Beyond the Ivy: The story of every club NOT called the Cubs

— -- We interrupt our ongoing 183-part series, "The Year of the Cubs," for this important reminder:

ESPN investigators have uncovered the shocking news that 29 other teams did in fact play a regular season this year. And we just want to assure all of you out there that we did notice. Seriously.

So now here's the proof: It's time to look back on the defining themes, numbers and memories of every team in baseball -- except, well, that team. So maybe Bill Murray, Eddie Vedder and John Cusack won't regard this lovely retrospective as their favorite baseball story of the year. But for the rest of non-Cubbie Land civilization, hey, this is for you.

You're welcome!


Washington Nationals

2016 plotline: The year Bryce Harper didn't exactly zoom by Mike Trout (but the Nats zoomed by the Mets anyway)

Back in April, we were pretty sure -- and the Nationals were even more sure -- that their man Bryce Harper was ready to take over the world, and they'd be riding his cruise liner all the way to October. Well, the October part worked out great. But the Nationals would like to thank Daniel Murphy (.347/.391/.596/.987) for kindly stepping in to perform the role of Bryce Harper in this evening's performance, because the real Bryce Harper has had an incredibly odd year.

He has hit fewer home runs all season (24) than Brian Dozier has hit since the All-Star break (28)! He has a lower slugging percentage (.444) than Jonathan Villar! He has been worth approximately half as many wins above replacement (1.8) as his rookie teammate, Trea Turner, a guy who hasn't even been in the big leagues for 70 games! And thanks to all those walks Harper still draws, he has managed to do something that only the legendary Adam Dunn had been able to do in this century -- roll up a .375 on-base percentage despite a batting average that has sunk below .245. Yeah, he has almost certainly been playing hurt. But we never saw any of this coming.

New York Mets

2016 plotline: Who kidnapped their wonderful rotation?

If we'd told you back on April 1 that Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Sean Gilmartin, Rafael Montero and Gabriel Ynoa would make 13 more starts for the Mets this September than Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, what would you have thought? Probably not: "I wonder which of those guys will start Games 3 and 4 of the Division Series!"

But that has been the unlikely story of the Mets' season. A team built around its young-stud rotation lost all its young studs except Noah Syndergaard -- no, Bartolo doesn't count -- and survived! Incredibly, the Mets went only 29-34 in games started by Harvey, deGrom and Matz this season. And they're probably going to get back to the postseason anyway. Who knew!

Philadelphia Phillies

2016 plot line: Back to the future

Like pretty much all Phillies seasons in the past 129 years, this one lasted just a little too long. Like about 120 games too long. After 41 games, a team that started the season fending off charges of tanking somehow found itself at 24-17. In real life. That was a better record than both of the 2015 World Series teams owned at the time. But then, unfortunately ... the season kept going. Whereupon the Phillies took a wrong turn and just kept going. They're 46-70 since then, with a minus-146 run differential. So for all the talk about their hot prospects and bright future, what should they make of these past 116 games?

The good news: They found two rotation building blocks in Vince Velasquez (10.44 K/9 IP) and Jerad Eickhoff (.154 average against his curveball, third-best in the NL behind Jon Lester and Madison Bumgarner). The unlikely duo of Tommy Joseph and Freddy Galvis both hit 20-plus homers. And their bat-flip king center fielder, Odubel Herrera, made the All-Star team. But the bad news: Their best young pitcher, Aaron Nola, has a sprained elbow ligament and an uncertain future. Their rising star at third base, Maikel Franco, took a step backward. And they somehow broke their team record in strikeouts while seeing the fewest pitches in the league. Moral of the story: They still have a lonnnggg way to go.

Atlanta Braves

2016 plotline: Goodbye to Turner Field -- but not to Freddie

The Braves' soon-to-be late, great Turner Field was the scene of 38 postseason games in its 20 seasons of big league life. (Only the old Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park hosted more in that time.) Freddie Freeman played in just three of those games. But Freeman has towered over the final season in his ballpark, and we haven't given nearly enough love to his season. So guess what? That's about to change.

