In case you hadn’t noticed, the 2012 Major League Baseball season is heading toward another exciting conclusion. Sure, it most likely won’t be as thrilling as the conclusion to the 2011 Major League Baseball season. (We’ll probably go another 50 or 60 years before we see anything like that again.) But it is looking like we’ll see some historic stretches of terrible baseball come to an end for one or more long-suffering franchises.
You see, in the American League, the A’s and O’s—not the Red Sox and Rays, nor the Angels and Tigers—currently sit atop the wildcard standings. And over in the National League the Pirates are just 2.5 games out of the wildcard, while the Nationals enjoy a 6.5 game lead over the Braves in the East.
In short, if you’re a conspiracy nut looking for signs of the apocalypse, the baseball standings are a veritable blinking neon sign that reads “Apocalypse Nigh.”
So today, in preparation for the end times, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the longest postseason droughts in Major League Baseball. And you know what’s amazing about this list? The fact that 19 different baseball teams have made the playoffs within the last 4 seasons. This includes the such sad-sack franchises as the Cleveland Indians (4 years ago), Chicago Cubs (3 years ago), and Milwaukee Brewers (last year). Because you see, when they divided the teams into 6 divisions and added a wildcard spot, that doubled the number of teams that made the playoffs each year. So pretty much every team has a shot at October baseball every couple of years. And yet there are 11 teams with playoff droughts of 5 years or longer, 6 of which haven’t seen October in over a decade.
Anyway, you get the idea: these teams are bad. So let’s get started and see what we’re talking about.
Five years isn't that long of a drought, even by today's loosened postseason standards in MLB. Still, if your team has gone more than 4 years without making the playoffs, that does put them in the bottom third—and that's not good. And first up on our list with a 5 year playoff drought are the New York Mets.
The star-studded high-payroll Mets lost to the 86-win Cardinals in the 2006 NLCS and were never the same team. It's like that upset just crushed their chemistry and confidence. Today, the only player they have left from their last playoff appearance is third baseman David Wright. And while 5 years doesn't really seem all that long, it certainly doesn't seem like the Mets will be headed back to the postseason anytime soon. So this one could get ugly.
9. Mets – 5 Years (Tie)
Just when everybody had written off Billy Beane...
The A's haven't been good since last making the postseason in 2006, but they haven't been horrendous. They've averaged a respectable 76.2 wins over that span and ever finished an even 81-81 in 2010. Still, no one expected them to be in contention this year—not with the two-time AL Champion Rangers and the cajillion dollar Anaheim Angels of Southern Los Angeles California, USA, Earth, in the same division. And yet there they are with a record of 80-60 and a run differential of +82 at time of writing. So this is a drought that very well may end if they can hold off the Angels and Rays for just a few more weeks.
9. Athletics – 5 Years (Tie)
The San Diego Padres are our third 5-year-drought team. Of course, they came within inches (literally) of making the playoffs back in 2007 when they lost a thrilling one-game wildcard playoff to the Rockies, but these days, unfortunately, their situation more resembles that of the Mets than the A's. In the last two years they've gotten rid of their best hitter (Adrian Gonzalez) and their best pitcher (Mat Latos). Yeah, they got a ton of pitching prospects for those two—maybe they're trying to take the Oakland approach—but nothing has become of them yet. The Pads are currently 67-75 and only 6 teams have scored fewer runs. So, yeah, this one will last a few more years.
9. Padres – 5 Years (Tie)
Speaking of postseason droughts that are going to last a while longer...
People might say that the Astros are "rebuilding," but that's not quite true. This is a franchise still in the tearing down phase. Over the last two seasons, the Stros have sold off every hint of Major League talent for prospects—Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Michael Bourne, and so on. Thus, today they're more like a Triple-A team than a real, honest to goodness Major League Baseball team. And when you add to this the fact that they move to the AL West next year, joining the Angels, Rangers, and A's...well, this is going to be a long playoff drought.
8. Astros – 6 Years
Well, if nothing else, the Marlins can say that, when they make the playoffs, they make it count. The team has made the postseason just twice in its 20 year history (as wildcards) and they won the World Series both times—1997 and 2003. Of course, their 8-year playoff drought was supposed to end this year, what with their new stadium and new crop of pricey free agents—like Jose Reyes and Heath Bell. But things fell apart pretty fast, and the Marlins management did what it does best: they had a fire sale, sending their former supposed franchise player, Hanley Ramirez, off to the Dodgers.
Nevertheless, this club still has a lot of talent (with Reyes, Giancarlo Stanton, and Josh Johnson), so if management can resist selling off more pieces when things get a little rocky next season, they could end the drought within a couple years.
