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, listed in reverse chronological order, and only including teams that won at least 105 games.
2022 Los Angeles Dodgers
111 wins, +334 run differential
No, that run differential (which would actually be expected to lead to 116 wins) is not a typo. They won the NL West by 22 games, they had the best pitching and the best hitting in the sport and they combined a massive payroll with a seemingly never-ending succession of exciting, splendidly talented young players. And then they ran into San Diego, their Southern California “rivals” that they’ve forever tormented, a team that was without its generational star … and got blitzed in the Division Series. The Dodgers were one of the best regular-season teams ever, and if it were 1960, they would have waltzed right into the World Series. But it’s not 1960. So they went home, shockingly early, in a way that their fans (and definitely San Diego fans) will never forget.
106 wins, +269 run differential
107 wins, +210 run differential
We combine these two teams because they will always be connected in the history books. Two absolutely fantastic teams, one that seemingly came out of nowhere and never faltered despite just about everybody in baseball assuming they would, and another that overcome a cavalcade of injuries to put together the fourth-best run differential in the Divisional Era … and still came up just one game short. Their race, between two longtime fierce rivals, of course went down to the very last day of the season, but they still weren’t done with one another: Their five-game NLDS was riveting and as evenly matched as everyone predicted. And yet it was those 88-win Atlanta Braves, of all teams, who ended up reaching the World Series, rather than either of these historic teams. That is, as they say, baseball.
2019 Houston Astros
107 wins, +280 run differential
This is a team with the fourth-best run differential in the divisional era, behind only the 2022 Dodgers (+334), 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.
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 Cleveland, 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, finally snapped their 21-year postseason drought in 2022.
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.
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.
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.