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Monday, February 17, 2014
Sleeper World Series pick? Maybe KC

By David Schoenfield

A reader pointed out this fact in my latest chat: The past five World Series champions each missed the playoffs the previous season. Here they are:

2013 Red Sox: 97-65 (69-93 the year before, last postseason in 2009)

2012 Giants: 94-68 (86-76 the year before, last postseason in 2010)

2011 Cardinals: 90-72 (86-76 the year before, last postseason in 2009)

2010 Giants: 92-70 (88-74 the year before, last postseason in 2003)

2009 Yankees: 103-59 (89-73 the year before, last postseason in 2007)

In one regard, this should give hope to every non-playoff team from 2013. On the other hand, four of the five teams had won at least 86 games the year before, so only the Red Sox could be described as a team that came out of nowhere, and even that description is a bit of stretch since 2012 was an aberration for the franchise -- its only losing season since 1997.

ESPN Insider Mike Petriello just wrote a story over the weekend, predicting which three non-playoff teams from 2013 would reach the postseason in 2014. He picked the Rangers, Nationals and Padres. Certainly, the Rangers and Nationals fit the pattern of being successful but just short of the playoffs the year before. The Rangers won 91 games (losing a wild-card tiebreaker game to the Rays) last year while the Nationals won 86; and both teams made the playoffs in 2012. The Padres would be the surprise, a team with three straight losing seasons.

Did the Rangers and Nationals do enough to improve? Let's see what those five World Series-winning teams did.

2009 Yankees
After missing the playoffs for the first time since 1993, the Yankees retooled by spending big, signing free agents CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and A.J. Burnett. They also benefited from the return of Jorge Posada, who had missed two-thirds of the 2008 season.

2010 Giants
The two big additions everyone remembers were the in-season call-ups of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, but even though the Giants had won 88 games in 2009 this team had a much different look as only two position players had the most games at those positions both years (Pablo Sandoval and Aaron Rowand, and Rowand was on the bench by the postseason). The Giants benefited from signing free agent Aubrey Huff, who went from hitting .189 with two home runs with Detroit in 2009 to finishing seventh in the NL MVP vote, and the career year of Andres Torres, a bench player the year before who hit .268 with 67 extra-base hits. They also bolstered their outfield offense with the in-season acquisitions of Pat Burrell and Cody Ross.

2011 Cardinals
The in-season trade of Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski added depth to the pitching staff, but the biggest move was free agent Lance Berkman, who hit .301/.412/.547 and finished seventh in the NL MVP vote.

2012 Giants
The Giants missed the playoffs in 2011 in part because of Posey's season-ending injury, but also because they didn't get the same production from 2010's surprise performers like Huff and Torres. So they retooled their lineup for 2012, trading Torres for Angel Pagan, promoting Brandon Belt to first base and acquiring Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence during the season. Melky Cabrera, acquired for Jonathan Sanchez, hit .346/.390/.516 before getting suspended in August for a positive PED test. He didn't play in the postseason, but the Giants may not have gotten there without him.

2013 Red Sox
After the Valentine's Year Massacre, the Red Sox dipped feverishly into the free-agent market -- signing Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and Stephen Drew. John Lackey had a great year after missing all of 2012. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz were healthy after missing significant time in 2012.

You don't want to put too much analysis into what those five teams did because winning the World Series is mostly about getting hot at the right time. But we can see these teams benefited from (A) free agents; (B) surprise seasons (Huff, Torres, Berkman, Cabrera, Lackey); and (C) injury comebacks.

If that's a template, the Rangers probably align more closely with those teams than the Nationals. They traded for Prince Fielder and made a big free-agent signing in Shin-Soo Choo. They're hoping they get Matt Harrison back after he made just two starts in 2013 (although losing Derek Holland for part of the season will hurt). The Nationals traded for Doug Fister and signed fourth outfielder Nate McLouth, but otherwise are going with the same core of players.

Perhaps the third team that could make the playoffs isn't the Padres, but rather the Royals. They won 86 games last year and were right on the brink of making the postseason. Their offseason moves weren't big, but sort of follow the pattern of what GM Brian Sabean does with the Giants: Find the right veterans. The Royals signed Omar Infante and Jason Vargas and traded for Norichika Aoki and Danny Valencia. Like those Giants teams they have a deep bullpen (Kansas City's bullpen is actually probably better and deeper). What they need is their Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres or Melky Cabrera.

Lorenzo Cain, are you listening?