While playing on a 92-loss team, in the middle of what was one of baseball's worst lineups for most of the year, the Braves' sweet-swinging first baseman has managed to lead the league in extra-base hits (81). (The only other Braves to do that in the past 50 years: Hank Aaron and Dale Murphy.) And just three other Braves since 1900 have had an 80-XBH season with a slash line as good as Freeman's .306/.404/.572. They would be Aaron, Chipper Jones and Tommy Holmes. But that's not all. You'll find Freeman in the top three in the league in slugging, OPS, OPS , times on base and wins above replacement. So in the past year, he has gone from wrist-surgery candidate to Human Trade Rumor to a man with an outside MVP case. And let's just say that'll work!

Miami Marlins

2016 plotline: Hope turns to sadness

It was a year of so much promise. It ended in so much tragedy. So how do the Marlins ever get over the loss of Jose Fernandez? Is that even possible?

In the final season of his all-too-short life, Fernandez struck out 253 hitters in just 182? innings. That computes to a strikeout rate of 12.49 per nine innings, the third-best by any right-handed pitcher in the history of baseball. And the record will show that over his four big league seasons, he struck out an astonishing 31.2 percent of all the hitters he faced. That ranks No. 1 among every starting pitcher who ever took the mound (and threw 400 innings or more).

Jose Fernandez was that special. But it wasn't talent alone that makes him so irreplaceable. The charisma. The smile. The ability to touch people of all ages, all cultures, all walks of life. The story behind his incredible journey to this time and place. He was a once-in-a-lifetime gift to a franchise that embraced everything about him. Now his death leaves a hole the Marlins can't possibly fill. And neither can their entire heartbroken sport.


St. Louis Cardinals

2016 plotline: Redbirds dig the long ball

The 2016 Cardinals may not pitch quite like they used to. And they may not catch the ball quite like they used to. But we'll say this for them: They've perfected their home run trots. They lead the league in homers -- after finishing 11th in homers last year. And that's just the half of it.

For one thing, they've already become the first National League team in history to have eight players hit at least 15 home runs. For another, they have a shot, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, to become just the sixth team since 1900 to hit 90 more home runs one year than the year before. And then there is this mind-blowing stat: Their pinch hitters have combined (along with a .324/.387/.601 slash line that gives them roughly the same OPS as Mike Trout) for 16 home runs in 238 at-bats. Which means Cardinals pinch hitters have a better home run ratio (one every 14.9 ABs) than the man who leads the league in homers, Nolan Arenado (one every 15.1). Right. Of course they do!

Pittsburgh Pirates

2016 plotline: When do the stars come out?

All any team asks as it heads into a season is that its stars be stars. So if Andrew McCutchen had won an MVP award and Gerrit Cole had won a Cy Young for the 2016 Pirates, no one in Pittsburgh would have been shocked. But now that they've seen what those two stars actually wound up doing this year? Now that was shocking.

As our buddy David Schoenfield wrote last month, McCutchen's fall from one of baseball's best players to a .255/.337/.432 kind of guy is pretty much unprecedented for a player with his career path. Everyone has denied that he's hurting. But he clearly hasn't been the same since an early-season thumb injury. Cole, on the other hand, made three trips to the disabled list (the past two for an elbow strain). Which helps explain his rough second half (2-6, 5.48 ERA). But it doesn't make the Pirates miss their fourth straight trip to the postseason any less.

Milwaukee Brewers

2016 plotline: Catch a whiff of this

Hey, it's the Year of the Strikeout. So who embodies that trend better than the 2016 Brewers, a team with an offense that seems about to set the all-time record for most whiffs in a season any minute now? But a lot more went on here than just relentless swinging and missing.

Jonathan Lucroy was traded to Cleveland. Oh wait, no he wasn't. But he still headed out the door (to Texas). Ryan Braun almost got traded for Yasiel Puig. But in the end, he never went anywhere. Jonathan Villar, a fellow most baseball fans still wouldn't know from Jonathan Hornblower, was closing in on joining Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan and Eric Davis in the 20-homer, 60-steal club. Junior Guerra (9-3, 2.81 ERA) turned into one of the greatest 31-year-old rookies of all time. Center fielder Keon Broxton caught everything between Lake Michigan and Bud Selig's house. And Tyler Thornburg turned himself into a closer by allowing 32 hits in 64? innings. So if you look past all the K's, this is a team putting some pieces in place.

