Who is the team of the 2010s? This is an open-ended question but it is also a question which can be quantified. So I decided I wanted to quantify it.
Of course, the 2010s are not yet over, and the next two-plus months of baseball, particularly the off-season, will go a long way in defining this decade. Particularly as there is not an obvious Team of the Decade. Only two teams haven’t had a losing season. No matter what happens this season, no team will have missed the postseason fewer than three times. But one team has to be the best. So who is it?
I devised a formula based on arbitrary weights and measures to determine my answer and then entered the numbers and this is how my rankings worked. I think the detail of the formula is questionable but that the general direction is correct. The formula balances regular season success and postseason success (with the latter inherently correlated with the former)–I ranked the teams in Major League Baseball by postseason victories (with some adjustment made for teams who have played more or less than 162 games in seasons, due to postponed games not being made up or due to tiebreakers). I then ranked the teams by postseason success–one point for a League Division Series appearance (whether by winning the Wild Card Game or by winning the division/pre-2012 Wild Card), two additional points for an LCS appearance, three additional points for a World Series appearance, and four additional points for a World Series victory. I then averaged the rankings. Arbitrary? Highly. Fair? I think so.
These are the rankings before the 2019 season began. Would it have made more sense to compile these rankings before three-fourths of this regular season was over? Probably, but I didn’t. It also creates the positive effect of making it easier to determine what will need to happen for the list to fluctuate. Since the bottom two-thirds are pretty well eliminated from making a run at the Team of the Decade moniker, I’ll just quickly run through those.
30. Florida/Miami Marlins: 30th in regular season, tied for 27th in postseason
29. San Diego Padres: 28th in regular season, tied for 27th in postseason
28. Chicago White Sox: 27th in regular season, tied for 27th in postseason
27. Minnesota Twins: 29th in regular season, tied for 23rd in postseason
26. Seattle Mariners: 24th in regular season, tied for 27th in postseason
25. Colorado Rockies: 26th in regular season, tied for 23rd in postseason
24. Cincinnati Reds: 22nd in regular season, tied for 20th in postseason
23. Pittsburgh Pirates: 17th in regular season, tied for 23rd in postseason
22. Arizona Diamondbacks: 18th in regular season, tied for 20th in postseason
21. Baltimore Orioles: 21st in regular season, tied for 15th in postseason
20. Philadelphia Phillies: 20th in regular season, tied for 15th in postseason
19. Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim): 9th in regular season, tied for 23rd in postseason
18. Oakland Athletics: 12th in regular season, tied for 20th in postseason
T-16. New York Mets: 19th in regular season, tied for 12th in postseason
T-16. Houston Astros: 25th in regular season, tied for 6th in postseason
15. Toronto Blue Jays: 16th in regular season, tied for 12th in postseason
14. Atlanta Braves: 10th in regular season, tied for 18th in postseason
13. Kansas City Royals: 23rd in regular season, 5th in postseason
12. Milwaukee Brewers: 14th in regular season, tied for 12th in postseason
11. Tampa Bay Rays: 8th in regular season, tied for 18th in postseason
I doubt there will be a ton of grievances with the non-top ten teams not being covered in depth. Maybe people who jumped into following baseball in the late 2010s and are amazing that the Astros are in the bottom half, but I can’t stress enough how terrible the Houston Astros were in the first half of the decade. Anyway, here are the top ten and what can be done for them to improve/lose their position.
T-9. Detroit Tigers: 13th in regular season, 9th in postseason: The Tigers were among the best teams in baseball in the first half of the decade, but they are coming off back-to-back 64-98 seasons and will likely finish with a worse record in 2019. The teams within spitting distance of the Tigers ahead of them on the list are considerably better in 2019, so they are going to be clawing to stay in the top ten. #14 and #15 in the regular season are good teams who are just a game or two behind the Tigers, but this wouldn’t drop Detroit out of the top ten, but Detroit is so bad that they could easily fall into the bottom half of regular season success. The World Series appearance will help, though.
T-9. Chicago Cubs: 15th in regular season, tied for 6th in postseason: Like the Astros but with a less catastrophic valley in the rebuild process, the Cubs entered the season two wins behind the Tigers and Brewers–they will certainly pass the former and are moderate favorites to pass the latter. An LDS appearance will allow them to break a postseason tie with the Texas Rangers and an LCS appearance would allow them to pass the Royals, while a deeper run would allow them to vault several more teams. But realistically, even if they miss the playoffs, they’ll pass Detroit and the only team that could realistically pass them would be the Tampa Bay Rays, with a deep playoff run.
