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Longest Active Playoff Droughts in the MLB

Parity has been the buzzword of American Sports in the past few decades, as commissioners and league officials realized the best way to get fans involved was to make every team interesting and trying to give every franchise enough hope to contend. With the implementation of hard salary caps and well-organized drafts, along with expanded playoffs, the NFL, NHL and NBA have produced models that encourage competition and prevent dynasties from being born. Even as baseball has been reluctant to follow the same procedures, the nature of the game and the randomness of every season have made the league as even as ever. But even with all those factors in play, a few teams haven´t been so lucky.

In the past 10 years, 26 of the 30 MLB franchises have been to the playoffs at least once (even the Cubs!), and now that the postseason features a third of the league, it is easy to predict that long playoff droughts will become more and more scarce over time. Today we examine the painful history of the other 4 teams that haven´t played meaningful baseball in October in a while, as well as their chances of breaking the spell during in 2013.

Seattle Mariners

  • Last playoff appearance: 2001 ALCS loss to the Yankees
  • Seasons since: 11 full seasons; 4 winning records, 7 last-place finishes

Seattle is one of the few franchises that have never been part of a World Series, but at this point, I guess their fans would be just as content if they had a crack at contention again. After their amazing 116-win season in 2001, the Mariners produced consecutive years of 93 triumphs, but fell shy of the postseason, nevertheless. After that, it has been mostly a disaster for the M´s. Seattle has suffered from bad front-office decisions and poor drafting, while toiling away the best years of their true superstars, Felix Hernandez and Ichiro.

In 2013, the Mariners have shown some flashes of competence, and feature a solid bullpen along with promising pieces in the rotation besides King Felix, but their offensive woes are too big to overcome a division full of good squads. The addition of the Astros to the AL West will surely prevent Seattle from another last-place finish, but the hope of playoff baseball in Safeco Field is pretty slim.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Last playoff appearance: 1993 World Series Win against Phillies
  • Seasons since: 17 full seasons (2 shortened); 9 winning records, 3 last-place finishes

Toronto became one of the few teams in MLB history to win consecutive World Series at the beginning of the 90´s, and threatened to start a Canadian gridlock on the American pastime along with Montreal when the infamous strike destroyed the 1994 season and prevented the Jays from defending their title. After that, Toronto has been one of the most consistent team in the Majors, but with the misfortune of competing in the toughest division in the league. But while the Rays and Orioles managed to sneak a couple of playoff appearances in the process, Toronto has not been able to get over the hump.

Sensing a down year from the top dogs in the division, the 2013 Blue Jays went all-in to build a team full of stars and break the drought, but the start of the season has been everything but smooth. Slow starts by Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie have hampered the team, along with the the injury to Jose Reyes and terrible play from their supposed trio of aces: Dickey, Johnson and Buehrle. Toronto is already almost 10 games behind in the AL East and 8 behind for the Wild Card. The team has the talent to turn it around, but if they end up without playoffs again, this will surely become the biggest failure the team has seen in almost 20 years.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Last playoff appearance: 1992 ALCS loss to the Braves
  • Seasons since: 18 full seasons (2 shortened); 0 winning records, 7 last-place finishes

The heart-breaking loss in 7 games to the Braves and the departure of Barry Bonds following the 1992 season seemed like a bad omen for Pittsburgh, but I guess nobody thought it would ever be this bad. The Pirates have parlayed 20 seasons without playoffs with 20 consecutive losing records and a long track record of incompetence all around the organization. Of course, Bonds became one of the best players ever in San Francisco and every other team in the NL has made the playoffs in this 20-year span… even expansion squads. The last 2 years have at least seen some progress from the Pirates, who were contenders all the way to September, and finally have a established star in Andrew McCutchen.

To start 2013, we endorsed the Pirates to shock the world and get into the playoffs in grand fashion. So far, so good for the Buccos. In the tough NL Central, they are sitting just 3 games back of St. Louis and stand just a half game back of the Wild Card. Even though the season has just begun, Pittsburgh is starting to establish its identity as a squad that will rely on strong pitching and timely (yet weak) hitting to scratch victories when it can. If they hope to avoid the same fate of 2011 and 2012, they will probably need some reinforcements during the season, but a record above .500 seems quite realistic for a team that is being built to contend for the rest of the decade.

Kansas City Royals

  • Last playoff appearance: 1985 World Series Wins against Cardinals
  • Seasons since: 25 full seasons (2 shortened); 7 winning records, 10 last-place finishes

Today, it is hard to believe that the Royals were once one of the marquee franchises of the American League. After all, from 1976 to 1985 they made the postseason in 7 occasions, reaching 2 World Series and winning one. Even when the franchise started to decline in the late 80´s, they remained one of the teams with the best attendance in baseball, but the ´94 strike was practically the death blow for Kansas City, who has been a synonym of futility ever since.

On the other hand, the Royals appear to be the team with the best chances on this list, as their play so far in 2013 has been really steady and a vast improvement from what they showed a year ago. They were highly criticized for the Wil Myers trade, but it was the price to pay for finally having a rotation that performs at a good level. With James Shields and Ervin Santana (!) shoring up a talented roster full of potential stars, Kansas will try to benefit from a weak division to at least go for a Wild Card, as it seems really improbable to dethrone the Tigers. After a quarter century of failure, the people in Kansas expect this team to be the one that can lead them back to glory again.

Longest Active Playoff Droughts in the MLB

Team Seasons Last Appearance
Kansas City Royals 27 1985
Pittsburgh Pirates 20 1992
Toronto Blue Jays 19 1993
Seattle Mariners 11 2001
Miami Marlins 9 2003
Houston Astros 7 2005
San Diego Padres 6 2006
New York Mets 6 2006
Cleveland Indians 5 2007
Chicago White Sox 4 2008
Chicago Cubs 4 2008
Boston Red Sox 3 2009
Colorado Rockies 3 2009
Los Angeles Angels 3 2009
Los Angeles Dodgers 3 2009
Minnesota Twins 2 2010
Tampa Bay Rays 1 2011
Arizona Diamondbacks 1 2011
Philadelphia Phillies 1 2011
Milwaukee Brewers 1 2011


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