The best laid plans of MLB franchises often go awry.
Prognosticators can draw out a perfectly neat road map to the season ahead during March, and chances are all the predictions will become obsolete by June. Like any other sport (well, not basketball), there are always unexpected contenders and preseason favorites that fall dramatically short.
Some results are somewhat surprising. Given the circumstances, the New York Yankees finishing above .500 was astonishing, while the Los Angeles Angels figured to veer closer into playoff contention.
Others are mouth-opening shocking. The most popular picks to make the World Series are beginning their offseason today, while another team makes its first journey into October baseball since 1992.
Here are some of this season's most unlikely finishes.
Washington Nationals (86-76)
OK, so 86-76 is not that bad. The Washington Nationals hold the bittersweet honor of being the National League's best team not to get a crack at postseason baseball.
For what was expected of this club, that dubious feat is a major letdown.
Washington led all of baseball with 98 wins last year. To the chagrin of fans and pundits alike, the team shut down ace Stephen Strasburg with the mentality that plenty more postseason visits will follow.
Perhaps, but not this season.
The offense, expected to become a dynamo behind future superstar Bryce Harper, stammered to the middle of the pack, ranking 15th with 4.0 runs per game. Adam Laroche slugged .403 a year after earning a .510 slugging percentage, while Ryan Zimmerman again waited until the second half to start hitting.
They fought valiantly to sneak in at the last minute, but their late-season surge was too little, too late. Nevertheless, it should remind everyone that the Nationals still have ample talent in place to rise right back to the top next season.
Toronto Blue Jays (74-88)
At least Washington saved some face to close out the season. The Toronto Blue Jays never recovered from a horrid start to what was supposed to be their season to snatch the American League East.
Toronto put all its chips in the center of the table last winter, trading top prospects Noah Syndergaard and Travis d'Arnaud to the New York Mets for reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Dickey's knuckleball, however, faded in a more compact ballpark.
The 38-year-old posted a 4.21 ERA and yielded 35 home runs, baseball's second-worst mark. He came well short of matching his magical season in New York, but at least Dickey stayed healthy. That's more than anybody else can say.
Jose Reyes, part of a blockbuster trade with the tanking Miami Marlins, played just 93 games due to an injured ankle. Josh Johnson unsurprisingly lasted just 11 starts, but what is more shocking is his 6.20 ERA in that stretch. Throw in a shaky bullpen and Toronto's pitching staff finished with a 4.25 team ERA.
In the midst of a bounce-back season, Jose Bautista took an early exit and damaged any chance of the Blue Jays salvaging a solid finish to the season.
It just goes to show that throwing money at your problems doesn't always work.
Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68)
Pittsburgh has slowly built the foundation for an improved squad, so it would have shocked nobody if the Pirates finally finished above .500 for the first time in 21 years.
Even a wild-card spot is not the most shocking result in the world, but it's how they got there. The Pirates didn't just sneak in; they were one of baseball's best teams at 94-68.
NL MVP favorite Andrew McCutchen led the way with a .317/.404/.508 slash line and NL-high 8.2 WAR, but we all knew he's awesome. But Starling Marte finishing with a .441 slugging percentage and 4.6 WAR? And Russell Martin providing immense value behind the plate despite his .226 average?
These Pirates are good, and they didn't need any major free-agent signings to bolster their club. Instead, they scooped up Martin for cheap, stole relief ace Mark Melancon from the Boston Red Sox and took a wild gamble on Francisco Liriano that paid off big time.
To make matters better, Gerrit Cole announced himself as the future anchor of Pittsburgh's rotation. The rookie has posted a 2.28 ERA over his last eight starts, striking out 53 batters through 51.3 innings.
The Pirates can continue to shock the world by making a deep postseason run.