2015 Ultimate Standings: Pirates, Diamondbacks lead MLB teams

ESPN the Mag's Ultimate Standings: MLB (2:45)

ESPN the Magazine's Peter Keating explains how the Pirates have provided their fans with an excellent experience, unlike the Phillies and the Red Sox. (2:45)

In a year when it seemed as if every division had a new champ or a team above .500 for the first time in years, this year's baseball rankings were thrown for a loop by nine teams that moved up at least 10 spots (and, uh, 13 that saw their places drop by double digits). No surprise, this year's biggest climbers were the Royals, who jumped 56 places after that unexpected AL title in 2014. So, in other words, take notes, fans of the Mets, Cubs and Astros (all up by at least 16 this year) -- you might be moving up in more than the division rankings next year.

1. Pittsburgh Pirates (8 overall)

From the Pirates' gorgeous waterfront ballpark to their suddenly energized fan base, you could argue that the love affair between Pittsburgh and its baseball franchise is at its all-time peak. And in fact, the Pirates are the only team in our rankings to have moved up every year since 2010 -- from 82nd all the way to eighth, the top-ranked baseball team this year. -- Jayson Stark READ MORE

2. Arizona Diamondbacks (9 overall)

Two years ago, the D-backs were fans' picks as the best team in MLB and sixth-best overall. Last year, well, they weren't. The worst record in baseball -- and the dealing of several key players -- caused the squad to drop all the way to 30th. While the team's record isn't that much better this year, fans were a bit more forgiving, and Arizona climbed back to the top 10 (second only to the Pirates in MLB). What's behind the change? -- Eric Longenhagen READ MORE

3. St. Louis Cardinals (12 overall)

Albert Pujols exits. Adam Wainwright's Achilles pops. Matt Holliday's quad tears. And what happens? The Cardinals keep winning. What else? They keep scoring so well in our standings that, well, it's kind of boring. So no, these Cardinals might not win the World Series. Or they might. But either way, they lead the league in culture and resiliency, year in, year out.. -- Jayson Stark READ MORE

4. Kansas City Royals (15 overall)

What a difference a year makes -- when it includes a magical postseason run to Game 7 of the World Series. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers jumped more in the rankings than the Royals, who climbed 56 spots as they chase the franchise record of 102 wins in a season. That crazy All-Star voting, the largest per-game attendance increase in the majors -- and now the Ultimate Standings? It's good to be Royal. -- David Schoenfield READ MORE

5. Baltimore Orioles (23 overall)

In the star-spangled town where Francis Scott Key saw that the rockets really did have a red glare and the bombs actually burst in air, it should come as no surprise that bang is a major factor in the Orioles' standings ascension. Overall, dem O's jumped 19 spots from last year, giving the franchise its best finish yet. -- Eddie Matz READ MORE

6. San Francisco Giants (26 overall)

As usual, the only thing holding back the reigning World Series champs from a top-10 ranking is that all those wins will cost you. The Giants finished in the top 10 in every on-field category, and by the way, their stadium isn't exactly a dump. And hey, when does anything come cheap in the Bay Area? -- Eno Sarris READ MORE

7. Los Angeles Angels (28 overall)

After finishing as the fans' favorite MLB team last year, the Angels suffered a bit of a dip in 2015. Perhaps that's a reflection of last year's disappointing three-and-out AL Division Series loss to the Royals -- or frustration with a team that struggled most of the season to get over .500 (voting was completed before the team started that late push for the second Wild Card spot, but even that fell just short). Either way, the last time the Angels fell out of the top 25, they had a big rebound the next year, jumping to first overall. The best this year's squad can hope for is a similar turnaround. -- David Schoenfield READ MORE

8. Washington Nationals (41 overall)

In the Nationals' 10th anniversary season, the club moves up exactly 10 spots in the Ultimate Standings. Coincidence? Well, the exact number might be by chance, but the general direction isn't. Fans gave the Nationals props for pulling out all the stops this year, though the result is another season without a pennant. -- Eddie Matz READ MORE

9. Tampa Bay Rays (45 overall)

It was a year of great change for the Tampa Bay Rays. Andrew Friedman, vice president of baseball operations, decided he'd had enough of balling on a budget and bolted for the big city -- and a bigger payroll -- heading to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Soon after, long-term field general Joe Maddon decided he, too, was ready to move on and took over as manager of the Chicago Cubs. Even with all the movement at the top of the franchise, the Rays' overall standings stayed relatively still. -- Tommy Rancel READ MORE

