You probably know about the incredible story of Leicester City, who just won the English Premier League at 5,000-to-1 odds, by far the most improbable sports championship of all time.
I’ve been thinking about the Premier League quite a bit lately, not just because of Leicester, but because I really like the rules. Teams are awarded three points for a win, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss. There are no playoffs. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins. That’s it. And every year, the bottom three teams get relegated to a different league (and three new teams are added).
I like the Premier League rules because playoffs (especially in baseball) are a crapshoot. The baseball playoffs go against the very essence of the game, which is about building a deep team that can survive over the course of 162 games. In baseball, sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war. Sometimes you have to skip a start. Weird stuff happens, but because of the sample size, the best teams tend to rise to the top by September.
And then you get to the playoffs. The game is totally different. Weird stuff happens, and then you have to go home. It makes the sport incredibly exciting, and I don’t hate the new system by any means, but it does sort of invalidate everything you’ve done for six months.
Anyway, I decided to go back twenty years and see what the baseball standings would look like each year if they used Premier League rules. This involved too many spreadsheets and hours on Baseball Reference. Yes, I’m insane.
The scoring: 3 points for a 9 inning (regulation) win, 1 point for extra innings, 0 points for a 9 inning (regulation) loss.
Welcome, everyone, to the hypothetical Premier League Baseball Championships. Here we go!
1. Cleveland Indians – 294 pts
2. Atlanta Braves – 284 pts
3. New York Yankees – 274 pts
The Indians (and the city of Cleveland) win their first championship since 1948. This 1996 team was awesome – they scored 952 runs and hit .293 AS A TEAM. Their lineup was deadly. Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, and Julio Franco, to name a few.
1. Atlanta Braves – 293 pts
2. Baltimore Orioles – 280 pts
3. New York Yankees – 279 pts
After finishing second a year earlier, the ’97 Braves win the championship thanks in large part to great years from Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and randomly, Denny Neagle.
1. New York Yankees – 326 pts
2. Atlanta Braves – 318 pts
3. Houston Astros – 298 pts
In real life, the Yankees won 114 games in 1998, eight more than anyone else, so this one is a lot closer than I would have thought. The ’98 Braves weren’t too bad themselves – they won 106 games – but they won 104 of them in regulation (the Yankees won 105). This will be the only championship the Yankees will win in the 1990s or early 2000s.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks – 288 pts
2 (tie) Cleveland Indians – 284 pts
2 (tie) New York Mets – 284 pts
The second-year Diamondbacks come out of nowhere to win it all! But things are tight in the last week of the season. With two games to play, the Diamondbacks trail the Indians by two points. The DBacks win Games 161 and 162, and Cleveland loses both, so Randy Johnson gets his first and only ring. Schilling misses out.
1. Atlanta Braves – 284 pts
2. San Francisco Giants – 282 pts
3. St. Louis Cardinals – 277 pts
This is the best ending to a season ever, something people still talk about to this day.
On the last day of the season, the Giants – looking to win their first championship since 1954 – are ahead of the Braves by one point. The Braves won’t go quietly, and they beat the Marlins 18-0 to temporarily take a two point lead. The Giants can still win if they beat the Rockies. But remember, this was 2000, at Coors Field, so the game was guaranteed to be bonkers and feature approximately eleventy trillion runs.
The Giants get off to a good start with two runs in the first inning. Curiously, they decide to sit Barry Bonds (and most of their regular starters). But starting pitcher Joe Nathan – yes, Joe Nathan – struggles in the bottom half of the first and allows two runs of his own. The game goes back and forth until the Giants take an 8-7 lead in the eighth.
And then we get to the bottom of the ninth. Giants fans are praying for this to end without incident. Braves fans are praying for a blown save. The Giants, oddly, call on Alan Embree to close out the championship. He walks some guy named Terry Shumpert. He hits Todd Helton. He allows a game-tying single to Dante Bichette.* Out of options, the Giants turn to – who else? – Bronswell Patrick, who serves up a game-winning sacrifice fly to Edgard Clemente. These are names of real baseball players.
*Technically, by our rules, the Giants season was over as soon as Bichette tied the game.
The Giants lose. The Braves win the championship by two points. Chaos in Atlanta.
1. Seattle Mariners – 334 pts
2. Oakland Athletics – 299 pts
3. St. Louis Cardinals – 282 pts
The Mariners completely dominate and have this thing locked up in July.
1. Oakland Athletics – 305 pts
2. New York Yankees – 304 pts
3. Atlanta Braves – 297 pts
Billy Beane famously said:
My shit doesn’t work in the playoffs.
But it does work using the Premier League rules! The 2002 A’s win it all by one measly point.
The Yankees and A’s trade places all season long, but Oakland is propelled to new heights after they win (and sometimes draw) twenty consecutive games. The Yankees try to make a run for it at the end of the season, and they win their last four games. But Oakland does too.
