Who is the Current Baseball Zeitgeist?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston eliminated Boston in Game 6 of the ALCS, sending famed Dusty Baker to the World Series for the second time in his life, as well as local hero Michael Brantley (who, notably, did not play in the World Series for the Indians in 2016). Both the Astros and the Red Sox bring bile through my esophagus whenever I see them victorious so while I remain happy for Mike and Dusty: little joy came over my soul. Until I remembered Boston would not advance to the World Series in 2021. That brought a grin to my face, which is notable because I did not feel anywhere near as giddy after New York was eliminated (by Boston) earlier in the postseason.

This feeling stumped me. Aren’t the Yankees the epitome of all evil in the world? It occurred to me: no, not in this current iteration of Major League Baseball (at least the iteration I live in). Which led me to attempt to determine: who is the current zeitgeist of Major League Baseball fans in the current era?*

*Before we get to this, I do need to add: my personal least favorite team in Major League Baseball is the Kansas City Royals. This feeling is completely unwarranted, but I remain jealous that, despite being the worst run franchise in the AL Central since its creation, the Royals are one of two teams to win a World Series in the division. The Kansas City Royals posted four winning seasons (including 1994, which almost doesn’t count) since the divisional era, a 14% win rate. They translated these four winning seasons into two pennants and a ring. This is absurd.

The Cleveland Indians posted nineteen winning seasons out of 28 (68% of their seasons).

The Chicago White Sox posted fourteen winning seasons out of 28 (50% of their seasons). The Minnesota Twins posted thirteen winning seasons out of 28 (46% of their seasons). The Detroit Tigers posted nine winning seasons out of 28 (32% of their seasons).

Which is to say, the Royals have been only half as good as the 2nd worst team in the division: and they are one of two teams to win a ring. The other team to win, the White Sox, was quite successful in the ‘90s, but far more inconsistent since. Overall, it is infuriating to me that the Royals translated a, quite brief, string of mild success into a ring, and yes I am jealous of it.

So to determine the current MLB behemoths I will look at:

1. Total number of playoff appearances by the teams

2. Total number of playoff games by the team

3. Total number of times the team consecutively made the playoffs

4. Total number of pennants

5. Total number of rings

6. Modifier of my choosing

I will start in 2005. Why 2005? Because that’s when I started watching baseball. Every perspective starts with your own of course. Each category is weighted equally, except rings which carries a modifier of 5 points per ring.

You can find my full list here.

The List

30. Seattle Mariners (0 Points)

Seattle is the only team to not make the playoffs once since I started watching baseball. Literally not once. What makes this even more impressive is the AL West (until the rise of Houston) is not a particularly impressive division. The Angels, despite playing the best player in baseball for over a decade, are completely inept. Oakland runs on a shoestring budget and plays in the 2nd worst stadium in baseball. Texas could never get their act together. Seattle should be able to figure it out for a little while. They, sadly, have not.

29. Miami Marlins (1 Point)

Miami ranks above Seattle only because they lucked into a playoff appearance in 2020. Seattle, despite never making the playoffs, is a much better ran franchise than Miami (which operates in one of America’s largest cities, but still does not spend money), and has never won a division title. One of only two teams to have never done so, the other being Colorado.

28. Pittsburgh Pirates (3 Points)

Pittsburgh has posted losing seasons nearly every year for three decades. The Pirates posted a winning season in 1992 (when Barry Bonds still played for them) and proceeded to lose every season until 2013. In 2013 they won a Wild Card, and won the Wild Card Game but lost a tough series to St. Louis. They made the playoffs twice more, and have proceeded to lose every season since. In this case consecutive playoff appearances displays just how putrid this franchise has been. It’s not like they have come even close to reaching the playoffs: its really on those three seasons in three decades.

27. San Diego Padres (4 Points)

There is not much to be said about San Diego. They ‘won’ their division in 2005 with a measly 82 wins; won it again the next year, and then spent the next decade and a half sucking as a bottom feeder in the NL West. They were aggressive the past few years, and almost seemed to put it all together in 2020, but fell apart. The only interesting thing I can think of about them is they did sign Greg Maddux who spent time here, and Jake Peavy was a solid enough pitcher for them. Petco Park is nice, but the weather in San Diego is more interesting than the Padres.

