As baseball heads into the playoff stretch, every year there are surprise teams that find themselves with a shot at the World Series trophy. In 2012, the Washington Nationals look to be the surprise team that came out of nowhere to have a legitimate shot at a championship.
Here are 10 other teams who have started a season with low expectations and finished at the top of their divisions:
1: 1969 New York Mets – The Amazin’ Mets are one of the greatest stories in the history of sports, let alone baseball. Coming out of nowhere to win their first championship, the ’69 Mets are the best example in all of sports of “Anything can happen”.
2: 1991 Atlanta Braves – Before the Braves were the best National League team of the 1990s, they were absolutely dreadful in the mid to late ’80s and had one of the biggest turnarounds in baseball history in the 1991 season. Even though they didn’t win the World Series that year, this was the start of 14 consecutive playoff appearances and one World Series championship.
3: 1991 Minnesota Twins – As baseball became more about being the best team money could buy in the 1990s, the 1991 Twins became the last small-market team to win a championship. Not only did they win the championship, they came from last place the previous season to do so.
4: 1995 Cleveland Indians – While the 1994 Indians actually finished in second place, there was no World Series that year (due to the strike) and it had been 40 years since the Indians made the playoffs. This might be the most impressive lineup in baseball history when you consider they had three players who ended up with at least 500 career home runs on their roster (Jim Thome, over 600), Manny Ramirez, and Eddie Murray), another with over 450 (Dave Winfield), and another with close to 400 (Albert Belle, 381 career home runs). That totals over 2,500 home runs among these five players.
5: 1997 Florida Marlins – The Marlins had never had a winning season before they won their first championship in 1997, and were the fastest expansion team to ever win a World Series. The Marlins are still the only team in MLB history to have more World Series championships than division titles (2 to 0).
6: 1998 Chicago Cubs – Anytime the Cubs make the playoffs, it’s usually considered a surprise, especially when you consider the year before they finished last place in the NL Central. This team might need an asterisk in the grand scheme of things, as the Cubs got a significant amount of production from Sammy Sosa, who went from a previous season-high of 40 home runs up to 66 home runs, the second most of all-time in a season at the time (maybe it’s just a coincidence, who knows?).
7: 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks – In only their second season, the Diamondbacks became the fastest team in baseball history to make the playoffs. While it took them two more seasons to win their first championship, the ’99 Diamondbacks are proof that any baseball team can go from nothing one year to perennial playoff contender.
8: 2002 Anaheim Angels – For a team that had never won a playoff series in its history before the 2002 season, the Angels shocked the world when they beat Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants in the World Series that year. This team was such an underdog that it actually seemed like there was some sort of magical power in the rally monkey, who they would show on the scoreboard late in games.
9: 2008 Tampa Bay Rays – Heading into the 2008 season, the Rays had the lowest winning percentage in baseball history and had only one season where they didn’t finish last in their division. Despite a low payroll and playing with two of the most dominant teams in their own division over the last decade (New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox), the Rays overcame insurmountable odds and made it all the way to the World Series, where they ended up losing to the Philadelphia Phillies.
10: 1993 Philadelphia Phillies – The ’93 Phillies are a team near and dear to my heart growing up in the Philadelphia area, but this collection of nobodies did the unthinkable when they made it all the way to the World Series the year after they were in last place. Even after Mitch Williams gave up the game-winning home run to Joe Carter in Game 6 that cost them the World Series, the ’93 Phillies are still talked about to this day as one of the most beloved teams in the history of Philadelphia.
Gabe Venit is a lifelong Phillies fan who has been dealing with a lot of disappointment in the 2012 season.