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Franchise's best team? The case for these 4

@williamfleitch
September 16, 2020

It is very possible, considering the somewhat checkered history of success of the San Diego Padres, that this is the best Friars team of all time. Up until the season, the wide assumption was that the best Padres team was the 1998 squad -- the one that won 98 games

It is very possible, considering the somewhat checkered history of success of the San Diego Padres, that this is the best Friars team of all time. Up until the season, the wide assumption was that the best Padres team was the 1998 squad -- the one that won 98 games and reached the World Series, the one Greg Vaughn hit 50 homers for, the one Kevin Brown and Trevor Hoffman were brilliant for, the one Tony Gwynn hit .321 at the age of 38 for. That was a great team.

But this team might be better. Its stats are better across the board; adjusted for the era, the hitting and the pitching are both better, and the fielding is definitely better. The team has a 2020 clear MVP candidate in Fernando Tatis Jr., a Comeback Player of the Year candidate in Wil Myers and a breakthrough Cy Young candidate in Dinelson Lamet. They’re doing everything right.

More to the point: By winning percentage, the comparison is not particularly close. The Padres are 32-18, with a winning percentage of .640, far above the .605 of the 1998 team. The 2020 Padres are on pace for a 104-win season, a whopping six games above the 1998 total. Now obviously, it is easier for a team to have a .640 winning percentage of 50 games than it is for 162. But the fact remains: By winning percentage -- which is, after all, the number we build the standings around -- this is the best Padres team of all time.

And they are not alone! The Padres are, in fact, one of four franchises whose 2020 teams have the highest winning percentages in their entire history. Now again, that’s a reflection of this shortened season. But it doesn’t change the fact that four teams have won a higher percentage of their games than any other team in franchise history.

Today, we look at those four teams, and see how their current versions might have fared against what, up to this point, is considered the best team their franchises have ever had.

San Diego Padres
Record: 32-18 (.640)
162-game pace: 104-58
Best team up to this point: 1998, 98-64, NL champs

The 1998 Padres were underappreciated; it has always been the misfortune of the Padres franchise that their two World Series appearance ran up against historically great teams (1984 Tigers, ‘98 Yankees). Brown was fantastic, and he’d be the best pitcher in this series. But they don’t have anyone like Tatis, and they’re not as deep up and down the lineup -- not with Manny Machado, Myers and Eric Hosmer having the seasons they’re having. (Not to mention Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth.) This might seem a strange thing to say about a team that might only earn the No. 4 seed in the NL playoffs, but: This might be the best Padres team ever.

Advantage: 2020 Padres

Tampa Bay Rays
Record: 31-17 (.646)
162-game pace: 105-57
Best team up to this point: 2008, 97-65, AL champs

The 2008 Rays had an emergent Evan Longoria, solid defense and a stalwart reliable rotation led by James “His Name Rhymes With Game So Let’s Call Him Big Game James” Shields. They also had a flamethrowing David Price coming out of the bullpen in the postseason. And let’s not forget Carlos Pena having his career year. But … it’s possible this year’s team would blow them away. You name it, this year’s Rays have it. A deep flexible lineup, a terrific top of the rotation, excellent defense and a mostly lockdown bullpen led by Nick Anderson, who still hasn’t given up a run this year. They also play in a different era of baseball, one that this Rays team in particular appears to have mastered. This team would terrify that 2008 Phillies team.

Advantage: 2020 Rays

Chicago White Sox
Record: 32-16 (.667)
162-game pace: 108-54
Best team to this point: 1917, 100-54, World Series champs

Two years before the Black Sox scandal, the 1917 White Sox are a reminder of why they were so favored in that 1919 World Series in the first place. Of all the great White Sox teams of this era, this was the best -- and maybe one of the best teams of all time. How good was Eddie Cicotte in 1917? He threw 346 2/3 innings of 1.53 ERA ball. (The Sox had four starters with ERAs under 2. And they only had eight pitchers total.) In addition, the White Sox led the American League in runs scored behind Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Obviously, this 2020 White Sox team is terrific, and far more modern, and definitely plays a style of baseball that’s more viscerally exciting to watch. And you do have to allot for the “if Joe Jackson saw a modern-day breaking ball he would run away from the plate screaming about witchcraft” factor. But as fun as this White Sox team is … they’ve got a long way to go to catch up to the 1917 White Sox.

Advantage: 1917 White Sox

Los Angeles Dodgers
Record: 34-15 (.694)
162-game pace: 112-50
Best team to this point: 1955, 98-55, World Series champs

If you want to limit this to just Los Angeles, you could go with the 1963 team; you can’t go wrong with either. But this wasn’t just the team with all the players you know and love -- Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe -- it’s the only Brookyn team that won the World Series. It is legendary. But of course that’s why it’s legendary: Because it won the World Series. This Dodgers team has dominated this 2020 season in a way that would seem nearly impossible in such a short window. But it won’t mean anything if they don’t win the World Series. If they do that, we’ll talk then.

Advantage: 1955 Dodgers