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    Wednesday, October 9, 2013

    The All-Expansion World Series That Never Was: A Brief History of Expansion Teams in the Post-Season

    Something interesting that I saw pointed out in an article the other day: the Rays were the only expansion team that made the playoffs (even counting that stupid Wild Card Round). Just think about that for a second; almost half the league (fourteen out of thirty, to be exact) is expansion teams, and a full third of the league makes the playoffs now (still stupid), but only one-tenth of the playoff teams were expansion teams. Or, to put it another way, over half of the original sixteen teams were in the playoffs.

    On top of that, there has never been an all-expansion team World Series. That’s why, in the event that I don’t have a rooting interest remaining, playoff droughts and expansion teams generally get my sympathies in the postseason. It seems so small, yet ground-breaking.

    In any case, what’s the closest baseball has ever gotten to an all-expansion World Series? And what are the prospects of it happening in the future? Let’s start with the first question.

    2013: 1 Expansion Team; The All-Expansion Series was sunk from the get-go, with the Rays the only expansion team even seeing the light of October.

    2012: 2; At least it could have happened last year, between the Rangers and Nationals. Rangers lost the Wild Card game, while the Nationals lost in the NLDS.

    2011: 4; This may have been our best chance in recent memory. Unfortunately, the Rangers were matched against the Rays and the Brewers were matched with the Diamondbacks in the first round, meaning they were actively working against each other. The Brewers and Rangers both fell to the Cardinals, though.

    2010: 2; Again, it was the Rangers versus the Rays in the ALDS. Rangers won, en route to their World Series loss.

    2009: 2; The Rockies lost in round one, while the Angels lost in round two.

    2008: 3; The Brewers and Angels lost in the first round. The Rays made it all the way to the World Series, though.

    2007: 3; Angels again lost in round one. Rockies topped the Diamondbacks in the NLCS, though, losing to the Red Sox in the Series.

    2006: 2; The Cardinals topped both the Padres and the Mets before taking it all.

    2005: 3; The eventual-champion White Sox beat the Angels in the ALCS and the Astros in the World Series. A mediocre Padres team also appeared and bowed out quickly.

    2004: 2; Angels lose to Boston in the ALDS again, Astros lose to St. Louis in the NLCS.

    2003: 1; And the lone representative of the expansion era was the champion Marlins. Go figure.

    2002: 2; The Angels made it to the top to represent the AL, but the corresponding NL representative, the Diamondbacks, lost in round one.

    2001: 3; The Diamondbacks won, but the 116-win Mariners lost in the ALCS, botching probably the second-closest we’ve been to an All-Expansion series. The Astros also lost in the NLDS.

    2000: 2; The Mets made the Series, but the Mariners again lost in the ALCS to the Yankees. This is probably third runner up.

    1999: 4; The Rangers were the only AL expansion team, and they were swept immediately by the Yankees. The NL had the Mets, the Astros, and the Diamondbacks, and yet somehow, the Braves wound up with the pennant.

    1998: 3; The Padres took out the Astros then made it to the World Series. They lost to the Yankees, though, who also (again) swept the Rangers in the first round.

    1997: 3; Marlins won, Astros and Mariners lost in round one.

    1996: 2; The Padres and Rangers combined for one win total.

    1995: 2; Seattle again lost in the ALCS, this time to Cleveland. The Rockies appeared as well.

    1994: Had the season ended as it did and gone to the postseason, the Rangers would have again made the playoffs in the AL (with a losing record this time), while the Expos would have represented the NL East. The Astros were also in a virtual tie with the Reds in the Central.

    Leaving the Wild Card era for the 4-team playoffs, we find not much better results.

    1993: 1; The Blue Jays, eventual champs.

    1992: 1; Champ Blue Jays again.

    1991: 1; Jays, this time losing in the ALCS.

    1990: 0

    1989: 1; Blue Jays, lost in ALCS.

    1988: 1; Mets lost to the Dodgers in the NLCS.

    1987: 0

    1986: 3; This was actually the closest the All-Expansion World Series has been to a reality. The Mets beat the Astros in six, but the Angels lost in a heart-breaking seven to the Red Sox (including a blown chance to clinch in Game 5).

