Three months ago, there seemed to be a better chance of the St. Louis Browns playing a postseason game this fall than there was of the Florida Marlins visiting a playoff site near you. But you might say things have changed slightly. So let's just look at the many ways that the Fish's playoff surge is about the least likely in baseball history:
Keep repeating this until it registers: This team started the year 11-31. But apparently, the Marlins' season is going to turn out just a tad different than the 29 previous teams since 1900 to start off that ugly (or worse).
The average record of those other 29 juggernauts, at the end of the year, was 49 games under .500. Ten of them finished at least 60 games under .500. Nineteen lost 100 games. And, among teams that got to play out a 162-game schedule after a start like that, the best record any of them ended up with was 65-97 -- by John Kruk's 1987 Padres and Andy Stankiewicz's 1998 Diamondbacks.
In other words, none of them got close enough to .500 to see it with the Hubble Telescope.
Special citation: Troy Neel's 1994 A's also started 11-31, then won 40 of their next 72 games -- only to have their heroic resurgence interrupted (forever) by the great baseball strike of 1994-95.
So what was the closest any of those other 29 teams came to eking out a playoff spot? Well, let's toss out the 1981 Cubs -- who got a mulligan after the strike that summer and finished six games out in the weird "second season." That makes the real answer 24½ games, the number the '98 D-Backs finished out of the wild-card lead. These Marlins are going to break that record even if they lose every game for the rest of the season.
Here's the best way to look at this team's U-turn: If the season had started May 22, the Marlins would be just two games out in the NL East, would have an eight-game lead in the wild-card race and would lead the Cardinals in the NL Central (assuming they both played in the Central) by 12½ games.
There are lots of ways to measure just how young this team is. But let's try this one: The nine players the Marlins ran out there against Arizona on Tuesday had less service time combined (17 years, 165 days) than Julio Franco (19 years, 68 days). And that's if you count all their time this year. Going into this season, Franco nearly had them doubled (18-and-95 for Franco, 10-and-44 for the Fish).
Another thing you might have noticed about the Marlins is that they don't exactly lead the league in income. Before September callups, their entire payroll was earning $14.344 million. Which is less than 15 different players in this sport make all by themselves. And Albert Pujols could make it 16 (with incentives) if he wins the Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and MVP award trifecta.
But that segueways us into the most fun Useless Info game of all ...
Useless Yankees vs. Marlins Info
The Yankees and the Marlins, theoretically, play the same sport. But if the Yankees are the Nordstrom of baseball, the Marlins are the Value City.
So it's time to play the always-entertaining Yankees Versus Marlins Payroll Game. Let's throw out the first pitch.
Yankees pre-Sept. 1 payroll: $198,662,180.
Marlins pre-Sept. 1 payroll: $184,317,680 less than that.
Now, to help us play this game, ESPN.com's Dave Kull has contributed some sensational tidbits.
How many Yankees make more than all the Marlins? How about five -- A-Rod ($25.68 million), Derek Jeter ($20.6 million), Jason Giambi ($20.43 million), Mike Mussina ($19 million) and Randy Johnson ($15.66 million). Just A-Rod's salary alone would pay for 54.4 Miguel Cabreras.
The Marlins' current everyday lineup earns a total of $3.134,500. Which is only slightly less than Craig Wilson ($3.3 million) -- and less than 16 different Yankees altogether.
The Marlins' entire starting rotation makes $5.658 million. Which is a little more than Kyle Farnsworth ($5.42 million) but still less than 13 different Yankees (five of whom pitch for a living).
Which led Kull to the most entertaining question of the day: Suppose the Yankees had to play the Marlins with one key rule change in effect: The Yankees could only field a team that earned no more than the Marlins' payroll?
Well, it wouldn't be easy. And the Bombers probably wouldn't even be favored. But using the pre-Sept. 1 rosters, here's the cheapest Yankees team Kull was able to throw together:
Cheapest Yankees lineup
DH: Craig Wilson, 3,300,000
Total salary: $7,970,850
Total salary for lineup and pitching staff: $13,804,700
After perusing that roster, we'll bet the 2003 World Series trophy on those Floridians.
Finally, if the Marlins do make the playoffs, that $184.3 million disparity between their payroll and the Yankees' will set a new record for (surprise) biggest payroll gap between two playoff teams.
OK, so it's a record the Yankees and somebody break every year. But a record is a record. The previous largest financial mismatch was $145.01 million, which was set by the Yankees ($208.3M) and Padres ($63.29M) way back last October.
Useless Ryan Howard Information
The two moments that told us Ryan Howard was an official star occurred in the last four weeks -- and he didn't even swing a bat.
On Aug. 11, Reds manager Jerry Narron intentionally walked him with runners on first and second, and nobody out in a tie game. In other words, that walk loaded the bases with no outs.
Then, on Labor Day, Astros manager Phil Garner intentionally walked Howard leading off the ninth inning of a tie game.
The Elias Sports Bureau's Kevin Hines reports that only one other active player has been intentionally walked in both those situations. Guess who? (Yep, Barry Bonds. You were expecting maybe Neifi Perez?)