26. Arizona Diamondbacks (5 Points)

Arizona has had a strange trajectory since becoming a franchise. They were the quickest expansion team to ever win a World Series by aggressively signing players (like Randy Johnson), but have spent most of their seasons either solid, or mediocre. Unlike Pittsburgh Arizona flirts with contention, but just cannot quite put it all together. Paul Goldschmidtt and Brandon Webb were both great players.

25. Cincinnati Reds (7 Points)

Cincy reminds me a bit of Pittsburgh: they generally stunk the past several years. Despite being blessed with Joey Votto the Reds have been completely unable to capitalize. Some horrendous signings (like Homer Bailey) have obviously hurt them. They have posted more mediocre seasons than Pittsburgh, so they are not quite as hopeless. But the Reds feel directionless. I would add: this is a theme of pretty much every team on the list so far.

24. Baltimore Orioles (8 Points)

It’s tough playing with Boston and New York, and it does not help that fellow AL East franchise Tampa Bay discovered an entirely new way to build a roster. Baltimore did, somehow, win an AL East title in 2014, but they have been downright bad the past few seasons. I considered docking them points for that, plus signing Chris Davis to what may be the worst contract in baseball history. But winning the AL East is an achievement, so I left them as is (middling logic, I know).

23. Minnesota Twins (11 Points)

This ranking is not quite fair to the Twins: they boasted some pretty darn good teams. Joe Mauer belongs in the Hall of Fame, and Johan Santana reminds some of Sandy Koufax (if you squint). The big issue for Minnesota is just how awfully they have performed in the playoff appearances they managed to receive since 2006. In 2006 the Twins faced Oakland, and got swept (Santana was not good in the playoffs, a key difference between him and Sandy), and then proceeded to get clobbered by the Yankees for four consecutive playoff series. They faced Houston in 2020, and got eliminated in that years’ stupid format. The Twins deserved better.

22. Toronto Blue Jays (12 Points)

The Blue Jays are just a mildly better version of the Pirates. Like Pittsburgh, Toronto’s success really stems from only a few seasons, in this case 2015 & 2016. Toronto won the AL East in 2015, and a Wild Card in 2016, and made the ALCS both seasons. Outside those two seasons: Toronto has dwelled near the bottom of the AL East. Toronto should be thankful they play in the same division as Baltimore.

21. Los Angeles Angels (13 Points)

I was entirely unsure whether I should add points for playing Mike Trout or deduct points for playing Mike Trout, but playing him around such dreadful teams that they barely made the playoffs with him on their roster. The interesting thing is: the Angels were better without Mike Trout than with him, which is impressive. I added points largely because all of us are jealous Trout is not on our team.

20. Colorado Rockies (14 Points)

I want to emphasize something here: most of the teams at the bottom third of this list are almost equally bad. Colorado racked up eight points for one season: 2007 when they shocked the world and made the World Series (and proceeded to get pummeled by Boston). The difference between the Miami Marlins and most other teams is really a season or two of success.

19. Milwaukee Brewers (16 Points)

I suspect in a few years Milwaukee will not fall this low anymore as they have posted some pretty good years recently. They signed Christian Yellich, which means their foundation is strong. The only other season of note to me in 2008 when C.C. Sabathia came from Cleveland and carried Milwaukee on his back into the playoffs. I want to remind people: Sabathia tossed seven complete games in half a season for Milwaukee in 2008, including a one hit shutout against Pittsburgh (it was barely a hit: it was a dribbler which stopped right in front of the pitching mound). Sahathia likely exhausted himself for the playoffs, but they never would have made it without his talents.

18. (tie) Oakland Athletics & New York Mets (19 Points)

These two teams are quite different. The A’s are a fairly successful team which just never won in the playoffs. Oakland appeared in the playoffs seven times, but never advanced. The Mets were generally pitiful but managed to win a pennant (and lost to the hated Royals). Overall the A’s have been much better since 2005, while the Mets remain the laughing stock of New York.

16. Cleveland Indians/Guardians (27 Points)

OK. Now we can talk about the power of playoff wins. Cleveland & Milwaukee are both tied for 10th among teams in terms of playoff appearances (6 each), but neither rank in the top half of teams as Zeitgeists. In fact, some teams with fewer playoff appearances beat them in this ranking. The blunt answer is playoff wins. Cleveland has not won as many playoff games as they should have given the number of appearances. They only advanced beyond their first round twice: once in 2007 and in 2016. In 2013, 2018 & 2020 they got swept in the first round and lost a heartbreaker to New York in 2017. Overall, teams need to translate their good seasons into playoff successes, and the Indians were not particularly good at that since 2005.

