Baseball — Tom Dwyer

Each Major League Baseball season is an epic unto itself. Its importance and majesty can only be diminished by the enviable loss of detail that comes with retelling. This year was no different. As the early cold of winter has come in 26 of 30 Major League cities, we now reflect on the story that played out through America’s ballparks this summer.

The thesis that emerged in the senior circuit this year told a story of disappointment, redemption and relief. At the season’s onset, each division possessed a clear favorite who was deemed unapproachable by most of the pundits and prognosticators.

In the National League [NL] Eastern Division, it was the Washington Nationals who garnered the aforementioned accolades. However, the Nationals bore their brunt of injuries in the early going. Despite one of the best pitching rotations in the Majors, the Nationals found themselves looking up in the standings at the Atlanta Braves. But redemption came, and, as spring turned to summer, the Nationals overtook the Braves and claimed a steady grasp on first place that they would never relinquish. The Nationals run was buoyed by the performance of second year man Anthony Rendon. Rendon, who manned the keystone when he was not covering for the injured Ryan Zimmer at third, blasted 21 home runs en route to 130+ weighted runs created. His offensive prowess coupled with his defensive competency made him one of the most valuable laborers in the National League, notching an fWAR of 6.6 wins above replacement.

The Nationals redemption was followed closely by their Western Counterparts, the Los Angles Dodgers. In late June, all general manager Ned Colletti had to show for his record-breaking $240 million payroll was a four-game deficit to the San Francisco Giants; however, in flash, the Dodgers began meeting their lofty expectations. The Giants were able to ride their strong pitching and sharp defense to a Wild Card bid.  The Dodgers were led by a pitching staff anchored by the best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw. The tall lefty from Texas sent hitters into a dizzy with his biting slider and sweeping curve-ball. His ERA of 1.77 makes him the odds on favorite to win both the NL Cy Young and MVP. Offensively, the Dodgers were led by Cuban refugee Yasiel Puig — who, for the first time this year, coupled his prodigious batted ball ability with a command of the strike zone, swinging at only 28 percent of pitches outside the strike zone compared to 37 percent a year ago.  Puig finished the year with a .294/.372/.490 slash line aided by 23 home runs, each coupled with a grandiose flip of the bat from the wonderfully demonstrate player.

In the NL Central, the defending champion Cardinals slogged their way through the regular season. These heavy favorites did not get their redemption until Sept. 1, when they overtook first place from the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers’ early season success was only commensurate to their late season failures; at one point the Beer-Makers lost 12 in a row in a stretch that overlapped August and September. The Cardinals, however, were steadily slightly above average. They finished no month with a winning percentage below .500, but never exceeded that mark by more than four games. The Cardinals amassed 90 wins despite a pedestrian offense. The Cardinals hit the fewest home runs in the NL and averaged less than four runs per game. Despite disappointing offensive performance, the Redbirds’ pitching was masterful. Breaking club record for shutouts, the Cardinals rotation dominated opponents even while missing the phenom Michael Wacha. The elite Adam Wainwright was joined by Lance Lynn, who, for the first time in his career, had his excellent pitching backed by stellar defense that allowed his ERA to out-perform his FIP. While winning the division, the Cardinals actually were a sub .500 team in games in which their opponent scored more than one run.

After dispatching the Dodgers in four thrilling games, the Cardinals are currently taking on the Wild Card San Francisco Giants in the NL Championship team. The Wild Card team was able to first beat the Pirates’ play in game and then took down the heavily-favored Nats in four games.

 

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