10. Detroit Tigers (46 overall)

The Tigers are perennial contenders, so a finish outside the top third in the standings can be considered a down year (especially considering that these votes were cast before the trade deadline, when the front office hadn't yet given up on the season). Fans agree that most aspects of the Tigers organization remain better than the average sports franchise, though -- and it does still feel like the Tigers have a chance in any given year. -- Katie Strang READ MORE

11. Minnesota Twins (47 overall)

After falling from 58th in 2013 to 62nd in our standings last year, the Twins are moving in the right direction now -- up 15 spots overall, where they find themselves just outside the top 10 among MLB teams. A strong stadium and plenty of personnel changes during the offseason account for the changes -- though Twins fans know there's still plenty of work to be done. -- Christina Kahrl READ MORE

12. Texas Rangers (52 overall)

The Rangers were a top-20 team in our rankings from 2011 to 2013, back when they were playing in the World Series and routinely winning 90-plus games. Over the past two years, though, Texas has settled into the middle of the pack, this time with a 52 ranking. But there is a caveat: We compiled our numbers before the Rangers made a late push for a postseason berth and showed again that there may be more to autumn sports in Dallas than Cowboys football. -- Doug Mittler READ MORE

13. Cincinnati Reds (53 overall)

Just two years ago, Cincinnati ranked 11th overall in these standings, second best in baseball. But after four straight years in the top 30, the Reds fall all the way to 53rd. There are many reasons for the collapse, but the biggest, as is usually the case in these rankings, is simple: They're not winning. -- Jerry Crasnick READ MORE

14. Los Angeles Dodgers (59 overall)

Just a glance at the Dodgers' roster makes clear what's exciting -- and expensive -- about this team. A compelling mix of young talent headlined by outfielder Yasiel Puig and shortstop Corey Seager and veterans such as first baseman Adrian Gonzalez makes for a mean starting lineup, while the rotation is bolstered by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke (who are earning $53 million combined this season). But all that talent hasn't yet paid off in the postseason, which may be why the Dodgers just barely place in the top half of these rankings. -- Mark Saxon READ MORE

15. Cleveland Indians (61 overall)

The Indians' improvement over the past three years is undeniable. Yet fans remain unconvinced that the team is making enough of its talent on the field, which explains a double-digit drop from last year's rankings. Cleveland hasn't given up on the Tribe -- the team remains in the top half of the standings (barely) -- but the fan base clearly expects more. -- Christina Kahrl READ MORE

16. Houston Astros (68 overall)

These aren't your dad's -- or even your older brother's -- Astros. Suddenly, Houston boasts rising stars, a fun environment and now, even playoff baseball. So it's no surprise that the Astros made the third-biggest jump among MLB teams and have leaped 49 spots since 2013. -- Mark Simon READ MORE

17. Milwaukee Brewers (72 overall)

Here's one way to sum up how things have gone in 2015 for the Milwaukee Brewers. Last year, they ranked 23rd across the four major sports, while the lowly Milwaukee Bucks ranked 120th. This season, the Bucks (up 55 spots to No. 65) actually jumped them. The Brewers experienced the largest drop for any baseball franchise (from fifth to16th) -- and fifth-largest overall in all of sports. What's behind that fall? -- Tony Blengino READ MORE

18. Chicago Cubs (77 overall)

Just last year, the Cubs were 117th in these rankings -- fifth worst overall and second worst in MLB (sorry, Mets). This year? The Cubs are winning! And the fans are thrilled -- even with voting in mid-July, before a playoff spot and the team's highest win total in seven years were sealed, Chicago jumped a full 40 spots in the rankings. And with playoff games at Wrigley and many years ahead for their talented rookies, the Cubs certainly seem to be headed in the right direction. -- Jesse Rogers READ MORE

19. San Diego Padres (80 overall)

There were high hopes for October baseball in San Diego back in April, but nothing clicked quite the way fans -- or management -- had hoped. Still, even though the on-field product has been lacking, the organization has made a trip to Petco Park as pleasant and inexpensive as possible, enabling a solid 26-point jump in our overall standings. -- Doug Mittler READ MORE

