After two days of running through a bunch of teams who, at best, had their moments of glory in the 2010s, Part 3 of The Team of the 2010s Rankings deals with fringe contenders for the crown and teams that, even if they never quite reached the upper echelons of the sport, avoided the devastating lows that became characteristic of the decade as a whole.
14. Toronto Blue Jays
Regular season: 794 wins (15th in MLB)
Postseason: Two ALCS appearances (2015, 2016)
Best season: 2015, 93-69, 1st place in AL East, ALCS appearance
Best position player: Jose Bautista (34.4 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Marcus Stroman (15.0 fWAR)
It’s going to be relatively easy, I think, for the 2015 Blue Jays to fade from the public consciousness–93 wins is hardly historic and they ultimately fell two wins short of the World Series. But their roster, which included that season’s MVP in Josh Donaldson plus absolute mashers in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, plus marquee deadline acquisitions Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, was as fearsome of a roster as any team in the decade compiled. And while the Blue Jays never quite had that star power again, they were a generally solid team, only clearing 90 losses one time, in 2019 (and at least then, Toronto could claim the presence of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to entertain fans).
13. Atlanta Braves
Regular season: 843 wins (tied for 8th in MLB)
Postseason: Four NLDS appearances (2010, 2013, 2018, 2019)
Best season: 2019, 97-65, 1st place in NL East
Best position player: Freddie Freeman (34.6 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Julio Teheran (13.7 fWAR)
The Braves spent much of the 2010s as a team littered with young, up-and-coming position players ready to emerge as a true juggernaut–they just happened to do it with two different rosters (with the exception of Freddie Freeman). For the first four years of the decade, the Braves made the postseason three times, missing by one game in 2011 and falling in the first Wild Card Game in 2012, but after a disappointing 79-83 record in 2014, the organization promptly ran to rebuild, and following three seasons in the wilderness, the Braves were back to the top of the NL East. The aesthetic or ethical value of the hyper-urgent rebuild can still be questioned, but it’s hard to argue it didn’t resolve itself quicker than other notable rebuilds of the decade.
12. Milwaukee Brewers
Regular season: 824 wins (11th in MLB)
Postseason: Two NLDS/NLCS appearances (2011, 2018)
Best season: 2011, 96-66, 1st place in NL Central, NLCS appearance
Best position player: Jonathan Lucroy (35.3 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Yovani Gallardo (11.6 fWAR)
More than anything, the 2010s Milwaukee Brewers ranking relatively high on this list while playing in one of the sport’s smallest markets is a testament to simply trying. The story of the decade in Major League Baseball was teams becoming consciously worse, destroying entire seasons along the way in the name of being a little better down the road, and while the end results can make doing so understandable, it’s a deeply unpleasant process. But the Brewers went into seasons trying to compete, going into sell mode only once the postseason become totally unrealistic, and thus finished the decade with only one truly bad season (2015), and once free agency began to freeze up in the late 2010s, the Brewers took advantage of this passiveness by signing the likes of Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Yasmani Grandal and becoming one of the decade’s least likely success stories.
11. Houston Astros
Regular season: 789 wins (19th in MLB)
Postseason: Four ALDS appearances (2015, 2017, 2018, 2019); three ALCS appearances (2017, 2018, 2019); two World Series appearances (2017, 2019); one World Series victory (2017)
Best season: 2019, 107-55, 1st place in AL West, AL pennant winners
Best position player: Jose Altuve (35.0 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (17.6 fWAR)
For better or worse–increasingly worse, as the 2019 World Series approached–the Houston Astros became the embodiment of only emphasizing the bottom line. Wins and losses become the sole determining factor of one’s successes or failures. And for this exercise, I’m holding the Astros to their own standard, and thus they receive significant credit for their late-2010s successes. Without question, the Astros are the team of the second half of the 2010s. However, if I’m going to give them points for 2015-2019, I have to deduct points for 2010-2014, where the Astros won 76, 56, 55, 51, and 70 games per season. The Astros are the lowest ranked team on this list that I have seen sincerely argued as being the team of the decade, which is a full-throated endorsement of recency bias. Several teams have a credible argument for the crown, but I am religious in my belief that a team with a losing record in a decade cannot be the team of the decade.
