- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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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
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
Then 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
But 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.