2017 MLB Recap

Will Dawson

The 2017 Major League Baseball season was one for the books. We saw a large cast of breakout stars as well as a record breaking home run total largely due to stellar offense from all teams. We saw extremely high caliber baseball played with an emphasis placed on statistics and modern coaching techniques, while still holding true to the roots of the great American game. And in October we got to witness a thrilling postseason which did not fail to deliver. So let’s look back at some of the best stories and players from this year of professional baseball.

 

All Rise

The season started off with a bang, and from a player few suspected would do much at all. Aaron Judge had only played in 52 games and appeared at the plate 84 times in 2016 which still made him a rookie at the start of this season. After a poor start in the majors last year, striking out almost half the time, he was sent down to the minors to work on his swing, and that he did. Starting in April, Judge introduced power that had never before been seen by a rookie. But it wasn’t just power that made him special. At 6’ 7, 282 pounds, Judge is now the 10th tallest player ever and certainly the tallest to win Rookie of the Year. You just don’t see guys built like Judge succeed in the big leagues, definitely not to the degree he started the season with. He hit 30 home runs in the first half of the season and entered the all-star break as by far the best hitter in the American League. It was clear that this kid was having a special season and was destined for the record books. Although he had a brief slump following the all-star break (having a stretch as bad as a 3-for-26 .155 average) as well as a subpar postseason performance (hitting just .188 with 4 home runs) Aaron Judge will be forever remembered for his performance this season. The rookie  gave younger fans a new hero and introduced an electricity to the game not seen since the days of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Get used to his towering stature at the plate, and the Yankee Stadium fan section “The Judge’s Quarters”, because the 25 year-old Aaron Judge is a one-of-a-kind player with a bright future ahead of him.

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Wild, Wild West

If there was a region this year in baseball that was more fun to watch than any other, it would have to be the west. Night after night, we saw incredible play from both the National and American League’s western divisions. A combination of stellar pitchers and power hitters made west coast games my go-to to watch on late nights after the Phillies lost. Several teams got off scorching starts in the spring, including the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-backs had terrible 2016 season finishing with a dismal 69-93 record narrowly avoiding last place in their division. Expectations were low for this team coming into the spring, and the Diamondbacks surprised many. Led by power-hitting all-star first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt and a staff of productive pitchers such as Zack Greinke and Robby Ray, the Diamondbacks came out looking for wins, and wins they got. The team went on to win 93 games and snag the tightly contended NL Wild Card spot. No one saw the Diamondbacks coming, and they made a legitimate contention for the pennant.

If the Diamondbacks came out hot, then the Houston Astros came out blazing. Houston had finished just over .500 last season, and although we knew the Astros had some serious talent, pitching issues led many to be skeptical of their chances in 2017. Nevertheless, the Houston front office led by General Manager Jeff Luhnow, had been working behind the scenes for years to create a championship-winning lineup. Using statistical analysis inspired from Billy Beane’s 2001 Oakland A’s, Luhnow drafted smartly and meticulously crafted a roster he hoped would bring a championship to Houston for the first time in history. After just the first few months of play, it was looking like Luhnow’s dream might come true. Losing just 29 games in the first half of the season, and reaching the 50-win mark before the end of June, the ‘Stros wasted no time in making their postseason intentions clear. The Houston lineup was one to be reckoned with and and gave even the toughest pitchers in the game nightmares. They were armed with what many thought to be some of the best hitters in the league, if not all of baseball, including Carlos Correa, George Springer, and of course the unforgettable Jose Altuve. The only thing that seemed to be missing for Houston was pitching. Sure, they had a good number one in Dallas Keuchel and other very solid arms including Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton, but Luhnow had his eyes on one of the game’s top pitchers. In the weeks leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, rumors circulated around that the Astros were looking to acquire a pitcher, but we heard nothing until the very last minute–scratch that–second. On the evening of August 31 at 11:59 and 58 seconds, the Houston Astros signed Tigers ace and former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander to a two season, $56-million contract. Verlander had once been the league’s prime pitcher, but he remained out of the spotlight for the last few years on the rebuilding Detroit Tigers. Many speculated that Verlander had reached his peak, but Luhnow saw something promising in the 34-year old veteran, made his biggest move as a GM yet and arguably the biggest trade of the season. Would Justin Verlander be what the Astros needed to win the World Series? No one knew for sure, but halfway through the season, they showed that they meant business.

