14-Year Division Title Streak Still Tops For Teams

IBWAA

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Defending National League MVP Freddie Freeman led the Braves to their fourth straight NL East title.Dan Schlossberg, IBWAA

By Dan Schlossberg

The sudden surge of the San Francisco Giants has ended one of baseball’s greatest streaks.

The Los Angeles Dodgers missed their ninth consecutive National League West division title by thismuch.

Even though they topped 100 wins, the Dodgers couldn’t catch the streaking Giants, who never suffered their usual June swoon – or a collapse in any other month.

Thus the Dodgers are relegated to the NL Wild-Card game – a sudden-death affair that already includes the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals, authors of a 17-game September winning streak.

Armed with multiple Cy Young Award contenders, the Dodgers could still realize their dream of consecutive world championships – something the team has never done. But they’d have to win eight times first: once in the wild-card game, three times in the best-of-five Division Series, and four times in the best-of-seven League Championship Series.

It won’t be easy.

Though the Dodgers have won a record 24 National League pennants, they’ve won only seven world titles, taking the 2020 crown after a 32-year drought.

The primary architect of the Dodgers’ struggles was the New York Yankees, who own 40 pennants and 27 world championships. The only team to win five pennants in a row twice, the Yankees have won more than two consecutive World Series three different times. The only club to do that even once was Charley Finley’s Oakland A’s of 1972-74.

Since the 1969 advent of divisional play, the record for postseason excellence is held by the Atlanta Braves. They not only have more division crowns (21) than any other franchise but also have more consecutive first-place finishes (14). That doesn’t include the strike-interrupted season of 1994, which was never finished.

During their record run, which started with a worst-to-first effort in 1991 and ended after an exodus of free agents in 2005, the Braves won five pennants and a World Series. They also had six Cy Young Award winners (Greg Maddux 3, Tom Glavine 2, John Smoltz 1) and a Most Valuable Player (Chipper Jones). Not surprisingly, all those players are in the Hall of Fame.

John Schuerholz, general manager of the Braves’ streak, also advanced to Cooperstown. After the 2014 San Francisco Giants won their third world championship in five years, brother Jerry sent John an e.mail that read, “I know what the odds are against winning the World Series three times in five years but the odds of winning 14 consecutive division titles are far greater.”

In fact, it was the team equivalent of Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive games playing streak.

During their 14-year run, the Braves had three straight 100-win campaigns, a feat matched previously only by the 1929-31 Philadelphia Athletics, 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals, and 1969-71 Baltimore Orioles. Even the mighty Yankees of the Babe Ruth era never did it.

“We heard it from our fans, we heard it from our media, and we heard it from visiting players and management people who said ‘You just can’t do that. It’s impossible in our day and age.’ We’re very proud of that.”

The 2021 Braves, who wrapped up their fourth division title Thursday night, need 10 more in a row just to tie their own record. As for the Yankees, who have an uncanny knack for winning, they reached postseason play 13 straight times from 1995-2007 but, because of the wild-card, not all were division wins.

Like Ripken’s record, the title streak is likely to stand the test of time.

Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Ball Nine, Sports Collectors Digest, Here’s The Pitch, and more. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

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