Cincinnati Reds

2016 plotline: The pen wasn't mightier than the first baseman

On one hand, there's Joey Votto. He's a big fan of Life After the All-Star Break. His slash line since the break: .410/.495/.663. Amazing. If he keeps this up, he could be just the sixth player since the invention of All-Star breaks to hit .400 after one. And he has a shot to join Ted Williams and Barry Bonds as the only men to hit .400, with a .500 on-base percentage, post-ASG. But you might recall Votto also had a .535 OBP last year in the second half! Want to guess the only men to do that two years in a row? Yep. Williams (1941-42) and Bonds (2001-02). Wow.

But ... on the other hand, there's that Reds bullpen. Holy moly. If we disqualify the Rockies from this competition, you can make an argument that no NL bullpen has ever taken the beating this pen has taken: a 5.04 ERA, 31 losses, 24 blown saves and 99 gopher balls served up. Since the dawn of the modern save rule, there are a handful of other NL bullpens that have absorbed that many losses, with an ERA that high. But 99 homers? No NL bullpen ever has done that. Matter of fact, only two have even come within 25 of that. So how do you spell "relief?" Not like this!


Los Angeles Dodgers

2016 plotline: Has there ever been a first-place team like this?

Maybe you can explain the wild and crazy season that led the NL West champs, the Dodgers, to the top of the standings. But we're not sure we can.

They got better (38-24) after Clayton Kershaw got hurt than before he got hurt (41-36)? Yup. ... They haven't had the same five starters go around the rotation twice, in the same order, in over three months? That would also be true, amazingly enough. ... Speaking of starters, they've ripped through 15 starting pitchers this season? Hey, of course they have. Before last season, only one playoff team in the division-play era (the 1989 Giants) had ever used that many starters in one year. Now the Dodgers have done it two seasons in a row! ... So it's only fitting that Dave Roberts just became the first manager ever to hook two different pitchers in one year who had gotten through at least seven hitless innings. If you're busy reinventing the concept of starting pitching, it goes with the territory! ... Finally, if this team hasn't set a record for program sales, it isn't for lack of trying. The Dodgers made more than 200 roster moves this season. We kid you not. We counted them ourselves. That's more than eight a week! ... Whoa. What a year.

San Francisco Giants

2016 plotline: Was it still an even year after July?

The historians will always be able to remind us that the team with the best record at the 2016 All-Star break was not the Cubs. It was those San Francisco Giants, of course (at 57-33) -- because hey, it was an even year, right? And that's what they do.

Until they stopped doing it, that is. No team in history has ever had the best record in baseball before the All-Star break and the worst record in baseball after the All-Star break. And thanks to the Twins' ability to keep relentlessly losing, the Giants will probably escape that fate. But just barely. On the other hand, do they even want to know that just five teams in the division-play era ever missed the playoffs after starting 57-33 or better? That's a fact. And two of them were the 1978 Red Sox team that lost to the Bucky Dent Yankees in a tiebreaker classic and the 1993 Giants team that won 103 games but went home because they did that in the last season before the invention of wild cards. So if the Giants don't make it into at least the second wild-card spot, we can only see one good thing that could come out of that: They won't have to answer any more odd-year/even-year questions for the rest of their lives.

Colorado Rockies

2016 plotline: The young and the altitude-less

Don't look now, but there's something happening here, in the thin air of mile-high baseball. All of a sudden, the Rockies have some young dudes who can change the course of this franchise.

Trevor Story is 23. He was leading the league in home runs before he hurt his thumb. ... David Dahl is 22. All he did was get a hit in the first 17 major league games he ever played in. ... Jon Gray is 24. In his first full season in the big leagues, he's piled up 185 strikeouts in 168 innings -- which would be the greatest strikeout ratio (10.09 per 9 IP) in Rockies history. ... Tyler Anderson is 26 and left-handed. Guess who leads all Rockies starters in ERA at Coors Field? Yessir, it's him. He's at 3.00 after 12 home starts. No one else is under 4.00. ... And there's one other player we ought to mention. He's 25 years old. He's the best defensive third baseman on earth. And he's about to lead the league in homers for the second year in a row. That would be Nolan Arenado. The face of the franchise. ... So does anyone else think there's a future here, after reading all that? You would be correct!

