!We’re back to normal this year, after last year’s expanded sixteen-team double-Wild Card Round affair, but there’s a ton to cover here, even without any last-minute tiebreakers. So let’s start with our normal first point:
If you’re neutral towards all of the teams in the postseason, one way to pick a bandwagon rooting interest can be to support the teams with long title droughts. If that is your usual strategy, though, I’m sorry to report that this year’s remaining teams represent slim pickings.
For our third straight postseason, the average and median drought lengths of the teams playing in October are shorter than those in the previous postseason. In fact, this season represents the second lowest both figures have been since the dawn of the Wild Card era, with only 2009 (9.75 year average drought to 15.6; 8 year median drought to 11) featuring more recent winners.
The Brewers, who haven’t won it all since they were founded in 1969 and are thus facing their 53rd year without a title, are far and away the leaders in this category. Of the twelve teams with three decades or more between their most recent title (or the founding of the franchise), the Brewers are the only ones still in it this year. In fact, our next longest active streaks still playing, the Braves (26 seasons) and Rays (24), represent the exact mid-points of the league, as the fifteenth and sixteenth-longest active winless streaks.
In contrast, half of the teams represented have won it all in the last decade (the Dodgers in 2020, the Red Sox in 2018, the Astros in 2017, the Giants in 2014, and the Cardinals in 2011), with the final two (the Yankees in 2009 and the White Sox in 2005) not far behind
PLAYERS WITHOUT A WORLD SERIES
As per usual, I will be putting out my yearly Sporcle Quiz, on the active players with the most career Wins Above Replacement who haven’t won a title, once the World Series wraps up. Or another way, we're looking at the top 100 active players by WAR who haven't yet won the World Series (I'll shorten this in my writing sometimes, because this is a mouthful to reiterate every time). The Nationals and Dodgers were heavy on top veterans during their championship runs, which helped clear things out a little bit, but some retirements have helped to restock Baseball-Reference’s Active Player leaderboard.
Once again, my rules are that anyone who played a game at the Major League level in 2021 is eligible, so I include a few players who technically retired during the season, as well as players who are active but won’t be on their team’s postseason roster (including players who will be suspended for October). I won’t publish the full list of names just yet to help preserve some surprises for the quiz itself, but if you want to see which specific players are on the playoff teams, I’ll include them in a section below. For now, though, here are the overall counts.
Every team but the Red Sox brings at least one player without a World Series title with them in some form or another, while the Yankees will provide far and away the most rings to titleless players, with half a dozen of them gracing their 2021 roster at some point.
None: Red Sox
Two: Astros, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Rays, White Sox
The 2021 Playoffs will include a few expansion teams, between the Brewers, Astros, and Rays. Had the Mariners and Blue Jays succeeded in upsetting the Yankees and Red Sox, we’d be seeing even more. However, even in that scenario, due to their uneven distribution between leagues, the chances of our third All-Expansion Team World Series would ride entirely on the success or failure of the Brewers. As is, it’s still unlikely, but by no means impossible.
Our playoff set this year is pretty well-decorated; the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, Giants, and Dodgers are five of the six teams with the most World Series wins and appearances (only the A’s are missing). Those five teams together account for 62 championships and 113 pennants (in the World Series era), with the other five bringing our net totals up to 69 wins and 133 appearances.*
*In fact, it’s genuinely difficult to construct a set of ten teams with more titles. If you swap the A’s (nine championships) out for the Astros (one), the Pirates or Reds (five each) out for the Brewers (zero), and the Tigers (four) out for the Rays (zero), you can get us up to 86 wins, the maximum possible in the current playoff format. If you wanted to maximize pennants, you would keep the A’s and Tigers, but swap the Orioles in for the White Sox and the Cubs in for the Pirates or Reds, resulting in 165 total pennants among the ten contenders.
As you might figure with a set like this, unique matchups are a little harder to come by. But they still aren’t impossible! In fact, there are even a few matchups between original, non-expansion teams that could happen for the first time. Specifically, the Braves facing either Sox team or the Cardinals and White Sox meeting up would represent the first of their kind.
Additionally, the Brewers have never won an NL Pennant (their one World Series appearance came as an AL team), so every matchup involving them would be unique. And since the Nationals and Phillies both missed out, any matchup involving the Rays or Astros will be unique should the Dodgers miss out. Also, while not World Series matchups, it’s also worth noting that the ALDS round will include a rematch of the 2005 World Series (the Astros and White Sox are facing off), and should they both make it to the NLCS round, the Cardinals and Brewers could give us yet another rematch of the 1982 World Series.
In stark contrast, the Dodgers have faced every potential AL opponent, and the Brewers are one of three NL teams the Yankees have never faced in the World Series (the other two being the Rockies and Nationals, who each have one pennant to their name). And the Giants have faced all three original teams present, but are missing both expansions.
Also, thanks to the age of so many teams involved, we could be seeing a rematch of a number of classic series. The Yankees and Dodgers have met eleven times, more than any other World Series opponents. But the Yankees and Giants (seven times) and Yankees and Cardinals (five times) are the second- and third-most-common World Series pairings, and Yankees-Braves and Red Sox-Cardinals are two of the four matchups that have happened four different times (only missing here are the A’s-Giants, and Tigers-Cubs).
Red Sox-Dodgers (2018)
White Sox-Dodgers (1959)
White Sox-Giants (1917)
Red Sox-Giants (1912)
Yankees-Dodgers (1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1963, 1977, 1978, 1981)
Yankees-Giants (1921, 1922, 1923, 1936, 1937, 1951, 1962)
Yankees-Cardinals (1926, 1928, 1942, 1943, 1964)
Yankees-Braves (1957, 1958, 1996, 1999)
Red Sox-Cardinals (1946, 1967, 2004, 2013)
(spoilers for Best Players Without a World Series below)
BEST PLAYERS WITHOUT A WORLD SERIES, BY TEAM (SPOILERS)
Astros: Zack Greinke, Michael Brantley
Braves: Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna
Brewers: Christian Yelich, Jordan Zimmermann
Cardinals: Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado
Dodgers: Trevor Bauer
Giants: Evan Longoria, Jose Quintana, Scott Kazmir
Rays: Nelson Cruz, Kevin Kiermaier
Red Sox: None
White Sox: Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal
Yankees: Giancarlo Stanton, Corey Kluber, Gerrit Cole, DJ LeMahieu , Aaron Judge, Jay Bruce