From 100 losses to World Series in record time

October 25th, 2023

Let’s flash back all the way back to the distant year of 2021. Four teams lost more than 100 games that season while finishing in last place -- miles from contention.

One was the D-backs, who went 52-110 (.321), tying the Orioles for the worst record in the Majors and getting outscored by more than 200 runs. Another was the Rangers, who went 60-102 (.370) -- their most losses since 1973 -- and were outscored by 190 runs.

Two years later, these two teams will square off in the World Series. Game 1 is set for Friday night at Texas’ Globe Life Field after Arizona finished off an improbable run through the National League bracket by winning Game 7 of the NL Championship Series on Tuesday night in Philadelphia.

It’s a matchup the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Here’s how 2023 is making history and bringing us the ultimate rebound World Series.

From 100 losses to glory

We still have yet to see a team go from 100 losses to a World Series berth in just one year, but prior to 2023, only four teams had done it in two years. Just one of those instances had come since 1970, despite the fact that expanded playoffs have opened the door wider.

This is now the first time that two teams have done it in the same year.

Fewest seasons to reach WS after 100-loss season
2: 1914 Boston Braves, 1967 Red Sox, 1969 Mets, 2008 Rays, 2023 D-backs, 2023 Rangers
3: 1991 Braves, 2006 Tigers
4: 1989 Giants, 1995 Cleveland, 2016 Cubs, 2017 Astros
5: 1944 St. Louis Browns, 1950 Phillies, 1987 Twins

Teams to achieve the turnaround in just two years have seen mixed results. While the 1967 Red Sox and 2008 Rays both lost, the 1914 Braves swept the Philadelphia A’s in the World Series and the 1969 Mets beat the Orioles for the title. They became known as the “Miracle Braves” and “Miracle Mets,” which says something about the rarity of the feat.

Here’s another way to look at how quickly the D-backs and Rangers have ascended. With both having lost more than 100 games in 2021, they are also overwhelmingly the fastest pair of teams to go from triple-digit defeats to the World Series.

Fewest combined seasons from 100 losses to World Series
1. 2023 D-backs/Rangers: 4 seasons
2. 1995 Braves/Cleveland: 11 seasons
3. 1991 Braves/Twins: 12 seasons
4-T. 1989 A’s/Giants: 14 seasons
4-T. 1973 A’s/Mets: 14 seasons

From sub-.500 to the top

Yes, both the D-backs and Rangers improved from 2021-22. They didn’t lose 100-plus games again. But neither club was close to a World Series run just one year ago.

Prior to 2022, Texas spent big in free agency to gear up for a return to the playoffs. The Rangers signed infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to sizable free-agent contracts, adding starting pitcher Jon Gray to the mix as well. But it just didn’t work: Texas finished 68-94 in 2022, landing in fourth place in the American League West and ending up nowhere near the postseason. Manager Chris Woodward was let go in mid-August.

There were no big splashes in Arizona, just a young team showing improvement under manager Torey Lovullo. With Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly forming a stellar 1-2 punch atop the rotation, the D-backs gained 22 games in the standings and 176 runs of run differential. That still left them 14 games under .500 (74-88), in fourth place in the NL West and 37 games behind the Dodgers.

Fast-forward just one year, and so much has changed. After another aggressive offseason, the Rangers led the AL West for nearly all of the regular season under new skipper Bruce Bochy, ultimately winding up in a Wild Card spot at 90-72. The D-backs became serious contenders with the addition of NL Rookie of the Year Award favorite Corbin Carroll and squeezed into a Wild Card berth at 84-78.

And both of their October paths led to the World Series. Only the memorable 1991 Fall Classic between the Twins and Braves has featured teams with a lower combined winning percentage in the previous season.

Lowest combined win% in previous season by WS teams
1. 1991 Braves/Twins: .429 in 1990
2. 2023 D-backs/Rangers: .438 in 2022
3. 1987 Cardinals/Twins: .464 in 1986
4. 1988 A’s/Dodgers: .475 in 1987
5. 1926 Cardinals/Yankees: .476 in 1925

The 2023 Rangers in particular had one of the biggest one-year leaps to the World Series. Their 94 losses in the previous season are the third most in history, while their .420 win percentage is the third lowest.

Lowest win%, season before World Series trip
1. 1990 Braves: .401
2. 2007 Rays: .407
3. 2022 Rangers: .420
4. 2012 Red Sox: .426
5. 1992 Phillies: .432
T-17. 2022 D-backs: .457

Fourteen of the 36 previous teams to go from below .500 one year to the World Series the next -- roughly 39 percent -- ended up winning it all. But the 1991 Braves fell to the Twins in a seven-game classic, and the 2008 Rays made their first World Series appearance but lost to Philadelphia. That means no team with a win percentage as low as the 2022 Rangers has won the following year’s World Series.

If you go back a bit further, incorporating 2020-22, the D-backs and Rangers are both still in historic territory. Texas went 150-234 over those three years, just a tiny bit better than Arizona. (It’s worth noting that for these two clubs, that stretch includes the 60-game, Covid-shortened 2020 campaign.)

Lowest win% in previous 3 seasons by WS teams
1. 1914 Boston Braves: .363
2. 1991 Braves: .378
3. 2006 Tigers: .383
4. 2023 Rangers: .391
5. 2023 D-backs: .393

But none of that matters now. The past is in the past.

The D-backs and Rangers are in the World Series, and one of them will soon take home a championship. When they do, it will be the culmination of a meteoric rise from the depths of the standings to the pinnacle of the sport.