Which of these 6 playoff droughts will end first?

June 3rd, 2022

If you were to ask an Orioles fan how long it has been since their team made the playoffs, it would be absolutely reasonable to expect their answer to be, “Forever. It has been forever.” But it hasn’t! It has only been since 2016. (The O’s last postseason game was Oct. 4, 2016, the infamous-Zack-Britton-stuck-in-the-bullpen game. Humans who played in this game include Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Michael Bourn, Ubaldo Jiménez, Russell Martin, Justin Smoak and Francisco Liriano.) That’s a long time, sure, but it doesn’t even put Baltimore in the top fifth of MLB postseason droughts.

Six teams -- one-fifth of the league -- have not reached the postseason since 2015. (The Dodgers are the only team that has reached every postseason since then.) The postseason is, of course, one of the primary goals in baseball, and those six teams are the ones who have taken the longest vacation from the sport at its most intense. Are they any closer this year with the expanded postseason? Let’s take a look at those six teams, how it’s going, and whether they’ll end their drought this year … or anytime soon. (Teams listed in order of length of drought, starting with the longest.)

Seattle Mariners
Last postseason appearance: Oct. 22, 2001: ALCS Game 5: Yankees 12, Mariners 3
Current record: 22-29, fourth place, AL West, 11 GB
Current Fangraphs playoff odds: 7.5 percent

The Mariners missed the AL Wild Card game by two measly games last season, putting together their first 90-win season since 2003. So, you can understand why they might have been optimistic heading into 2022, especially considering they added Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suárez and Cy Young winner Robbie Ray -- not to mention folding in star prospects Julio Rodríguez and George Kirby.

But the start of 2022 has thrown a big, wet blanket over all Mariners’ fans' hopes, with the team’s offense inconsistent and the pitching staff faltering. (Ray, in particular, has been a bummer.) It’s too early to give up, though. The Angels and Rangers, the two AL West teams ahead of Seattle, are playing a bit over their heads, the Mariners’ run differential implies a better record than they currently have and there’s still a ton of talent here. Seattle fans, after 21 years of falling short of the postseason, are forgiven if they are unable to sustain that same level of hope.

Hope mood: Dim, but not dark.

Philadelphia Phillies
Last postseason appearance: Oct. 7, 2011: NLDS Game 5: Cardinals 1, Phillies 0
Current record: 22-29, third place, NL East, 12 1/2 GB
Current Fangraphs playoff odds: 27 percent

The Phillies’ start has been frustrating, and it hasn’t entirely been the anticipated defensive woes. The bullpen has been the usual problem, the starting rotation has been inconsistent (and that’s not entirely independent of the defensive issues) and, it must be said, they’ve had some bad luck: They actually have a positive run differential. But the Mets’ hot start has put this entire division behind the eight ball. The Phillies have a ton of games to make up in the NL East and may already be in Wild Card mode. Another issue there is you’d expect the defending champion Braves to make a run eventually, and there’s still the NL West and whoever doesn’t win the NL Central to deal with. More to the point: Philadelphia has a long way to go to get back to .500 before it can even start thinking about the second Wild Card. As has been the case for most of the past decade, this whole franchise seems stuck in neutral.

Hope mood: Grouchy. (It’s Philadelphia.)

Detroit Tigers
Last postseason appearance: Oct. 5, 2014: ALDS Game 3: Orioles 2, Tigers 1
Current record: 21-30, fourth place, AL Central, 8 GB
Current Fangraphs playoff odds: 0.4 percent

So, this is not how this was supposed to work out. The Tigers’ second half of 2021 was so promising, with a farm system expected to start churning out players, that most of baseball assumed Detroit was about to make a huge leap in 2022, particularly with the additions of Javier Báez, Eduardo Rodriguez, Robbie Grossman, Austin Meadows and Tucker Barnhardt. It has not worked out according to plan. The pitching hasn’t been half bad -- Tarik Skubal has been a particular standout -- but the offense has completely cratered. (The only Tigers regular with an OPS-plus over 100, the league average, is … Miguel Cabrera.) There’s still enough talent in this organization to have some belief down the line, but it sure looks like that 2022 optimism was a year or two early.

Hope mood: About the same as Lions’ fans.

Los Angeles Angels
Last postseason appearance: Oct. 5, 2014: ALDS Game 3: Royals 8, Angels 3
Current record: 27-25, second place, AL West, 6 1/2 GB
Current Fangraphs playoff odds: 59 percent

The most fun team in baseball -- this is absolutely the team I turn MLB.TV to after 10 p.m. ET every night -- has the two most electric players in baseball, a series of emerging young players, a pitching staff that’s holding on and … is in the midst of its first real skid of the 2022 season.

As always, it comes down to pitching for the Angels -- will it hold up, is there enough of it, can we just toss anybody out there, please? -- especially considering the lineup is as stacked as it has been since Mike Trout arrived. Trout, quite famously, has never won a playoff game. He was, in fact, 1-for-12 in that Royals series eight years ago. (That’s one fewer hit than Albert Pujols had for the Angels that series.) If he doesn’t get there this year, will he ever?

Hope mood: Brighter than it has been in a long while. But very cautiously bright.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Last postseason appearance: Oct. 7, 2015: NL Wild Card Game: Cubs 4, Pirates 0
Current record: 22-27, third place, NL Central, 9 GB
Current Fangraphs playoff odds: 0.2 percent

I insist to you that PNC Park during the 2013 Wild Card Game (the Pirates' first postseason game in 21 years), was as loud as any baseball stadium I have ever heard. The crowd had a raucous, hockey vibe, famously immortalized by Johnny Cueto being so spooked by the noise that he dropped the ball on the mound. (Which only made Bucs fans scream louder.) This is a glorious stadium and a wild fanbase that deserves postseason games as much as any in baseball. Let’s just hope the wait isn’t nearly as long this time.

Hope mood: That sweep of the Dodgers will keep the mood bright for at least a few days.

Kansas City Royals
Last postseason appearance: Nov. 1, 2015: World Series Game 5: Royals 7, Mets 2
Current record: 16-33, fifth place, AL Central, 12 GB
Current Fangraphs playoff odds: 0.3 percent

The Royals are the sort of team you want to like. They take care of their homegrown players, they have loyal fans who have stuck with them through some rough times over many decades, there’s some exciting young talent here, particularly with Bobby Witt Jr. But this franchise is never quite as close as it seems to think it is. Both the offense and the rotation have faltered so far; we’re happy for Andrew Benintendi, but when he’s your offensive standout, there are problems. Injuries have hurt the Royals as well, but it’s difficult to see exactly what the plan here is right now. It’s a shame, too: These fans, in a division that can be had, deserve better.

Hope mood: Still watching those 2015 World Series highlights on repeat.