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2015 World Series Program

Pitch in: Best postseason staffs

Deepest staffs in LCS history helped strong-arm their teams into the World Series
MLB.com

When the 1983 American League Championship Series opened on an 81-degree October afternoon, the Baltimore Orioles were confident. They boasted a young rotation that led the league with 15 shutouts and an impressive bullpen. Although their staff ranked second in the American League in ERA, there was no way to know that just 11 days later it would complete one of the most dominant postseason runs since the advent of division play in 1969.

While polishing off the White Sox in what was then a best-of-five LCS format and steamrolling the Phillies in the World Series, Baltimore's pitchers posted an aggregate 1.10 ERA, held opponents to a .202 average and compiled a 0.951 WHIP.

When the 1983 American League Championship Series opened on an 81-degree October afternoon, the Baltimore Orioles were confident. They boasted a young rotation that led the league with 15 shutouts and an impressive bullpen. Although their staff ranked second in the American League in ERA, there was no way to know that just 11 days later it would complete one of the most dominant postseason runs since the advent of division play in 1969.

While polishing off the White Sox in what was then a best-of-five LCS format and steamrolling the Phillies in the World Series, Baltimore's pitchers posted an aggregate 1.10 ERA, held opponents to a .202 average and compiled a 0.951 WHIP.

Here's a look at a few of the other pitching staffs that rose to the occasion while playing in at least two postseason series during their journeys to the Fall Classic.

1996 Braves

Rotation: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Denny Neagle, John Smoltz

Bullpen: Steve Avery, Mike Bielecki, Brad Clontz, Greg McMichael, Neagle, Terrell Wade, Mark Wohlers

Numbers: One of just two postseason teams with an ERA of 2.40 or less (1.89), at least 120 K's (125) and a batting average against below .200 (.198)

The Braves were known for their pitching, boasting three future Hall of Famers, all of whom won the World Series with Atlanta the year before. In the first round, Braves pitching allowed a mere three earned runs. In the LCS, the team posted a 0.918 WHIP and held St. Louis to just one run over the final three games. And in the World Series, each of the three starters maintained a terrific ERA: 0.64 for Smoltz, 1.29 for Glavine and 1.72 for Maddux.

1974 Athletics

Rotation: Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman, Catfish Hunter

Bullpen: Rollie Fingers, Hunter, Blue Moon Odom

Numbers: 1.91 ERA, .206 batting average against, 0.99 WHIP

Hunter gave up six runs in the first five innings of the ALCS opener, but Oakland's pitching allowed just one more the rest of the way. In the World Series, Fingers figured in three of his team's victories, with a win and two saves, and was named the Series MVP.

The A's were known for their colorful green and gold uniforms, which perfectly complemented the personality of innovative owner Charlie Finley, whose various shenanigans included parading his pet mule around the field and signing track star Herb Washington as a "designated runner" even though he had no professional baseball experience. Despite the feuds and the wacky antics, strong pitching carried Oakland to a third consecutive championship.

2001 Diamondbacks

Rotation: Brian Anderson, Miguel Batista, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling

Bullpen: Batista, Troy Brohawn, Byung-Hyun Kim, Albie Lopez, Mike Morgan, Greg Swindell, Bobby Witt

Numbers: The other team that meets the parameters set by the '96 Braves: 2.40 ERA, 140 K's, .193 batting average against. Also sported a 0.94 WHIP

This ranking is heavily weighted by the World Series, during which D-backs pitchers combined for a 1.94 ERA. And that, in turn, is influenced largely by the overwhelming performances of Johnson and Schilling, who were named co-MVPs of the Classic. Schilling accumulated a 1.69 ERA and a 0.66 WHIP over three starts. The Big Unit won both of his starts and picked up a third victory in relief of Schilling in Game 7 to finish with a 1.04 ERA and 0.69 WHIP.

"You don't bring in Randy Johnson so you can finish at the middle of the pack," Anderson said.

1973 Mets

Rotation: Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Tom Seaver, George Stone

Bullpen: Tug McGraw, Harry Parker, Ray Sadecki, Stone

Numbers: 1.84 ERA, .201 batting average against

The Mets had won just 82 regular-season games that season, but after Matlack tossed a two-hit shutout against Cincinnati in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, New York's Bud Harrelson quipped, "He made the Big Red Machine look like me hitting today." It was the Mets' pitching attack, featuring Tug McGraw, that carried the team to the World Series.

"It's no secret we can't win without him," Harrelson said of the reliever.

Despite a cumulative 2.22 staff ERA in the World Series, New York fell to Oakland. This was a not-so-distant echo from 1969, as pitching was front and center that year, as well. Those Miracle Mets won it all while holding opponents to a .190 average.

2013 Tigers

Rotation: Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander

Bullpen: Al Alburquerque, Jose Alvarez, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, Jose Veras

Numbers: .209 batting average against, 130 K's in 96 innings

True, Detroit didn't make it to the World Series, and the staff's 2.81 ERA doesn't compare with many teams on this list. But a 12.2 K/9 ratio can't be ignored. In Game 1 of the ALCS, five Tigers pitchers whiffed 17 and held the Red Sox hitless through eight. In Game 2, Scherzer continued the shutdown work, fanning 13.

"Pitching's an art," Scherzer said. "Numbers drive this game, but you have to look at the context. You can't hang your hat on wins and losses."

2010 Giants

Rotation: Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez

Bullpen: Jeremy Affeldt, Bumgarner, Santiago Casilla, Lincecum, Javier Lopez, Guillermo Mota, Ramon Ramirez, Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson

Numbers: 2.47 ERA, .196 batting average against, 1.02 WHIP

The Giants hurled four shutouts in the postseason and became the first team with two in the World Series since the Orioles in 1966. "It doesn't take a ton of runs to win ballgames in the playoffs," said Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand. "That's when pitching becomes more important."

San Francisco had to battle through some tough pitching itself to make it to the World Series, though, as Phillies arms threw two shutouts, including a no-hitter by Roy Halladay, in their best-of-five NLDS against the Reds. Even though they were eliminated by the Giants, the Phils posted an 0.97 WHIP in their two postseason series.

2005 White Sox

Rotation: Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland

Bullpen: Neal Cotts, Dustin Hermanson, Orlando Hernandez, Bobby Jenks, Damaso Marte, Cliff Politte, Luis Vizcaino

Numbers: 2.55 ERA, .202 batting average against, 0.97 WHIP

The White Sox won the World Series for the first time in 88 years in 2005, but the turning point of the postseason came in the ALCS. After losing the opener, 3-2, Chicago's starters hurled four straight complete-game victories. Neal Cotts pitched two-thirds of an inning in Game 1, which turned out to be the only time manager Ozzie Guillen used his 'pen in that round.

"I credit the pitching coach and both of our catchers," Buehrle said. "They're calling a heck of a game back there, and I'm just making quality pitches."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

6 upstart teams that made Fall Classic runs

MLB.com

The 2014 Royals were the latest team to seemingly come out of the woodwork to reach the World Series. But while Kansas City deserves a world of credit for its magnificent run, the club should not be regarded as an outlier or even an exception.

After all, the Fall Classic encourages precisely this kind of transformation. Here are a few more upstart teams that surprised the baseball world in their quest to make the World Series.

The 2014 Royals were the latest team to seemingly come out of the woodwork to reach the World Series. But while Kansas City deserves a world of credit for its magnificent run, the club should not be regarded as an outlier or even an exception.

After all, the Fall Classic encourages precisely this kind of transformation. Here are a few more upstart teams that surprised the baseball world in their quest to make the World Series.

2011 St. Louis Cardinals
On Aug. 25, 2011, the Redbirds trailed the Atlanta Braves by 10 1/2 games in the National League Wild Card race. The Cards would rally, though, finishing on a 22-9 run, while the Braves floundered, going 10-20 down the stretch. As the regular season ended, St. Louis narrowly secured the Wild Card spot.

The Cardinals would then come from behind to defeat the Phillies in the Division Series, before repeating the feat against the Brewers in the NL Championship Series. Third baseman David Freese was named NLCS MVP, batting .545 with a 1.091 slugging percentage and a 1.691 OPS. But he was just getting started. In Game 6 of the World Series, the Cardinals trailed the Rangers, 3 games to 2, and were down by two runs, when Freese came to the plate in the ninth with two on and two outs. On a 1-2 count, he tripled in both runners to send the game to extras. Leading off the 11th, Freese came through again with the game-winning home run. The Cardinals eventually took Game 7, too, after the third baseman got them going with a two-run double in the first inning.