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The only team that could match the electricity of the Astros was yet another western team, the Los Angeles Dodgers who were in a similar situation approaching the trade deadline. The Dodgers emerged early on as the dominant team in the western division, if not the entire National League. This was no surprise though, considering they had won their division for the past four years and were just shy of making it to the World Series in 2016. The Dodgers, however, were tired of coming up short. They had maintained one of the highest payrolls in all of baseball for the past few years and now clocked in with the highest at over $242-million. To put it simply, the Dodgers wanted to win, and they didn’t care how much it costed. If wins was what he wanted, then Dodgers General Manager, Farhan Zaidi must have been a happy man at the end of the first half of the season. With offensive weapons such as former top prospect Yasiel Puig, the big-bearded Justin Turner, and rookie sensation Cody Bellinger, Zaidi’s high-paid team did it’s job, entering the all-star break 61-29. The Dodgers had become a force to be reckoned with. The only question was, could this team possibly get any better? Zaidi seemed to think so, and on July 31 he agreed to trade three minor league prospects for Texas Rangers starter, Yu Darvish. This move came somewhat out of the blue and didn’t make sense to many since the Dodgers had particularly strong pitching with Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, but Zaidi had been looking at Darvish for some time and thought he could add to the Dodgers’ shot at winning a title. Indeed, a starting rotation of Kershaw, Hill, and now Darvish kept hitting coaches up at night. The two best teams in baseball, the Astros and Dodgers, looked unstoppable, and one thing was certain: both teams had their minds set on October.

 

Going, Going, Gone!

One of the most peculiar things about the 2017 Major League Baseball season, and probably what it will be remembered by for years to come, was the amount of home runs hit. 2017 broke the all time record with a whopping 6,105 homers. For comparison that’s about 2,000 more than we’ve been used to seeing in recent years. An influx of power this big hasn’t been seen since the late 1990s and early 2000s with the rise of performance enhancing drugs. While suspicion did arise with so many home runs being hit, it’s unlikely that there’s any foul play involved with this new generation of sluggers. Baseball writers instead believe statistics to be responsible for the rise in power. It’s no secret that statistics have become an ever-present part of the game, but in recent years advancements have been made giving an unprecedented edge to the hitter. Take MLB statcast for example. Statcast is a high-speed, automated tool used by analysts to examine player movements and statistics. It was conceived in 2014 and has been used by every MLB team since 2015. By using statcast to analyze information such as launch angles, exit velocity, and opposing pitchers’ tendencies, batters are able to gain an advantage that was unimaginable just a few years ago. “What pitch is he throwing next? Where is his catcher locating it? How can I improve my swing to lower the chance of making an out?” These are all questions that Major League Baseball players have come closer to answering in recent years. The effect of all this was evident with an absolute explosion of power led by a cast of rookies including the aforementioned Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, as well as familiar faces such as Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton. It seemed like everyone was suddenly crushing the ball, and whether you enjoyed the monstrous long ball or not, they made the 2017 season quite memorable and interesting to watch.

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Can’t-Lose Cleveland

The Cleveland Indians, last year’s American League champions and World Series runner-ups, achieved a special feat this year. The Indians did not lose a game From August 24 to September 14, making baseball history. The Indians were having a solid season at the time but were failing much like the Chicago Cubs to match their stellar pace from the previous year. Cleveland entered the final week of August and the last month of the season looking to secure their spot in the AL Central and make another deep postseason run. And what better way to do that than to win 22

straight games? Over the three-week stretch they outscored their opponents 143-37, and swept 6 teams, (including the Tigers, whom they swept twice). On September 11, the Indians clinched their twentieth straight victory, tying them for fifth place on the all-time record. They were cementing their place in history with the likes of the 2002 Oakland A’s and several obscure teams that hadn’t existed for over a century, but they didn’t stop there. They proceeded to win the next two games, tying them for third, and then placing them as the sole second place team. The only team in Cleveland’s way now was the 1916 New York Giants, a team now over a hundred years old, with their daunting 26-game winning streak. They didn’t go on to break that record. In fact, they lost the next day in a heartbreaking struggle to the Kansas City Royals, ending their win streak at 22 games. The Cleveland Indians now have the longest winning streak of all time in the American League and were the first team in over ten years to even come close to approaching that record. In an age where baseball is more competitive than ever, you don’t see many teams dominate like the Indians did in September, and that’s what makes their run so special. It also couldn’t have come at a better time, as Cleveland prepared for the postseason.

