The 10 worst postseason sweeps everby Chris Jaffe
October 22, 2012
Yeesh. Well that sure was ugly.
As I’m sure everyone out there in reader-land knows, the Yankees are dead for this year, and they went out in ignoble fashion. It’s one thing to lose a postseason series—all but one of the playoffs teams loses itsr last game, after all—and all the non-playoff teams would trade places with those that bowed out in October without success. But there’s losing a postseason series, and then there’s what happened to the Yankees.
They got swept. By a Tigers team that won seven fewer games in the regular season (despite playing in a worse division). And the Yankees didn’t just lost all four games, they never led at any point in any of them. That’s never happened in a best-of-seven LCS before.
Oh, and the Yankees highest paid player, Alex Rodriguez, performed so poorly that the manager benched him. A-Rod’s rotten postseason at least shifted focus away from all his teammates also doing horribly in October. Apparently Yankee fans noticed, given the way they loudly booed their own team in the ALCS. Finally, the most popular player on the team, longtime shortstop Derek Jeter, broke his ankle fielding a grounder.
In all, it was as bad a time as you can have. That brings up a question: as bad as the Yankees series was, where does it rank among the all-time postseason demolitions? What are the worst sweeps ever, from the point of view of the team getting swept?
This being THT, I slapped together a little formula to try to rate this. It’s not intended as any sort of perfect or scientific formula but a nice starting point for looking at these things.
If you want the full formula, check the references and resources section at the bottom of this article, just before the comments section. Here, we’ll just highlight some key components in determining what makes a sweep an especially bad sweep.
- Okay, so the team never won any games, but was it ever ahead at any point? Let’s count up the innings the losing team was in the lead. The fewer innings, the worse the score.
- How badly a team was outscored also matters. The worse the margin, the worse the score. Also, we’ll look not just at the raw difference but also the ratio. For example, in the 1966 World Series, the Dodgers were outscored 13-2 by the victorious Orioles. Several other series have had a team outscored by 11 runs, but it’s a little extra humiliating to allow over six times as many runs as you score.
- Did you lose to a team with a worse record than you? Hey, it’s one thing to be the 1927 Pirates getting swept by the 110-win Murders Row Yankees with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. But it’s quite another to be the 111-win 1954 Indians who were on the wrong end of a World Series sweep.
- Were any of the games utter blowouts? We'll "award" some points for that. Were any games really close? Well give the losing team credit for any one-run losses, because those were at least close, but they lose points for everything decided by three runs or more, especially for games decided by five runs or more.
- Lastly, a few extra points will be given to a team getting swept in a best-of-seven series. The longer the series lasts, the better the odds that a team should have at least one good game, and thus the more humiliating a sweep should be.
Like I said, this isn’t perfect, as it just covers the most obvious factors in a sweep. Some of the things that makes the 2012 ALCS sweep so notable—the booing, Jeter’s ankle, A-Rod’s benching—don’t show up. I’ll note extra factors that I’m aware of as I go through the list. Feel free to adjust the results on your own as you like.
In all baseball postseason history, there have been 67 postseason sweeps, 26 in best-of-seven series and 41 in best-of-fives. Only 17 swept teams had a better regular-season record than the team that beat them. Of those 67 sweeps, here are the ones that score the highest.
10 (tie). 1966 World Series: Orioles sweep the Dodgers. 47 points
I’ll admit, I intentionally fixed the rules to make sure this one made the top 10. Then again, this is one series that truly belongs on the list of the worst sweeps ever.
In the top of the first inning, the Orioles scored three runs. Not only was that more runs that the Dodgers would get in that game, it’s more runs than LA got all World Series long. They scored two runs—just two stinking runs—the entire series. They pushed one across in the second inning of Game One and got the last run just one inning later.
The Dodgers then went scoreless in the final 33 frames. They didn’t come very close to scoring in that stretch, either. In 16 of those 33 innings, they went down in order. Only twice did someone make it to third base. Five other times someone got the second base. It was pretty bleak.
