Every World Series title is special. Ah.
But some carry even greater emotional weight than others considering what a particular franchise has been through or where it might be headed.
Think of the monumental importance of five of the last six World Series: in 2015, the retail market royals won it all for the first time since 1985. In 2016, the Cubs triumphed for the first time in 108 years. In 2017 the Astros won the first title of their franchise and in 2019 the same for the Nationals. And last year, the Dodgers ended a drought that went back to 1988. (Don’t worry, 2018 Red Sox, you’re special too. But let’s not pretend Boston fans are anywhere near as concerned as they were in 2004.)
That is why we have compiled the Playoff Urgency Index. When you factor in things like past postseason pain, pending free agents, payroll obligations, and potential potency, we can sort the clubs that remain on a relative scale – 10 is most urgent, 1 is most relaxed.
Note: We are including all teams that are mathematically still alive for the postseason, which are currently 12 in total, although ultimately only 10 will qualify for the playoffs.
Urgency Index: 12, or how old Craig Counsel was when the Brewers last made the World Series
We’re breaking our 10-point scale here to take this Counseling observation and make a bigger point. Not only have the small breweries never won everything, but they will be confronted with some aggravating factors in future attempts at progress.
Christian Yelich’s salary nearly doubles in the next season (from $ 14 million to $ 26 million). Add that to the $ 18 million, Lorenzo Cain and $ 11 million Jackie Bradley Jr. Also the great Josh Hader is getting more and more expensive in arbitration. This club has been built around great pitches and it will be interesting to see Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta recover from a sharp rise in innings this season. With the news of Devin Williams’ broken hand that will keep him off until the World Series (at the earliest), the burden on Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta and Hader becomes even greater.
Since this team has not drafted more than ninth in total since 2017, the farm system ranks 25th out of 30 teams in MLB Pipeline. That said, there is no time like the present for the Brew Crew.
Urgency Index: 10 or as many times in a row as the Braves won their division without winning the NL pennant
Atlanta is at the top of the pantheon of pain in professional sports (I started making a list of other cities in this group but I didn’t mean to leave anyone out and just add to their disappointment). Sure, the Braves won it all in 1995, but that was a frustratingly fleeting moment among 14 straight titles. (And while 1995 may not seem like long ago to some, keep in mind that Turner Field has opened and closed since then.)
When the club lost a 3-1 lead to the Dodgers in the NLCS last year, it was additional torture for a fan base just a few years away from the ordeal of the Falcons who had the greatest lead in the history of the Super Bowl suffered (sorry that I brought it back up).
Thankfully, Ronald Acuña Jr., currently absent due to injury, will be around for a while. The same goes for Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley. The Braves will likely go out of their way to keep Freddie Freeman, and they have a smart and aggressive general manager in Alex Anthopoulos. This title in the fourth division in a row could not be the last. But they don’t need another heartbreak.
Urgency Index: 10, or how many times has Dusty Baker made the playoffs without winning anything
Sure, the Astros are only four years away from a World Series title. But her name has been thoroughly dragged through the mud for the sign theft scandal and, fair or not, some people will always call it a rotten title.
Here’s a chance to shut everyone down and, just as importantly, get Baker that elusive ring. The Astros lost George Springer in the free hand last winter, and Carlos Correa could be next. Zack Greinke and the injured Justin Verlander are also said to be free agents. Houston’s farming system is rated # 29 in the game by MLB Pipeline. So while this team will retain a lot of talent, including some nice young pitches, the past five years have made it increasingly difficult to maintain this excellent streak of four division titles, two AL wimbers and four ALCS appearances.
4. White socks
Urgency Index: 8, or how old Luis Robert was when the Sox won it all last time
The AL-Central champion White Sox has many young talents in the squad, but also relies heavily on the 34-year-old Lance Lynn and José Abreu as well as the 32-year-old Yasmani Grandal. The Sox’s farm system is ranked last in the game by MLB Pipeline, and they have not won a playoff series since the 2005 championship run. Hell, your manager is 77 years old so you can bet he feels an urgency.
The amount of talent here and the odds the Sox can repeat next year at AL Central keep it from a 10. But the South Siders have yet to seize this moment.
