Ten teams are going to make the postseason in 2018 -- like every year -- and they will all pop the champagne and have their dugout celebrations, a release of pent-up emotion and tension that has been building all season. The higher the stakes, the more powerful that release. But
Ten teams are going to make the postseason in 2018 -- like every year -- and they will all pop the champagne and have their dugout celebrations, a release of pent-up emotion and tension that has been building all season. The higher the stakes, the more powerful that release. But not all stress ends up dissipating. Certain teams, post-non-waiver Trade Deadline, have raised the stakes on their season dramatically, but in a crowded postseason chase, someone is going to end up thwarted. Someone's going to fall short.
Some teams' postseason runs are joyous underdog marches, unlikely quests for clubs nobody expected to be here. If the Pirates fall just short of the postseason, or the A's do, their fans will be disappointed, but it won't be the end of the world: This is already more than anyone could have reasonably predicted for those teams. But for five clubs, the lack of a postseason berth would be an outright disaster, a missed opportunity for an all-in team that could lead to major ramifications both short- and long-term. Here are the five teams who have the most on the line over the next two months. Make the postseason or else.
Current Fangraphs postseason odds: 88.9 percent
The stakes: With all the noise the Dodgers have been making, and with the embarrassment of talent that Los Angeles has, you would be forgiven for assuming they have a five-game National League West lead at this point. The Dodgers don't. They're tied for first with Arizona, with Colorado lurking just a game behind. They're only 7-6 since the Manny Machado trade, and they've got a brutal schedule coming up: One more game with the Brewers, then a World Series rematch with the Astros before a six-game road trip against the A's and Rockies. (They don't play a team with a losing record until August 24.) The Dodgers still are the favorites in this division. They look loaded. But they have clinched nothing yet.
The ramifications for missing the postseason: Can you imagine? If the Dodgers, the year after finally reaching the World Series but falling short in Game 7, missed the playoffs entirely? After trading for Machado? After turning their season back around? It's not like the Dodgers are going to blow it up or anything, but if this were the year, of all years, that the Dodgers' NL West title streak ended, there will be quite a fire under the seats of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and company in 2019. And they might not even have Clayton Kershaw around to cool the heat.
Current Fangraphs postseason odds: 53.3 percent
The stakes: The D-backs are a lot older team than you think they are; their only lineup regular under 29 is Nick Ahmed. Arizona turned it around quickly after the Tony La Russa/Dave Stewart era bottomed out, but the club has also sort of done it on the fly. The D-backs didn't just hit a rough patch and build their way back, which means they are running out of time. The farm system has gotten slightly better, but it'll be a couple seasons until it starts bearing fruit. Nevermind just pending free agents A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin: Even Paul Goldschmidt will be a free agent after next year. The core of this team is about to either leave or get very expensive. Arizona looked like they would be the beneficiaries of Los Angeles' early-season struggles, but now that the Dodgers are back, they are obviously not going away, for many years. The D-backs will look dramatically different next year. They better finish this off now.
The ramifications for missing the postseason: The D-backs may have to take a step back no matter what happens this season, and they've had eight years of prime Goldschmidt with only one postseason series to show for it. Arizona may want to consider a minor rebuild (perhaps even trading Goldy in a contract year?) next season regardless. With the Dodgers building a juggernaut, never taking advantage of the Goldschmidt era would stick with this organization for a long time.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
Current Fangraphs postseason odds: 71.4 percent
The stakes: The Brewers went big this offseason, bringing in Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, and it has paid off: They're a game out of first place in the NL Central and leading the NL Wild Card chase. But eventually you have to break through. Milwaukee has the fifth-longest playoff drought in the Majors, and it has clearly invested hard in ending that drought. The Brewers were unable to bring in a starting pitcher at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, and now they have a mismatched infield with a lot of power, but some odd positioning issues. Milwaukee is still building something, but it's time to show some results. Just missing out on the postseason in the final week in two consecutive seasons is a lot to ask one of the more underrated fan bases in the game.
The ramifications for missing the postseason: If the Brewers were to not make the postseason, when the opportunity is right there in front of them, it's not going to get any easier for them next season. The Pirates and Reds are improving faster than anyone suspected, the Cardinals will be particularly urgent next year if (as looks to be the case) if they miss the playoffs for a third straight year and the Cubs will still be the Cubs. The Brewers have been ambitious but they're still the Brewers: This is not a team that is going to be outspending everybody. General manager David Stearns and company have been smart, prudent and surgical in their reconstruction of this franchise. But it doesn't matter, if Milwaukee never makes it into October.
4. Seattle Mariners
Current Fangraphs postseason odds: 53.3 percent
The stakes: This one is pretty obvious. The Mariners have the longest ongoing postseason drought in the four major North American professional sports, and the eight-game American League Wild Card lead they had on July 3 is now gone completely. Seattle has an older, expensive team that has also perhaps played a little over its head this year. The Mariners probably have just this one chance left before there is a serious roster reckoning. If they don't make the postseason this year … when will they?
The ramifications for missing the postseason: The end of Mariners history? Are the Mariners going to have the faith or the patience to sit through a rebuild after once again just missing the postseason? Why would they? Why should they? There's no team with more on the line in the last two months than Seattle. It breaks your heart a little to think of what these fans will go through if it falls short.
5. Washington Nationals
Current Fangraphs postseason odds: 44.3 percent
The stakes: An entire Nationals era and the reputation of a front office under fire. Holding onto Bryce Harper (and some of the other free agents) at the Deadline was probably a no-brainer move -- do the Nats really want to be the team that traded away the central figure of Washington baseball for a half-decade now? -- but it was still a risk. And moreso: It was a bet on a team that has all the talent in the world but has just never been able to get it together. The Nationals have had one of the most consistently tortured fan bases in sports over the past half-decade, a fantastic roster that just can't get past the NL Division Series. If their all-in year ends with them not making the postseason at all, what then?
The ramifications for missing the postseason: One must be careful not to overstate this. The Nationals in 2019, even if Harper and Daniel Murphy leave, will still have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, Juan Soto and much more. This team will still be good in 2019. But it won't be easy to recover from the major step back that missing the postseason would be, and it's not like the Phillies or Braves are going anywhere either. The Nats have dominated this division for most of the Harper era. They better finish it off the best they can. Or else.
Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.