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A Postseason to Remember

Six months of baseball had been played, an unforgettable summer of heroes and home runs, but as they say, October is all that matters. October is what you live for as a baseball fan. The heroes, the villains, the triumph, and the heartbreak, they’re all present every year as the league’s best teams duke it out, and we were about to get into the thick of it. The stage was set, and the eight teams were in. Now came the struggle of getting it down to one. In the American League, The New York Yankees faced off against the history-making Cleveland Indians, and the seemingly unstoppable Houston Astros squared up against the young but hopeful Boston Red Sox. Over in the National League, it was the offensive powerhouse of the Washington Nationals against last year’s world champs, the Chicago Cubs, as well as the wild-card Arizona Diamondbacks vs the juggernaut known as the LA Dodgers.

The Yankees were hot off their exhilarating victory over the Twins in the wild-card game. Few saw the Yankees’ playoff contention coming, but the rise of Aaron Judge and young pitcher Luis Severino allowed this team to come out of nowhere. The Yankees were in for a struggle though, against the recently scorching hot Indians, and a struggle it was indeed. Ace pitcher Trevor Bauer lead Cleveland to a shutout victory, followed by a thirteen-inning affair in which Indians’ catcher Yan Gomes came up with a game winning single that put his team up 2-0 in the series. The Yankees, however, now had home field advantage, and at Yankee Stadium, one of the largest and loudest fields in all of baseball. The Yanks just scraped by in game 3 thanks to a solo home run from Greg Bird, and proceeded to win the following game 7-3 due to an offensive explosion. The series was now tied 2-2 and headed back to Cleveland for the final game. In a must win situation, New York came out on top in a 5-2 victory. The wild-card team had upset the favored Indians and were headed to the league championship series.

At the same time the Boston Red Sox had the hefty task of taking on the fearsome Houston Astros, and from the very beginning it looked like an uphill battle for the Sox. Houston second baseman and leading MVP candidate Jose Altuve clocked three home runs in the first game, tying an all-time record and leading his team to an easy 8-2 victory. The Astros then proceeded to take game 2 backed by their powerful offense. The Red Sox, however, weren’t going down without a fight, and when the series headed to Boston, they showed the Astros what Fenway Park is really like in October. After getting off to a rocky start, the Sox pitched eight scoreless innings and swung the bat like they had all season, taking the third game 10-3. Unfortunately for Boston, it wouldn’t be enough to hold back the most productive team in all of baseball, and the Astros edged them out in game 4 to snag the series. The Astros now had a date with the Yankees in the ALCS.

In the National league, all eyes turned to the defending champs, the Chicago Cubs, and their series against the hungry Washington Nationals. The Cubs had won the World Series the year prior, but they weren’t playing near as good as they were last year. Chicago had struggled since the beginning of the season to find the same rhythm as last year, and many liked the Nationals’ chances of taking out the former world champions. Cubs’ pitcher Kyle Hendricks threw a two-hit shutout in game 1, and Chicago was up to an early lead. The Nationals snagged one win at home, though, tying the series at 1-1. Now the Cubs had home field advantage and answered back with a low-scoring victory at Wrigley Field. Although they were one game away from being eliminated from the postseason yet again, Washington refused to go quietly. They rallied to shutout the Cubs and bring the series to its final game back in DC. In a shootout, nailbiter of a game, the Cubs barely scraped by and advanced to the NLCS. The Nationals, yet again, ended the season on a bitter note after being so close.

