SAN FRANCISCO -- Best in baseball? The Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants spent much of the season just trying to catch mediocre teams like the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers just to win their divisions.
Those up-and-down regular seasons are distant memories now that the Giants and Tigers have raced through the playoffs and are getting ready for Game 2 of the World Series in San Francisco on Thursday night.
The Giants trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West as late as mid-August before making a strong run to win the division and finish tied with the third-best record in the National League.
The Tigers were merely six games over .500 with three weeks left in the regular season and made the playoffs despite posting the seventh-best record in the American League.
"You know what, I think these are the best two teams and the hottest teams, too," Tigers reliever Jose Valverde said. "The first two months, you see Detroit is in last place. Chicago, Cleveland, everybody's laughing. What happened now?"
For much of its history, baseball was a grueling, six-month endurance test, with only the top team in each league going to the postseason.
Now, with six divisions and four wild-card teams, it's more a matter of just getting into the tournament and getting on a roll in October.
"I think ideally you like to see the teams that have the best record end up there," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Both the Giants and Tigers got in as division winners but they were not the top teams in their leagues over the 162-game haul.
Washington finished with baseball's best record this year with 98 wins but fell in the division series to the 88-win St. Louis Cardinals, who won it all the previous year as a wild-card team. The Cardinals won a one-game playoff under the new wild-card format just to get to the divisional series.
Detroit, with 88 wins, finished behind the other four AL playoff teams, as well as the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays despite playing in the AL's weakest division. But the Tigers knocked off AL West champion Oakland in the first round and swept the New York Yankees, who had the AL's best record, in the league championship series.
"You just need to get hot like the Cardinals did last year," Tigers outfielder Don Kelly said. "You have to play your best baseball at the right time. But over the course of the year you have to keep yourself there, you have to keep yourself in it. You can't get too far behind. That's what we talked about a lot as a team. We just had to stay right there because we knew we could pull it out at the end."