When the St. Louis Cardinals became the first team eliminated in the Division Series, we knew somebody's fan base was going to be deliriously happy at the conclusion of this postseason: None of the remaining seven teams had won a World Series in the wild-card era dating back to 1995.
Or, in the case of the Chicago Cubs, in the division era ... or the expansion era ... or the post-integration era ... or, heck, since they banned the spitball way back after the 1920 season. The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908, beating Ty Cobb's Tigers in five games. Their best pitcher was Three Finger Brown, they played at a wooden structure named West Side Park built in 1893, and the club hit 19 home runs all season. I'll venture that none of those 19 traveled as far as the one Kyle Schwarber hit Tuesday night at Wrigley Field that helped clinch the series win over the Cardinals and is now temporarily memorialized.
The Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, two expansion franchises born in the early 1960s (the Rangers originally as the second version of the Washington Senators), remain without World Series titles, their underrated histories of postseason heartache receiving new chapters.
The Los Angeles Dodgers? It's hard to believe they haven't been to a World Series since Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser led the team to victory in 1988, but that's the case. The team with baseball's highest payroll lost 3-2 to the Mets on Thursday, as the offensive shriveled up after the first inning, and now we're done with the wonderful Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke for 2015 (well, at least until Greinke opts out of his contract this offseason).
What we're not done with is amazing stories. As Doug Kern of ESPN Stats & Information points out, if you add up the World Series droughts of the four remaining teams, we get 188 years of starvation. Only 2003 -- when the Cubs and Red Sox were still alive -- had more titleless years, 189. If the New York Mets beat the Cubs, we'll also have the first World Series ever between two expansion teams.
It's not just the years without a title that make this final four so intriguing, but where these clubs have been. The Cubs were 73-89 last season, last place in the National League Central, the same record as the Phillies. The Phillies. A year later, the Cubs were 34 games better than the Phillies, winning 97 games for their first winning season since 2009. With their dynamic group of rookies and the one-two punch of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, the Cubbies grew up in a hurry under manager Joe Maddon. They're going to scare the crap out of the rest of the National League for a long time. Maybe they make their first World Series since 1945; if not, they'll be favorites to do so in 2016 ... and 2017 ... and 2018 ...
The Mets? The big-market Mets, whose penny-pinching ownership had driven fans into disgust? They won 79 games last year, their sixth consecutive losing season. Back in 2008, the team's last winning season, fans had packed Shea Stadium to over 4 million, the best attendance in the league. In 2014, the team barely drew 2 million and ranked 13th in the NL. But GM Sandy Alderson had a plan built around power arms and it all came together as Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard threw laser beams past hitters all season. The trade deadline brought in Yoenis Cespedes and more roster depth and suddenly the lineup looks nearly as strong as the rotation. The Mets last reached the World Series in 2000 -- Clemens! Piazza! -- but haven't won since 1986.
The Toronto Blue Jays ended the longest playoff drought in the majors (congrats, Seattle, that now belongs to you) with a superlative offense built around longtime slugger Jose Bautista and trade acquisition and likely MVP Josh Donaldson. Then they picked up David Price, a deal reminiscent of 1992, when they got David Cone to help them to the first of their back-to-back World Series titles. Unlike the other three teams left, the Jays never hit rock bottom; they just couldn't break that Yankees-Red Sox (and sometimes Rays and Orioles) stranglehold on the AL East. This is a team that plays with an edge and an attitude, flips bats and punishes mistakes. You may not love them, but Canada does.
Sure, the Kansas City Royals reached the World Series last year, but they haven't won it since 1985. Many said the Royals were a fluke and would finish under .500 this year. They didn't; they got better. They put the ball in the play, they play that wonderful defense, they have a deep bullpen and everything Ned Yost does in October is magical.
All this is good for baseball, this new blood. The highest remaining payroll is Toronto, No. 10 in the majors. It's more difficult than ever to buy your way to a pennant. Attendance was up slightly from 2014. Local TV ratings were high in many markets; the Royals, in fact, just had the highest local rating by a regional network for any team since 2002. Perennial losers such as the Royals and Pirates are now perennial winners. The Cubs and Astros are on their way to becoming perennial powerhouses. Since 2010, 25 of the 30 teams have reached the postseason. The game is abundant with personable, exciting young stars. There is hope for everyone.
These two league championships feature four excellent teams. We'll get the power bats of the Cubs squaring off against all those power arms on the Mets. How far will Schwarber or Kris Bryant hit one if they connect with one of those Syndergaard 100 mph fastballs? When the Royals won their only World Series in 1985, they beat the Blue Jays in the ALCS. That was a terrific seven-game affair and hopefully we'll get another one. We'll definitely have the potential for some fireworks and not the kind that light up in the sky. These teams had a little bench-clearing incident in August, after which Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez called Donaldson "a little baby."
The Giants' run of three titles in five years was absolutely amazing, given the parity in today's game and the difficulty and randomness of postseason baseball. The Cardinals' consistent success year after year is to be admired. But it will be nice for a different team to pig pile on the pitcher's mound: It's been 22 years for the Blue Jays, 29 years for the Mets, 30 years for the Royals.
And 107 years for the Cubs, if you're counting.
So enjoy the baseball. I know Tinker, Evers and Chance will.