15. Texas Rangers (30 Points)

The Rangers are about even in this ranking almost entirely due to two consecutive pennants they won in 2010 and 2011. They failed to convert both times. Of their 20 playoff wins, nearly all of them stem from those two seasons. Otherwise the Rangers have struggled. Baseball can be a cruel sport.

14. Atlanta Braves (32 Points)

Like the Brewers Atlanta could quickly shoot up in these rankings in the coming years. Atlanta has gotten pretty good, again, at winning their division and making the playoffs. This makes them like their spiritual predecessor: the ‘90s Braves. Bobby Cox was good at running his team in the regular season, and made the World Series several times, but only converted once (I know, you already know). This list may get updated after the World Series, but the Braves may make their first World Series since 1999, which gives them a chance to leapfrog several teams into the top 10.

13. Detroit Tigers (34 Points)

The Tigers made two World Series and got swept twice. I considered taking points off for those, but overall I think this is a fair ranking. There was a period of time where Detroit seemed to sign or trade for anyone they needed and really went for it. Miguel Cabrera was an unstoppable offensive force and won two MVP awards (lets not rehash the discussion between him and Trout, but he was MVP worthy both years). Overall, I still get annoyed when we play Detroit. Not least because of Gary Sheffield’s time in Detroit and when he and Fausto...I mean Roberto Hernandez got into a fight.

12. Washington Nationals (36 Points)

Washington is the lowest ranking World Series winner on this list; every other winner ranks higher. The reality is Washington has been inconsistent since finally escaping their Montreal Expo doldrums. For years they could not escape the NLDS, and finally did so as a Wild Card in 2019 (beating Houston). They have been an inconsistent team and not quite able to dominate the NL East. Atlanta will likely leapfrog them in the near future.

11. Kansas City Royals (37 Points)

Kansas ranking this high is relatively strange. They are ran more like the Pittsburgh Pirates (who appeared more frequently in the playoffs than they did), and posted fewer winning seasons than the Seattle Mariners. But they rank 12th (with zero added points from me I might add). Why? Answer: they won a LOT of playoff games in 2014 and 2015. Kansas won nearly the full allotment of games both seasons (they took the 2014 World Series to seven games remember), which means Kansas City has actually won more games than Cleveland has since 2005...which is rather depressing when you think about it. If Kansas City had won another ring in 2014, they would have only scored an additional six points because they took 2014 to a full seven games.

Like I said: baseball is a cruel sport.

10. Chicago White Sox (40 Points)

They would rank lower, but I added 10 points because they made Tony La Russa their manager, and nobody likes Tony La Russa. In retrospect they may deserve negative points for that move because he may be taking away from what should be a nice young team ready to dominate the AL Central for years to come.

9. (tie) Philadelphia Phillies & Tampa Bay Rays (43 Points)

The Phillies should rank higher, but I docked them points because all of their success came in one period: from 2007 to 2011. The Phillies finally won the NL East, and proceeded to get swept that year (Phillies fans reacted by littering their own field), but came back and won the World Series against...Tampa Bay. The 2008 World Series was a breath of fresh air for the franchise which attempted to build a dynasty. They fell short against New York in 2009, despite Cliff Lee’s heroics. They strangely traded Lee (who went on to pitch in the 2010 World Series for Texas) before he returned and was paired with Hall of Famer Roy Halladay. Philadelphia never quite lived up to their expectations in the playoffs. Ryan Howard turned into a toad, Roy Halladay succumbed to age, and the team has yet to recover.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, seems to reinvent how we construct baseball teams every few seasons. They changed their name and immediately the team went from a bottom feeder, who only finished above last once, to a team which regularly competes against Boston and New York for the crown. They have not quite been able to translate that into rings (they lost convincingly to Philadelphia and became a victim of their own success against LA). They lost to a clearly inferior Boston team this season in the ALDS. We shall see if their luck will change.

7. Chicago Cubs (44 Points)

The Cubs got extra credit for breaking a drought which stretched to the time of the Ottoman Empire, which makes them feel far more consequential than they actually are: in fact the Cubs have not really been relevant since they broke their curse in 2016. That being said, I do not regret ranking them this high. As an Indians fan: watching Michael Martinez meekly ground out to end our hopes is among the worst feelings ever. The Cubs can stink for another 108 years for all I care (they were more fun as Lovable Losers anyway).

