You think the Rays are Cinderellas? They'll have to take a number.
There have been four different occasions when baseball's world champion did not even finish first in their own division.
The 1994 advent of a three-division format plus wild-card winner mandated an earlier round of playoffs, a best-of-five Division Series, to determine League Championship Series opponents. That changed everything.
The Marlins of 1997 and 2003 did not finish first over the 162-game regular-season schedule but reached the playoffs because they had the best record among the National League's three second-place teams. Nobody expected them to stay hot in October but they did, defeating the Indians and Yankees, respectively, to win world titles.
In 2002, the Angels won the American League wild-card race, roared through a pair of AL opponents in October, and staged a Game 7 comeback against the Giants to win a World Series.
Two years later, the Red Sox became the second AL team to advance from wild-card winner to world champion. They did it the hard way, defeating the New York Yankees in the ALCS by overcoming a 3-0 deficit with four straight wins and winning four more in succession against the Cardinals in the World Series.
Wild cards that reached the Series but lost included the Mets (2000), Giants (2002), Astros (2005), Tigers (2006) and Rockies (2007).
Since 1997, there are more than a dozen instances of teams missing the playoffs even though they had better records than teams that qualified. In 2008, for example, four non-playoff teams in the National League had better won-lost marks than the NL West champion Dodgers' 84-78.
Even before divisional play, wild-cards, extra playoffs, and unbalanced schedules increased the odds against the best team winning the World Series, picking the winners in advance was a herculean challenge.
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