2016 Ultimate Standings: Royals, Rangers lead MLB teams

Royals earn top MLB spot in 2016 Ultimate Standings (0:42)

ESPN The Magazine's Peter Keating breaks down how the Kansas City Royals were able to take over as the No. 1 MLB franchise in the 2016 Ultimate Standings, leaving the A's at the bottom of the league. (0:42)

See what winning a championship can do, Cleveland, Chicago and LA? In a year when parity reigned in the MLB standings, the same felt true in the Ultimate Standings: Our top three teams are brand-new from last year, and one of them jumped 42 spots to get there. This year's other big movers up -- the Red Sox and Blue Jays -- and down -- sorry, Pirates and Twins -- make one thing clear: For baseball fans, your Ultimate Standings placement is directly related to your division standings. And a World Series title? Well, that can take you all the way.

1. Kansas City Royals (9 overall)

The Royals had the second-biggest leap in last year's Ultimate Standings, and now, after winning the World Series last fall, they climb into the top 10 as the highest-ranked MLB team. Key injuries to Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon's bad year wrecked the team's playoff hopes, but Kansas City remained baseball-crazy, with the highest local TV ratings in the sport. -- David Schoenfield READ MORE

2. Texas Rangers (10 overall)

A new menu item at Globe Life Park this season is The Wicked Pig, a $27 sandwich that puts pulled pork, bacon, prosciutto, ham and BBQ sauce between sweet Hawaiian rolls with sides of pork rinds and coleslaw. It's huge -- just like the Rangers' 42-point improvement in our overall standings, the best of any MLB team. After two seasons languishing in the middle of the pack, the Rangers are a top-20 Ultimate Standings franchise for the fourth time in six years. -- Doug Mittler READ MORE

3. Baltimore Orioles (15 overall)

How 'bout 'dem O's, hon? After peaking last year with their highest overall number in Ultimate Standings history, the Birds soared even higher this time around. They cracked our top 20 for the first time and outranked every MLB team that didn't win a World Series last year or have a name that rhymes with Schmexas Schmangers. -- Eddie Matz READ MORE

4. St. Louis Cardinals (16 overall)

The Cardinal Way is still going strong, even if there are signs of transition on the horizon. The 2016 team wasn't as competitive as in seasons past, but it had a shot to reach the postseason for a sixth straight year. In part because of the team's surprising 35-43 home record, attendance near the end of the season sagged a bit, but the Cards easily cracked the 3 million mark once again. It's good to be a Cardinals fan, when even a down year means a top-20 ranking. -- Mark Saxon READ MORE

5. San Francisco Giants (18 overall)

It's good to be Giant. Everything fans hate on the other side of the bay is up on the foggy side: Ownership, players and the stadium are top notch, and the team finds itself playing meaningful baseball into September practically every year. -- Eno Sarris READ MORE

6. Cleveland Indians (21 overall)

Don't let those hapless Browns fool you. Cleveland is the city of winners! LeBron up and left Miami to come home, then he upended the Warriors a year later to claim the city's first title in 52 years. Now, the Indians have caught on, claiming 94 wins this season (their highest total in nine years), and with seven wins in the playoffs already, they've topped their total number of playoff victories over the previous 14 years. In return, fans have caught Indians fever. Cleveland skyrocketed up our rankings and improved by an average of 29.3 spots in each category. You might just say they believe in this land. -- Hallie Grossman READ MORE

7. Washington Nationals (34 overall)

The No. 34 is huge in D.C. Besides being on Bryce Harper's back, it's also the Nationals' overall ranking in this year's Ultimate Standings. That's tied for the highest mark D.C. die-hards have ever given their team. In case you're wondering, the first 34 came back in 2012, when No. 34 was a rookie. Hooray for election years. -- Eddie Matz READ MORE

8. Pittsburgh Pirates (45 overall)

Well, you can't host the wild-card game every year. But after three straight trips to the postseason and a 98-win season in 2015, the Pirates' U-turn in 2016, to a spot 25 games behind the NL Central-winning Cubs, made this their most disappointing season since Barry Bonds left town a generation ago. That isn't just on the field: The franchise suffered its largest attendance drop in 15 years and fell from a top-10 team in the Ultimate Standings to one in the mid-40s. -- Jayson Stark READ MORE

9. Chicago Cubs (48 overall)

The Cubs might have begun this century in the basement, but they've worked their way up to the penthouse and finished the 2016 regular season with the best record in baseball ... this year or any year since 2004. Since Theo Epstein took over this team, it has won 61, 66, 73, 97 and 103 games -- and those win totals represent just part of the progress the organization has made the past five years. -- Jesse Rogers READ MORE