20. Atlanta Braves (82 overall)

For nine straight years, the Braves finished in the top 30 in the Ultimate Standings. That streak ended last year, when they finished 45th, and it's just getting worse. The Braves' 37-place drop is the third biggest among MLB teams, and Atlanta's on-field performance doesn't point toward much improvement next year. -- Mark Simon READ MORE

21. Chicago White Sox (85 overall)

It was a tough year for the White Sox in the standings -- they dropped in nearly every category. There is good news, though: Ticket prices are still below the MLB average; U.S. Cellular Field is improving, if still largely empty; and the team is expected to improve its win total for a third consecutive season. Their Ultimate Standings spot is on the wane, but a few more years of improved performance could change that. -- Doug Padilla READ MORE

22. New York Yankees (90 overall)

The Yankees pride themselves on being the "most successful franchise in sports history," but they've never been among the top finishers in these standings -- in fact, they've been in the bottom half of our franchise rankings every year since 2008, thanks in large part to those crazy-expensive prices. Regardless, finishing 90th this year -- worst since 2009, before they won their last title -- won't go over too well at 161st in the Bronx. -- Andrew Marchand READ MORE

23. Oakland Athletics (95 overall)

Three straight playoff appearances, one after a 96-win season -- and a ranking of 95 in these standings?! Well, to be fair, voting was done in July, when it was clear that the A's would not make a fourth straight postseason trip in 2015. Oakland's huge fall was the second-worst tumble in baseball, and fans' frustrations are about more than one bad season. -- Eno Sarris READ MORE

24. Toronto Blue Jays (99 overall)

If there's any team that wishes we'd done our Ultimate Standings voting two weeks later than we did, it's the Blue Jays. When we closed our voting, the Jays were a respectable .500. Two and a half months later, with David Price and Troy Tulowitzki on the roster, they've finished the season 24 games above it and on top of the AL East. Well, we can't redo the voting, so let's reflect on the Blue Jays' life before winning. -- Eric Karabell READ MORE

25. Boston Red Sox (100 overall)

In the aftermath of the "Impossible Dream" season of 1967, broadcaster Ken Coleman rhapsodized about a "love affair twixt a town and a team." But the Red Sox's free fall in The Mag's Ultimate Standings, landing just 22 places from the bottom this year, suggests that the relationship has lost its sizzle. -- Gordon Edes READ MORE

26. New York Mets (102 overall)

Last year the Mets were our lowest-ranked MLB team, languishing in triple digits in all but three categories. Now they're a playoff team and loaded with some of the brightest stars in the league. If the Mets can make a long run into October, there will be nowhere to go but up in these standings. -- Adam Rubin READ MORE

27. Seattle Mariners (104 overall)

The start of the season always looks so promising for Mariners fans -- King Felix Hernandez is on the mound, the city is full of pride after a Super Bowl appearance from the crosstown Seahawks, and newly inked free agents are primed for breakout years. And yet all of that never seems to lead to a playoff appearance. Fans' enthusiasm -- and patience -- is wearing thin, and this year the M's fell to our bottom 20 for the first time since 2011. -- Jim Caple READ MORE

28. Miami Marlins (106 overall)

Oh, boy, where do we start on the state of the Miami Marlins? Miami is still among the lower third of all franchises, and it's sinking -- an additional 10 spots since last year's rankings. Jeffrey Loria remains one of the least-liked figures in all of sports -- and he's done little in 2015 to change hearts and minds, especially since $325-million-dollar-man Giancarlo Stanton sat on the bench with a hand injury for half the season. On the plus side, the home run statue-mobile still looks cool. -- Tommy Rancel READ MORE

29. Colorado Rockies (110 overall)

This year's standings show fans don't have a lot of faith in the Rockies' title chances -- or trust in many of their stakeholders. Even worse? Voting was completed before that controversial Troy Tulowitzki trade. Rockies fans' frustrations run the gamut -- the club ranked last in all of sports in categories including "demonstrates a commitment to winning" and "showing appreciation to the fans." In the end, the Rockies were voted the second-to-last franchise in MLB (ahead of only the Phillies) and have work to do before next year's vote. -- Eric Karabell READ MORE

30. Philadelphia Phillies (118 overall)

One of only two teams to have fallen in our rankings in five straight years, the Phillies have taken a staggering nosedive of 100 spots overall during that time. It can't be a huge surprise, considering the product on the field, and Philly faithful can only hope this year's sweeping front-office changes can reverse the franchise's downward trajectory. -- Jerry Crasnick READ MORE