The Dodgers hit 17-for-131 in the Series for an anemic .142 batting average. During their 33-inning scoreless streak, they hit .125. This is one of just four World Series in history in which the losing team never led any game at any point.
Even if you overlook the offensive ineptitude, it was an ugly series. The team made six errors in Game Two, three of them in one inning by center fielder Willie Davis. His misjudged consecutive fly balls and then made a bad throw on one of them.
As bad as the series was at the time, it got even worse in hindsight. This proved to be the last hurrah for the Dodgers. They had won three pennants and two world championships over the previous four years and been competitive almost every year for two decades, but that was about to come to an end.
Shortly after the World Series, Sandy Koufax stunned the baseball world by announcing his retirement. The Dodgers lost 89 games in 1967, their most in a season since WWII. Two years later, Don Drysdale blew his arm out. The team wouldn’t return to October glory until 1974, by which time pretty much everyone from this squad was gone.
It was their last chance, and they played horribly in it. Yeah, this one belongs on the list.
10 (tie). 2004 ALDS: Red Sox sweep the Angels. 47 points
There’s nothing especially dramatic about this one. It was just a good, old-fashioned butt-kicking. Boston outscored the Angels by 13 runs, 25-12. The first two games were blowout wins for Boston, 9-3 and 8-3.
Anaheim held the lead for exactly one half of an inning. In the bottom of the fifth of Game Two, the Angels scored a pair of runs to go up 3-1, but then Boston plated two in the top of the sixth, and then they added on five more runs.
This series began a pattern for the 21st-century Angels. The faced the Red Sox again in the ALDS in 2007, and Boston swept them again. In 2008, the Angels won one game, but Boston took the ALDS in four. It must have been that much sweeter for the Angels to have revenge by sweeping Boston in 2009. But Boston is still well ahead in their ALDS matchups.
8 (tie). 2000 NLDS: Cardinals sweep the Braves. 49 points
The tone was set right away in this series when the Cardinals scored six runs in the first inning of Game One. Sadly, in many ways Game One would be Atlanta’s highlight, too. At least that game had a close final score, 7-5. They lost the others by six runs each: 10-4 and 7-1.
So for those scoring at home, that’s two games lost by six runs each and another game in which Atlanta trailed by six runs after the first inning. Yeah, that’s a nasty blowout of a series. Star starting pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Kevin Millwood combined to allow 16 runs on 19 hits and seven walks in just 11 innings.
Atlanta’s best moment came in Game Two. They scored two in the top of the first for a 2-0 lead. Then St. Louis scored three in the bottom of the first. Then another run in the second, followed by three in the third, and yet another run in the fourth. (Can you believe this paragraph starts with the words “Atlanta’s best moment?") Helluva series, wasn’t it?
8 (tie). 2004 World Series: Red Sox sweep the Cardinals. 49 points
Boston sure had a nice postseason in 2004. Though they’re most remembered for overcoming a three-games-to-none deficit in the ALCS, that series was sandwiched by two blowout sweeps.
Boston scored in the first inning of each game, and as a result, this is the fourth World Series in history in which the losing team never led. That’s one reason this series scores so high.
The other reason is that going purely by the records, the Cardinals never should have lost. They won 105 games in the regular season, easily outpacing the 98 wins by Boston. Only two other World Series have had a team with such a superior record get swept, the 1954 Giants and 1990 A’s. And those teams had the lead in some games. (Actually, the 1990 A’s have the record. They led for 13 innings in their sweep by the Reds, the most innings by any of the 67 swept teams).
6 (tie). 1997 NLDS: Braves sweep the Astros. 50 points
This is another series where the losing team never led at any point. If you’re curious, that’s happened in four World Series, a pair of LCSs, and five LDSs.
Houston was outscored 19-5, too. Thanks to a litany of Astros errors, only 14 of the runs allowed were earned. Atlanta won the first game, 2-1, despite getting only two hits.
This series set the tone for the Larry Dierker Astros. He took the Astros to the postseason three more times, and they never won an LDS, dropping 12 of 14 games.
