From Mike and Mike this morning:
Jayson Stark argued that, if the Cards go on to eliminate the Mets, it will be one of the great upsets of all-time. The basis for this claim is that the Mets finished 32 games over .500 this year, and the Cards five games over. The difference: 27 games. (this is an odd way of counting "games" in baseball. The Mets won 14 more games than the Cards. The 27 figure is what baseball normally refers to as half games. Anyway).
Stark said that only three times in history has a team twenty-seven (half) games inferior to its opponent, beaten that opponent in a post-season series: the 1906 White Sox, the so-called Hitless wonders (they hit three homeruns all season), who, with a record of 93-58, beat the 116-36 Cubs in the World Series; the 2001 Yankees who, at 95-65 were 40 (half) games worse than the 116-46 Mariners (though, given that the Yankees had won the previous three world series, I am not sure this qualifies as an upset); and the 1954 New York Giants who, at 97-57, won the World Series by sweeping the 110-44 Cleveland Indians.
Three points here:
1) Stark's wrong; there is a fourth team, and that fourth team is a more obvious comp to the present Cardinals than any of the teams mentioned above. The 1973 Mets, below .500 for much of the season, made a late push to win one of the craziest division races of all-time with a record of 82-79. Their opponent in the NLCS that year - Cincinnati's Big Red Machine, the National League's best team, with a 99-63 record. That's a difference of 33 half games. In one of the most famous LCS's ever played, featuring a wild bench clearing brawl precipitated by a hard Pete Rose slide into Mets' shortstop Buddy Harrelson at second base in Game Three, the Mets shocked the Reds in five games.
2) related to the above point, the three teams Stark mentioned were all very good teams. The 1906 Sox and the 1954 Giants were, of course, league champions, and the 2001 Yankees were also, needless to say, a great baseball team. What was noteworthy about those series was that historically good teams were eliminated. The 2006 Mets were certainly the best team in their league, but by no measure were they historically good (except in their margin of victory in their division - a function of the division's mediocrity, not the Mets' greatness). The story here is how a 83-78 team, lucky to have made the post-season, and playing without its closer and with a patchwork rotation featuring Jeff Weaver of all people, could be doing this well. The 1973 Mets had a great rotation, but almost no offensive weapons to speak of and were likewise lucky to have made the playoffs at all. This was a bad miss by Stark.
3) Finally, and (tangentially) related to point two - not enough is made of how distinctive baseball is. Five teams have won the incredible total of 110 or more games in the history of baseball since the beginning of the World Series era in 1903. Only two (both Yankee teams) - have closed the deal in the post-season. It is true that teams with historically good regular seasons in other sports have lost in the playoffs, like the 1995-96 Red Wings, the 1972-73 Celtics, and the 1998 Vikings. But, in no other sport is regular season dominance a less reliable predictor of post-season success than in baseball. This is a big reason why Billy Beane has famously said that his "shit don't work" in the playoffs.