In Cleveland, you will quickly be regaled with tales of how long it’s been since the city has celebrated winning a World Series. Ditto in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Detroit and a certain tortured borough of New York City. But despite championship droughts that have now lasted for decades, fans of the Guardians, Pirates, Orioles, Tigers and Mets can find hope in one very important fact — it’s happened before, so why can’t it happen again?
But what about baseball’s final five? As in the remaining five MLB franchises yet to win a World Series, now that the Texas Rangers have ended 62 seasons of darkness that began as the second incarnation of the Washington Senators.
We ranked the final five by likelihood of finally getting off the schneid.
Pennants: one — 2007
2023 record: 59-103
Has any other franchise exuded more we’re just happy to be here vibes than the Rockies? For so long, the organization has seemingly operated without a cohesive plan. They hold on to players when they probably should be traded. They extend players when they probably should be allowed to walk. They extended a franchise cornerstone in Nolan Arenado only to pay the freight for the privilege of trading him away. They signed Kris Bryant though their plan for contention seemingly ended right there. Through it all, the fans keep pouring through the turnstiles at beautiful Coors Field. But that support hasn’t amounted to much success.
The Rockies’ closest call to winning the whole thing came in 2007, when a white-knuckle thrill ride led to the brilliance of Rocktober but ended with an anticlimactic World Series sweep against the Red Sox. The team was 76-72 on Sept. 16 then won 14 of 15 to close out the year, forcing a Game 163 in which they prevailed, 9-8, in 13 innings. By the time the Rockies had secured the pennant, they had won 21 of their last 22 games. Baseball is weird, folks.
That weirdness might be the Rockies’ best path to winning it all in the immediate future. Surprises happen. If we’d run this ranking before the 2023 season, the Rangers wouldn’t have ranked first (the Padres would have) and might have been as low as fourth. So who knows? Maybe the Rockies have a miracle or an offseason spending spree brewing. But it’s not likely. The big-league club is coming off a 103-loss campaign and the farm system ranks in the middle third of the league.
Pennants: one — 1982
2023 record: 92-70
No team on this list has come closer to a World Series title than the Brewers. For starters, the city has had a World Series winner before, in 1957, but that was the Milwaukee Braves, who later relocated to Atlanta. (The Brewers descended from the short-lived Seattle Pilots.) And then there’s the 1982 World Series: Brewers vs. Cardinals, St. Louis vs. Milwaukee, Anheuser-Busch vs. Miller. The Suds Series. Harvey’s Wallbangers had a chance to close out the Cardinals in Games 6 and 7, but the bats fell silent.
Today’s Brewers aren’t Wallbangers at all. That pop is precisely what’s lacking in Milwaukee. Well, that and a manager, as Craig Counsell is now a free agent and likely headed elsewhere. The Brewers went to the playoffs five times in eight seasons under Counsell, advancing to Game 7 of the NLCS against the Dodgers in 2018 but falling far shorter in the other tries.
For now, the Brewers are still built to contend for the NL Central crown. They have a rejuvenated Christian Yelich, a budding star in catcher William Contreras, and a promising cast of young players and prospects. They have a shutdown closer in Devin Williams. But they are propelled by their starting pitching, and serious questions linger there. How long will Corbin Burnes, who’ll be a free agent next fall, remain in Milwaukee? Will Brandon Woodruff be able to contribute at all in 2024 after undergoing shoulder surgery? Will the Brewers have their next wave of starters ready?
2023 record: 88-74
After toiling in obscurity and mediocrity for their first decade of existence, in the late 1980s, the Mariners began building a remarkably talented and remarkably cool roster to carry them to the promised land. There was Edgar Martinez, then Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Tino Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Jamie Moyer, Bret Boone and the king of cool: Jay Buhner. Even the uniforms were cool: the teals, the blues, the gold and silver accents. That beautiful chapter of Seattle baseball had highs — four postseason trips in seven years — and the heartbreak of three ALCS defeats. Their record 116-win season in 2001 ended in an ALCS Game 5 loss to the Yankees.
All of that cool made Seattle a home for the stars. A parade of them rolled through, from Ichiro Suzuki to Adrián Beltré to Félix Hernández to Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz, but none played a single postseason game for the Mariners. Then came Julio Rodríguez and Big Dumper’s dinger as the 2022 Mariners snapped a two-decade postseason drought.
Better days are here. But what is ahead? Setting aside Jerry Dipoto’s blather about the Mariners’ “54 percent” mission, the path forward is treacherous. Seattle has not won the AL West since 2001. They just watched their top competition in the division, the Astros and Rangers, go the distance in the ALCS. The Astros are a juggernaut, and the Rangers are the champs. The Mariners have the makings of one of the best rotations in baseball, and they’ll be even better once Robbie Ray is healthy. But they must strengthen the lineup surrounding Rodríguez.
2. San Diego Padres
Pennants: two — 1984, 1998
2023 record: 82-80
The mostly woebegone existence of the Padres is fascinating. One rabbit hole after another. There was trouble from the start. Just five years after inception, things had gone so poorly in San Diego that there was a legitimate effort to flee America’s Finest City for a place that had already lost two baseball teams: Washington D.C.
That sordid history added yet another chapter this season, when a massive payroll and star-laden lineup couldn’t overcome the dysfunctional culture fostered by general manager A.J. Preller. The fans turned out in droves, a testament to the hype that followed this squad, though all they were treated to were daily episodes of “As The Friars Turn.”
All of that culminated with Preller staying and manager Bob Melvin going. Yet plenty of challenges remain. The franchise feels like it’s in a weird stage. Payroll won’t stay this high forever. Juan Soto might hit the trade market again. Blake Snell might win a Cy Young Award and then celebrate by inking a free-agent deal with another team. And the NL West is getting tougher. The Diamondbacks just won the pennant, the Giants are feeling pressure to get more exciting (they began by snagging Melvin), and the Dodgers remain formidable. But the Padres have one big thing going for them — some high-end talent that can take them to the promised land — so long as they can figure out the mix around them.
Pennants: two — 2008, 2020
2023 record: 99-63
Billy Beane, one of modern analytics’ OG adherents, complained in “Moneyball” that “my s— doesn’t work in the playoffs.” He was right. Though the Oakland A’s kept making the playoffs, they never even won a pennant during his tenure running the club, much less a World Series. Contrast that with the Rays, whose s— has worked better than Beane’s s— in the playoffs. At least the Rays have played in the Fall Classic.
Breaking through has been a different matter, and the road forward appears complicated. Though the franchise reached the postseason in 2023 for the fifth straight year, the uncertainty surrounding Wander Franco (who remains on administrative leave) will shape the team’s immediate future, as will health issues with its stable of promising young arms a payroll that is jumping to $130 million, up from $79 million. It’s not hard to envision some cost-cutting.
Yet, the Rays are closing in on two decades as one of the sport’s models of consistency. Residing in a difficult division, they have reached the postseason nine of the last 16 seasons. During that span, the Rays also fielded two 90-win teams and an 84-win club. Under baseball’s expanded playoff system, those three teams would likely be in the mix for a postseason berth. Winning it all starts by making the dance, and the Rays are always a good bet to make the dance.
(Top photo of Randy Arozarena: Julio Aguilar / Getty Images)