The 102-win Phillies and their stacked-rotation were bounced from the playoffs over the weekend, short of making it to the NLCS let alone the their expected destination, the World Series. The disappointment is one of the bigger ones though it’s not the biggest over the last 20 years.
In light of their earlier-than-expected exit here are the five best teams to not make the World Series since 1990:
5. St. Louis 2005—The Albert Pujols-led Cardinals won a league-high 100 games in 2005. Pujols won his first MVP award that year (.330 avg, 41 home runs, 117 RBIs) while teammate Chris Carpenter won the Cy Young Award (21-5, 2.83 ERA, 213 Ks).
Carpenter was one of five starters (along with Mulder, Suppan, Marquiz, and Matt Morris) that had at least 13 wins, forming arguably the deepest rotation in the league. Their regular-season performance, combined with their disappointing finish the previous year (swept in the World Series) made them a popular pick to hoist the trophy in ’05. But in the NLCS they ran into Houston—the same team they defeated in the ’04 NLCS. The Astros promptly dropped them in six games and the dream was over.
Why they’re fifth: A tough call between them and a couple Yankee teams (’02 and ’04). Ultimately having the best hitter in the game anchor the team with the deepest staff seemed a no-brainer on a Tony LaRussa-managed team come playoff time.
4. Atlanta 1993—After coming up short in the World Series each of the previous two seasons and having signed reigning Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux in the offseason, Atlanta still found themselves 55-42 on July 22nd—10 games behind San Francisco with 65 remaining. But just days earlier the Braves swung a trade for Fred McGriff that changed their season.
Atlanta caught fire going 49-16 the rest of the way to nip the Giants by one game and play in their third straight NLCS. After taking a 2-1 series lead Atlanta scored just seven total runs in losing Games 4, 5, and 6 to the Lenny Dykstra-led Phillies.
Why they’re fourth: The beginning of the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz era also had a stellar Steve Avery (18-6, 2.94 ERA) to go along with them, but expectations were tempered just a bit as they wouldn’t win a title until 1995.
3. Philadelphia 2011—After coming up short the year before with a pretty nice rotation (Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt) the Phillies signed Cliff Lee to put expectations through the roof—yet Philadelphia met them in the regular season. And when their aging offense looked like it needed a jolt they traded for outfielder Hunter Pence to add to their Howard-Utley-Rollins core.
The result was a league-leading 102 wins and a date with St. Louis in the NLDS where the tables would be turned. After scoring 18 runs in the first three games to take a 2-1 lead, Charlie Manuel’s crew mustered a total of three in the would-be clinchers—including zero in a 1-0 Game 5 loss—to lose the series 3-2.
Why they’re third: While Maddux and Glavine were usually dwarfed by Smoltz’s postseason prowess, both Lee and Halladay had enjoyed success in the Fall Classic, making their exit all the more shocking.
2. Atlanta 1998—Bobby Cox had several great teams that fell short in the playoffs—this was the best though. The Braves went 106-56 in winning the East by 18 games on the strength of their starting pitching, as usual. All five members of their star-studded rotation (Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz-Neagle-Millwood) won at least 16 games that year. Meanwhile on offense they boasted four (Galarraga, Lopez, C. Jones, and Andruw Jones) 30-plus home run hitters. Yet in the NLCS San Diego’s pitching shut them out twice in the six-game set.
Why they’re second: As great as they were they won 10 less games than the number-one team.
1. Seattle 2001—The 2001 Mariners epitomized team play. They won a record-setting 116 games that year yet the staff really didn’t rely on a number-one starter. They did boast a number of good pitchers in Freddy Garcia (18-6), Aaron Sele (15-5), Jamie Moyer (20-6), and closer Kazuhiro Sasaki (43 saves).
In addition their position players were highlighted by multiple gold-glove-award winners who also provided pop in the lineup like Mike Cameron, John Olerud, Bret Boone, and MVP Ichiro Suzuki with Edgar Martinez pulling DH-duties. Yet Seattle fell in the ALCS to the three-time defending champion Yankees in just five games (4-1).
Why they’re first: Most wins ever, yet couldn’t muster more than one win in the ALCS.