Thursday, October 27 is the 30th anniversary of the Mets’ World Series victory over the Boston Red Sox. The Mets had a terrific team that year. Were they perhaps the best National League team ever? Lets take a look.
I am limiting this ranking to National League teams because there are subtle differences between the National and American Leagues (think DH), but mostly because any list that included American League teams inevitably would have a bunch of Yankee teams at or near the top, and well, that thought disturbs me.
I will have some parameters on this analysis of the best NL teams. I’m going to rule out any teams from before 1946. Some NL teams back in the dead ball era had gaudy records like the 1907 107-45 Chicago Cubs, but the game has evolved so much since then with respect to tactics, training and level of athleticism that I don’t think anyone could reasonably think that any of those teams could compete against a modern team.
I’m also going to stipulate that only World Series winners will be included in this analysis. For example the 2004 Cardinals won 105 games in the regular season, but were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series. It would not do to have the best National league team of all time be one that couldn’t even beat the American League team that year.
As to the actual criteria for determining the best NL team ever, well, it is a little murky. Certainly regular season and post-season wins and losses will be taken into consideration, as well as the number of games the team is ahead of the second place club. Team stats like run differential, OBP, SLG and ERA will figure in as well.
In my opinion, three teams are within a whisker of each other for being the best NL team ever. They are the 1975 Reds, (think Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose etc.), the 1976 Reds (think the ’75 Reds) and the 1986 Mets (think Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling and a bunch of others we all know). The ’75 Reds won 108 games and lost 54 for a .667 winning percentage and finished 20 games ahead of the second place Dodgers. The ’76 Reds finished 102-60, .630, 10 games ahead of the Dodgers. The Mets had a 108-54 ledger, 21.5 games ahead of the Phillies.
Post-season records are as follows: The ’75 Reds swept Pittsburgh three straight in the LCS, then won the WS 4-3 over the Red Sox in an epic battle that included the famous Carlton Fisk homer. The ’76 Reds swept Philadelphia in the LCS, and went on to sweep a pretty good Yankee team in the WS. The Mets of course won their LCS 4-2 over Houston before beating Boston four games to three.
So the ’76 Reds did not win as many regular season games as the other two, but they were literally unbeatable in the post-season, and of course post-season wins are more important than regular season wins, at least when teams win their division by substantial margins.
Next, we will look at some key team stats and how each team ranked compared to other teams in their season. The ’75 Reds were first in runs, run differential, and OBP, however they did not lead in SLG or ERA, (finishing third in both). The ’76 Reds were first in runs, run differential, SLG and OBP, but they were only fifth in the League in ERA with a, .351 mark. The ’86 Mets finished first in all the categories cited.
So to answer the question I posed at the beginning of the article, are the Mets the best NL team ever? On the basis of better over-all balance and superior pitching the Mets just barely get my vote over the two Big Red Machine squads as the best NL team ever… for now.
The elephant in the room is that there was an excellent NL team playing this year, the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs had a 103-58 regular season, 17.5 games ahead of the Cardinals. Chicago lead the league in runs, run differential, OBP and ERA, among others. In the 30 years since the Mets won it all, we can assume there has been some advance in athleticism as well as there now being a larger pool of players available (think the increasing use of Latin American players).
As I write this, the World Series between the Cubs and the Indians is about to kick off. If the Cubs were to win, especially if they win decisively, they would have an excellent case as the best NL team of all time, and maybe even up there with or ahead of the 1998 Yankees as the best MLB team ever.