If you can make it to the playoffs, you have a shot at the World Series. Ask any baseball fan, and they’ll tell you it’s true. Unlike, say, the No. 8 seed in the NBA playoffs, who have zero chance, every MLB team that qualifies for October baseball can make a miracle happen. That means you don’t have to win 100+ game in order to make it to the Fall Classic. Just ask the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won 116 games, the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals (105 wins), or the 1999 Atlanta Braves (103 wins). They all failed to win the World Series despite putting up impressive regular season (the Mariners didn’t even get past the ALCS, actually).
Ever since the Wildcard Era began in the mid-90s, and was then expanded to two teams in 2012, teams with less impressive records have been able to claw their way into the postseason (although not every team on this list is a Wildcard team). Some of them have even been able to upset the Division champs and win it all. No one is saying the teams on this list were bad baseball teams. Even the “worst” of them managed to finish at least a handful of games above .500. Plus winning the World Series takes a fair bit of skill too. However, based solely on win-loss record (plus accounting for the win-loss records of the teams they eventually eliminated), here are the 10 worst teams to ever win the World Series.
The 92-70 Teams
There have been five different teams to win the World Series after finishing the season 92-70. Obviously, that’s still a pretty good record, but we have to start list somewhere. Believe us, the records just get worse from this point on. The 1997 Florida Marlins, 2008 Philadelphia Phillies and the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks were the National League representatives of this group. Coincidentally, the Diamondbacks won the World Series the year that the Seattle Mariners won a record 116 games, only to fall short to the Yankees in the ALCS.
In the American League, the 1996 New York Yankees also won the Fall Classic with a record of 92-70. The Yankees had a relatively path to the championship — they beat the Rangers 3-1 in the ALDS, took care of the Orioles in the ALCS in just five games, and beat the Braves 4-2 to capture the 23rd World Series title in franchise history. They’ve added four more since.
8. 1985 Kansas City Royals (91-71)
There are three teams who could technically share this spot, winning the World Series after a regular season of 91-71. However, we’ve ranked them according to how difficult it should have been to beat their postseason opponents. By that reasoning, the 1985 Kansas City Royals technically had it the easiest of the three. After squeaking out an AL West Pennant by a single game over the California Angels, the Royals faced off against the Toronto Blue Jays (99-62) in the ALCS. The Jays were quickly up 3-1 in the series, but 1985 was the first time MLB expanded the League Championship Series to best-of-seven instead of the standard best-of-five. The Royals won three straight — including the last two in Toronto — to be named American League champs.
In the World Series, they met with the other team from Missouri — the St. Louis Cardinals, fresh off a 101-61 season and an NLCS victory over the Dodgers (95-67). The Royals were once again a heavy underdog, and once again shuffled out to a 3-1 series deficit. Just like the ALCS, though, they won Games 5, 6, and 7 to storm back and win in seven games, for one of the most unlikely World Series victories ever.
7. 2003 Florida Marlins (91-71)
The Florida Marlins weren’t even a team until 1993, yet they managed to win two World Series in the first ten years of their existence, the first one in 1997 and their second (and last) in 2003. Despite winning 91 games in 2003, the Marlins were still considerable underdogs in the postseason. They finished ten games below Atlanta (101-61) in the NL East and had to beat the 100-win San Francisco Giants in the NLDS.
After that, they found themselves down 3-1 to the Cubs in the NLCS. Most teams would have called it a season, but the Marlins dug deep and somehow won three straight (including two at Wrigley Field) to book a ticket to the World Series (oh, and that Steve Bartman incident helped them out). And who was waiting for them there? The 101-61 New York Yankees, who had just dispatched their arch rival Red Sox in a back-and-forth seven game ALCS. Didn’t matter though, because the Marlins won in six. Not bad for a team that started the season 16-22 and fired their manager.
6. 1990 Cincinnati Reds (91-71)
The 1990 Reds weren’t even the worst team to make the postseason that year. No, that honor goes to the 88-74 Boston Red Sox, who won the AL East by two games over the Blue Jays. However, the BoSox would be quickly swept out of the playoffs in four games by the Oakland A’s (103-59), easily the best team in baseball that season.
The Reds, meanwhile, won the NL West with 91 wins and upset the NL East champion Pittsburgh Pirates (95-67) in six games in the NLCS. No one gave the underdog Reds much of a chance in the World Series against the juggernaut A’s, but they clearly missed the memo. A four-game sweep followed, including fairly easy victories for Cincinnati in both Games 1 and 3.
