Hey baseball fans!
1998 saw the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays join the MLB, but what if their efforts to join the league had failed? What if they folded before ever playing a game? That's what this edition of ML"what would"B is going to look at. This long-running series looks at some of the biggest "what-if's" in baseball history, so let's look at a what-if scenario where Major League Baseball opened the 1998 season with 28 teams instead of 30.
Let's start with the divisions. They don't look much different, except for a couple of notable changes. Basically, the Astros and Brewers stay in their original leagues, the Tigers stay in the AL East, and the AL and NL West divisions have four teams each. Considering the Yankees are in the middle of a dynasty, the playoff results stay relatively the same, that is, until 2001. Remember: the Diamondbacks rolled through the National League playoff bracket in '01 and eventually downed the Yanks in the World Series in seven games. This time around, however, the Braves get to the Series to face the Yankees for the third time in six years and just like in the previous two times, New York wins handily. They still lose to the Angels in the 2002 ALDS, but the Angels don't face the Giants in the World Series that year. They instead go up against the Astros. How, you ask? Well, the Diamondbacks had two key pitchers on their roster when they got good: Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Johnson, instead of getting traded to Arizona prior to the 1999 season, stays in Houston, who trades for Schilling midway through 2000.
So the 2002 Astros win the NL Wild Card with 90 wins, then take care of the Giants and Cardinals in the NLDS and CS to reach the '02 Fall Classic. Johnson, Schilling, and company are able to survive the Angels and their rallying ways by winning the franchise's first World Series. Johnson has a bad year in 2003, but Schilling picks up the slack to help the 'Stros win the 2003 NL Central title by one game over the Cubs. Without the Curse of the Billy Goat, the Marlins get eliminated from the '03 postseason in the NLCS by the Braves, who finally break their World Series drought against the Yankees by winning the Fall Classic in six games. But the Yankees get their redemption in 2004, where they do not meet the Red Sox in the ALCS because Curt Schilling's league-leading 21 wins are still in Houston. The Yankees win the '04 ALCS against the Angels and get to the World Series to face... the Astros! Houston gets its second Fall Classic trophy in three years by downing the Yanks in five games.
It's around this time that the Expos have decided to move. Because there is a vacancy in the desert, they switch divisions and time zones to become the Arizona Diamondbacks. Besides that shakeup in baseball's standings, nothing really changes in 2005; Johnson and Schilling have declined, so the Astros still get swept in the '05 World Series by the White Sox. In 2006, the Tigers don't beat the Yankees in the ALDS because back then, a Wild Card team couldn't face a division rival in the division series, so they instead lose to AL Rookie of the Year Chad Billingsley and the A's, who go on to the World Series to face the Mets. The Mets managed to beat the Cardinals in the NLCS with the help of their new breakout pitcher... Justin Verlander? Yeah, with a mixup in the 2003 standings, the Amazins get Verlander in the 2004 Draft, who gives the Mets 17 wins in '06 and helps them beat the A's in the World Series in five games.
The 2007 season still saw the Red Sox sweep the Rockies in the Fall Classic, breaking the Curse of the Bambino, but 2008 sees a crazy change in the standings. The Brewers manage to win the AL Central by a game over the White Sox and Twins, but lose to the Yankees in the ALDS, who lose to the Angels, with the help of their midseason trade acquisition C.C. Sabathia (because the Indians wouldn't deal C.C. within their division to Milwaukee), in the ALCS. The Halos go on to win the franchise's first World Series against... the Cubs? Yeah, the Cubs and their 2008 Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum, who they drafted in 2006. The Cubs soar past the Dodgers and Phillies to make their first World Series since 1945, but as said before, lose to the Angels.
In 2011, the Marlins are thinking of switching stadiums, when they instead switch cities altogether. The Fish move to the nation's capital and become the Nationals. Now, Florida has ridden itself of its toxic MLB franchises. You're welcome, Sunshine State. But now DC will be forever in pain due to the Marlins-turned-Nationals' failures. Some things stay constant, even in the ML"what would"B. Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."