NL Division Series of Parity or Mediocrity?

The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres are first pair of playoff teams ever to meet having had fewer than 90 regular season wins. And no team in MLB history has won a World Series having posted fewer than 85 victories in a full regular season. Since the 2006 Cardinals won just 83, the history books will need to be rewritten if they somehow find a way to make it to the top.

St. Louis Cardinals fans everywhere are most familiar with the agonizing conclusion of the 2006 regular season, a long stretch of sub-.500 play that culminated in a frustrating 83-78 regular season record that was still good enough for the club to back into the National League Central Division crown.

But, as optimists are wont to say this time of year, once you make the postseason field of eight, anything can happen, right?

Well, not for all teams.

You see, a look back into the annals of baseball history shows the postseason has been very unkind to teams like the 2006 Cardinals. But, all is not lost. This current National League Division Series between the Cardinals and the San Diego Padres (88-74 in the regular season) will actually partially help break the mold.

It turns out that Major League mediocrity (or is that parity?) history is being made this week. This Cardinals-Padres NLDS is the first postseason series in major-league history between teams that won fewer than 90 games during a full regular season (excluding war and strike partial seasons).

No matter what, one thing we know for sure is that one of the two will definitely advance at least one more series.

Still, there isn't much precedent in the history book that should give either club high hopes of reaching the top. Since the establishment of the 162-game schedule in 1962, only two teams have taken the World Series after having won fewer than 90 games in the regular season.

2000 was the year of the New York Yankees' most recent World Series championship. That season Joe Torre led his 87-win club all the way to the top.

As fate would have it, a team that long-time Cardinals fans remember all too well, the 1987 Minnesota Twins, is the other one. Tom Kelly's 85-victory squad upset both the 98-win Detroit Tigers and the 95-win Cardinals on their way to their first of two World Championships.

But, those two teams are it.

And, in the history of Major League Baseball, those 85-win 1987 Twins represent the club with the fewest regular season wins of any World Champion in a non-war, non-strike year.

You remember that the 2006 Cards won 83, right?

Just getting to the Fall Classic, win or lose, doesn't happen very often for these clubs, either. Only three more teams with fewer than 90 regular season wins were Series losers. They include the 1973 New York Mets, with just 82 victories, the 86-win Cleveland Indians of 1997 and last year's Wild Card Houston Astros, who won 89 prior to the playoffs.

It is fair to note that the further one goes back in time, the less likely poorer-record teams would get the chance to play in October. Two Divisions per League were established in 1969 and the current three Division, Wild Card format was enacted in 1995.

Still, when all is said and done, in a non-war, non-strike year, only one team with as poor of a record as the 2006 Cardinals made it as far as the World Series and that club was defeated there.

Could this Cardinals squad erase over 100 years of history and become the worst full regular season team to win it all?

It would certainly be most ironic for several reasons.

After clearly superior Cardinals clubs in 2004 and 2005, winners of 205 regular season wins in total couldn't do it, wouldn't it be something if this flawed 2006 edition could somehow find a way to ascend to the summit?

Finally, if this imperfect group of Cardinals could make it, they would finally beat those 1987 Twins in at least one segment of the record books - something their Whitey Herzog-led predecessors couldn't accomplish in seven games that year.

Hey, at this point, they do still have a chance to make history, don't they? Just ten wins to go…

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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