5 Times MLB Preseason Favorites Failed to Deliver a Championship
The MLB season is arguably the most grueling in all of the sports. Teams have to play 162 games in six months with very few off days. That long season is plenty of time for a fringe contender to make a playoff run.
On the other side, the preseason World Series favorite could collapse at any time. Unfortunately, we’ve seen cases in MLB history where the preseason favorite underwhelmed and missed the playoffs.
Let’s check out the five preseason favorites that couldn’t cash in on their favorable World Series odds.
5. 1985 Detroit Tigers (+600)
In 1984, the Detroit Tigers had one of the best seasons in franchise history. They won a franchise record of 104 games and went on to win the World Series.
While the 104 wins would be tough to replicate, the expectation was they would contend for another World Series title. After all, they had a strong core that featured Lance Parrish, Lou Whitaker, and Kirk Gibson.
Detroit came flying out of the gates with six straight wins. Over the next month and a half, the Tigers could never build upon their momentum. They went into June with a 25-19 record.
June ultimately became their best month, as they went 16-6. A big reason for that was that their offense came to life.
After averaging 4.2 runs per game in April and May, they averaged just under 5.0 runs in June. Unfortunately, they took a big step backwards in July.
They posted a 12-16 record and struggled with both hitting and pitching.
- Offense: 4.0 runs per game
- Pitching: 4.4 runs per game
At this point, the Tigers were 9.5 games behind the AL Central leading Toronto Blue Jays. There was no wild card in this era, so the only way to make the playoffs was to win the division.
From there, Detroit never hit its stride. They went 31-31 in the closing stretch to post an overall record of 84-77. They finished 15 games behind the Blue Jays.
On offense, Parrish, Gibson, and Darrell Evans all had over 90 RBIs. Evans led the MLB with 40 home runs. Outside of those players, Detroit lacked depth.
Perhaps the underlying factor was the Tigers committed the second-most errors in the MLB at 143.
4. 1991 Oakland Athletics (+300)
In the late 1980s, the Oakland Athletics dominated the majors. They won 104 games in 1988 before falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. The 1988 Athletics were one of the best teams to not win the World Series.
Oakland won the World Series in 1989. In 1990, they lost in one of the biggest upsets in World Series history.
Early in the 1991 season, it looked like the Athletics were well on their way to a fourth straight AL pennant. They won eight of their first nine games and led the AL West through the season’s first two months
Oakland tried to make a run, winning eight of their first ten games in August. Unfortunately, they followed that up with a seven-game losing streak. That effectively put an end to their playoff hopes.
They finished the season 84-78, 11 games behind the Twins.
The biggest reason for Oakland’s downfall is their pitching, notably Dave Stewart and Bob Welch. Stewart was among the best pitchers in the league for years, while Welch won the 1990 Cy Young award.
Check out their numbers from the 1991 season.
|Dave Stewart||Bob Welch|
While the season as a whole was a disappointment, there was one silver lining.
On May 1, Rickey Henderson broke the record for most career stolen bases. He went on to lead the NL with 58 stolen bases and remains the career leader with 1,406.
Overall, Oakland’s dynasty came to a sudden halt.
3. 2015 Washington Nationals (+500)
In the mid-2010s, the Washington Nationals were among the World Series favorites almost every season. In terms of odds, the 2015 season marked their best opportunity, as they entered the season with (+500) odds to win it all.
Unlike a few teams we’ve discussed, Washington didn’t get off to a good start. A six-game losing streak late in April had them 7-13. However, they followed that up with a 21-6 stretch.
Despite going 26-25 in June and July, the Nationals went into August with a two-game lead in the NL East. Unfortunately, this is where their downfall began.
Washington briefly fell under .500 before going into September with a 66-64 record. They sat 6.5 games back in the NL East. Their great pitching that we saw all season allowed 137 runs in August.
The day after the regular season ended, Washington cleaned house. They fired manager Matt Williams and their entire coaching staff.
Scherzer had a tremendous first season with the Nationals. He posted a 2.79 ERA and finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting. However, the real star of this team was Harper. He unanimously won NL MVP with a big season.
- .330 batting average
- 42 home runs
- 99 RBIs
- 124 walks
For the most part, that was it for their offense. No one else cleared 20 home runs or 75 RBIs. Yunel Escobar was the only other qualified player to hit over .275.
The Nationals had a few more years of misery before winning the 2019 World Series.
2. 2012 Philadelphia Phillies (+550)
Before the Washington Nationals were the class of the NL East, it was the Philadelphia Phillies. They won the division every season from 2007-2011 and made the World Series twice.
Philadelphia came into the 2012 season fresh off, winning an MLB best 102 games in 2011. Only this time, they were looking to advance further in the playoffs. However, the playoff dream never came to fruition.
Early in the season, the NL East was highly competitive. Despite posting a 27-25 record through the first two months, the Phillies were last in the division. However, they were only three games back of the division lead.
June proved to be the beginning of the end. They went 9-19 and left the month ten games behind the Washington Nationals. A 10-13 month of July sent them into August with a 46-57 record. At this point, they would need a big rally even to make the playoffs.
When you look at the Phillies offense, it’s not hard to realize they were the deciding factor in their disappointment.
- Batting Average: .255 (15th)
- Home Runs: 158 (18th)
- RBIs: 659 (19th)
- Walks: 454 (24th)
They had the third-fewest strikeouts, but that’s it. Every other offensive stat was mediocre. The only way to offset that is with a great pitching staff.
Their pitching ranked top-five in strikeouts and WHIP, but their ERA and opponent batting average ranked outside the top 10.
In the end, I’d say it was a combination of multiple players underwhelming.
1. 1992 New York Mets (+500)
With most MLB preseason favorites, they’re coming off a big season. However, the New York Mets only won 77 games in 1991. Their rise in prominence came through offseason acquisitions.
They hired manager Jeff Torborg and acquired Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray, Bret Saberhagen, and Willie Randolph. The Bonilla deal wound up as one of the worst contracts in sports history.
New York didn’t do much early in the season, but they were a half-game back in the NL East on June 2. Unfortunately, that was as close as they would get.
They lost 11 of their next 14 games to fall to eight games back in the division. The Mets managed to move within four games by the end of July. From there, they had a brutal end to the season.
- August: 11-17
- September: 10-20
- October: 2-1
Overall, they finished with a 72-90 record. New York’s 72 wins are the fewest for a preseason World Series favorite since 1985.
Murray had a solid season with 16 home runs and 93 RBIs. He was their only offseason acquisition to make a significant impact. Bobby Bonilla had solid power numbers, but his batting average was under .250. Saberhagen missed time with injury, making 15 starts.
When it comes down to it, the blame falls on the Mets offense.
- Batting Average: .235 (last)
- Home Runs: 93 (21st)
- RBIs: 564 (23rd)
Dave Magadan, who only played in 99 games, was the only player to hit over .265. Bonilla and Murray were the only players to clear 15 home runs and 45 RBIs.
New York had a very respectable pitching staff. Sid Fernandez and David Cone posted an ERA under 3.00.
When you acquire marquee players and have a high payroll, expectations are high. The Mets couldn’t live up to those expectations and became the worst MLB preseason favorite.
Betting on the World Series
Because the MLB season is so long, I don’t believe a team needs to be great all season. They need to stay in contention for most of the season, but how many teams do we see get hot in September and win the World Series?
Compared to the NFL or NBA, I’d say the preseason favorite is least likely to win in baseball. The length of the season allows so many teams to shine. Also, postseason baseball is so different from the regular season.