Doesn’t it seem like some teams thrive as underdogs in the postseason while others struggle year after year against lower seeded teams? For example, the Nationals & Dodgers always seem to get upset by “worse” teams while other clubs like the Giants & Cardinals are at their best playing against teams with better regular season records. Well, being the curious sports geek that I am, I figured that I would take a dive into the postseason records since 2000 to see if this theory that certain teams perform better as underdogs while others are worse as favorites holds true.
The method was simple, I looked at every postseason series (including the Wild Card play-in games) and compiled each teams series wins/losses against teams with a worse regular season records (i.e. underdog wins/losses) as well as separately compiling the series wins/losses against teams with a better regular season record (wins/losses as favorites). Without further ado, lets dive into the results:
Best Underdog Teams (min. 3 series)
In theory, the Marlins have the best underdog winning percentage of the 2000’s as they are a perfect 2-0 in series against teams with better regular season records. However, just 2 series seems like too small of a sample to take into account. The Royals & Mariners also belong to this group as they are 1-0 in series as underdogs since 2000.
With that being said, the big surprise here in my opinion is that the Yankees 1) faired so well as underdogs and 2) have played that many series as underdogs. The Yankees are well known as the evil empire of baseball and, especially pre-2013, have never really been viewed as underdogs.
Regardless of reputation, the numbers don’t lie; the Bronx Bombers have thrived against “better” teams since the turn of the century. Their most notable upset series win came in 2001, when they took down the 116-win Seattle Mariners, who still hold the MLB record for most regular season wins, in 5 games (4-1) in the ALCS.
Moreover, to nobody’s surprise, the Giants & Cardinals have thrived as underdogs in the playoffs over the last 17 seasons. On top of their astounding combined 16-4 underdog overall playoff series record, San Francisco & Saint Louis are a combined 3-1 in the World Series as underdogs. Not including the Cards & Giants, underdogs are just 5-7 in the World Series since 2000. (worth noting that in 2013 the Cards & Sox were both 97-65)
Most notably, the 2006 Cardinals beat the 95-win Detroit Tigers in 5 games to capture the World Series despite finishing the regular season a meager 83-78 that season, barely even making the playoffs over the 82-80 Astros.
Worst Underdog Teams (min. 3 series)
Just like the best underdogs having a few undefeated small-sample, the worst underdogs has some winless teams that played 2 series or less against teams with better records. Those teams include five 0-1 squads (Brewers, White Sox, Padres, Orioles & Pirates) & 2 others that went 0-2 (Reds & Indians).
A few of the above teams seem to mostly beat the teams they’re favored against and lose to the ones their underdogs against. Namely, the Angels are 3-2 as favorites and 1-4 as underdogs, the Rockies & Blue Jays are 1-0 as favorites while the Rays are 2-2 against teams with worse records than them.
Meanwhile, the Braves, Twins & Athletics postseason futility hasn’t been mutually exclusive at all. Those 3 teams have been consistently disappointing in the playoffs both as favorites & underdogs since 2000.
Best Favorite Teams (min. 3 series)
As you would expect, there were a couple undefeated teams that haven’t played enough playoff series as favorites to qualify. Both the Rockies & Marlins are 1-0 as favorites over the last 17 postseasons. The Marlins’ only series win as a favorite is quite a notable one; being none other than the 2003 NLCS when they beat the Cubs in 7 games featuring the infamous Bartman game.
With that being said, the clear story here is the Red Sox being a literally perfect 5-0 as favorites since 2000. Ironically enough, pre-2004 the Sox were notorious for choking and collapsing in the most heartbreaking ways possible. Since then, anytime they face a team with a lesser regular season record they come out on top. It is worth noting though that they are just a mediocre 4-5 as underdogs though, so clearly for some reason the Red Sox don’t give viewers too many surprises during the playoffs.
On the other hand, the Giants are the only team to show up in both the top 5 underdogs & the top 5 favorites, showing their postseason success isn’t exclusive to one type. After all, this is what you would expect from a team that’s been to 4 World Series since 2002 & has won 3 of them since 2010.
Worst Favorite Teams (min. 3 series)
First lets get the winless unqualified teams out of the way; the Astros, Twins, Padres & Reds are all 0-1 as favorites in the playoffs since 2000. Now let’s get into the 3 obvious stories here.
The Braves, Athletics & Nationals clearly have built a reputation on playoff disappointments since the turn of the century, as evident by their combined 0-15 record as favorites. However, their playoff futility is most certainly not exclusive to series these teams are favorites in as they also have a combined 2-5 record as underdogs.
It’s worth noting that the Nationals have never played a playoff series as underdogs. Their 3 series losses as favorites are the only 3 playoff appearances in the franchise’s short history.
The last peculiar thing here is the fact that the Mets are tied for the 5th worst winning percentage as favorites (.333) despite owning the 3rd best win % as underdogs (.800). I guess the 2000’s Mets just live for the upsets, no matter which side of them they are on.