Postseason urgency rankings for 15 clubs

August 15th, 2019

Obviously, every team wants to make the playoffs every year. The Orioles are reconstructing their entire organization to construct a team that regularly makes the postseason down the road, but if some sort of cosmic event happened and they won every game the rest of the season and all the teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race lost every game and they were somehow handed a playoff spot, they would take it. The playoffs are great.

But there’s no question that some teams are more desperate to reach the playoffs this season than others. You could tell at the Deadline how much certain teams were willing to sell players who could help them years from now in order to sneak in this year. Future seasons are important, but the current one always feels like it matters more.

Today, we’re taking all the postseason contenders and ranking them in our Playoff Urgency Index. Which teams does 2019 mean the most to? Which teams would be happy to make the playoffs but won’t feel like their plans need to be adjusted if they don’t? That’s what the Playoff Urgency Index is trying to determine.

First, we’re ignoring teams that have essentially already clinched playoff spots according to FanGraphs playoff odds. Playoff odds tell how likely it is for a MLB team to win its division, clinch a Wild Card berth or win the World Series. FanGraphs simulates each season 10,000 times to generate these probabilities.

For our purposes, any team above 98% is considered already in. So, (early) congrats to the Braves, Astros, Dodgers, and Yankees.

For those keeping score at home, that only leaves six available playoff spots. As long as a team's FanGraphs playoff odds are above 0.0 percent, it’s in. The teams not meeting this benchmark are the Orioles, White Sox, Rockies, Tigers, Royals, Angels, Marlins, Pirates, Mariners, Rangers and Blue Jays.

That leaves 15 teams for six spots. Here’s how they look.

15. Padres (0.4%)

The Padres are just barely hanging on -- that number may be at 0.0 percent within the next 24 hours -- but that’s fine. This season was all about figuring out what the Padres have and laying the groundwork for contention. We now know that San Diego is chock-full of young, promising talent. The Padres’ new core is headlined by , who already feels like a legitimate 2020 MVP candidate. They’ll need to supplement in the offseason -- an extra starter or two wouldn’t hurt -- but there aren’t many teams with a stronger foundation than the Padres right now. Are there five teams in the National League you’d rather be moving forward?

14. Reds (2.6%)

The Reds missed an opportunity last weekend to make one last charge at the Cubs atop the division, and with the trade for Trevor Bauer at the Deadline, it looks like they’re loading up for 2020. That’s a smart play. Cincinnati’s rotation made huge strides this year, and its offense, particularly if is for real (or even three-quarters real), is due for a bounceback. The Reds had a frustrating season with a record that likely won’t reflect how good they were in 2019, which is yet another reason for fans of one of baseball’s oldest franchises to be excited for 2020.

13. D-backs (8.6%)

The D-backs have been truly impressive in how they have continued to contend while reconstructing their roster in the wake of the Dave Stewart era. The trade looks better every day -- Carson Kelly is having a better season than Goldschmidt -- and if 's All-Star season isn’t a fluke, they have a franchise cornerstone. This is a smart front office that has made a series of smart decisions. If they’re rewarded with a playoff berth in 2019, they’ll happily take it. But this franchise is on solid footing, regardless.

12. Red Sox (6.4%)

For what it’s worth, if the Red Sox were in the National League, they’d only be a game-and-a-half out of the Wild Card. In the American League, though, this team looks mostly done. All the magic from last year is gone, and despite some outstanding individual performances (, , ), this is looking like a lost season. The Red Sox still have mounds of talent, and they’ll be geared up for 2020. And if you’re going to have a down season and miss the playoffs, the year after you won 108 regular-season games and the World Series isn’t the worst time to do it.

11. Giants (1.7%)

The Giants did not trade many of their best pieces at the Deadline, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to pay off for them; they are barely hanging on in the playoff chase at this point. That doesn’t necessarily mean that not trading was a terrible idea. This is a proud franchise with a proud fan base and gutting the team at the Deadline in Bruce Bochy’s last season would have put a bad taste in many fans' mouths. The departure of Bochy at the end of the season marks the beginning of a new era for the Giants. It would have been nice to send the longtime manager out with a deep October run, but there is still grace in how this all went down.

10. Mets (32.9%)

The last couple of months have been quite the roller-coaster ride for the Mets. In other words, the last couple of months have been totally normal for Mets fans. Total misery followed by absolute euphoria followed by … well, that’s still up in the air. But the Mets’ plan since hiring Brodie Van Wagenen as general manager has been to try to win in 2019 and '20. Trading for was evidence of the Mets’ “win now” mentality. Even if the Mets fall short this year, they’re clearly all-in for next season as well. It might not work, and if it doesn’t work, the New York front office won’t look the same in 2021.