Urgency Index: 8 or how many World Series games the Rays lost on two trips to the Fall Classic (2008 and 2020)
When it comes to contracts and young talent and so on, the Rays are really well positioned in the long term because they always seem to be in a good position over the long term. That’s the hard-earned benefit of roster churn and extrapolating the value of your established talent as it gets more expensive. (The Rays have the 6th best farming system in the game according to the MLB Pipeline, and all the clubs before them were in rebuild mode.)
But of course, any small store team – even a team that is as well managed and consistently competitive as the Rays – needs to tackle an opportunity in October with enthusiasm. Even more so for Tampa Bay after it was oh so close last year.
Urgency Index: 8, or how many times the Americans missed out in October since their last World Series win
In all fairness, we’re all pretty sick of hearing how tragic it is that the Yankees haven’t even reached, let alone won, the World Series for an entire decade. And those of us with small market souls won’t shed tears over the team with the second highest payroll in the sport. After all, you’ve had 29 successful seasons in a row!
But yes, yes. When you play in the Bronx, the pressure is to win everything. We understand Indeed, as always, this is an urgent situation. Just no 10.
Urgency Index: 6, or how many post-season series the tickets have lost since the 2011 run
Whoa, who let these guys in? You may have heard this before, but the Cardinals unexpectedly stormed their wild card positioning with a September of superlatives. As the club can say in 2011, the nice thing about going out of nowhere in October is that external expectations are reduced to a minimum, which makes every post-season win all the sweeter.
But remember, the cards have been a popular choice this season to win NL Central before injuries and a poor performance in the first half intervened. Some of her key pieces include a 40 year old ace (Adam Wainwright), a 39 year old catcher (Yadier Molina), a 34 year old first baseman (Paul Goldschmidt), and a 30 year old third baseman (Nolan Arenado), and it could also be the final run of deadline acquisition Jon Lester. St. Louis should be able to spend some cash this winter, and this team always seems to have magic up their sleeves. But there must be at least an above-average appreciation here.
8. Blue jay
Urgency Index: 5, or how many years has it been since the Jays won a playoff game
While 28 years between titles is a long time, and Blue Jays fans aren’t far from losing in consecutive years at the ALCS in 2015-16, this generally feels like a team at the beginning – not the end – of. of something special.
Urgency Index: 4, for the fourth ring chasing Buster Posey
The Giants have the oldest positional group in the game and the fifth oldest pitching employee. But since this is the first appearance in the Farhan Zaidi era postseason, the Giants are widely expected to be big players in the upcoming free agent classes, and of course with three titles in the most recent rear view, it is hard to call this a particularly urgent situation.
At the beginning of the year, this team already clearly exceeded all reasonable expectations. As you know, the San Francisco Giants are contractually prohibited from winning the World Series in odd years anyway. So no one will look down on them when they are beaten in October.
Urgency Index: 3, or how many combined rings in the season did Albert Pujols and Max Scherzer win elsewhere
The Dodgers want to show that they are a dynasty and that they are just as capable of winning anything after a schedule of 162 games as they were last year after a schedule of 60 games. And for Scherzer, Pujols, Clayton Kershaw, and Mookie Betts, any addition to the ring number only adds to the Cooperstown resume.
But that’s all semantic when compared to the plight or goals of other organizations. Between their still solid farming system (it’s been thinned out by deals and trades, but still contains five of the top 100 prospects in the MLB pipeline), their stash of star power, and their financial strength, the Dodgers are unlikely to be fading anytime soon.
11. Red socks
Urgency Index: 2, or how many World Series the Red Sox have won in the last ten years
In all fairness, not that many people expected Boston to be vying for a World Series in 2021.
Urgency Index: 0, or how often did the Mariners hit the postseason between 2002 and 2020
This may seem like an odd rating on the urgency index for a team trying to end the longest playoff drought in North American professional sport. But let’s be honest: There was absolutely nothing to be expected that these M’s would go into the season as well as into September. They did an incredibly good job of winning tight games and playing loosely and without pressure, and this is exactly how they should approach an October chance.
If the Mariners moved forward, it would be the best and most shocking story in baseball. And if they hit immediately, no sweat, because they are just beginning to mature into serious contenders in the AL West. In other words, they play with house money and don’t need to feel any external urgency created by their franchise’s decades of drought.