10. Detroit Tigers (49 overall)

We're now 11 seasons into what we would argue is the greatest period of sustained excellence in Tigers history, a period that includes five trips to the postseason, two appearances in the World Series and just two losing seasons. Only five franchises in baseball have won more games than the Tigers since 2006. But is their window closing? -- Jayson Stark READ MORE

11. Arizona Diamondbacks (55 overall)

Give the Diamondbacks credit for having the courage to roll the dice, even if it came up snake eyes. An offseason roster overhaul intended to make them front-runners in the NL West fizzled quickly, and the last-place D-backs plunged 46 points from last season, the most dramatic fall of any MLB team. In fact, their No. 55 ranking is the lowest for the D-backs since we began our standings in 2003. -- Doug Mittler READ MORE

12. Los Angeles Angels (56 overall)

Angels fans are among the most underrated in sports -- the club has drawn 3 million in 14 consecutive seasons -- but a sub-.500 season, despite having the best player in baseball, has created some frustration. Two years ago, the Angels ranked 15th in the Ultimate Standings. Last year, they fell to 28th. This year, they've fallen to 56th. Mike Trout was MVP-caliber yet again, but starting pitchers Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano combined for just 20 starts after suffering season-ending injuries, and the team was never in the playoff hunt. -- David Schoenfield READ MORE

13. Houston Astros (57 overall)

The Astros are up 11 spots from last year, and rightfully so, given their 2015 postseason berth and comeback after a sluggish start to 2016. They have management committed to its plan and multiple superstars (with potentially more to come) to make that plan work at a high level of effectiveness. -- Mark Simon READ MORE

14. Los Angeles Dodgers (64 overall)

A talented team with lofty goals and a rich history playing in one of baseball's better amphitheaters makes the Los Angeles Dodgers attractive to the sports fan, but that did not prevent the club from slipping ever so slightly in the Ultimate Standings. The best pitcher in the game -- Clayton Kershaw -- and one of the game's biggest rising stars -- Corey Seager -- give the Dodgers star power, but their inability to reach the ultimate goal, even while making the playoffs each of the past three seasons, has the Dodgers a bit stagnant when it comes to the overall fan experience. -- Doug Padilla READ MORE

15. Toronto Blue Jays (67 overall)

Everyone loves a contender, and the Blue Jays, who won the AL East in 2015 and qualified for the ALCS again this season, were certainly that. For a fan base that hadn't enjoyed relevant October baseball since the Joe Carter home run in 1993, winning cures everything. (Well, nearly everything.) This franchise improved quite a bit in The Mag's Ultimate Standings, up to the middle of the pack in the sport. -- Eric Karabell READ MORE

16. Boston Red Sox (68 overall)

Call it a comeback. A year after their second consecutive last-place AL East finish nearly caused them to slip out of the top 100 in The Mag's Ultimate Standings, the Red Sox won the division and surged 32 places. They ranked 16th among MLB teams, a sign that good times are rolling again on Yawkey Way. -- Scott Lauber READ MORE

17. Milwaukee Brewers (70 overall)

The bottom line was pretty much unchanged, both on and off the field, as the Brewers' overall ranking jumped two notches from No. 72 to No. 70. But after a 49-place drop last year, it feels a bit different this time, as the club began to successfully develop some of its youth at the major league level and build a foundation for near-term growth. -- Tony Blengino READ MORE

18. Colorado Rockies (74 overall)

The Rockies improved quite a bit on last season's overall ranking, despite not improving in the real-life standings. In fact, the Rockies have been consistently below average in the NL West, as 2016 represented their sixth consecutive season with considerably more losses than wins, and there is little reason to believe 2017 will be different. At least the beer is cheap and the fans keep showing up! -- Eric Karabell READ MORE

19. Seattle Mariners (78 overall)

Another year, another October without a postseason for Mariners fans. But at least 2016, under new general manager Jerry Dipoto and new manager Scott Servais, provided a winning season with real playoff possibility into the final weekend. Of course, it looks like the fans who bumped the Mariners up 26 spots in the standings this year have short memories: The past three times Seattle just missed the postseason, it completely collapsed the next year. -- Jim Caple READ MORE

20. Cincinnati Reds (81 overall)

The Reds have taken a massive plunge in the rankings since 2013, from 11th to 81st overall, in large part because they've gone from a 90-win team to a 68-win punching bag. They've come to grips with the realization that long-term success is a product of scouting and player development. The question remains: Can the fan base deal with that? -- Jerry Crasnick READ MORE

