The biggest 'spoilers' in MLB history

October 1st, 2023

Even a team that isn't part of the playoff race can play a big role in that race by taking down a serious contender.

Below is a look at talented teams that just missed out on a postseason ticket -- thanks in part to one non-contending team that "spoiled" their October dreams.

Wild Card Era (1995-present)

2019 Indians (93-69, 3 GB of AL Wild Card)
8-11 vs. White Sox (72-89)
The Indians were widely expected to win a fourth straight American League Central division title, but the emergence of the record-setting "Bomba Squad" Twins, and the pesky White Sox, put those hopes out of reach. Chicago took three of four games from Cleveland in early June to drop the Tribe to 11 1/2 games back of Minnesota. Then, after the Indians had righted the ship to put themselves in a three-team race for the AL Wild Card, the White Sox claimed the final two games of the season series by a combined score of 16-3. Those losses dropped the Indians from a half-game back of Tampa Bay for the second AL Wild Card to two games back, and then the Nationals swept them in the final weekend to finish their campaign.

2014 Mariners (87-75, 1 GB of AL Wild Card)
Spoiler: 2-5 vs. Twins (70-93)
Seattle was out of contention for the AL West title by early August, but a late-season push kept the Mariners in the Wild Card hunt until the very end. Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and company actually won their final four games against the Blue Jays and Angels, but series losses to the woeful Twins in May and July helped extend Seattle's postseason drought to 13 consecutive seasons.

2013 Rangers (91-72, 1 GB of AL Wild Card)
Spoiler: 1-6 vs. Blue Jays (74-88)
Texas and Toronto would stage a famously chippy ALDS just two years later, but these two franchises were on opposite paths in 2013. The Rangers, who had squandered a 13-game lead in the AL West before losing the Wild Card Game in '12, suffered more heartbreak when they lost a tie-breaking Game 163 against the Rays at home to close the '13 campaign. Had they taken care of the Blue Jays, who underperformed all season after making several blockbuster deals, the Rangers likely could have bypassed the tiebreaker altogether.

2008 Mets (89-73, 1 GB of NL Wild Card)
Spoiler: 2-5 vs. Padres (63-99)
New York was eager to turn the page on its disastrous finish to the 2007 season, in which the club infamously blew a seven-game lead in the NL East by dropping 12 of their last 17 -- including five of six against the struggling Marlins and Nationals in the season's final week. But the Mets' nightmare continued into '08, when they again surrendered a division lead in mid-September and were again eliminated by the Marlins in the final game. Had the Mets salvaged even a split of a four-game series against the Padres in June -- instead of suffering a sweep that included three losses by two runs or less -- their nightmare could have been over.

2005 Indians (93-69, 2 GB of AL Wild Card)
Spoiler: 4-6 vs. Rays (67-95)
The 2005 Indians were an unfortunate case of a club that had simply dug too big a hole. Trailing the White Sox by 14 games at the start of August, Cleveland rattled off wins in 37 of its next 52 games to pull within three games before a final weekend showdown with Chicago. But the eventual World Series champs pulled off three razor-thin victories at Progressive Field, showing how the Devil Rays' three-game sweep of the Indians in mid-August gave Cleveland no margin for error.

2004 Giants (91-71, 1 GB of NL Wild Card)
Spoiler: 1-5 vs. Pirates (72-89)
This was the last year of Barry Bonds' peak dominance, an era in which each of his year-end stat lines boggled the mind. At age 39, Bonds drew a Major League-record 232 walks (120 of them intentional), while launching 45 homers and pacing the NL with an incredible .362/.609/.812 slash line (yes, that comes out to a 1.422 OPS) to easily claim his seventh and final MVP Award.

But the Giants still missed the postseason, thanks in no small part to Bonds' old club in Pittsburgh. The Pirates swept the Giants out west in May and then pulled off back-to-back walk-off wins in August before San Francisco salvaged the finale. The Giants would not return to the postseason until 2009.

2003 Mariners (93-69, 2 GB of AL Wild Card)
Spoiler: 2-4 vs. Padres (64-98)
The 2003 Padres featured just one hitter with 20 home runs (Ryan Klesko), and a 22-year-old Jake Peavy led the Friars' pitching staff with 12 wins. But San Diego found a way to pester the Mariners, squeaking out wins in four of the clubs' six matchups while outscoring Seattle by just four combined runs. The '03 Mariners didn't lack star power -- from Ichiro Suzuki and Edgar Martinez to Bret Boone, Mike Cameron and Jamie Moyer -- but missed the postseason with 93 wins for a second straight year.

Pre-Wild Card Era

1987 Royals (83-79, 2 GB in AL West)
Spoiler: 3-9 vs. Orioles (67-95)
Kansas City still featured plenty of talented holdovers from its 1985 World Series team, including ace Bret Saberhagen, lefty Charlie Liebrandt, closer Dan Quisenberry and Hall of Fame cornerstone George Brett. A 24-year-old Bo Jackson chipped in 22 homers, too. But the Royals failed to find answers against an Orioles club that had fallen off its dynastic highs of the late 1970s and early '80s. Baltimore famously lost its first 21 games the following season, making the K.C.'s struggles against them look even worse in hindsight.

1978 Red Sox (99-64, 1 GB in Division)
Spoiler: 7-8 vs. Indians (69-90)
The summer of 1978 is remembered as one of the best in the storied Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. Boston held an eight-game lead over the Brewers and were 14 games clear of its New York rivals on July 19 before Beantown watched in horror as the Yankees chiseled their lead down to a one-game tie-breaker which the Bronx Bombers won at Fenway Park (see: Dent, Bucky). There was plenty of blame to go around, but one could argue the Red Sox really should have taken care of the beleaguered Indians, who swept a two-game set on Sept. 13-14 right before the Yankees took two of three from the Red Sox in the Bronx and ignited the famous "Boston Massacre."

1951 Dodgers (97-60, 1 GB of NL pennant)
Spoiler: 10-12 vs. Pirates (64-90)
The Dodgers' sad story has been told often: A 13-game lead that evaporated seven weeks later, followed by a three-game tiebreaker and Bobby Thomson's dramatic "Shot Heard 'Round the World" that delivered the Giants the pennant. Lost in the fold, however, were the Dodgers' three combined losses in August and September to a Pirates team that was struggling through the third of its nine straight finishes in the NL's second division.