World Series Urgency Index: Who has the MOST at stake this October?

September 30th, 2023

As the father of two elementary school students who must be poked, prodded, induced, enticed, coaxed and cajoled into getting to the bus stop on time each morning, I know the importance of urgency.

But what about the teams entering the postseason field? Do they understand what’s at stake this October?

Well, just in case they don’t, we present our annual Urgency Index, where we rate -- on a scale of 1 (least urgent) to 10 (most urgent) -- how important a World Series title would be to a particular club. We take factors like aging curves, pending free agents and franchise history into account with this incredibly sound, scientific method that ranks the clubs’ situations from the most to least urgent. (We’re including every club still mathematically alive for a postseason spot.)

Who absolutely must catch the bus to the World Series? Let’s find out!

1) Brewers
Urgency Index: 10, because there’s no guarantee Craig Counsell is back for a 10th season

They have never won a World Series. They have not won a pennant since 1982, when Counsell was a 12-year-old boy in Whitefish Bay, Wis. While the Counsell era has been extremely successful, with three division titles and five postseason appearances in the last six years, the tenure of one of the absolute best tactical skippers in the sport could be coming to a close. And no matter who manages the Brew Crew next year, with Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff both entering their final year of arbitration, it remains to be seen if they can keep arguably the best pitching staff in baseball together.

2) Blue Jays
UI: 9, or how many different managers Toronto has had since two-time World Series winner Cito Gaston … in addition to the second tenure for Cito Gaston

This recent iteration of the Blue Jays has been good but decidedly not World Series championship (or even AL East championship) caliber. All the Jays have to show for a fun core and some sizable swings in free agency and trades in the past three years is being swept out of two Wild Card Series. With their 2023 WAR leader Matt Chapman entering free agency, several key players in their mid-30s and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. getting pricier in arbitration, it’s hard to know what the near future looks like. Plus, it’s now been 30 years since Joe Carter’s World Series-clinching swing (in the Jays’ most recent Series appearance).

3) Phillies
UI: 8, because their last World Series title was in 2008

The Phillies won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year like they did in 2022. Though a Wild Card club, they are rightly seen as a real threat to go the distance with terrific arms atop the rotation and a deep, fun lineup. Given Aaron Nola’s pending free agency, Zack Wheeler’s age (33), injury history and recent innings load, the financial investment in a club with five lineup regulars at age 30 or older, and the simple desire to avenge last year’s loss in the Fall Classic, the Urgency Index is high here.

4) Rangers
UI: 7, or the number of games that were in the 2011 World Series (sorry if that’s too soon)

With so much established talent on the roster, including prime-level seasons from 32-year-old second baseman Marcus Semien and 29-year-old shortstop Corey Seager, this is not some young, scrappy, happy-to-be-here ballclub (and let’s not forget their likely future Hall of Famer skipper Bruce Bochy is 68 years old). Add in a World Series title drought dating back to the birth of the franchise (as the Washington Senators) in 1961, an AL pennant drought dating to 2011 and some questions to answer in free agency (Mitch Garver, Jordan Montgomery, Nathaniel Lowe and Aroldis Chapman), and there’s urgency in the air.

5) Reds
UI: 6.9, or Joey Votto’s fWAR in his 2010 NL MVP year

We plugged in all the parameters regarding the Reds’ 33-year title drought and youthful roster into the Urgency Index Apparatus, and those two elements canceled each other out to give us a low UI reading. But then we inputted Votto’s name, and it darn near exploded. “WIN ONE FOR JOEY!” the machine spat out. He’s 40 years old and fourth all-time in WAR for MLB’s oldest franchise. He deserves a championship parade down Race Street. Now they just need to figure out how to get into the playoffs.

6) (tie) Mariners
UI: 6, because this would be this ringless franchise’s sixth postseason appearance

We’ve graduated from focusing on what had been a 21-year postseason drought and now can focus on a franchise-long AL pennant drought. Perhaps, even with that organizational history, there’s not quite as much pressure on the M’s in the present, given that their signature star Julio Rodríguez is only 22, their terrific rotation leans young, and Teoscar Hernández is their only prominent pending free agent. But Seattleites, more than most, know how precious and fleeting an October opportunity is.