"We were on the edge game after game after game," manager Tony LaRussa said. [When] you play with that urgency, it's a little scary at times, and it takes a lot out of you, but it's really fun to compete that way."

Video: All-Postseason Performer: David Freese, 3B

2008 Tampa Bay Rays
In its first 10 years of existence, Tampa Bay had won as many as 70 games in just one season. In fact, the Devil Rays, as they were then known, averaged 97 losses per season. And then, presto: with a 97-65 record in '08, they secured first place. They brushed aside the White Sox in four games in the American League Division Series, and then defeated the defending World Series champion Red Sox in seven games to win the AL pennant.

"I knew we were going to be good, but never in a million years would I ever have expected this," Rays left-hander Scott Kazmir said.

Although the Rays ultimately lost to the Phillies, the force that had propelled the club to success all season long was a confluence of organizational efforts. Sound scouting, effective player development, shrewd acquisitions, a developing talent base and the relentless but thoughtful optimism of manager Joe Maddon had pulled together a genuine baseball breakthrough.

"This has been a remarkable year for us on so many different levels," Maddon said after the World Series. "Very few people would have even guessed that we could get here … And now I think this country, as well as the baseball world, knows who we are."

Video: A look at the Rays' magical season

2004 Red Sox
The Red Sox had not won a World Series in 86 years. And in the ALCS, they had lost the first three games. No team in the history of MLB's postseason had ever overcome such a deficit.

But the Red Sox did it -- and they did it against the Yankees, who had crushed their postseason dreams repeatedly over many decades. Boston won two games, which spanned a combined 26 innings, at Fenway Park, and then it took the last two at Yankee Stadium to unseat the New York dynasty.

"Not many people get the opportunity to shock the world," Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar added. "We came out and we did it. We beat the Yankees."

The Red Sox went on to face the Cardinals in the World Series, a team that had won 105 games in the regular season, still the best record any National League team has recorded in this century. But sometime that October, the Red Sox had been transformed from a band of also-rans into a force of nature. They swept the Redbirds and wrote for themselves a new and improved history.

1997 Marlins
In 1997, the club's fifth year of existence, the Marlins enjoyed their first season over .500, posting a 92-70 record. Ownership had made serious investments during the offseason, producing a talented team led by accomplished skipper Jim Leyland. Following a second-place finish in the NL East and a Wild Card berth, they swept the Division Series against the San Francisco Giants. Then, in the NLCS, the Fish took down the Braves, the team that had finished ahead of them, and moved on to face the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.

The Marlins won every odd-numbered game, including Game 7 in thrilling fashion, a 3-2 verdict in which an Edgar Renteria RBI single in the 11th inning provided the winning margin. It was a big upset, and, understandably, the Indians took it hard. "About a year and a half or so after that World Series, a guy asked me how long it took me to get over that last game," Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said. "I told him: 'As soon as it happens, I'll let you know.'"

Video: BB Moments: '97 WS, Gm 7: Marlins Take Title in 11

1991 Minnesota Twins/1991 Atlanta Braves
In 1990, Minnesota had finished last in the AL West, at 74-88, and Atlanta followed suit, posting a Senior Circuit-worst 65-97 record. But in '91, the Twins bettered themselves by 21 games to win the division, while the Braves ran over the NL West with a 29-game regular-season improvement.

The Twins disposed of the Blue Jays in five games in the ALCS as the Braves got past the Pirates in the NLCS in seven. They would then put together one of the greatest World Series clashes in history. Five of the seven games were decided by one run, and neither team lost a single game at home. Future Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett starred at the plate and in the field for Minnesota. He was the hero of Game 6, launching an 11th-inning home run. Jack Morris, who would take home the World Series MVP Award, nailed down the victory with a 10-inning shutout in a taut Game 7.

"I just didn't want to let them down," the hurler later recalled.

Video: BB Moments: '91 WS, Gm 7: Morris' 10-inning Shutout

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Top 10 pitching performances in World Series history

Special to MLB.com

1. Madison Bumgarner, 2014 World Series
Had Madison Bumgarner never toed the rubber in Game 7 for the Giants against the Royals, his two victories earlier in the Fall Classic likely would have earned him Series MVP honors anyway. But in tossing five shutout innings on the road in Game 7, Bumgarner authored the most impressive relief performance in Fall Classic history. By the end, Kansas City had mustered just a .127 batting average off Bumgarner. Royals skipper Ned Yost described the experience as "hopeless." 

2. Christy Mathewson, 1905 World Series
At the dawn of the 20th century, New York Giants hurler Mathewson ranked as the game's greatest pitcher. The right-hander's shining moment came in the 1905 World Series, when threw a record three consecutive shutouts in six days against the Philadelphia Athletics, a mark that has never been matched. During those 27 flawless innings, only one Philadelphia runner managed to advance past second base. The team ultimately fell to the Giants in five games.

1. Madison Bumgarner, 2014 World Series
Had Madison Bumgarner never toed the rubber in Game 7 for the Giants against the Royals, his two victories earlier in the Fall Classic likely would have earned him Series MVP honors anyway. But in tossing five shutout innings on the road in Game 7, Bumgarner authored the most impressive relief performance in Fall Classic history. By the end, Kansas City had mustered just a .127 batting average off Bumgarner. Royals skipper Ned Yost described the experience as "hopeless." 

2. Christy Mathewson, 1905 World Series
At the dawn of the 20th century, New York Giants hurler Mathewson ranked as the game's greatest pitcher. The right-hander's shining moment came in the 1905 World Series, when threw a record three consecutive shutouts in six days against the Philadelphia Athletics, a mark that has never been matched. During those 27 flawless innings, only one Philadelphia runner managed to advance past second base. The team ultimately fell to the Giants in five games.

"I marvel at what Matty has done," sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote in the aftermath. "In those few days, he was the greatest pitcher I've ever seen."

3. Bob Gibson, 1967 World Series
During the 1960s, the Cardinals' Gibson dominated three different Fall Classic stages, setting new records for strikeouts in a game (17) and a single Series (35). But to Tim McCarver, the catcher who worked with Gibson throughout the decade, Gibson's performance in the 1967 Series was the finest moment in a Hall-of-Fame career.

"He was invincible," McCarver later recalled. "In 1967, he had something to prove."

In complete-game victories in Games 1, 4 and 7, Gibson broke the hearts of Red Sox fans through force of sheer will, fanning 26 and allowing just 14 hits in nearly twice as many innings.

Video: 1967 WS Gm7: Gibson's K seals Cards' World Series win

4. Randy Johnson, 2001 World Series
The 2001 Yankees were favored to win their fifth World Series title in six years, but then they ran into the Diamondbacks' Johnson. Making his Series debut, the then-38-year-old overwhelmed the Bronx Bombers with his blazing fastball and legendary slider, whiffing 11 in a Game 2 shutout.

"He throws the ball 98 mph, and he's about 6 foot 13," shortstop Derek Jeter quipped. "You feel like he's right on top of you."

Johnson's gem gave the D-backs a 2-0 Series lead, but the Yankees won the next three contests. The ace would carry his team, though, as he beat the Yanks in Game 6, then pitched another 1 1/3 innings of relief in Game 7 the very next night to earn a third victory.

Video: WS Gm7: Johnson throws 1 1/3 frames scoreless relief

5. Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1926 World Series
Finishing his career with a National League-record 373 wins, Alexander was one of the great stars of the deadball era. In the 1926 World Series against the Yankees' fearsome Murderers' Row lineup, Alexander won Games 2 and 6 for St. Louis, while allowing just one hit combined to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 14 at-bats.

Cardinals manager Rogers Hornsby called on Alexander with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning of Game 7, even though the hurler had pitched nine innings the previous day. No matter; Alexander struck out Tony Lazzeri to get out of the jam, and then he held the Yanks scoreless for two more innings to give St. Louis its first championship.

6. Mickey Lolich, 1968 World Series
Although the Tigers boasted a 31-game winner in Denny McLain, by the time the dust settled in the 1968 Fall Classic, the unlikely hero was Tigers left-hander Lolich -- a portly flame-thrower who had played second fiddle all year.

"When I'm good, nobody says anything about it," Lolich once said.

