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The MLB Sweet Sixteen

During this time of the sporting year, much emphasis is placed on the idea of knockout tournaments. More specifically, the tournament that the NCAA puts on each year for college basketball. There are many such competitions, but the one that is the most popular is the one that is presented by Division I. The Final Four is a source of contention every time it rolls around. Bracket selections are made and various competitions are held to be crowned the best tournament prognosticator. It is a sports tradition as honored as time itself, and it just so happens to coincide with the start of the baseball season.

For the purposes of this series of pieces, we will be examining sixteen of the best teams in MLB history. They have been seeded according to their overall records and have been placed in corresponding spots in the bracket. Utilizing Back to Baseball’s simulation tool, we can see who would defeat whom in a hypothetical matchup. Much as with real-life tournaments, this will be followed by eight, then four, and so on. Some of these games are tight, while others show clear-cut dominance on the part of one squadron. One unfortunate caveat is that this particular simulation tool only goes back to 1921. However, we can still get a good look at the state of baseball over the past century or so. Without further ado, here is the MLB Sweet Sixteen.

The MLB Sweet Sixteen

1-Seed: 2001 Seattle Mariners (116-46) vs. 16-seed: 2011 Philadelphia Phillies (102-60)

Kicking off the MLB Sweet Sixteen, we find a game that ended up a lot closer than one might think. The Philadelphia Phillies boasted the solid contact bats of Chase Utley and Placido Polanco, with Ryan Howard bringing the punch. Meanwhile, Ichiro Suzuki, Mike Cameron, and John Olerud were among the offensive highlights of the Seattle Mariners squad. But this one came down to pitching, as Roy Halladay and Freddy Garcia brought the proverbial heat. The Mariners squeaked out a 2-1 victory at home thanks to homers from Cameron and Bret Boone.

2-seed: 1998 New York Yankees (114-48) vs. 15-seed: 1998 Atlanta Braves (106-56)

The New York Yankees won the World Series in dominant fashion in 1998. The Atlanta Braves might have given them a challenge with their fantastic record, but they fell short in that year’s NLCS. Thankfully, our simulation enables us to solve that what-if. In a stunning upset that shocks the baseball world, the 15-seeded Braves shut out the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Greg Maddux hurls an absolute gem of a game and a clutch homer from the Big Cat, Andres Galarraga helps put the Braves into the next round. Other highlights include a multi-hit game from both Walt Weiss and Ryan Klesko and a triple by young phenom Andruw Jones.

3-seed: 1954 Cleveland Indians (111-43) vs. 14-seed: 1942 St. Louis Cardinals (106-48)

Our journey through the MLB Sweet Sixteen continues with the first big blowout of the tournament. Yes, thanks to homers from Hall of Famer Larry Doby and George Strickland, the Cleveland Indians win the day 8-2 over the St. Louis Cardinals. Multi-hit days from Dave Philley and Al Rosen help seal the deal as well. Toss in a shutdown performance from starter Mike Garcia, and you have one of the more dominating games thus far. The bright spots for the Cardinals are home runs from Hall members Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial.

4-seed: 2022 Los Angeles Dodgers (111-51) vs. 13-seed: 2021 San Francisco Giants (107-55)

A classic West Coast rivalry gets its due in the first round of the MLB Sweet Sixteen tournament. In this one, the Los Angeles Dodgers go with Walker Buehler on the mound to take on the San Francisco Giants and Johnny Cueto. While it is close, in the end, the Dodgers win 4-2. An excellent outing by Buehler is picked up by the Dodger bullpen. Trea Turner has a terrific game, racking up three hits. However, the surprise is a three-hit game from Hanser Alberto. A clutch home run from Max Muncy is enough to seal the deal.

