It is hard to believe that 162 games have already come and gone, it honestly feels like Opening Day just happened…
With the regular season wrapping up on Sunday, the “real” season is ready to start up on Tuesday night as the A’s and Royals face off in the AL Wild Card game, followed by the Pirates and Giants in the NL Wild Card game on Wednesday night. With the post season on the horizon lets take a look back at the highs, lows and everything in between that got us to where we are…
The Kansas City Royals did the unthinkable; they actually managed to make it BACK to the post season for the first time since 1985. In doing so, they ended up breaking the longest post season drought and handed that honour over to the Toronto Blue Jays (sigh).
The Royals were criticized for moving MLB’s top prospect (Wil Myers) for James Shields and Wade Davis before the start of the 2013 season and were further criticized when that move failed to get them into the post season, while Wil Myers went on to win AL Rookie of the Year in Tampa.
Luckily for GM Dayton Moore and his job the 2014 season would see Shields anchor a solid and young rotation, while Davis helped solidify an already airtight bullpen and in doing so, the Royals are off to the Playoffs for the first time since the Reagan Administration. What a difference a year makes.
It’s hard to believe that it has almost been a decade since Justin Morneau won the AL MVP as a Minnesota Twin. Once regarded as one of the premiere 1B and power hitters in all the game, Morneau’s career nearly got completely derailed thanks to a concussion and the resulting effects of Post Concussion Syndrome. Morneau struggled so mightily that the organization that drafted him (the Twins) traded him to the Pirates as a rental player for .10 cents on the dollar in 2013.
After helping the Pirates make it to the post season for the first time since 1992, Morneau was looking for a new gig this offseason when the Rockies offered him a 2 yr/$12.5 million dollar deal. He quickly thanked them by posting his best stats since 2010. His .319 average this season was good enough to take home the NL Batting Title and despite not being voted in by the fans for the All Star game in Minneapolis this season, he was named to the NL Home Run Derby team by captain Troy Tulowitzki.
The Twins faithful made sure to acknowledge their former MVP.
Fans in California are spoiled. Not only do they have FIVE teams to choose from, but they also have the benefit of seeing some of the best players in the game today on a consistent basis. Fans in LA and Anaheim have the luxury of seeing the Dodgers and Angels and their STACKED rosters of perennial All Stars and former MVP and Cy Young Award Winners. The Angels have former 3x NL MVP Albert Pujols and AL MVP Josh Hamilton.
While the Dodgers counter with Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig, hell even Matt Kemp almost won an MVP. With that being said, it looks like there will be even more hardware coming to LA LA Land as both Trout and Kershaw look poised to take home the MVP awards from their respective leagues. Oh and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that Kershaw is an absolute SHOE IN for the NL Cy Young Award.
If Kershaw does in fact win both the Cy and the MVP, he will become the first NL pitcher since (my boy) Bob Gibson did so in the infamous “Year of the Pitcher.” (1968).
Meanwhile in the Bay Area both the Giants and the A’s are hoping to advance past the Wild Card round on the strength of their arms alone. The A’s decided at the Trade Deadline that they needed to solidify a position that was already a strength (starting pitching) in exchange for top level prospects and one of their few sources of offensive power. Instead of just going out and picking up one pitcher, A’s GM Billy Beane decided that he wanted ALL THE PITCHING.
In two separate moves the Athletics added SP Jeff Samardzjia and SP Jason Hammel from the Cubs in exchange for top prospects SS Addison Russell, OF Billy McKinney and SP Dan Straily. Just over a week later, Beane took advantage of a fire sale in Boston and picked up Jon Lester and Johnny Gomes for Yoenis Cespedes. Beane’s mindset was that he needed pitching in order to stack up against the power arms in Detroit, as well as neutralize the big bats in Anaheim.
Unfortunately for Beane and the A’s, you also need to score runs in order to get to the post season and by trading Cespedes, the A’s had given up one of their premiere run producers. Luckily for the A’s, they would be helped out by a floundering Mariners squad and easily secured a post season berth.
Across the Bay in San Francisco, the Giants were coming to the realization that their once dominant rotation may be a thing of the past. Injuries to Matt Cain and ineffectiveness of Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong saw the Giants forced to make the additions of veteran Tim Hudson in the offseason and Jake Peavy at the trade deadline. Luckily for the Giants faithful, the reinforcements helped patch the holes in a thin rotation and backed by Madison Bumgarner, the Giants could make some noise in October.
Sorry San Diego… you stay classy.
