How teams with the best record have fared the next season

JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters

Before the playoffs started, we wrote about the incredible randomness of playoff baseball. Turn on your television, or think back to a certain game at Nationals Park last Friday, for more evidence. Being the best team from April to October means little once the postseason starts. The Nationals, a young team with little playoff experience, felt that first-hand this season.

But as the Nationals, a team expected to remain competitive with a nucleus of young players, turn their attention to next season, the next obvious question is: How do teams with the best record fare the following year? Well. In fact, very well.

Since 1995, when the wild card format was introduced, 20 teams finished with sole possession or tied for the best record in the majors. Here is what happened the following year: 

  • 15 of those 20 teams reached the playoffs the next year. 
  • 12 repeated as division champions (most recently: the Philadelphia Phillies, who had baseball’s best record in 2010 and 2011, but finished 81-81 this season.)
  • 4 repeated as baseball’s best team
  • 2 won the World Series the following season (2006 St. Louis Cardinals and 1999 New York Yankees.)

Many of the important pieces of the Nationals return next season and the roster isn’t in need of any major overhauling. The National League East should remain just as competitive next season, with the Atlanta Braves in a similar position, a team whose cornerstone players are young and under team control. Behind a healthy trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, and Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, the Phillies should be improved. The New York Mets could do the same with better relievers and bats, and the Miami Marlins are rebuilding. 

Predicting what will happen next season is a fool’s errand. History can’t forecast the future, only reveal trends. But if you’re looking for hope, there’s evidence to suggest that next year’s Nationals should do well.

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