5-seed: 1927 New York Yankees (110-44) vs. 12-seed: 2019 Houston Astros (107-55)

The 2019 Houston Astros travel to New York to play the Yankees and their classic Murderer’s Row lineup. Yes, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, and the whole group get to play long ball with the Astros pitching. However, this is a tournament, and the 12-seeds are tough. This is no different as Collin McHugh stops the tough Yankees just enough to allow the Astros to take a 5-2 win into the next round. Homers by Carlos Correa and Robinson Chirinos help on the power end while Josh Reddick, Michael Brantley, and Alex Bregman add multi-hit games. Ruth’s homer is the lone bright spot for New York.

6-seed: 1969 Baltimore Orioles (109-53) vs. 11-seed: 1931 Philadelphia Athletics (107-45)

In a matchup full of Hall of Famers, once again, it’s the pitching that takes hold. Lefty Grove and Dave McNally duke it out in a battle that sees a lot of hits, yet no real scoring. In the end, the Baltimore Orioles defend their home turf thanks to a three-double performance by Andy Etchebarren. Surprisingly enough, Grove is able to hold Frank Robinson hitless in five at-bats. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Athletics have multi-hit games from Max Bishop, Mule Haas, and Phil Todt. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to scratch a run across and take a 1-0 loss.

7-seed: 1961 New York Yankees (109-53) vs. 10-seed: 1986 New York Mets (108-54)

The MLB Sweet Sixteen continues with a matchup that’s sure to take a proverbial bite out of the Big Apple. Both sides have excellent talent. However, it’s the Yankees that come out on top 6-4. The major surprise here is Mickey Mantle being limited to an 0-for-4 day by New York Mets starter Dwight Gooden. It takes homers from Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, and Bill Skowron to defeat their crosstown foes. Skowronis the standout, coming a triple shy of the cycle. On the Mets’ side, the bright spots are homers from the dynamic duo of Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry. Lenny Dykstra has a multi-hit game and even Gooden himself notches a triple. Unfortunately for the Mets, it isn’t quite enough to topple the Yankees.

8-seed: 1975 Cincinnati Reds (108-54) (vs.) 9-seed: 2018 Boston Red Sox (108-54)

The 1975 Cincinnati Reds come full tilt against the 2018 Boston Red Sox and are promptly handed a decisive loss. A two-homer game from Rafael Devers helps the Red Sox to a 5-2 win. Two more homers come from Eduardo Nunez and Jackie Bradley Jr. Meanwhile, David Price works around some trouble and the bullpen shuts the rest of the Big Red Machine down. On the Reds side of things, Johnny Bench offers a homer and Pete Rose picks up a couple of hits. However, they aren’t good with runners in scoring position and fail to advance beyond the first round.

MLB Sweet Sixteen Recap

So far, this small 16-team tournament has presented everything that such a spectacle should. There have been some surprises and some predictability. The advancement of teams like the 2001 Mariners and the 1954 Indians should have been foregone conclusions. However, teams like the 1998 Braves and 2019 Astros show that double-digit seeds have just as much of a chance as anyone. That’s what makes tournaments like these so intriguing and exciting. It is the ultimate combination of sheer unpredictability, drama, and talent. If the MLB Sweet Sixteen was all this and more, then the Elite Eight should be absolutely stupendous.


Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Players Mentioned: Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Ryan Howard, Ichiro Suzuki, Mike Cameron, John Olerud, Roy Halladay, Freddy Garcia, Bret Boone, Greg Maddux, Andres Galarraga, Walt Weiss, Ryan Klesko, Andruw Jones, Larry Doby, George Strickland, Dave Philley, Al Rosen, Mike Garcia, Enos Slaughter, Stan Musial, Walker Buehler, Johnny Cueto, Trea Turner, Hanser Alberto, Max Muncy, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Collin McHugh, Carlos Correa, Robinson Chirinos, Josh Reddick, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Lefty Grove, Dave McNally, Andy Etchebarren, Frank Robinson, Max Bishop, Mule Haas, Phil Todt, Mickey Mantle, Dwight Gooden, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Bill Skowron, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Rafael Devers, Eduardo Nunez, Jackie Bradley Jr., David Price, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose


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