The offseason move that no one talked about was hands down the acquisition of Doug Fister by the Nationals. Fister was able to slot in behind an already menacing rotation led by Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez. Throw in the surprising Tanner Roark and the Nationals had arguably the best rotation in baseball this year.
An even bigger benefit for the Nationals was the fact that the rest of the NL East was the weakest it has been in recent memory. The only real threat to the Nats this season was the Braves and the Braves were never able to really rebound from the injuries sustained to their starting rotation. The Nationals rotation capped the season off in style as Jordan Zimmermann became the first Nationals pitcher to throw a no hitter. He did have a little help from OF Steven Souza Jr. who picked a great time to do his best Dwayne Wise impression.
Should we really be shocked that the Cardinals are playing baseball in October? That is the tradition after all. What has also become a recent tradition has been Adam Wainwright’s inability to win a Cy Young Award.
Trust me; it’s not for his lack of trying. It’s just the old cliché of always being a bridesmaid but never being the bride. The main problem for Waino is that he decides to have his career years in the same year that someone else is having a historic year.
In 2009 he finished 3rd in voting behind Tim Lincecum and Chris Carpenter, despite the fact that Waino had arguably the better numbers.
Lincecum: 15-7 • 2.48 ERA • 225.1 IP • 261 K’s • 1.05 WHIP
Carpenter: 17-4 • 2.24 ERA • 192.2 IP • 144 K’s • 1.01 WHIP
Wainwright: 19-8 • 2.63 ERA • 233 IP • 212 K’s • 1.21 WHIP
In 2010, Wainwright won 20 games for the first time in his career and still finished 2nd behind Roy Halladay and his 9 complete games. Last season, Waino was once again the runner up in Cy voting behind the eventual winner, Mr. Clayton Kershaw.
And that brings us back to this season. Once again Waino has won 20 games and put up a stat line that would normally warrant a Cy Young award. But instead it looks like Wainwright will be digging through the closet and picking out his best bridesmaid dress as he looks to finish runner up (yet again) in Cy voting. Once again Waino’s best isn’t good enough and once again he will be runner up to Mr. Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw: 21-3 • 1.77 ERA • 198.1 IP • 239 K’s • 0.86 WHIP
Wainwright: 20-9 • 2.38 ERA • 227 IP • 179 K’s • 1.03 WHIP
• One season removed from a Biogenesis suspension and Nelson Cruz turns out to be the best free agent signing of the year. Cruz’s 40 Home Runs were good enough to take home the AL Home Run title this season. He also added 108 RBI and a .271 batting average in 159 games for the 1st place Orioles.
• The White Sox and Jose Abreu for proving doubters wrong… big time. Abreu is easily the consensus pick for the AL Rookie of the Year and will probably garner an MVP vote or two thanks to his monstrous rookie year that saw him light up AL pitching to the tune of .317/36/108. Not bad for a guy who some saw as a potential quadruple A player. Now his 6 yr/$68 million dollar might be a steal.
• Not having to hear about that bum A-Rod all year!
Over 45 players required Tommy John surgery during the course of the 2014 campaign. Some of the more notable names include Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy of the Braves, Jose Fernandez of the Marlins, Matt Moore of the Rays and Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks.
Surprisingly it wasn’t just pitchers who were forced under the knife, as All Star C Matt Wieters of the Orioles and Twins top prospect Miguel Sano both required the surgery by mid season. Even the Yankees high profile free agent signing (Masahiro Tanaka) was forced to miss nearly 2 months as he rehabbed a partial tear in his UCL opposed to opting for the surgery. So far it looks like they made the right decision as Tanaka looked solid in his return to the rotation against the Blue Jays.
One has to wonder why there has been such a rise in Tommy John related injuries. Although the surgery hasn’t kept teams away from investing in players with a history of Tommy John, in fact two players (Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde) who had just undergone the surgery were drafted in the first round of this year’s MLB Amateur Draft
Another year, another All Star gets busted for PED’s/Amphetamines. This time it was Chris “Crush” Davis. Should we really be surprised that this positive test coincided with an abysmal season at the plate for Davis? The bigger concern should be whether this was a onetime deal or was it just the first time he has been caught? Rumours circulating make it seem like the latter of the two. Hard to understand why a guy would risk the suspension when his team is in the middle of a pennant race.
The Braves were never able to completely rebound from the rash of injuries suffered at the start of the year to their rotation and dismal play down the stretch led to them finishing 9 games out of the NL Wild Card and the eventual dismissal of GM Frank Wren. It now looks like Freddi Gonzalez may be on the hot seat as manager, even though new interim GM John Hart has given him a vote of confidence.
