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The 2020 World Series urgency index

@williamfleitch
September 28, 2020

Every team wants to win the World Series, and every team wants to win the World Series right now. You’re here, after all: You might as well win the darned thing. But there’s no question that some teams feel more urgency to win right now than other teams do. Some

Every team wants to win the World Series, and every team wants to win the World Series right now. You’re here, after all: You might as well win the darned thing.

But there’s no question that some teams feel more urgency to win right now than other teams do. Some teams have been building toward 2020 for years, whereas some teams are happy to be in the playoffs a year or two ahead of schedule. Some teams have only gone a couple of years since their last title, while other teams have been waiting decades.

All teams want to win. But some teams need to win based on their current construction and status of competitive windows in which to win it all. Thus, our Playoff Urgency Index. Which teams need to get it done this year more than others? Here they are, ranked 1-16.

1) Los Angeles Dodgers
Seeding: No. 1 National League
Last World Series Title: 1988

What more can you say about the Dodgers? They’ve won the National League West for eight consecutive seasons. They just put up their highest winning percentage in franchise history. They’ve reached the World Series twice in the past three years and lost each time, including one series that went to a Game 7. They have a dedicated, massive fanbase that’s desperate for a championship. They have a Hall of Fame-caliber ace whose resume is missing only a World Series ring. The last time they won a World Series was the year that Hall of Fame ace was born. If the Dodgers aren’t going to win the World Series this year, when are they going to win the World Series?

2) Minnesota Twins
Seeding: No. 3 American League
Last World Series Title: 1991

In a way, it feels like the Twins have already won their Wild Card round matchup, in that they do not have to play the Yankees in the first round. Their last four playoff appearances have all been first-round exits against the Bombers, and they have in fact lost a truly shocking 16 consecutive postseason games. Facing the Astros has to feel like a major relief then, particularly an Astros team that looks as wobbly as this one. The Twins have put together a team that, when healthy, can compete with anyone, and now they need to prove it in the postseason. The way this division is developing, it might not be the Twins’ to own that much longer. They’d better make their run now.

3) Cleveland Indians
Seeding: No. 4 American League
Last World Series Title: 1948

The Indians were so close in 2016 that you worried they’d never get that close again, and it’s worth noting they haven’t made it out of the ALDS since. But they’ve got a great opportunity this year, with an MVP candidate in José Ramírez, a star like Francisco Lindor (who didn’t end up getting traded at this Deadline after all) and a rotation that no team wants to run into. With Cleveland, you never know how many opportunities you’re going to have, or who’s going to still be around when you do. Is this the last best chance this incarnation will have in Cleveland?

4) New York Yankees
Seeding: No. 5 American League
Last World Series Title: 2009

It’s always urgent with a capital “URG” for the Yankees, but it’s particularly so when you've gone a whole decade without reaching the World Series and you just spent a stunning amount of money on a starting pitcher specifically designed to get you there. The Yankees also have most of their injured hitters back now, which conveniently erases any excuses they might have been able to fall back on otherwise. The postseason roster is (mostly) the one they paid for. This is what the Yankees are supposed to exist for: Winning World Series. If they do that, no one will care about that lower-than-it-was-supposed-to-be No. 5 seed. If they don’t, no one will let them forget it.

5) Atlanta Braves
Seeding: No. 2 National League
Last World Series Title: 1995

The Braves actually have two eras of postseason misery, which overlap. They won division titles every year from 1991-2005 and yet won only one World Series. And they lost 10 consecutive playoff series from 2001-2019. Last year looked like the year … until they gave up 10 runs in the top of the first inning of an afternoon home Game 5. This year is the Freddie Freeman MVP year, and they have Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson and Max Fried and all of that talent. But another first round exit would make them pull their hair out.

6) Tampa Bay Rays
Seeding: No. 1 American League
Last World Series Title: Never

Are the Rays ever going to have a better shot to win the World Series? They’ve probably never had a better team, with a roster stacked with talent all over, particularly on the pitching and defense side. They’re in a division with the Yankees, the sure-to-be-back-in-a-huge-way-soon Red Sox, the now-playoff-ready Blue Jays and the there’s-something-brewing-here Orioles, so winning a division title is only going to get harder in the years to come. They’ve got terrific pitchers, but pitchers, by definition, get injured or (in the Rays case) get traded: You’re not going to have this group together forever, or probably even next year. The Rays are the No. 1 seed and seem built for short series. They better do it now, while they have this perfectly constructed opportunity.

7) Oakland A’s
Seeding: No. 2 American League
Last World Series Title: 1989

The A’s are always better than you think they’re going to be, but they’ve lost 13 of their last 14 postseason series, and they’ve got to be relieved they at least don’t have only one Wild Card game to play in here, like they have the last three times they’ve made the postseason. Losing Matt Chapman hurts and drops them a spot or two here: You can’t be as angry with a team if they lose without their leader and best all-around player.