21. New York Mets (82 overall)

The Mets' 2015 World Series appearance -- their first since 2000 -- certainly earned them some goodwill from their fans and bumped them up 20 spots overall in these rankings. But even after an NL pennant, there's still doubt about the Mets' ownership ... and coach ... and roster ... and prices ... -- Adam Rubin READ MORE

22. Minnesota Twins (87 overall)

So ... yeah. The Twins had a surprisingly exciting 2015 season in which the team won 83 games and remained relevant well into September. Optimism abounded. Target Field never looked greener. Young talent! New coach! Prospects! What would follow a mere seven months later was a new low even for a team that, over the past five seasons, had win totals of 63, 66, 66 and 70. A 1-9 start this season would lead to a 7-18 April, and the Twins were 10.5 games back -- and entirely irrelevant -- in the AL Central by May 1, well on their way to what would ultimately become the worst season in the history of the franchise. Fifty. Nine. Wins. -- Ross Marrinson READ MORE

23. Philadelphia Phillies (88 overall)

After four straight years of backsliding, the Phillies won 71 games and drew 1.9 million fans to Citizens Bank Park in 2016. Those numbers might not sound like much, but any step in the right direction is good news after several years of disrepair -- or at least, fans think so, based on a 30-spot jump in these rankings. This is a classic "light at the end of the tunnel" scenario. -- Jerry Crasnick READ MORE

24. Tampa Bay Rays (90 overall)

The defections of executive Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon still loom large, as the Rays finished a disappointing last in the AL East. For the first time since they were rebranded as simply the "Rays," they lost more than 90 games. Injuries can excuse only so many things, as the on-field product is clearly in need of several upgrades, and many of the off-field items -- none more important than a new stadium -- are still undecided. -- Tommy Rancel READ MORE

25. Miami Marlins (91 overall)

The Marlins suffered through an unimaginable loss when ace pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident in late September. Miami looked to be a team on the rise, contending for a wild-card spot into the final month of the year, and Fernandez was a central reason for that. As difficult as it will be, the organization must balance moving on from the tragedy both on and off the field with keeping the memory of the Marlins' fallen brother alive. -- Tommy Rancel READ MORE

26. Chicago White Sox (96 overall)

This spring, a baseball team in Chicago steamrolled through April and early May, winning at a .697 clip through game No. 33 on the backs of a gleaming sub-3.00 team ERA and a .300-plus OBP. And that team was not the Cubs! OK, it was. But it was also the White Sox, who played like world-beaters for the first five weeks of the season, only to let the world dole out beatings at their expense for the final 21. The Sox finished the year under .500 for the fourth straight time, then said goodbye to Robin Ventura, their all-time best third baseman-turned-beleaguered manager. It was ... not a winning formula in the AL Central (11 games out of the wild card) or the Ultimate Standings. The Sox rank No. 96 overall, the team's lowest ranking since 2004. -- Hallie Grossman READ MORE

27. New York Yankees (100 overall)

The Yankees think of themselves as the greatest franchise in all sports, so their barely making the top 100 goes against corporate culture. (Of course, they've also played a grand total of one playoff game since 2012, so this ranking could be even worse.) This offseason, New York finds itself in a transition period, with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira joining the likes of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera on the sideline and making way for the next generation of Yankees, led by catcher Gary Sanchez. -- Andrew Marchand READ MORE

28. Atlanta Braves (104 overall)

The Braves dropped 22 spots in these rankings, which is not surprising for the team spent most of 2016 hovering around "worst in baseball" status. But despite a disappointing season (and this triple-digit ranking), there are positive signs upon which to build as management ends the "tear down" phase and enters a transitional period. -- Mark Simon READ MORE

29. San Diego Padres (107 overall)

The Padres were shut out by the Dodgers 15-0 on Opening Day, and it was all downhill from there. They were never seriously competitive in the NL West and were a nonfactor in our standings as well, finishing with their worst overall mark in five seasons and a string of triple-digit category rankings. If not for pristine Petco Park, things would have been even worse. -- Doug Mittler READ MORE

30. Oakland Athletics (115 overall)

Is this the worst franchise in baseball, as the voters felt? It's easy to see the bad when the '60s-era stadium is on blast practically daily in the media. Then the team is just five wins from the worst record in baseball. But there's some good news in there somewhere. -- Eno Sarris READ MORE