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Here’s how the 'worst' playoff teams fared

@williamfleitch
September 11, 2020

If the MLB season ended today, the Marlins, a team one game above .500, would reach the postseason. That’s actually a little better than we’ve seen: A week ago, three teams at .500 or under would have made the playoffs (all in the National League). This is a byproduct of

If the MLB season ended today, the Marlins, a team one game above .500, would reach the postseason. That’s actually a little better than we’ve seen: A week ago, three teams at .500 or under would have made the playoffs (all in the National League). This is a byproduct of this season’s circumstances, of course: Not only are there fewer games (making it more difficult for teams to actually stretch their legs and have a full 162 games to reach their true level), but there are more playoff teams than there have ever been. If you are around .500, you have a real chance to make the playoffs this year, and, unlike in past years, there likely won’t be a massive outcry if an under-.500 team makes it. It’s 2020. It’s a crazy year.

The thing about the postseason, though, is that once you’re in it, you’re in it. If you’re under .500 but you’re in the playoffs, all it takes is two wins and you’ve pulled off the upset of the century. That’s the fun of this specific season: There is going to be some madness.

Everything to know about expanded playoffs

To prepare us for some seemingly lopsided postseason matchups, today we take a look at the teams with the six worst regular-season records to make the postseason in the Wild Card Era ... and how they fared. Once you’re in, you’re in: The regular season no longer matters. And in baseball, anyone can win, at any time.

Postseason standings

(Note: The Twins won the World Series in 1987 with 85 wins, and the 1973 Mets won the NL pennant with 82 wins. Both of those predate the Wild Card Era, which is why you don’t see them on this list.)

5, tie) 2007 Chicago Cubs
Regular season: 85-77, NL Central champion
Winning percentage: .525
Best player: Aramis Ramirez
Postseason result: 3-0 NLDS loss to Arizona
Breakdown: The year after watching their hated rivals win a World Series despite, well, despite being a team that will show up later on this list, the Cubs got aggressive in the offseason, signing Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis to free-agent contracts and hiring manager Lou Piniella. They still weren’t great, but they were improved enough to outlast everyone else in a division where there was only one other winning team, the Brewers, who only won 83. They were immediately blitzed by the D-backs in a three-game sweep. They’d win more games in 2008 and reach the postseason again, but they’d get swept then, too, by the Dodgers ... and wouldn’t return until Theo Epstein was in charge in 2015.

5, tie) 2017 Minnesota Twins
Regular season: 85-77, AL Wild Card winner
Winning percentage: .525
Best player: Ervin Santana
Postseason result: Wild Card Game loss to Yankees
Breakdown: The Twins hadn’t made the playoffs in seven years, but thanks to a weak Wild Card field, they were able to sneak in. In retrospect, this looks like the first tiny step forward for a team that would make a big leap in 2019, but back then, the Wild Card Game just felt like a happy bonus for an otherwise mediocre team. They were rewarded with yet another loss to the Yankees. The Twins’ last four postseason appearances have all ended with losses to the Yanks.

How the Twins shocked the baseball world in 2017

3, tie) 1997 Houston Astros
Regular season: 84-78, NL Central champion
Winning percentage: .519
Best player: Jeff Bagwell
Postseason result: 3-0 NLDS loss to Atlanta
Breakdown: This was actually a much better team than the record indicated. The Astros’ Phythagorean record -- based off runs scored and runs allowed -- was actually 93-69, a full nine games better than their actual record. This team had two Hall of Famers in their prime (Bagwell and Craig Biggio), a top-shelf starter (Darryl Kile) and an elite closer (Billy Wagner). Maybe they just realized they didn’t need to win that many games: Despite this record, they won the division by five games over the Pirates, who were 79-83. Not that it made any difference: The 101-win defending NL champion Braves swept them in the NLDS.

3, tie) 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers
Regular season: 84-78, NL West champion
Winning percentage: .519
Best player: Manny Ramirez
Postseason result: 3-0 NLDS win over Chicago Cubs, 4-1 NLCS loss to Philadelphia
Breakdown: This was the Mannywood year. The Dodgers traded for Manny Ramirez at the Trade Deadline, and he went absolutely bonkers. His slash line in 53 games with the Dodgers: .396/.489/.743. That was enough to sneak the Dodgers into the playoffs, and they actually won a series over the Cubs, their first postseason victory since winning the 1988 World Series. (It would end against the eventual champion Phillies.) Fun facts with this team: Joe Torre was the manager, and a 20-year-old left-hander named Clayton Kershaw made his debut.

2) 2006 St. Louis Cardinals
Regular season: 83-78, NL Central champion
Winning percentage: .516
Best player: Albert Pujols
Postseason result: 3-1 NLDS win over San Diego, 4-3 NLCS win over NY Mets, 4-1 World Series win over Detroit
Breakdown: It is worth noting that this team -- which had the fewest wins of any World Series champion --- was looking just fine in mid-September, 11 games over .500, not great, but certainly worthy of a playoff spot. They then lost seven in a row and nearly blew their division. They recovered just in time to limp into the playoffs against San Diego, and then had a truly epic NLCS against a terrific Mets team. The Tigers famously fumbled all over themselves in the World Series -- pitchers made throwing errors in every single game -- and the Cardinals had their first title since 1982.

They are still used as a cautionary tale, but also a hopeful one: If those 83-win Cardinals can win a World Series, any team can.

1) 2005 San Diego Padres

Regular season: 82-80, NL West champion

Winning percentage: .506

Best player: Brian Giles

Postseason result: 3-0 NLDS loss to St. Louis.

Breakdown: Other teams on this list were probably a little better than their record. The Padres were worse; their Pythagorean record was 77-85, and they only had one quality starting pitcher (Jake Peavy). But the rest of the division was worse, much worse: Not only were there no other .500 teams in the NL West, no one even got to 78 wins. They were promptly swept out of the playoffs, like they should have been.

But all it takes is a .500 team reaching the playoffs to get on this list. And you never know: They could win the World Series too. All you have to do is get in the game.