Perhaps Hart, if he stays on as GM, will keep Gonzalez on board to use as a sacrificial lamb next year if the Braves stumble out of the gate. And judging by the question marks and injury concerns regarding their rotation, it’s a good possibility that they stumble just may happen. At least Braves fans have a new stadium to look forward to.
The Mariners have nobody to blame but themselves for missing out on the Wild Card. Their paltry play in the last two weeks of the season is what effectively sealed their fate. Unfortunately for Mariners fans their team picked the wrong time to slump as the rest of the AL Wild Card contenders were also mired in poor play. Part of the issue was the Mariners leaky rotation being exposed for what it was.
Outside of studs like King Felix and Iwakuma, the Mariners relied too much on thrift store pick up Chris Young, who decided to turn back into a pumpkin when the Mariners needed him most, and the young, unproven arm of James Paxton.
Heading into the season, the Mariners knew they needed offense in order to compete in the AL West, so they went out and signed Robinson Cano, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. Hell, even when their offense struggled, their GM went out and traded for Kendrys Morales and Austin Jackson. But why didn’t GM Jack Zduriencik make a move or two to shore up that rotation?
I bet that item #1 this offseason in Seattle will be to add an arm or two.
• The whole Michael PINE-da ball doctoring issue. I am not mad or disappointed that Pineda used pine tar to try and doctor the ball, Im sure A LOT of major leaguers do it. My issue is the fact that he did it once against the Red Sox and they basically let him away with it and then he did it AGAIN in his very NEXT START against THE SAME BOSTON RED SOX. Pretty sure Crash Davis said it best in Bull Durham,
“Because you don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem.”
• The Houston Astros have been a perennial cellar dweller for the last handful of seasons and the only benefit that comes with being the worst team in baseball is the fact that you get rewarded with the 1st overall pick in the MLB Amateur Draft. This time around the Astros used the 1st overall pick on a high school LHP named Brady Aiken. Originally it had appeared that the Astros and Aiken had agreed on an entry level contract. However it was later revealed that Aiken had an issue with his UCL (TJ ligament) and the Astros slashed their offer by more than half. Aiken in turn decided to take his 100 mph fastball and not sign with the Astros.
• Following their superb handling of the Brady Aiken affair, the Astros decided to bring 2013 1st overall pick (Mark Appel) up to Houston so he could throw a bullpen session. This move caused a lot of tension and frustration between the Astros players and the front office as the players viewed the organization as “babying” and “playing favourites” with one of their “shiny nickels” (baseball term for prized prospect). It wouldn’t have been as big of an issue if Appel was performing well and moving up the organizational depth charts and the club wanted to take a closer look. But the case was that Appel was struggling and the Astros brass thought a bullpen sesh at MLB field may help him out. I suppose the Stros are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I wonder how much more rope GM Jeff Luhnow has. Have to assume that Nolan Ryan is starting to eye up that GM chair of his.
• Troy Tulowitzki’s never ending battle against the DL. I’ll never fault a player who gets injured for playing too hard but unfortunately for baseball fans as a whole, injuries are robbing us of seeing a potential Hall of Famer’s prime seasons.
Breakouts and Busts:
Jose Altuve • 2B • Astros: Normally I wouldn’t say that a guy enjoyed a breakout season when he has just improved on his stats from the year before, but when it comes to the diminutive Altuve, I’ll make an exception.
The 5’6 middle infielder burst onto the scenes as a 22 year old rookie back in 2012 and quickly gave Astros fans hope for the future. Despite playing on the worst team in baseball, Altuve has shown no effect from having little to no protection in the lineup. His first two season’s saw him put up great numbers for a 2B:
2012: 576 AB • 167 H • 7 HR • 37 RBI • .290 AVG • .340 OBP • 33 SB
2013: 626 AB • 177 H • 5 HR • 52 RBI • .283 AVG • .316 OBP • 35 SB
This season he has completely put those numbers to shame.
2014: 660 AB • 225 H • 7 HR • 59 RBI • .341 AVG • .377 OBP • 56 SB (oh and he added 47 doubles for good measure.)
His 225 hits are a new Astros single season club record and his .341 average was good enough to fend off Victor Martinez in order to take home the AL Batting Title. Although Altuve may never put up the sheer power numbers that other 2B like Cano, Kipnis, Pedroia and Utley have put up, his ability to hit for contact and manufacture runs with his legs will see him remain as a top 3 2B for years to come.
