The New York Yankees own the second-best record in baseball and are on pace to win 101 games. However, barring a complete collapse from the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox, the Bronx Bombers will have to settle for a wild-card spot for the second straight season.
The 2001 Oakland Athletics are the only team since the start of the wild-card era in 1994 to reach triple digits in wins and not claim their division. Despite having 102 victories, the A’s finished a staggering 14 games back of the Seattle Mariners.
With the Yankees on the verge of becoming the second 100-win wild-card team, we looked at the top 10 teams that weren’t able to win their division:
10. 2015 Chicago Cubs
With a rotation led by Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and his 1.77 ERA, Theo Epstein’s Cubs arrived sooner than expected. Chicago finished with the third-best record in the National League in 2015, despite being the third-place team in the NL Central. Kris Bryant stole the show. After the team shrewdly handled the young third baseman’s service time, waiting until April 17 to call him up, Bryant cruised to a unanimous Rookie of the Year award with a .858 OPS and 26 home runs. He played a key role in the Cubs owning a 50-25 record in the second half and carrying an eight-game win streak into the wild-card game. It seems almost scripted now that he went on to win MVP the following year, when the Cubs finally broke their 108-year championship drought.
How did they finish? Lost 4-0 to Mets in NLCS
9. 2006 Detroit Tigers
The Tigers finished the 2006 season with the best ERA in baseball thanks to Jeremy Bonderman’s unbelievable year. Veterans Nate Robertson and Kenny Rogers had solid seasons, too, while 23-year-old Justin Verlander posted 17 wins in his first full MLB campaign. Detroit would’ve likely won the division had it not lost the final five games of the season.
How did they finish? Lost 4-1 to Cardinals in World Series
8. 1994 Atlanta Braves
According to FanGraphs WAR, the Braves had the best pitching staff in the major leagues in ’94, and it wasn’t even close. Greg Maddux, who won his third Cy Young award, pitched more than 200 innings despite Atlanta only playing 114 games due to the strike-shortened season. Most fans anoint the Montreal Expos (74-40) as the presumptive champions of 1994, which didn’t feature any postseason games. The Braves outscored their division rival 33-31 that year. Not to mention, they went on to win the World Series the following season.
How did they finish? N/A (lockout)
7. 1998 Boston Red Sox
The 1998 Red Sox are the epitome of close but not close enough. To get 92 wins in the same division as the 114-win Yankees is an achievement on its own – especially with the 88-win Blue Jays on their heels. Nomar Garciaparra finished second in MVP voting to Juan Gonzalez, while Pedro Martinez was the runner-up to Roger Clemens in the Cy Young race.
How did they finish? Lost 3-1 to Indians in ALDS
6. 1999 New York Mets
After missing the postseason by one game in 1998, the Mets beefed up their bats, adding Robin Ventura and Rickey Henderson to a lineup that already included Mike Piazza and John Olerud to break a 10-year playoff drought. Manager Bobby Valentine may be owed some credit for the modern phenomenon of bullpenning, especially after the performance of Armando Benitez, who was also brought in over the winter and recorded a 41 percent strikeout rate over 78 innings as a Mets closer. It took them a little while to get it together, but the club wound up boasting a 53-29 record from June through August and holding first place as late as Aug. 18.
How did they finish? Lost 4-2 to Braves in NLCS
5. 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates
The 2015 season is known by Pirates fans as the year the rest of baseball learned the name of pitching coach Ray Searage. On a budget of $90 million, Pittsburgh assembled arguably the best pitching staff in the majors. A 24-year-old Gerrit Cole led the rotation, while Francisco Liriano had his best season to date, A.J. Burnett experienced a resurgent final year, and J.A. Happ was one of the best pitchers in the league down the stretch.
How did they finish? Lost NL WC game to Cubs
4. 2018 New York Yankees
One of the deepest squads ever assembled, this Yankees team ranks top three in both offense and pitching, according to FanGraphs WAR. Top to bottom, the lineup can mash, and New York addressed its biggest need – starting pitching depth – at the trade deadline. Here’s the problem, though: Outside of Boston, its division has been awful, and it hasn’t been able to put the bottom-feeders away. The Orioles are historically bad, and the Yankees are 6-6 against them. Even worse, they’re 7-8 against Tampa Bay. A lot can change down the stretch, and this team could become one of the best to never win their division, but the Yankees shouldn’t have this much trouble against the bad teams in the AL East.
How did they finish? TBD
3. 2004 Boston Red Sox
Win-loss record aside, this team was actually better than the 101-win Yankees of that season, who finished with a plus-89 run differential. The Red Sox were better at suppressing runs, in large part due to a rotation led by Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, but also at scoring runs, thanks to a lineup that boasted Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Kevin Millar, and Johnny Damon. It’s really no wonder that this team won the World Series.
How did they finish? Won World Series over Cardinals (4-0)
2. 2002 Anaheim Angels
The AL West of the early aughts was truly remarkable. In 2002, the Mariners won 93 games and didn’t make the playoffs. The top three teams combined for a .607 win percentage, but even the last-place team, the Rangers, finished with a respectable 72 wins. It all worked out for the Halos, though, as Anaheim, led by David Eckstein and his .293/.363/.388 slash line with eight home runs on the season, wound up winning the Fall Classic, with Troy Glaus taking home World Series MVP honors.
How did they finish? Won World Series over Giants (4-3)
1. 2001 Oakland Athletics
The rubric by which all great second-place teams are measured, the Athletics are the only team since the change to the three-division layout to win at least 100 games and not finish first. The Mariners had a historically great 116-win campaign, and no team in the division lost 90 games. Oakland’s rotation of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Cory Lidle boasted the second-best ERA and FIP in the majors. Jason Giambi hit 38 home runs, led all of baseball with a 1.137 OPS, and lost a second straight MVP vote to Ichiro Suzuki. His departure via free agency, along with Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen, was the catalyst for the story that became Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball.”
How did they finish? Lost 3-2 to Yankees in ALDS
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)