by Paul West
The 2015 Major League Baseball season was full of twists, turns, surprises and historic performances. There was Mike Trout winning the the All-Star MVP award for the second time in a row; there was a memorable flurry of transactions at the trade deadline; there was August 11th, on which all 15 home teams won on the same day; there were the new, and highly controversial, pace of play rules; there was the long-awaited synthesis, led by Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant and Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta, of this year’s Chicago Cubs. It was harder than usual to pick just ten, but here are Major League Baseball’s ten most compelling storylines of 2015.
10: The end of the Bud Selig era
For the first time since 1998, Major League Baseball had a new commissioner: Rob Manfred, whose first moves included trying to increase the pace of play and taking steps to improve youth outreach. But with all due respect to Mr. Manfred, the real story was the end of Bud Selig‘s nearly three-decade run. Detailing the ups and downs of Selig’s tenure would take an entirely separate article at the very least; but suffice to say that his departure was met with a wide array of responses. Selig presided over the ethnic diversification of baseball’s upper management, the institution of instant replay, and the creation of the Wild Card game; he also presided over, and some would say tacitly ignored, the so-called Steroid Era that still casts a shadow over roughly a decade of the game’s history. Some view him as an icon, while others view him as a scourge. Either way, the changing of the guard was one of the baseball’s biggest stories of 2015.
9: Yoenis Cespedes’ post-trade tear
There were a lot of big moves made at this year’s trade deadline, but none bigger than the move made by the New York Mets. Just before the deadline passed, the Amazins picked up the Detroit Tigers’ Yoenis Cespedes, and they did it without having to trade one of their Big Four. Cespedes then went on a post-deadline tear we haven’t seen since Manny Ramirez carried the Los Angeles Dodgers down the stretch in 2008. In 57 games with the Mets, he hit.287 with 14 doubles, 4 triples, 17 home runs and 44 RBIs. He helped ignite an offense that was one of baseball’s best in the second half of the season, and in one game in Colorado he put together this historic statline: five hits, three home runs, five runs scored, seven RBIs and a stolen base. He was the first player in MLB history to record that statline, and if you subtract the stolen base it would’ve only been the fourth of its kind. He faltered in the postseason, largely due to a number of injuries he was battling; but in the first postseason game in the history of Citi Field, he helped seal a 13-7 pounding of the Dodgers with an upper-deck shot that sent the home crowd into a frenzy. It’s looking like his time with the Mets will have been brief, but nobody will ever forget his contribution to the Mets’ first World Series appearance since the Subway Series.
8: The rise of the Houston Astros
Not since the days of the “Killer Bees”–headlined by Jeff Bagwell and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio–has it been so promising to be an Astros fan. After quietly compiling a roster full of young talent, the Astros looked fearsome for long stretches of the regular season. They had Jose Altuve, the undersized hit machine with speed and surprising power. They had a power resurgence from the once highly touted Colby Rasmus, who also played a strong outfield. They hit home runs in bunches, and they had a young phenom at shortstop who reminded observers of a young Alex Rodriguez. That phenom was Carlos Correa, still just 21 years old as I write this, who exploded onto the scene with power, stellar defense and poise beyond his years. Oh yeah, there was also the emergence of the team’s lefty ace, Dallas Keuchel, who baffled hitters all season despite not having the jaw-dropping velocity of many of his peers. Keuchel went 20-8 with a 1.02 WHIP and 216 strikeouts, and dominated the New York Yankees in their own stadium in a 3-0 blanking in the Wild Card game.
7: The rise and fall of the Toronto Blue Jays
There was a good chunk of time this summer when it looked like the Toronto Blue Jays would stomp their way to the American League Pennant and through the World Series. They were hitting the cover off the ball, and their lineup was threatening from top to bottom. R.A. Dickey was in Cy Young form, and young pitchers like Marco Estrada were pitching well. They won 11 games in a row twice. Then they picked up David Price and Troy Tulowitzki at the deadline, scaring the daylights out of half the league. Things looked great, but Dickey and the staff began to look hittable and Tulo was lost to a freak injury in a collision with teammate Kevin Pillar. They finished with the AL MVP in Josh Donaldson, one of three Blue Jays with over 30 home runs and 100 RBIs; astoundingly, had Edwin Encarnacion hit one more home run, then he, Donaldson and Jose Bautista would have all finished with 40 home runs and 100 RBIs. They limped down the stretch, but nevertheless won the AL East with a 93-69 record and faced off against the Texas Rangers in the ALDS. They continued to show their vulnerability, losing the first two games and finding themselves on the brink of elimination. They won the next two on the road, setting up one of the wildest games in postseason history: the fifth and deciding game, in which the Blue Jays would storm back in front of a raucous crowd amidst a flurry of Texas blunders. The game featured Bautista’s bat flip heard round the world, which precipitated an escalation of pre-existing bad blood and a clearing of both benches. They were the first team in the history of the Divisional Series to lose its first two at home and go on to advance in five; it looked like they were back on track to march into November. But the Kansas City Royals eliminated them in six games and went on to win the World Series. After faltering in the postseason, Price moved on to join the Boston Red Sox,while General Manager Alex Anthopoulos turned down a multi-year and left the team. Blue Jays fans were left to ponder what might have been.