San Diego Padres

2016 plotline: Suspended animation

When we asked one NL executive what stood out to him about the 2016 Padres, he laughed and quipped: "Can I get back to you in 30 days?" But in truth, there's nothing fun and lighthearted to see here. The general manager of the Padres got suspended by Major League Baseball, without pay, for 30 days -- over improper handling of medical information supplied to the Boston Red Sox before the trade that sent pitcher Drew Pomeranz to Boston. And all you need to know about that suspension is that the widespread reaction in other front offices was: That's all he got? Thirty days?

As Buster Olney reported, multiple sources have told ESPN that the Red Sox were not the only team that complained. And whether or not those complaints lead to further discipline, this is one GM who has a lot of work to do with his peers to restore credibility.

Arizona Diamondbacks

2016 plotline: Seemed like a good idea at the time

When the Diamondbacks handed Zack Greinke 206.5 million bucks last December, they were pretty darned happy with themselves. When they traded the No. 1 pick in the draft ( Dansby Swanson), their best defensive outfielder ( Ender Inciarte) and pitching prospect Aaron Blair for Shelby Miller, they were just as delighted. They were the talk of baseball, all right -- until the season started.

Then Miller (2-12, 6.52 ERA) pitched himself into Cy Yuk territory -- if not Centerpiece of the Worst Trade in History territory. Greinke's ERA in his new, not-so-friendly home park, is nearly 5.00. And, incredibly, he has given up more runs (44) in just his 13 starts in Arizona than he gave up all last season, home and away, in 32 starts as a Dodger (43). And how has it worked out for their team? They've spent exactly three days over .500 all season -- and they could wind up 30 games under .500. That's how. Well, they did what they did with only the finest intentions -- but wow.


Boston Red Sox

2016 plotline: Caution -- crooked numbers ahead

What team rolls out the best offense in baseball? We can just stop that debate now, OK? The Red Sox are going to score nearly 900 runs this season -- and no one else in the American League is going to score 800. They've scored 108 more runs than the next-closest AL team (Cleveland). And that puts them on the verge of becoming just the second AL team in the past 65 years to outscore the AL runner-up by more than 100 runs. (The other: Last year's Blue Jays.)

So how have the Red Sox done it? Well, they're the only team in baseball -- and the first since the 2005 Indians -- to get 50 extra-base hits from seven different players. ... They have three of the top five ( Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz) in the AL batting race. ... And Betts and Pedroia should wind up as the only teammates with 200 hits apiece. ... In other news, Betts could win the MVP award. Hanley Ramirez could win the Comeback Player of the Year award. And Ortiz -- who leads the entire sport in slugging, OPS, doubles and extra-base hits -- is merely having the Greatest Farewell Season of All Time. So there's so much thunder emanating from this team, they ought to be televised by the Weather Channel.

Toronto Blue Jays

2016 plotline: Are we sure this is a hockey town?

We could hit you with all sorts of numbers here -- from a team that has six mashers with 20-plus homers, two starters ( Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ) who have won over 80 percent of their decisions and an underrated rotation that leads the American League in quality starts. But are you ready for number that best tells the story of the 2016 Blue Jays? Here goes: 3,382,299.

No, that's not how many home runs they've hit. It's the number of lovestruck fans who have bought tickets to sit in the Rogers Centre and crank up the greatest ballpark atmosphere in baseball. The Blue Jays haven't drawn this many people into their home sweet dome since Joe Carter's famous homer dropped to earth in 1993. They're about to lead the American League in attendance for the first time in over two decades. And they've drawn more than 40,000 people to 36 of their past 38 home games (not even counting those three "home games" in Seattle last week). Amazing what can happen when a team flips this many bats, smokes this many baseballs into the fifth deck and assembles this many big personalities on one roster. Eh?

Baltimore Orioles

The man who is going to lead the major leagues in home runs plays for the Orioles -- because, well, of course he does. That man would be Mark Trumbo (currently up to 46 dingers), who would be following last year's leader, Chris Davis, who followed the previous year's leader, Nelson Cruz. Unless somebody roars from behind to take the lead this weekend, the Orioles are going to become the first team in history to have three different big boppers top the majors in home runs in three consecutive seasons. But it's their backstory that makes that even more astounding.