By the end of the Series, he was all that fans talked about. Lolich notched three complete-game W's in eight days, including a Game 7 five-hitter to defeat Gibson and give Detroit its first championship since 1945.

Video: WS1968 Gm7: Tigers win the World Series

7. Sandy Koufax, 1965 World Series
The 1965 World Series represents perhaps the crowning moment of Koufax's brief career.

Scheduled to pitch Game 1 of the Series against the Twins, Koufax declined to play in observance of the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur. Some accused the Dodgers ace of putting himself before the team, but such criticism was rendered ludicrous by the end of the Series, as Koufax pitched a shutout in Game 5, and added another just three days later in Game 7 to win the Series.

"Koufax is murder," Twins manager Sam Mele said. "The best I believe I have ever seen."

Video: 65WS Gm7: Koufax's gem wins Series for Dodgers

8. Jack Morris, 1991 World Series
Morris played a defining role in the 1991 Twins' worst-to-first turnaround, leading the staff in both innings pitched and complete games. Regarded as a workhorse at the age of 36, Morris was transcendent in the World Series, winning two games while posting a 1.17 ERA.

The Minnesota-born right-hander's crowning moment came in Game 7, when he held the Braves at bay for 10 innings in a 1-0 shutout.

"I said when we got him that he was a horse," Twins pitching coach Dick Such said afterward. "Tonight, he was a race horse, a thoroughbred."

Video: 1991 WS Gm7: Morris' 10-inning shutout

9. Rollie Fingers, 1974 World Series
On a club full of characters, it was the Oakland A's bullpen, led by Rollie Fingers, that made the biggest contribution to its three consecutive world championships in the early 1970s. In '74, Fingers became the second relief pitcher ever to win the Series MVP Award. In an era before relief pitchers were largely limited to one-inning stints, Fingers collected 28 crucial outs in the Series' five games, including 4.1 innings in a narrow, 3-2 win in Game 1, and multi-frame saves in Games 4 and 5.

Video: 1974 WS Gm5: Rollie saves Game 5 and the Series

10. Bret Saberhagen, 1985 World Series
Few in MLB history have enjoyed a week as inspired as the one Saberhagen experienced in October 1985. The right-handed hurler threw a complete-game six-hitter to bring the Royals back from a 2-0 Series hole in Game 3, but he didn't stop there. Saberhagen would secure the franchise its first world title with a Game 7 shutout at Royals Stadium, and he did so just one day after his wife delivered their first child.

Asked after the Series how he could ever top such a string of achievements, Saberhagen deadpanned, "Well, you go out and do the same things I did last year, but have twins instead of just one."

Video: 1985 WS Gm7: Saberhagen shuts outs Cards in clincher

David Crawford Jones is a freelance writer and baseball historian based in Ohio.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Best dynasties in baseball history

Special to MLB.com

Dynasties come around unexpectedly, and when they do, there is an undeniable fascination with those teams that exist above the fray. In the midst of yet another postseason, let us look back at a few of the greatest dynasties in baseball history and remember the qualities that guided them in their quests to conquer the Fall Classic.

1947-56 Dodgers
1 title, 6 World Series appearances

Dynasties come around unexpectedly, and when they do, there is an undeniable fascination with those teams that exist above the fray. In the midst of yet another postseason, let us look back at a few of the greatest dynasties in baseball history and remember the qualities that guided them in their quests to conquer the Fall Classic.

1947-56 Dodgers
1 title, 6 World Series appearances

The Dodgers' success began in the front office, where a trio of Hall of Fame executives led the way. Larry MacPhail helped lay the groundwork, dealing for shortstop prospect Pee Wee Reese in 1939. But in 1942, MacPhail ceded control to Branch Rickey, who created a player-development program and made the trailblazing decision to sign African-American players. Under Rickey, the team acquired Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, while developing Duke Snider and Gil Hodges in the Minors.

It was no coincidence, then, that Brooklyn's dynasty coincided with Robinson's 10-year big league career.

"When Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947, there was no better player in the league," Giants infielder Bill Rigney recalled.

The final member of the triumvirate was part-owner Walter O'Malley; although O'Malley would later move the Dodgers out of Brooklyn, he also brought the borough its only world title in 1955.

Dodgers pitcher Ed Roebuck, a rookie in '55, said, "It was very emotional for the older players who had lost in past years."

1906-10 Cubs
2 titles, 4 World Series appearances

Back in 1910, the idea that the Cubs might go a century without winning another World Series was unthinkable. Not only had they been the most dominant team since the National League was founded in 1876, but they also had captured four of the previous five pennants. The architect of the early Cubs dynasty was Hall of Fame manager Frank Selee, who had developed three-fourths of a stellar infield -- Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance -- plus star pitchers Ed Reulbach and Mordecai Brown.

For much of his career, the latter was simply referred to as "Three Finger," a nickname born from a childhood farming accident. It gave Brown a unique grip, plus the ability to throw a curveball. Ty Cobb called him "the most devastating pitcher I ever faced."

Brown never recorded an ERA higher than 1.86 over that five-year period, and his 2.06 career mark ranks fifth in modern history.

1996-2003 Yankees
4 titles, 6 World Series appearances

With Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams alongside catcher Jorge Posada, the Yankees' lineup featured an impressive assemblage of homegrown stars. But the foundation of this dynasty was actually an incredible pitching staff.

During their pennant run, the rotation at various times boasted eight pitchers who'd go on to win at least 185 career games -- Roger Clemens, David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Jimmy Key, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Kenny Rogers and David Wells -- plus a ninth, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who won 126 in Cuba before adding nearly 100 more in the Majors.

"They all have ability to turn it up a notch," catcher Joe Girardi told the New York Times in 1998, the year the Yanks won a then-AL record 114 games and posted a collective 2.42 ERA in the postseason.

And we can't forget Mariano Rivera, who retired with 141 innings, an 8-1 record and a 0.70 ERA in the postseason. When he reached 34 postseason saves, it was more than double anyone else's total, and he fittingly finished his career with 42.

1942-46 Cardinals
3 titles, 4 World Series appearances

A 21-year-old Stanley Musial played his first full season in 1942 and batted .315; it would be one of just two times that his average dipped below the .320 mark in his first 12 big league seasons. Despite the outfielder's growing pains, Stan the Man helped propel a 106-win Cardinals team to a five-game World Series victory over the Yankees.

"In '42, we played together and fought together," Musial later said. "We had that Cardinal spirit -- we thought we could beat anybody, and we did."

Over the next four years, Musial would win two National League MVP Awards, and St. Louis would win two more championships in three return trips to the Fall Classic. The Cardinals likely would have reached four straight World Series, had Musial not left in 1945 to serve in World War II.

From 1942-46, St. Louis won at least 95 games, largely thanks to right fielder Enos Slaughter, a 10-time All-Star, and Mort Cooper, the 1942 NL MVP and staff ace. The rotation, which also featured Max Lanier and Howie Pollet, led the league in ERA in each year but '45.

1970-79 Reds
2 titles, 4 World Series appearances

During a decade in which they won six division titles and four NL pennants, the Big Red Machine's offense led the NL in runs, homers, OPS and stolen bases. While other baseball dynasties achieved greatness with superlative pitching and balanced hitting, the Reds' success was linked to their everyday lineup, which featured four players who took home a total of six MVP Awards: Johnny Bench (1970 and '72), future hits king Pete Rose ('73), Joe Morgan ('75-76) and George Foster ('77).

The middle of the Reds' batting order also featured Tony Perez, the Cuban first baseman who averaged 27 homers and 104 RBIs from 1969-76, three-time All-Star Ken Griffey Sr., and Gold Glove winners Davey Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo.

Their quirky, Hall of Fame manager, Sparky Anderson, put it best: "I'm not going to sit here and tell you that [we were] the greatest of all time. But if somebody else has a better [team], I want to sit and watch it."

1972-75 A's
3 titles, 3 World Series appearances

Few teams have thrived in the face of turmoil better than the Athletics of the 1970s, which featured numerous flashy stars and perhaps the most eccentric owner of all time in Charles O. Finley. The team's central figure was temperamental outfielder Reggie Jackson, and in 1973, the future "Mr. October" won the first of his two World Series MVP Awards when he tied for the team lead in hits and home runs while leading the club in RBIs in its Fall Classic win over the Mets.