6: Miggy & Beltre join the 400 club
Miguel Cabrera, possibly the greatest right-handed hitter of his time, has long been considered a Hall of Famer in progress; Adrian Beltre is becoming more widely considered a strong candidate, as well. In the 2015 regular season, Cabrera and Beltre both hit their 400th career home runs. Beltre is 36 and still a dangerous hitter, though he appears to be losing a step; he’s a career .285 hitter, and first among active players in defensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR). He’s won four Gold Glove Awards, and he’s long been known for having a knack for big moments. When it’s all said and done, it might be considered baffling that his Hall of Fame candidacy was ever in question. As for Miggy, he’s still just 32 and already has 408 homers. He’s been defensively challenged for years, but he’s a two-time MVP and in 2012 achieved the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. He seems likely to join the 500 club before his career is over, like the man who’s next on this list.
5: Big Papi joins the 500 club
I’ll be you don’t remember this: David Ortiz came into the major leagues with the Minnesota Twins in 1997. he joined the Boston Red Sox after two seasons, and almost two decades later he continues to crush the ball. At age 39, despite his demise being rumored countless times, Big Papi hit .273 with 37 home runs, 108 RBIs, 77 walks and 73 runs scored. He hit the ball to all fields, and was arguably the best overall hitter in the Sox’ lineup. And by going twice in a game in September, he became the 27th player to hit his 500th major league home run. Oh yeah, he also hit his 550th double this season; he’s also only the 27th player to clear that threshold. He’s under contract for another year, he’s a true student of the hitting game, and he’s probably the best designated hitter ever.
4: ARod/Pete Rose
Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose are two of the most polarizing figures of their respective baseball eras, and their paths to infamy are well known. What makes this a worthy juxtaposition is that both made their debuts as television analysts this postseason–and they couldn’t have been more disparate. While Rose came across as a bit of a yahoo, the sports world marveled as how intelligent, wise and, yes, charismatic Arod’s commentary sounded. Of course, this caused both ever-present controversies to rear their ugly heads once again–especially when the announcement came that Rose’s lifetime ban would not be lifted. Meanwhile, one thing is certain: love him or hate him, Alex Rodriguez is a genuine student of the game. Oh yeah, and he got his 3000th hit this season–with a home run at Yankee Stadium.
3: The New York Mets’ meteoric rise
When the season began, some believed the New York Mets were finally a threat to contend for the wild card. They started hot, before the injury bug hit and they were treading water at 49-48 going into a July 25th home game against the Dodgers. They dropped 15 runs on the Dodgers that day, and from that day onward, they were one of the best offenses in baseball. Their starting rotation was lights-out down the stretch, and closer Jeurys Familia emerged as one of the game’s best. The Mets won the NL East by seven games, putting away the imploding nationals with a late-season sweep in which they came from behind in all three games. They took down the Los Angeles Dodgers, as Jacob deGrom and their Big Four outdueled Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers’ staff. Then they swept the Chicago Cubs in four games to win their first National League Pennant since 2001. The Royals proved to be too much for them in the end, but the Mets’ near future looks bright. The Big Four are still intact, they’ve re-signed ageless wonder Bartolo Colon, and outfielder Michael Conforto has the makings of an All Star and lineup centerpiece. Their window is open, and the baseball world is on notice.
2: The Kansas City Royals find redemption
The 2014 Kansas City Royals entered the playoffs as something of a Cinderella story, clinching the postseason on September 26th and beating the Oakland Athletics 9-8 in a thrilling Wild Card battle. They were beaten by Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants, but like this year’s Mets, they had officially put themselves on the map. Coming into the 2015 World Series, they were not just a known quantity but a highly renowned favorite. They had speed and timely hitting; they were never out of a game; they had one of the best defenses in baseball, along with a deep and feisty bench; they they had a bullpen that shortened games. They had acquired Johnny Cueto to buttress their starting rotation, and they had spent the postseason scoring an astounding percentage of their runs in the seventh inning or later. By the time the Royals had won their first World Series since 1985, it felt as if that was the only way it could have gone; they were this year’s MLB team of destiny, and they had changed last year’s ending with a flourish. Catcher Salvador Perez was the World Series MVP, but the team had contributions from all over a well-balanced roster.
1: Unbelievable pitching in the National League
The leaderboard for the 2015 National League Cy Young Award might have been the most stacked one in history. Max Scherzer threw two no-hitters, both of which narrowly missed being perfect games. In the first, one strike away from out number 27, he hit Jose Tabata before retiring the next batter; and in his second, widely considered the most dominant no-hitter in history, he stuck out a whopping 17 batters while issuing no walks and the only baserunner came on a Yunel Escobar throwing error. He struck out nine straight batters. And he wasn’t even in the Cy Young conversation. The eventual winner, Jake Arrieta, went 22-7 with a ridiculous 1.77 ERA and .86 WHIP. He struck out 236 batters, and down the stretch of the regular season he was unconscious every time he took the mound. He, too, threw a no-hitter, on August 30th against the Dodgers. Speaking of the Dodgers, their twin aces put up numbers that would have won Cy Youngs in many other seasons. Zack Greinke went 19-3 with 20 strikeouts, a .84 WHIP and a 1.66 ERA…and came in second. His teammate Clayton Kershaw struck out 301 batters and had a 2.13 ERA and .88 WHIP…and came in third. Seeing the theme? Gerritt Cole, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard were afterthoughts in the Cy Young conversation despite putting up video game numbers of their own–and Syndergaard threw as many 100mph fastballs as a large number of entire teams. 2015 was definitely the year of the pitcher in the National League.