A version of this story was first published in October 2019.
In the postseason, anything can happen. And that often means the favorite doesn't win it all.
It's a story that has played out many times in baseball history. A juggernaut cruises through the regular season and enters October looking unbeatable, only to meet their match in a short series.
There are some truly incredible teams that are, in many ways, lost to history because they fell short in the postseason. Here are the best of that group, some of which also are participating in the second edition of the MLB Dream Bracket, which pits 64 of the greatest single-season teams in MLB history against each other in a simulated tournament that will offer them another chance at (virtual) glory.
2019 Houston Astros
107 wins, +280 run differential
This is a team with the third-best run differential in the divisional era, behind only the legendary 1998 Yankees (+309) and 2001 Mariners (+300, more on them below). By one advanced metric (wRC+), they had the best offense since the 1927 Yankees, and their starting rotation featured the top two American League Cy Young Award finishers (Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole), plus another potential Hall of Famer in Zack Greinke. The Astros got past the Rays and Yankees in competitive series to reach their second Fall Classic in three seasons, and after losing the first two games to the Nationals, won three straight at Washington. But Houston could not clinch at home, as the never-say-die Nats came from behind in both Games 6 and 7.
2017 Los Angeles Dodgers
104 wins, +190 run differential
Which disappointing Dodgers team of this era do you choose? They’ve made the playoffs seven consecutive years but never won the big prize. The year they won the most games was 2019, but they lost in the National League Division Series, which is probably too early for our purposes, so we’ll go with 2017. They won 104 games that year and breezed through the first two rounds before running into the just-as-hot Astros in the Series. The first five games of the Series were incredibly intense, culminating in a wild 10-inning 13-12 Astros win in Game 5. The Dodgers won Game 6, setting them up for an elimination game at home. But Yu Darvish gave up five runs in 1 2/3 innings of work, and they were ushered, drama-free, out of the series. They lost in the World Series again the next season, though it wasn’t as close that time.
2004 St. Louis Cardinals
105 wins, +196 run differential
Someone was going to have to play the supporting role in one of the biggest sports stories ever -- the Red Sox winning their first World Series since 1918 -- but it’s a shame it had to be this Cardinals team. This was the famous MV3 team, with Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen all putting up MVP-caliber seasons, and they were joined by Larry Walker in an August trade. After a fantastic seven-game NLCS against the Astros, they came into Fenway Park trying to stand in the way of history … and were promptly swept right out of the Series. By the end, this great team was watching as Red Sox fans celebrated their title on the Cardinals’ home field. Ironically, a Cardinals team that won 22 fewer games would end up winning the World Series two years later.
2001 Seattle Mariners
116 wins, +300 run differential
Still the team that has won more regular season games than any other in American League history, the Mariners were a glorious juggernaut, one that had waved goodbye to Alex Rodriguez the year before and responded with 116 wins. Of course, bringing in Ichiro Suzuki, who hit .350, helped as well, though never forget that Bret Boone had 37 homers and 141 (!) RBIs that year. But they were wobbly in the AL Division Series, only edging the Indians, 3-2, and then ran into a buzzsaw in the Yankees, who knocked them out in five games. (The Mariners also had started to deal with injuries. )The Mariners, of course, haven’t returned to the playoffs since.
1988 Oakland A’s
104 wins, +180 run differential
Perhaps peak Bash Brothers, the 1988 A’s were so much fun to watch that the Lonely Island made a tribute movie about them more than 30 years later. (Well, “tribute.”) They were expected to waltz to a World Series title, particularly when they played the hobbled Dodgers. But then Kirk Gibson happened, and the A’s were denied history. They’d win the Bay Series the next year, interrupted by an earthquake, but considering this team’s cultural impact, it feels strange that they only won one World Series despite making it there in three straight seasons.
1969 Baltimore Orioles
109 wins, +262 run differential
This is the flip side of the glory of those Miracle Mets. The 1969 Orioles were an incredible baseball team, winning 109 games and sweeping the Twins in the first-ever ALCS. They were loaded everywhere, with Boog Powell, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson all in their primes, and Jim Palmer just starting out with his mastery. They cruised to a Game 1 victory over Tom Seaver, and all looked well … and then the Mets blitzed them, winning the next four to secure one of the most magical championships in baseball history. The good news is that the Orioles would recover and win the Series the very next year, their second in five seasons after winning in 1966.
1963 New York Yankees
104 wins, +167 run differential
The Yankees were going for their third consecutive title with a team that somehow won 104 games even though Mickey Mantle was injured for most of the season, playing only 65 games. Elston Howard (who became the first black AL player to ever win the MVP award) and Whitey Ford had a lot to do with that, but by the time the World Series came around, the Yankees were clearly out of gas. Behind Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who threw 27 of the 36 innings in the series, the Dodgers swept the Yankees. The 1998-2000 Yankees finally ended up getting that three-peat.
1954 Cleveland Indians
111 wins, +242 run differential
An absolutely stacked team, they won 111 games (in a 154-game season!) and were the only non-Yankees AL team to make a World Series from 1949-58, a truly remarkable run. But despite this team’s greatness, there’s only one Indians player whose name anyone remembers from this series: Vic Wertz, because he’s the only who hit the ball that led to Willie Mays’ famous over-the-shoulder catch in the World Series. The New York Giants ended up sweeping the Indians, who have made the World Series three times since, but lost them all.
1946 Boston Red Sox
104 wins, +198 run differential
Ted Williams’ first year back from World War II made it clear he hadn’t missed a step. He won the MVP Award that year, and he was joined by Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky, who hit .335. Unfortunately, Williams was injured for most of the World Series and only hit .200, but the Red Sox still forced a Game 7 with the Cardinals. The eighth inning brought Enos Slaughter’s famous “mad dash” to score from first on what should have been a single, and Williams lost the only World Series he’d ever play in.
1931 Philadelphia A’s
107 wins, +232 run differential
This A’s team was insanely stacked, with Lefty Grove and Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons and Mickey Cochrane and Rube Walberg -- seriously, how did this team ever lose? This was their attempt to win a third straight title -- the three teams won 313 games over three years -- was halted by the Cardinals, when The Gashouse Gang (though they wouldn’t receive that moniker until 1934) edged out a 4-2 win in Game 7 of the World Series.
1906 Chicago Cubs
116 wins, +323 run differential
The Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance team -- it remains infinitely charming that they once wrote songs about a double-play combination -- has the highest winning percentage in baseball history, at .763, winning 116 games and losing only 36. (With two ties. Ties happen when you have no lights.) It’s fair to stay run prevention was the team’s strength: The team’s ERA was a collective 1.76. In the World Series, they played their crosstown rivals, the Chicago White Sox, a team so bad with the bat they were known as the “Hitless Wonders.” But they had plenty in this series, including 26 in the final two games to win the series 4-2. The Sox beat Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown in Game 6, but don’t blame him: He was pitching on one day of rest after throwing a shutout in Game 4.