A World Series championship changes the soul of your franchise for years, or decades. The most obvious recent example of this is the Chicago Cubs, who ended more than a century of suffering by winning the World Series last year. But it's really the case for any team, even the most seasoned champion. Imagine how we'd talk about the Chicago White Sox had they not won the World Series in 2005; they'd be like the Cubs crossed with the Bills with a 1919 Black Sox curse thrown in for good measure.
Ask the Yankees about this. Sure, the Yankees have won 27 titles, but in their current incarnation, 2009 might be the most important one. If they hadn't won a championship that season, we could legitimately say that the Yankees hadn't won a title since the turn of the century.
One World Series win goes a long way.
Back in August, I did a quick glance at the contending teams and assessed their "urgency" to win a World Series in 2017 (every team feels urgency in the postseason, but a few have a little more to deal with when it comes to the burden of history and other context). So now that we're down to eight teams in the mix, I thought I'd update the list a bit and see how all the remaining teams stack up.
8. Boston Red Sox (Titles: 8. Last title: 2013)
Boston has had a terrific season, with a group of young likable stars who will be staples of this franchise for years to come, but it's still difficult to shake the sense that Red Sox fans might find this team to be a little disappointing, since it stumbled for stretches over the course of the season. If the Red Sox win the World Series, their fans will be ecstatic and all that disappointment will go away, of course, but the Boston sports world may then get consumed by a Tom Brady-related drama in a couple of months. Boston is a wonderful sports town. It can also get a little crazy sometimes in its passion.
7. New York Yankees (Titles: 27. Last title: 2009)
This title would have a little extra oomph in that it's the first post-Derek Jeter title. It would also almost immediately begin all sorts of "a new dynasty?" talk, considering all the young players on the Yankees (and all the ones who are coming). Here's a question: If the Yankees win the World Series and then win four more in the next decade, who are the Core Four? Judge/Sanchez/Gregorius/ … Bird? Severino?
6. Arizona Diamondbacks (Titles: 1. Last title: 2001)
The D-backs have U-turned from "downtrodden franchise" to "team nobody wants to face in the postseason" so quickly that you can forgive their fans for having a bit of whiplash about the whole thing. Did you see Arizona coming? This looks like a team with maybe the best rotation, an imposing lineup and … well, OK, the bullpen is rough, though they can apparently hit triples.
This could be the start of something for the D-backs, this year and in the long term. But it's not like many of their fans expected a title coming into this year. They just didn't want to be bummed out anymore. Mission accomplished.
5. Chicago Cubs (Titles: 3. Last title: 2016)
Only this low on the list for "urgency" because they won last year, obviously. If they don't win the World Series this year, they probably climb up the list, if just because you don't want them to go the Chicago Bears route of having a historic, forever-beloved team that ended up with only one title. They would love to get one more out of the Rizzo-Bryant core. But if it doesn't happen this year, the Cubs will have other opportunities soon.
4. Houston Astros (Titles: 0. Last title: Never)
The Astros have never broken though and won a championship, despite having two Hall of Famers for nearly two decades. They have a new cast of characters now, though. In terms of "urgency," this club is just getting started, so they'll have plenty of chances to contend in the coming years, but in terms of excitement, they're up there with any franchise (fans would lose their minds if they won a title this season). And sorry: The fact that Sports Illustrated predicted them to win the World Series this year does not, in fact, factor into this list. We love Ben Reiter, but that's a media story more than a baseball one.
3. Washington Nationals (Titles: 0. Last title: Never)
The Nationals would love to win a title -- or at least reach a World Series -- before Bryce Harper's pending free agency after next season and the question marks that come with that. And a championship would do wonders for a sports city that has known only pain for a very long time now, thanks mainly to the Capitals. But let's get them out of the first round first before we start talking about what a World Series championship would mean.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (Titles: Six. Last title: 1988)
The Dodgers have made the postseason for the past five years, but still haven't made the World Series in that time. They've made the postseason eight times this century and failed to reach the Fall Classic, losing to the Cardinals three times, the Phillies twice, and the Cubs and Mets once. More than half of their young team wasn't even born yet in 1988, the last time they won a title. Clayton Kershaw may be the best pitcher of the past 20 years, but he's still looking for his signature October (although that amazing relief appearance he turned in last year against the Nationals was fun). The Dodgers have been too good for too long to keep falling short.
1. Cleveland Indians (Titles: Two. Last title: 1948)
You likely have heard this by now: The Tribe have gone nearly 70 years without a championship. They play in the most championship-starved city in the country, despite the run of Cavaliers success. They came within one pitch of winning the World Series just last season. (It's still a little amazing that Francisco Lindor didn't deposit one of those weak Aroldis Chapman sliders into the seats of a delirious Progressive Field crowd.) They have perhaps the best team in 50 years. The Indians will have no better chance to get this done than right now.