Yesterday, in Part 1 of the rankings of the greatest baseball franchises of the 2010s, we delved into some pretty spotty franchises, though near the end, we got into franchises that had their moments. And that’s largely what Part 2 is as well–franchises that certainly were not the paragon of success in the decade but did provide occasional highlights for their fans. So that’s a plus.
22. Pittsburgh Pirates
Regular season: 792 wins (18th in MLB)
Postseason: One NLDS appearance (2013)
Best season: 2013, 94-68, 2nd place in NL Central, 3 GB
Best position player: Andrew McCutchen (42.3 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Gerrit Cole (15.4 fWAR)
There is a strong argument that the Pirates, Wild Card Game hosts for three consecutive seasons (only winning one), belong higher on this list. Despite a dubious start (57-105) and end (69-93, with one of the team’s two All-Stars probably about to be blackballed from MLB, if not free society) to the decade, the long-lackluster franchise did give fans much to cheer about in the middle of the decade, producing the greatest Pittsburgh baseball player since Barry Bonds along the way. But it’s hard not to feel like the Pirates missed a golden opportunity–they’ll always have the “Cue-to!” game in 2013, but they’ll also always have a 98-win team that lasted one Jake Arrieta start into the postseason.
21. Arizona Diamondbacks
Regular season: 793 wins (tied for 16th in MLB)
Postseason: Two NLDS appearances (2011, 2017)
Best season: 2011, 94-68, 1st place in NL West
Best position player: Paul Goldschmidt (36.3 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Patrick Corbin (15.6 fWAR)
The Diamondbacks spent much of the 2000s repaying the devil for selling their souls for the 2001 World Series title in their fourth year of existence, but they settled into a new status as sporadic contenders in the 2010s. Between playoff appearances in 2011 and 2017, the Diamondbacks turned over nearly their entire roster, and although they were sellers throughout the last few years of the decade (in addition to trading Paul Goldschmidt, three former Diamondbacks pitchers had featured roles in Game 7 of the World Series–Astros starter Zack Greinke, Nationals starter-turned-reliever Patrick Corbin, and Nationals closer Daniel Hudson), they have an intriguing crop of young players that should give their fans hope entering the 2020s.
20. Philadelphia Phillies
Regular season: 787 wins (20th in MLB)
Postseason: Two NLDS appearances (2010, 2011), one NLCS appearance (2010)
Best season: 2011, 102-60, 1st place in NL East
Best position player: Chase Utley (19.1 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Cole Hamels (25.6 fWAR)
The beginning of the decade saw the Phillies continuing what was arguably the greatest run in franchise history, with the core of the 2008 championship team plus Roy Halladay (and later Cliff Lee) joining the party. Although the 2010 and 2011 teams fell short of their ultimate goal of a World Series title, it would be hard to consider either season a disaster by even absurdly high standards. But then, the bottom fell out and it fell out hard. The Phillies spent most of the 2010s in the wilderness, never again clearing .500 beyond 2011, and while the Phillies did rebound to an 81-81 record in 2019, this was considered a disappointment given the off-season additions of Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. Still, those first two years of the decade sure were glorious.
19. Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim)
Regular season: 822 wins (12th in MLB)
Postseason: One ALDS appearance (2014)
Best season: 2014, 98-64, 1st place in AL West
Best position player: Mike Trout (73.4 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Jered Weaver (19.0 fWAR)
There is perhaps no more prevailing story in baseball this decade than the fact that Mike Trout, a player so good that one could reasonably call him the best player since _______ and filling in the blank with literally any name in baseball history wouldn’t seem hyperbolic, has only appeared in the postseason one time and during said appearance, the team won zero games. It’s an indictment on the Angels, sure, but that said indictment is happening at all also reflects on Mike Trout himself. And the Angels were a team that, while their postseason shortcomings can’t be ignored, consistently put up competent seasons and loaded its lineup with very entertaining players (Trout, Andrelton Simmons, Shohei Ohtani).
