Which title drought will end next? Here are 10 possibilities

January 19th, 2024

MLB Network, launched on Jan. 1, 2009, is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2024. Through Jan. 19, MLB Network will count down the top 15 moments it has covered in its history, via weeknight segments on MLB Tonight (6 p.m. ET), as well as across its social platforms. And don’t forget to catch MLB Network’s 15th Anniversary retrospective show -- “MLB Network Legendary Moments” presented by Budweiser, with Greg Amsinger, Sean Casey and Harold Reynolds -- scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on Monday, Jan. 22.

The No. 1 moment on the countdown: The Cubs winning the 2016 World Series and snapping their 108-year-old title drought.

There is no bigger story in sports than when a team whose fanbase has suffered for years in the wilderness, desperate to win a championship, finally wins one. It’s why we’ll never forget the 2004 Red Sox, or the 2005 White Sox or the 2016 Cubs. It’s why every Michigan college football fan is still walking around giddy; it’s why fans of the Lions in the NFL are so excited right now. A long-awaited championship justifies all those years of dedicating yourself to a team without knowing if it will ever pay off. It’s what makes it all worthwhile.

Ask the Texas Rangers and their fans.

Now that the Rangers have won their first World Series, you can take them off the list: Almost half (14, actually) of the teams in Major League Baseball have not won a World Series in the last 26 seasons since baseball last expanded in 1998. That the Rangers were among those teams a year ago and are now no longer is a sign of hope: If they can do it, others can too.

But which teams are more likely to do it? Here’s a ranking of the 10 most likely of those teams to break through and win a World Series in 2024 -- because this could be the year.

1. Orioles (Last title: 1983)

As frustrating as the postseason was last year, this is a team that won 101 games in 2023, the second most in baseball, and they did it with a young core that’s still improving and emerging. The Orioles just keep producing incredible talent at a rate that’s almost overwhelming. The question is increasingly not, “Is this new guy a star?” and instead, “Where are they gonna play all these guys?” And it’s possible that top overall prospect Jackson Holliday, who will arrive sometime this year, maybe early this year, is the biggest potential star of all of them.

Certainly, Orioles fans might have liked to have a more aggressive pursuit of starting pitching this offseason, but you could do a lot worse than a Kyle Bradish/Grayson Rodriguez/John Means top three, and there is still certainly room to add. The Orioles won the American League East last year, may well be better this year and now have some postseason experience to draw from. This is your AL East favorite. This is your AL favorite. This might be your World Series favorite.

2. Blue Jays (Last title: 1993)

It has felt like it was about to be the Blue Jays’ moment for several years now, but it has not in fact become the Blue Jays moment just yet. They’ve still reached the playoffs three of the last four seasons -- and the year they didn’t make the playoffs, they still won 91 games -- but they were swept out of all three of those playoff rounds, and the team can’t help but have that nagging sense that the moment is in danger of passing. But all it takes is one hot October streak to fix that, and this is certainly a team capable of going on one of those.

Do not forget how young this team remains: Other than George Springer and Kevin Kiermaier, the entire starting lineup is under 29 years old; it feels like they’ve all been around longer than they have. This is a tough division and always will be, but if it all gets rolling in the right direction for the Blue Jays, this could be their year.

3. Rays (Last title: N/A, franchise debuted in 1998)

What does it tell you about the American League East that the team most are picking to finish fourth in their division is third in these rankings? A lot has changed for the Rays since they looked like the best team in baseball at the beginning of 2023, but they still won 99 games and made the playoffs, and they look well-positioned to make a run again this year.

Junior Caminero’s ascent to everyday player is probably the most exciting storyline for Rays fans as we head into the season, but there’s always someone coming up in this system, particularly on the pitching side; there is just a sense that whatever you throw at the Rays, they’re going to figure it out. Write them off at your own peril.

4. Mariners (Last title: N/A, franchise debuted in 1977)

It has been an odd offseason for the Mariners, who took a step back after finally breaking through and ending their long postseason drought in 2022. Trading Robbie Ray may have felt like a selling move, but bringing back Mitch Haniger feels right, in a cosmic sense, and they added another bat to a lineup that looks considerably different than last year’s.

Haniger joins new additions Mitch Garver, Luke Raley and Luis Urías as the supporting cast to the Julio Rodríguez/J.P. Crawford/Cal Raleigh/Ty France core, which seems more than adequate considering that the Mariners, defying what some experts predicted, kept their young rotation intact. If someone like, say, Bryan Woo can step forward, this could be one of the best rotations in the American League. The Rangers and Astros are a formidable 1-2 atop the AL West, but there is room for the Mariners to maneuver here. And for what it’s worth: If Julio plays the whole season the way he played the final two months, he’s going to win the MVP.

