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Celebrating the Good Times: Ranking Yankees and Dodgers’ Recent October Failures (in Legit Seasons)

In all legitimate, 162-game seasons, this has been a familiar (and enjoyable) sight -- a dejected Clayton Kershaw sulking from another playoff failure.

Okay, by now you know how I feel about the 2020 MLB season. Kind of like how we all feel about 2020 in general, right? The Dodgers can roll out the red carpet for their 60-game conquest in last year’s desperation by Major League Baseball to put some kind of product out there during a global pandemic, but when we look at history (that is such a big part of baseball, right?), we need to focus on the legitimate campaigns we have been fortunate to have since the 1994 strike.

The Yankees and Dodgers are the new Evil Empires (the Red Sox have just taken a brief hiatus and I fully expect them to be back in that class very soon). But let’s stay positive if we can. The Bronx Bombers have gone 10 legitimate seasons without an American League pennant, last capturing the flag in 2009. The Dodgers haven’t won a championship of merit since 1988, but have made two World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018 (thank you, Astros and Red Sox!).

It’s important to note that not all playoff failures are created equal. Some are sweeter than others, and usually you have to take into account the magnitude of a given series or just how good one of those individual teams was in a certain season. So, let’s take a look at both teams’ shortcomings starting from the outset of the 2010s. That was the beginning of the Yankees’ current drought (7 playoff appearances in 10 years), and the Dodgers’ (still-current) seven-year run of NL West titles began in 2013. Without further ado, by team, here is your ranked list:

NEW YORK YANKEES

No. 7 — 2015 Wild Card Game (lost to Houston)

It’s always nice to see the Yankees get shutout at home in the playoffs, especially in a winner-take-all game. But it’s hard to rank their 3-0 loss anywhere but last given that this was a one-game wild card and the Yankees probably weren’t a huge threat in 2015, even though they went 4-2 in the regular season against the eventual World Series champion Royals team that they would have faced had they advanced past Houston.

No. 6 — 2018 ALDS (lost to Boston, 3-1)

It’s hard to really enjoy this one because fellow Evil Empire club Boston was on the other side of this, although you can never take for granted an early Yankees October exit. The Yanks were completely embarrassed by Boston in Game 3, 16-1, before losing Game 4 at home. The lasting memory for me in this series was Ryan Brasier (who?!) cursing out Gary Sanchez to get back in the batters box in Game 2.

No. 5 — 2010 ALCS (lost to Texas, 4-2)

It feels a little sacreligious to rank this fifth considering that the Rangers kept us from a potential Yankees repeat. Perhaps recency bias is to blame as this series occurred over a decade ago, but it was a great moment for Yankee-haters nonetheless. Like the 2019 ALCS, which we’ll chronicle briefly below, the Yankees won Game 1 on the road only to lose the next three, keep the series alive with a Game 5 win at home, then got closed out on the road in Game 6.

The Rangers unleashed a heavy dose of Josh Hamilton on New York two years after his incredible Home Run Derby display in the Bronx, and the Giants came through with a memorable upset of their own against the Phillies in the NLCS as both defending league champs were sent packing and we were provided a fresh dose of new blood in the Fall Classic.

No. 4 — 2019 ALCS (lost to Houston, 4-2)

Another odd-numbered year, another playoff loss to the Astros. How sweet it is. By this point the Astros weren’t exactly a newcomer or an underdog, and we should all be thankful the Nationals created a happy ending in the World Series. But seeing the Yankees lose a fourth straight ALCS is pretty priceless. After DJ LeMahieu tied Game 6 in the ninth with a two-run homer, Aroldis Chapman gave up a walk-off two-run shot to Jose Altuve. Whether Altuve knew what pitch was coming or not, there’s no pitcher I’d rather see be on the mound for that game-losing moment than the Chapman, a man of “questionable character,” to put it mildly.

Overall, the Yankees dropped four of the final five games in this series after wiping out the Astros, 7-0, in the opener in Houston.

No. 3 — 2012 ALCS (lost to Detroit, 4-0)

For the third time in seven seasons, the Yankees lost to the Tigers. It was tough to watch Derek Jeter break his ankle in Game 1, and that clearly took the wind out of the Yankees’ sails. Game 1 was almost a defining and horrific moment in this series when Jose Valverde blew a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the 9th, with yet another Raul Ibanez clutch home run sending the game to extra innings. But Detroit prevailed after Jeter’s injury, and went on to win the next three to prevent New York from reaching the Fall Classic.

No. 2 — 2011 ALDS (lost to Detroit, 3-2)

There were a lot of reasons to love this one, and possibly even rank this in the top spot. First of all, the Yankees were closed out in a decisive game at home. Second of all, they again lost to a team that had their number in 2006. And third of all, A-Rod struck out to end the series.

New York won a league-best 97 games in 2011, but it was their Game 162 loss that was perhaps the most memorable game of the entire year. That allowed the Rays to sneak in and knock out the Red Sox in the process. The Yankees were unaffected, but once again succumbed to Detroit. New York won Game 1 over a span of two days due to rain, but the Tigers rallied to win three of the next four, including a 3-2 win to close out the series in the Bronx.