18. Detroit Tigers
Regular season: 782 wins (21st in MLB)
Postseason: Four ALDS appearances (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014); three ALCS appearances (2011, 2012, 2013); one World Series appearance (2012)
Best season: 2011, 95-67, 1st place in AL Central, ALCS appearance
Best position player: Miguel Cabrera (43.4 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Justin Verlander (39.7 fWAR)
As a naturally conservative baseball fan, one who prefers his team be consistent and not necessarily sell future parts for short-term gains, no team better typifies my greatest fears than the 2010s Detroit Tigers. The 2011-2014 Tigers were a mini-dynasty of sorts–despite never winning a World Series game, the team won four consecutive AL Central titles and employed some of the game’s brightest stars. But the franchise paid no mind to its future, somewhat infamously devoting all of its resources to winning a World Series title before the death of now-deceased owner Mike Ilitch. And the last three seasons of the decade were calamitous, with 64 wins per season in 2017 and 2018 before stumbling all the way to a 47-114 record in 2019, and without the benefit of a particularly sparkling farm system ready to ascend to big league stardom.
17. Oakland Athletics
Regular season: 839 wins (10th in MLB)
Postseason: Two ALDS appearances (2012, 2013)
Best season: 2013, 96-66, 1st place in AL West
Best position player: Marcus Semien (16.7 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Sonny Gray (12.0 fWAR)
Around the time Moneyball hit theaters in 2011, the principles of Billy Beane’s front office in Oakland were starting to feel a bit…maybe not quite stale, but certainly not original. What were once grand intellectual advantages that allowed the Athletics to overcome shoestring budgets were now shared by big spending teams and thus they lacked an advantage. But then, in 2012 and 2013, the Athletics suddenly rebounded to win consecutive AL West titles. The team attempted an uncharacteristic win-now strategy in 2014 that backfired spectacularly, concluding with Jon Lester’s lack of pickoff move being exposed in grand fashion in the AL Wild Card Game, and three poor years followed, but the A’s did rebound with back-to-back 97 win seasons in the decade’s final two seasons.
T15. New York Mets
Regular season: 793 wins (tied for 16th in MLB)
Postseason: One NLDS/NLCS/World Series appearance (2015)
Best season: 2015, 90-72, 1st place in NL East, World Series appearance
Best position player: David Wright (20.7 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Jacob deGrom (31.5 fWAR)
For all of the repeated claims from the Mets fans which control popular sports media that this is the most down-trodden franchise conceivable, the Mets lived a pretty average existence throughout the 2010s–sure, 90 wins is pretty moderate for being one’s best season out of ten, but 70 wins as a worst season is fairly stout. Much can be said about what didn’t materialize for the Mets in the 2010s–while each of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Matt Harvey looked like they would become sure-fire top five pitchers in baseball at some point or another, only deGrom truly put that together. But the hype of what a lost decade this was for the Mets is greatly overstated.
T15. Kansas City Royals
Regular season: 758 wins (tied for 24th in MLB)
Postseason: Two World Series appearances (2014, 2015); one World Series victory (2015)
Best season: 2015, 95-67, 1st place in AL Central, World Series champions
Best position player: Alex Gordon (26.8 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Danny Duffy (14.0 fWAR)
The Kansas City Royals are the first team to have won a World Series this decade to appear on this list, which is in no way intended as disrespect to their well-earned 2015 title–not only were the 95-win Royals a legitimately good team that improved with the trade deadline acquisitions of Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto, but they played with an invigorating style that was deeply compelling to watch as an otherwise neutral observer. In the middle of the decade, from 2013 through 2017, the Royals were a top-tier franchise–going from 86 wins to 89 wins and runners-up in a seven-game World Series to World Series champions to two more presentable-if-not-spectacular seasons of 81 and 80 wins. But the other seasons of the decade count, too, before the core which brought Kansas City a title found its footing. And it’s difficult to see seasons of 67, 71, 72, 58, and 59 wins and see a team that could possibly rise above middle of the pack.
That will be a wrap for Part 2. Part 3 drops tomorrow.