7. Marlins – 8 Years
Now we're getting into the big droughts. The Mariners tied a Major League record with 116 wins in 2001, but lost in the ALCS to the Yankees. After that they had a couple more good seasons, winning 93 games each in 2002 and 2003. However, by then their division had gotten crazy good. The A's and Angels won 103 and 99 games respectively in 2002. Then, in 2003, the A's won another 96 games to win the AL West, while the Red Sox took the wildcard with 95 wins.
Since then things have been pretty bleak in Seattle. They managed to win 88 games in 2007 and 86 in 2009, but those were flukes—their run differential in '07 was -27, and in '09 it was a whopping -52. This year they're 67-74, and they sold of the second-biggest star their franchise has ever known—Ichiro—for nothing. So things are going to have to get a little worse before they get any better for the Mariners.
6. Mariners – 10 Years
Okay, finally, another drought that has a chance of ending. And if it does, it will actually be a miracle. That's because, while Baltimore is 78-62 this year, putting them at the top of the wildcard standings and only a game back of the Yankees in the AL East, they're run differential is -29.
Do you know the last time a team made the playoffs with a negative run differential? It was 2005, when the Padres won the putrid NL West by five games with a record of 82-80 and a run differential of -42. But that was the only time it's happened in the last 10 seasons—that's a 1:40 ratio.
So if the O's do hang on, it'll be historic not just because they haven't made the playoffs since Jeffrey Maier turned an out into a home run in 1997, but also because this team really is not that great.
5. Orioles – 14 Years
Now here's a playoff drought that you have to look at in context. Because while 18 years seems like an embarrassing amount of time to go without a postseason appearance, the Blue Jays have had the misfortune of playing in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox.
During this drought, the Jays have had .500 records 50% of the time (9 seasons). In fact, they won 85 games or more 5 times, which is actually pretty good. You can imagine that, if they didn't have to play 36 games a year against the Yankees and Red Sox, but instead got 36 games against the Royals and whoever else happens to be awful in the AL Central, they would have made the playoffs 3 or 4 times in the last 18 years...not that this makes their fans feel any better. As it is, the Jays haven't taken a swing in October since Joe Carter hit a Mitch Williams fastball over the fence in '93.
4. Blue Jays – 18 Years
Okay, now we're getting into legendary territory.
While the Pirates' drought is only one year longer than the Blue Jays' drought, you can't really compare the two. Why? Because the Pirates have not had a single winning season since Barry Bonds left for San Francisco after losing the 1992 NLCS to Atlanta. In fact, they've lost 90 games or more 10 times in the last 19 seasons, including the last 7 in a row.
However, right now, with just 22 games left to play, the Pirates are 72-68 and 2.5 games back of a wildcard berth. So if they can put together one final push, this team can end one of the worst streaks in the history of professional sports.
3. Pirates – 19 Years
It's hard to say whether the Royals or the Pirates are more pathetic. On the one hand, the Royals have had some winning seasons during their playoff drought that dates back to when they won the World Series in 1985. They've had 7 of them in fact. However, all but 1 of those 7 came prior to 1995.
Since 1995, with the exception of one magical year in 2003 when the Royals finished 83-79, the Royals have been even worse than the Pirates. In a shorter span of time the Royals have put together 11 seasons of 90 or more losses. And while the Pirates have lost 100 games only twice during their drought, the Royals have done lost 100 games four times.
Now, the Royals have a number of highly touted prospects on their major league roster right now, and people have been saying for a couple of years that their 26-year nightmare might actually come to an end soon. But it certainly isn't going to be this year—right now they're a sad 63-77.
2. Royals – 26 Years
The longest current playoff drought in Major League Baseball belongs to the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, who last made the playoffs in 1981. In fact, that's the only time in their 43 year history that they've made the postseason.
Now, in fairness, we should point out that more than half of the Expos seasons were played in an era in which just 4 teams made the playoffs. Prior to 1995, you could easily win 95 games and still be on the golf course come October 1. In fact, that's exactly what happened to the Expos in 1979—they won 95 games and still didn't win their division. It happened in 1993, too, when they won 94 games to the Phillies' 97. And of course we can't forget the strike-shortened 1994 season. Montreal was 74-40 and running away with the NL East when the season was cancelled.
Still, if we're going to be realistic, there's really no excuse for not making the playoffs even once since 1994. All but 4 teams in the league have at least accomplished that much. And the Expos/Nationals are one of those 4.
However, this historic streak will surely end this year. Unless something crazy happens—like Bryce Harper drinks too much nerve tonic, or Gio Gonzalez is made to think he's a chicken by a hypnotist—the Nats are going to make the playoffs. Right now they are 6 games up on the Braves in the NL East and their magic number is just 15 games. So the celebration in DC come October 3 is going to be pretty nuts.