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How Close Are MLB's Title-less Teams to Winning the World Series?

For the Padres, the time is now. For the Rockies and Rangers, it, uh, might be a while.

Baseball loves itself a good title drought. This is the sport in which a faction of Chicago Cubs fans legitimately worried about the so-called “lovable losers” losing a piece of their identity if the team actually won the 2016 World Series, while the 2004 Boston Red Sox’ championship run has been lionized by multiple books and a mediocre Drew Barrymore–Jimmy Fallon rom-com that made multiple references to Johnny Damon’s backside.

But ask any fan whose team has yet to hoist that piece of metal signifying a World Series championship, and they’d tell you that the lore steeped upon persistent losing is anything but lovable.

There are currently six franchises that have not won a World Series title. As the 2021 season approaches, each is in varying stages of their pursuit to finally reach the sport’s mountaintop. Here’s a breakdown of where each team stands with regards to winning its first Fall Classic.

Padres players celebrate after beating the Diamondbacks at Petco Park.

San Diego Padres

Title-less seasons: 52

Playoff seasons: 6

World Series appearances: 1984, 1998

2020 performance: 37–23 (2nd in NL West; lost to Dodgers in NLDS)

Championship window: Right now

Where they stand: This team is so close to a championship it can almost taste it. San Diego’s front office feels the same way, as evidenced by the club's executing one of the most all-in offseasons in recent memory. The Padres had the second-best record and run differential in the National League last season and have since added Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove and infielder Ha-Seong Kim, while retaining do-it-all utility man Jurickson Profar. Trades for that trio of starting pitchers meant giving up some of the farm system’s talent surplus, though San Diego still had four players ranked among MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospect list. The Padres have pushed their chips to the center and still have an eye for the future. That—plus the future face of the league manning shortstop for the foreseeable future—places San Diego toe-to-toe with the Dodgers as World Series favorites, both for 2021 and beyond.

SI MLB STAFF: What Should We Make of the Padres?

Tampa Bay Rays

Title-less seasons: 23

Playoff seasons: 6

World Series appearances: 2008, 2020

2020 performance: 40–20 (1st in AL East; lost to Dodgers in World Series)

Championship window: 4–6 seasons away

Where they stand: You’d think the team that last year came within two wins of removing itself from this list would rank at the very top. That’s not the case with the Rays after they traded away former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell in a puzzling cost-cutting move. Tampa Bay also opted against retaining Charlie Morton with a similar eye toward slashing payroll, and the team hasn’t made any offseason additions that could seemingly replace their immediate losses. Of course, this is a franchise that routinely draws praise for its prospect evaluation and development, and that reputation apparently still holds true. No team has more prospects in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 than the Rays (eight), headlined by the unanimous No. 1 prospect in the league in 19-year-old shortstop Wander Franco. Franco’s advanced beyond his years though still has yet to play above the High-A level. His arrival and acclimation to the majors will signal the opening of the Rays’ next championship window.

Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis takes the field against the Athletics at T-Mobile Park.

Seattle Mariners

Title-less seasons: 44

Playoff seasons: 4

World Series appearances: None

2020 performance: 27–33 (3rd in AL West)

Championship window: 4–6 seasons away

Where they stand: The 2021 season will mark two decades since the Mariners tied the record with 116 wins. Seattle hasn’t made the playoffs since, holding the unsavory claim to the longest active postseason drought in North American sports.

There’s reason for optimism, however, in the wave of young talent that’s already begun to arrive in the Pacific Northwest. Reigning Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis is among the game’s brightest young stars, and prized prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez could join him in the outfield in the coming years. The Mariners placed four others in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list—second most in the majors—with former first-round picks Emerson Hancock and Logan Gilbert representing the team’s best pitching prospects. There doesn’t appear to be a clear power in the AL West right now, so if Seattle can build upon last season’s third-place finish, perhaps general manager Jerry DiPoto will accelerate the club’s plans for contention.

Milwaukee Brewers

Title-less seasons: 52

Playoff seasons: 7

World Series appearances: 1982

2020 performance: 29–31 (4th in NL Central; lost to Dodgers in NL Wild Card round)

Championship window: 4–6 seasons away

Where they stand: Having one of the 10 or so best position players in his prime and signed for the rest of the decade is a solid foundation upon which to build a contender. Christian Yelich scuffled through an abridged 2020, but his track record suggests a bounce-back is in order. It’s the rest of the lineup that’s currently below the standard of title contender. Aside from Yelich, no Brewers position player is projected to reach the 2.0 WAR mark, according to Steamer’s 2021 projections. Milwaukee made the playoff field last year thanks to postseason expansion, but as it stands now, this is not a playoff-caliber roster. The team’s starting pitching depth must be addressed before the Brewers can start thinking about championships, but with Yelich in his prime, the philosophy should still be to win now. Milwaukee has made the playoffs three years in a row, but the franchise’s trajectory is certainly pointing downward at the moment.

Texas Rangers

Title-less seasons: 60

Playoff seasons: 8

World Series appearances: 2010, 2011

2020 performance: 22–38 (5th in AL West)

Championship window: 10+ seasons away

Where they stand: It’s been a decade since the Rangers came agonizingly close to winning the 2011 World Series over the Cardinals, their second of back-to-back World Series defeats. Since then, Texas has yet to win a postseason series, last making the playoffs in 2016 and subsequently posting four straight losing seasons. The Rangers will still be in rebuilding mode (co-owner Ray Davis has already publicly made that clear), and the outlook for 2021 is not promising. FanGraphs projects Texas to have the lowest combined WAR (17.7) of any team in the American League. The Rangers placed only three players in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 for this season, and FanGraphs didn’t grade a prospect better than 50 overall (which translates to an average big-league regular) in its farm system breakdown from April of last year. The road to a championship appears long, winding and treacherous, but the Rangers’ forecast is not quite as bleak as our final title-less team. ...

Rockies shortstop Trevor Story reacts after getting picked off at first base against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

Colorado Rockies

Title-less seasons: 28

Playoff seasons: 5

World Series appearances: 2007

2020 performance: 26–34 (4th in NL West)

Championship window: 10+ seasons away

Where they stand: There’s no need to sugarcoat things, Rockies fans: Times are tough. The trade of Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals for what’s widely been viewed as a weak return signaled to the fanbase that winning is not paramount. In the short term, Arenado’s departure means that the Pirates will have serious competition in the race for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft. Colorado’s current roster is far from contention, and the club’s best player—shortstop Trevor Story—is due to hit free agency next winter. The Rockies will try to extend his deal, but given the state of the franchise, it’s hard to imagine Story would choose to stay. The situation has all the makings of a fire sale, and it could be a long, long time until we see competitive baseball at Coors Field again.