The Astros led all of baseball with 107 wins this year, but after a pair of ALDS losses in Tampa Bay, all of a sudden their playoff hopes — World Series title or bust, from Opening Day — rest on one winner-take-all contest in Houston on Thursday evening.
And in the NL, the Dodgers spent the entire season as the best team in the league, rolling up 106 wins — nine more than any other team and 13 more than the Nationals, the team they’re facing in the NLDS. But like the Astros, a couple of losses have forced L.A.’s favorite team into survival mode in a win-or-go-home Game 5.
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This is not a scenario either team expected, especially after both squads started the division series with impressive wins. The Dodgers shut out the Nationals 6-0 in Game 1. The Astros beat the Rays 6-2. The Astros and Dodgers played a captivating 2017 World Series that went the full seven games, and seemed to be on a collision course to a rematch. Everything was going to plan.
Until it wasn’t.
“This is why you play. Obviously, we’d have love to have won a game here. We didn’t,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch told reporters after a 4-1 loss in Game 4. “We have home field. We’re going home. We have another opportunity. We have Gerrit Cole on the mound and we have an incredible lineup. So sure, I like that we’ve been there before, but I haven’t liked any elimination game. It’s no fun to go through it. You’d like to eliminate when you have an opportunity.”
The idea of two teams with so many wins — and the two best records in baseball — going home in the first round got us thinking about baseball history. Has this ever happened before? There are a couple of ways to look at it.
Let’s start here: There’s only been one other season in MLB history that featured two teams with at least 106 wins. That was 1998, when the Yankees won 114 and the Braves won 106. The Yankees won the World Series that year, and the Braves won their NLDS but lost to the Padres in the NLCS.
So now, let’s answer this question: When was the last time the teams with the two best records in baseball were eliminated by the end of the LDS?
As you could probably tell from the way the question was worded, it’s not a traditional answer. In 2015, the Cardinals had the most wins in baseball (100) and the Pirates were second (98). But because they’re in the same division (NL Central), the Pirates were relegated to the NL wild card game, where they lost to the 97-win Cubs. And then the Cubs beat the Cardinals in the NLDS, a nice feather in the Cubs’ cap, and certainly a confidence-booster heading into a 2016 season that saw them win the World Series title.
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OK, so now here’s another question: How often does the team with MLB’s best record lose in the LDS?
Happens relatively often, actually. We just mentioned the 100-win Cardinals losing to the Cubs in the 2015 NLDS. Before that, in recent years …
— 2014 Angels: 98 wins, swept by the Royals
— 2012 Nationals: 98 wins, lost Game 5 to Cardinals
— 2011 Phillies: 102 wins, lost Game 5 to Cardinals
— 2008 Angels: 100 wins, lost in four to Red Sox
— 2006 Yankees: 97 wins (tied for first overall), lost in four to Tigers
— 2003 Braves: 101 wins (tied for first overall), lost Game 5 to Cubs
OK, so here’s yet another question: When was the last time multiple teams with at least 100 wins lost in the LDS?
The 2002 postseason was BRUTAL for the teams that dominated the regular season. That year, the A’s and Yankees tied for most wins in baseball, at 103. The Yankees lost a slugfest series to the Angels — both teams scored at least five runs every game — in four games. And 2002 was the famous/infamous “Moneyball” season for the A’s, and they lost Game 5 to the Twins (Minnesota, maybe cursed by “Moneyball,” too, has gone 0 for 7 in playoff series since then).
The 2002 front-runner pain doesn’t stop there, though. The Braves won 101 games to lead the NL, but they blew a 2-1 lead in the NLDS, scoring just three total runs in Games 4/5 as the Giants took the series. Oh, and the Diamondbacks, who had the second-best NL record, with 98 wins, were swept in the first round by the Cardinals, scoring just six runs in three games.
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And one more question: How many times have multiple teams with at least 100 wins lost in the opening round of the playoffs?
That 2002 postseason was the only time in the wild card era that’s happened. Before the introduction of the wild card in 1995, of course, teams went directly to the LCS, so here’s a list of years multiple 100-win teams were eliminated before the World Series. Until the 1969 season, when the leagues were split into divisions, the teams with the best records in each league went directly to the World Series.
— 1993: The Braves won 104 games, most in MLB, but lost to the Phillies. The Giants won 103 games, second-most in MLB, but missed the postseason because they played in the NL West with the Braves.
— 1980: The Yankees won 103 games, most in MLB, but lost to the Royals. The Orioles won 100 games, second-most in MLB, but missed the postseason because they played in the AL East with the Yankees.
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