The most amazing Ryan Howard stat nobody ever talks about is this: According to our friends at hardballtimes.com, 38.7 percent of all Howard's outfield fly balls come down in somebody's popcorn cup (or on that side of the fence, anyway).
Since this isn't a stat anyone has computed for very long, we don't know where this ranks in all-time history. But we rummaged through the biggest home run seasons of recent history, and we could only find one guy who beat it.
That would be a man named Mark McGwire. In his 70-homer season of 1998, 39.5 percent of McGwire's fly balls left the park. And in 2000, when he homered 32 times in only 236 at-bats, 42.1 percent of his fly balls left the premises.
But that's it. Barry Bonds' percentage in his 73-homer season (2001): 35.3 percent. Sammy Sosa's best: 35.7 percent in 1998.
Another brain-boggling Ryan Howard stat: He's on a pace to strike out 180 times -- and still hit .300. Only one player in history ever whiffed 180 times in a .300 season -- Bobby (not Barry) Bonds in 1970 (.302, 189 whiffs). Just one other player fanned 170 times in a .300 season -- Sosa in 1998 (.308, 171 whiffs).
OK, so now let's try to fully digest Howard's season: The ball is going to exit the playing field 60 times. But it won't even leave the batter's box 270 times (if we project 180 K's and 90 BB's). So that means that about half the times Howard marches up there, the ball never even lands on the field.
But when it does, this guy is still trouble. According to hardballtimes.com, when Howard hits a baseball that merely comes down somewhere on the playing field, he's batting .342. That's a better average on balls in play than Ichiro (.340), Johnny Damon (.312) or, by a huge margin, Pujols (.276) -- among other people. And remember, this is a stat that doesn't count any of Howard's home runs as hits. Pretty darned astounding.
Box score lines of the month
First prize: Mathematical Impossibility Dept.
The bad news for Phillies pitcher Scott Mathieson last Saturday is that he only got to throw six pitches against the Braves before exiting with an elbow issue. The good news is, that quick departure allowed him to compile a box-score line that wouldn't even seem to be possible -- but still happened in real life:
0 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K
In other words, this guy faced one hitter and struck him out -- but still gave up an earned run and, according to the box-score gods, recorded more strikeouts (one) than outs (zero). So feel free to say this all together now: Huh?
But it's still really hard to do. Loyal reader Michael Mavrogiannis combed through Retrosheet's box-score files and determined that, over the last 50 seasons, only one other starting pitcher had a pitching line with more whiffs than outs. That was Wilbur Wood, who spun off an 0-4-6-5-0-1 line against the Yankees on July 20, 1973. (The K came on a strikeout-passed ball to the legendary Horace Clarke.)
Second prize: Trifect Dept.
Loyal reader Mark Susman brought this one to our attention. If this is the end of Mark Mulder's season, he ended it by doing something you sure don't see much: He made three starts in a row featuring at least as many runs as outs:
Aug. 29: 1 2/3 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 1 K (5 runs, 5 outs)
Aug. 23: 3 IP, 9 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 4 BB, 1 K (9 runs, 9 outs)
June 20: 2 1/3 IP, 10 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 0 BB, 0 K (9 runs, 7 outs)
Retrosheet founder Dave Smith reports that Mulder only made it halfway to the record for most times doing this in one year, at least in the last 50 seasons. Believe it or not, Larry McWilliams (1980 Braves) and Sammy Ellis (1965 Reds) each made six outings in one year featuring as many runs as outs. But they only beat Mulder in volume, because neither of them ever knocked off three of those in a row.
Third prize: Maximizing Your Baserunners Dept.
Lots of pitchers give up 10 runs in a game. (It's happened 14 times just this year, in fact.) But as loyal reader Jonathan Peck observed, not many do it the way Detroit's Nate Robertson did, Aug. 24, against the White Sox:
6 2/3 IP, 9 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 3 HR
So what made this so tricky? He allowed 11 baserunners -- and 10 of them turned into earned runs. You might see that happen in a start that lasts two innings. But you almost never see it when a pitcher works into the seventh inning.
In fact, Robertson was just the third pitcher in the last 37 seasons to make it through even six innings and turn 11 baserunners into 10 earned runs. The others, according to Retrosheet's Dave Smith, were Pedro Astacio, on July 13, 2000 (6 IP, 8 hits, 3 BB, 10 ER), and Russ Ortiz, on May 21, 2000 (6 2/3 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 10 ER).
Special Tag-Team Award
When Houston rookie Jason Hirsh gave up 10 runs to the Reds on Aug. 22, he became the third different Astros pitcher to allow at least 10 runs in a game this year. And that's not good. Their three lines:
Last team to have three different pitchers do this: The 2004 Rockies (Dennis Stark, Jason Jennings, Jeff Fassero). But no team in the last 50 years, according to Dave Smith, has had more than three. The only rotation in that span with four double-figure starts in one year was the 2000 Astros, but they had Jose Lima (who else?) do it twice.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your Useless Information to firstname.lastname@example.org.