If baseball’s regular season were to end today the Royals would have the American League’s best record, the Astros would win the AL West, and the Mets atop the National League East. Only one of those three teams appeared in the playoffs a year ago, and it was the Royals, who squeaked into the wildcard game. And furthermore, the Toronto Blue Jays would appear in the American League’s wildcard game.
These teams are not among the more typical squads that currently maintain playoff spots—take the Saint Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees for example. Going back to 2010, the National League has only had two teams appear in the World Series: the aforementioned Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants.
While the American League has had a bit more parity—four different teams have appeared in the World Series—the postseason play has mostly been the same faces just with different results. Whether it was the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees, the Oakland Athletics, or the Detroit Tigers, it seemed that every AL Championship series boasted similar company. Now, this isn’t to say that’s a bad thing: after all, success does tend to repeat itself. But it’s not the most exciting thing either. It’s been rather refreshing, actually, not seeing the New York Yankees in the playoffs for the past two seasons, despite the fact that they’ll probably be back in a few months.
When the Royals made the playoffs a year ago, it was their first postseason appearance since 1985, a year they just so happened to win the World Series. Well, when they shockingly made it all the way to the World Series, they became America’s team—or at least Royals fans will tell you that. Either way, Kansas City truly was an underdog story; a roster full of non-super stars. But also a sound team defensively and a team that played extremely well together.
Of the teams previously listed, there are more than a few that could nicely play the Cinderella role this September. First off there’s the Mets—New York’s ugly stepchild for so many years now. They last made the playoffs in 2006, only to lose in the NLCS, and worse than that, they last won a World Series in 1986. In 54 years as a franchise, New York only has seven playoff appearances, thus it would make some interesting story lines if they manage to hold onto the NL East’s top spot. They’re a young, exciting team, and with that brings playoff excitement.
Then there’s Houston: this season’s real surprise. The Astros haven’t been relevant for a little less than a decade, and in turn, they’ve had some of baseball’s worst teams. However, they currently sit atop the AL West, bolstered their starting rotation at the trade deadline, and don’t look to be a pretender. Oh yeah, they’ve also never won a World Series in 54 seasons of existence. Call it a sad state of affairs, but this could be their year. Houston’s success brings back memories of the days of Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan—the days when the team had relevance—and Astros fans have been yearning for a title, or even just a spot in the playoffs, for years.
The Blue Jays, who have been the league’s hottest team since the trade deadline, also maintain baseball’s longest current playoff drought (22 years) after the Royals made it a year ago. The hotter they get the more likely it seems that they’ll be a playoff team by the end of the season. In terms of duration of drought and passion of fans, the Blue Jays are 2015’s version of the Royals. But it’s not the same feel. They do after all have one of the league’s highest payrolls and only added to that with the addition of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price at the deadline. So while they’re not the underdog America necessarily wants to cheer for, they are a team looking to break an unfathomable streak and that’s worthy in and of itself.
Finally, there’s the Chicago Cubs. Their spot in the wildcard game is by no means a guarantee, but they have a fighting chance. And the Cubs’ 100-plus year World Series drought’s one for the ages. They’re a historic franchise with a national fan base—or just all the implants that end up in the Chicago area—and the fact that they’re in the playoff conversation right now should at least heighten the race towards the end of the season.
The one thing that history has shown us concerning the MLB Playoffs is that nothing’s a guarantee (see the 2014 Kansas City Royals). But this year is shaping up to be far more exciting than the average post season. The story lines are limitless: “Houston Astros go from worst to first,” or “Blue Jays end record-breaking streak” or even “Mets no longer laughing stock of New York.” Sure, the World Series could end up with the Yankees playing the Cardinals…by no means one for the ages. But it’s not shaping up that way, and that’s why the 2015 playoffs could finish more exciting than not.