The current major league baseball standings do not offer much hope for any fan desiring a chance to see crucial baseball games being played during the last few weeks of the season. The Yankees and Red Sox battle for mere playoff seeding to see whether they play Detroit or Texas (barring a major collapse by the Rangers), and the Phillies, Braves, Brewers and surprising Arizona Diamondbacks appear to be locks for the post-season (absent a major losing streak by the D’Backs and/or surge by the San Francisco Giants).
The relative lull in drama will certainly contribute to the idea that an additional wild-card team may be added as part of the new collective bargaining agreement to be negotiated by owners and the union during the off-season. I’m sure that the Office of the Commissioner has put the proposal out for bid among its broadcast partners and has already received a positive economic response. The particluars of number of games, seeding, etc. would be ironed out during the talks.
It does not appear that any true “quality” team will miss the playoff this season. But what about in the past sixteen years since the wild card format was introduced – which team with the best record missed the playoffs? Which team with the worst record made the playoffs?
The worst record for a playoff team in the wild card era happened during its first season. The 1995 Colorado Rockies went 77-67 (.535 winning percentage) during the strike shortened campaign. For a complete season, the 1996 Baltimore Orioles and the 2006 Los Angeles Dodgers, who both finished the season 88-74 (.543 winning percentage). Only the 1996 O’s team won a playoff series (they beat the 99 win Cleveland Indians and then lost to the New York Yankees – remember the Jeffrey Maier game?. That series win put the Yankees in their first World Series since 1981 and was the start of a Yankees “dynasty”.
Which team had the best record and missed the playoffs? The 1999 Cincinnati Reds won 96 games, but lost a one game wild card playoff to the New York Mets (Al Leiter threw a complete game two-hitter, winning 5-0) and therefore missed the post-season. Three teams won 93 games and went home in October – the 2002 Boston Red Sox, the 2003 Seattle Mariners and the 2005 Cleveland Indians.
From 2005 to last season, there were no teams that won 90 games and missed the playoffs until the 2010 San Diego Padres broke that streak.
Other teams that won 90 games and had their season end abruptly were the 2000 Cleveland Indians (90), the 2001 San Francisco Giants (91), the 2002 Los Angeles Dodgers (92), the 2004 Cleveland Indians (91) and the 2004 San Francisco Giants (91).
The Giants show up on this unfortunate list twice. I’m sure the 2001 and 2004 seasons were painful for San Francisco fans, but surely not as painful as the 1993 season, when they won 103 games and missed the playoffs in the last year of the two division era. In the “ancient era” when you had to win the league outright, the 1954 New York Yankees also won 103 games and missed the World Series (the Indians won 111 games that year). The most wins by a team to not play in the post-season is 104, an honor held by the 1909 Chicago Cubs (that season the Pittsburgh Pirates won 110 games). It figures that “Cubs” and “playoff pain” would be intertwined!
(My thanks to the excellent database at baseballreference.com for the information)