Monday, October 30, 2006

Who Will be the Next to Break the Drought?

Friday night, the Cardinals won the World Series for the first time in a generation - 24 years to be exact. That's a pretty long time, but when you compare them to the previous two champions, the White Sox and the Red Sox - each having to wait more than 80 years between titles - it's like that World Series championship against the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982 was just yesterday.

That got me thinking - what long-suffering teams are the most likely to break out of their doldrums and win it all next year? To start, I've ranked the 10 teams who have had the longest droughts:

** Denotes a team that has never won a championship in its history.

1. Chicago Cubs - 98 years
2. Cleveland Indians - 58 years
3. San Francisco/New York Giants - 52 years
4. Texas Rangers/Washington Senators - 45 years **
5. Houston Astros - 44 years **
6. (tie) San Diego Padres - 37 years **
Milwaukee Brewers - 37 years **
Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos - 37 years **
9. Seattle Mariners -29 years **
10. Pittsburgh Pirates - 27 years

And now, the chances of each of those teams to win a World Series next years, from least likely to most likely:

10. Pittsburgh: You hate to say that there's no hope for the Pirates, especially after watching the 2006 Tigers. But this year's Tigers had Jim Leyland there to get them over the hump and then some. Pirates manager Jim Tracy is no Jim Leyland.

9. Washington: The team's headed in the right direction with Ryan Zimmerman there to anchor the team and its future, but their pitching is way too thin to be considered a contender. And that doesn't even mention the possible - probable? - loss of Alfonso Soriano to free agency.

8. Seattle: Unless they're able to sign a big-time free agent pitcher like Jason Schmidt or Barry Zito, I don't see any reason why they would move out of the bottom half of the AL West.

7. Milwaukee: This team has some talent, and more dependable pitching than you might think with Chris Capuano as a solid #1 starter and Francisco Cordero to close games out. But after Carlos Lee was traded at midseason, they went in the tank, and still will have to make up for their only dependable power hitter.

6. San Francisco: I really like the hiring of their new manager Bruce Bochy, who's quietly regarded as one of the best in the business. But the NL West, while no murderer's row, is competitive, with all five teams with a shot to contend. It won't be easy for any team in that divison to pull away. Also, who knows what kind of distraction the team may have to deal with if Barry Bonds approaches the home run record next year.

5. Chicago: Yes, I've probably ranked them too high. But as I mentioned before, we learned this year with the Tigers that if you put a great manager in the right place at the right time, motivated to win, it can have a profound effect on the team. And Lou Piniella is a great manager who seems to have his batteries recharged after a putrid stint with the Devil Rays.

4. Clevleland: The trendy pick to represent the AL in the World Series before this year started, the Indians failed to meet expectations. But there is undeniably a lot of potential in their lineup and starting rotation - but their bullpen is still a disaster area as of now, and that needs to get shored up before they can be considered serious contenders. Not to mention their division is stacked, perhaps unlike any division has ever been since MLB went to a six division format. Tigers, Twins, and White Sox staring at you? Tough assignment there.

3. Texas: This is likely much too high. But I have a great reason to justify this ranking. The Rangers fired Buck Showalter. History shows that when a team fires Buck Showalter as their manager, they win the World Series the next year. (See 1996 Yankees, 2001 Diamondbacks)

2. San Diego: They will continue to be one of the National Leauge's better teams, and their pitching is enviable in both the starting rotation and bullpen. Their Achilles heel though, is their lack of punch in the lineup. But if they make the playoffs, don't count them out.

1. Houston: Not that surprising of a pick, given the fact that they made the World Series only a year ago. And, again this offseason, we'll have to see if Roger Clemens comes back, but this team has shown to be one that gets hot in the second half of the year, and their pitching always makes them a threat to go all the way if they make the playoffs. The Astros have two of the most dominant players in baseball in Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. And the rumor mill keeps saying that Carlos Lee is on his way to Minute Maid Park too. Now that would lift the team out of their offensive misery of this past year.

Is this a scene we'll see next October?

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