December 22, 2009
As the decade winds down to its final days, Big League Stew is reflecting on the biggest baseball happenings of the 2000s. Next up are the most disappointing playoff teams of the decade, a group that crept close to the promised land before leaving all of their fans to wonder what might have been. We weighed a number of factors before including each member, but please note that this list does not include any World Series teams. It's our view that an AL or NL title can rarely be viewed as a total downer. (We're sure, though, that fans of the 2002 Giants, '03 Yankees, '04 Cardinals and '06 Tigers would like to disagree.)
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10. 2003 Atlanta Braves — 101-61, lost 3-2 to Cubs in NLDS
The Braves' dynasty would win two more NL East titles after this one but this was their last great chance at adding to their measly World Series title haul of one.
All the signs were there. It was Greg Maddux's(notes) final season in Hotlanta and also the last of six 100+ win seasons. The team had a killer offense behind monster years at the plate from Javy Lopez(notes), Gary Sheffield(notes), Chipper Jones(notes) and Andruw Jones(notes). John Smoltz(notes) was dominant as a closer and even Russ Ortiz(notes) — Russ Ortiz! — won 21 games.
And yet despite all those factors the Braves' year ended like so many others before it — in a first-round series loss in front of apathetic home fans who allowed Turner Field to become overrun by carpooling Cubs fans from Chicago.
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9. 2005 St. Louis Cardinals — 100-62, lost 4-2 to Astros in NLCS
History will most likely shine brighter lights on the '04 105-win team that was swept in the World Series by the Red Sox and the '06 team that won the whole thing with only 83 regular season wins. Still, the '05 team had the best record in the NL by 10 games but lost the NLCS in six games to the wild card Astros. Maybe this doesn't hurt as much after winning in 2006, but without that bunch St. Louis would still be crying over two big missed opportunities.
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8. 2003 Oakland A's — 96-66, lost 3-2 to Red Sox in ALDS
Things were going swimmingly for the A's after taking the first two games of the ALDS from Boston. Then Trot Nixon(notes) struck with a walkoff homer in the 11th inning of Game 3 at Fenway and Oakland's collapse was on. The A's would get to the ALCS in 2006, but the 2003 team had the biggest chance to make something out of Billy Beane's early decade success.
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7. 2008 Chicago Cubs — 97-64, lost 3-0 to Dodgers in NLDS
The symmetry seemed too perfect. One hundred years after winning their last World Series title, the Cubs held the National League's best record and were among the odds-on favorites to reach (and actually win) the Fall Classic. The hope in Wrigleyville was palpable but the rest of the nation knew where this was going as the 84-win Dodgers came out of their corner at Wrigley Field with two strong rights. They then delivered the sweeping knockout punch at Dodger Stadium, ensuring that the rooftop Eamus Catuli sign would have to add another digit for the longest drought tracker in professional sports.
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6. 2005 Los Angeles Angels — 95-67, lost 4-1 to White Sox in ALCS
The Angels were one of the best franchises of the 2000s, but they walk away with only one World Series trip to show for it. Things might have been different, though, if home plate umpire Doug Eddings didn't rule Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski(notes) safe with one of the most controversial calls in playoff history. Though there's no guarantee the Angels would have broken a tie contest to ultimately win Game 2, the ruling paved the way for a White Sox winner in Game 2. The Angels' bats then fell silent against Chicago's dominant pitching in the three games after that, letting a tough first-round win against the Yankees go to waste.
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5. 2003 Boston Red Sox — 95-67, lost 4-3 to Yankees in ALCS
Pedro Martinez(notes). Grady Little. Eighth inning. Three-run lead. Yankees=Daddy. Yada, yada, yada. Only the events of the following postseason saved the rest of the non-New England world from hearing about this ad nauseum.
If the rest of the nation is being honest, though, the entire series made for fantastic theater right until the very Aaron Boone(notes) end — even if was part of getting rid of the most-anticipated World Series ever and replacing it with one of the least.
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4. 2006 New York Mets — 97-65, lost 4-3 to Cardinals in NLCS
The 2006 Mets had the best record in the National League by nine games and found themselves matched in the NLCS against a St Louis team they outpaced by 14 victories.
But the franchise's first Series trip since 2000 wasn't in the, uh, Cards. The Mets ran into a Jeff Weaver(notes)-Jeff Suppan duo that improbably caught fire and Endy Chavez's(notes) unreal catch was made a mere footnote by Yadier Molina's(notes) two-run blast in the ninth inning of Game 7. Given all that has since transpired in Queens, this one stings even more than originally expected.
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3a. 2004 New York Yankees — 101-61, lost 4-3 to Red Sox in ALCS
Yankees. Red Sox. 3-0 lead. Dave Roberts(notes). Big Papi. Yada, yada, yada. The biggest collapse in baseball history kicked open the door for two big Red Sox championships and started a five-year funk that kicked off the Alex Rodriguez(notes) era in the Bronx.
3b. 2007 Cleveland Indians — 96-66, lost 4-3 to Red Sox in ALCS
The second of Boston's big comeback victims, the Indians were up 3-1 in the ALCS and were looking forward to picking Jose Mesa(notes) off the hook for his collapse in 1997. But this being Cleveland, the Indians were outscored 30-5 over the final three games to provide another sports-related disappointment to the fine people of northern Ohio.
*Yes, I forgot the Tribe the first time around. I blame those midges.
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2. 2003 Chicago Cubs — 88-74, lost 4-3 to Marlins in NLCS
Five more outs! Five more outs! Your humble blogger was in the upper deck of Wrigley Field on a cold October night, ready to hit send on a Kansas City Star story that summed the Cubs' first trip to the World Series since 1945 by touching upon Mike Royko, Nelson Algren, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the great Chicago fire. Then Steve Bartman, Alex Gonzalez, Dusty Baker and Mark Prior(notes) happened and I was sent into a rewriting tizzy.
Though all of those themes would have still fit, I don't remember including any of them. I don't remember much of the rest of the night, actually.
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1. 2001 Seattle Mariners — 116-48, lost 4-1 to Yankees in ALCS
They didn't have Randy Johnson(notes), A-Rod or Ken Griffey Jr.(notes), but Lou Piniella's crew tied the 1906 Cubs for the most wins (116) in the regular season and had a ridiculous +300 run differential. The domination has led some quarters to christen them as the team of the decade, but they couldn't even get out of the ALCS — or even force a Game 6 or 7 — and get a chance to complete their dream season. The Mariners franchise still hasn't been to a World Series, joining the Nats/Expos and Rangers as the lone squads to never know the feeling of playing on the ultimate stage in October.