5. 2011 St. Louis Cardinals (90-72)
Before the Wildcard expanded to two teams, the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals squeaked out a place in the postseason by narrowly edging out the Atlanta Braves by a single game for the NL Wildcard, ending the regular season with a record of 90-72. Their reward was a playoff matchup with the best team in baseball, the 102-win Philadelphia Phillies. After splitting the first four games, the Cards squeaked out a 1-0 win in Game 5 in a pitcher’s duel between Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay.
After that, the rest was easy. They just needed to beat the Brewers (96-66) in six games, and stretch the World Series to seven games by walking off the Rangers (also 96-66) in extra innings of Game 6, down 3-2 in the series. The Cards won the seventh and deciding game 6-2, winning the 11th championship in franchise history.
4. 2014 San Francisco Giants (88-74)
The San Francisco Giants formed a mini-dynasty in the 2010s, winning the World Series three times in five seasons (but never in back-to-back fashion). After winning it all in 2012, the Giants managed to miss the playoffs entirely in 2013 by finishing a disappointing ten games under .500. They bounced back in 2014, but only enough to secure an 88-74 record and a spot in the Wildcard game against the Pirates (who posted an identical record).
They crushed the Pirates thanks to a complete game shutout by ace Madison Bumgarner and a fourth inning grand slam by Brandon Crawford. They moved on to the NLDS, where they beat the top seeded Washington Nationals (96-66) in four games. They also made quick work of the Cardinals (90-72) in the NLCS before taking on the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, who were a Wildcard team in their own right. It sent to a seventh and deciding game, but the Giants finished the unlikely upset in large part thanks to Bumgarner, who won Games 1 and 5, and came out of the bullpen in the fifth inning of Game 7 to close out the game for the rare 15-out save.
3. 2000 New York Yankees (87-74)
The American League East is typically one of the hardest divisions in baseball. Along with the big-spending rivals of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, you have the traditional Baltimore Orioles, the plucky underdog Tampa Bay Rays, and Canada’s only surviving MLB team, the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2000, though, the Bronx Bombers managed to capture a weaker version of the division title with just 87 wins. These days you need that many wins just to compete for a Wildcard spot.
The Yanks had to take down two teams from the AL West in order to advance to the World Series, in the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners. The final series of the year ended up as a Subway Series showdown, with the Yankees taking on the crosstown Mets. Derek Jeter and company made short work of the 94-68 Mets, winning the championship in just five games to take home their third straight World Series title.
2. 1987 Minnesota Twins (85-77)
Here’s another rare lackluster World Series winner from before the Wildcard era. Back in 1987, the Minnesota Twins were one of just two teams in the old AL West division to finish about .500. This was before MLB created the “Central” divisions, so only the four division champions made the postseason. Somehow, the Twins’ mark of 85-77 was good enough for a two-game lead over Kansas City even though they finished the season with a -20 run differential. That meant a date with the 98-win Tigers in the ALCS, the best team in baseball that year, who had just pulled off a thrilling comeback to win the AL East by making up a three and a half game deficit to the Blue Jays in the last week of the season. Momentum was on their side.
Undeterred by win-loss records or momentum, the Twins won a pair of close games at home to kick off the ALCS, lost game three in Detroit, and then shocked the baseball world by winning games four and five (also on the road). They would meet the 95-67 St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, and home field advantage was crucial (back then, the Series simply alternated between AL and NL home field advantage). The home team won every game, including an intense 4-2 win for the Twins in the vital Game Seven.
1. 2006 St. Louis Cardinals (83-78)
Many of the teams on this list earned their spot by being a Wildcard winner, but not the 2006 Cardinals. They actually captured the NL Central division crown, despite their relatively weak record of 83-78. They finished a game and a half ahead of the Houston Astros (who would later get shipped back to the American League). They had the lowest win percentage of every single team who made the postseason in 2006, but still managed to win it all!
They beat the NL West champions San Diego Padres in four games in the NLDS, but needed a full seven games to dispatch the New York Mets (who had the best record in baseball that year at 97-65). It was tied 1-1 after eight innings, but a Yadier Molina two-run blast in the top of the ninth and a shaky save from rookie Adam Wainwright was enough to book a trip to the Fall Classic against the Detroit Tigers (95-67). They split the first two games in Detroit against the heavily favored Tigers, and then won three straight in St. Louis to wrap up the championship in just five games.