Degrees of desperation among playoff teams

September 30th, 2017

For the last, oh, century or so, there have been two baseball curses that mattered. There was the Red Sox thing, of course -- 86 years of concentrated heartbreak, Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner and the rest. Then, there was the Cubs' Billy Goat thing -- 70 seasons without a pennant, more than 100 without a World Series championship. You know these stories well.

And here we are coming into the 2017 postseason and … basically the Cubs and Red Sox are the only two teams not coming in with some sort of weird curse hanging over their heads. It's genuinely bizarre. We have grown so used to those teams being the sentimental stories of the playoffs. And now, times are different.

Let's break down the postseason by DQ -- Desperation Quotient. The DQ works on a 1-to-10 scale with 10 being, "I am freaking out here, I just want my team to win one time in my lifetime" and 1 being, "I'm fine."

Los Angeles Dodgers (DQ: 9.7)

It's probably a bit controversial to put the Dodgers ahead of the Indians and others on the DQ list, but here's the thing: It has been almost 30 years since the Dodgers have been in the World Series. I mean, when the Dodgers last won it all, Ronald Reagan was President and many people were still using Microsoft Windows 1.0. If you are the same age or younger than, say, Scarlett Johansson, you have no memory at all of the Dodgers ever winning a World Series.

And this is the Dodgers we are talking about. In the generation before 1988, they were basically good every single year. In the 35 years prior, they won five World Series -- and another five pennants -- and it just seemed like they would never struggle.

The Dodgers have had good teams since 1988, of course -- they have made the playoffs 11 times since, including this year -- but they kept losing the biggest games. This year's Dodgers team (save for a brief and illogical three-and-a-half-week collapse late in the year) have been ridiculously good. They believe it's their time again. The tension will be high in L.A.

Washington Nationals (DQ: 9.4)

Under normal circumstances, you wouldn't put a team that has only been around since 2005 this high on the list. But the truth is, the Nationals have packed a whole lot of heartache into those years. Washington sports in general have had a tough time winning anything for a long time.

The Nationals shocked everybody by winning 98 games in 2012 -- and with young superstars and leading the way, it seemed clear that this would be the team of the decade. Instead, the Nationals have not won a single playoff series. This will be their fourth chance in six years, and it might be their best team.

Houston Astros (DQ: 9.1)

There is so much baseball agony in the rearview mirror. The Astros are the only team to have been around for at least 50 years and not own a single World Series game victory. That alone would be enough reason for desperation. Then, you throw on top of it an emotional year that began with Houston playing baseball about as well as it can be played and ended with a broken, but undeterred, city coming together to overcome the destruction of Hurricane Harvey.

The only reason the DQ isn't even higher is, because this is such a young team, you would expect the Astros to be good for a the next few years.

Cleveland Indians (DQ: 8.9)

Yes, this seems low for the team with the longest World Series drought, but let's explain. A few things have happened in Cleveland the last couple of years. First, of course, LeBron James led the Cavaliers to the city's first major sports championship in more than a half century in the 2016 NBA Finals. That buried a few ghosts.

Yes, of course, the city hungers for a World Series title (and, even more, an increasingly unlikely Super Bowl championship), but that Cavaliers win soothed some wounds from 50 years of crushing defeat.

Second, this amazing Cleveland baseball team has taken the city on an amazing ride, no matter how it ends. The Indians seemed to be a good team -- not great, not bad -- when suddenly , and others pumped all sorts of life into them. For the last two years, they have been pure joy, shocking everybody by getting to Game 7 of the World Series last year, then shocking even more by winning an American League-record 22 games in a row this year.

Yes, of course there's some desperation because the Tribe has not won a World Series since 1948. But you sort of get the sense that they're playing with house money in Cleveland these days.

Minnesota Twins (DQ: 7.4)

The Twins have not won been to the World Series since 1991, and they have lost seven consecutive playoff series, four of those being rather overwhelming and crushing defeats against the Yankees, the team they will play in Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game. That history alone suggests that the Desperation Quotient is high in the Twin Cities.

But, realistically, this has been a surprising and wonderful year of baseball for the Twins. Nobody really saw this team contending when the season began. The best most people could say was, "They're a year away." But the youth movement that had been promised for a few years finally began taking shape with the emergence of , and others, and they are the first team to ever go from 100 losses one year to making the postseason the next. The future looks pretty bright in Minnesota.

Colorado Rockies (DQ: 6.9)

At times -- because the Rockies play their home games at Coors Field in the high altitude of Denver -- it seems like Colorado is completely separated from the rest of baseball. Rockies players put up crazy numbers ( has a chance to lead the National League in RBIs for the third straight season, the first time that has happened in the NL since George Foster in the 1970s) and nobody seems to notice. They have their own mini-curse going -- 24 seasons, zero World Series games won -- and nobody seems to care.

The Rockies, like the Twins, seem a bit ahead of schedule. Their talented young pitching has arrived early. So, this could be a team that competes for the next few years, though, it will admittedly be tough in the Dodgers' division.

New York Yankees (DQ: 5.4)

Well, the desperation quotient for the Yankees is always high, no matter how often they win. Yankees fans are insatiable. This goes back almost to the 1920s, when owner Jacob Ruppert was asked to describe a perfect day at Yankee Stadium: "It's when the Yankees score eight runs in the first inning, and then slowly pull away."

Still, the seemingly sudden way this new Yankees team arrived on the scene -- with rookie slugger and, to an only slightly lesser extent, phenomenal 23-year-old pitcher playing incredible baseball -- has to make Yankees fans feel pretty great about the next few years. Yes, there will be plenty of desperation in New York in October, because there always is (and because football and basketball isn't looking too hot there right now). But everybody knows that these Yankees are here for a while.

Arizona Diamondbacks (DQ: 4.8)

The D-backs seemed to come into last year with some desperation. They signed Zack Greinke for a lot of money. They dealt away the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft, Dansby Swanson, to get pitcher . They went all in … and it all fell apart very quickly after center fielder A.J. Pollock got hurt and everything else just went bad.

So, expectations were tempered for 2017, and this fantastic team came together thanks to some great pitching (led by Greinke and the sudden dominance of Robbie Ray) and the persistent hitting geniuses of and midseason acquisition J.D. Martinez. The DQ isn't all that high, even though it has been 16 years since this team won the World Series. You get the sense everyone is just sort of enjoying the ride.

Boston Red Sox (DQ: 4.3)

Well, Boston fans, like Yankees fans, are always desperate when October baseball rolls around. But let's be blunt: Boston has won plenty. Since 2000, the Red Sox have won three World Series, the Patriots have won five Super Bowls, the Celtics have won a title and the Bruins have won a Stanley Cup. It's hard to feel desperation when the world always bends to your will.

Chicago Cubs (DQ: 3.5)

The Cubs' odd new place in the baseball world is summed up best by my friend, and lifelong Chicago Cubs nut, the fantastic actor Joe Mantegna. I asked Joe how he feels coming into the postseason.

"I'd love to see them do it again," he said, "but, bottom line, I'm good for 107 years, if need be."

That seems about right. Sure, the Cubs want to win it all again (and, by the way, they've got a good shot at doing so). I'm sure the actual team feels the same desperation as all the other teams do. But, really, the glow of last year hasn't dulled just yet.