No. 1 — 2017 ALCS (lost to Houston, 4-3)

Alas, we cannot help but keep the 2017 ALCS out of the top spot. The Yankees almost derailed the Astros’ dream season, winning three straight in the Bronx after falling behind 2-0 in the series. This was the series that fueled all the “Houston cheated!” whining by Yankees fans because the Astros won all the games at Minute Maid Park while getting bludgeoned in the Bronx. But Justin Verlander’s Game 6 gem and a shutout combo from Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers in Game 7 saved us from our closest call with a Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchup.

 

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

No. 7 — 2013 NLCS (lost to St. Louis, 4-2)

This is probably where my disdain for the Dodgers started. I was at Game 4, and like a true Dodgers “fan” didn’t get to the game until about the fourth inning. Fashionably late? I think not. Rather, it was LA traffic and the horrific experience of trying to park up a massive hill at Chavez Ravine. Then, the Dodgers did us all no favors by rolling over to then-perennial-NL powerhouse St. Louis, falling rather anticlimactic fashion in six games in an unmemorable series.

Well, it was memorable in one sense. It was truly the beginning of Clayton Kershaw’s October failures and the beginning of Matt Carpenter’s ownership of Kershaw.

No. 6 — 2014 NLDS (lost to St. Louis, 3-1)

Another year, another Kershaw meltdown and another Dodgers flatlining against the Cardinals. Game 1 was the dagger, when manager Don Mattingly knew his awful bullpen would be no help so he pushed an exhausted Kershaw into a disastrous, eight-run seventh inning as St. Louis put up an eight-spot to turn the game on its ear.

Kershaw could not finish off Carpenter, who put the Cardinals ahead, 7-6, with a three-run double after a long at-bat before Pedro Baez immediately came on and surrendered a three-run homer to Matt Holliday. Kershaw then was burned by a late Matt Adams homer in Game 4 that ended LA’s title dreams once again.

No. 5 — 2016 NLCS (lost to Chicago, 4-2)

Believe it or not, of all the Dodgers teams throughout this run, this one was the closest to kind of, sort of being likable. A scrappy team that battled through injuries and entered the 2016 NLCS as a big underdog against the title-starved Cubs actually had a glimmer of hope when it led, 2-1, after three games before the Cubs rallied to win three straight.

Kershaw and Jansen put the team on their backs as best they could, but the Dodgers lacked the depth to take down the Cubs.

No. 4 — 2015 NLDS (lost to New York, 3-2)

This was an underratedly great Dodgers-hating moment, watching the supposedly untouchable duo of Kershaw and Zack Greinke not having enough to single-handedly take down the cinderella Mets. Greinke did his part, but Jacob deGrom was better, and the Mets caught the Dodgers napping in this one in a clear indicator of which team wanted it more.

The Dodgers faithful were left sulking as the Mets went on to win the pennant.

No. 3 — 2018 World Series (lost to Boston, 4-1)

Now, this again involves the 2018 Red Sox, so on one hand, not so sweet, but you can’t put a price on seeing the Dodgers lose in the World Series, at home no less, in back-to-back years. The LA bullpen, a constant in their October failures, coughed up a late 4-0 lead in Game 4 that flipped the series in Boston’s favor, and then it was midseason rental purchase Manny Machado falling to one knee on a strikeout to end Game 5 that set off Boston’s celebration.

No. 2 — 2019 NLDS (lost to Washington, 3-2)

It’s tough to rank this No. 2, although the obvious choice, because this was such a memorable series. I remember walking out of Nationals Park after Washington’s 8th-inning rally to beat the Brewers in the wild card game thinking about how this was just going to see the Nats up for a slaughter at the hands of the Dodgers. Boy am I glad I was wrong.

The series started ominously for the Nats as they were blanked in Game 1, but this was a truly special team that just refused to die. With their backs to the wall they responded with a resounding Game 4 win at home before heading west for a decisive Game 5. Again, it started ominously and it looked to be all but over for the Nats when LA brought in Kershaw in the 8th as a pre-planned maneuver. Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto hit back-to-back homers to tie the game at 3-3, but hearts everywhere stopped momentarily when Will Smith sent a ball to the right field wall in the bottom of the ninth. It came up inches short, sending the game to extra innings where Howie Kendrick provided the dagger against his ex-mates with a 10th-inning grand slam. Joe Kelly being on the mound was probably the best part, in a game in which Dave Roberts showed no faith in Kenley Jansen and put the overmatched Kelly in a big spot.

No. 1 — 2017 World Series (lost to Houston, 4-3)

Really a no-brainer here, despite the wonderfulness of the Nats’ heroics in 2019. As mentioned above 2017 was a magical season for the Astros, regardless of how they are perceived now because of their alleged cheating. Most of the allegations centered around the three games in Houston, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Astros rallied to win a thrilling Game 2 and then had a convincing Game 7 win at Dodger Stadium in front of the see-and-be-seen crowd at Chavez Ravine.

Game 5 was one of the greatest World Series games ever, as the Astros rallied from deficits of 4-0 and 7-4 before blowing a 12-9 lead in the ninth as the game went to extras. But Alex Bregman’s walk-off single off Jansen put Houston up, 3-2, in the series. In Game 7, it was the reverse (from the 2017 ALCS) duo of McCullers-Morton to shut down LA and give Houston its first-ever World Series title.

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