Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Underdogs? Don't tell these playoff teams

A look at the 10 biggest postseason upsets in MLB history
@castrovince
September 23, 2020

The upset special is on the menu for a 2020 postseason featuring more teams and, perhaps, more randomness, with every entrant subjected to the whims of a best-of-three Wild Card Series presented by Hankook. What follows is a list of the Top 10 upsets in MLB postseason history. While there

The upset special is on the menu for a 2020 postseason featuring more teams and, perhaps, more randomness, with every entrant subjected to the whims of a best-of-three Wild Card Series presented by Hankook.

What follows is a list of the Top 10 upsets in MLB postseason history. While there have certainly been many other instances in which a plucky club spoiled people’s perceptions, this is a purely objective list determined by the winning percentage differentials between the winner and the loser.

1) 1906 World Series: White Sox (.616) defeat Cubs (.763) -- 147-point difference
The winning percentage gap between the American League and National League pennant-winners in 1906 is actually the largest for any World Series ever played. The Cubs, who put the “Tinker to Evers to Chance” poetry in motion and had Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown on the mound, won 116 games, an NL record that still stands. The White Sox, meanwhile, were the “Hitless Wonders” having won 93 games despite a .228 team batting average. The Sox, though, stepped up in the clutch, battering Brown in Game 6 to become the first -- and far from the last -- underdog to capture the Fall Classic.

2) 2001 ALCS: Yankees (.594) defeat Mariners (.716) -- 122-point difference
As proven by the 1906 Cubs and the 2001 Mariners, winning 116 games in the regular season is a terrible plan! In ’01, the Mariners enjoyed the arrival of Ichiro Suzuki and led the Majors in runs (927), stolen bases (174), on-base percentage (.360), ERA (3.54), shutouts (14) and WHIP (1.20). But then along came the Yankees, who, as three-time-defending World Series champs, hardly had the look and feel of a dark horse. Both clubs were coming off Division Series that went the distance, and the Yankees proved deeper and more resilient by taking the first two in Seattle to steal the home-field edge and, eventually, the series. The Yanks went on to an epic World Series with the D-backs, which they lost in seven games.

3) 1973 NLCS: Mets (.509) defeat Reds (.611) -- 102-point difference
Just four years after their “Amazin’” run to glory in 1969, the Mets dismantled the Big Red Machine to set a still-standing record for the lowest winning percentage by a pennant winner in history. “Ya Gotta Believe!” was the Tug McGraw-crafted rallying cry, but finally getting healthy late in the season also helped. This was back when the LCS round was still a best-of-five. The Reds forced a Game 5 with Pete Rose’s tie-breaking homer in the 12th inning of Game 4. But in the finale, a gem from Tom Seaver (two runs over 8 1/3 innings) punched the Mets’ ticket in a 7-2 win. Alas, the magic ran out in the World Series, where the A’s were victorious in seven games.

4) 1954 World Series: Giants (.630) defeat Indians (.721) -- 91-point difference
The ’54 Tribe’s winning percentage is still the best ever for an AL team. But despite having two Hall of Famers (Bob Feller and Bob Lemon) in a great rotation and another (Larry Doby) in the outfield, Cleveland had no answers against the Giants in a four-game sweep. It’s remembered most for Willie Mays’ iconic back-to-the-field catch -- better known as “The Catch” -- of a would-be extra-base hit by Vic Wertz in Game 1 at the Polo Grounds. Mays’ subsequent throw to the infield (which was as important as the catch itself) prevented runners from advancing in a 2-2 game, and the Giants won the opener, 5-2, in extra innings. The Indians never recovered.

5) 2019 World Series: Nationals (.574) defeat Astros (.660) -- 86-point difference
The Nationals had started out 19-31 in the regular season, then went on a run for the ages that included comebacks in the one-and-done Wild Card Game and in the Game 5 NLDS clincher against the Dodgers. They were up 2-0 in this Series, only to drop all three games at home, only to win Games 6 and 7 in Houston, thereby capping the first World Series in history in which the road team won every game. Howie Kendrick’s game-changing homer off the foul pole in Game 7 sent the Nationals to their franchise-first championship and Washington's first since the 1924 Senators.

6) 2008 NLDS: Dodgers (.519) defeat Cubs (.602) -- 84-point difference
The math puts this one in the top 10, and the 84-win Dodgers won a more watered-down division than did the 97-win Cubs. But remember: This was the year the Dodgers added Manny Ramirez at the Trade Deadline and watched him go bananas down the stretch (17 homers and a 1.232 OPS in 53 games). That made the Dodgers a much different team, and Manny’s bananas batting line (5-for-10 with two homers) continued in this best-of-five in which the Dodgers outscored the Cubs, 20-6, to sweep Chicago out of October. Manny kept slugging in the NLCS round, but the Phillies nevertheless downed the Dodgers in five games.

7) 2006 NLCS: Cardinals (.516) defeat Mets (.599) -- 83-point difference
The Mets’ 97-win season was the product of a lot of starpower, with Carlos Beltrán, Carlos Delgado, José Reyes and David Wright in the lineup and two future Hall of Famers -- Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez -- in the rotation. But by the NLCS, Pedro and Orlando Hernandez were hurt, and the Cardinals, who had won the NL Central with just 83 wins, pounced to push it to a Game 7. The finale was a thriller, knotted at 1-1 after eight innings. Yadier Molina’s two-run homer in the top of the ninth gave the Cards the lead, and Beltrán watched Adam Wainwright’s strike three go by for the final out. The Cards went on to upset the 95-win Tigers in the Fall Classic, as well, setting the record for fewest regular-season wins of any World Series champion.

8) 1987 ALCS: Twins (.525) defeat Tigers (.605) -- 80-point difference
Detroit had won a dogfight in a superior division, roaring back from a 3 1/2-game deficit in the final week to take down Toronto and claim the AL East with a 98-64 record that was the best in baseball. The Twins, on the other hand, won the West with the worst record of the four teams that reached the playoffs and had a minus-20 run differential. But with Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky and Greg Gagne swinging hot bats and co-aces Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola rising to the occasion, the Twins took the ALCS in five games, then went on to stun the 95-win Cardinals in seven games for their first World Series title.

9) 2003 NLDS: Cubs (.543) defeat Braves (.623) -- 80-point difference
We tend to remember 2003 more for the 91-win Marlins taking down the 101-win Yankees in the World Series. And while that was definitely an upset that resonated from South Beach to the Bronx, the 61-point winning percentage gap didn’t crack this list. The honor instead belongs to the Cubs club that the Fish would defeat in another memorable series -- the NLCS of Steve Bartman fame. Before the 88-win Cubs could get their hearts ripped out, they had to decimate the 101-win Braves in Game 5 of the NLDS. Kerry Wood pitched a gem, Alex Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez both went deep off Mike Hampton, and the Cubs won a postseason series for the first time since the 1908 World Series.

10) 2019 NLDS: Nationals (.574) defeat Dodgers (.654) -- 80-point difference
The ’19 Nats are the only team to crack this list twice, and, as was the case in the World Series, they did it the hard way, going the distance against a juggernaut. The Dodgers were coming off their highest win total (106) in franchise history, and -- unlike the Nats, who had to get past the Brewers in the Wild Card Game -- they were rested. L.A. took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five, but Max Scherzer’s Game 4 performance forced a grand finale. And in Game 5, back-to-back homers from Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto off Clayton Kershaw tied it in the eighth, and Kendrick’s glorious grand slam off Joe Kelly in the 10th made Washington a winner.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.