10. Tampa Bay Rays
Regular season: 860 wins (6th in MLB)
Postseason: Four ALDS appearances (2010, 2011, 2013, 2019)
Best season: 2010, 96-66, 1st place in AL East
Best position player: Evan Longoria (35.8 fWAR)
Best pitcher: David Price (20.7 fWAR)
The Rays came out of absolutely nowhere to win the American League pennant in 2008, and while 2009 was easily their second-best season in franchise history, it was looking a bit as though this team was a flash in the pan. But instead, the Rays became a formidable threat to the big-market powers of the AL East, notching only one truly lackluster season on the decade (2016) and clearing 80 wins in all but two seasons. The team is hurt by the fact that they still haven’t made it to the ALCS since 2008, but beginning and ending a decade with 96 win seasons is hard to sneeze at.
9. Chicago Cubs
Regular season: 817 wins (14th in MLB)
Postseason: Three NLDS/NLCS appearances (2015, 2016, 2017); one World Series victory (2016)
Best season: 2016, 103-58, 1st place in NL Central, World Series champions
Best position player: Anthony Rizzo (29.7 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Kyle Hendricks (19.2 fWAR)
While the Cubs were frequently compared to the Houston Astros as alleged paragons of the teardown/rebuild model of title acquisition, the key difference is that while the Cubs were bad, they weren’t that bad. The early 2010s were certainly rough, but they weren’t historically poor, as with Houston, and thus despite not reaching quite the levels of success that the Astros found at their peak, the Cubs come out ahead. They had a winning record and they won a title, but it is admittedly a bit difficult to select a team that finished just a handful of games over .500 as team of the decade. But they’re a worthy top ten selection.
8. Cleveland Indians
Regular season: 855 wins (7th in MLB)
Postseason: Three ALDS appearances (2016, 2017, 2018); one ALCS/World Series appearance (2016)
Best season: 2016, 94-67, 1st place in AL Central, AL pennant winners
Best position player: Francisco Lindor (27.2 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Corey Kluber (34.6 fWAR)
Cleveland started off the decade with three losing seasons (in 2011, they went 80-82, so they were at least respectable), but then flipped into next-big-thing status. And then for a few years, they became that big thing. While their 2018-19 off-season stagnation kept Cleveland from a fourth consecutive postseason appearance (they won 93 games but seemingly assumed they could coast to an AL Central title, but then the Twins happened), the Indians spent much of the late-2010s among the sport’s elite, nearly snapping their sixty-eight year title drought in 2016 and rattling off a 22-game winning streak the next season, both on the strength of homegrown talent like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. By opening the checkbook just a little bit, the Indians could sustain this success into the next decade, but whether they choose to actually do this remains to be seen.
7. Texas Rangers
Regular season: 843 wins (tied for 8th in MLB)
Postseason: Four ALDS appearances (2010, 2011, 2015, 2016); two ALCS/World Series appearances (2010, 2011)
Best season: 2011, 96-66, 1st place in AL West, AL pennant winners
Best position player: Adrian Beltre (36.3 fWAR)
Best pitcher: Yu Darvish (18.3 fWAR)
After the first two seasons of the 2010s, the Texas Rangers were not only the Team of the Quintile-Decade, but the prohibitive favorites to be Team of the Decade as a whole. Coming off two consecutive World Series appearances, the Rangers had a crop of hyped prospects such as Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez preparing to join youngsters Elvis Andrus and Derek Holland to guide a team led by veterans such as Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton to the franchise’s first World Series title. And then, it just didn’t happen. The team won 93 and 91 games the next two seasons, but had only one playoff game to show for it, and when the team got back into the postseason in 2015 and 2016, the team was guided by the fickle forces of fortunate run sequencing. But how they won matters less than the fact that the Rangers did average over 84 wins per season for a decade and made the World Series twice, and this itself is an accomplishment.
That will be a wrap for Part 3. Part 4 drops tomorrow.