We already made a list of the worst baseball teams to ever win the World Series, which you can read right here. It made us think, though, that maybe we should take a look at the inverse — the best teams in history who failed to put their stamp in baseball lore by winning the Fall Classic after achieving incredible regular season success. Every single one of these teams managed at least 100 regular season wins and achieved a winning percentage over .625 percent. Some of them even managed an ungodly .700 or better. However, for various reasons, they all faltered down the stretch.
When the October weather get colder and the stakes get higher, the true champions inevitably get revealed. No one cares if you won a bunch of games in April and May, or cruised through the dog days of Summer to plenty of wins against a weak schedule. Baseball only remembers those who can get it done when it counts the most, which is the postseason. So here are the 12 best teams in history to come up short of their championship expectations, sorted by regular season record.
14. Honorable Mention: 1994 Montreal Expos
We said 12 teams, but it’s hard to have this article without mentioning the hard luck Montreal Expos from the 1994 season. The team was cruising along, with the likes of Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, and Moises Alou leading the team to a ridiculously good 74-40 record — a .649 winning percentage. They were the best team in baseball, with a half dozen players on pace for a career year. They even sent five players to the All-Star game.
Along came August, though, and infamous players’ strike with it. As the players and owners stood firm over the issue of a salary cap (and other things), the World Series was wiped out entirely — the first time since 1904 that there wouldn’t be a Fall Classic. We can’t say for sure that the Expos would have navigated through the playoffs and into the World Series, but you damn sure wouldn’t have been betting against them that year. To make matters worse, Montreal lost many of their best players to free agency that winter and fans stayed away when baseball finally returned in 1995, most of them still furious about the missed opportunity. The team never recovered, spent the next decade marred in misery, and eventually moved to Washington in 2005. Sad.
13. 1995 Cleveland Indians (100-44)
The next team on our list was also affected by the strike, since the 1995 MLB season was shortened by 18 games in order to squeeze in a short Spring Training after a new CBA was finally agreed upon. The ’95 Indians breezed through the abbreviated 144 game schedule, racking up 100 wins and a .694 winning percentage. You could argue that they belong higher on this list because of that percentage, but we are sorting by wins here. Regardless, the team was scary good.
They had incredible talent at the plate, with the likes of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, and Kenny Loften all hitting over .300. On the mound, starting pitchers like Orel Hershiser and Dennis Martinez were backed up by lights-out closer and Cy Young candidate Jose Mesa, who saved 46 games that season. The team looked destined to end their 47-year championship drought as they swept the Red Sox in the ALDS and closed out the Mariners in the ALCS by winning three straight to take the series in six.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t overcome the Atlanta Braves. Future Hall of Famers Tom Galvine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Chipper Jones (plus HoF manager Bobby Cox) were just about perfect against the powerful Indians, winnings Games 1, 2, 4, and 6. Amazing, every game of the World Series (except Game 4) was decided by a single run, showing just how close the Indians came. They would get to the World Series again in 1997 and 2016 (with less impressive records), and fall short both times. The drought continues.
12. 2011 Philadelphia Phillies (102-60)
The 2011 Phillies completely owned the NL East, finishing the regular season 13 games ahead of the second-place Atlanta Braves and sporting a shiny .630 winning percentage. They were so good that oddsmakers would only offer bettors 3-to-1 odds that Philly was going to win it all. With notable hitters like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Hunter Pence in the lineup, along with former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay in the rotation, they had the right pieces. Even Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee were in their prime back in 2011.
Maybe the Phillies were looking too far ahead, but they were blindsided by the surging St. Louis Cardinals (who only won 90 games that year). The NLDS went to a fifth and deciding game, where Roy Halladay gave up a single run in the first inning, but the Phillies couldn’t muster a single run. They lost 1-0, and their promising season was over in a flash.
11. 1993 San Francisco Giants (103-59)
A bunch of the next teams on this list were the result of the playoff structure in place before 1994 — namely, that the Wild Card wasn’t introduced until 1994 (and wasn’t even used that year because of the strike). It was expanded to two teams in 2012. Before that, though, you either won one of the four divisions or you watched the postseason from the comfort of your couch.
The 1993 seasons featured what many baseball fans call “The Last Great Pennant Race,” as the Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco Giants slugged it out for NL West supremacy (yes, it’s weird to think of the Braves as being in the NL West, but whatever). The Giants, featuring a team that boasted Matt Williams, Willie McGee, and some guy named Barry Bonds, fought tooth and nail to claim 103 wins and a .636 winning percentage. Unfortunately, they finished one behind the Atlanta Braves after coughing up a big lead and losing on the final day of the season. They didn’t even qualify for the postseason. The Braves took the division title, and advanced to the NLCS — but they didn’t win it either, so stay tuned for more from the ’93 season.