6) (tie) Twins
UI: 6, or how many consecutive postseason rounds the Twins have played without winning a game

Alas, there is no flag to represent the monumental step forward this franchise took when it won a season series against the Yankees, so the Twins might as well win the whole darn thing. They haven’t done that since 1991, which doubles as the last year they reached the World Series. And they haven’t advanced as far as the ALCS since 2002, despite reaching the postseason eight times since then. (As you might have heard, this club has lost 18 consecutive playoff games.) There’s really no reason why this club shouldn’t continue to contend in the AL Central, but the long list of lackluster October outcomes is a trend that needs to stop.

8) (tie) Braves
UI: 5, for a franchise seeking its fifth World Series title

The Braves could arguably scrape the bottom of this list, given that they just won it all in 2021 and are already set up to keep the heart of this squad together for the foreseeable future. We are upping the Index, though, because of the Braves’ decision this year to produce one of the greatest offenses in MLB history. Because of this, we’re all giddy and eager to see if they can pound their way to postseason prominence, and anything short of a World Series win will be viewed as a colossal disappointment. That’s your fault, Braves. You made us this way.

8) (tie) Rays
UI: 5, for the Rays’ fifth consecutive October appearance

Not that these October appearances should be taken for granted, but this franchise is so well-run and consistently capable of fielding playoff-caliber clubs that it’s hard to say this season is more urgent than any other. Especially given that the Rays have the option of bringing back most of this team intact in 2024. The main argument for urgency is that the 2020 COVID postseason, which was drastically different in terms of scheduling and venue, is the only time since 2008 that the Rays have made it past the Division Series.

10) Cubs
UI: 4.2, or Cody Bellinger’s fWAR as of this writing

It has been seven years since the Cubs’ last World Series title, and a calculator confirms that is a lot fewer than 108 years. Because this team didn’t come into 2023 with enormous expectations and looked like a likely Trade Deadline seller until shortly before the Deadline, there’s temptation to say whatever happens from here is gravy. But Cody Bellinger, Marcus Stroman, Kyle Hendricks and Jeimer Candelario are all possible free agents, so that does increase the urgency level a bit.

11) Dodgers
UI: 4, or how many World Series titles the Dodgers have won in full seasons since moving to L.A. in 1958

The Dodgers have 10 NL West titles in 11 years, with no real signs of letup. If anything, their position as the NL’s No. 2 seed is a more impressive feat than usual given the breakdown of their planned starting staff. And of course, they are only three years removed from their last World Series title. Then again, when you got bounced in the Division Series after a franchise-record win total last season and your two absolute biggest contributors (Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman) are both north of 30 this year, there is certainly urgency at hand.

12) Orioles
UI: 3, or how many championships the O’s have won

It’s been 40 years since the O’s won it all, and all of their core players were merely twinkles in their mothers’ eyes back then. This team is very good but also very young, with the game’s most exciting group of burgeoning stars (Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez, Jordan Westburg). And they keep on coming (Heston Kjerstad just came up, and Jackson Holliday is not far behind) from a farm system that still ranks No. 1 in the game. Tomorrow is promised to no one, and we’ve already heard concerns expressed about keeping all of this core together for the long haul. But all buzzkills aside, this ought to be just the start of something.

13) D-backs
UI: 2.5, or how many decades the D-backs have been in existence

Arizona hasn’t been to the postseason since 2017, hasn’t won a postseason game since 2011 and hasn’t been to the World Series since that epic outcome in 2001. Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly have been a terrific twosome -- a strength that can be frustratingly fleeting. Still, as with Baltimore, the Urgency Index here is tamed by the relative youth of the position player core: likely Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll and other intriguing pieces like Gabriel Moreno, Geraldo Perdomo, Alek Thomas and Jordan Lawler are all going to be around a while. We’ll put the D-backs after the O’s because their title glory came much more recently.

14) Astros
UI: 2, for the Astros’ two World Series titles since 2017

They won one for Dusty Baker, they proved themselves capable of a championship without any stench of illicit sign-stealing. Justin Verlander got a win in the World Series. Really, what’s left on the Astros’ to-do list? Probably “dynasty” status, for those who put strict definitions on such things (three titles and five pennants in seven seasons would have to be considered a dynasty, no?). But that’s just not enough for us to ramp up the Urgency Index.

15) Marlins
UI: 1, for the franchise’s number of previous postseason appearances that didn’t result in a ring

Having the most bizarre postseason track record of any team in MLB (zero division titles, two World Series titles) definitely affects the Urgency Index for a team that contended despite a negative run differential and losing record against winning teams. The Fish have the third-youngest pitching staff in the sport, which means they should continue to have a usable base to operate around for at least the next couple years. No non-Miamian picked this club to be in the October mix, so the pressure is off.