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Under Pressure: Where Houston Ranks Among Teams Under the Most Pressure to Win the 2023 World Series?

And if not Houston, who is under the most pressure?

Houston Astros World Series Parade Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

While every fanbase hopes their team can claim the World Series, some teams will have more expectations than others. Depending on the organization's history, the fanbase support, the money spent, recent performances, and intangibles, a squad could enter the season with significant pressure to win the whole thing. In the modern game, the list of teams with legitimate, realistic pressure to win it all is significantly less than 30. 2023 is no exception. Thus, a quick survey of which teams are most pressured to win it all.

Teams facing little to no pressure to win the World Series (No particular order):

  • Oakland As
  • Los Angeles Angels
  • Texas Rangers
  • Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Colorado Rockies
  • San Francisco Giants
  • Miami Marlins
  • Washington Nationals
  • Kansas City Royals
  • Detroit Tigers
  • Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • Chicago Cubs
  • Baltimore Orioles

It’s not that these teams don’t face pressure. It is that they don’t enter 2023 with championship pressure. Could one of them emerge as a legitimate threat? Possible. Baltimore seems on the upswing after a surprising return to winning last season. The Rangers’ heavy investment in free agents over the past two years has raised winning expectations. However, in looking at the bigger picture with these 14 teams, “Championship or Bust” is not a mantra that applies.

Pressure to be in Playoff Contention but not Championship Pressure (No particular order):

  • Tampa Bay Rays
  • Minnesota Twins
  • Seattle Mariners
  • Milwaukee Brewers

For these teams, there are championship aspirations, but they are at varying stages of championship competition. While missing the playoffs this past season, Minnesota and Milwaukee are recent playoff participants. Milwaukee stands at the crossroads as a smaller market team with some talent but is concerned about retaining the players necessary to make a World Series run. With Correa's re-signing, Minnesota has aspirations but lacks enough depth and quality pieces to be seen as true World Series contenders. Tampa Bay is somehow a perennial playoff contender despite operating on a shoestring budget in the hyper-competitive AL East. While they defy expectations, they do not face a win-or-else mandate. Seattle burst back onto the playoff scene with a Wild Card series win against Toronto and played Houston incredibly tough in an ALDS loss. They do not face that much pressure to win the World Series…yet.

Pressure to be World Series Contenders but Not Acting Like it:

  • Boston Red Sox

Boston has won the most World Series since this century (4). They play in the hyper-competitive AL East, rate among the most wealthy of MLB teams, and have some of the most passionate fans. Yet, the team's actions indicate a team that either doesn’t care about the pressure to win a World Series or doesn’t know what it is doing. They have more last-place AL East finishes (2) as they do playoff appearances since 2018 (1). Boston is a franchise that excels when expectations are lower but wilt when they face higher expectations. Maybe Boston surprises, but the pressure for a World Series is a constant.

Teams Facing Legitimate Pressure to Win It All (Lowest to Highest Rankings):

  • Cleveland Guardians:

They currently hold the longest World Series title drought (1948). Last season, they surpassed expectations to win the AL Central and pushed the Yankees to a full 5 games in the ALDS. Cleveland possesses a strong pitching rotation and quality defense. They also added a few bats to help a low-scoring offense. With the AL Central hardly Murderer’s Row, the Guardians are right back in the hunt for a division title and a return to the post-season tournament.

  • St. Louis Cardinals:

Hard to believe that this franchise actually had home-field advantage for the 2019 NLCS. However, they were easily swept aside by the Washington Nationals and were swept aside by Philly this past post-season. The Cardinals possess a strong championship pedigree, evidenced by their 11 World Series titles. They lost some key players to retirement, mainly as the catcher. Contreras looks to continue the quality catcher play from Molina. However, the team lacks a dominant starting rotation, and it is hard to see St. Louis outlasting whichever teams survive the Battle Royals that will be the NL East and West.

  • Toronto Blue Jays:

The Blue Jays finished 2nd in the AL East last season and possess some of the best top-line talent in the majors. Vlad Guerrero Jr. is shaping up to be a perennial MVP candidate, and the combination of strong starting pitching and powerful bats make them a fun and dangerous team. However, many of those bats will soon face the decision point of free agency. Toronto must also overcome the sting of losing a winnable Wild Card series against Seattle. While the modified schedule means fewer games against the brutal AL East, that division will still tax Toronto’s efforts, to say nothing of the other contenders/beasts of the AL.

  • Chicago White Sox:

Coming into 2022, the White Sox were given a better-than-average chance for their second title since 2005. Unfortunately, the 2022 White Sox's only title was winning biggest disappointment. They finished right at .500, saw an overmatched and way-past-his-prime Tony LaRussa leave, and entered the off-season as a team facing the prospect of never living up to its potential. They lost Abreu in the off-season but still possess some talented pitchers and bats. The AL Central appears to be Cleveland’s to lose, but that is what people said of the White Sox last season. The window for the White Sox is not completely closed, but they don’t have much time to waste if they expect to fulfill the championship aspirations they held since the start of the 2020 season.

