These postseason droughts might end

September 8th, 2020

For teams heading into 2020 trying to snap a long postseason drought, this unusual, abbreviated season brought increased opportunity.

The 60-game schedule raises the chances a team could outperform its true talent. And the expanded playoff field provides an extra six spots. Lo and behold, some of MLB’s longest droughts are in danger.

Eight teams have missed the postseason for at least five consecutive seasons. Four of those are in playoff position, while six have roughly a 25% chance or better to punch a ticket to October. All eight are still very much alive with three weeks to play.

Perhaps not surprisingly, that gives 2020 a chance to be a special season for snapping playoff droughts.

The candidates

Here are the teams who have not qualified for a postseason since at least 2014, listed with their record, place in the standings, games back of a playoff spot and chances of making the postseason (per FanGraphs) entering Tuesday's action.

Mariners: 18 seasons (Last appeared in 2001)
2020: 19-22 (two games back); 6.5% chance
Seattle has won six in a row and 11 of 14 but still has an uphill climb to reach the promised land for the first time since Ichiro’s rookie season.

Marlins: 16 seasons (Last appeared in 2003)
2020: 18-18 (NL No. 8 seed); 31.8% chance
One of the surprise teams of 2020, Miami has been hanging around in the standings. If the Marlins do get in, watch out. The franchise has won the World Series both times it has qualified for the postseason

Padres: 13 seasons (Last appeared in 2006)
2020: 26-17 (No. 4 NL seed); 99.5% chance
San Diego is suddenly one of the most exciting, watchable teams in the game, following nine seasons with no more than 77 wins. Fernando Tatis Jr. and company are likely set in the NL West’s second guaranteed playoff berth, though they’ll try to make a run at the Dodgers down the stretch after loading up at the Trade Deadline.

White Sox: 11 seasons (Last appearance in 2008)
2020: 26-15 (No. 4 AL seed); 99.9% chance
The White Sox are basically the American League version of the Padres, with some of the game’s most electric young players mixed with solid veterans. With a hot streak over the past few weeks, the club has virtually locked up its first trip to October since 2008, when Ken Griffey Jr. made his Chicago cameo.

Phillies: eight seasons (Last appearance in 2011)
2020: 20-17 (No. 5 NL seed); 89.4% chance
Things were not looking good for Joe Girardi’s crew, but a 11-3 surge has put them right back in business. Philly hasn’t tasted the postseason since Chris Carpenter outdueled Roy Halladay in a sensational battle in Game 5 of the 2011 NL Division Series.

Reds: six seasons (Last appearance in 2013)
2020: 18-23 (2 1/2 games back); 27.8% chance
After a busy offseason, Cincinnati had high hopes that this would be its year. Things have not worked out so far, although the club is still only one hot week away from potentially jumping into playoff position.

Tigers: five seasons (Last appearance in 2014)
2020: 18-21 (two games back); 6.1% chance
After losing 114 games a year ago, the Tigers have been competitive in 2020, including a six-game win streak against the Cubs, Twins and Brewers from Aug. 25-Sept. 1.

Angels: five seasons (Last appearance in 2014)
2020: 17-25 (4 1/2 games back); 7.2% chance
Every season seems like the one when Mike Trout will get another shot at October, but the Halos have not been able to get over that hump. They’ll hope a current five-game winning streak is the start of a torrid September run.

A deluge of drought enders

As the above odds show, there is a strong chance that at least three teams with long droughts will halt them in 2020, with a decent possibility that one or more others will join them. Not surprisingly, that would be a relatively rare confluence of events.

In both of the first two years after the Wild Card was instituted, four teams snapped playoff-free streaks of at least five seasons. In 1995, it was the Indians (40 seasons), Mariners (18), Yankees (13) and Dodgers (six). In ‘96, the Rangers (35), Orioles (12), Padres (11) and Cardinals (eight) followed suit.

Since that initial burst, about 1.5 teams per season have ended droughts of five-plus seasons. Only five times have as many as three clubs done so in the same year, and only once have four done so at once. Here is a quick look back at those seasons.

Teams below are listed with the number of seasons their droughts had lasted. (^Indicates that the streak includes the 1994 strike season, when the playoffs were canceled).

2017: Rockies (seven), Twins (six), D-backs (five)
Colorado and Arizona matched up in a thrilling NL Wild Card Game, which the D-backs won, 11-8. However, none of the three clubs won a game in the Division Series.

2015: Blue Jays (21^), Astros (nine), Mets (eight), Cubs (six)
This could end up being a good comparison point for 2020. The Blue Jays rode the late breakouts of Josh Donaldson, José Bautista and Edwin Encarnación to their first October opportunity since winning the 1993 World Series. The Astros suddenly emerged -- seemingly ahead of schedule -- from a miserable run that netted many of the pieces that helped the club win a championship two years later. The Mets had an enviable young trio of starters in Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard and then added Yoenis Céspedes at the Trade Deadline. And the Cubs, similar to the Astros, burst out of a rebuild as a powerhouse that would capture a World Series the following year.

2012: Nationals (30^), Orioles (14), A’s (five)
This was another season of playoff expansion, as MLB added a second Wild Card spot -- and the Wild Card Game -- in each league. The Orioles authored the most shocking turnaround, ending a string of six straight years with 90-plus losses. The Nationals made the playoffs in the franchise’s eighth season in Washington.

2010: Reds (14), Rangers (10), Giants (six)
While Cincinnati was swept out of the NLDS by the Phillies, Texas and San Francisco ultimately met in the World Series, with the Giants claiming the first of three championships in a five-year span.

2007: Phillies (13), Rockies (11), Indians (five)
Colorado made only the second postseason appearance in franchise history, riding a late-season hot streak all the way to the World Series before running into the Red Sox.