During the 1993 MLB season, plans were announced to realign the divisions and expand the postseason. Instead of both the American and National Leagues being split into an East & West, with only the winners advancing to the League Championship Series, the league would go to the three-divisional format of today and add a wild-card.
The change effectively marked the end of the classic regular season pennant race—one where two genuinely outstanding teams fought each other tooth-and-nail for weeks, or even months, with the loser falling by the wayside. The last such race was the 1993 NL West, with the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants.
Each team had made a substantial offseason upgrade. San Francisco signed Barry Bonds away from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Bonds hit 46 home runs, en route to his third straight MVP award. Atlanta added Greg Maddux, who won 20 games and took home the Cy Young Award.
San Francisco spurted out to a big lead, and led Atlanta by 9 ½ games on August 7. In addition to Bonds, third baseman Matt Williams hit 38 home runs, first baseman Will Clark posted an on-base percentage of .367 and the rotation produced a pair of 20-game winners in Bill Swift and John Burkett.
The Braves made a bold move at the trade deadline and acquired first baseman Fred McGriff, one of the best offensive players in the game. The Atlanta offense had been lacking depth—there was a big dropoff in production after Ron Gant and David Justice, who combined for 76 home runs. McGriff immediately juiced up the attack Atlanta offense and between August 7 and September 21, the Braves went 32-7 and took a 3 ½ game lead.
The Giants pulled it back to even. Both teams crossed the 100-win barrier and they each reached the season’s final day at 103-58. Atlanta beat the Colorado Rockies 5-3 and waited to see if a one-game playoff would await. Instead, another chapter to the Giants-Dodgers grudge match was written, as Los Angeles blew out San Francisco 12-1
San Francisco would go into the history books as the last truly great team to miss the postseason. Atlanta wouldn’t make a third straight World Series, but they had won baseball’s last true pennant race.