8. Washington Nationals: 5th in regular season, tied for 15th in postseason: The Nationals, who have infamously never won a postseason series, are a few bad breaks away from being a legitimate contender for team of the decade, but their lack of postseason success hurts them. They have a good chance at a Wild Card and an outside chance at a division title, which could give them another run, which would help their postseason rank, but they have little upside in their regular season rank: they have a comfortable cushion on sixth, and while they are just two games behind fourth place (the Red Sox, who have a similar record in 2019), they are 22 games behind the top three, all of whom are contending for playoff positions in 2019.
7. Cleveland Indians: 7th in regular season, 11th in postseason: Cleveland spent the better part of the 2010s being a semi-disappointment, usually finishing behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, but they’ve been consistently good and have rebounded from a rocky start in 2019. They will almost certainly finish the decade 6th in regular season wins, as they entered 2019 three wins behind the Texas Rangers, and currently have a double-digit lead on them, but they will need to make a World Series run to improve their postseason ranking, as 10th, the Yankees, will almost certainly make at least the ALDS.
6. Texas Rangers: 6th in regular season, tied for 6th in postseason: They’ve had some mediocrity in there, but back-to-back World Series seasons to start the decade, along with a 95-win 2016, gave the Rangers a formidable run in the 2010s. Unfortunately, they are not going to pass anybody else on this list and are just trying to maintain the position they have (see above), but they are firmly in the top ten for the decade. Sorry about 2011. If Nelson Cruz makes that catch, they’re tied for 4th.
5. San Francisco Giants: 11th in regular season, 1st in postseason: Some people would make the case that the Giants are the team of the decade because they will (probably) be the only team to win the World Series three times in the decade. But their placement here feels about right to me–flags fly forever and such, but this is a team that will probably make the postseason in less than half of the decade’s seasons and win just two division titles, while a different team wins that division seven times. The Giants will probably maintain their overall ranking, with their much lower postseason odds than the four teams ahead of them making a jump nearly impossible.
4. New York Yankees: 1st in regular season, 10th in postseason: The bizarro-Giants, the Yankees have already clinched a winning season in every year of the decade (and 27 consecutive winning seasons overall) and are a viable threat to win the World Series this season. But at this moment, their lack of postseason success hampers them. Every team ahead of them has made the World Series twice; the Yankees haven’t made it at all. They could win the World Series this year and dramatically improve their postseason ranking, but it is mathematically impossible for them to pass the current #1 (they could tie, provided said team doesn’t make the playoffs) and difficult for them to pass #2, who has a not-great but possible chance at passing the Yankees in wins and could hold off their postseason lead, even with a Yankees World Series win, with an LCS appearance.
3. Boston Red Sox: 4th in regular season, 3rd in postseason: Two World Series titles and a more consistent regular season track record makes the Red Sox a safer compromise pick for those wary of giving Team of the Decade status to the San Francisco Giants. It’s easy to forget that the Red Sox had three losing seasons this decade, but that’s ultimately what’s holding them back here. And because they have longer playoff odds at the postseason than either of the top two, the Red Sox are likely to finish in 3rd or 4th.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: 2nd in regular season, 4th in postseason: Can you be the Team of the Decade without a title? The Dodgers, though very much viable to win their first championship in 31 years in 2019, might be pushing for this claim. They’ve never been bad during this decade, winning no fewer than 80 games in any season, and since 2013, they’ve been a juggernaut, winning six consecutive NL West titles (they’ll likely make it seven this season) and averaging 94 wins. But the lack of World Series title holds them back. But even without one, they’re right on the precipice of first. And the next couple months could lead to quite the battle.
1. St. Louis Cardinals: 3rd in regular season, 2nd in postseason: The Cardinals were sailing into Team of the Decade status through 2015, following the team’s fifth consecutive playoff appearance, which included four LCS berths, two World Series appearances, and one title. By being good-not-great and not making the playoffs over the last three seasons, the Cardinals have treaded water. They probably won’t improve their rankings–they’re just five wins behind the Dodgers and ten wins behind the Yankees, but these are juggernaut teams, and the only way they could pass the Giants for postseason supremacy would be by winning the World Series (and the Giants missing the postseason, but that’s the easy part). But the Dodgers currently trail the Yankees by six wins on the decade and probably won’t pass them, so the postseason should be where this artificial title gets settled. So, let’s assume the following likely things happen:
- The three winningest teams in regular season play remain in the same order as they were entering 2019: Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals
- The Boston Red Sox miss the postseason and thus are eliminated from potentially passing the Cardinals or Dodgers (and could be passed by the Yankees, but that’s beside the point).
So here is how the title will be won:
Yankees are Co-Team of the 2010s if: They win the World Series and the Cardinals/Dodgers don’t make the NLDS. It’s not impossible, but it’s very unlikely.
Dodgers are Team of the 2010s if: They make the World Series; they make the NLCS while the Cardinals don’t make the NLDS (split title with Cardinals if Cardinals lose in the NLDS).
Cardinals are Team of the 2010s if: Anything else happens.