This year's 10 contenders took many different routes to October
By Matt Kelly
After an intense 162-game grind, the postseason picture is finally in focus, with the final three playoff spots determined on the season's final day.
Of course, the 10 teams that will now battle for the right to be called World Series champs took different paths to October, and with that in mind, here is a look at one crazy stat that helps explain how each of these clubs -- listed in descending order of 2016 wins -- got here.
Cubs: The Cubs' combination of pitching and defense this season reached a level we've rarely seen before. In fact, opposing batters carried a microscopic .209 average against Chicago pitchers this season -- which is the second-lowest batting average against of any National League team in modern baseball history.
The only NL team with a lower opponents' batting average against? That would be the 1906 Cubs, who allowed opponents to average just .206.
Rangers: It was only fitting that the Rangers' final game of the regular season (a 6-4, 10-inning loss to the Rays) came down to extra innings -- though it was rare to see Texas actually lose a close ballgame. The American League West champions went a staggering 36-11 in one-run games this season, totaling a win percentage of .766 that ranks as the greatest mark of any team in one-run contests in modern baseball history. The previous record was held by the 2012 Orioles, who had a 29-9 record (.763) in one-run affairs.
Nationals: They muscled their way to the NL East title by literally hitting the ball harder than any other team in baseball. Washington batters compiled an average exit velocity of 90.3 miles per hour on batted balls in 2016, according to Statcast™, just edging out the Orioles (90.2) and Mariners (90.0) as the Majors' hardest-hitting team.
Somewhat surprisingly, given his .640 OPS, Washington's leader in terms of exit velocity was Ryan Zimmerman, the club's only remaining link to its 2005 debut season in the nation's capital. Zimmerman hit balls at an average velocity of 93.7 mph, ranking 12th among big leaguers who put at least 100 balls in play.
Indians: The best teams over the course of a 162-game schedule are usually the ones that can eliminate the prolonged slumps. No team did this better than the Indians, who were the only Major League team to not suffer at least four losses in a row this season.
"That's harder than it looks," manager Terry Francona said of the streak Sunday. "It's a long season, and that's something I'm really proud of the guys about. They should be proud of themselves for that."
The Indians are the first Major League team to go through an entire season without a losing streak of at least four games since the 2014 Dodgers accomplished the same feat. As a franchise, Cleveland had not achieved that rare feat of consistency since nearly a century ago, in the 1918 campaign.
Red Sox:Hanley Ramirez's seventh-inning home run Sunday tied up the Red Sox's game with the Blue Jays and broke up Aaron Sanchez's no-hitter at the same time. It was also Ramirez's 30th homer of the season, meaning franchise history was also made. With the blast, Ramirez joined teammates Mookie Betts and David Ortiz in the 30-home run/100-RBI club -- the first time the Red Sox have ever had three players reach those benchmarks in the same season.
Dodgers: Injuries and inconsistency were hallmarks of the Dodgers' starting rotation all season, but manager Dave Roberts mixed and matched his relief pitchers with remarkable aplomb. Los Angeles captured a staggering 39 of its 91 total wins this season in games where its starting pitchers lasted just five innings or fewer. Those 39 victories set a new Major League record, surpassing the previous mark of 35 set by the 2012 Colorado Rockies.
Blue Jays: In another sign of how professional baseball is continually changing, 2016 marked the first season in which Major League pitchers did not combine for at least 100 complete games. The perfect case study for this shift was the Blue Jays, whose starting pitchers did not record a single complete game and yet led the Majors with 995 1/3 innings pitched in 2016.
Only 13 clubs in modern baseball history have not recorded a single complete game over the course of a season -- including the 2016 Blue Jays, Brewers, Marlins and Yankees. Of that group of 13, the Blue Jays are the first team to have its starters lead the Major Leagues in innings while not recording a single game in which they went the distance.
Orioles: There was no secret to the Orioles' offensive approach, as they employed a reliance on the big home run that would have made Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver proud. With so many homer threats in the lineup, Baltimore stayed away from taking chances on the basepaths. In fact, the Orioles recorded just six triples all season -- which is the fewest number of triples by a team over any full season in the history of organized professional baseball dating to 1876. Baltimore's last triple of the season was recorded by Manny Machado on Sept. 11.
The teams with the next fewest amount of triples over a 162-game season? That would be the 1981 and 1998 Baltimore Orioles, who each recorded only 11 three-baggers.(And it should be noted that 1981 was a strike-shortened year.)
The 2016 Orioles were also one of the least greedy teams on the basepaths in history when it came to stealing bases. Baltimore attempted just 31 steals all year, the lowest total of attempts by any team over a 162-game season since attempts became an official statistic in both leagues 1951. The next closest team in terms of fewest stolen-base attempts this season were the Mets, who tried to steal 60 times in 2016 -- nearly twice as many times as Baltimore.
Mets: The Mets' offense was not prolific, ranking in the bottom half of the NL in runs scored per game. But when they needed to score, the Mets could often find a timely home run to help them do so. New York scored 51.1 percent of its 671 total runs via home runs this season, which measures as the highest percentage of team runs scored on homers in NL history. The only teams in Major League history to score a higher percentage of their runs on long balls were the 2010 Blue Jays (53.1 percent) and, coincidentally, the 2016 Orioles (51.9 percent).
Giants: It was a year for the home run across baseball, as Major League teams combined to hit the second-most homers in modern history. But in a year where many teams swung for the fences, the Giants were able to punch their postseason ticket while mostly avoiding the long ball. In fact, San Francisco was the only team to not feature at least one player with at least 20 home runs this year. First baseman Brandon Belt paced the club with just 17 round-trippers.
The Giants' aversion to the long ball made them the first team to qualify for the postseason without featuring a 20-home run hitter since the 2014 Royals. Furthermore, to find the last Giants team that made the playoffs in such a fashion, one would have to go all the way back to 1923, when Irish Meusel paced the New York Giants' run to the NL pennant by hitting just 19 round-trippers.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.