I’ve just been handed an urgent memo informing me that every team entering the postseason is hoping to win the World Series.
Well, go get ’em, boys. Just know that should you fall short, some October defeats sting more than others.
That’s why we have the Urgency Index to tell us which franchises need a World Series title most, based on some combination of franchise history and the organizational outlook in 2020 and beyond. The Urgency Index operates on a scale of 1 to 10 -- 10 being a case where absolutely nothing less than a ring will do, 1 being the least urgent condition.
If we’re being honest, every team ought to be at 10 (or higher). But just to make this interesting (albeit unscientific), let’s properly parse the likely field of 10 teams.
Urgency Index: 10, or the number of career postseason losses for Clayton Kershaw, whose 24 postseason starts are the most by a pitcher without a ring (also upping the urgency).
The Dodgers are trying to do something no team in the last 96 years has done by getting to a third straight World Series after losing the previous two. Should they fall short, nobody is suggesting they won’t be right back in the October hunt a year from now, given that they have one of the top farm systems and have registered more FanGraphs-calculated Wins Above Replacement from rookie position players than any team not named Blue Jays and Astros.
But it is safe to say anything shy of a title in this tournament would be deemed a failure, internally and externally. The Dodgers are already the first team in history to have a run in which they advanced to at least six consecutive postseasons without winning the World Series in any of those years. Their championship drought stands at 31 years, despite the advantages that conceivably accompany their market and payroll size. Last year’s group entered the Fall Classic confident that it was going to vindicate itself after the Game 7 loss in 2017. Instead, the Dodgers were humbled in five games against the Red Sox.
They need this.
Urgency Index: 9, or where Anthony Rendon ranked in the Majors in bWAR at the time of this writing.
Forget never winning a World Series; this franchise hasn’t won a postseason series since the Expos’ National League Division Series victory in that weird split season of 1981. Whether advancing past the NL Wild Card Game would count as a postseason “series” win is up to the linguists among us to decide.
Urgency Index: 7.6, or the average number of years between Milwaukee playoff appearances since the Brewers’ first entry in 1981.
Another franchise that has never won one -- you’ve got to go back to the 1957 Milwaukee Braves to find the only time the Cream City was the cream of the crop in MLB.
The Brewers have made some legit small-market magic in the last two seasons, including the late-season run this year with reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Christian Yelich on the shelf. The Yelich absence is a built-in excuse should the Brew Crew’s entry result in a short October stay.
But the belief that has built up in the clubhouse, the frustrating finish in Game 7 of the NLCS last year, the pending free agency of two of their best position players (Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas) and a city’s thirst for a title that rivals even its thirst for locally brewed beer all up the ante here.
Rays and A’s
Urgency Index: 7, or the two clubs’ combined number of postseason appearances this decade that didn’t advance any further than the Division Series.
These two clubs are variations on the same theme: Panache that routinely exceeds payroll and ballpark uncertainty that drags on for a seeming eternity and impacts those payrolls. Opportunities to advance in October are precious for both because of the local/political ramifications and also for the simple fact that the roster turnover on each of these squads due to free agency and trades (special emphasis on the latter) is necessarily persistent.
You could make the case that the Rays’ Urgency Index ought to be a little higher than that of the A’s because the Oakland franchise has won four World Series. But Billy Beane’s clubs have yet to reach the Series, whereas the Rays got there in 2008. So let’s call it a draw overall.
Urgency Index: 6 2/3, or the number of innings that the Twins were held scoreless by Yankee relievers David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman in the 2017 Wild Card Game.
The Twins are headed for yet another October matchup with the Yankees -- same as it was in the 2003 American League Division Series, 2004 ALDS, 2009 ALDS, 2010 ALDS (stops to catch breath ...) and 2017 AL Wild Card Game. The Twins lost every single one of those matchups. As a matter of fact, Minnesota has dropped 13 consecutive postseason games overall, dating back to 2004.
Virtually none of the above is the fault of the current cast of Twins, but they are the ones who will have to hear about this history should they not make good on their rousing rise to the top of the AL Central. The Twins will also have big questions in free agency with regard to their rotation, and lineup linchpin Nelson Cruz is 39 years old.
All that said, this club has a strong farm system and fiscal flexibility moving forward. So there would be plenty of reasons for hope in the Twin Cities if it doesn’t go deep into October.
Urgency Index: 6, or how many losing seasons the Yankees/Highlanders had in the 1910s.
If this club doesn’t win the ALCS this year, the 2010s will be the first decade since Babe Ruth arrived that the Yankees would have failed to advance to the World Series (that would be the 1910s).
That info is either alarming or annoying -- depending on what market you live in or how you feel about the Bronx Bombers generally -- but it gets to the gist of the championship-level expectations that always accompany the Yankees, particularly on the heels of their first division title since 2012. Also, the Red Sox have won it all twice since the Yankees last climbed the mountain.
Of course, the Yankees have a loaded farm system and have overcome a ridiculous number of injuries just to get to this point, affecting their ranking here. If they get ousted early, we’ll still have every reason to believe they’ll be back very soon.
Urgency Index: 4, or how many years it’s been since an NL East champ won a postseason series.
Atlanta is going to the postseason for the 19th time since 1991 ... but with only one World Series win to show for it, back in 1995. In fact, the Braves haven’t advanced past the NLDS since 2001. Clearly, Atlanta wants a lot more out of this chance.
What tempers the above is the reality that a pitching-rich system also laced with some attractive position players and a payroll picture that includes what can only be described as team-friendly extensions for Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies should give the Braves many additional opportunities to win the NL East in the years ahead.
Urgency Index: 3, or how many seasons the Cards went between October appearances -- tying their longest “drought” of the Wild Card era.
The Cardinals are entering the postseason for the first time since 2015 (which for St. Louis is an eternity) and hoping to get to the World Series for the first time since 2013 (which for St. Louis is also an eternity). Paul Goldschmidt is 31, Yadier Molina is 36, Adam Wainwright is 37, and Marcell Ozuna is approaching free agency. So yes, this is an opportunity not to be taken lightly, and there’s an argument to rank them higher here.
That said, as tends to be the case, the Cards have shown the strengths of their farm system again this year. And because the eight-year gap between titles isn’t an eternity in most places, we’ll keep the Cardinals on the lower end of the spectrum on this list.
Urgency Index: 2, for the gap in years between World Series titles.
As stated above, every postseason team has (or should have) urgency. Tomorrow is promised to no one, and yesterday doesn’t matter here. Though the Astros won it all just two years ago, some prominent members of this current club -- Zack Greinke, Gerrit Cole, Michael Brantley and rookie stud Yordan Alvarez, among others -- weren’t around for that run and don’t yet have a ring. And certainly, those who were around in 2017 have dynastic ambitions.
But all things being relative in the Urgency Index, the Astros, because of their recent win and the overall strength of their setup moving forward, don’t move the meter as much as the others on this list.