Top to bottom, the A's roster was stocked with stars. Catfish Hunter won at least 20 games four years in a row. Bert Campaneris led the league in steals six times. Joe Rudi and Sal Bando were consistent power hitters. Even the bullpen was fearsome, headed by future Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, who sported not only a handlebar mustache, but also a ledger of eight postseason saves and an impressive 1.55 ERA during Oakland's three-year title run.

Eric Enders is a contributor to MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Agents of change: Stars lead to WS titles

Impactful signees have quickly ushered adopted franchises to success
Special to MLB.com

As this summer's non-waiver Trade Deadline reminded us, it can take just one player to transform a team from second thought to contender. The same principle applies to the flurry of free-agent signings that now mark every offseason.

It is a ritual now four decades old, as this year marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark decision that ushered in the free-agent era. When pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally successfully challenged the reserve clause that had long limited player mobility, they paved the way for unprecedented parity, with 22 different franchises hoisting World Series championship banners from 1976-2014.

As this summer's non-waiver Trade Deadline reminded us, it can take just one player to transform a team from second thought to contender. The same principle applies to the flurry of free-agent signings that now mark every offseason.

It is a ritual now four decades old, as this year marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark decision that ushered in the free-agent era. When pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally successfully challenged the reserve clause that had long limited player mobility, they paved the way for unprecedented parity, with 22 different franchises hoisting World Series championship banners from 1976-2014.

As the following list of 10 of the most impactful free-agent signings describes, many of those October triumphs were the product of bold and savvy acquisitions.

1. Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks
When the D-backs signed Johnson to a lucrative multi-year contract in December 1998, they were a 1-year-old expansion team coming off a 97-loss season. Nonetheless, owner Jerry Colangelo believed that free agency offered his club a means to short-circuit the rebuilding process. "The quickest way to compete is to concentrate on pitching so we'd have a chance every night," he said.

History would prove Colangelo right, as "The Big Unit" won four consecutive National League Cy Young Awards during his first four seasons with the D-backs. His three victories in the 2001 Fall Classic carried Arizona to a title in just its fourth season.

2. Reggie Jackson, New York Yankees
The Yankees' acquisition of Jackson in November 1976 was worrisome at first, as the boastful slugger publicly feuded with manager Billy Martin. But the self-proclaimed "straw that stirs the drink" silenced his critics in the postseason. During a decisive Game 6 against the Dodgers in the World Series, Jackson's three-home run onslaught yielded an 8-4 victory and the Yankees' first World Series title since 1962. It was a performance that seemed to shock even Jackson himself. "I'm not sure I hit three home runs," he said. "But the ballplayer in me did."

Video: A look back at the 1977 World Series

3. Kirk Gibson, Los Angeles Dodgers
With Gibson leading the way, the 1988 Dodgers won 21 more games than they had the previous season, and Gibson took home NL Most Valuable Player Award honors with 25 home runs and 106 runs scored. But it was not in the box scores that Gibson's impact could best be measured. It was, rather, in the toughness with which he and his teammates played the game. "A good time to me is winning," the slugger told reporters during Spring Training. That tenacity ultimately proved to be the central ingredient in the Dodgers' stunning upset of the Athletics in the 1988 Fall Classic.

4. Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox
Despite Ramirez's eccentric approach, "Manny Being Manny" meant putting up a 1.006 OPS and averaging 36 homers and 114 RBIs per season from 2001-07. During the team's improbable run to the 2004 World Series title, Ramirez blasted a walk-off home run against the Angels to win the AL Division Series, then took home World Series MVP honors. "He had a remarkable run here," then-Boston GM Theo Epstein, who signed the slugger in 2000, later said. "He's one of the best right-handed hitters in history."

5. Greg Maddux, Atlanta Braves
Prior to inking Maddux to a five-year deal in December 1992, the Braves were a perennial contender, but afterwards they became a dynasty. "Retrospectively, the industry probably views it as the greatest free-agent signing yet," John Schuerholz, the Atlanta GM who signed Maddux, later said. "By how he pitched, how he prepared and how he competed, he set the tone."

In 1995, the future Hall of Famer finished the year 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA. His three postseason victories, including a complete-game win in Game 1 of the World Series, helped Atlanta capture its first championship.

6. Paul Molitor, Toronto Blue Jays
For the first 15 years of his career, Molitor had been denied the experience of winning a World Series championship. "I've watched many a celebration over the years," he later said. "It isn't easy to watch other players enjoying it, savoring it, when you feel you could have been there and should have been there."

Video: 1993 WS Gm6: Molitor comes up big with three hits

But after signing with the Blue Jays prior to the 1993 season, the 37-year-old proved to be the key ingredient that propelled the Jays to their second straight World Series title. In Toronto's six-game Fall Classic victory over the Phillies, Molitor batted .500 with two homers, eight RBIs and a Series-record 10 runs scored.

7. Jack Morris, Minnesota Twins
Hoping to prove that he could still summon the skills that had made him the winningest pitcher of the 1980s, Morris signed a one-year deal with the Twins prior to the 1991 season. He quickly helped the Twins complete an improbable worst-to-first turnaround, posting an 18-12 regular-season ledger. In the playoffs, he burnished his legend with the season's final act, a 10-inning, 1-0 victory over Atlanta in Game 7 of the World Series that propelled the Twins to their second World Series title in five years.

8. Darrell Porter, St. Louis Cardinals
Porter had been a four-time All-Star with the Brewers and Royals prior to his signing with the Cardinals in December 1980. And despite his struggles with substance abuse, teammates attested to his courage and tenacity. As George Brett once put it, "Darrell always played like it was the seventh game of the World Series."

Porter was thus ready to answer the call in the 1982 postseason. He won both NLCS and World Series MVP honors with a brilliant offensive performance that included a .556 average in a three-game NLCS sweep of the Braves and timely hits in the Cardinals' seven-game triumph over the Brewers in the World Series.

9. Jermaine Dye, Chicago White Sox
After the Sox lost legendary slugger Frank Thomas to a broken foot in 2005, Dye, signed the year prior, picked up the slack. His 31-homer season helped Chicago capture the AL pennant for the first time in 46 years. In the first inning of the World Series, the slugger got the White Sox rolling with a solo home run off Astros ace Roger Clemens. Four days later, he knocked a Brad Lidge slider back up the middle to plate the lone run in a 1-0 victory that sealed Chicago's first World Series title in 88 years.

10. Edgar Renteria, San Francisco Giants
When the Giants inked the veteran shortstop to a two-year deal prior to the 2009 season, the club never expected him to put up an MVP performance in the 2010 Fall Classic. But Renteria came alive, providing the decisive blow in San Francisco's five-game triumph over the Rangers: a dramatic, two-out, three-run homer off ace Cliff Lee in the seventh inning of the clinching contest. The performance marked a fitting final chapter in a 16-year career highlighted by a .333 average in 16 World Series games.

David Crawford Jones is a contributor to MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Best LCS in history: The clinchers

Special to MLB.com

The best LCS in history have been fraught with drama as Fall Classic hopefuls lay it all on the line.

In 1980, Philadelphia remained the only MLB franchise since 1903, the year of the inaugural Fall Classic, that had never won it all. But that season, they overcame a 2-1 deficit in the NLCS to subdue Houston and set up a meeting with the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. The Astros players struggled mightily to accept their defeat.

The best LCS in history have been fraught with drama as Fall Classic hopefuls lay it all on the line.

In 1980, Philadelphia remained the only MLB franchise since 1903, the year of the inaugural Fall Classic, that had never won it all. But that season, they overcame a 2-1 deficit in the NLCS to subdue Houston and set up a meeting with the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. The Astros players struggled mightily to accept their defeat.

"That's the first time I ever saw 25 players crying in the clubhouse," says Art Howe, then Houston's first baseman. "I believe we had the better team, but you've got to give the Phillies credit. They were down, 5-2, heading into the eighth inning [of Game 5] against Nolan Ryan and won."

Joe Niekro had pitched in Game 163 to help secure the Astros a playoff berth, so the ace was unavailable for Game 1 against the Phils. Although Ken Forsch gave it his all with eight solid innings, a two-run Greg Luzinski homer provided the winning margin in a 3-1 Phils victory at Veterans Stadium. One night later, the Astros blew open a tie game with four runs in the 10th to even the series.