    1985: 2; Both in the AL, the Blue Jays and eventual champs, the Royals.

    1984: 2; Padres won in the NL, but the Royals were swept out of the ALCS.

    1983: 0

    1982: 2; Both in the AL, the Brewers and Angels.

    1981: 4; Strike weirdness made this year an eight-team tournament. The Brewers, Royals, and Astros all lost in the first round, the Expos lost in the NLCS.

    1980: 2; The Phillies took 3 of 5 from the Astros and 4 of 6 from the Royals.

    1979: 1; Angels lost in the CS.

    1978: 1; Royals lost in the CS.

    1977: 1; The exact same set of teams as in 1978.

    1976: 1; Almost the same as in 1977, with the Reds replacing the Dodgers.

    1975: 0

    1974: 0

    1973: 1; Mets lost in the World Series.

    1972: 0

    1971: 0

    1970: 0

    1969: 1; The Miracle Mets became the first expansion team in the postseason.

    So we’ve had a few close calls, but not all the way yet. What are the chances of that changing? Well, let’s just look at the current state of the fourteen expansion teams.

    Rangers: They’ve had a run of success recently, and they seem to be pretty well run. They’ve been sliding a little bit, but I think they’ll be competitive at least.

    Angels: The big contracts might weigh them down, but they do have Mike Trout. They’ll need something out of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols to make anything work, though.

    Mets: They’re building a nice core of young talent, but the Matt Harvey injury is pretty devastating to their 2014 chances. Ultimately still a few years away.

    Astros: I like what they’re doing, rebuild-wise, but again, they’re still a ways off.

    Nationals: Probably your best bet in the National League in the near future. There’s a solid core there, as long as they decide not to play guys through injuries and build a decent bench, they could bounce back next year.

    Padres: Another rebuilding team, the Padres have a decent line up. They’ll need some pitching help though, whether from maturing prospects or outside infusions of talent.

    Brewers: I don’t think they’ll be as awful next year, but they do need a bit of an overhaul, especially on the mound.

    Royals: The young core showed promise this year, especially in the second half, but I’d have a little more faith in them if their management didn’t do stuff like this.

    Blue Jays: 2013 didn’t really go the Blue Jays way. I think they could compete in 2014 with some better luck, but it’s a precarious line to walk.

    Mariners: I’m not really sure what to make of the Mariners’ long-term chances. They have some young talent, especially pitching-wise. The young hitting talent just hasn’t come through though, with the exception of Kyle Seager.

    Marlins: This is a lot like the Royals, with a stockpile of young talent and a front office that makes me doubt they’ll ever meaningfully compete.

    Rockies: I see the Padres and Rockies as sort of parallels. Both have some good parts to build around and young teams, but they need a little more progression to become perennial contenders. There’s a chance, though.

    Rays: Right there with the Rangers as one of the safer expansion bets to make it to the postseason. Even when they’re rebuilding, like with the James Shields trade, they always seem to make things work.

    Diamondbacks: This is another team where I have serious questions about the management. They haven’t been awful lately, though, and they have some decent pitching prospects. Maybe file them with the Rockies and Padres as NL West teams with murky futures?

    The AL seems in much better shape, with the Rays and Rangers able to hold down the October fort for the near future. Maybe the Angels or Royals can chip in too, and the Astros may make a long-term mark. The NL though? It looks like the Nationals are the best bet for 2014, and you have to figure one of the Padres, Rockies, or Diamondbacks will one day challenge in the West. File the Mets and Marlins with the Astros as long-term possibilities. But there’s no great year-in, year-out type teams, like the Yankees or Braves or Red Sox or Cardinals. And even then, there are well-run original teams competing with those well-run expansion teams, like the Athletics or Pirates.

    But, just going by probabilities, an all-expansion championship will have to happen eventually. There are too many expansion teams as is for it to just never happen (and that’s not even counting the potential for future league growth). It’s really just a question of whether it’ll be Nats-Rays in 2014 or San Antonio Armadillos-Montreal Expos II in 2044.

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