103 Wins, and no Playoffs

The following is a guest post by Jordan Smedresman; you may know him better as commenter and contributor JGS.

The rotation featured a pair of 20-game winners who finished in the top 4 in Cy Young voting. The middle of the lineup consisted of two sluggers that finished in the top 6 in MVP voting, including the best player in baseball (position player or pitcher, by a whole 2 WAR, as an idea of scale). They went 14-3 down the stretch to close out a season in which they finished with 103 wins against 59 losses.

Incredibly, the 1993 San Francisco Giants did not make the playoffs.

So how did this happen? It certainly wasn’t a problem winning games against their own division. They won the season series against four of the other six teams in their division in resounding fashion: 11-2 against Cincinnati, and 10-3 against Houston, San Diego, and expansion Rockies. Even the two they lost—to Atlanta and Los Angeles—were both seven games to six.

It wasn’t the offense either. The Giants were second in the NL (to the eventual champion Phillies) in runs, hits, and OPS, and led the league in batting average and slugging. From July 4th until the All-Star Break, the Giants unloaded on their opponents, scoring 10, 10, 13, 0, 13, 15, 3, and 10 runs in their next eight games, winning six of them and cruising into the Break with a nine game lead in the division.

They had a pair of solid pitchers in Bill Swift and John Burkett, but only one other pitcher (Bryan Hickerson and his 4.26 ERA) threw more than 115 innings. That was just not good enough to hold off the Braves. Atlanta’s rotation featured a trio of future Hall of Famers including the other two top-4 finishers in the Cy Young voting as well as Steve Avery, who was actually their second-best pitcher behind Maddux. The lineup also had some major power threats in David Justice and Ron Gant and they got excellent production out of Jeff Blauser at shortstop.

Despite being 9 games back on August 11th, the Braves caught fire and ran down the Giants in just 30 days, winning five of the six games they played against each other and outscoring the Giants 35-16 in those contests. Atlanta actually managed a four game lead on September 17th, but they entered the last day of the season tied for first. The Giants, having used their better pitchers to win earlier games, sent rookie Salomon Torres to the hill for his eighth big league start while Atlanta started Tom Glavine against the Rockies. Torres was out of the game by the 4th and the Giants lost 12-1 while Glavine gave up three runs over 6.2 innings to help the Braves win their 104th game.

With the realignment to the current three-division structure and the introduction of the wild card, teams have more opportunities to enter the playoffs even if there is another excellent team in their division. In 2001, the Athletics won 102 games and even though they finished 14 games behind the historically good Mariners, they played meaningful October baseball, though they lost in the first round. The best team to sit out completely in the last fifteen years was the 1999 Cincinnati Reds, who finished 96-67 after losing a one-game playoff to the Mets. The days of 103-win teams on the golf course come October are probably over, but there is no predicting this game.

* In the game where the Giants scored zero runs in the middle of their midseason scoring barrage, they were shut down for 8.1 innings by a 22 year-old lefty making his Major League debut for the Expos. His name was Kirk Rueter, and three years later he was traded to the Giants for Al Leiter’s brother. Rueter retired nine years and 105 wins later as San Francisco’s all-time winningest southpaw.

* Barry Bonds was really good at baseball. 1993 was his first year with the Giants and he was coming off a year where he hit .311/.456/.624/1.080 with 34 home runs and 103 RBIs en route to an MVP award with the Pirates. For his encore, he hit .336/.458/.677/1.136 with 46 home runs and 123 RBIs, collecting another MVP award. All of those were career highs at the time, and he didn’t eclipse the home runs or slash stats until he started putting up video game numbers in 2001. In 1993, he was also intentionally walked 43 times, his highest total until people just stopped pitching to him in 2002.

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