6 (tie). 1999 ALDS: Yankees sweep the Rangers. 50 points
This series set the record with the worst ratio of runs scored to allowed in any postseason series. The Rangers allowed 14 runs while scoring just one. Incredibly, Texas actually led at one point, 1-0, before losing Game Two, 3-1.
The 14:1 runs ratio puts this one on the list, but it’s arguably not even the most lopsided Yankees-Rangers LDS. The year before, the Yankees swept Texas in the ALDS, outscoring the Rangers nine to one. That time, Texas never led in any games. In 1998, the Rangers had 13 hits, and in 1999 they had 14 hits. Well that’s, um, consistent. In 1996, Texas also faced the Yankees in the LDS and won the first game before losing the next three.
That’s one powerful whammy the Yankees had on the Rangers in the 1990s postseason. So it’s good one of their series makes this list.
4 (tie). 2012 ALCS: Tigers sweep the Yankees. 54 points
Yeah, the new one. I already discussed it above, and you already know about it anyway. It will be interesting to see in the aftermath of this if there are any problems with Alex Rodriguez or any of the other failed stars. When you factor in all the stuff the system doesn't account for—Jeter's injury, the booing, A-Rod's benching—this one probably deserves to be kicked up a bit.
4 (tie). 2008 NLDS: Dodgers sweep the Cubs. 54 points
The Cubs won 97 games in 2008, while the Dodgers won only 84. The win difference of 13 is the second-highest ever for a postseason sweep. The 1954 World Series edgeS it, with 14.
And this sweep wasn’t even close. The Dodgers won the first two games in blowouts, 7-2 and 10-3. The Cubs led for just two-and-a-half innings.
And even if you ignore the scores, the Cubs played absolutely pitifully. Most notably, in Game Two every single Chicago infielder committed an error. Quick, when was the last time you saw that in any major league game? Or even a minor league game? This was the postseason, people.
Making it even better, this wasn’t an aberration for the Cubs. In 2007, they also got swept in the LDS, that time by Arizona. That 2007 squad wasn't nearly as good as the 2008 bunch, but the 2008 edition played much worse in the postseason.
Most notably, Cubs pitchers Rich Hill and Ted Lilly appeared visibly agitated on the mound in their starts. Hill seemed openly nervous, as if he was unfamiliar with what he was doing. Lilly, despite having pitched big postseason games in the past without any problems, was off his game and memorably threw his glove to the ground in frustration at one point. That’s not battling through things.
The 2008 Cubs are quite possibly the most talented bunch the franchise has had in the last 100 years. But after the season, their window closed, and the team (of course) now has gone over a century without a world title.
2 (tie). 1970 ALCS: Orioles sweep the Twins. 58 points
In the first two years of the LCS, every series was a sweep. The third year gave us one sweep and one four-game series. It took a while for them to get going.
This matchup was easily the worst. It’s the only postseason sweep in history in which every game was decided by at least four runs. Baltimore outscored the Twins 27-10, and that difference of 17 runs is the most ever in a best-of-five sweep. Heck, there are only three best-of-sevens worse than that (and a fourth that equals it).
Minnesota led for exactly a half-inning. They scored a run in the top of the first of Game One, but then Baltimore pushed a pair across the plate in the second, and it was all downhill from there.
Here’s a neat bit of symmetry: Twins fielders committed exactly two errors in each game. Pitching, fielding, hitting—this was an all-around disaster for the Twins.
The Orioles also swept the Twins in the 1969 ALCS, but that was at least a tightly played series.
2 (tie). 1981 ALCS: Yankees sweep the A’s. 58 points
Not much went right for the A’s in this one. Oakland was outscored 20-4, and they’re lucky it wasn’t worse, as the Yankees left 30 men on base in three games.
Speaking of “could have been worse,” this series also scores highly because the A’s won five more regular-season games than the Yankees, one of only 11 times the swept team won five or more games than the sweeper. But 1981 was a strike year. Had the A’s and Yankees played the same caliber of baseball all year, Oakland would’ve had an even bigger advantage, and thus would have scored even worse here.
