2009 New York Yankees: 103-59, AL East champions
How they were built: 10 free agents, seven drafted players, four amateur free agents, four via trades on the playoff roster.
What went right? After they missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, the Yankees made a huge splash in free agency. They signed Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett for a combined $423.5 million and traded for Nick Swisher to add to a core that was perennially one of baseball’s best. They were a juggernaut and they reeled off 103 victories — six more than any other team in the majors.
What went wrong? The Yankees got off to a relatively slow start and were just two games over .500 after 36 games. Their pitching staff wasn’t as dominant as it could have been or, perhaps, was expected to be and they struggled to find a consistent fifth starter. But their offense was led by Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and the team scored 32 more runs than any other team in the major leagues.
How did they wind up hoisting the trophy? The Yankees were never pushed to the brink of elimination during the 2009 playoffs as they disposed of the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies to win the title. After mourning the death of The Boss, George Steinbrenner, earlier that summer, the 2009 championship largely represented the last run for the core of a Yankee dynasty that won five titles in 14 years.
2008 Philadelphia Phillies: 92-70, NL East champions
How they were built: Eight free agents, eight drafted players, six via trades, one amateur free agent, one waiver claim, one Rule 5 draft pick on the playoff roster.
What went right? While the Phillies’ rotation encountered its share of struggles and the offense, normally robust and led by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth, was inconsistent at times, the one thing the Phillies could always count on was Brad Lidge. The Phillies’ closer, acquired the previous offseason, saved 41 of 41 chances in the regular season, and continued the streak with seven more saves in the Phillies’ playoff run.
What went wrong? The Phillies battled with the New York Mets for divisional supremacy all season long. After Philadelphia and shortstop Jimmy Rollins boldly predicted they would win the 2007 NL East crown, the Mets countered with their own bravado in the spring of 2008. The Phillies, who struggled to find starting pitching consistency all season, were a half-game back of the Mets as late as Sept. 19. A 6-2 record in the final eight games, along with the NL’s best road record (44-37) helped them fend off the Mets.
How did they wind up hoisting the trophy? Ultimately the Phillies beat the Milwaukee Brewers and then the Los Angeles Dodgers handily to reach the World Series, with plenty of memorable moments built in. There was Matt Stairs’ pinch-hit home run in Los Angeles as the Phillies mounted a furious comeback in Game 4, and the pounding rains that forced their World Series-clinching Game 5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays to be spread over three days. It was the first of what many expected to be multiple championships for this Phillies’ core, but they lost the World Series the following season and haven’t been back since.