6. New York Yankees (58 Points)

Here’s the weird thing about New York: they still dominate Major League Baseball, it’s just not quite as complete as it was in the ‘90s. The Yankees still post a winning season nearly every year, and make the playoffs more regularly than any other team in baseball (besides the Dodgers). They just have not won the World Series with the same frequency as they did the previous...century. Look, the Yankees have won twenty seven (27!) World Series Titles. Since 1904, the first official World Series, they have won a World Series every five years. Which makes a twelve year period where they have not won a World Series (and another nine years between their two most recent titles) feel rather strange. Like the Yankees are not quite performing to expectations.

Now, as I and every other non-Yankees fan will agree: we are quite content with this arrangement. The Yankees could go ringless for another half century and I wouldn’t bat an eye. My point is to simply show how strange it feels that the Yankees lack their domination in the World Series. It’s refreshing, but I definitely graded them on a curve.

5. San Francisco Giants (76 Points)

The Giants are weird because they have not once since 2005 appeared in the playoffs in consecutive seasons. For three seasons there was this weird even year phenomenon where the Giants would win the World Series in even years, and miss the playoffs entirely in odd ones (this obviously did not last), but it did reduce the feeling of the team. Despite winning the 2nd most World Series since 2005, they have not felt as dominant as their ring total would suggest. That being said, the Giants have won a lot of games (both in the regular season and the playoffs), and their ranking reflects that success.

4. Houston Astros (88 Points)

Before 2017 Houston felt quaint. They never won a World Series (yet) and they were stocked with exciting players. They traded for Justin Verlander, who was a Hall of Famer already, and overall the feelings were pretty good when Houston won their first title.

It collapsed pretty quick with the cheating scandal.

I am on record pointing out that stealing signs is not all that unusual in baseball history. There’s even the scandal in 1948 when Bob Feller snuck in a scope to steal signs in the 1948 World Series, and they had someone use the scoreboard to tell batters what the signs were: so while the Houston scheme was certainly high tech, it is not unprecedented. But regardless: Houston has played several seasons now as a winning zeitgeist in the American League, and have generally outperformed nearly every team in the league (including Boston) since they stormed the scene in 2016. So this ranking should surprise nobody. They could even sneak into 2nd place if they win a title again this year.

3. St. Louis Cardinals (90 Points)

Like San Francisco, St. Louis does not feel quite as dominant as other teams. The Cardinals are the 2nd most successful franchise in baseball history at winning World Series, and they did not skimp out: they have won twice since 2005. But the way they have won is Their 2006 title was weird, and is pretty clearly the worst team to win a title in my lifetime, perhaps ever. The 2006 Cardinals are the reason people feel getting into the playoffs means anyone can win. But let’s also be clear here: it’s unusual for a team that bad to win.

But the Cardinals have been a powerhouse. They have won several pennants, two rings, and consistently make the playoffs every year. As the rings and pennants show: these appearances are not typically one and dones. The Cardinals come to play, and have been quite successful at winning postseason games.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (98 Points)

I think it’s fair to say the Dodgers are the best run team in baseball. They have made the playoffs consecutively more times than any other team on this list, made the playoffs more times overall. The only surprising thing is they only have one ring to show for it. The Dodgers have consistently underperformed in the playoffs (there’s a reason why Clayton Kershaw is not Sandy Koufax). Other heroes, like Manny Ramirez, have not finished the job either. It is ironic, of course, that baseball’s best team won their only ring in 2020, which should have been the most inconsistent season of the bunch.

1. Boston Red Sox (116 Points)

I gave the Red Sox extra points, but they both led the list in raw points (with 102) and then I added on more because Boston has gotten an embarrassment of riches in the sports department since 2005. All four of their major sports teams have won titles (in the case of the Patriots: several). It all feels quite gratuitous at this point.

I will add, the biggest lie in sports is the myth of the Boston sports curse. Despite that ‘curse’ Boston had since Babe Ruth was traded: they were still among the most successful teams in MLB history. Their four titles in the 21st century make them the clear zeitgeist for pretty much everyone. The only surprise is how bad Boston has been in several seasons. They fell apart in Tito’s last year, they signed Bobby Valentine that one year and looked awful. They were awful after their 2018 title. Few teams have turned their handful of chances into rings better than Boston (the only one I would name is Kansas City). They’re good, they have staying power, and their city has done quite well since 2005.

Moral of the article: sports hate of Boston should surprise nobody for the next several decades.

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