Cruz, you'll recall, showed up in Baltimore as a late-breaking, heavily discounted free agent, in 2014. And Davis arrived from Texas in 2011 via a not-very-ballyhooed trade for Koji Uehara. So the Orioles have long been renowned for discovering classic Camden Yards swings in the old bargain bin. But Trumbo has out-bargained them all, coming over in an offseason deal for a backup catcher ( Steve Clevenger). Then, naturally, he went out and had a season (46 HR, 169 whiffs, just 1.3 wins above replacement) in which, essentially, he was more Chris Davis-esque than even Chris Davis. And on a team where just about everybody except the bat boys hits 20, 30 or 40 homers, boy, was he a perfect fit.

New York Yankees

2016 plotline: A tale of two seasons -- Dr. A-Rod and Mr. Sanchez

Addition by subtraction may be a murky mathematical concept. But every once in awhile, it's a totally real baseball concept. So for your consideration, friends, we would like to present the fascinating story of the 2016 Yankees. By the time they'd finished their big pre-deadline sellathon of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran, they were just another .500 team (52-52), 104 games into their season. Then, a few days later, they announced they were booting that Alex Rodriguez guy out the nearest fire escape. And what happened with every subtraction? Magic happened. How about that?

They're five games over .500 since The Sell-off. And we would tell you that's totally crazy, except then we remembered the two words that explain everything: Gary Sanchez. Their rookie catcher didn't hit his first home run until Aug. 10. And now he has 20! Our friends from the Elias Sports Bureau tell us that his 20 homers are the most by any player in history who hit zero homers before Aug. 1. They also tell us that the only Yankees who ever to hit 20 home runs between Aug. 10 and the end of any season were two nobodies named Babe Ruth (1927) and Roger Maris (1961). And then there's this: If Sanchez hits two more this weekend, he would tie Beltran for the team lead. According to Elias, only two players in the live ball era have ever led a team in homers (or tied) despite hitting none for that team before August: Mark Whiten, for the 1995 Phillies (11) and Danny Litwhiler, for the 1946 Braves (8). OK, come to think of it, we're going to use that word, "crazy," after all.

Tampa Bays Rays

2016 plotline: The Archery lesson

You think wins is an overrated stat? Hey, How about losses? We could probably get Chris Archer to testify for the prosecution in that case! The Rays ace owns a better ERA (4.02) this year than David Price (who is 17-9), Zack Greinke (who is 13-7) and Adam Wainwright (who is 13-9). But a lot of good that has done him. It's still going to say, on the old stat sheet, that Chris Archer lost 19 games this season. And in this goofy world we live in, how many people will remember to look past that and check out how he actually pitched?

He may go down as the first 19-game loser since Darrell May in 2004. But he also almost led the league in strikeouts (with 233, second behind Justin Verlander). And we only uncovered three pitchers in modern history who could relate to that. Your complete list of pitchers (besides Archer) who lost 19 games or more, led their league in losses and punched out that many hitters: Phil Niekro (20 losses, 262 K in 1977), Mickey Lolich (19 losses, 230 K in 1970) and Big Ed Walsh (20 losses, 258 K in 1910). But if you think Archer's loss total is unjust, he might want to check out Ed Walsh's baseball-reference page sometime. Big Ed's ERA the year he lost 20? Would you believe 1.27? Nice offense!


Cleveland Indians

2016 plotline: It wasn't the rotation after all

For a team that America concluded long ago was built around its spectacular rotation, the Indians sure have found a bunch of other ways to win. Just nobody outside Ohio seems to have caught on.

You could win a lot of free beverages down at the local tavern from folks who have no idea that the Indians are second in the AL in runs scored. But that's an actual fact. ... They're also the only team in their league with four players who have stolen at least 15 bases. But word of that hasn't appeared to spread, either. ... Their team leader in OPS is, of course, Tyler Naquin. ... Their team leader in RBIs, Mike (Party At) Napoli, is a fellow who had never driven in 100 runs in 10 previous big league seasons. ... The guy who might have turned out to be their most important player, Jose Ramirez, has started games at four positions. ... And they just keep on winning, even though their biggest star, shortstop Francisco Lindor, is 3 for his past 50, and they haven't started the same eight position players in the same eight positions for more than two games in a row all season. We'd guess there's an excellent chance you never noticed any of this. But watch out for the Indians, gang. We might be about to find out in October that this team has more 2015 Royals in it than 2015 Mets.

