Matchup ends modern drought of regular-season champs exiting playoffs early
It's time for an old-school Fall Classic.
The Cardinals and the Red Sox open the 109th World Series on Wednesday at Fenway Park, with Game 1 starting at 8:07 p.m. ET (coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX). It will mark the first time since 1999 that the two teams with the best regular-season records in their leagues meet to decide it all.
St. Louis and Boston each finished this season with 97-65 records, tops in the National League and the American League, respectively. That record earned each club home-field advantage through the League Championship Series, and that edge helped make the two pennants possible.
This is how Major League Baseball once operated on a routine basis. From 1903-69, each scheduled World Series featured the club with the best record in each league. The addition of an extra round in 1969 and later further expansion would increase participation -- while making it harder for a club atop the standings to advance to the biggest stage.
The 1995 and '99 seasons mark the only precedents for this happening during the last two decades of expanded playoffs, and both times it involved Bobby Cox's Braves.
Best vs. best
World Series matchups of teams with the best regular-season record since Division Series started in 1995
Red Sox (97-65)
NYY in 4
Atl. in 6
In 1995, Atlanta led the NL with a 90-54 mark, opening the postseason with victories over Colorado in the NL Division Series and Cincinnati in the NLCS. Cleveland led the AL with a 100-44 record, and it advanced against Boston in the ALDS and Seattle in the ALCS. The Braves won their only Atlanta title to date by beating the Indians in six behind Tom Glavine's clinching shutout. It is interesting to note that such a best-records matchup took place in a year when the postseason was just expanded to make it harder for that to happen.
In 1999, the Braves led the NL with a 103-59 record before eliminating the Astros in the NLDS and the Mets in the NLCS. The Yankees went 98-64 to top the AL, and then ousted the Rangers in the ALDS and the Red Sox in the ALCS. New York swept Atlanta to win its second of three consecutive World Series titles.
The Braves had the NL's best record in each of the first five years of the expanded postseason from 1995-99, and they parlayed that into three pennants. The '96 Braves also went on to meet the Yanks, who won in six. The Indians led the AL in wins during that year's regular season.
Only once since 1999 has an NL club even made it to the World Series after posting the league's best record. That was the 2004 Cards, who were swept by Boston in a series that many people will now point to for reunion's sake. That year's Red Sox had knocked out the club with the best AL record: the Yankees, who blew a 3-0 ALCS lead during the greatest comeback in baseball history.
Since 1999, four AL clubs have managed to lead their league in victories while also reaching the Fall Classic. Those teams included the 2003 Yankees (lost to Florida), '05 White Sox (beat Houston), '07 Red Sox (beat Colorado) and '09 Yanks (beat Philadelphia).
The 1998 Yankees, considered by some to be among the greatest teams in MLB history, led the AL with 114 victories and steamrolled their way to a title, sweeping San Diego in the World Series. Those Padres had won 98 games to take the NL West during the regular season, fewer wins than the Braves (106) and the Astros (102).
This will be a throwback to 1946 and '67, years when the Cardinals led the NL and the Red Sox led the AL and they met in the World Series. St. Louis won both times in seven-game classics, clinching the former at Sportsman's Park and the latter at Fenway.
Possibly even more impressive about this third best-record matchup between St. Louis and Boston is the fact that 10 of the 30 Major League clubs now participate in the postseason. How different life is from 1946 or '67.
This, after all, was the second year of the latest expansion, featuring a Wild Card Game in each league. These Cards withstood a tough division finish, knocked out the Pirates and held off a Dodgers comeback. These Red Sox clinched the AL East and eliminated the Rays before overcoming a Tigers club that was loaded with experience and a deep roster.
Welcome to the Best Record Series.
They are two teams that simply won more games than their league opponents during the regular season -- and then advanced to the World Series. It is the way baseball once was, year in and year out, as sure as the change of season in autumn. The 109th World Series begins, a time to decide the best in a way that seems ever so unique and yet ever so familiar.