Jayson Stark: Seattle Mariners

There are many paths a team can travel to October, but in case you hadn't noticed, there are a few juggernauts out there trying to sneak into this postseason in ways almost no one has before them.

So who would those juggernauts be? Thanks for asking. Here they come:

The Royal power outage

RoyalsThe good news is, we know now that the Royals are going to outhomer Nelson Cruz this season. There were times a couple of months ago we weren’t so sure.

But the bad news is, the Royals are still on pace to hit a mere 99.8 home runs this season. So maybe they finish with 100 homers. Maybe they don't. But if they don't, you should know that playoff teams that fail to hit 100 home runs are almost as rare as a day without a Kardashian headline.

Ready for the complete list of American League teams to reach the postseason without hitting 100 home runs in a 162-game season? Here goes:

• Amos Otis' 1978 Royals – 98
• Freddie Patek’s 1976 Royals – 65

That’s the entire list. And perhaps you’ll notice a common theme there -- by which we mean "Royalty."

This is obviously either a Royals thing or a Royals/Kauffman Stadium thing, because the last American League team to appear in the postseason without A) playing in Kansas City or B) hitting 100 homers in a full season was Nellie Fox's 1959 Chicago White Sox, and that is the only AL team to fit those criteria since Roy Cullenbine’s 1945 Tigers.

Will these Royals join that club? Well, if it means anything, they've actually outhomered the Angels (22-18) since the All-Star break and outhomered all but three teams in the American League during their sizzling August. But is this what they really are? Amos Otis and Freddie Patek eagerly await the answer to that question!

And one more thing: One additional amazing Royals note, passed along by Grantland’s Rany Jazayerli: Twice this year, the Royals have fallen seven games behind in the AL Central and twice made up all seven games of that gap to take undisputed possession of first place. Only one other team in history has ever roared from at least seven games behind to occupy first place all by itself two different times in the same season: Dustan Mohr’s 2003 Twins (who caught -- who else? -- the Royals).

OBP-less in Seattle

MarinersThen there are the Mariners, one of the most offensively challenged contenders of modern times.

If the postseason had started Wednesday, they'd have been playing in it as the second wild-card team in the AL. But if you've watched them swing the bats this year, we're betting it definitely wouldn't come as a shock to hear that teams like this almost never show up on anybody's TV screen in October.

Here are just some of their offensive claims to "fame":

• Their .302 team on-base percentage entering Wednesday would be the third lowest by any team in postseason history. The only AL team with a lower OBP on that list -- Jiggs Donahue’s 1906 White Sox (.301) -- played in the dead ball era. And the only NL team in this exclusive club -- Julian Javier's 1968 Cardinals (.298) -- did it in a season in which the major league OBP was under .300 (.299). Amazing.

• The Mariners were also on pace to score just 643 runs this season. The last AL team to score that few runs, over a full season, and reach the postseason: Skeeter Webb’s 1945 Tigers (633, in a 154-game season).

• But let's get away from the raw numbers and consider where the Mariners rank in their league. They're dead last in OPS (.677), and how many teams in history have ever finished last in their league in OPS and made it to the postseason? Exactly one, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Todd Hollandsworth's 1996 Dodgers (.701). Which means, obviously, that no AL team has ever done that.

• Finally, the Mariners also ranked last in the league in on-base percentage. Elias reports that just one AL team in history has ever done that and gotten to the postseason: Steve Balboni's 1985 Royals (.313).

Then again, that Royals team went on to win the World Series. So just because the Mariners might be trying to do this the hard way doesn't mean they're not allowed to dream. Right?

Viva la differential in the Bronx

YankeesBut we sure can’t overlook the Yankees. They're trying to take a route to the postseason that we're pretty sure Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey and even Scott Brosius would have probably had a hard time comprehending.

The 1927 Yankees once scored 376 more runs than they allowed. The 1936 Yankees scored 334 more runs than they allowed. The 1998 Yankees scored 309 runs more than they allowed.

The 2014 Yankees on the other hand? They've given up 40 more runs than they've scored. And if you're thinking you haven't seen a lot of teams with a minus-40 run differential playing October baseball, uh, good thinking.

