In a sport that reveres clean round numbers, there is no team achievement, outside of a World Series title, more accomplished than a 100-win season. The increased, now-mammoth importance of the postseason has obscured the fact that baseball remains at its core a marathon sport, one in which you must prove your mettle over the unceasing grind of a six-month season. To win 100 games in a sport in which every individual game is its own sort of tossup -- no single baseball game can ever be considered an upset; the worst teams beat the best teams all the time -- is a monument to talent, concentration and persistence. Eight teams (Toronto, San Diego, Washington, Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, Texas, Colorado and Miami) have never won 100 games in a season.
Logic would seem to indicate that 100-win seasons would become less common in an extended postseason age. After all, when 87 wins will get you in the postseason -- like it did in the National League last year -- why push for 100? Why bother to be great when good now suffices? But after a three-year gap after the 2011 Phillies (who of course lost in the NL Division Series that year in what turned out to be their last postseason appearance), we've had 100-win teams the past two seasons, with the '15 Cardinals and the '16 Cubs. And this year, we have two teams on pace to go flying past 100 wins, and one more that's close to the plateau.
If you project the current pace out for the reason of the season -- and considering we're at the halfway point, that's not the craziest thing to do -- here are the final records for the three best teams at this point:
- Houston Astros: 110-52
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 107-55
- Arizona Diamondbacks: 99-63
The Diamondbacks were on pace for 100 wins themselves before dropping their past two games to the Dodgers, and if you want to stretch it out a bit, the Nationals are on pace for 96 wins and might be on pace for 104 if their bullpen wasn't constantly imploding. We've got a small chance at having three teams with 100 wins this season, which last happened in 2003 and has happened only four times in the past 100 years.
The reason for this seems obvious: Teams have learned -- and, even more important, their fans have learned -- that it's OK to have a 90-plus-loss season if it's in the service of contention down the road, that it's no reason to panic. They are not trying to lose, but many teams can take risks, be patient and give prospects a chance to develop. Just look at where the Cubs and Astros were a few years ago and where they are now. That means the teams in contention this season may have more opportunities to pick up victories. The Nationals have four teams in their division that have plans beyond 2017, building their rosters up and testing out young players. That'll get you close to 100 wins almost by accident.
It's strange to think that there was once a time that 100 wins didn't get you in the playoffs. The last 100-win team to miss the postseason was the 1993 Giants, who lost on the final day of the season to the Dodgers to finish one game behind the Braves. That was back when each league had two divisions and no Wild Card. Could that happen today? It's difficult to imagine. For a 100-win team to miss the playoffs, it would require four teams in the same division to win 100 games. Considering we've never had a season with four 100-win teams in all of baseball, that seems nearly impossible; it might require that last-place team to lose, like, 140 games, and even then, it probably wouldn't work.
The Astros are off to such an incredible start that you're already seeing comparisons to the 2001 Mariners, the team that won more games than any other in baseball history, 116. But that's going to be nearly impossible, too. For the Astros to win 116 games, they'd have to go 58-19 the rest of the way, a .753 win percentage that only one team in history, the 1906 Cubs (who went 116-36 but still lost the World Series to the White Sox), has pulled off over a full season. Considering the Astros already have a 16-game lead in the American League West, it would actually be counterproductive for them to push that hard anyway. It's going to be difficult for them not to win 100 games, at this point, considering their start: They have to go only 42-35 the rest of the way to reach the 100-win plateau -- though, to be fair, that's still a higher winning percentage than the Yankees have right now.
As for whether 100-win seasons mean anything in the postseason, well, that just depends on how far back you want to look. Of the five teams to win more than 100 games in the past decade, two of them (2009 Yankees, '16 Cubs) won the World Series. Before the '09 Yankees, though, the last 14 teams to win 100 games failed to win the World Series, including the '01 Mariners. Those 100 wins are great. But when the playoffs begin, well, you might as well have won 89.
The 100-win season could remain a regular occurrence in the years to come. And no fan, no matter what happens in the playoffs, is ever going to complain about a 100-win season. When your team wins 100 games, it has had a special season, a summer in which it has provided its fans with constant, almost daily pleasure for months at a time. A little October heartache can't erase that. The Astros or Dodgers might win the World Series this October, and they might not. But if they win 100 games, it will nevertheless be a season they'll never forget.
You watch a baseball team every day, with your moods shifting and fluctuating based on whether your team wins or loses. It is a rare occasion to see the happy outcome happen 100 times. We have evolved as baseball fans to use October as the ultimate gauge of success. But there isn't much more special than a summer spent watching a 100-win team.
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