-tying 116 games in 2001; they haven't been back to the playoffs since.

The 2002 team missed out on the postseason thanks to playing in baseball's strongest division. Despite having the reigning league MVP in Ichiro and winning 93 games, Seattle finished third in the AL West behind the Moneyball A's and eventual World Series champion Angels.

Divisional era, pre-Wild Card (1969-1993)

1. 1993 Giants: 103-59

The 1993 Giants couldn't have had worse timing. This was the final season before the introduction of the Wild Card. The Giants lost a down-to-the-wire division race with the Braves in the NL West, and so they missed the playoffs despite winning 103 games and having the league MVP in Barry Bonds -- who had just signed with San Francisco in the offseason and introduced himself to the Giants by hitting .336 with an MLB-leading 46 homers.

Entering the final day of the season, Atlanta and San Francisco were tied at 103-58, with the Giants having just won 13 of their last 15 games to pull even. But in Game 162, they lost to the Dodgers and the Braves beat the Rockies to win the NL West by a single game.

2. 1980 Orioles: 100-62

The Orioles had the second-best record in baseball in 1980. Unfortunately, they played in the one division where winning 100 games wasn't enough -- the MLB-best Yankees won the AL East at 103-59, though Baltimore edged them in their season series.

An O's team that included a pair of franchise icons -- a veteran Jim Palmer and a young Eddie Murray -- was only 1 1/2 games back of the Yankees when September began. But New York held on down the stretch. The Orioles have made the playoffs six times since 1980 ... all with fewer than 100 wins.

3. 1978 Red Sox: 99-64

The Red Sox's 1978 season is most famous for how it ended -- at the hands of the rival Yankees in a tiebreaker game to decide the AL East, thanks to Bucky Dent's infamous go-ahead three-run homer in the seventh inning at Fenway Park.

The Sox had been as many as 14 games ahead of the Yankees in July. They had a trio of Hall of Famers leading the way: Carlton Fisk; Dennis Eckersley, who went 20-8 with a 2.99 ERA; and league MVP Jim Rice, who hit .315 and led the Majors with 46 home runs and 139 RBIs. But they went home early.

4 (tie). 1985 Mets: 98-64

The 1985 Mets showed that they had the makings of a powerhouse. A year before they ascended to dominance with their memorable 1986 world championship season, they battled the rival Cardinals in the NL East all through the summer -- even leading the division as late as Sept. 13 -- before St. Louis finally took the crown.

The 1985 Mets got one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time from Dwight Gooden, who won the Triple Crown and unanimously took home the NL Cy Young Award. Doc went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts, leading the Majors in all three categories. His 13.3 Wins Above Replacement in 1985 is the best single-season mark by a pitcher in the live ball era.

4 (tie). 1974 Reds: 98-64

The Big Red Machine dominated baseball in the 1970s. The Reds won two World Series, lost two others and made the NLCS two other times. The '74 Reds were one of the rare teams that didn't make the playoffs -- the Dodgers were simply too good, winning 102 games.

The Reds had all the usual suspects: Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and the rest of the Machine. But the Dodgers had the league MVP in Steve Garvey and the Cy Young winner in Mike Marshall, and they kept Cincinnati out of the postseason.

Pennant race era (1903-1968)

1 (tie). 1942 Dodgers: 104-50

The 1942 Dodgers were a great team, they just couldn't stave off the 106-win Cardinals down the stretch. Brooklyn had as large as a 10-game lead as late as Aug. 5, but over the final two months of the pennant race, the Cards came roaring back. The Dodgers lost three of four games to St. Louis in a late-August meeting, and the Cardinals passed them in the standings a day after the series ended. Even winning their final eight games wasn't enough, as the Cardinals won 12 of their final 13.

1 (tie). 1909 Cubs: 104-49

The Cubs' 108-year World Series drought began this very season. A team that featured Hall of Famer Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown (27-9 with a 1.31 ERA in 342 2/3 innings), as well as the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combination of poetic fame, won 104 games -- more, in fact, than the 99-win 1908 world championship club. But Chicago couldn't compete with the juggernaut Pirates, who won 110 games to take the pennant and also won the World Series.

3. 1954 Yankees: 103-51

The 1954 Yankees might have won the pennant in many a season, but not this one, as the Indians set a then-AL record with 111 wins. That ended a Yankees dynasty -- New York was coming off its Major League-record five straight World Series titles from 1949-53. Despite their second-place finish, the '54 Yankees had all the talent of a championship contender. Yogi Berra was the AL MVP, Whitey Ford was strong on the mound and a 22-year-old Mickey Mantle was an All-Star as usual.

4. 1962 Dodgers: 102-63

The Dodgers-Giants rivalry had migrated to California by 1962, and that year it produced a thrilling NL pennant race on the West Coast. After 162 games, the two teams were dead even at 101-61, forcing a three-game tiebreaker series to determine who would face the also-rival Yankees in the World Series. In the winner-take-all Game 3, Los Angeles held a 4-2 lead entering the top of the ninth inning, but San Francisco rallied for four runs to take the pennant. The Dodgers' season included Sandy Koufax's first no-hitter, Don Drysdale winning the Cy Young and Maury Wills stealing 104 bases en route to MVP honors -- but no postseason berth.

5. 1961 Tigers: 101-61

Only two Tigers teams in franchise history have won more games than the 1961 club, and those two -- the 1968 Tigers and 1984 Tigers -- both won the World Series. The '61 Tigers, though, lost the pennant to a 109-win Yankees team that pulled away in September (including a sweep of Detroit). Norm Cash won the batting title for the Tigers, hitting .361 with 41 homers, but the Yankees got even greater superstar efforts from MVP Roger Maris, who broke Babe Ruth's single-season record with 61 home runs, and Mantle, who hit 54 homers of his own.