When the Astros won it all last year, it wasn't just season-sealing; it was franchise-defining. Prior to 2017, Houston had never won a World Series game, let alone a World Series title, so defeating the Dodgers was a victory not just for Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and company, but for Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and all the other Astros greats who wanted so badly to see the organization succeed.
Before the 2017 Astros, the most recent first-time title winner had been the '02 Angels, who themselves had followed up on the precedent of the '01 D-backs. So maybe we're due for another back-to-back burst of breakthroughs.
With that in mind, here are the outlooks of the seven remaining teams that have yet to win one. These are ordered based on their likelihood of ending the drought first, starting with the most likely.
Established: 1969 (2005 in D.C.)
WS appearances: None
Projected record (per FanGraphs): 90-72
The Nats ought to be feeling a genuine sense of urgency in 2018, with Bryce Harper's free agency looming. They've won the NL East four times in the past six years but have yet to advance past the NL Division Series, which explains why they're now on their fourth manager of this run.
It would take more than just a series of unfortunate events for the Nationals to surrender the top spot in the NL East this year; it would take a total breakdown. Having successfully beefed up its bullpen with multiyear options last summer, Washington has everything you want in an October club -- an imposing rotation, a lengthy lineup (made lengthier by the return of Adam Eaton), a relief crew with mix and match and potential help from high-end prospects like Erick Fedde and Victor Robles. It would be fun to see them sign Arrieta and further solidify an already stout rotation, but whether that happens or not, you know general manager Mike Rizzo will leave no stone unturned as 2018 evolves.
The key, it appears, will be entering October with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Harper as close to full health as is reasonable in a 162-game schedule and avoiding an NLDS Game 5, given the organizational precedent. But if any club is a good bet to make like last year's Astros and win its first title in 2018, it's pretty clearly the Nationals.
WS appearance: 2007
Projected record: 79-83
Colorado's course of action this offseason was not exactly subtle. The club went hard after the so-called "super bullpen," investing more than $100 million over three years in Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee. Davis saw regression in several key peripheral statistics last year and Shaw has averaged 72 innings over the past five years, so there's a lot of risk involved. There's also the matter that the Rockies' 2017 offense, which has basically gone untouched this offseason (save for bringing back Carlos Gonzalez), really wasn't as good as its 824 run total would indicate (their 87 wRC+ mark, which is adjusted for ballpark and league context, was the fourth worst in baseball). Nolan Arenado's third base spot is the only corner position where Colorado isn't given one of FanGraphs' lowest WAR projections for '18, and that helps explain why the club's projected record is sub-.500.
That's the bad. The good? Well, there's Arenado and a walk-year Charlie Blackmon and potential impact from top prospects Ryan McMahon and Brendan Rodgers, and there's a homegrown rotation that -- again, when adjusted for ballpark context -- was one of the best in the National League last season. The Rockies face the daunting proposition of sharing a division with the Dodgers, but they are very much trying to maximize the two guaranteed years left of the Arenado era.
Established: 1969 (in Milwaukee since '70)
WS appearance: 1982
Projected record: 78-84
FanGraphs' projection isn't kind to this Brewers ballclub, but the 2017 team had little trouble blowing past its projections. For the '18 team to follow suit, the rotation is going to have to be better than expected. With Jimmy Nelson (right shoulder surgery) on the shelf until at least June, it's on Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and Jhoulys Chacin -- none of whom are sure things to repeat their '17 performances -- to lead the starting staff, until or unless the Brew Crew makes another move. When Milwaukee loaded up its outfield with the arrivals of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, the prevailing wisdom was that a trade (involving Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips or Keon Broxton) must be coming to support the starting staff, but it obviously hasn't happened yet. Nor has Milwaukee taken advantage of its future financial flexibility to sign one of the remaining starters.
Last year's breakout was fueled in part by the unexpected impacts of Eric Thames and Travis Shaw. Perhaps this year, a prospect like Brandon Woodruff can take the rotation to a level not previously prescribed. What we know for sure is that the Brewers are definitely back at the point where they are expecting, not merely hoping, to reach the postseason.