I also absolutely love the fact that he refused to sit out the last day of the season in order to secure the AL Batting title and was able to talk himself into the lineup. Shame on the Astros for even debating holding him out of the lineup in the first place. How can you hold a guy out of the lineup who wants to hit so bad that he jumps at balls?
Corey Kluber • SP • Indians: The unheralded Kluber not only made Indians fans forget about the meltdown that was Justin Masterson, but he also single-handedly kept their post season hopes alive as long as possible. The AL Cy Young should come down to either Kluber or the Mariners (King) Felix Hernandez. Personally I gotta give Kluber the edge as he put up these numbers in only his second full season in the show. Kluber’s 2014 Stats: 18-9 • 2.44 ERA • 269 K’s • 235 IP • 1.10 WHIP
Josh Harrison • Everywhere • Pirates: This season, Josh Harrison did it all for the Pirates. He played 2B, 3B, SS, LF and RF, with most of those appearances coming because of injuries to regular day players. He also had two of the most amazing run downs in recent history, even Benny “the Jet” Rodriquez would give him the thumbs up for getting out of these pickles. Harrison’s 2014 Stats: 520 AB • .315 AVG • 15 HR • 52 RBI • .347 OBP • 18 SB
Michael Brantley • LF • Indians: I’ve always known that Brantley was capable of being a breakout star; it just seemed that he could never put it all together. I base that prediction solely on his ability to rake against my hometown Blue Jays. The 2014 campaign saw Brantley set career highs in every offensive category, as well as earning his first All Star appearance. Luckily the Indians locked him up to an extension through 2017 before he decided to go off on the league. Brantley’s 2014 Stats: 611 AB • .327 AVG • 20 HR • 97 RBI • .385 OBP • 23 SB • 45 2B
Jonathan Lucroy • C • Brewers: One of the main reasons why the Brewers were in the post season picture for so long was the play of their backstop. The 28 year old not only set new career highs in games played but also set a new MLB record for most doubles in a season by a catcher with 53. His offensive output and durability has helped solidify Lucroy’s positioning as a top 5 catcher in the game today and gives Brewers fans a whole lot to look forward to as he is locked up through 2017. Lucroy’s 2014 Stats: 585 AB • .301 AVG • 13 HR • 69 RBI • .373 OBP
Garrett Richards • SP • Angels: Richards was enjoying a breakout season in his 3rd full season in the bigs and 2nd as a starter, but all that came to a quick end on August 20th at Fenway Park. During the game, Richards tore his patellar tendon in his left knee while covering on a routine play to 1B. The severity of the injury resulted Richards’ undergoing season ending surgery and the Angels hope to have him back in 6 to 9 months. Before his injury Richards was arguably the Angels best pitcher and was one of the bigger snubs at this year’s All Star game. Richards 2014 Stats: 13-4 • 2.61 ERA • 168 IP • 164 K’s • 1.04 WHIP
• The Milwaukee Brewers late season collapse.
• The Red Sox going First to Worst a year after going from Worst to First.
• Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales free agency plans. Perhaps Scott Boras should take the fall for that one…
• The Rangers finishing BELOW the Astros
• The seasons had by Baseball America’s 2013 top 5 prospects: Jurickson Profar, Dylan Bundy, Oscar Taveras, Wil Myers, and Jose Fernandez.
• Phillies SP Miguel Alfred Gonzalez’s professional debut.
• Jay Bruce’s 2014 season.
• Jim Johnson’s career as a closer.
Buh Bye! Nice to Know Ya!
Ron Gardennhire • Manager • Minnesota Twins
Career record: 1068-1039 (13 seasons)
Managed the Twins to six AL Central titles (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010)
2010 AL Manager of the Year
Ron Washington • Manager • Texas Rangers
Career Record: 664-611 (8 seasons)
Managed the Rangers to back to back AL West titles and AL Pennants (2010 & 2011)
Kirk Gibson • Manager • Arizona Diamondbacks
Career Record: 353-375 (5 seasons)
Managed the Diamondbacks to the NL West title in 2011
2011 NL Manager of the Year
Bo Porter • Manager • Houston Astros
Career Record: 110-190 (2 seasons)
Paul Konerko • 1B • Chicago White Sox
Career Stats: 18 seasons • 2349 G • 2340 Hits • 439 HR • 1412 RBI • .279 AVG • .841 OPS
Six time All Star
2005 World Series Champion
Oh yea… and some guy named Jeter retired too.