Detroit Tigers

2016 plotline: How Dave Dombrowski saved their season

Is it possible that the most important week in the life of the 2016 Tigers actually took place in July 2015? Heck, of course it's possible, or we wouldn't ask stuff like that. So what happened that week, you ask? Their former president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, pulled the plug on their season and held quite the little clearance sale. That's what. And while Dombrowski may be gone, the returns from that clearance sale are alive and well.

There is the likely Rookie of the Year, Michael Fulmer. When Yoenis Cespedes exited for New York, he entered. Good thing. The Tigers are 19-7 in games Fulmer has started. ... There are also Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd. They're the answer to the trivia question, "Who did the Tigers get back for David Price?" The Tigers are currently 17-12 in games they've started -- which is approximately the same winning percentage (.586) the Red Sox have when Price has pitched (20-14, .588). ... Now ask yourself this: Is there any chance -- repeat, any -- that this team would still be alive in this wild-card race if it hadn't been able to drop those three arms into its rotation? Our vote: Absotively not.

Kansas City Royals

2016 plotline: Down go the champs

There's a reason no team has won back-to-back World Series in 16 years. We can now sum up that reason pretty darned succinctly: Stuff happens. And it sure did happen to the Royals. You know that lineup that was etched on their drawing board when they left spring training? That group got to play together for exactly 14 games all season -- none of them after Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon?crashed into each other chasing a foul ball on May 22. So that wasn't good.

But despite all the calamities that befell them, it was really one disastrous month that kept them from at least showing up in another wild-card game. That month was July. When they went an inconceivable 7-19 -- and never recovered. Only one other defending World Series champ ever had a calendar month in which it went 12 games under .500, Elias reports. And that was a 1998 Marlins team that had just completed a Wayne Huizenga fire sale. Even more amazingly, the Royals staggered through that entire month without winning two games in a row. Just two other incumbent champs ever went through any month without a two-game winning streak, according to Elias -- the 1947 Cardinals (April) and the 1918 White Sox (September). But that wasn't the same thing, either, because those Cardinals played just 11 games that month, and those White Sox played only three. So we think it's official. This was the worst month of baseball any defending championship team has ever played. A moment of silence, please.

Chicago White Sox

2016 plotline: Remember the scissorhands

We would love to remember the 2016 season of this team for the Cy Young caliber work of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Or for those 40 home runs Todd Frazier launched. Or at least for the monster second half of the always-entertaining Jose Abreu. But is that what is going to come to mind when the world looks back on this year? Uhhh, we don't think so.

No, the world is going to remember these White Sox for their extraordinary knack for inner turmoil. For Sale slicing up his favorite Turn Back the Clock Day jerseys. For Adam LaRoche deciding he would rather give back $13 million and retire than play for a team that wouldn't let his son hang out in the clubhouse. And for all his teammates threatening to boycott spring training if their team president, Kenny Williams, didn't apologize and roll back those LaRoche family restrictions. So has any team in recent memories dealt with two incidents that rebellious in the same season? Hmmm. None come to our mind. How about you?

Minnesota Twins

2016 plotline: Beware of the Dozier!

Rogers Hornsby. Ryne Sandberg. Davey Johnson. And Brian Dozier: The only four men in history to hit 40 home runs in one season as second basemen. If that's a paragraph you ever thought you would read, you've apparently been moonlighting for the Psychics Hotline. But maybe it isn't as shocking as you think.

After all, once Dozier learned the art of turning on the baseball a few years back, his home run total jumped every year -- from 18 to 23 to 28 to 42. But here's the part of his season that's totally mind-blowing: As recently as June 25, he'd hit only? eight homers. And since then? He has pounded 34, in 85 games. That's only one fewer homer than Babe Ruth hit in his last 85 games in 1927, the year he hit 60. So as we were saying earlier, Rogers Hornsby. Ryne Sandberg. Davey Johnson. Babe Ruth. And Brian Dozier. Those 42 homers may not have stopped the Twins from losing 100 games. But this is still one of the great stories of the year.


Texas Rangers

2016 plotline: The power of one

Our ever-fascinating ESPN standings page tells us that, in a Pythagorean world -- or, to rephrase, a Bill James-orean world -- the Texas Rangers' "Expected Won-Lost Record" indicates they should be three games over .500 (81-78) right now. Instead, due to circumstances beyond Pythagoras' control (not to mention Bill James' control), they're actually 29 games over .500. We would happily ask Pythagoras how this is possible, except that he hasn't been available for comment since about 500 B.C. So we'll just have to tell you ourselves.

