Will any of these 7 playoff droughts end in '23?

December 13th, 2022

One of the best stories of the 2022 postseason was the ending, at last, of the two longest playoff droughts in Major League Baseball: The Seattle Mariners (who hadn’t made the playoffs since 2001) and Philadelphia Phillies (who hadn’t made it since 2011) both broke through, not only reaching the playoffs but winning the first series when they got there. (The Phillies made it all the way to the World Series, of course.) There is nothing more fun than watching your team in the playoffs, and those two fanbases had waited a long time for that opportunity.

But now that they’ve broken through, they are no longer the teams with those longest postseason droughts. Thanks to the new playoff format, though, it’s a little easier to get into the playoffs than it used to be. Now there are, in fact, only seven teams who have gone at least five years without making the postseason. Will they be able to end their own skids this year? Let’s take a look at each team’s chances, from the longest skid to the shortest.

Detroit Tigers
Last playoff appearance: 2014 ALDS
Lost to: Orioles, 3 games to 0

The Tigers were supposed to break through last year. Remember that? They were one of the better teams down the stretch in 2021, they’d brought in Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodriguez, and young stars like Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson were ready to explode. It is fair to say, 96 losses later, that the Tigers did not break through, though it’s possible they win a lot more games simply because they had nothing but bad breaks in 2022 and things probably won’t go quite as poorly in '23. That said, there has been a clear recalibration of expectations in Detroit this year, and new general manager Scott Harris is yet to make any major moves in his first offseason in charge. It seems likely this drought will last at least another year.

Los Angeles Angels
Last playoff appearance: 2014 ALDS
Lost to: Royals, 3 games to 0

When the Angels won 98 games in 2014, in Mike Trout’s third full season with the franchise, it sure felt like they were just getting started. They had the best young player in baseball surrounded by big-ticket stars, and an owner who made it clear he’d do whatever it took to make sure this team reached the next level. There were actually stories about how the Angels could conceivably take over Southern California from the Dodgers! That, uh, did not happen. The Angels have had only one winning season since then, and they weren’t even that close to the playoffs that season (2015). Thus, Trout, one of the best baseball players who ever lived, has yet to win a postseason game … even while playing alongside Shohei Ohtani, another of the best baseball players to have ever lived.

The Angels, to their credit, have made a bunch of targeted moves this winter that should raise their floor, such as signing left-hander Tyler Anderson and reliever Carlos Estévez, and trading for third baseman Gio Urshela and right fielder Hunter Renfroe. The Angels are as well positioned as any team on this list to end their drought in 2023.

Kansas City Royals
Last playoff appearance: 2015 World Series
Beat: Mets, 4 games to 1

Even as the Royals were making two consecutive World Series appearances, there was a sense that they were not necessarily built on the sturdiest of foundations -- it did not feel like this was a dynasty in the making. Which is fine: They did win the World Series after all. But you’ve seen the aftermath of those two seasons, not just with the exodus of all those teams’ stars (save for Salvador Perez) but with the difficulty bringing in sustainable young talent. Two managers and one general manager later, they’ve turned in a new direction this offseason, with J.J. Picollo taking over as GM and Matt Quatraro in the dugout. Bobby Witt Jr. is a great guy to build around, but it’s reasonable to assume it’ll be a year or two until you can consider this team a serious postseason contender.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Last playoff appearance: 2015 Wild Card Game
Lost to: Cubs

Oh, weren’t those 2013-15 Pirates fun? I for one will never forget the crowd at the '13 Wild Card Game against the Reds, when rowdy, desperate-to-scream, hockey-style fans, really, were so loud and fired up that they spooked poor Johnny Cueto into dropping the ball on the mound.

That sure does feel like a long time ago, doesn’t it? The Pirates have had only one winning season since then, 82 wins in 2018, and they’ve now lost 100 or more games two seasons in a row. (And had a worse winning percentage in '20, going 19-41.) The good news is that there is a lot of young talent in the Pirates’ system, and Oneil Cruz is one of the most exciting young players in the game. This is a division that can be had with some aggression, but it will take more than the signing of Carlos Santana to break this streak.

Baltimore Orioles
Last playoff appearance: 2016 AL Wild Card Game
Lost to: Blue Jays

Perhaps no franchise has gone through a more tumultuous turnover since their last playoff appearance since the Orioles, who have shifted their strategy in every possible way since Buck Showalter resisted using Zack Britton in that extra-inning loss to the Blue Jays. The new regime was willing to have some losing seasons as they built up the farm system, which is a good thing, because the losses definitely came: 115 in 2018, 108 in '19, 110 in '21. But that stopped last year: The Orioles weren’t just feisty in '22, they were in fact a winning franchise at 83-79. The arrival of Adley Rutschman has changed everything in Baltimore, and, along with Gunnar Henderson, he has more help coming: The Orioles have three of MLB Pipeline’s top 13 prospects in baseball: Henderson (No. 2), right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (No. 4) and shortstop Jackson Holliday (No. 13).

It’d be nice to see them get some starting pitching help this offseason, but the Orioles are no longer a perennial rebuilder. Far from it. Of all the teams on this list, I think they might be the best one in 2023.

Texas Rangers
Last playoff appearance: 2016 ALDS
Lost to: Blue Jays, 3 games to 0

You cannot say the Rangers are not trying. The team that reached two straight World Series on the backs of its strong farm system and some strategic free-agent signings has seen that farm system dry up in recent years. So now, with a new staff in place and the money to make a splash, Texas is doing everything it can to get back in the playoffs. Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, now Jacob deGrom and Andrew Heaney … the Rangers clearly see an opportunity in the AL West and are spending like crazy to take advantage of it. They still look short in the lineup, particularly the outfield, and most people will still be predicting them to finish fourth in the division, but then again, they’re surely not done adding. We’ll see if the “spend until you make it” works for them like it did for the Phillies.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Last playoff appearance: 2017 NLDS
Lost to: Dodgers, 3 games to 0

The D-backs don’t look like a team on the cusp of a run or anything, but they are certainly an intriguing team, one with young talent like Jake McCarthy and Corbin Carroll, who looked electric in his brief debut in 2022 and looks like a Rookie of the Year favorite in 2023. This is a tough division, of course, but there’s a lot of talent here -- you could make an argument they’re around (or even above) where the Giants are right now, and certainly ahead of the Rockies. They could absolutely sneak in a playoff series this year. You’ve been warned.