10. 1990 Oakland Athletics (103-59)
The 1990 Oakland A’s ran away with the regular season, and were the only team to win more than 100 games. On the back of winning the 1989 World Series, their .636 winning percentage was actually the only one above .600 in the entire league, and they won the AL West division title by nine games. They were led by Rickey Henderson in his MVP season, with power hitters Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire providing the pop. Their pitchers were equally impressive, as Bob Welch won the Cy Young that year. Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, and legendary closer Dennis Eckersly also made life hell on opposing batters.
The A’s swept the Al East champions Boston Red Sox in four straight games, setting up a World Series matchup with the 91-71 Cincinnati Reds. Oakland was the defending champions and huge betting favorites, but they proceeded to have an epic collapse in the Fall Classic. They lost four straight games, including Games 3 and 4 in their home ballpark, to timidly end their season — and their attempt to go back-to-back — with a whimper.
9. 1962 San Francisco Giants (103-62)
We’re going more than 50 years back for this one, before the playoffs even had more than a single round. That’s right, back then the AL Pennant winners faced off against the NL Pennant winners in the World Series, meaning only two teams technically made the post-season. The Giants, with the likes of Felipe Alou, Ed Baily, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and some guy named Willie Mays, raced neck-and-neck with the L.A. Dodgers all summer for NL supremacy. They eventually finished with identical 101-61 records, which meant a Best-of-Three tiebreaker series would be played. The Giants squeaked out a 2-1 series win, giving them an eventual record of 103-62 (.624 winning percentage).
Unfortunately for the Giants, they had to fend off the New York Yankees in the World Series. With future Hall of Famers like Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle donning the famous pinstripes that season, it was a tall task. The Series lasted for seven games and an agonizing 13 days (due to multiple rain delays), but the Yankees eventually took the title with a 1-0 win in Game 7 — the 20th World Series victory in franchise history. The Giants would have to wait 27 years to get back to the World Series almost 50 years before winning one, finally breaking the drought in 2010.
8. 1993 Atlanta Braves (104-58)
Fresh off a World Series loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992, the Atlanta Braves got back on the horse in 1993 and were charging hard to get back to promised land. They held off the Giants by a single game to win the AL West (we already talked about the ’93 Giants, remember?), and their 104 wins were the best in baseball that year — a .642 winning percentage. They had stars like Fred McGriff, Chipper Jones, David Justice, and Otis Nixon, plus one of the most feared pitching staffs ever assembled in baseball — Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz.
Maybe they were caught looking ahead to a World Series with rematch the Jays, but the Braves stumbled in the NLCS against the Phillies. Maddux and Galvine did their jobs, winnings Games 2 and 3. But the rest of games didn’t go their way at all, as the Phillies won in six. Admirably, the Braves pushed on after that 1993 disappointment, and re-grouped after the strike in 1994 by winning the World Series in 1995.
7. 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58)
When the Wild Card expanded in 2012, we were bound to get more stories like the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite leading the major leagues with 104 wins (.642), the modern playoffs are like walking through a mine field for even the most favored of teams. The big-spending Dodgers had to contend with Wild Card teams, an extra round of playoffs than most teams on this list, and the defending champion Chicago Cubs in the NLCS.
With the likes of Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig, and Cody Bellinger providing a spark at the plate, and all-time great Clayton Kershaw leading an excellent pitching staff, the Dodgers managed to get past all those hurdles. They swept the Diamondbacks 3-0 in the NLDS and sent the defending champion Cubbies home in just five games in the NLCS. It seemed like the Dodgers would finally get a championship in return for that massive payroll, but the Houston Astros fought and clawed (winning two games in extra innings) and eventually won Game 7 at Dodger Stadium, to the utter heartbreak of the home crowd.
6. 2004 St. Louis Cardinals (105-57)
The 2005 St. Louis Cardinals did everything right. They dominated all season, winning the NL Central by 13 games and polishing off an impressive 105 wins (.644 winning percentage). Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen were joined mid-season by Larry Walker in a trade with the Rockies. It was a powerful lineup, and the iconic Tony La Russa was in charge behind the bench. What could possibly go wrong? They cruised through the NLDS against the Dodgers in four games, and overcame a little bit of a hurdle in the NLCS when the Houston Astros took them to seven games in the NLCS. They prevailed though, and were off the World Series. Too bad they were up against destiny.
The 2004 Boston Red Sox (98-64) were a miracle team. They took their Wild Card spot into a ALDS series against the Angels, easily sweeping them 3-0. Then shocked the world by overturning an 0-3 deficit against the Yankees into a 4-3 series win, fueling the Boston-New York rivalry for years to come. Riding that momentum into the Fall Classic, the Red Sox team of “idiots” swept the Cards in four straight, won their first World Series since 1918, and finally broke the Curse of the Bambino. The Cardinals would limp home, nursing their wounds, but return to win the World Series two years later in 2006.
5. 1931 Philadelphia Athletics (107-45)
Before they landed in Oakland, the Athletics were founded in Philadelphia in 1901 (there was a decade in Kansas City too, but that’s not important). It was a different era of baseball, to be sure, but the A’s still won 107 games that year, with a ridiculous .704 winning percentage. They also finished ahead of the New York Yankees in the American League, who had some guys named Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth on their team. Philly the eventual batting champion Al Simmons (.390 average) and the best pitcher in the game in Lefty Grove, who cruised to a 2.06 ERA and led the league with 175 strikeouts. Grove claimed AL MVP honors, as well. Oh, and did we mention that the A’s had won the two previous World Series as well?