9. A’s (23.3%)

The A’s had a fantastic 2018, winning 97 games with a deeply likable team that inspired one of the more underappreciated fanbases in professional sports. Unfortunately for A’s fans, all this got the team was a lousy October evening in The Bronx where it was swiftly given a perfunctory exit from the playoffs. Forgive A’s fans for not salivating over the possibility of getting to do that again. Oakland isn’t as revelatory as last year. To the surprise of no team in the American League, the A’s do everything well and aren’t terrible anywhere. If their solid all-around play gets them to a Wild Card Game: Great! But the Yankees or the Astros would more than likely be waiting for them even if they won it.

8. Indians (92.3%)

The Indians’ recent hot streak feels like the opposite of a fluke: It feels like the run we’ve been waiting for them to go on all year. Cleveland got and before the Deadline, strengthened its bullpen and, most importantly, snapped Jose Ramirez out of his funk. That they did this without having to gut the team or the farm system is a nifty bit of magic. But now you must finish it off. If the Indians come all this way and somehow miss the playoffs, there will be lots of questions to be answered.

7. Brewers (31.4%)

On one hand, Milwaukee wants to take full advantage of the insane run is on. On the other, the Brewers came this close to making the World Series last year, but this year … this year just hasn’t quite felt the same, has it? When , who looked like a superhuman in 2018, is blowing saves in key pennant-chase games, you wonder if all the things that fell right in '18 just aren’t going to in '19. The Brewers are still serious contenders ifor next year, particularly after we see what ends up happening with the Cubs and Cardinals. But this year has felt snake-bit for a while.

6. Nationals (86.7%)

Just a few months ago, the house seemed to be caving in (again) on the Nats. They’ve recovered since then and now lead the Wild Card chase. With the team’s likely Wild Card Game starter, you’ve got to like their odds. But another thing this season has proven is that they truly didn’t need after all. This team is overflowing with young talent, and you can make an argument that is the efficient 20-year-old superstar we were all trying to convince ourselves Harper was. It’ll be a bummer if the Nats miss the playoffs this year, but there are too many future stars here for them to fall too far anytime soon.

5. Rays (81.6%)

The Rays have made many smart moves to get themselves to this point. , , , , Avisail Garcia and Travis d'Arnaud are all players that the Rays acquired in the last 13 months. Each of them have been key contributors this year. Tampa Bay has to make it happen now. After all, nothing is permanent at Tropicana Field. It’s possible none of these players are even on this roster in two years. The Rays best take advantage of this one.

4. Twins (96.4%)

Can you imagine if the Twins, who were on pace to win 100 games and had an 11 1/2-game lead in the AL Central seemingly not long ago, end up missing the playoffs entirely? The probability of this happening is only 3.6%, according to FanGraphs, but Cleveland’s current hot streak has Twins fans rightfully nervous. The Twins have lost their last seven postseason series and haven’t made it out of the ALDS in 17 years, so expectations for this supposed breakthrough year were high before the recent decline in play. This said, depending on whether the Yankees or the Astros end up with the best record in the AL, Minnesota might not even want to win the division. Avoiding the Yankees, who have beaten them in five straight playoff series, is imperative, but missing the playoffs entirely would be a disaster.

3. Cardinals (49.3%)

You would think the Cardinals would be at the top of this list. After all, this is a historic franchise with a massive, endlessly dedicated fan base and a top 10 payroll, yet it has gone four whole seasons without playing in a single postseason game. For reference, the last postseason RBIs for the Cardinals came from Brandon Moss and Tony Cruz, both of whom are long out of baseball. If the Cardinals miss the postseason again, it will be their longest drought since the mid-90s. But the team was silent at the Deadline, even though it is right with the Cubs in the NL Central standings. The Cards’ front office is acting as if its fan base will be remain calm if they miss the playoffs again. We shall see.

2. Cubs (76.9%)

We should say right off the bat that after what happened in 2016, you could forgive the Cubs and their fans for not being particularly urgent about anything for a few years. But all told, this was supposed to be a team that competed for multiple championships, and every year since 2016 has been worse than the last one. 2017: NLCS loss. 2018: Wild Card Game loss. If that trend continues and they miss the playoffs this year, there may be some serious housecleaning, starting with Joe Maddon -- who is in the final year of his contract. Nonetheless, the Cubs still seem like the best team in the division. But the same could be said of last year’s Cubs team that wound up not winning the division. This was supposed to be the dynasty Cubs. But right now, they’re in danger of being the 1985 Bears: An amazing one-hit wonder.

1. Phillies (9.9%)

The last time the Phillies made an appearance in the playoffs (2011), the game ended with Ryan Howard crawling up the first-base line in a game that Roy Halladay pitched brilliantly but still lost. Since then, the team has reconstructed everything, and in the last two years, they’ve been spending like crazy to break through, most notably signing Harper to the largest contract in MLB history. The Phillies have been ravaged by injuries this season, but that won’t cut it as an excuse to this fanbase. The Phillies currently have the fifth-longest playoff drought in baseball, behind only the Mariners, Marlins, Padres and White Sox. Phillies fans have been patient, but that patience is now long gone.