Ranking The World Series Champions Of The Last Decade
There are no Major League Baseball games to analyze. No moves to grade. No progress on which to report.
As someone who loves baseball, this is a sad development. As a human who values the health of myself and others, it’s also, in my opinion, the prudent course of action. We’ll get back to games just as surely as we’ll have fresh supplies of toilet paper. We just might have to wait a little bit.
But what are we to do in the meantime? It’s time to get a little bit creative. So to that end, to keep my mind sharp (hopefully), my typing fingers active, and most importantly, give the readers something to think about, I’ve taken a shot at power ranking the World Series champions of the last decade.
This was, for me, a fun walk down short-term memory lane, and it really struck me what an interesting decade it was. It started as the era of the wild cards, had a really old curse broken and finished with some true powerhouse performances – and don’t forget, with a huge cheating scandal in the mix.
So what to do with the 2017 Houston Astros? I don’t know how much stealing signs helped that team win the championship, but I can’t imagine it didn’t help them at all. So I bumped them down. But given the mix of the rest of the decade, including a few teams significantly less talented then the Astros that won titles, I didn’t bump them down to the bottom.
Maybe I should have. That will be for you to discuss on the message board.
Anyway, here they are, listed from best to worst.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
1: 2016 Chicago Cubs (103-58)
This the team of destiny everyone was waiting for. My sense at the time was that most baseball fans around the country were rooting for the Cubs to finally end their title drought. And while most of the country might have grown tired of the cute underdog shtick soon after, that takes nothing away from the accomplishments of Theo Epstein’s group.
The Cubs were clearly the best team in 2016, winning at least eight more games than any other team (the Nationals and Rangers both won 95). They scored the third most runs per game in MLB (4.99) and allowed the fewest (a mere 3.43 per game) as they waltzed to the NL Central title by 17.5 games before dispatching a tough Cleveland Indians team in a seven-game World Series.
Their offense was nice mix of dependable veterans (Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler), rising young stars (Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant) and emerging prospects (Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber). And the pitching staff was powered by a dominant rotation, as Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks all had an ERA+ of at least 125.
All of this gave Cubs fans visions of a dynasty on the rise.
The only question is, what happened?
2: 2018 Boston Red Sox (108-54)
The Red Sox were clearly the best team of the 2018 season. Their offense torched the league with an MLB-best 5.41 runs per game – a full .16 better than the second-place Yankees – and their pitching was serviceable behind ace Chris Sale and a strong bullpen.
The playoffs were a breeze, as well, as Boston lost just three games in dispatching the Yankees (3-1), Astros (4-1) and Dodgers (4-1) on the way to the championship, with Los Angeles managing to win only an 18-inning Game 3 at Dodger Stadium.
The David Ortiz era was over, and that was OK. Mookie Betts was an MVP. J.D. Martinez continued to smash baseballs. Andrew Benintendi appeared to be a rising star. How quickly things went sideways for this powerhouse team.
3: 2019 Washington Nationals (93-69)
Many fans like to look at the 2019 Nats as the perfect example of a team getting hot at the right time (see Giants, 2014) and willing its way to the championship. But that would be unfair to this extremely talented bunch.
Starting slow and perhaps a bit hung over from losing their star Bryce Harper to Philadelphia in free agency, the Nats struggled through the first two months of the season. But after that they were, in retrospect, the best team in the league, winning two thirds of their games the rest of the way in earning the franchise’s first title.
The rise of Anthony Rendon into an MVP candidate, the emergence of Juan Soto into a star, and the steady play of veterans like Adam Eaton, Howie Kendrick, Kurt Suzuki and others, as well as that awesome starting staff led the way as the Nats shed the tarnished Houston Astros in seven thrilling games.
It was only later that we found out the wily Nats were aware of the Astros’ shady dealings, and accounted for them while winning all four games in Houston.
4: 2012 San Francisco Giants (94-68)
This was the best Giants team of this era, both by win-loss record and by sheer talent.
On paper, this was hardly a dominant team, ranking 13th in baseball in runs per game, and tied for seventh in runs allowed. But they did win the NL West by eight games over the hated Dodgers, and they did have Buster Posey and Matt Cain in their primes, Pablo Sandoval before he got too chunky, and a 22-year-old Madison Bumgarner on the rise. They also got the best season of Melky Cabrera’s career – a 157 OPS+ campaign from a guy with a career OPS+ of 103.
Basically, their good players were able to carry the team past groups that looked deeper and better on paper. The Giants slipped past the Reds in a five-game NLDS, held off the Cardinals in a seven-game NLCS, then swept aside the Tigers for the title. The Giants got seven shutout innings from Bumgarner in Game 3, then 5.2 more shutout innings from Ryan Vogelson in Game 4, both demoralizing (for the poor Tigers) 2-0 victories.
5: 2013 Boston Red Sox (97-65)
The 2013 Red Sox did not have a dominant pitching staff, just above average at best. But oh that offense was nice.