The Phillies would have to play the next three games in Houston's Astrodome, though, and Niekro was waiting in the wings for Game 3. The knuckleballer threw 10 shutout innings and scattered six hits, but Houston's bats didn't back up his efforts until the bottom of the 11th, when Denny Walling lifted a walk-off sacrifice fly. The Astros' 1-0 victory put them in great position to reach the World Series for the first time in their history.

"We felt like we were going to win it," Howe says. "We were finally going to go to the World Series."

After trailing early in Game 4, Philadelphia ultimately triumphed in the 10th on RBI doubles by Luzinski and Manny Trillo. The Luzinski two-bagger scored Pete Rose, who reprised his 1970 All-Star steamrolling of Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse by running through Bruce Bochy.

Houston still seemed poised to come away victorious, as it held a 5-2 lead heading into the eighth inning of Game 5 with Ryan on the mound. But the Phillies stormed back yet again, and although Houston matched them to force extras, an RBI double in the 10th by Garry Maddox gave the visitors the series-clinching run in an 8-7 triumph.

"There was a lot of stress in that fifth game," says Christenson, the Phillies' Game 3 starter. "Those were some long innings. A lot of us remember the Houston series more than we do the World Series."

The Phillies' comebacks and the memorable drama that punctuated the 1980 postseason were remarkable, but neither matched the theater provided by Boston during its win over New York in 2004. New York had come out on top of a seven-game ALCS matchup the year prior, so when the Bronx Bombers routed the Red Sox, 19-8, in the third game of the '04 rematch, fans throughout New England began suffering from flashbacks.

But Boston battled through a pair of extra-inning contests, winning the fourth game in 12 frames and the fifth in 14 to bring a trip to the World Series within reach. Curt Schilling's mythic "Bloody Sock" performance in Game 6 tied things up, and a grand slam by Johnny Damon keyed a cathartic 10-3 rout in the decider to help Boston become the first team ever to overcome a 3-games-to-none playoff series deficit. "We stuck together and erased history," Damon said.

Six years after their crushing loss to the Phillies, the Astros were back in the NLCS with a vengeance. This time, they were facing the Mets, who had run away with the 1986 NL East title. Houston held its own, splitting the first two games, but the Mets would take the lead after Game 5. In Game 6, the Mets needed to score three runs in the top of the ninth to force extra innings and prevent a deciding Game 7. After Mookie Wilson collected an RBI single, Hernandez brought him home with a double. Three batters later, the first baseman crossed the plate with the tying run.

After trading runs in the 14th, the Mets added three two innings later to take a 7-4 advantage. Although Houston rallied and narrowed the gap to 7-6, New York reliever Jesse Orosco, who was exhausted after winning two games earlier in the series, struck out Kevin Bass on a 3-2 curveball to win the game and send the Mets to the Fall Classic against Boston.

"It was my first time pitching in a playoff series, and I thought it was more emotionally draining and harder work than the World Series," Orosco said.

While the Mets and Astros were staging their 16-round title fight, Boston and California were brawling for supremacy of their own league, and the clash featured one of the most dramatic moments in LCS history.

Video: 1986 ALCS Gm5: Henderson's series changing homer

The Angels led the ALCS, 3 games to 1, and held a 5-4 lead with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 5. Pitcher Donnie Moore had two strikes on Boston's Dave Henderson, and California fans were anticipating the first World Series appearance in franchise history. But Henderson drilled a two-run home run to give Boston the lead and turn the tide of the series, as Boston would win the final two games by a combined score of 18-5.

"People bring up the home run all the time, and I still think about it a lot," Henderson said in 2004. "How can I not think about it? It changed my life. It turned my career around."

Video: Millar reflects on 2003 ALCS Game 7 walk-off home run

Aaron Boone's legend sure got a boost from his Game 7 homer, which lifted New York over Boston in 2003.

The two teams were meeting for the 26th time that year (19 regular-season matchups, seven ALCS) and Boston was holding a two-run lead in the eighth inning with Pedro Martinez on the mound. But with the ace's pitch count pushing 120, the Yankees mounted a comeback and sent the game into extras.

Boone led off the 11th by smashing the first pitch he saw from knuckleballer Tim Wakefield over the left-field fence, and the Yankees had a 6-5 win, an American League pennant and another trip to the World Series.

"This is the best," Yankees manager Joe Torre said after the game. "To come here and play against the Red Sox and beat our rival like we did, it couldn't be any more satisfying. This is the sweetest taste of all for me."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Relive the best mid-1980s World Series performances

Special to MLB.com

The atmosphere throughout Kansas City was raucous back in 1985. Delirious Royals fans and players alike toasted the city's first-ever MLB championship -- an improbable seven-game triumph over their intrastate rivals from St. Louis, which had begun with the Royals losing their first two games at home.

Game 7 marked Bret Saberhagen's second World Series win. In 18 Fall Classic innings, he allowed just one run and 11 hits. If anybody had a right to tear the town apart after an incredible win, it was Saberhagen. Instead, he headed to the hospital to commemorate an even more personal milestone.

The atmosphere throughout Kansas City was raucous back in 1985. Delirious Royals fans and players alike toasted the city's first-ever MLB championship -- an improbable seven-game triumph over their intrastate rivals from St. Louis, which had begun with the Royals losing their first two games at home.

Game 7 marked Bret Saberhagen's second World Series win. In 18 Fall Classic innings, he allowed just one run and 11 hits. If anybody had a right to tear the town apart after an incredible win, it was Saberhagen. Instead, he headed to the hospital to commemorate an even more personal milestone.

"It was the best time of my life, that's for sure," the 1985 championship MVP said. "We win the Series, and my first child is born. You couldn't write a better script."

Saberhagen may be right, but baseball's top contenders sure tried to write a fitting follow-up the next two seasons. The 1986 battle between the Red Sox and Mets featured the infamous Bill Buckner error that swung the momentum in Game 6; while in '87, Minnesota triumphed the Cardinals in the first Series in which all seven games were won by the home team.

Video: Gammons and Russo break down the 1986 World Series

"That was such an electric time," said Danny Cox, who pitched for the Cardinals in the 1985 and '87 Series. "No matter where we were, things were really cranking. The noise wasn't being pumped in over speakers. All the energy was created by the fans."

In 1985, Cox was in just his second full season with the Cards, and he had won 18 games. Throughout his 11-year career, the '85 team remained his favorite.

"That was probably my most exciting time in the Majors," Cox said. "We were energized to play Kansas City."

The Cardinals took the first two games of the Series, which included an impressive comeback victory in Game 2. But then came Saberhagen, who threw a Game 3 six-hitter in front of a wild Busch Stadium crowd to quell the St. Louis' momentum.

"I felt good," Saberhagen said. "I was confident. They hadn't seen me before. You can go over tapes, but until you see him, the situation favors the pitcher."

In Game 4, John Tudor threw a tidy five-hit shutout that gave the Cardinals a commanding 3-games-to-1 Series lead. Kansas City had similarly been behind against Toronto in the American League Champion Series, though, so the Royals weren't panicking.

"Our mentality was the pressure was on them, because they had to win," Saberhagen said. "Nobody expected us to do anything then."

Danny Jackson, a then-23-year-old lefty, got the call for Kansas City in Game 5, and he responded with a complete-game five-hitter in a 6-1 win, highlighted by Willie Wilson's two-run triple.

Game 6 was scoreless until the Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the top of the eighth, but the Royals didn't back down. Pinch-hitter Jorge Orta led off the ninth with a grounder between first and second. The toss to Todd Worrell at first appeared to be in time, but umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe, infuriating St. Louis Four batters later, with the bases loaded, Dane Iorg knocked a two-RBI single to tie the Series.

In the seventh game, the Royals scored two runs in the second and three in the third to chase Tudor early. Meanwhile, Saberhagen was outstanding, scattering five hits without allowing a run. The comeback was complete, and the proud father celebrated with his family.

Video: 85WS Gm 7: Matthews calls the final out as Royals win

"By far, Game 7 was the most nervous I have ever been," Saberhagen said. "Before the game, I was filled with adrenaline and butterflies. If we won, we would be champions. If we lost, we would finish second, and the season would be a disappointment. 

"Having the distraction of welcoming a baby and spending time at the hospital [the day before] Game 7 helped me."

Even Game 6 of the 1985 Series couldn't compare to the historic moment that unfolded in the sixth game between the Mets and Red Sox a year later.

