The fact that the baseball season gets boiled down from a 162-game regular season into a best-of-five short series in October demonstrates a simple truth about the game: The best team doesn’t always win. Even the greatest regular-season teams run into problems with a completely unforgiving tournament. One small bad break or an off-night by your starting pitcher, and you’re in danger of your season slipping away. Sometimes, this causes unexpected teams to win the whole thing. Here are the five worst MLB teams to win the World Series.
1. Florida Marlins, 2003
The 2003 Florida Marlins went into the postseason as the wild card, winning 91 games and taking on the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS. The Marlins had been a fairly mediocre team for the majority of the season, with a 70-63 record going into play on August 29. But the team went 21-8 the rest of the way, sneaking into the postseason. They took down the Giants largely due to an error by San Francisco outfielder Jose Cruz and moved on to play the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS.
The Cubs were up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, when Josh Beckett shut them down in Game 5. Chicago had a 3-0 lead in Game 6 in the eighth inning before Mark Prior and the bullpen imploded, and then the Marlins jumped all over the Cubs in Game 7. Beckett continued his torrid stretch of pitching against the New York Yankees in the World Series, and the Marlins won it in six games. They returned most of the roster in 2004 but won just 83 games.
2. New York Yankees, 2000
Lost in the fanfare of the late ’90s and early 2000s Yankees run: The debate that the 2000 Yankees team wasn’t very good. The team could score runs with the best of them, putting up 5.4 runs per game during the regular season. The problem was the pitching, which combined for a 4.76 ERA. Roger Clemens had a decent year, putting up a 3.70 ERA in 32 games, but Orlando Hernandez and Andy Pettitte were mediocre and David Cone and Denny Neagle were downright awful. The Yanks had a 4.87 ERA from their starting rotation and were just 87-74 that year, sneaking into the playoffs in a weak division.
Once in the postseason, the Yankees beat the AL West division champion Oakland A’s in five games. Even more impressive than just winning the series? They did it while losing both games started by Clemens. They took care of the Seattle Mariners in six games in the ALCS and then moved on to play the New York Mets — winners of 94 regular-season games — in the World Series. The Mets were set to win Game 1 until Armando Benitez blew the save in the ninth inning. A five-run rally by the Mets in Game 2 fell a run short after a possible home run by Todd Ziele was robbed at the wall. Things didn’t get any better at Shea Stadium, and the Yankees won the series, 4-1.
3. San Francisco Giants, 2014
The San Francisco Giants looked like a great team in 2014 — at least early on in the season. They were 10 games up on the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 8 with a 43-21 record and proceeded to lose the division to the Dodgers, finishing six games behind Los Angeles with an 88-74 record — just 45-53 from June 9 until the end of the season. They made the playoffs, however, and matched up with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League wild card game with Madison Bumgarner taking the ball.
Bumgarner threw a complete-game shutout against the Pirates, allowing just four hits with 10 strikeouts. The Giants dispatched the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals rather easily before taking on the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. They headed into a winner-take-all seventh game, which featured Tim Hudson going up against Jeremy Guthrie. The Giants pulled Hudson, who clearly didn’t have his best stuff, after just 1 2/3 innings. Bumgarner came in and pitched the final five innings of the game in relief, allowing just two hits, no runs, and striking out four, on his way to a World Series MVP.
4. Minnesota Twins, 1987
When you speak of the worst MLB teams that had no business winning the World Series, much less making the playoffs, the 1987 Minnesota Twins are one of the first teams to come up. They could really hit the ball, finishing near the top in most offensive categories that season. The problem that the Twins had in ’87 was their pitching; it was terrible. They had a 4.63 ERA for the whole staff, which was brought down by starting pitcher Frank Viola’s 2.90 ERA in 251 2/3 innings. The Twins made the postseason with a 85-77 record.
They beat the vastly superior Detroit Tigers in the ALCS (4-1) before heading to the World Series against Whitey Herzog’s St. Louis Cardinals. After taking a 2-0 lead in the series, the Cards won three straight games in St. Louis — meaning they needed to take one of the final two games in Minnesota. But the Twins pounded the Cardinals in Game 6, and with Viola on the mound in Game 7, they sent St. Louis back home with a 4-2 victory.
5. St. Louis Cardinals, 2006
The Cardinals franchise got their revenge nearly 20 years later. It wasn’t against the Twins, but the 2006 Cardinals are statistically the worst team to ever win the World Series. With a similar core of players, the Cards won 105 and 100 games the two previous years, respectively, so how they ended up with a record of 83-78 in ’06 was somewhat of a mystery. Fortunately for the Cardinals, the rest of the NL Central wasn’t able to figure things out that year either, leaving St. Louis as the division winner.
They beat the San Diego Padres, an 88-win team that wasn’t much better than they were, in the NLDS before moving on to play the 97-65 New York Mets in the NLCS. New York won Game 6 to send the series to the final game — played on the Mets’ home field. The game was tied heading into the top of the ninth inning, when Yadier Molina (who had hit just six home runs with a .595 OPS in the regular season) hit a game-winning two-run homer. The Mets put the tying run on first base with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth, but they couldn’t get a run across. The Cards, of course, went on to beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
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