Who Will Be Next To Win Their First?

Corey Seager Texas Rangers
Arizona Republic

On Wednesday night, the Rangers scratched their names off of one of baseball’s most undesirable lists: the franchises that had never in their history won a World Series. Major League Baseball is known for its historical championship parity; the sport’s 23 seasons without a repeat champion is the longest streak in the four major American sports leagues, and the Rangers became the ninth unique World Series champion in the last 10 years. But heading into Wednesday’s Game 5, six of the 30 MLB clubs — a full 20% — had never reached the promised land. On Thursday morning, it was down to five: the Brewers, Padres, Mariners, Rockies, and Rays. With the Rangers happy to leave that club, who should we expect to be the next to follow?

The No World Series Club
Team Founded Last WS Appearance
Milwaukee Brewers 1969 1982
San Diego Padres 1969 1998
Seattle Mariners 1977
Colorado Rockies 1993 2007
Tampa Bay Rays 1998 2020

Let’s get one thing out of the way: it won’t be the Rockies. I’m not as bold as Chris Russo, and I can’t afford to retire if they miraculously prove me wrong, but Colorado is both the farthest from the goal (having finished 59–103 in 2023) and, seemingly, the least motivated. There’s no sign that the Monforts have plans to sign their own Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, or an entire starting rotation the way the Rangers did after a 60-win season of their own. The Rockies don’t seem particularly interested even in more modest investments; their biggest financial commitment last year was a one-year, $7.75 million contract for Jurickson Profar. They have found their way from futility to the World Series once before during their magical 2007 run, but they haven’t won so much as a Division Series in any of their other 30 seasons, and they’re currently trending in the wrong direction — though who knows how much further in that direction there is to trend.

The Rockies notwithstanding, this is a group that looks likely to lose more members in the short- to medium-term future. The Brewers, Padres, Mariners, and Rays all have legitimate playoff hopes in the next couple of years, and with the right investments in their clubs and the right dominoes falling their way, any of the four could conceivably erase their droughts even as soon as 2024.

In fact, heading into 2023, our playoff odds gave all four higher odds of winning the World Series than the Rangers had. Even as recently as September 21, the Rays, Brewers, and Mariners all had a better chance of winning it all:

Playoff odds haven’t been configured for 2024 yet, but each of these teams should have its sights set on getting into the tournament next season — and as the Rangers and Diamondbacks can attest, once you’re in October, anything can happen. The Rays and Mariners may have the hardest road there, playing in two of baseball’s most talented divisions; the Padres, too, have the Dodgers and (for now) the Diamondbacks looking down from above, and a behemoth of a payroll to try to work around.

The Brewers, on the other hand, are surrounded by question marks in their division, with the Reds and Cubs trying to prove that their hot stretches were harbingers and not flukes, and the Cardinals trying desperately to forget 2023 ever happened. With no heavyweight ahead of them, Milwaukee may have the clearest path to October, but the team also has plenty of question marks of its own to address before getting to that point. Corbin Burnes is entering the final year of his contract, and a rocky arbitration experience last year has led to speculation on whether he’ll make it to the end of his contract in Milwaukee, let alone sign an extension. His rotation-mate Brandon Woodruff just had shoulder surgery, which will more than likely keep him out of action for the bulk of 2024. Starting pitching has been the Brewers’ strength, with Burnes and Woodruff at the center of it all; losing one or both could send them more in the direction of a rebuild than a title.

The Brewers have somewhat quietly made the postseason in five of the last six seasons – but they have all of one win in their last four trips:

Brewers Postseason Results
Year Finish Postseason Record
2023 Lost WC Series 0-2
2022 No Playoffs
2021 Lost NLDS 1-3
2020 Lost WC Series 0-2
2019 Lost WC Game 0-1
2018 Lost NLCS 6-4

The Padres are also in a bit of a fraught position. After snagging a wild card in 2022 and ousting the 101-win Mets and 111-win Dodgers on their way to their first NLCS in two decades, they went all in last offseason. But despite doubling their run differential in 2023, they finished a disappointing 2023 at just 82–80. Now they have to consider whether or not to trade Juan Soto before he reaches free agency next winter — a move that wouldn’t exactly scream “all in” for a World Series run. Cy Young favorite Blake Snell and closer Josh Hader are hitting free agency this week, along with a number of role players, leaving a team that ran a 2023 payroll north of $250 million with multiple holes to address in the coming winter. And they’re expected to be look for opportunities to cut that payroll in 2024.