  • Atlanta Braves:

They are two seasons removed from their 2021 title and come off a disappointing ALDS loss to the Phillies. While they lost Danby Swanson this past off-season, many of their young guns are locked up for the next several seasons. A repeat NL East title is not assured, given the moves made by the Mets and Phillies. However, Atlanta figures to have an extended window with this core of players to be a factor in the World Series chase.

  • San Diego Padres:

For this mid-market team, money is apparently no object. Coming off its first appearance in the NLCS since 1998, the Padres brought in new talent (Xander Bogearts), locked up key personnel (Yu Darvish and likely Manny Machado) and look to integrate injured talent back into the roster (Fernando Tatis, Jr.). The NL West is still the domain of the Dodgers, but San Diego will enter the season with their best chance in a long time to take the division and pennant. The farm system has either graduated to the next level or been traded away, but the Padres figure to have a solid couple of years with this cast to contend for the World Series.

  • Philadelphia Phillies:

Coming off a surprise run to the World Series and falling just two games short of a title, the Phillies spent this off-season loading up for another run. While they will be without Bryce Harper for at least half of the season, the signing of Trea Turner should help offset some of that shortfall. The Phillies had been big free-agent spenders the past few seasons, but 2022 finally saw that investment pay off on the field. The NL East will be a three-headed monster, and the pressure is on to get those last two World Series wins. It can be hard to recapture the late-run magic of 2022, but with all the money invested in the major league club, the Phillies are clearly going for their first title since 2008.

  • Houston Astros:

This time last year, Houston arguably had the most pressure to win the championship. Coming off a 2021 World Series loss where they held home-field advantage, the Astros figured to be in the discussion for a 2022 title. Yet, they’ve faced questions about keeping up their play with the loss of so much talent over the past few years. How many more chances would the septuagenarian get? Houston had a dominant stretch coming into 2022 but only had one title to show for it (2017), and…well, you know... Fast forward to 2023. Their championship shelf is no longer solely occupied by 2017, and Baker got his title. Still, there is no certainty as to how long this historic run for the Astros will last. They are still the betting favorite, and this core has at least two more seasons to add another championship. No team has repeated as champion since 2000, so there is that challenge. However, don’t be surprised if the Astros manage to be the first in 23 years.

  • New York Mets:

This team has not won a World Series since the legendary 1986 squad. They haven’t been back to the Fall Classic since 2015. Yet, the Mets will factor in the World Series chase. Owner Steve Cohen is an outlier in that he actually will spend big money on talented free agents. While he missed on Correa, this past off-season saw a man who will pay whatever price to put together a championship-caliber squad. However, Cohen is not shelling out over $350M in annual salary for a team to just finish with 100+ wins and a playoff spot. The Mets suffered an ignominious end to their 2022 season, which saw them blow the division lead to the Braves in the final week and then fall in the Wild Card series against San Diego. Combine all of those factors, plus being in New York, and the Mets firmly reside in “Championship or Bust” territory.

  • New York Yankees:

At one point last season, the question wasn’t whether the Yankees would be the best team in 2022. It was whether the 2022 Yankees would go down as one of the greatest teams of all time. However, a second-half swoon and getting swept by the Astros in the ALCS ended that discussion. The Yankees have gone 13 years since their last World Series appearance, which hasn’t happened since the Austro-Hungarian Empire still held sway in Europe. They are closing in on their longest stretch without a World Series title (16 years). For Yankee fans, this is unthinkable. The Yankees have 3 ALCS appearances since 2017, all ended by Houston. The season will be determined by these factors: Getting past the Astros and winning the World Series. For a franchise that signs personnel to win CHAMPIONSHIPS, the annual pressure is always there. Given the drought, the pressure to win is at all-time historical levels.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers:

Over the past 4 seasons, the Dodgers have averaged nearly 108 wins in 3 full seasons and played 116-win ball in the COVID/Labor shortened 2020 season. In the last 10 years, they have 10 straight playoff appearances and 9 NL West Titles. It is an enviable stretch for any franchise. Yet, the Dodgers are facing comparisons to the 1990s/early 2000s Atlanta Braves. Great regular seasons, all-star talent across the board, top-rated farm system, perennial contender…and only one World Series win in a shortened season. Those last three full seasons only yielded one NLCS appearance. The pressure to get a non-shortened season World Series win grows. Matters are not helped with the rising Padres and the despised Astros winning another World Series. Maybe the Dodgers won’t beat the regular season win record in 2023, but expectations remain as high as a Marvel movie budget.

Thus, the Dodgers actually claim a title: the team under the most pressure to win it all in 2023. Of course, this is one author’s call. Perhaps you feel differently. If so, share your insightful takes with the interwebs below: