There's an old belief in sports that a team has to come close to a championship but lose before going on to win it all. Losing a championship series builds character, the character you need to go on and win a title. But baseball seems to prove otherwise. Last season, the Tampa Bay Rays capped an incredible season by going all the way to the World Series before losing in five games to the Phillies. History says a Rays return to the World Series is unlikely. The last time a team lost in the World Series then returned to the Fall Classic the next year was when the Braves lost to the Twins in 1991 then lost to the Blue Jays in 1992. The last time a team lost a World Series then won it all the next season? That was 1989, when the A's beat the Giants a year after losing to Kirk Gibson and the Dodgers. That's the only team in the past 31 years to accomplish that feat. Over the past 10 seasons, no team has lost the World Series then returned the next season. In fact, most didn't even make the postseason. Even worse, a few dropped out of sight. Here's a look back at what happened to the past 10 World Series losers.
1998 San Diego Padres
A year after being swept by the Yankees, the Padres went 74-88 and finished fourth in the NL West. Over the next four seasons, they finished fifth, fourth, fifth and fifth, losing 96 and 98 games over those final two seasons. They have made the playoffs twice since 1998 but are only 1-6 in playoff games.
1999 Atlanta Braves
After being swept by the Yankees in the '99 Series, the Braves won 95 in 2000 and made the playoffs. They would make the playoffs the six seasons after losing in 1999 to stretch their postseason run to 14 seasons. But over those six seasons, the Braves would win only one postseason series while being knocked out in the wild-card round five times.
2000 New York Mets
The Mets dropped the Subway Series to the Yankees then went on a playoff drought. They went 82-80 in 2001, good for third in the NL East. That was followed by two last-place finishes, a fourth-place finish and a third. And no trips to the World Series since.
2001 New York Yankees
The Yankees' string of three championships (and four in five years) ended when they lost a thrilling seven-game series to the Diamondbacks. The Yankees won 103 games in 2002 but were knocked out in the division series by the Angels in only four games.
2002 San Francisco Giants
The Giants lost the Series to the Angels then took NL West by 151/2 games in 2003 by winning 100. But that success did not carry over to the playoffs. The Giants lost 3-1 to the Marlins in the first round. That one measly win? That's the last playoff game the Giants have won. This season, they're trying to avoid losing at least 90 for a third consecutive season.
2003 New York Yankees
The Yankees went 101-61 and advanced to the World Series, where they lost to the Marlins. They exactly repeated their regular season in 2004 and were one victory from going back to the World Series after taking a 3-0 lead against the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series but were stunned by Boston's comeback. The Yankees have not been to a World Series since 2003.
2004 St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals were the unlucky saps to get rolled by the Red Sox in Boston's destiny season of 2004. But the Cards held it together. They rolled to a division title in 2005 and went all the way to the NLCS before losing in six games to the Astros. But a year later, they won the World Series. If the Rays can repeat the Cardinals' 2004-06 run, we're guessing they would be okay with that.
2005 Houston Astros
The Astros lost the '05 Series to the White Sox and started the next year well, going 16-8 in April. But over the next three months, the Astros went 33-48 and saw their repeat hopes disappear. A late run couldn't save the Astros, who haven't been back to the postseason.
2006 Detroit Tigers
Way back in 2003, the Tigers lost 119 games. That was followed by back-to-back 90-loss seasons. Then came a shocking run to the World Series in 2005 when they lost to the Cardinals. Armed with a good young pitching staff (just like the Rays), the Tigers were supposed to put together a postseason streak. Instead, the 2007 Tigers missed the postseason then dropped to last in 2008.
2007 Colorado Rockies
This is a team most often compared to the Rays because the Rockies had never won a division and were coming off nine consecutive seasons of finishing last or next-to-last before their unlikely appearance in the 2007 World Series. The Rockies lost to the Red Sox then fell apart. They won only 32 of their first 83 games and finished 74-88 and 10 games behind the division leader.
2008 Tampa Bay Rays
So what will happen to the Rays? History suggests it could be a rough season. But there are teams that have bucked the trend. The Yankees were swept in the 1976 World Series then won back-to-back titles. The Orioles lost the 1969 World Series then returned the next two seasons, winning in 1970. And if you're really looking for hope, go back to 1955. The Yankees lost the World Series but returned eight of the next nine seasons, winning four championships along the way.
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