A fun debate to have with Yankees fans: What’s their favorite World Series title? Some will say 1996. Some will say 2000. Some older fans will say '61. Some will say '09, if just because it’s the most recent one. Red Sox fans love 2004, of course, but the Boston Strong year of 2013 was pretty wonderful. Cardinals fans are always partial to 2011, but '06, wow, that one just came out of nowhere.
You know who the previous paragraph absolutely infuriated? Fans of the Rangers, Rays, Padres, Rockies, Brewers and Mariners. You’ve got fanbases arguing about which title they like the most … meanwhile, the poor fans of those teams don’t even have one title to savor. Those are the six active MLB teams that have never won a World Series, despite a combined eight appearances. (Sorry, Seattle: You’re the only fanbase that hasn't gotten to see its team in the Series even once.)
What’s particularly fun about this final week-plus of the season, and the upcoming playoffs, is that four of those teams are right in the thick of the playoff chase. Four different teams all with a legitimate chance to win a championship for the first time -- right here, right now, in 2023. If you’re looking to jump on a bandwagon if your team didn’t make the postseason, you can do a lot worse than a team that’s never won one before.
What are the chances of each of these teams breaking through this year? And what would it mean if they did? Let’s take a look.
Record: 86-66 (1st, NL Central)
How They Got Here: For all the talk of the NL Central supposedly being easier to win than other divisions, it might get three teams into the playoffs -- and none of them is preseason-favorite St. Louis. The Brewers dealt with all sorts of injuries early in the year, but the team they’ve been post All-Star break -- and especially since August -- has resembled the best version of itself. That means strong starting pitching, a lockdown bullpen and an opportunistic lineup. They’re going to win the division running away, which will end up being their fifth playoff appearance in the last six seasons. Pretty impressive for a franchise that only had a total of four playoff appearances ever before 2018.
Closest Call -- 1982 World Series: Not only did the Brewers fall to their future-division-foe Cardinals in seven games, Harvey’s Wallbangers (named after manager Harvey Kuenn) actually had a 3-2 lead after winning Game 5 in front of 56,562 screaming fans at County Stadium. That Brewers team had a whopping five Hall of Famers: Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Don Sutton. Yet Whitey Herzog's Whiteyball Cardinals outlasted them in seven games to win their first World Series in 15 years. The Brewers have won only two playoff series since.
What It Would Mean: First off, goodness, can you imagine how great it would feel to have that much Bob Uecker in your life? Ueck, who will turn 90 in January, is a baseball legend and still calling games for the Brewers. A Crew championship might make him the happiest person on the planet … which would make the rest of the planet pretty happy itself. And remember: This is one of the most loyal fanbases in baseball. Few have earned a World Series title more.
Chances They Pull It Off: The Brewers are considered a quiet playoff sleeper, thanks to all that pitching. The lineup, though, has been wobbly lately, particularly without Christian Yelich, who is still dealing with a back issue. They need Yelich, badly. But if they can scrape up enough runs to get a lead, that bullpen will keep it. That makes them dangerous.
Record: 84-68 (2nd, AL West)
Tied for 3rd Wild Card spot, but don't currently hold tiebreaker with Texas
How They Got Here: On July 24, the Mariners had an 11.6% chance of making the playoffs. They won the next night, and then the next night, en route to an eight-game winning streak and then, after a three-game skid, won eight more in a row, and 12 of their next 13. That’ll get you back in a playoff chase, and fast. Julio Rodríguez’s otherworldly August was given much of the credit for the comeback, but this team was better than it had played up to that point. However, an 8-11 September would have them on the outside of the playoff picture, by virtue of the Rangers holding a tiebreaker advantage. The two clubs play a three-game series in Texas beginning Friday, then finish the season with four in Seattle.
Closest Call -- 2000 ALCS: The 116-win 2001 season is considered the one that got away for Mariners fans, but they were actually closer to the Series in 2000 (and 1995, for that matter) than they were that year. They lost to the Yankees in five in 2001, but they at least lasted six games in 2000. Alex Rodriguez was the star of that 2000 ALCS, putting up a 1.243 OPS, the best postseason he’d ever have in his career. (Rickey Henderson was on this team, too; it was his final postseason series.)
What It Would Mean: They’d probably put up a statue of J-Rod by the morning after the clincher, we’d say that. The Mariners finally ended their two-decade-long postseason drought last year, so getting to the World Series, let alone winning it, is the next threshold to cross.
Chances They Pull It Off: They’ve got to get into the postseason first, of course, and they absolutely control their own destiny. Their final 10 games are all against the Astros and Rangers, two of the teams they are battling. If they get in, though? Well, the vibes with this franchise are immaculate right now.
Record: 82-68 (3rd, AL West)
Tied for 3rd Wild Card spot, but currently holding tiebreaker over the Mariners
How They Got Here: It was supposed to be by the dominant, omnipresent pitching of Jacob deGrom. Maybe the plans didn’t work out exactly the way the Rangers drew them up, but an MVP-caliber season from Corey Seager and a deep lineup has led to a surprising season even with deGrom playing a minimal role. Yet that playoff status remains very much up in the air.
Closest Call -- 2011 World Series: As most fans remember, they came very close to winning the 2011 World Series. Extremely close. So close.
What It Would Mean: People would, at last, stop bringing up the 2011 World Series. Also, it would be fun to see Seager win a World Series in Arlington in a game in which the Rangers are actually playing, after he starred there with the 2020 Dodgers.
Chances They Pull It Off: The playoffs are still very much in question, the bullpen is struggling and they’re almost certainly not going to have Max Scherzer, either. But this lineup remains terrifying, and that’s enough to give them a puncher’s chance.
Record: 92-59 (2nd, AL East)
Clinched a postseason berth
How They Got Here: Remember when they were the talk of baseball? The Rays’ blistering start had many thinking this might be the best Rays team in their history. They’re still an outstanding team -- they have an outside chance at 100 wins -- but the Orioles eventually chased them down and may well relegate them to playing a best-of-three Wild Card Series despite the second-best record in the AL.
Closest Call -- 2020 World Series: Everyone’s pandemic minds can be a little hazy, so you can be forgiven if you don’t remember the last World Series game the Rays won. It was the Brett Phillips Game. Remember the Brett Phillips walk-off? That crazy Randy Arozarena run around the bases?
Unfortunately for the Rays, the Dodgers beat them the next two games, and the Rays haven’t won a postseason series since.
What It Would Mean: The Rays have been one of the most impressive franchises in baseball for a decade-plus now, but they have never broken through and claimed the title.
Chances They Pull It Off: The rotation is missing a whole bunch of pieces … but the Rays always find a way to figure that out. Still: As good as this team is, it looks a lot different right now than it did back when we were all swooning in May.