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The 2011 Major League Baseball season was full of unexpected twists and turns. The Cardinals opened the playoffs as the biggest long shot to win the World Series and wound up taking the trophy home. En route, they eliminated the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies in the first round. The Phillies collapsed, the Yankees disappointed once again, the Tigers fell short and the Boston Red Sox had an epic Charlie Sheen type of meltdown (they lost 18 of their last 24 games capped by a loss in the final game of the season that eliminated them from the playoffs).
When the smoke cleared, the improbable Cards stood on top, tea-bagging the entire MLB, holding their trophy high in celebration as bottles were popped and beers were chugged. Here is a list of the top five teams of the memorable 2011 season:
5 New York Yankees
The infamous New Yawk Yankees. How could we forget these guys, huh? They spend quite a bit of money (more than any team in baseball) to be on top of these lists. Unfortunately, baseball is a rather unique sport where you cannot buy titles. You can put together the best starting nine players and it still does not mean you will win anything. Ask the Yankees, they can explain it to you in depth. The 2011 Yankees won the AL East with second best record in baseball at 97-65. They had the best offense in baseball but lacked the pitching to go any further than the first round. Their pitching staff consisted of ace CC Sabathia and not much after that. Unfortunately pitching wins games, ask these guys they hit a ton and pitched none. This team was stacked with future Hall of Famers and still could not overcome other more well-rounded teams (like the Tigers who eliminated them in the first round).
4 Philadelphia Phillies
When the 2011 season began the Phillies were the odds-on favorites to win the World Series. They had the best pitching staff in baseball by far. The staff consisted of former Cy Young award winners Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee plus former World Series MVP, Cole Hamels. Their number four pitcher was Roy Oswalt who could have been a number one starter on most teams. The Phillies won an MLB best 102 games and looked prime to take the trophy home, but it’s not that easy —just ask the Yankees — they know all about this. They were eliminated by the Cardinals in five games. Carpenter out-dueled Philly ace Roy Halladay in game five and the last out was power hitting clean up hitter Ryan Howard grounding out and collapsing to the ground on the way to first, viscously tearing his achilles tendon (he wouldn’t have made it safely anyway). That was a microcosm of the Phillies season; They were so close but collapsed dramatically in agony.
3 Detroit Tigers
The Tigers won the NL Central with a 95-67 record. They had the best pitcher in baseball and AL MVP Justin Verlander and arguable the best hitter in baseball, Miguel Cabrera. Verlander led the AL in wins (24), ERA (2.40), innings pitched (251) and strikeouts (250). On the offensive side Cabrera carried the team. When he was not smashing beers (he is a notorious drinker off the field) he was smashing the ball hitting .344 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs. The Tigers were eliminated in the American Championship series by the Rangers in six games.
2 Texas Rangers
They were one freaking strike away from being 2011 World Series champs, twice! After being upset by the Giants in the 2010 World Series the Rangers were once again upset in 2011, but this time by the Cardinals and in heartbreaking fashion. The Rangers had a well-balanced team with one of the top pitching staffs in baseball and the second-best offense in baseball. They finished the season 96-66, winning the American League West by 10 games. They eliminated the Wild Card Tampa Bay Rays in four games to open the playoffs then went on to eliminate the Detroit Tigers in six games. The Rangers were arguably the most complete team in baseball and were led by two prolific drug abusers, manager Ron Washington (cocaine, hell of a drug) and star outfielder Josh Hamilton (crack).
1 St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals became only the fourth Wild Card team in MLB history to win the World Series. On top of that, they got in by beating the Houston Astros in the final game of the regular season. They had the worst record of all the teams that made the 2011 playoffs, so a World Series trophy seemed farfetched when the playoffs started. To make matters worse, they opened the postseason against Philadelphia Phillies, who happened to have the best record in baseball (102-60 compared the Cardinals’ 90-67) and boasted the best pitching staff in the MLB. What ensued was an unexpected, drama filled five-game series that was capped by Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter pitching a complete game shutout in game five to eliminate the odds on favorites to win the World Series. The Cardinals went onto to eliminate the Milwaukee Brewers (they finished second to the Brewers in the National League Central division) in six games to advance to the World Series where the loaded Texas Rangers awaited them. Once again heavy underdogs, the Cardinals did the improbable and beat the Rangers in seven games. It was an unforgettable series and season for the Cardinals. It was also a season of firsts for the Cards: It was the first time a team won the World Series after being one strike away from being eliminated twice the game before (it even happened in consecutive innings). The first time a team was 8 1/2 games out of the playoffs in September and won the World Series. The first time a pitcher (Carpenter) won two winner-take-all games in one postseason. Led by Albert Pujols (who is now the richest man in baseball and is manning first base for the Anaheim Angels), Carpenter and World Series MVP David Freese the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals proved to the world (in rather dramatic fashion) that they were the best team in the MLB in 2011.
The Cardinals proved that preseason favorites, lavish spending to stack your team, shiny records, MVPs and future Hall of Fame players mean nothing once you step on that field. The most important things are playing team ball, riding momentum and getting hot at the right time. The Cardinals got hot when it mattered and rode that all the way to a World Series Championship. Cards Manager Tony La Russa retired after the 2011 and left as a champion, which was a fitting end to a great managerial career. These are the top five MLB teams of 2011, wouldn’t you agree?