According to Elias, exactly one team in history has ever had a run differential that out of whack and reached the postseason. That would be Ryan Klesko's 2005 Padres (minus-42). So no AL team has ever done this.

And, just for the record, the worst run differential by any Yankees team that played in the postseason was plus-57, by the 2000 team. Hmmm. Mr. Steinbrenner, Mr. Torre and Mr. Berra, your thoughts?

In other news …

• The Rangers may not be heading for October, but they're heading for one of the most incredible achievements in pitching history. They're last in the American League in ERA -- but they're first in the league in shutouts (or at least tied with the Rays for first, anyway). So how many teams have ever led their league in shutouts (or tied for the lead) in a season in which they also had the worst ERA in their league? None, of course, according to Elias.

• The Rockies stopped dreaming of contending many weeks ago, but they've never stopped finding new starting pitchers to send to the mound. They're already up to 15 different pitchers who have started a game this season, from Christian Friedrich to Jair Jurrjens to Yohan Flande. And if they can find three more, they can tie the record for most starters trotted out there by any team in the division play era. That prestigious mark of 18 is shared by Rich Loiselle’s 1996 Pirates and Jason Grimsley’s 1993 Indians.

• And one more classic feat by a last-place team: The Red Sox might be last in the AL in runs scored, but they still have the league leader in RBIs, David Ortiz, which understandably prompted loyal reader Rick Malwitz to ask: Is that unprecedented? And the answer, according to Elias, is: not quite -- but almost. The only other team ever to pull that off? Wally Berger’s 1935 Boston Braves. Big Papi had knocked in nearly 20 percent of the Red Sox’s runs this season (92 of 480), but what Berger did in 1935 was even more incredible. He drove in 22.6 percent of the runs scored (130 of 575) by a team that lost 103 games. And that, friends, is a lot of Bergers to go.


The past couple of days have reminded me of something I'd almost forgotten. There is life after A-Rod-Palooza.

There is a great baseball season going on out there, friends. So let's stop talking about that third baseman for the Yankees and start focusing on all the fabulous baseball stories that are roaring toward their dramatic conclusion.

And what stories do I have in mind? How about these Five Stories I'll Be Watching (Instead of That Guy):

[+] EnlargeStarling Marte, Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesIt's hard not to get excited about the Pirates.

1. The Pirates


The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to finish with a winning record, ladies and gentlemen. I have never felt more confident about saying that.

They are not going to have 10 pitchers undergo Tommy John surgery in the next 20 minutes. They are not going to lose 37 of their next 48 games. They are not going to reenact August and September of 2012, or August and September of 2011.

They're too good. They have the fourth-best run differential in the National League (plus-60). They've allowed the fewest runs in the major leagues (just 385) -- something they haven't accomplished over a full season since 1984. And opponents are hitting a ridiculous .229 against their pitching staff -- which would be the lowest average against any National League staff since Jim Deshaies' 1986 Astros.

I can't tell you these Pirates are going to win the World Series. I can't tell you they'll win any kind of postseason series. But they're still the best story in the major leagues. So let's just enjoy this ride. OK?

2. The races


The NL East race is over. The AL Central race feels like it's in guarded, but unstable, condition. And over in the NL West, the Dodgers have gained 14 .5 games in the standings on Arizona just in the past seven weeks. So we can see where that one is headed.

But the NL Central is shaping up as a must-see duel between the best offense in the National League (the Cardinals) and the best pitching staff (the Pirates) -- with nine riveting games left between these two teams. Sign me up for that.

And how about the AL West, where the Rangers just made a six-game Oakland lead disappear in a span of nine days. Those teams have two series left against each other. But the schedule, in general, favors Texas, which has the easiest remaining schedule of any AL contender, including 10 games left against their good friends from across the state, the Astros.

And then there's that AL East race, which has a chance to be the best of them all.

