The St. Louis Cardinals have won two championships they had no business winning. Don’t get me wrong, they played well and earned both championships once they were in the play-offs. The regular season is the focus here. The 2006 Cardinals won a terrible NL Central with only 83 wins. This year’s team required a mammoth collapse by the Braves coupled with their own hot streak at the end of the season to get in. But the Cardinals are hardly the only team to win a World Series over teams who, on paper, appear to be much better.
In 2010, the Giants won 92 games, narrowly outpacing the San Diego Padres for the NL West crown. It took a Padres ten-game losing streak in August to help the Giants even make the play-offs. In 2008, the Phillies beat out four other teams with a better record, including a 97-win Rays. In 2003, the Marlins won just 91 games to clinch the Wild Card but managed to beat the 101-win Yankees for the World Series crown. Even the powerhouse Yankees won the World Series in 2000 after just 87 wins during the regular season.
You’ll notice, these “upsets” all happened after the advent of the Wild Card. Yet, ever since the play-offs expanded to more than just the World Series, there have been teams winning over supposedly better teams. The 91-win Reds over the 103-win A’s in 1990. The 85-win Twins over the 95-win Cardinals in 1987. The 90-win A’s over the 102-win Dodgers in 1974.
Upsets are part of sports, but it seems in baseball more than any other sport, the best team on paper usually isn’t the one being crowned when it’s all said and done. And that makes baseball great. Like the NCAA basketball tournament, anyone can get hot at any point. More teams in the postseason doesn’t make it worse. It makes it more interesting.
How much would we all care if the Yankees won their 28th Championship? There’s no storyline there. No drama. No intrigue. No heroes and no villains. The shocking wins amplify the mystique that is Major League Baseball.
Congratulations Cardinals, and congratulations underdogs everywhere.