San Diego Padres Results
Year Record Run Differential Finish
2022 89-73 +45 Lost NLCS
2023 82-80 +104 3rd in NL West

But let’s be honest: this team is still stacked with talent. They may be coming off an underwhelming year, and they may have some tricky roster construction questions, but they also have Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Ha-Seong Kim, and Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, both of whom were held short of a full season due to injury last year.

There’s quite a bit of talent in Seattle, too, though the Mariners have yet to put it together enough to contend for a pennant. With a core including Julio Rodriguez, J.P. Crawford, Cal Raleigh, and Eugenio Suárez in the lineup and Luis Castillo, George Kirby, and Logan Gilbert in the starting rotation — and all under team control at least through 2025 — they could find their way off the list before too long.

At the same time, Mariners fans watched the Rangers live the dream they’ve been asking for for years: investing in premier free agents to overtake the Astros and end up on top. To make it worse, Jerry Dipoto used his end-of-season press conference to explain that he and his team were “doing the fanbase a favor in asking for their patience to win the World Series,” which was, well, poor judgment on his part. He has since apologized for how the comments were phrased, but the message was clear: the Mariners aren’t trying to go all in on winning a World Series.

The degree to which that kind of strategy is concerning for the league is a whole other article. With an expanded playoff tournament featuring a high degree of randomness, there is some sense in just trying to get yourself in every year. That’s an issue for a league that would prefer for its teams to be fighting tooth and nail for the best possible team and for fans that want that of their team. The Mariners have some serious young talent, but Dipoto confirmed that they won’t go the way of the deep-pocketed Rangers any time soon.

The Rays, meanwhile, seem to be challenging themselves to sustain a higher level of success. Despite the division around them, they managed to win 99 games in 2023 despite some significant injury losses, and they are a good bet to be the next off this list, both because of their current talent and their proven ability to sustain it. They were the favorite out of this group for the bulk of last season, and that was with just one of their starters able to make more than 21 starts. The biggest obstacle in their way is October itself; for the last five years, they’ve played at a 99-win pace and made five straight postseasons but have made it past the division series just once.

Tampa Bay Rays Results
Year Record W-L% Finish
2023 99-63 0.611 Lost WC
2022 86-76 0.531 Lost WC
2021 100-62 0.617 Lost DS
2020 40-20 0.667 Lost WS
2019 96-66 0.593 Lost DS

If I had written this piece last winter, I would’ve expected the Padres to be the most likely to end their franchise-long slump. If I’d written it in June, I would’ve sworn it would be the Rays. But the truth is, we’re in an era in which the door could be open for any of these teams to win their first (Rockies fans, keep the faith). Here’s hoping this list is even shorter in 2030.

Chris is a data journalist and FanGraphs contributor. Prior to his career in journalism, he worked in baseball media relations for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

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6 months ago

I’m going to go with the Mariners. I don’t see the Rays, Brewers, or Padres making a serious attempt to go for it anytime soon. The Brewers haven’t invested in players to make a deep run in a while, the offense is seriously flawed, and they only have one year left with two of their best players. The Rays are great at building these regular-season teams but I think that their regular-season team is so highly optimized that when other teams are playing matchups more directly in the playoffs they don’t get that same boost. The Padres are talking about cutting payroll (after sinking a huge amount of money into extending Machado and Darvish and a bunch of other guys), so I think it will be flawed.

But the Mariners are going to go hard after Ohtani this winter, and if they miss they will go hard after whatever bats they can in the next one. Harry Ford and Cole Young are super interesting prospects who could either contribute at the big league level or get used in trades. Their pitching is good and under team control for a while. While I wouldn’t call them the favorites for a world championship anytime soon, they also seem like they’re going to be the best team from 2024-2026.

6 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

DiPoto’s comments don’t indicate a serious bid for Ohtani

6 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

He’s alluded to making a serious bid before but the concern is that even if they make a serious bid, their odds of beating out every other team aren’t high. And what will they do if they miss him?

6 months ago
Reply to  Claydv

I suppose if they’re willing to play at that level Soto is a possibility. I’m not sure they have enough to trade for him. Bellinger? Bader? Tyler O’Neill?

6 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Dipoto’s comments also indicate that our Ms will remain the sole occupant of the never-even-close club.