If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then by Friday even the fans of the eight teams without a realistic shot at the postseason (read: less than a 5 percent chance) should be overjoyed to see their clubs resume play. But with two and a half months until the playoffs, those fans will need more than a shot of elation to hold their attention; they’ll need to focus on someone doing something in order to endure what remains of a lost season. So let’s find a subplot worthy of tracking for each team that is no longer included in the season’s main narrative. (Teams are listed in descending order of their playoff odds.)
San Diego Padres
Projected wins: 77
Playoff odds: 2.0 percent
Storyline worth watching: A.J. Preller’s next wave of deals will determine the main intrigue in San Diego, but here’s a secondary concern for those out west: Kevin Quackenbush. Funny name, questionable beard, and polarizing profile aside, Quackenbush finished the first half with 27 innings and zero home runs allowed. (Milwaukee’s Michael Blazek has the most innings of anybody who has yet to give up a homer with 45 2/3.) You might think Quackenbush is nearing signature significance with each inning, yet in San Diego that hasn’t been the case. The other Padres since the last round of expansion to complete a season with more than 25 innings and zero baseballs lost, Sean O’Sullivan (2013) and Kevin Cameron (2007), didn’t enjoy Made Man status or even a hint of big-league success following their seeming trademark efforts. Presuming Quackenbush isn’t prone to superstition or confusing correlation with causation, he’ll try to join that not-so-select company in the coming months.
Projected wins: 76
Playoff odds: 1.5 percent
Storyline worth watching: Is it a cop-out to pick the team’s best player? Perhaps, but Paul Goldschmidt‘s excellence deserves more recognition. He and Bryce Harper rank first or second in the NL in each of the slash-line categories, with 10 points or fewer separating them in batting average and on-base percentage, setting up what should be a fun second-half battle for the ersatz Triple Crown. Though edging out Harper wouldn’t guarantee Goldschmidt the MVP award, he’s one of the game’s best players and is the main reason the Diamondbacks aren’t further down the list. Arizona fans know what they have here; everyone else should find out by catching his at-bats as often as possible.
Projected wins: 75
Playoff odds: 1.2 percent
Storyline worth watching: Jose Fernandez, Giancarlo Stanton (when he returns), Christian Yelich, and even Dee Gordon—in hot pursuit of the franchise’s second batting title—are all worthwhile choices. For the sake of diversification, let’s give Justin Bour the nod. Most players selected during the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft don’t amount to more than organizational filler. Bour is the exception, having entered the break ranked third in rookie OPS behind Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant (min. 150 PA) just a year and a half after being nabbed from the Cubs. He’s older than the typical rookie (he turned 27 in May) and built differently too (he looks like he should serve as a bouncer), but his big raw power and eagerness to smack right-handed pitching gives him a chance to start at the cold corner most days. Keep an eye on how the Marlins manage Bour’s playing time in relation to Mike Morse, whose contract calls for more than $10 million through the end of next season.
Projected wins: 75
Playoff odds: 0.8 percent
Storyline worth watching: Nick Markakis‘ first season in Atlanta could be one for the books. Despite appearing in all but one of the Braves’ games, Markakis finished the first half with zero home runs. Additionally, his below-average speed resulted in one stolen base, making him one of two players with more than 300 plate appearances to record one combined homer and steal. (The other is former Brave Omar Infante.) Provided Markakis stays healthy and doesn’t find his power stroke, he could become the first Brave since Woody Woodward (1967) to go homerless in more than 500 plate appearances. Woodward, by the way, accomplished that feat in consecutive seasons. Markakis’ high average and on-base percentages make him a more productive hitter than Woodward ever was, but this isn’t the kind of history Braves fans were hoping for during the first season of a four-year contract.
Projected wins: 75
Playoff odds: 0.6 percent
Storyline worth watching: There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Reds right now, beginning with the future of their front office and how aggressively they’ll sell at the deadline. That indeterminacy extends to here; there are numerous options, but which is the most interesting? Is it Todd Frazier continuing his attempt to become the Reds’ best player? What about Billy Hamilton? Can he finish with more bunt singles than extra-base hits? Speaking of, how many more bases will Hamilton steal? Enough to top Eric Davis‘ modern single-season franchise record of 80, or just enough to best Joe Morgan‘s 67? These days aren’t the most glorious for Reds fans, but they sure aren’t boring, either.
Projected wins: 73
Playoff odds: 0.3 percent
Storyline worth watching: The perfect team for those wanting a reminder of how quickly things can change in life. These next few months could be the last Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado share as teammates. If so, Arenado is a worthy successor to Tulowitzki as Colorado’s face of the franchise: He’s already the team’s most productive hitter and one of the world’s best defenders. The transition appears inevitable, so everyone ought to enjoy one of the game’s best left-side pairings before it’s too late.
Projected wins: 72
Playoff odds: 0.2 percent
Storyline worth watching: Assuming Carlos Gomez isn’t traded before the deadline, he’s the clear-cut choice here. If you need to be convinced, then consider the entertainment value Gomez provides with his power-speed blend. Oh, and his recent propensity for gum-related hijinks. Sure, the Brewers have other interesting talent—Adam Lind, Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy, and Jimmy Nelson, say—but Gomez is all the reason anyone should need to tune in.
Projected wins: 59
Playoff odds: 0.0 percent
Storyline worth watching: Aaron Nola‘s imminent debut will draw more national coverage, but Maikel Franco‘s progress at the plate is the most intriguing development in Philadelphia. In addition to hitting for average and power, Franco has shown maturation with his approach, which was and remains the biggest question about his offensive game. He’s walking more than he did in the upper minors, and he has lowered his swing, chase, and whiff rates from last season’s 16-game stint. What’s more is Franco’s overall plate-discipline statistics are about even with the league-average marks. The sample is on the small side (236 PA), but Franco gives Phillies fans a reason to watch their offensive half-innings.