Baseball's postseason format makes it possible for teams to make unlikely runs through October against favored, sometimes heavily favored, opponents.
The 1914 Boston Braves may have been the most unlikely team in World Series history. The Braves, for a decade a doormat in the National League, were in a familiar position in early July 1914: last place. But Boston went on a tear, winning 36 of 46 games to take first place and then winning 25 of its last 31 to run away with the pennant. They went on to sweep Connie Mack's powerful Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.
With apologies to the Miracle Braves, the Whiz Kids (1950 Philadelphia Phillies), and other unlikely contenders from baseball's earlier years, here are the 10 least likely World Series teams of the divisional era (1969-present):
1. "Ya Gotta Believe!" (1973 New York Mets)
The New York Mets made the postseason in 1973 because someone from the National League East had to. It was in the rules. The Mets finished just three games over .500 at 82-79, yet somehow finished 1 1/2 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals to win the division. That was despite a .246 team batting average (11th in the 12-team NL), 85 home runs (11th in the league), and 608 runs (also 11th). But the Mets could pitch. Anchored by Cy Young winner Tom Seaver, the Mets were third in the league with a 3.26 ERA and the staff's 1,027 strikeouts were the best in the NL. New York upset the heavily favored Cincinnati Reds (99-63) in the NL Championship Series and pushed the Oakland Athletics to a seventh game before losing the World Series.
2. "We shocked the world" (2006 St. Louis Cardinals)
The St. Louis Cardinals weren't a great team in 2006. They weren't even a particularly good team in 2006. But with a 4-2 win in Game 5 of the World Series over the Detroit Tigers, the Cardinals were world champions despite finishing the regular season with a record of 83-78. In the playoffs, with closer Jason Isringhausen on the shelf with an injury, rookie Adam Wainwright saved four games to pace the Cards to wins over the San Diego Padres, New York Mets, and Tigers.
3. The misfits win the pennant (1993 Philadelphia Phillies)
The Philadelphia Phillies weren't supposed to win the NL East in 1993. But led by ace Curt Schilling and a colorful collection of characters such as John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Darren Daulton, and Pete Incaviglia, the Phillies did just that. Philadelphia went on to shock the two-time defending NL champion Atlanta Braves in the NLCS before losing to the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series.
4. The power of the "Homer Hankies" (1987 Minnesota Twins)
The Minnesota Twins won the AL West in 1987 with a middling 85-77 record. How middling? That record would have placed fifth in the power-packed East division. The Detroit Tigers had eliminated a 3 1/2-game deficit over the final week of the season to win the East, but the Twins stunned Detroit in five games to win the ALCS. The World Series became the first in history in which the home team won every game, and the Twins rode the home dome advantage at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome to a Game 7 triumph and the franchise's first title since moving to the Twin Cities in 1961.
5. Worst to first, Team A (1991 Atlanta Braves)
The Atlanta Braves had been a doormat in the National League West for most of the past decade, finishing no higher than fifth since 1984. In 1991, the Braves were coming off a 97-loss season, their third straight last-place finish and had almost no hope of turning it around. But they did turn it around behind an MVP season from Terry Pendleton and a young pitching staff full of aces like John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. The Braves won 94 games, won the West, topped the Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL pennant, and lost a scintillating seven-game World Series to the Minnesota Twins.
6. A comeback for the ages (2005 Houston Astros)
The Houston Astros started the 2005 season by losing 30 of their first 45 games. But when they beat the Chicago Cubs on the final day of the regular season, they completed a historic comeback by capturing the NL wild-card berth. By going 79-43 after their awful start, the Astros joined the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams to make the postseason after being 15 games under .500. Houston went on to beat the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals to win the pennant before being swept by the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.
7. Worst-to-first, Team B (1991 Minnesota Twins)
Like their World Series counterparts in 1991, the Minnesota Twins had finished in last place in 1990. Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblauch energized the top of the order, newcomer Chili Davis provided 29 homers out of the designated hitter spot, and Minnesota native Jack Morris signed on as a free agent to provide 18 wins as the Twins roared to the top of the AL West. In the postseason, Minnesota needed just five games to beat the Toronto Blue Jays for the pennant and won a seven-game classic from the Atlanta Braves to win their second title in five seasons.
8. "I don't believe what I just saw" (1988 Los Angeles Dodgers)
The Los Angeles Dodgers rode a magical swing from Kirk Gibson and a dominating pitching performance by Orel Hershiser in 1988 to an unlikely World Series title. Gibson, the 1988 NL MVP, had just one at-bat in the World Series because of knee and hamstring problems, but he made it a big one. Pinch hitting against Oakland relief ace Dennis Eckersley in the bottom of the ninth, Gibson launched a limp-off two-run homer into the right field seats (click here for video). That propelled the Dodgers to a title over the Athletics, who had won 104 games in 1988. They also beat the New York Mets, winners of 100 games, for the NL pennant.
9. The Miracle Mets win it all (1969 New York Mets)
Entering their eighth season in 1969, there was no reason to believe the New York Mets were going to be anything special. This was a club that in its first seven seasons hadn't won more than 73 games or finished higher than ninth in the National League. But the Mets passed the Chicago Cubs in September to win the newly formed NL East, swept the Atlanta Braves for the pennant, and topped the Baltimore Orioles in five games to complete a miracle season.
10. It was in the (wild) cards (1997 Florida Marlins)
The Florida Marlins became the first wild-card team to win a World Series in 1997, assembling a team for a one-year run that took down the San Francisco Giants, two-time defending NL champion Atlanta Braves ,and the more-experienced, heavily favored Cleveland Indians. It was just the franchise's fifth season, and it began breaking up the team almost as soon as the World Series ended.
Phil Watson is a 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry and a longtime New York Yankee fan.