Top 10 Biggest MLB Playoff upsets of all time
From black cats to Black Sox, the history of MLB playoff upsets goes back to the 1800s. Ranking the 10 most incredible comebacks in MLB postseason history.
The Final Four of the 2023 Major League Baseball playoffs were set after the Philadelphia Phillies finished off the Atlanta Braves on Thursday night. We have an all-Texas matchup in the American League, pitting the Houston Astros against the Texas Rangers, and in the National League the Phillies will try to return to the World Series for the second straight year by beating the Arizona Diamondbacks.
For fans of America’s pastime, this is what it is all about. And at some point over the next three weeks, we will likely see something that makes baseball history. Whether that qualifies for this Top 10 list remains to be seen, but baseball never fails to bring October surprises, and sometimes those even happen in November.
Ranking the Top 10 Biggest MLB Playoff Upsets of All Time
- 2007 American League Championship Series
Matchup: Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox
Series Result: Boston won 4-3
After knocking off the wild-card New York Yankees in the 2007 ALDS, Cleveland saw its offense silenced by Boston ace Josh Beckett in Game 1 of the ALCS. However, the club stormed back with a 13-6 victory in Game 2 and rode veterans Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd to victory in Games 3 and 4 to move within one win of the Fall Classic. It was Beckett again who brought Cleveland's momentum to a halt in Game 5 with eight innings of five-hit, one-run, 11-strikeout ball, and the Red Sox offense exploded for 12-2 and 11-2 victories in the final two games of the series to complete the comeback. AL Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia went 0-2 with a 10.45 ERA in the series.
- 1985 World Series
Matchup: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Kansas City Royals
Series Result: Kansas City won 4-3
In making the postseason for the first time in franchise history, the 1985 Blue Jays won 99 games. After a 5-3 Royals victory in Game 6, the trio of Bret Saberhagen, Charlie Leibrandt and Dan Quisenberry outdueled Dave Stieb in Game 7 for an 11-0 victory to complete the series comeback and give Kansas City its first title. This was the first World Series in which all games were played at night. The 1985 World Series marked the fifth time in World Series history that a team came back from a 3-1 series deficit to win a championship, and the first in which that team lost the first two games of the series at home.
- 2012 National League Championship Series
Matchup: St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Francisco Giants
Series Result: San Francisco won 4-3
The Cardinals took a commanding 3-1 series lead before Giants pitching clamped down. Barry Zito (7.2 IP, 6 H, 0 ER) had arguably his best start in a San Francisco uniform in Game 5, followed by dominant performances from Ryan Vogelsong (7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER) and Matt Cain (5.2 IP, 5 H, 0 ER) to send the Giants on to an eventual World Series sweep of the heavily favored Detroit Tigers. It had taken a wild-card game victory and a Game 5 win over the Washington Nationals in the NLDS for the 2012 Cardinals to reach the NLCS after they won just 88 games during the regular season.
- 1986 American League Championship Series
Matchup: California Angels vs. Boston Red Sox
Series Result: Boston won 4-3
The Angels took a 3-1 series lead in the 1986 ALCS with a comeback victory in Game 4, erasing a 3-0 deficit in the bottom of the ninth before Bobby Grich delivered the walk-off RBI single in the 11th. California took a 5-2 lead into the top of the ninth inning in Game 5, but two-run home runs from Boston’s Don Baylor and Dave Henderson turned the game on its head. The Angels answered with a run in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings, but Henderson delivered the game-winning sacrifice fly in the 11th. The Red Sox rolled from there, coming away with 10-4 and 8-1 victories to close out the series.
- 1958 World Series
Matchup: New York Yankees vs. Milwaukee Braves
Series Result: New York won 4-3
With six titles in the previous eight years, the New York Yankees had been heavily favored in the 1957 World Series but were upset by Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, and the Milwaukee Braves. The two teams met up again the following year, and the Braves again seized an early 2-0 series lead behind strong starts from Spahn and Lew Burdette. The Braves were shut out in Game 3, but Spahn returned the favor with a two-hitter on three days' rest in Game 4. It was Spahn and Burdette on the mound for six of the seven games for the Braves, and the Yankees hitters figured things out later in the series to win three straight games on their way to the title.