The Red Sox just became the first AL team to reach 70 wins -- and did it following a year where they didn't win 70 games all season. Think about that. Elias tells us they're the first AL team to pull off that trick (not counting strike-shortened seasons) since Harlond Clift's 1945 Senators, and (because those Senators got to 70 on the same day as the Tigers) the first to do it outright since George Herman Ruth's 1926 Yankees.

But then there are the Rays, owners of the best record in the whole sport over the past 81 games and a team so hot they just lost their first series in seven weeks. So pick against them at your peril.

And I'm not ready to write off the Orioles, who lead the major leagues in home runs and slugging, upgraded their pitching before the deadline and are currently on pace to become the first team in history to commit fewer than 50 errors in a 162-game season. (Heck, no one else in the expansion era has even finished a season with fewer than 60.) The Orioles have 16 games left against Boston and Tampa Bay. So stay tuned.

3. The awards

NL MVP: Yadier Molina was our midseason pick, but his knee issues are about to sabotage his MVP campaign. So are we ready for a starting pitcher (i.e., Clayton Kershaw) to win this thing? Do guys like Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto have MVP finishes in them? And don't look now, but here comes Andrew McCutchen, whose credentials include this nugget: He, Mike Trout and Carlos Gonzalez are the only players in their league to rank in the top 10 in both stolen bases and slugging.

AL MVP: Uh-oh. Here we go again. If you enjoyed that vintage, old-school/new-school Miguel Cabrera-versus-Mike Trout debate last year, get ready for Round 2. As Jared Cross wrote the other day, Trout has injected himself into what once looked like a Cabrera-Chris Davis MVP conversation by charging up those AL leaderboards. But if this keeps up, some great sabermetric minds are going to have to explain to the masses how it's possible that Trout leads Cabrera in offensive wins above replacement, but is trailing Cabrera overall because of (gulp) Cabrera's defense. Incredible, huh? But let's save that issue for another day.

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez can tell you all about how Cy Young voters have finally learned to de-emphasize wins. But let's see them try to factor out wins this year, when King Felix is leading the league in ERA but trying to make his case against a guy who is 16-1 (Max Scherzer) -- and first in his league in WHIP, lowest opponent average and lowest opponent OPS. Can't wait for that debate.

NL Cy Young: With all due respect for the awesome seasons of Adam Wainwright, Matt Harvey, Madison Bumgarner, Patrick Corbin, Francisco Liriano, Craig Kimbrel, etc., all Kershaw does every five days is remind us that he's the best pitcher in baseball. Still. Just so you know, if Kershaw can finish with the ERA (1.91), WHIP (0.88) and opponent average (.188) he has now, the only pitchers in the live-ball era who have ever been in that neighborhood (or better) over a full season are Bob Gibson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax and Luis Tiant. Whoever they are.

Rookies of the Year: In the AL, Jose Iglesias has a shot to become the first rookie of the year ever to get traded in midseason. But Wil Myers can screw up that claim to fame. And in the NL, this remains one of the wildest rookie-of-the-year free-for-alls ever, with Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Teheran, Evan Gattis and Yasiel Puig all making cases for themselves that are going to require many, many Advil for the ROY electorate.

[+] EnlargeIchiro Suzuki
Al Bello/Getty ImagesIchiro Suzuki is about to enter some rarefied air.

4. The 4,000-hit man


The folks obsessed with a certain troubled third baseman may differ. But in my neighborhood, the most interesting story in Yankees Land this month revolves around a man who is chasing a number very few living humans have ever seen chased.

That man is Ichiro Suzuki. That number is 4,000.

And no, that isn't how many reporters from his homeland follow Ichiro around every day. It's the number of hits he's about to have on his permanent record if we count the 1,278 hits he spewed in his nine seasons in Japan.

At the moment, he finds himself just 11 hits away. And I hope you don't let that milestone go whooshing by you too quickly before you stop to think about what it means.

The last time we witnessed anyone getting his 4,000th hit was April 13, 1984, when Pete Rose collected No. 4,000 off Jerry Koosman, in a stadium we no longer find on the baseball map (the late, great Stade Olympique in Montreal).

Just for perspective's sake, the Hit King got that 4,000th hit in his 3,259th game. That's nearly 200 more than Ichiro has played (3,075) on both sides of the Pacific. Which means he's going to beat Rose to No. 4,000 by more than a full season. Wow.

The only other 4,000th hit ever? Ty Cobb got that one -- on July 18, 1927. So if you weren't hanging out at old Nevin Field in Detroit that day 86 years ago, you've never seen any American Leaguer do what Ichiro is about to do. Pretty mind-boggling feat -- on any continent.

5. History majors


Finally, here's just a taste of some of the historic pursuits you can keep your eye on over the next two months:

Chris Davis: On pace for 58 home runs, 102 extra-base hits, 151 RBIs and 72 more extra-base hits than singles. There has never been a season like it.

Mike Trout: He's leading the American League in walks. He's tied for the league lead in hits. And if he can wind up leading in both categories, he'd be only the fifth player since 1900 to do that in the same season. The others: Rogers Hornsby, Richie Ashburn, Carl Yastrzemski and Lenny Dykstra.

Joey Votto: See that note above? How unreal would it be if two men finished first in their league in hits and walks in the same season? Well, Votto has a shot, too. He has a big lead in walks. He's three behind Jean Segura for the lead in hits. And Votto and Shin-Soo Choo have an outside chance to become the second set of NL teammates ever to reach base 300 times apiece (via hit, walk and HBP) in the same season. The other: Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, for the 1997 Astros.

Miguel Cabrera: And then there's Miggy. He might not win the Triple Crown for a second straight year. But if he can stay healthy enough to get on the field regularly, Cabrera still has a chance to do something no Triple Crown winner has ever done -- hit that trifecta one year and then have a better season the next year.

Here are Cabrera's numbers from last season, and his projected numbers for this season. This is truly amazing:

2012: .330/.383/.606, 44 homers and 139 RBIs

2013: .359/.453/.668, 48 homers and 148 RBIs

I chronicled this a few months ago, but here it is again just to help you digest this man's greatness: Only one Triple Crown winner in history (Ted Williams) ever drove in more runs the following year. Just two (Williams and Mickey Mantle) had a better batting average the next season. And none of them hit more home runs The Season After. But this guy could do all of the above.

So once again, we find ourselves drawn to the flat screen every time Miguel Cabrera starts marching toward home plate. And that beats watching A-Rod-Palooza every day of every week. Don't you think?

Hitless in Seattle

August, 16, 2012
8/16/12
7:03
PM ET


Welcome to another edition of Five Astounding Facts:

1
Thanks to the great Felix Hernandez, the Mariners just became the first team in 40 years (since the '72 Cubs) to throw two no-hitters in the same season that weren't started by the same pitcher. But we're going to climb to the peak of Mount Rainier and venture this guess:

You'll never find two no-hitters more different than these two. Here's why: The winning pitcher in their first no-hitter, that June 8 six-pitcher special, was their third reliever of the game, Stephen Pryor. And he got only ONE out. But he allowed more baserunners (via two walks) in his one-third of an inning than King Felix did in all nine innings he was out there. Try pulling that off on your next trip to the "MLB 2K12" Perfect Game Club. We dare you.

xxx


Hernandez




2
We've heard of some bizarre niches in sports, but specializing in getting no-hit? That's the Rays' bizarre claim to fame. They've now been on the wrong end of four no-hitters in the past four seasons -- by Mark Buehrle (2009), Dallas Braden (2010), Edwin Jackson (2010) and King Felix (2012).

So how many other teams since 1900 have gotten no-hit four times in four years? Not a one, of course. The A's did it four times in six years, from 1969 to '74, and the Phillies did it four times in five years TWICE (1960-64 and 1968-72).

And ohbytheway, just to put this in some sort of perspective, the Yankees have been no-hit four times in the past 95 seasons.



3
Then there's Safeco Field, rapidly becoming one of the great no-hit emporiums of modern times. This makes three no-hitters thrown at Safeco in just the past four months. So how does that compare to other parks out there? We'll tell you how:

• In Kansas City, Kauffman Field has hosted three no-hitters in its history -- in 40 seasons. Wrigley Field has been the site of ZERO no-hitters, by either team, in the past 40 seasons. And Shea Stadium was around for 45 seasons -- and hosted just two no-hitters. Then again, in a related development, the Mets played there.