The Red Sox led all of baseball in runs per game (5.27), doubles, on-base average, slugging and OPS. They were also third in walks and fourth in stolen bases, an offense that could beat you in a number of ways. Every regular starter except for Will Middlebrooks had an OPS+ of at least 110, led by David Ortiz’s 159.
Jon Lester, John Lackey and David Ross, who would later lead the Cubs to the championship in 2016, won here first.
In the playoffs, the Red Sox handled the Rays (3-1) and Tigers (4-2) to get to the World Series, where they spotted the Cardinals a 2-1 series lead before allowing just four runs the rest of the way, winning three straight to clinch the title in Game 6 at Fenway.
6: 2010 San Francisco Giants (92-70)
The Giants won the NL West by two games over the Padres, riding their pitching all season long. And since they were sporting a league-average offense (98 OPS+), that was the way they were going to have to get it done.
Tim Lincecum was coming off back-to-back Cy Young awards and was a three-time All-Star. Matt Cain pitched 223.1 innings with a 3.14 ERA. Barry Zito was a solid veteran. Jonathan Sanchez produced a 127 ERA+. And a 20-year-old Madison Bumgarner tossed in 111 innings with a 3.00 ERA, a sign of things to come.
On top of that, their bullpen was dominant, with the bearded wonder — Brian Wilson – at the back end, supported by Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla.
And pitching led the way as the Giants coasted past the Braves in the NLDS, shed the Phillies in six games in the NLCS, and dominated the Rangers in a 5-game World Series. Edgar Renteria produced a 1.200 OPS to earn the Series MVP award.
7: 2017 Houston Astros (101-61)
The Astros. Ah, the Astros. What do we do with this team? They were not, by record, the best team of the 2017 season, as the Indians (102) and Dodgers (104) both won more games. But they did have a feel of destiny about them that season.
Houston did have the best offense in the league, scoring 5.5 runs per game and leading MLB in just about every offensive category of note aside from total home runs.
Of course now we know there may have been a reason for that amazing success with the bats. And while it’s difficult to quantify just how much the sign-stealing operation helped them, it would be foolish to suggest it didn’t help them at all.
Then, when you consider that their pitching was not particularly impressive and they needed seven games to dismiss both the Yankees and Dodgers in the postseason, we’re going to ding them significantly on this list.
8: 2015 Kansas City Royals (95-67)
The 2015 season was all about Missouri, as only the St. Louis Cardinals won more games (100) than the Royals, and nobody won their division more impressively than Kansas City, which ran away from their AL Central competition by 12 games.
The Royals were strong in the postseason as well. After getting past the Astros in five games in the ALDS, they took out Toronto in a six-game ALCS, then romped past the Mets in five in the World Series, losing only Game 3 to Noah Syndergaard.
This was not a great offensive team, ranking only 24th in home runs and producing an OPS+ of 98. Their pitching was solid, but not great, their ERA+ of 112 ranking fifth, their FIP of 4.04 ranking 15th.
How did they do it? Primarily with defense and a lights-out bullpen that included Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Ryan Madson, all at the heights of their games.
9: 2011 St. Louis Cardinals (90-72)
What an amazing run for these Cardinals, who made up for a relative lack of talent with a flare for the dramatic.
After losing the NL Central by six games to Milwaukee, the Cardinals shrugged and just went about vanquishing their more powerful foes. First they beat the 102-win Phillies in five games. Then they topped their rival Brewers in six games in the NLCS.
In the World Series, they bested the powerful Texas Rangers in seven thrilling games, edging the Rangers in an 11-inning barn-burner in Game 6 before riding Chris Carpenter to a 6-2 win in Game 7.
The Cards were a decent but not great offense, led by Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman. They were also a middle-of-the-pack pitching team (99 ERA+). This series played a big role in building the legend of Yadier Molina, though, as he was able to get the most out of the guys behind Carpenter (Kyle Lohse, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, Edwin Jackson, etc.).
10: 2014 San Francisco Giants (88-74)
The Giants finished six games behind their rival Dodgers in the NL West, slipping into a wild card game, where they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0 behind a four-hit shutout by Madison Bumgarner. Nearly a month later they were crowned champions after beating another wild card team, the Kansas City Royals, in a seven-game World Series.
The Giants were the perfect team to show the world how random a short series can be. If you hang around long enough and play well enough just to make the postseason, you give yourself a chance. Especially if you have Bumgarner. Without Bumgarner, the 2014 Giants don’t come close to sniffing anything.
Bumgarner was rightly named MVP of both the NLCS and World Series. He pitched 21(!) innings in the World Series, allowing just 11(!) base runners (9 hits, 1 walk, 1 HBP) and struck out 17. He allowed one run and not only won both Games 1 and 5, but pitched five(!) innings of relief in Game 7 to earn the save. I’m impressed with him, if not with this team as a whole.
Bob Harkins is a former editor and writer for Time Warner Cable Sports in Los Angeles, where he helped cover the Dodgers and Lakers. Prior to that, he was a senior editor and writer for NBCSports.com, leading the site’s coverage of Major League Baseball for nine seasons. He always believed that Major League catcher was the toughest job in sports -- until he wrote a series on professional rodeo cowboys. Talk about tough!