How the 10 playoff teams rank for 2012, with a twist of the postseason (previous rankings in parentheses):
1. Washington (1): The Nats will begin the postseason Sunday on the 79th anniversary of Washington’s last postseason game. Mel Ott, dropped to third this season by Bryce Harper on the list of teenage home run hitters, won that game, the last of the 1933 Series with a 10th-inning home run, 4-3. Washington lost the last two games of the 1933 Series in extras — Carl Hubbell went 11 to win Game 4, 2-1 — and those 99-win Senators lost in five to the 91-win Giants. (Earl Whitehill, who won 218 games in his career and 22 in 1933, won Game 3 for the Senators with a five-hit shutout. It was the Senators’ only win of the ’33 Series, and Whitehill’s only Series game in a 17-year career). Like the ’33 Washington team, this year’s also won the most games in the regular season (98).
2. N.Y, Yankees (4): Since Washington last had postseason baseball, the Yankees have played 334 postseason games, including the 1978 Bucky Dent playoff win over the Red Sox. That’s more than two full regular seasons. The Yankees have won 199 postseason games since Washington has last won one. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the 1952 Series celebrated in Roger Kahn’s Boys of Summer. The Yankees won 4-3 in a Series played in seven straight days. There were no off days for travel when you’re going by subway. The Dodgers had notable moments: the first win by an African American pitcher, Joe Black, in Game 1; an 11-inning complete game victory by Carl Erskine in Game 5 (10 shutout innings and a five-run fifth); and four homers by Duke Snider. But Mickey Mantle homered in each of the last two games, and second baseman Billy Martin’s catch of Jackie Robinson’s pop stranded three runners in the seventh. Bob Kuzava retired eight of the nine batters he faced — Gil Hodges reached by error — to save Game 7’s 4-2 win. It was his only appearance of the ’52 Series.
3. Cincinnati (3): The Reds don’t have a nickname and their 172 home runs were 11th-best in the majors — but that’s 48 more than the 124 home runs hit by the Big Red Machine in 1975. That was a team which won 108 games and the division title by 20 games. This year’s 97 wins are the most by a Reds team since the back-to-back champions of 1975-76 (the latter won 102, and then seven straight in the postseason). But despite the extra home runs (the ’76 Reds hit 141), the 2012 Reds scored just 669 runs, 188 less than the ’76 Reds. The ’76 Reds led MLB in runs scored (857), home runs (141), walks (681) and doubles (271, and were second in steals (241). Since the start of the multi-series postseason, the ’76 Reds are the only team to win every game played — they beat the Phillies 3-0 in the NLCS (rallying from 6-4 down in the ninth in Game 3 on Johnny Bench and George Foster homers), and the Yankees 4-0 in the Series. The team that’s come the closest since? The 2005 White Sox, won went 11-1, sweeping the division series and World Series, and losing just once in the ALCS.
4. San Francisco (6): The Giants’ first West Coast World Series was a seven-game loss to the Yankees in 1962, and there’s much to remember it for: the Yankees’ 1-0 Game 7 win, with Bobby Richardson catching Willie McCovey’s liner with the tying and winning runs in scoring position; Jack Sanford allowing five runs in three starts but losing two because the Giants scored just four runs for him; infielder Chuck Hiller, who hit 20 career homers, winning Game 4 with a grand slam (Hiller and Haller, Tom, homered for the Giants in Game 4); 1956 Yankee perfect game pitcher Don Larsen relieving for the Giants; and Ralph Terry, who threw the home run ball to lose the Series two years previous, pitching a four-hit shutout to win that 1-0 Game 7.
5. Oakland (8): It’s been 91 years since Frank Baker earned the nickname “Home Run” for hitting two home runs in the 1911 World Series. In his career, Baker hit just three Series homers in 25 career games, or one less than Gene Tenace hit in the A’s seven-game win over the Reds in 1972 (Tenace hit four of the Reggie Jackson-less A’s five home runs in the ’72 Series; Jackson was hurt stealing home in the Tigers’ Game 5 ALCS win over Detroit.) Baker earned his nickname by homering off Hall of Famers Rube Marquard and Christy Mathewson in back-to-back games; they were two of the three homers hit in that series, won by the A’s in six games (there was a full week between Games 3 and 4 due to rain). Baker’s nickname wasn’t entirely misleading — he led the AL in home runs from 1911-1913, hitting 11, 10 and 12. Baker made his final Series appearance 90 years ago in 1922 with the Yankees, losing in four games (one tie) to the Giants.