1. Atlanta Braves – 299 pts
2. New York Yankees – 297 pts
3. San Francisco Giants – 285 pts
Another close one. The Yankees are ahead by one point with five games to play. They can’t hold onto the lead. Braves win.
1. St. Louis Cardinals – 301 pts
2. New York Yankees – 297 pts
3. Boston Red Sox – 288 pts
The Red Sox have to wait for another year to break the curse. We don’t get to see the ALCS comeback, and no one remembers Dave Roberts or the bloody sock, and I for one am happy about all of that.
1. St. Louis Cardinals – 293 pts
2. Chicago White Sox – 283 pts
3. New York Yankees – 281 pts
Ugh, the Cardinals win again.
1. Detroit Tigers – 285 pts
2. New York Yankees – 280 pts
3. New York Mets – 278 pts
Tigers! Only three years after setting an American League record with 119 losses (which, in this universe, means they’d be relegated to the minors), they manage to make their way back into the league in 2005 and win it all one year later. They are the Leicester City of 2006.
(God, I hated this Tigers team. The Yankees were really good in 2006, but the Tigers took them out in the ALDS thanks to stupid Kenny Rogers and stupid Magglio Ordonez and stupid Placido Polanco)
1. Boston Red Sox – 289 pts
2. New York Yankees – 283 pts
3. Cleveland Indians – 274 pts
Finally, after 89 long years, the Boston Red Sox break the curse. It wasn’t easy – the Yankees were on their tail the whole year. But a 6-3 finish gives the Red Sox the championship.
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 299 pts
2 (tie) Chicago Cubs – 277 pts
2 (tie) Tampa Bay Rays – 277 pts
I totally forgot about this team, but the Angels win it in a landslide. The 2008 Angels weren’t that dominant, but they outperformed their Pythagorean win expectancy by twelve.
1. New York Yankees – 298 pts
2. Boston Red Sox – 283 pts
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 281 pts
The Yankees win their first championship in 11 years!
1. New York Yankees – 278 pts
2. Philadelphia Phillies – 275 pts
3. Tampa Bay Rays – 273 pts
The Yankees win their first championship in 1 year!
They come very close to blowing it, though. The standings on September 6th: Yankees 253, Phillies 218. The Phillies finish strong and cut it to three but can’t overtake the Yanks.
1. Philadelphia Phillies – 298 pts
2. New York Yankees – 295 pts
3. Texas Rangers – 285 pts
Lol, except they do one year later.
I’m sorry to say that, without knowing it, the Yankees absolutely blow it in the last week of the season. They have a five point lead with four games to play, but finish 0-2-2. The Phillies finish 3-0-1. Ugh.
By the way, the 2011 Phillies were good. This was the only year the Halladay/Lee/Hamels trio actually did something.
1. Cincinnati Reds – 284 pts
2. New York Yankees – 276 pts
3. Washington Nationals – 275 pts
Wait, what? The Cincinnati Reds win it all in 2012? I had to double check my math, but yes, that is indeed correct.
Reds fans aren’t exactly sure how this happened, and we aren’t either. Good years from Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto, I guess.
1. St. Louis Cardinals – 285 pts
2 (tie) Oakland Athletics – 280 pts
2 (tie) Detroit Tigers – 280 pts
Oh no, not the Cardinals again. They re-kindle their early 2000s magic to win their third championship in ten years. The post-Moneyball A’s make a nice run for it, but unfortunately, Billy Bean’s shit doesn’t work this year.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers – 282 pts
2 (tie) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 281 pts
2 (tie) Washington Nationals – 281 pts
This is the closest race in years – three teams finish within a point of each other.
The Angels brutally collapse in the last week. With three games to play, they’re up by five points. The only way they can lose is if they finish 0-3, and either Washington or Los Angeles finish 3-0. And that’s exactly what happens. The Angels get swept by the Mariners on the final weekend and finish with 281 points. The Dodgers sweep the Rockies, including a gutsy start by Zack Greinke on the final day of the season. They finish with 282 points and the championship, their first since 1988.
1. St. Louis Cardinals – 292 pts
2. Pittsburgh Pirates – 279 pts
3. Los Angeles Dodgers – 272 pts
The Cardinals win their second championship in three years thanks to some awesome pitching – their 134 ERA+ is one of the highest marks ever.
A few things caught my eye about all of this nonsense.
One, there were only three years where the hypothetical Premier League championship winner matched the actual World Series winner – 1998 (Yankees), 2007 (Red Sox), and 2009 (Yankees).
Two, how about the Cardinals! What a dynasty. With their championship in 2015, they would have won four out of twelve.
Three, the Yankees were runners-up seven times.
Four, the 2010 Yankees should have won the World Series in real life. They probably do if they trade for Cliff Lee. That was a good team.
Five, the Giants are doing some voo-doo. They weren’t in the top three in 2010, 2012, or 2014, despite winning the real World Series all of those years.
Six, pick up sticks.
Seven, I’m tired. This was hard to do. Thanks for reading.