The 10 most successful franchises of the decade

December 19th, 2019

Will Leitch’s series on the Data Decade, closing out this remarkable decade in the year of baseball, runs every week until the end of the year. Today we look at the 10 best franchises of the decade.

The title of “Team of the Decade” is a powerful one. In many ways, you can tell the story of a decade by its best team. The aughts were the decade of the Red Sox breakthrough; the 1990s were the Yankees (and maybe the Braves); the ‘80s were the go-go Cardinals and all the burners on Astroturf; the ‘70s were the Big Red Machine Reds, those early-‘70s A’s teams and those late-‘70s Yankees ones.

This decade provides no such clarity. There were a total of seven champions, with 12 teams making the World Series. Only four teams (the Mariners, Marlins, Padres and White Sox) failed to reach the postseason this decade. No team won two titles in a row. 2010 looks dramatically different than '19. There is no definitive team of the decade.

But we’ve got to try. So, today, with just a few weeks left in the year, we take a look at the 10 most successful franchises of the 2010s.

1. San Francisco Giants
3 World Series championships, 4 postseason appearances

The second half of the decade was mostly a lost one for the Giants. After they lost to the Cubs in the 2016 National League Division Series, they had a losing record the next three years. They actually only have the 13th-best record in baseball over the decade, behind teams like the Brewers and the Angels. Their future in the year 2019 is as uncertain as any team's in baseball.

But come on. The goal of baseball is to win the World Series, and the Giants did that three times -- in the first five years of the decade, no less. No one was going to catch them after a start like that. The Yankees won three titles in the 1990s. The A’s won three in the ‘70s. And the Giants won three in the 2010s. Over the last 60 years, that’s it.

2. Boston Red Sox
2 World Series championships, 4 postseason appearances

The Red Sox fluctuated wildly this decade. They were either dominant -- like they were in 2018, which, in my opinion, was the best individual team of the decade -- or in some sort of dramatic freefall. On the whole, though, the Red Sox reached heights in the decade that most teams could only dream of. And they had that '13 season that may have ended up nearly as fun and emotional as '04 was.

3. Chicago Cubs
1 World Series championship, 4 postseason appearances

The first half of this decade was a wash for the Cubs as they attempted to reconstruct their team in the image of new team president Theo Epstein, brought in to end one curse after ending another. The last three years were a disappointment, with a team many thought could become a dynasty falling short. Fortunately for the Cubs, though, right in the middle was 2016, when they did something most Americans thought impossible: won the World Series. In perhaps the most exciting way possible.

The Cubs winning the World Series is enough for most decades. Heck, it’s enough for most centuries.

4. St. Louis Cardinals
1 World Series championship, 6 postseason appearances

The Cardinals won the third-most games in baseball this decade -- the highest so far of any team on this list -- even though their postseason drought from 2016-18 was the longest they’d had in more than 20 years. They were consistently competitive, only one of two teams to have a winning record every year all decade, and they won a title in '11, in an absolutely thrilling fashion. The only reason they’re behind the Cubs here is because of historical significance. And considering that the Cubs are the Cards’ most hated rival ... that’s quite the historical significance indeed.

5. Washington Nationals
1 World Series championship, 5 postseason appearances

The Nationals had the fourth-most wins in baseball this decade, the third-most postseason appearances and some of the greatest players in the sport, with MVPs and Cy Young/Rookie of the Year winners everywhere. But until 2019, their decade was still marked almost exclusively by postseason misery, with four fruitless trips to the playoffs.

2019 changed all that. Now, those losses aren’t a pained history anymore. They’re just prologue.

6. Houston Astros
1 World Series championship, four postseason appearances

The Astros had a busy enough decade even if they hadn’t reached the postseason once; they did, after all, switch leagues this decade. But that Astros franchise feels like an entirely different one from what they were at the end of the decade, from a historically lousy team to one that was the model the rest of the sport followed by the end. Houston this close to winning two World Series, and the Astros have a head start on Team of the 2020s status. The American League has been very good to them.

7. Los Angeles Dodgers
No World Series championships, 7 postseason appearances

The Dodgers have been built to compete every season and hope the chips fall correctly for them come October. They’ve gotten close, with two consecutive World Series appearances in 2017-18, but they haven’t quite broken though. But from '13 on, they made the playoffs every season, and they had the most wins of any NL team from '10-19.

They’ve got to break through sometime in October, yes? Maybe ... but it didn’t happen this decade.

8. New York Yankees
No World Series championships, 7 postseason appearances

It might seem strange to have the Yankees this high, considering this was the first decade since the 1910s that they did not reach a World Series. But they didn’t have a losing record once this decade and, if you can believe this, it was in fact the Yanks who won more regular-season games than any other team this decade (921), two ahead of the Dodgers and 22 ahead of the Cardinals. (Fun fact: The Yankees also had the most wins in the '80s and also failed to win a World Series in that decade.)

The Yankees would have happily given up half of those for a World Series or two. But it is a very Yanks thing to win more games than any other team for a decade and still have it feel like a failure.

9. Kansas City Royals
1 World Series championship, 2 postseason appearances

The Royals had three winning seasons this decade. Two of those seasons ended with them in the World Series. Think the Yankees wouldn’t be envious of that sort of success rate? The Royals had missed the playoffs every season from 1986-2013, but they made those two appearances count, coming within one game of the Giants in '14 and then winning the whole thing in /15. They may have had a losing record for the decade -- only the Mariners, Orioles, Rockies, White Sox, Padres and Marlins were worse -- but flags fly forever.

10. Cleveland Indians
No World Series championships, 4 postseason appearances

There were several candidates for this final slot -- the Rangers, the Rays, the Braves, even the A’s -- but the Indians make it for their overall win percentage (they had the seventh-most wins for the decade) and for just how close they came to winning the World Series. They won’t soon forget 2016, for better or for worse. The question is when they will be back there again.

Next week: The legends we lost this decade.