4
In astounding non-no-hitter news, we saw something Tuesday that we'd never seen before: In one game that day (Reds-Mets), the only scoring came on a home run by the last hitter in the game (Jay Bruce). In the other (Marlins-Phillies), the only scoring came on a home run by the first hitter in the game (Jimmy Rollins).

Well, there was a good reason we couldn't remember ever having seen that. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first day in history to feature two games that met that description. Yep, that explains it!

xxx


Alvarez




5
Finally, if you have a big, shiny, yellow sombrero sitting around the house, you might want to ship it to the Pirates' favorite free hacker, Pedro Alvarez. He deserves it. On Wednesday, he racked up his third career "golden sombrero" (going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts). But what made this one special was that it came in a game he didn't even start. (He entered after a Neil Walker injury in the first inning.) So how hard is THAT? Glad you asked.

According to Baseball-Reference.com's indispensable Play Index, here is Alvarez's place in golden sombrero history:

• He's the first position player to pull off a sombrero in a game he didn't start in 41 years -- since White Sox catcher Tom Egan did it (after pinch hitting for the pitcher) on Aug. 21, 1971.

• He's the first National League position player to do it in 67 years -- since Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Eddie Basinski went sombrero shopping in a 15-inning game Aug. 13, 1945.

• He's the first NL position player to do it in a nine-inning game in nearly 80 years -- since New York Giants third baseman Johnny Vergez spun a slightly tainted sombrero (by a walk) on July 7, 1934.

• And he's just the fifth position player, period, to earn a sombrero, without starting the game, in the live-ball era.

This means, when you think it through, what Pedro Alvarez did Wednesday was actually more rare than what Felix Hernandez did. Who knew?

Five favorite Felix facts

November, 19, 2010
11/19/10
8:46
AM ET


I never get tired of explaining to people why Felix Hernandez was the right choice for the AL Cy Young Award. So here come five of my favorite Felix tidbits:



1. It's not enough to say that King Felix got crummy run support. He got historically crummy run support. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he had A) the worst run support of any pitcher in baseball, B) the worst run support of any pitcher in this millennium and C) the worst run support by an AL pitcher with an ERA under 2.50 since Jon Matlack in 1978. Now that's crumminess!

2. I keep hearing the skeptics say the guy should have found ways to win more than 13 games. Uh, how exactly? In seven of his last 14 starts, he left in the seventh inning or later in games his team scored zero runs for him. So how exactly was he supposed to find a way to win those games? I guess the argument is, he should have stayed out there longer. But guess what? He faced more hitters (1,001) than any pitcher in the big leagues. Was he supposed to stay out there until he faced 2,000?

3. Then there's that other fun argument: Yeah, but King Felix didn't have to face the Yankees and Red Sox all the time like David Price did. True. But in the four starts in which he did face the Yankees and Red Sox, do you know what his ERA was? How about 0.54. Price's ERA in seven starts against New York and Boston was 3.61.

4. But, as one of my Twitter buddies pointed out, the world is indeed larger than the Yankees and Red Sox. Good point. So here's more: In 22 starts against teams with winning records, Hernandez had a 2.26 ERA. Price's ERA in 21 starts against teams that were .500 or better: 2.67. CC Sabathia's: 3.32.

5. Finally, I don't think it's dawned on people how great this guy was. Among Hernandez's many, many great feats, this one jumped off the screen at me: He ripped off 30 quality starts. No AL pitcher had thrown that many quality starts in a season in 21 years -- since Bret Saberhagen also racked up 30 in 1989. Know the last AL pitcher with more quality starts? That was Catfish Hunter, in 1974 (with 31). That was so long ago, King Felix was 12 years away from making his debut on Planet Earth.



So years like this don't come along too often, friends. And when they do, the least we can do to celebrate them is give the guy responsible the Cy Young Award. Don't you think?

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