6. Texas (2): The Rangers make their third straight playoff appearance, which equals the number of playoff appearance in their first 38 years in Texas, and is three more than they made in Washington as the Senators. The Rangers are not descended from Walter Johnson’s Senators — those Senators left D.C. after the 1960 season, went to Minnesota and the playoffs 11 times in 52 years. The Rangers are descended from the expansion team given to D.C. in 1961 to replace the departed Senators. Those Senators weren’t any more efficient than the political kind — they had one winning season in 11 years and four times lived up to the old saying: Washington first in war, first in peace and last in the American League. Of all the franchise’s many famous managers — Gil Hodges, Ted Williams, Whitey Herzog, Billy Martin, Don Zimmer, etc. — the longest tenured is Bobby Valentine, who lasted six seasons and 86 games of a seventh without ever making the playoffs. Or five seasons and 86 games more than he lasted in Boston.
7. St. Louis (10): The 1942 World Series was the first of three won by Stan Musial in a five-year span and the only one of 10 lost by Yankees great Joe DiMaggio. The Cards won in ’42, ’44 and ’46 and then not again until the year after Musial retired. The Cards hit just two homers in ’42 (Enos Slaughter and Whitey Kurowski) and fanned just 22 Yankees in 45 innings. But they scored late runs twice to win for 24-year-old rookie Johnny Beazley, whose 21-6, 2.13 1942 was pretty much the extent of his career. Beazley went to World War II after the Series and didn’t return to the majors until 1946; he won just nine more games, and pitched only one more inning in the World Series.
8. Atlanta (5): The Braves are the only franchise to have won the World Series for three different home cities — in Atlanta (1995), Milwaukee (1957) and Boston (1914). Of course, those are the only three World Series they have ever won, though not for a lack of trying in Atlanta, where they have been to the postseason 17 times and lost the Series four times. The 1914 Braves were the “Miracle Braves,” and they had one of the most bizarre seasons ever. They were 10 games behind after 13 games had been played, and they were at least that far behind, but for a single day, from May 7-July 30, peaking at 15 games out after losing a doubleheader on July 4th. But from July 6th on, the Braves won 68 of their final 87 games. They moved into first place on Sept. 8 and went 25-6 from there, winning the NL pennant by 10-and-a-half games. The Series was over in four games — Bill James, the pitcher and not the sabermetician, won Game 2 with a 2-hit shutout and Game 3 in relief in the 12th; and Dick Rudolph started and won the other two. James and Rudolph each won 26 games in 1914, but James won only five more in a career marred by injury.
9. Detroit (13): No player had a higher lifetime batting average than Ty Cobb, no player other than Pete Rose has more hits, no player received more votes for induction into the Hall of Fame in the very first class in 1936. Cobb outpolled Babe Ruth by seven votes. But lots of players have won more World Series, because Cobb won none. That might explain his perpetually nasty mood. Cobb’s Tigers lost all three Series he ever played — twice to the Cubs (no wonder he was angry; losing a World Series to the Cubs?) and once to the Pirates. They had their best chance vs. the Bucs in 1909, but lost Game 7 at home, 8-0. Cobb had his best Series in 1908, when he batted .368, but his teammates batted just .187 and they lost in five. The Tigers didn’t win a game in 1907, losing a 3-1 lead in the opener and gaining a tie; the Cubs won the next four, and Cobb was 4-for-20. Cobb’s .262 average in three Series was more than 100 points less than his regular-season average. We can only wonder what the reaction would have been had there been non-stop talk radio to discuss Cobb’s failings in the early 20th century. We’re guessing Cobb would have made Albert Belle look like Dale Murphy.
10 Balitmore (7): The Orioles scored 13 runs in their first World Series in Baltimore, and swept the Dodgers in 4. The 13 was an avalanche compared to the two runs the Dodgers scored. After a third-inning run in Game 1, the Dodgers were shut out for the final 33 innings of the 1966 Series. Moe Drabowsky, famous for his wit, made the Dodgers a punch line with 6.2 innings of one-hit, 11-strikeout relief in Game 1; Jim Palmer threw a four-hit shutout in Game 2 nine days before his 21st birthday; 21-year-old Wally Bunker threw a six-hitter in Game 3; and 23-year-old Dave McNally, knocked out in Game 1, threw a four-hitter in Game 4. The Dodgers got just 17 hits in the four-game series, and they had more errors (6) than hits (4) in Game 2. Three of the errors were by the normally fine-fielding Willie Davis in the fifth inning: two fly balls lost in the sun followed by an overthrow. The final two games were 1-0 Baltimore wins on home runs by Paul Blair (Game 3) and Frank Robinson (Game 4).
Sources: baseballalmanac.com, baseballreference.com, sabr.org