MLB playoffs: Which team faces most pressure to win the World Series?

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MLB playoffs: Which team faces most pressure to win the World Series?

You are probably going to disagree with this ranking, and that’s OK.

How do I know that? After I settled on the idea for today’s column — ranking the playoff teams by how much pressure they’re under to win the 2017 World Series — I asked a couple of people in the SN baseball circle and a couple other friends for their opinions.

Everyone gave me a different answer. Some were vastly different. The team I put No. 1 was No. 5 on another person’s list. Four different teams were in the No. 1 spot. Which means, great conversation topic, right? Here’s what you think, Twitter.

On to my list.


8. Red Sox


Thoughts: Maybe I’m off on this, but it feels like most Red Sox fans look at this team, compare them to the other teams in this year’s AL field, and understand the odds are stacked against them. Boston fans love their Sox, but they recognize better teams when they see them. This rotation just isn’t good enough to win the World Series, short of everyone pulling a 2006 Jeff Weaver and Chris Sale pulling a 2014 Madison Bumgarner the rest of the way. They’ve won the AL East two years in a row, and they have three World Series championship since 2004. There’s very little pressure on anyone not named John Farrell (if they get swept by the Astros, his past four years will have ended like this: Last place AL East, last place AL East, swept in ALDS, swept in ALDS. That’s not ideal for job security).


7. Yankees


Thoughts: On one hand, they’re basically playing with house money. This was supposed to be mostly a rebuilding year, as youngsters adjusted to the big leagues and the front office prepared for all-out playoff pushes in 2018 and beyond. Nobody expected Aaron Judge to lead this club to a playoff spot with an MVP-caliber season or Luis Severino to develop into a reliable No. 1-type starter during the regular season. To quote the movie “Clerks” (kind of) …

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On the other hand, this team is absolutely good enough to win the World Series, and lots of teams have won World Series titles in seasons that didn’t start with high expectations. GM Brian Cashman made trades designed to help in the playoffs, and those moves paid dividends in the wild-card game against the Twins. Any time you have a team good enough to actually win it all, there’s a level of pressure (especially when you’re the Yankees).

MORE: 14 postseason oddities you might not know about


6. Cubs


Thoughts: There is a certain pressure to win back-to-back titles. There’s a special place in the history books for teams that pull off that trick. And after that lengthy drought, winning back-to-backs would be sweet.

But the real pressure? That disappeared a year ago.


5. Diamondbacks


Thoughts: It’s not irrational to think this year could be the Diamondbacks’ best shot to win a World Series title with this group. The rotation is very good, and the team is healthy. Arizona doesn’t have a giant window, and an injury or two can screw everything up (and that’s happened the past couple of years in the desert). J.D. Martinez was always just a rental (unless they pony up to keep him). A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin can be free agents after 2018, and Paul Goldschmidt can leave as a free agent after 2019.


4. Astros


Thoughts: This is a franchise that has been rather snake-bit in the postseason. It’s not just that the Astros have failed to win a World Series in their 10 trips to the playoffs since they were founded in 1962, it’s how they’ve been bounced. Read here, if you dare. And remember that Sports Illustrated cover? That’s outside pressure. On the other hand, it’s not like this is their only shot with this group. Each one of the primary contributors is under contract/club control next year, and most are locked up for at least two years.

MORE: Astros are playing with a purpose

I want to say one other thing: Ranking the Astros here has nothing to do with Hurricane Harvey or the recovery efforts still going on in southeastern Texas. The team has already made the community proud. They’ve given them a welcome distraction. There is not a single person in Houston who will think less of the players or coaches if they don’t win the World Series. That’s not pressure, folks. That’s a warm welcome home, regardless of the outcome of a baseball game.


3. Nationals


Thoughts: Baseball can be cruel. Everyone knows the Stephen Strasburg debacle, when the club shut him down in 2012 after reaching an arbitrary innings limit; instead of resting him during the season and saving him for the playoffs, they just didn’t let him pitch after Sept. 7. It’s still mind-boggling. He was the 98-win Nationals’ best pitcher, and they lost in the NLDS to the Cardinals. The Nationals would have lots of chances to win a World Series, went the thinking. Well, no. They’ve made the playoffs twice since then and missed twice. They haven’t even won a playoff series since the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington, D.C.

This is probably their best shot to win it all since 2012, and the end of this current window is in sight. Superstar Bryce Harper is a free agent after the 2018 season, and some team will give him a contract worth more than $400 million. It almost certainly won’t be the Nationals. Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Madson are free agents after 2018, too.

MORE: Each MLB team's worst postseason memory, revisited


2. Cleveland


Thoughts: 1948.

That’s it. The last time Cleveland won the World Series was 1948. That’s the pressure.

Getting to extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series last year created expectations, sure, but the primary source of the pressure on this team?

1948.


1. Dodgers


Thoughts: The Dodgers’ World Series drought isn’t as long as Cleveland’s, and they don’t have the “never won it all” thing, like the Astros or Nationals. But no team has failed more consistently in the postseason over the past decade or so than the Dodgers. They’ve been to the postseason nine times in 14 years, and they’ve yet to even get to the World Series, much less win it all. They’re 22-31 overall in the postseason since 2004, and they’ve failed to win more than two games in the NLCS in that stretch. Put it this way: The Dodgers parted ways with Don Mattingly after the 2015 season; he’d won three consecutive NL West titles in his final three seasons.

Yep. There’s pressure on L.A. to win it all.