At least Oakland had the lead at one point. Okay, it was for only a half-inning, but at least they had the lead once. They scored two in the top of the fourth for a 3-1 advantage in Game Two. Then the Yankees piled on seven runs in the bottom of the inning.
Making the sweep even worse, this was Oakland’s only chance. Under the guidance of manager Billy Martin, the young A’s pitchers completed an incredible number of starts in 1980-81—and promptly all blew their arms out. In 1982, they were cellar dwellers. Their window was 1981, and the Yankees shut that window on them.
1. 1989 World Series: A’s sweep the Giants. 67 points
Sixty-seven points. This series scores 67 points, nine more than any other. Second place is as close to eighth as it is to first. This is the unquestioned winner. To win by such a landslide, several things had to occur.
First, the Giants never led at any point. The only World Series that happened in were in 1963, 1966, 1989, and 2004.
Frankly, none of the games was even close. The A’s won 5-0, 5-1, 13-7, and 9-6. And the 9-6 game, the closest one, wasn’t even as competitive as the final score suggests. The Giants pushed four runs across the plate late to make it seem better than it was. Besides, when you’re down three games to none and getting hammered in Game Four, how much drama is there, really?
If you add up the scores, it’s an 18-run differential. Only one sweep had a bigger run differential, the 2007 World Series in which the Red Sox outscored the Rockies by 19.
And though this isn’t reflected in the scoring system I use, it doesn’t help that the A’s took really early leads each game. Three times they scored in the first inning, and the other time, they scored in the second inning. Not only did the Giants never have the lead, the games were tied for only three-and-a-half innings.
None of this is why people remember this World Series, though. This was the earthquake series, when a tremor just before Game Three caused a delay. As long as we’re going to have a World Series be overshadowed by a natural disaster, it may as well be this one. It may as well be one of the most forgettable series of all time that gets forgotten about.
References and Resources
All info comes from Baseball-Reference.com
Method for determining scores
First, there are points allotted for win difference between the swept team and the sweeper team. If the swept team has 10 more more wins in the regular than the sweeper, it’s 10 points. If it’s a five-to-nine win advantage for the swept team, that’s five points. Three or four wins gives or three points. There are no points for anything else. (No swept team has an advantage of two wins over their sweeper, and only one has a one-win edge). A total of 85 were allotted this way.
If the series is a best-of-seven, give it an additional five points. There have been 26 four-game sweeps, so that’s 130 points.
Innings in which the swept team leads the game: If they led for 10 innings or more, that’s zero points. If they led for five to nine-and-a-half innings, that’s two points. Four or four-and-a-half innings is five points. Three or three-and-a-half innings is eight points. Two or two-and-a-half innings is 10 points. One or one-and-a-half innings is 15 points. A half-inning is 20 points. Never leading is 25 points. A total 726 points were allotted this way.
Run differences: In order to look at best-of-five and best-of-seven game series at the same time, I use runs per game instead of pure run differential. If the run difference is under two per game, that’s zero points. From two to 2.49 runs per game is one point. 2.5 to 2.99 runs per game is three points. It’s five points when the difference is three to 3.49 runs per game, and so on. Add two extra points for each half-run per game difference. A total of 278 points were allotted this way.
There are also run ratios. If a team allows over 10 times as many runs as it scores, that’s 15 points. If it allows seven to 10 times as many runs as it scores, that’s 10 points. It’s seven points for five to seven times as many runs as scored. It’s five points for at least three times as many runs as scored. A ratio of lower than three-to-one is zero points. This gives out 135 points in all.
There’s also the difference in final scores of individual games. If a game is a blowout (with the team losing by five runs or more), that’s 10 points. Each four-run loss is worth five points. A three-run loss is worth three points. A two-run loss is worth no points. A one-run loss is negative-two points. This is the only occasion I take points off the score, because if you just lost by one, that at least means it’s a tightly played game. 730 points were handed out this way. If you think about it, all of these last three paragraphs deal with run differences, and they combine for 1,143 points, which is slightly over half of the overall points given out (2,084).
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.