Will Leitch took an in-depth look at the game in 2019 with a series exploring Major League Baseball's Data Decade. From the best World Series, to the best starting pitchers and more, Leitch ranked, dissected and celebrated all the things we loved most about the national pastime during the past 10 years.
The Houston Astros were the best team during the 2019 MLB regular season and, according to win totals, the second-best team in baseball throughout this decade. But they lost the World Series, so they’re unlikely to go down in history. But they’re still one of the best teams we saw all decade. One seven-game series -- or even one Game 7 -- doesn’t change that.
So in our Data Decade series, we look back at the 10 best individual teams of this decade. We are not looking only at World Series wins, but we are also not looking only at regular-season success. When in doubt, we’ll go with the champion … but that is never the end-all, be-all of the story. These teams are the best this decade had to offer.
1. 2018 Boston Red Sox
The 2018 Red Sox were so dominant you barely even noticed how dominant they were. They breezed through the American League East -- flying past a 100-win Yankees team like it was nothing -- and then floored it through the postseason, losing only three games in blasting past the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers on their way to a World Series championship. The Red Sox’s 108 wins were the most since the Mariners won 116 games in 2001, but Boston finished it off with a title. This is probably the greatest Red Sox team of all time … and we shouldn’t let what happened the next season make us lose sight of that.
2. 2016 Chicago Cubs
After their breakthrough in the 2015 season, all eyes were on the Cubs in '16 from Spring Training on. Were they going to be the team to finally break the curse? They led the National League Central essentially from the first month on, took out the three-time World Series champion Giants in the NL Division Series, handled the upstart Dodgers in the NL Championship Series, and then ran into the Indians, a team with almost as painful a history as they had, in the Fall Classic. That Series became an all-time classic, one that ended with a breathtaking Game 7 … and Kris Bryant smiling as he fielded the ground ball that won the Cubs their first World Series since 1908.
3. 2017 Houston Astros
We all love to quote the old Sports Illustrated cover predicting the Astros would win the World Series in 2017 years earlier, but it’s worth noting that after the '16 season, many wondered if the Astros’ model was ever going to work. Had the Cubs passed them? The Dodgers? The Red Sox? Were all those years of losing worth it? The answer came with a 101-win team that featured a glorious mix of longtime Astros like José Altuve and rookies and upstarts like Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. They also played two terrific postseason series, an inspired ALCS victory against the Yankees and an epic World Series win against the Dodgers that ultimately proved that SI cover correct. (If you want to view them with some skepticism because of the recent sign-stealing controversy, that’s your right, but this was a super team.)
4. 2013 Boston Red Sox
The 2004 World Series champs will always be Red Sox fans’ favorite title team, for obvious reasons. But here’s betting this is their second favorite. A team that wasn’t favored to win its division had the whole scope of its season altered by the tragic Boston Marathon bombing. Afterward, and after David Ortiz’s immortal “our [bleeping] city” comment at Fenway Park, the Red Sox ran off to the best record in baseball and lost only five games in the postseason. Ortiz was unstoppable in the Series, and the Red Sox clinched a World Series championship at Fenway Park for the first time.
5. 2015 Kansas City Royals
After the crushing loss at home in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, many felt that the Royals had missed their best opportunity at their first title since 1985. But Kansas City came right back out the next season and had the best record in the AL. The postseason threw a couple of scary curveballs, as the Royals needed an Astros meltdown to get through the ALDS, but the World Series was a triumph, even if they had to win the last game in Queens rather than the City of Fountains. The franchise built itself to win a World Series before (nearly) their entire core left as free agents, and they pulled it off. And that parade will never be forgotten.
6. 2012 San Francisco Giants
You can be forgiven if all three of the Giants World Series winners sort of morph into one in your memory, but this was probably the best of them. The 2012 Giants won more games (94) than the other two (92 in '10 and 87 in '14), even though they only had the fourth-best record in baseball and had their easiest postseason run, or at least their easiest World Series. After coming back from down 2-0 against the Reds in the NLDS and staving off the defending champion Cardinals in the NLCS, they blew past the Tigers in a four-game sweep in the World Series. The Giants were more of a postseason sensation this decade than they were a regular-season one, but this was the one that felt the strongest.
7. 2019 Washington Nationals
In retrospect, the Nationals’ World Series title might seem more obvious than it did at the time. In 20 years, we’ll all look at a team that had Juan Soto and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon and Victor Robles and wonder why anyone thought they wouldn’t win a World Series. And it’s worth noting that after their 19-31 start, they were essentially as good as all the 100-win teams ahead of them. It’s still a shame they never got a win at home in the World Series, but suffice it to say, you don’t hear many Nats fans complaining.
8. 2019 Houston Astros
And here is your best team this decade not to win the World Series. The 2019 Astros earned 107 regular-season wins and set the tone for the entire sport, the greyhound all the other dogs were chasing. They still might end up with the AL MVP Award winner, the AL Cy Young Award winner and the AL Rookie of the Year Award winner, a feat that has never been pulled off before. And that doesn’t even account for José Altuve and George Springer and Michael Brantley and Zack Greinke and Carlos Correa and everyone else. The Astros were a machine. They were just a machine that fell one game short.
9. 2011 Philadelphia Phillies
This was the team of the overwhelming rotation: When you have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, how do you ever lose? The Phillies rarely did in the regular season and seemed primed to cruise through the postseason, but they ran into that lunatic Cardinals team that would end up winning the World Series in the most absurd fashion imaginable. Halladay did his part in an epic Game 5 NLDS battle with Chris Carpenter, but once Ryan Howard hit a ground ball to second base and limped down the baseline for the final out, the Phils' near-dynasty was over. They haven’t been back to the playoffs since.
10. 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers had nearly a whole decade of having terrific teams that never went all the way, and this was the best of them. The 2017 Dodgers won 104 games (second only to the '19 team) and lost only one game in the NLDS and NLCS before running into the Astros, in a World Series that, for five games anyway, might have been the best Fall Classic ever. This was the Dodgers’ machine running at full power … and like the 2019 Astros, it came up just one game short. The Dodgers could have been on this list several times … if it hadn’t have been for October.
Honorable mentions: 2018 Astros, 2015 Blue Jays, 2011 Cardinals, 2013 Cardinals, 2015 Cubs, 2019 Dodgers, 2010 Giants, 2014 Giants, 2016 Indians, 2015 Mets, 2011 Rangers, 2014 Royals, 2019 Twins, 2018 Yankees, 2019 Yankees