In games decided by one run, the Texas Rangers are 36-11. Which, fortunately for them, is the greatest winning percentage (.766) in one-run games in the history of baseball. And because of that spiffy record in one-run games, the Rangers also have done something else that's incredibly hard to pull off: They've won 94 games (with three to play) -- despite a run differential of just plus-11. So you want to know how hard that is? The worst previous run differential in history by a 94-win team was plus-49, by the 1990 White Sox. And if the Rangers get to 95 wins this weekend, no team has ever done that with a run differential worse than plus-66 (1977 Orioles). So how strong is the Power of One? Stronger than even Adrian Beltre!

Seattle Mariners

2016 plotline: Pick your favorite Seager brother

Down the coast in L.A., Corey Seager is going to be the National League Rookie of the Year. You'll also find him high on a bunch of MVP ballots. But here's our question: Are we sure he's even the Most Valuable Seager? Tough call, because his big brother Kyle has quite a case.

Corey has a slightly more attractive slash line (.311/.369/.519/.888) than Kyle (.280/.361/.504/.865). But Kyle has more homers (30-26), more walks (67-54), fewer strikeouts (104-131), more defensive runs saved (15-1) and more wins above replacement (6.9-6.3), according to So it's practically a dead heat. Which is pretty cool, don't you think? But you know what nobody has to debate? That their teams wouldn't be anywhere near this good without them.

Houston Astros

2016 plotline: Short and sweet

Life is too short. But apparently, Jose Altuve isn't too short. We've never seen a 5-foot-6 guy do the kind of things the Astros' favorite mini-mite is doing this year. And we haven't seen many big dudes do them, either.

With three games left in the season, Altuve is heading for his second batting title in three years. But that ain't all. Along with that .337 batting average go 212 hits, 42 doubles, 24 homers, five triples, 28 steals, 71 extra-base hits and a .930 OPS. And you know how many players in history have cranked out a stat line like that? The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is none. Nada. A couple of ex-Rockies, Larry Walker and Ellis Burks, came close. But what we're witnessing is an unprecedented season for a man of his size -- or any size.

Los Angeles Angels

2016 plotline: Not enough Trout in this sea

Maybe one of these years, Mike Trout's awesomeness will actually coincide with a team around him that can go someplace in October except the nearest putting green. But sadly, once again, it wasn't this year. Five seasons into Trout's career, he's still making history. And the Angels still have never won a postseason series -- or even a postseason game -- with him on the field. What a waste of greatness.

It's now a lock that Trout is going to lead the league in wins above replacement for the first time since, well, last year. Which was the first time since the year before that. And the year before that. And the year before that. So if you're adding up those years at home, you know this is going to make five years in a row. And you know how far back you have to go to find any other position player who led his league in WAR five years in a row? Oh, only 85. To a guy named Babe Ruth. We'll even craftily ignore the fact that the Babe pulled off that feat about three-quarters of a century before the invention of wins above replacement -- because for all of those years, he was the only other hitter who had ever done it. Except now he has Mike Trout to keep him company. Maybe they can go out for a double cheeseburger.

Oakland Athletics

2016 plotline: How do you spell "Khris"?

Here's something we shrewdly detected: Who says you can't trade for a slugger these days? We count seven hitters in the big leagues who have hit at least 40 home runs this year -- and three of the seven were traded in the offseason. There's Mark Trumbo. There's Todd Frazier. And then there's that guy in Oakland who spells his name funny, " Khris Davis."

The Brewers traded him to the A's in February because (A) they were doing a lot of that sort of thing and (B) there were always questions about whether Davis could close the many holes in his swing. All right, so his 164 strikeouts tell us those holes are still there. But when a guy can mash 41 home runs while playing in the cavernous Coliseum, it's amazing how much easier it becomes to live with the swinging and missing. And here's why: Since the A's moved to Oakland, just four men had ever hit 40 homers in a season. There was Reggie Jackson. And Mark McGwire. And Jose Canseco. And Jason Giambi. And now there's Khris (with a K) Davis. Kool list!