Waiting in the World Series were the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals, setting up a rematch from the previous year’s championship series. Only this time, the Cardinals would prevail. The series went to a seventh and deciding game, but Philly could only muster up a pair of runs in ninth inning and lost 4-0. The Cardinals were no pushovers that year, though, as they won 101 games themselves. It was also one of the rare years where both participants in the World Series had won over 100 games — in has only happened five times since, in 1941, ’42, ’69, ’70, and 2017.
4. 1969 Baltimore Orioles (109-53)
The 1969 Baltimore Orioles have the historical record of being the very first division champions of the AL East, when the league adopted Divisions for the first time. With future Hall of Famer Earl Weaver managing, the team boasted batters like Boog Powell (.304, 37 HR, 121 RBI), Paul Blair (.285, 26 HR, 76 RBI, 20 SB), and Frank Robinson (.308, 32 HR, 100 RBI). On the mound, they had two 20-game winners (Dave McNully and Mike Cuellar) and none of their regular starters had an ERA over 3.60.
The ’69 O’s cruised through the regular season, and swept the 97-65 Minnesota Twins in three straight games to be crowned the American League champs. They were heavily favored to stomp the New York Mets in the World Series. They won the first game of the Fall Classic, but then somehow lost four straight to the Miracle Mets — their first winning season in franchise history since they joined the league in expansion in 1962. The Orioles would take their bitter disappointment home and return to the World Series in 1970, where they beat the Reds to capture a championship everyone thought they should have won the year before.
3. 1954 Cleveland Indians (111-43)
Now we’re getting into ridiculous win percentages. With 111 wins (in just 154 games), the 1954 Cleveland Indians were an amazing team. They had five future Hall of Fame players, plus a Hall of Fame manager in Al Lopez. A Cleveland player led the AL in each of the following categories that year: batting average, home runs, RBIs, wins, and ERA. And none of those players were legendary pitcher Bob Feller. They finished the season eight games ahead of the Yankees to claim the AL Pennant and were off the World Series against the (still in New York) Giants.
All that regular season dominance didn’t cross over to the playoffs, though. After being walked off in heartbreaking fashion in the 10th inning of Game 1 — a game that included Willie Mays legendary basket catch in center field –the Indians never really recovered. They lost the next three games, and were swept out in embarrassing fashion. They scored just nine runs in the entire World Series. It took them 41 years to get back to World Series, and they still haven’t won another one.
2. 2001 Seattle Mariners (116-46)
You knew this was coming. The 2001 Seattle Mariners were the best team in modern baseball, and share the record for the most wins in a single season with 116. Their .716 win percentage is basically unheard of in today’s game. They were led by AL MVP Ichiro Suzuki (who also picked up a batting title that season), along with productive seasons from John Olerud, Bret Boone, and Edgar Martinez. Their starting rotation of Freddy Garcia, Aaron Sele, Jamie Moyer, Paul Abbott, and John Halama all won at least 15 games, and closer Kazuhiro Sasaki picked up 45 saves. They were great all over, and the overwhelming favorites to win a first World Series in franchise history.
After knocking off the Indians in the ALDS with a 3-1 series victory, the Mariners were up against the Evil Empire in the ALCS. After losing the first two games at home, Mariners manager Lou Pinella guranteed they would take at least two of three in New York to bring the World Series back to Seattle. His promise turned up empty though. New York, carried partly by the emotional aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that occurred six weeks earlier, closed out at the ALCS at home in just five games, ending the best season in modern baseball before it could even reach the World Series. The Mariners have still never played in the Fall Classic.
1. 1906 Chicago Cubs (116-36-2)
The very top of our list is also the oldest team on our list, as the 1906 Chicago Cubs also won 116 games over a century ago. They did it in just 154 games (with two ties), for a .763 winning percentage that is borderline unbelievable. They dominated the National League and won the pennant by a large margin of 20 games. The team had four future Hall of Famers, including Frank Chance, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Mordecai Brown. In fact, Brown posted a 1.04 ERA that season, and was almost the literal definition of unhittable. Third baseman Harry Steinfeldt led the league in HRs and RBIs. When the regular season ended, a blockbuster World Series was set-up against the Cubs crosstown rivals, as the White Sox was on the AL with an inferior 93-58 record.
Somehow, the White Sox pulled out an upset for the ages and won the World Series in six games. This was a team that had the worst team batting average in the American League that year (.230), but still managed to win the pennant. It was a big blow for the Cubs, although they managed to bounce back a year later and capture the 1907 and 1908 World Series titles. But every baseball fan knows what happened next, as the franchise had to wait 108 years to capture another championship. The 1906 World Series is the only time in history that the two Chicago teams have faced off in the Fall Classic.