By now, just about every fan knows the story of the Mookie Wilson grounder that snuck under the glove and between the legs of Boston first baseman Buckner, allowing Ray Knight to score the winning run and tie the Series. But what few remember is that Wilson had fouled off four two-strike offerings from Bob Stanley with the Red Sox holding a 5-4 lead, and that a wild pitch during Wilson's at-bat plated Kevin Mitchell to knot the score. Then came Buckner's error.

Although Game 7 was postponed a day by rain, the Red Sox still couldn't shake the disappointment. Boston took a 3-0 lead in the second, but the Mets piled on eight runs to clinch their first title since 1969.

"In Game 6, we took Boston's heart," Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden told Newsday earlier this year. "I don't think they were comfortable with a 3-0 lead [in Game 7]. But Boston was done because of what we did in Game 6."

A year later, the upstart Minnesota Twins pulled off their own comeback, staving off elimination before securing a win over St. Louis in the finale. The Cardinals had won 95 games that year, and they held a 3-2 Series advantage going into Game 6. But the Fall Classic was heading back to Minneapolis's raucous Metrodome, where the Twins had won the first two games. The indoor venue with the trash bag outfield fences was also a den of noise pollution.

"It was overbearing," Cox said. "Afterward, it was like leaving a rock concert. My ears were ringing."

After taking an early lead, Minnesota blew the game open in the sixth when local boy Kent Hrbek hit a grand slam on the first pitch his saw from Ken Dayley. St. Louis took a lead in the second inning of Game 7, but Minnesota snuck back with runs in the second and fifth. In the sixth, Greg Gagne's bases-loaded infield hit gave the Twins a 3-2 edge, and Dan Gladden's eighth-inning RBI double provided some insurance.

Frank Viola notched his second win of the Series with eight innings of work, and Jeff Reardon shut the door in the ninth to give the Twins their first-ever World Series title.

The team that ABC's Al Michaels said was "out-everything'ed" against the mighty Cardinals had not only ridden its "Dome-field" advantage to the Series title, but the squad also concluded a three-year stretch of baseball history like none before it.

Michael Bradley is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cole talks postseason, offseason in Q&A

Almost two years to the day after the Pirates selected Gerrit Cole with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 Draft, the UCLA product took the ball for his Major League debut. Four months after that, he started two games against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series. Talk about a quick return on investment. The hard-throwing, 25-year-old right-hander has since developed into one of the finest pitchers in the league, and Pirates fans believe his best is yet to come.

This season, he boasted a league-leading 13 victories at the All-Star break, earning his first Midsummer Classic nod. Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen and fellow moundsmen A.J. Burnett and Mark Melancon accompanied him to Cincinnati as members of the NL squad, proving that Cole is no one-man show in the Steel City. Still, the Pirates hadn't been to the postseason for more than two decades (1992) before he arrived, but they've qualified in all three years since Cole joined the rotation. That's the type of impact No. 1 overall picks are supposed to have. In the midst of a highly-competitive NL Central race, MLB spoke with Pittsburgh's ace about his coming-of-age in the spotlight.

Almost two years to the day after the Pirates selected Gerrit Cole with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 Draft, the UCLA product took the ball for his Major League debut. Four months after that, he started two games against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series. Talk about a quick return on investment. The hard-throwing, 25-year-old right-hander has since developed into one of the finest pitchers in the league, and Pirates fans believe his best is yet to come.

This season, he boasted a league-leading 13 victories at the All-Star break, earning his first Midsummer Classic nod. Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen and fellow moundsmen A.J. Burnett and Mark Melancon accompanied him to Cincinnati as members of the NL squad, proving that Cole is no one-man show in the Steel City. Still, the Pirates hadn't been to the postseason for more than two decades (1992) before he arrived, but they've qualified in all three years since Cole joined the rotation. That's the type of impact No. 1 overall picks are supposed to have. In the midst of a highly-competitive NL Central race, MLB spoke with Pittsburgh's ace about his coming-of-age in the spotlight.

What was it like to be named to the All-Star team this year?
I had high expectations. I didn't have my hopes set on pitching or getting in the game, though; I was just excited to be there. It blew my expectations away. I had a fantastic time meeting some perennial All-Stars. Even though you play against many of these guys, you always see them on edge, being competitive. It was cool to meet some of them with their guard down.

Video: 2015 ASG: Cole strikes out Trout swinging in the 3rd

What would it mean to you and your teammates to bring a title back to Pittsburgh?
It would mean a lot to the players, because we've worked tremendously hard. We're in a hell of a division where you can't take a pitch off for the entire six months. This city is starved for a World Series, to say the least. We've been fortunate to put a good product on the field, something enjoyable for the fans to watch the last few years. But we're definitely looking to take it to the next level.

When you think of Pittsburgh sports, you think of the Steelers winning the Super Bowl and the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup. And the Pirates, we're close. It would be tremendous for the city, and for Pirates fans everywhere, to be able to get back to a World Series and bring the trophy home.

What have the Bucs' recent successes and playoff appearances in 2013-14 taught you and your teammates?
Every game counts. You go into the season thinking, "There are 162 of these things; there's no chance the season comes down to one or two." Yet in the last few years, it has.

And anything can happen in the Wild Card game. We've tasted both ends of that. But I think the desire to win has fueled us. Some people get a taste and get satisfied. We get a taste and get hungrier.

During your first Major League season in 2013, you started Games 2 and 5 of the NLDS. What was it like to be on that stage as a rookie?
I mean, it was my first season in the big leagues, and I was already getting some postseason experience; there are some people that work for a long time to be in that position. So, looking back on it, being able to have that experience under my belt in a hostile St. Louis environment is something I can use to gain an advantage in the future. I just check it off the list as another fortunate opportunity.

Video: PIT@STL Gm2: Cole dominates over six, drives in a run

Do you ever imagine yourself winning a Cy Young Award?
Those awards don't come to guys on bad teams. You don't see MVPs and Cy Young Award winners on teams that are winning 60 games a year; you see them on postseason teams. You see them on teams where there are real difference makers, where those players did take the team to the next level.

I think if we collectively stay focused on trying to win, then the talent we have will speak for itself in the numbers at the end of the year. It would be tremendous to win an award. But the focus is definitely on trying to win another ballgame and keeping it as simple as that, because it's so easy to go down a different path.

How important are backstops like Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart to your success on the mound?
I don't know how those guys do it. Catching is a tough job. You definitely take a beating. That's why those guys are the prized jewels and the heartbeat of the team. There's a lot to be said for having a good catcher.

Your fiancee, Amy, is the sister of Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. She played at UCLA, too. Did you catch many of her games?
I got her first home run on video. That was cool. It was crushed: way-back, a no-doubter for sure. She is tremendously athletic, like Brandon.

Was she a shortstop, too?
She was a utility type, like Sean Rodriguez. She played everything except for catcher and pitcher. She was always in games late as a pinch-runner, pinch-hitter or defensive substitute. She began to start more as time went on, and then the team won the College Softball World Series in 2010, her junior year.

When you have a chance to get away from the game, especially during the offseason, what do you like to do?
I enjoy going out with my friends, going out to dinner, cooking and spending quality time with quality people. We live down by the beach [in Santa Ana], so the atmosphere is really relaxed. And it's Southern California, so we can barbecue in the winter. I haven't really found a golfing partner that likes to play as much as I do. I also like to surf. After Thanksgiving, workouts take up the majority of my time. The offseason always ends up being shorter than you expect.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gerrit Cole

Cain takes center stage for Q&A

Center fielder chats about Royals' past -- and future -- postseason prowess
MLB.com

When the Royals burst onto the national stage last October, fans everywhere got perhaps their first extended look at the fun-loving, fearless, wall-crashing style of play of Lorenzo Cain. Royals fans had seen Cain patrol the outfield with reckless abandon for years. Now it was the nation's turn to fall in love with his speed, grace and, of course, that electric smile. A Gold Glove candidate in center, Cain put on an amazing display during the 2014 postseason with an array of diving grabs in the alleys and body-bruising catches against the fences. A popular tweet at the time reprised an old quote about Phillies outfielder Garry Maddox: "Water covers 72 percent of the Earth. Lorenzo Cain covers the rest."