5. Brewers (Last title: N/A, franchise debuted in 1969; moved to Milwaukee in 1970)

Most of baseball seemed to be anticipating a Brewers teardown this offseason, but it never actually happened. Corbin Burnes is still there, Christian Yelich is still there, Willy Adames is still there and Freddy Peralta is still there. That’s the core of a Brewers team that won the division last year, and now they’ll be adding Jackson Chourio, one of the best prospects in all of baseball, who just signed a long-term deal.

The NL Central was not strong last year, but it should be better in 2024: The Reds’ youngsters are a year older, the Cubs have made some adds and may have more coming and the Cardinals can’t possibly have as disastrous a year as they just had. Is it possible the Brewers are still the division favorites? They’ve had many chances to reach their second World Series ever these last few years but have never broken through. It won’t be easier without Craig Counsell in charge anymore. But the cupboard is hardly barren here.

6. Padres (Last title: N/A, franchise debuted in 1969)

The Padres have already traded Juan Soto, and Blake Snell, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, is a free agent. So this probably seems a little high on this list. But there are two reasons to be optimistic about the Padres. The first is the obvious one: They still have Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Xander Bogaerts, not to mention Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Ha-Seong Kim and others. There’s a lot of talent on this team, to say the least.

But the second one is simple luck: There is no way the Padres can be as unlucky as last year’s team. We all spent the entire season waiting for the Padres to finally kick it into gear, but it just never happened. It was bizarre, even absurd, how many bad things happened and how fortune frowned upon them. This team was 2-12 in extra innings and 9-23 in one-run games. That has to turn around, right? After all, even with all that, they finished above .500. A vibes cleanse has got to help this team. Sure, they’re probably not catching the Dodgers. But they’ve beaten them in the playoffs in a season when they finished behind them before. It can always happen again.

7. Mets (Last title: 1986)

If you were to rank this list by likelihood of a team winning the World Series anytime in the next five years, the Mets would probably be No. 2, just below the Orioles. But 2024 feels like a bit of a reset year, a chance for the Mets to get their payroll settled, figure out what they have moving forward and filter in the young talent that’s in their system and trying to establish itself in the Majors. There’s still quite a bit that’s good here; amid the disappointment of 2023, it has been a little lost just how good Francisco Lindor was. He’s the center of a veteran core of Pete Alonso/Brandon Nimmo/Jeff McNeil, which should mix nicely with young players like Francisco Álvarez.

The pitching needs some work, which will happen when you trade away multiple former Cy Young Award winners, but with the pressure off this year (as much as pressure can be off in Queens), the Mets should be quietly better this year. And in the years after that … look out.

8. Tigers (Last title: 1984)

Picking a favorite in the AL Central this year isn’t easy: You can make a case for any team, even the White Sox, who still have Luis Robert Jr. and that core hanging around. But if you’re looking for a team on the rise with young talent starting to come together, perhaps the Tigers are your pick? Riley Greene could be a superstar in the making, Kerry Carpenter emerged as an impressive regular last year, and even Spencer Torkelson began to look something like the guy many thought was going to hit 50 homers someday. You can tell the Tigers’ brass think something might be brewing by the fact that they added some sorely needed starting pitching in Kenta Maeda and Jack Flaherty. (Though as my colleague Mike Petriello recently pointed out, Tarik Skubal is the pitcher to watch in 2024.)

This year is the 40th anniversary of that legendary 1984 team. Could there be some throwback vibes in Detroit this year?

9. Reds (Last title: 1990)

No team in the NL Central, and few teams in baseball, have the collection of electric young talent that the Reds have. It’s downright hypnotic to watch Elly De La Cruz -- he seems otherworldly. What he didn’t turn out to be by the end of 2023, though, was all that productive of an MLB player. How could a guy with that much natural talent only put up an 89 OPS+? (He only had a .300 OBP!) You have to think that’ll improve dramatically as he gets more comfortable in the big leagues, and he’s got all kinds of talent around him, including Noelvi Marte and Matt McLain, who was the actual best young player on this team last year.

The Reds added some veterans to supplement the young talent in the offseason, and they’re clearly trying to take advantage of a vulnerable division. And someone has to win it. Why not these guys?

10. Twins (Last title: 1991)

Considering the whole case for excitement about the Twins heading into 2023 revolved around the 1-2 superstar punch of Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton, it’s rather remarkable that both of them had down (or injured, or both) seasons and the Twins still won the AL Central (and their first playoff series since '02). That was in large part because of their pitching, which is down Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda from last year, making the hill that much harder to climb. But these are still the defending AL Central champions, and while the Tigers made some moves, it’s not like the division looks all that more terrifying in '24 than it did in '23.

Other teams with at least a 26-season title drought: A’s, Guardians, Pirates, Rockies