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Musings on Playoff Records in the Divisional Play Era



Of course our beloved Phillies are headed to their fifth consecutive postseason which begins (for them) less than 48 hours from now. They accomplished this by virtue of claiming their fifth consecutive NL East crown—this one by a sizeable 13 games over their next closest competitor, the very nearly playoff worthy Atlanta Braves. Over the past five years the Phillies have won the NL East in dramatic, come from behind fashion (2007, 2008 and to a lesser extent, 2010) in steady, outcome never really in doubt fashion (2009) and now in soul-crushing dominance (2011).

I have been highly impressed by this run of success and I wanted to take a look out how it stacked up in recent baseball history, meaning the divisional play era (since 1969) and the expanded divisional play era (since 1995). Various stats and bits of info I found interesting below…

First, I added up the general playoff stats for each team. I found that all 30 MLB teams have made at least 1 playoff appearance in the divisional play era (counting the Washreal Natspos[1] as one team, which made its one appearance in the abortion of a season that was 1981—labor strikes giveth and they taketh away, it would seem). When we limit the view to the expanded divisional play era, we lose the Natspos, Pirates, Blue Jays and Royals from the list. Still, that’s 26 of the 30 major league teams that have made at least one playoff appearance in the last 17 seasons; and all 26 of those teams have made multiple appearances. The most frequent visitors to the postseason have been the Yankees (21 appearances), Braves (17), A’s (15), Dodgers (13), Red Sox (13), Cardinals (12), Phillies (11) and Twins (10).

Next, I took a look at division titles. Teams that won at least 10 division titles included those above, minus the Red Sox, who actually managed to take the Wild Card spot (7) more times than they won the AL East (6). You can count the city of Boston at least, thrilled with the advent of the Wild Card, I’m sure (although not so much this year). Only two teams—the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies (coincidentally both 1993 expansion teams) have never won a division title.

Now, being impressed with the Phillies recent string of dominance over their NL East foes, I was curious to find out how many teams had managed similar runs of success. The answer was that only 4 other teams in the divisional play era besides the Phillies (5; 2007-2011) managed to win their division in at least 5 consecutive seasons: the Indians (5; 1995-1999), Athletics (5; 1971-1975), Yankees (9; 1998-2006) and Braves (14, 1991-2005). If the Phillies manage to continue their run for one more season that will put them in a stratosphere currently occupied by only 2 other teams…Not bad.

While the Braves run of 14 straight division titles was remarkable (I know, interrupted by the 1994 strike and altered by divisional realignment), I was amazed by the fact that in those 14 seasons, they only managed 1 World Series championship (and 5 pennants). In the Yankees 21 playoff appearances, they won 11 pennants and took home 7 championships, leading both categories by a wide margin. In addition to the Yankees, seven other teams won at least five pennants, the Athletics (6), Braves (5), Dodgers (5), Cardinals (5), Phillies (5), Reds (5) and Orioles (5). Although among those teams only the Yankees, Braves, Cardinals and Phillies have won a pennant in the expanded divisional play era. Three teams have not won a pennant in the divisional play era—the Cubs, Mariners and Natspos, the latter two having failed to do so in the entirety of their (admittedly far shorter) team histories.

World Series championships have been more evenly distributed, with 13 different teams winning multiple titles, only 3 of which—the Yankees (7), Athletics (4) and Reds (3) winning more than two. The Indians were the kings of playoff futility, failing to win any World Series Championships in their 7 playoff appearances. Nine other teams joined them in failing to hoist the trophy. Oddly (and frustratingly for the 99.99% of baseball fans who root for some other team) the Florida Marlins managed to win two World Series Championships despite NEVER winning their division—two of the four championships and nine pennants taken home by Wild Card winners. This season, there is a decent chance Major League Baseball crowns a first-time champion, with 3 of the 8 playoff teams having been shut out from World Series titles thus far.

So how did the Phillies stack up after all of this? They currently stand 7th in baseball in overall playoff appearances in the divisional play era, 4th in division titles, tied for 3rd in league pennants and tied for 4th in World Series Championships (albeit with 9 other teams). Despite what seemed like years wandering in the wilderness of pathetic, uncompetitive baseball, it would be fair to call the Phillies one of the most successful teams of the divisional play era. And if the Phillies should manage to finish off this dream season with another championship, a strong case could be made that they have been the MOST successful National League team overall in the divisional play era.

[1] I ended up going with this instead of the Montrington Expotionals.

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