Is Cain #AwardWorthy? Vote now for Best Defensive Player

When the Royals burst onto the national stage last October, fans everywhere got perhaps their first extended look at the fun-loving, fearless, wall-crashing style of play of Lorenzo Cain. Royals fans had seen Cain patrol the outfield with reckless abandon for years. Now it was the nation's turn to fall in love with his speed, grace and, of course, that electric smile. A Gold Glove candidate in center, Cain put on an amazing display during the 2014 postseason with an array of diving grabs in the alleys and body-bruising catches against the fences. A popular tweet at the time reprised an old quote about Phillies outfielder Garry Maddox: "Water covers 72 percent of the Earth. Lorenzo Cain covers the rest."

Is Cain #AwardWorthy? Vote now for Best Defensive Player

But beyond his fascinating athleticism, Cain's popularity among fans stems from his seemingly boundless love for the game. "You can always tell he's having a good time," teammate Eric Hosmer says. "He loves to play."

As the Royals head toward October with a firm grasp on the AL Central, the 2014 ALCS MVP and first-time All-Star in '15 gave MLB some insight into the inner-workings of a burgeoning star.

Last October was so crazy. How long did it take you to put everything in perspective?
Once I got into the offseason, it was still a little painful. I would often watch a lot of the games online. I definitely appreciate how far we made it and how hard we fought as a team to get a chance to go to the World Series. Unfortunately, we lost, but the experience was once-in-a lifetime.

Does it make you hungrier to go back and win it all?
Most definitely. Coming into this season, a lot of people didn't expect us to keep winning; they called last year a fluke. We just set out to prove people wrong, and we've definitely done that. Our main goal was to get back to the postseason.

Do you have a favorite memory from the Series?
I can't pick just one. I have a lot of memories, from the way we came back in the Wild Card Game to all the catches and plays we made as a team, and all the clutch hits that guys came up with.

Video: AL WC: Perez's walk-off hit sends Royals to the ALDS

Was the World Series purely a fun experience, or did you feel any pressure?
I don't think there was pressure, even though it was our first time. For a group of guys getting a chance to play in the postseason or the World Series for the first time, I don't think we were nervous. It was all adrenaline; we were fired up and hungry. We wanted to bring a championship to the city. I felt like we did a great job of coming together and playing as a team. I definitely enjoyed the entire experience.

Young fans idolize you, largely because of your style of play. How does that make you feel?
I guess so [smiling]. A lot of moms and dads come up to me and tell me they appreciate the way I make plays in center field and the way I go about the game. They're always telling me that their little kids are getting into baseball now, too. That puts a smile on my face. I just try to go out there and get it done on the field and be the playmaker I know I can be.

If you were a young fan, would you enjoy watching yourself play?
I think I would, especially with all of my diving catches in the postseason. I don't think I've ever had that many opportunities to make diving or sliding catches before. They came one after another, and fortunately I was able to make them all. It was definitely a nice feeling and it came at the right moment on baseball's biggest stage.

Video: WS2014 Gm5: Cain runs down Pence's deep fly to right

You never played Little League baseball. Do you think you missed out?
It's something I've thought about. But I understand the situation with my single mom; it would have been an extra burden on her. I decided not to worry her with it. I just helped around the house. Once things got a little easier and I was in high school, that's when I took full advantage and tried to play this game I love. I'm glad I got the chance to make the most out of it and get to the World Series. It's definitely been a thrill ride for me.

Rumor has it that you got cut from your high school basketball team. Tell us about that experience.
[Leans back and laughs] I definitely wasn't expecting it. It hurt when I didn't see my name on the list. Everything works out for a reason, though; if I had made the team, I would never have tried out for baseball. It has been a long journey, and it hasn't been easy. I had to learn fast or I wouldn't be here right now. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but I have a great support system that has pushed me and motivated me to the fullest. Now I'm here on a big league team. It was definitely worth the wait.

Your high school coach said he was 90 percent sure that you had never played -- and maybe never even seen -- a baseball game before you tried out.
[Laughs] I had never watched baseball. It was just something I didn't pay attention to. My mom wouldn't let me play football, and now you know the story about me getting cut from the basketball team, so all that was left at my small high school was baseball. I had a buddy who played, and I asked him if there was any way I could make the team. They actually needed an extra guy on the JV squad, so it all worked out. I was kind of the savior of the season.

Is it true that you didn't even own a glove back then?
I did not. When I made the team I had to borrow everything: bat, glove, batting gloves, cleats. You name it, I borrowed it. It was difficult at first, but I had a lot of great friends on the team. And my coach took me home each and every day. A lot of people helped me along the way, I will say that.

Your mom, Patricia, taught you to be a humble guy. Is it hard to show humility after winning an ALCS MVP Award and playing in the World Series?
I don't think so. It's all about how you grew up and where you came from. A lot of people may put you on a pedestal, but I just go about it day by day and understand that it's work. I try to have a good time.

Video: ALCS Gm4: Cain receives the 2014 ALCS MVP Award

Your best friend, Jeremy Haynes, told me that your diet in college used to consist of cookies & cream ice cream and Coco Puffs. True story?
Very true. I'm addicted to those foods and still eat them to this day. In college you're on a small budget, so it's ramen noodles, ice cream and cereal.

When it comes to music, you're an old-school guy. How did "Trap Queen" by Fetty Wap become your walk-up song?
I've got to mix it up now and then. Like you said, I am old-school: Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Satchmo, Temptations. [Trap Queen] is just the new-school.

Was it your idea to incorporate the number 1738 [a reference in the song to Remy Martin cognac] into all media answers?
Actually it was Moose's [Mike Moustakas] idea. We did it for a while and it was fun, but it's tough to do every time.

Last year, the team thrived on Archie Eversole's "We Ready." This year it's "Trap Queen." Is there going to be a theme song every season?
As long as this group is together. It's a tight group, and we try to find ways to have fun. I know we're not going to play together forever, so we just try to enjoy every moment and have fun. Right now we're just enjoying this run and making it last as long as we can.

Jeffrey Flanagan covers the Royals for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Kansas City Royals, Lorenzo Cain

High school struggles can translate to big league success

Special to MLB.com

Sometimes in baseball, the end actually marks a beginning -- you just don't always know it at the time. I certainly didn't last spring when my 17-year-old son came home to tell me he'd been cut loose from his high school baseball team.

I wanted to help him cope with the disappointment. But instead of telling my son to gut it out, I figured I'd show him how, by finding guys who had similarly gotten cut or barely played in high school, yet eventually made their way onto Major League starting lineups.

Sometimes in baseball, the end actually marks a beginning -- you just don't always know it at the time. I certainly didn't last spring when my 17-year-old son came home to tell me he'd been cut loose from his high school baseball team.

I wanted to help him cope with the disappointment. But instead of telling my son to gut it out, I figured I'd show him how, by finding guys who had similarly gotten cut or barely played in high school, yet eventually made their way onto Major League starting lineups.

Rays All-Star Chris Archer still remembers the fateful day coaches handed out letters to the kids trying out for his Clayton, N.C., middle school baseball team.

"I waited to look until I got home, and when I saw I didn't make the team, I started bawling right there," Archer said. "It was so demoralizing. You just don't feel like playing again."

Blue Jays All-Star pitcher Mark Buehrle was cut from his high school team -- twice.

"After I got cut those first two years [of high school], I pretty much decided I was done," Buehrle said. "I felt like not being able to make my freshman and sophomore teams. There was going to be no way I'd make the varsity team. I basically decided that baseball wasn't going to be my thing, and I should move on."

Video: TOR@DET: Buehrle tosses seven frames for his 10th win

Rejection is a fact of life, though, something any young player will face at one point. It's just that, according to Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser, high school athletes are at an age when they are most invested in baseball and the least able to process failure.

"[Their] teenage brains don't even see two years from now. They only see, 'I'm embarrassed now because I'm not a starter.,'" Hershiser said.

In those formative years, sports revolve more around the size of a player's body than the size of his heart. Rays outfielder Daniel Nava, for instance, stood 4-foot-10 as a freshman, and he remembers feeling "so overmatched."

Nava's coach even used a designated hitter in his place on the rare occasions that he was in the lineup. It's hard to fathom now, but Buehrle, too, was rail-thin and barely 5 feet tall when he tried out for his high school squad. For this reason, Hershiser cautions young athletes against believing everything their coaches say.

"A lot of [them] don't always know what they're talking about," Hershiser said.

Video: MIN@TB: Nava's solo homer is his first with Rays

That's why, for the guys who made it, there was ultimately just one person's opinion that counted: their own.