WS appearances: None
Projected record: 81-81
The Mariners haven't even been to the postseason since Ichiro Suzuki's rookie year in 2001. So Ichiro's return to Seattle on a one-year deal is, if nothing else, an opportunity to complete that storyline circle. But his arrival doesn't do much to alter the bottom line that the M's have a lot riding on the production of guys past their statistical primes. With the heart of the order featuring an age-35 Robinson Cano and age-37 Nelson Cruz, and so much of the rotation's status seemingly hinging on Felix Hernandez, there's not much room for error here.
That's what made last year's eight-win regression from 2016 (which itself featured a 10-game improvement over '15) so disheartening, particularly after general manager Jerry Dipoto moved heaven and earth (and seemingly half the roster) in an effort to improve. The Mariners were besieged by injury in their rotation and couldn't recover. They don't have the depth to endure another run of bad luck. But there is upside here if Seattle gets a full season out of James Paxton and Mitch Haniger; if Mike Zunino builds off his '17 improvements; if Ryon Healy pans out as an everyday player; and if Dee Gordon takes well to center field. But sharing a division with the Astros likely means hoping for one of the Wild Card spots, at best.
Established: 1961 (in Texas since '72)
WS appearances: 2010, '11
Projected record: 79-83
In a decade in which Texas came agonizingly close to the franchise's first title, there have been just two losing seasons. One of them came in a 2017 marred by injuries and a bad bullpen, among other factors. And the Rangers have expended a tremendous amount of creative energy -- albeit not actual dollars -- to patch things up. Matt Moore, Mike Minor, Doug Fister and non-roster invitee Bartolo Colon are new faces in what could be a six-man rotation picture, and reliever Matt Bush is also getting a shot at stretching out.
But the Rangers' only significant move to patch up the 'pen was to take the gamble on Timothy Lincecum. They're betting largely on last year proving to be a blip. There seems to be organizational acknowledgement that a bigger-picture transition is taking place here. Expectations are low. Texas should score its fair share of runs, but a 2015-like rise from irrelevance (that team was coming off a 95-loss season) will only happen if these veterans assembled in the rotation pan out and the bullpen bounces back. Otherwise, you could see Cole Hamels and others on the trade block mid-year.
WS appearance: 2008
Projected record: 78-84
Tampa Bay made waves in recent weeks, building off an offseason purge that began with the Evan Longoria and Brad Boxberger trades by jettisoning Corey Dickerson, Jake Odorizzi and Steven Souza Jr. This, on top of the free-agent departures of Alex Cobb, Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Steve Cishek and Tommy Hunter, and the Rays are unrecognizable from their 2017 selves.
That said, it's not like the Rays were tearing down a juggernaut. With the ante significantly upped in the American League East, they were right not to pour too much faith and finance into PECOTA's 84-win projection for them and to treat 2018 like the transition year it ought to be. It will be interesting to see what they get out of Souza replacement Carlos Gomez and Dickerson replacement C.J. Cron, and there's a lot of upside in the rotation beyond Chris Archer (though losing top prospect Brent Honeywell to a torn right ulnar collateral ligament was a big bummer). Tampa Bay's 40-man roster has just five guys age 30 or older, so a major evolution is underway here regardless of whether or not Archer is the next to get dealt.
World Series appearances: 1984, '98
Projected 2018 record: 73-89
The Padres, who haven't been to the postseason since 2006, didn't claim to know something the rest of us don't when they signed Eric Hosmer to that eight-year contract. They aren't advertising that they suddenly see themselves as legit contenders in 2018. San Diego is just trying to take a step forward as a franchise, betting big that Hosmer will have an effect not just with the numbers he puts up, but in how he helps the upcoming graduates of what MLB Pipeline ranks as the No. 1 farm system in baseball integrate to the big leagues.
In the meantime, Clayton Richard heads a truly iffy rotation, and Manuel Margot, Austin Hedges, Hunter Renfroe and Carlos Asuaje all have major room to grow in the lineup (none had an adjusted OPS+ at least league average last season).