- 1973 National League Championship Series
Matchup: Cincinnati Reds vs New York Mets
Series Result: New York won 3-2
The Mets set a record for lowest winning percentage by a pennant winner, finishing the 1973 regular season with an 82-79 record. However, most of the season was plagued by the injury jinx to their key players. In September, they finally got healthy just in time for the playoffs. The Mets' victory has gone down as one of the greatest upsets in MLB history, as they dominated the heavily favored Big Red Machine and won the series in Game 5 when the Reds loaded the bases against Tom Seaver in the first inning and the ninth inning but failed to score both times.
- 2021 National League Championship Series
Matchup: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves
Closing MLB Betting Lines: Dodgers -220; Braves +185
Series Result: Atlanta won 4-2
The Braves had the worst record of all the 2021 postseason teams at 88-73, and they were the only postseason team with a win total under 90. This was the Dodgers' fifth appearance in the NLCS in six seasons and sixth in nine seasons, and the closing odds of -220 were heavily in Los Angeles’ favor. For Game 6, Max Scherzer was the Dodgers’ expected starter, but he had to be scratched because of an arm injury. Eddie Rosario hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth to put the Braves ahead for good and finished the series with 14 hits, tying a National League record.
- 2001 American League Championship Series
Matchup: New York Yankees vs. Seattle Mariners
Series Result: New York won 4-1
The Mariners had won an American League-record 116 regular-season games in 2001 (tying the major league record established by the 1906 Chicago Cubs) and had home-field advantage, but the Yankees won the first two games in Seattle, prompting Mariners manager Lou Pinella to guarantee that the series would return to Seattle (oops). Seattle won Game 3 but lost Game 4 when Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth, and the Yankees scored a 12-3 rout in Game 5 less than a month after New York had been decimated by the Sept. 11 attacks.
- 2022 National League Division Series
Matchup: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres
Closing MLB Betting Lines: Dodgers -215, Padres +180
Series Result: San Diego won 3-1
National League favorite Los Angeles won 11 games and finished 22 games ahead of San Diego to win the NL West and earn a bye. That MLB-largest division win was helped by a 14-5 record against the Southern California rival Padres. L.A. won Game 1, but in Game 2 the Padres won to even up the series at a game apiece in what was their first postseason win against a Dodgers team. San Diego then won Games 2 and 3, and in Game 4 the Padres had a five-run seventh inning for a 5-3 victory. With the win, the 89-win Padres completed the upset of the 111-win Dodgers in four games. The only other time in MLB playoff history that a team defeated an opponent who was more than 22 wins better was in the 1906 World Series.
- 1906 World Series
Matchup: Chicago Cubs vs. Chicago White Sox
Series Result: White Sox won 4-2
The Cubs had posted the highest regular-season win total (116) and winning percentage in the major leagues since the advent of the 154-game season. The White Sox, known as the "Hitless Wonders" after finishing with the worst team batting average (.230) in the American League, beat the Cubs in six games for one of the greatest upsets in Series history as the Sox out-pitched the Cubs in their first two wins and out-hit them in their last two. The 1906 World Series was the first to be played between two teams from the same city and predated the infamous Black Sox scandal by 13 years. There was no legal gambling at the time, but this was an extreme powerhouse (the Cubs) being upended by the crosstown team with a much weaker lineup that nonetheless won.
Parameters of Rankings
There is so much baseball history that it is very difficult to whittle or narrow down any list to just 10 series, but we did that by looking at comebacks by teams that were not all that good and/or were not in the greatest of circumstances but came back nonetheless and did the improbable. When that type of comeback happened, and the results were especially unexpected and extraordinary, we ranked those series higher than others. Again, when you are looking at more than 150 years of baseball history, there is a lot to peruse.
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