"You shouldn't listen to somebody telling you that you can't do something," echoed Doug Baker, a former big leaguer who played shortstop for the Tigers and Twins in the 1980s. "And if you overcome that feeling of being a failure and stick with it, you'll be a better and stronger player than when you went into high school."

Bill Bavasi, director of MLB's Scouting Bureau, judged plenty of talent during his time as general manager for the Angels (1994-99) and the Mariners (2003-08). He learned early on that judging a player by his high school performance makes about as much sense as choosing a spouse based on what grade he or she received on an 11th grade geometry quiz.

Scouts don't care about what you did. They just want to see what you can do.

"Scouts are blind to race, religion, nationality … the only thing that matters is ability. Sitting in the office next door to me right now is a guy who drafted two pitchers: one with one eye and one with one hand," Bavasi said. "Scouts don't care what happened before they laid eyes on you. That's why any young guy who likes the game should keep at it after high school. Find the right Division III school or junior college, some place that'll give you a try."

Archer took such advice to heart, utilizing failure in middle school to fuel his efforts. His fortitude paid off, as he translated his experience into an opportunity with the Cleveland Indians organization straight out of high school.

"What helped me wasn't how many innings I got to pitch in high school," Archer said, "it was just the experience of being on the team."

Video: MLB Central features Archer's rise to stardom

Nava kept himself from feeling bitter by scaling back his big league dreams.

"[They] were never in my realm of reality. It was just about progressing in my abilities and seeing what happened," Nava said.

While his teammates dreaded being on the short side of blowouts, Nava looked forward to the routs because it meant he'd at least get a chance to get in the game.

"You enjoy [those moments] because there may not be another opportunity to get in," Nava said. "You need to come to grips with that."

Even when he failed to make the team his first two years at Santa Clara University, he was satisfied with serving as the team equipment manager. Just when Nava thought about giving up the game entirely, though, he got an opportunity to hone his skills at a nearby junior college, and he eventually worked his way onto the Santa Clara squad.

There was more rejection ahead when he set his sights on playing in the Minors, but Nava credits his hard times in high school for helping him learn how to cope with the doubters.

Video: TB@DET: Archer speaks to youth baseball players

Hershiser recounts the same message in the motivational speeches he delivers to high school athletes who are struggling.

"Look at [the rejection] as a test of how much you love the game," Hershiser said. "I tried to always have a goal: make the team, prove you're one of the hardest workers and fall in love with practice."

"Don't ever give up on your dream," Buehrle said. "Keep trying. I wasn't the biggest kid, but I learned what I needed to do, learned how to work out and stayed focused on getting where I wanted to be."

Just think about where his team might be without him.

Craig Tomashoff is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

16 for '16: Breakout players to consider next year

MLB.com

Oh, 2015. What a year. The year of the youngster. Let's take an early look at the next wave of fantasy baseball stars. The following 16 men are no older than 25, but have already helped their clubs during this season's playoff push and are due for even bigger things in the near future.

Carlos Correa, SS, Astros
Correa burst into the big leagues on June 8 and reached the top tier at his position in short order, an extremely impressive feat for a then-20-year-old rookie. With the potential to tally 30 homers and 30 steals next year, Correa could easily be the first shortstop taken in 2016 fantasy drafts.

Oh, 2015. What a year. The year of the youngster. Let's take an early look at the next wave of fantasy baseball stars. The following 16 men are no older than 25, but have already helped their clubs during this season's playoff push and are due for even bigger things in the near future.

Carlos Correa, SS, Astros
Correa burst into the big leagues on June 8 and reached the top tier at his position in short order, an extremely impressive feat for a then-20-year-old rookie. With the potential to tally 30 homers and 30 steals next year, Correa could easily be the first shortstop taken in 2016 fantasy drafts.

Andrew Heaney, SP, Angels
This southpaw was a mixed-league contributor in 2015 despite a marginal strikeout rate. But given his career 8.9 K/9 rate in the Minors, the 24-year-old has the potential to be a four-category fantasy asset in his prime.

Rougned Odor, 2B, Rangers
A return to the farm this season benefited the 21-year-old Odor, as he posted an elite batting average and flashed some power upon his return to the big leagues. As early as 2016, Odor could be a top-10 fantasy second baseman.

Luis Severino, SP, Yankees
Just 21, Severino has impressed from the outset. Such success has come as no surprise, though, as the touted rookie posted a 2.30 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 during his four-year Minor League tenure. With the ability to miss bats and limit hard contact, this righty could be a mixed-league asset throughout the 2016 campaign.

Video: NYY@TOR: Severino holds Blue Jays to two runs

Devon Travis, 2B, Blue Jays
The 24-year-old helped spark Toronto during the season's first month, batting .325 with six homers in 22 games. Although his overall production was limited by a pair of disabled list stints, Travis displayed enough promise when healthy to warrant a 2016 projection of 15 homers and a .300 average.

Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Orioles
The powerful middle infielder made great strides this year, despite his struggles to get on base, as he employed his ever-developing strength to hit more line drives. With even small gains in the K:BB department in '16, Schoop could be a solid player in all fantasy formats.

Video: BAL@WSH: Schoop belts two-run shot, extends O's lead

Jake Odorizzi, SP, Rays
The 25-year-old posted a 2.47 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP over 12 starts before landing on the disabled list in early June. He made strides in lowering his fly-ball rate (and, thus, his homer rate) in the past year, though, and could be a strong mixed-league contributor for 2016 if healthy.

Yordano Ventura, SP, Royals
The hard-throwing Ventura is fun to watch, but through two big league campaigns, the right-hander has not parlayed his stellar stuff into elite results. With that said, though, owners who underestimate the 24-year-old now may miss out on a starter with the potential to be a fantasy ace.

Miguel Sano, DH, Twins
Sano blasted 15 longballs in 241 at-bats on the farm before joining Minnesota during its unexpected late-season chase for October. After launching another 17 homers in his first 70 Major League games, the 22-year-old could rank among the American League's best in home runs and on-base percentage in 2016.

Video: LAA@MIN: Sano smashes a mammoth two-run homer for tie

Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
Since the All-Star break, Lindor has posted an elite average and become one of the most effective offensive players in the Junior Circuit. Looking ahead, he may be able to approach both 20 round-trippers and 20 swipes.

Steven Matz, SP, Mets
Matz forced his way into a talented Mets rotation in June and has the ability to post a low ERA and WHIP alongside a high strikeout rate. He could be on his way to becoming a long-term rotation fixture, and even now, he's worthy of No. 3 starter status in mixed leagues.

Video: NYM@CIN: Matz fans eight, holds Reds to three runs

Randal Grichuk, OF, Cardinals
From May 16 through Aug. 16, the 24-year-old wielded one of the veteran-laden club's most dangerous sticks. During that 279-at-bat stretch, Grichuk hit .287 with 14 homers and generated some of the hardest contact in the game. He shouldn't be ruled out as a 30-homer candidate for 2016.

Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates
Polanco earned a promotion in June 2014 amid great expectations. But due to his struggles against left-handers, the 24-year-old has fallen short of the hype thus far. With improvements against southpaws in 2016, the speedy youngster could deliver 35 steals and score 95 runs.

Kyle Schwarber, C, Cubs
After belting 34 longballs in 519 Minor League at-bats, Schwarber continued his hard-hitting ways once thrust into the Cubs' 2015 plans, playing well enough to bat near the top of the resurgent club's lineup. The 22-year-old may already be the second-best fantasy backstop for 2016, behind only Buster Posey.

Video: MIL@CHC: Schwarber bloops run-scoring double in 5th

Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers
Pederson displayed elite power and speed in the Minors before taking the bigs by storm in early 2015 and mashing 20 homers by the end of June (not to mention 39 in the Home Run Derby). The 23-year-old slugger cooled off in the summer, but with an offseason to hone his swing, he could duplicate his first-half success in '16.

Matt Duffy, 3B, Giants
After hitting for a high average and displaying speed during his Minor League tenure, Duffy ascended from a reserve role to a starting job at third for San Francisco in 2015. The 24-year-old could post a 15-homer, 15-steal campaign in 2016.

Video: CIN@SF: Duffy doubles home a pair for an early lead

This story appears in the 2015 Official MLB World Series Program.

Fred Zinkie is a senior fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Keep up with MLB.com's fantasy coverage on Twitter, @fantasy411.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.