8) Chicago Cubs
Seeding: No. 3 National League
Last World Series Title: 2016

For all the talk that the Cubs were going to make some big offseason trade to jump start their next era of contention, they ended up keeping most of the band together … and got a division title out of it. They did this despite down years from so many of their offensive stars. The question now is whether they have another run in them with the bulk of the 2016 core.

9) Cincinnati Reds
Seeding: No. 7 National League
Last World Series Title: 1990

For much of this shortened season, the Reds looked like one of the biggest disappointments in baseball. They loaded up on bats over the winter, hoping to take advantage of a terrific rotation and an unsettled division, but they got off to a lousy start and spent much of the season digging out of that hole. But come mid-September, they figured it out, and they now look like a truly terrifying first round matchup for Atlanta. They’ve invested enough into this season that a first-round exit would be a serious bummer, but they also have to try to live up -- or live down -- to their status as everyone’s postseason sleeper. No matter what happens, the Reds are absolutely not going to be dull.

10) Milwaukee Brewers
Seeding: No. 8 National League
Last World Series Title: Never

Considering some of the talented teams Milwaukee has had, from the 1982 team that lost in Game 7 of the World Series to the 2018 team that truly looked primed to win the whole thing, it sure would be something wild if this Brewers team, the one with the losing record, made a run. You only get so many years of Christian Yelich (and Josh Hader, for that matter), so you want to take advantage while you can, but the Brewers’ urgency level has to be lowered somewhat for one simple reason: They’re playing the Dodgers in the first round. There’s an element of house money simply by drawing that matchup … particularly when you have the record that they do.

11) Houston Astros
Seeding: American League No. 6
Last World Series Title: 2017

So much for the Astros having the incredible season that was going to shut up all the post-banging-scandal doubters. The Astros are actually quite fortunate to even make the playoffs: The Angels fell on their face, the Rangers collapsed early and the Mariners couldn’t quite leg it out. This team doesn’t much resemble those Astros teams of the last few years, though a lot of the same players are still around, so you can still boo if you wish. The Astros would love nothing more to win the World Series and have that to boost their legacy. But I’m not sure, even if that comes to pass, fans are going to be particularly forgiving anyway.

12) San Diego Padres
Seeding: No. 4 National League
Last World Series Title: Never

Now this is what Padres fans were waiting for. Ever patient, Padres fans have had to watch several big rebuilding projects come and go, always with a promise of a brighter future. That brighter future has finally arrived, with Manny Machado having an MVP-caliber season and Fernando Tatis Jr. emerging as the most exciting player in baseball. On one hand, you want to put an exclamation point on such an exciting season with a title. On the other … this is clearly just the start of something great. The Padres are more than just happy to be here. But they are, however, still really happy to be here.

13) Chicago White Sox
Seeding: No. 7 Americans League
Last World Series Title: 2005

The White Sox were the No. 1 seed just a couple of weeks ago, but a skid late, combined with runs from the Twins and Indians, pushed them all the way down to No. 7. The A’s still aren’t a bad matchup -- Chicago may have gotten a better matchup than the second-place-in-the-division Indians -- and there’s reason for Sox fans to be optimistic. But the White Sox truly do have the look of a team that’s mostly giddy to be back in the postseason, as well as one that will be returning to that postseason for many years to come. This is just the start, and everybody knows it.

14) St. Louis Cardinals
Seeding: No. 5 National League
Last World Series Title: 2011

The Cardinals had as tumultuous a season as any team in baseball, missing two weeks due to quarantine and having to make up that fortnight of missed games with a series of doubleheaders and hardly any days off. They got through it, and they even have their rotation, their team’s primary strength (along with its defense), lining up perfectly. They clearly would love to finish this trying season with a title to show for it, but that they have made it this far, considering all they’ve went through, is plenty impressive enough.

15) Toronto Blue Jays
Seeding: No. 8 American League
Last World Series Title: 1993

Everyone had to deal with some turmoil in this unprecedented season, but every team other than the Blue Jays at least got to play in their own stadium. The Blue Jays were essentially on the road all year, even if Buffalo was a cordial temporary host, and yet they still emerged with a winning record and a playoff berth. There’s gobs of young talent here, and this is probably a year or two earlier than the Jays were expecting to be in the postseason. Everything at this point is bonus time: They’re never going to forget the Buffalo year, regardless of outcome.

16) Miami Marlins
Seeding: No. 6 National League
Last World Series Title: 2003

The second-longest playoff drought in all of baseball has been snapped. (Sorry, Seattle.) The Marlins benefitted from some seriously disappointing NL East teams, but they earned their spot here, overcoming a COVID semi-outbreak and sure making it look like Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly have this franchise pointed in the right direction. (Imagine if they make it farther than the Yankees.) Young players, particularly young pitchers, have driven this run, and while they’ve got plenty of years ahead of them to make some more charges at a title, they also have that never-made-the-playoffs-without-winning-the-Series streak to continue.