The tightly contended NL wild-card spot went to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who had very quickly gone from rebuilding to pennant contending. The only problem for them was their opponents, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers looked practically unbeatable during the last few months of the season and were starving to get to the world series. While they gave it a valiant effort, the Diamondbacks were swept by LA in three games. The Diamondbacks are a strong team, with many winning seasons ahead of them, but they simply weren’t able to handle the unstoppable force of the Dodgers. LA was now headed to an NLCS rematch against the Chicago Cubs.

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The American League had now been narrowed down to two teams. The Houston Astros weren’t a surprise, but the wild-card Yankees had made it farther than almost anyone expected them to. Now the two teams entered a showdown where the winner advanced to the world series. This is what America had been waiting for: the matchup between the opposing teams’ stars, the 6’7 Aaron Judge, and the 5’6 Jose Altuve. The Astros got off to an early lead in the series, taking the first two games at home thanks to pitching performances from Dallas Keuchel and their secret weapon, Justin Verlander. But as they say, it’s not a series until both teams have played at home. The bronx bombers brought the series to New York and gave the Astros a taste of east coast baseball. They exploded into an 8-1 win featuring monster home runs from Todd Frazier and the formidable Aaron Judge. The Astros needed to win the next game in order to keep their lead in the series, but that’s not the way it played out. The Astros had a lead early on, but their bullpen struggled to keep the game under control. 8th inning doubles from Judge and Gary Sanchez gave New York their second straight win and tied the series. Panic began to set in on Houston and it was evident in their play in game 5. Yankees’ starter Masahiro Tanaka had his stuff, and New York proceeded to shutout the Astros. The Yankees were on a 3-0 stretch, and one game away from making it to the world series. Would the wild-card team really eliminate the once favored Astros? Well to do that Houston would have lose at home, something they had yet to do this postseason. Be it the hometown fans, or the fact that Justin Verlander was on the mound. Either way, the Astros played a whole different kind of baseball upon returning to Houston, and forced the series to seven games after winning 7-1. Now tied at three apiece, the teams went to game 7, neither one wanting to go home just yet. The main reason for the Astros’ success all season had been their offense, but in a must-win situation, their pitching is what made the difference. Charlie Morton and his relief, Lance McCullers Jr., pitched a three-hit shutout, effectively stifling the Yankee’s fire. This meant the end of the road for the New York Yankees and a trip to the world series for the second time in Houston Astros history.

The same went for the National League, with the two final teams about to match up in the championship series. This was a special series, however, because these two teams met in the same situation just last year. The Cubs won that series and went on to the world series. The Dodgers were a new team this year with a new found energy, and they were hungry for revenge. The series opened up in LA, where the Dodgers took the first two games. The Cubs weren’t playing poorly, they just couldn’t seem to keep up with the Dodgers, especially their pitching. The Dodgers held the Cubs offense to a dismal three hits in game 2. The series now moved to Chicago where the Cubs yet again struggled to find their offensive mojo and dropped their third straight game. They were now in danger of being swept by a team they had beaten last year. Thankfully for Cubs fans, they weren’t. Chicago narrowly avoided elimination in a 3-2 victory, sending the series to a fifth game. The Dodgers, backed by Clayton Kershaw, came back in full force the next game and blew the cubs out 11-1 in game 5. Chicago had been eliminated and would not be returning to the world series. Instead the seemingly unstoppable Los Angeles Dodgers would finally have their chance at the title. We had seen over two weeks of playoff baseball, and we finally had our final two teams, Houston and LA. The best was yet to come though, in a fall classic that’s as classic as they get.

It was only fitting that the Astros met the Dodgers in the World Series. Both teams looked  unstoppable throughout the year, and many had picked them as favorites for the World Series as early as May. The final showdown of the season was upon us, and one team would take the title of world champions. The series opened with one of the hottest games is world series history. The temperate during the first pitch clocked in at around 95 degrees fahrenheit, close to an all-time record. Indeed, the World Series was back in southern California for the first time in fifteen years, and it sure felt like it. There was an electricity in the air as Clayton Kershaw stepped onto the mound to start game one, and the Dodgers played their first World Series game since 1988. Kershaw pitched a gem of a game allowing just one mistake on a home run from Alex Bregman. LA took game 1 rather easily, 3-1.

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Game 2 will probably be remembered as one of best world series games in recent history. Neither team had their best pitcher starting. which opened the door for a heavy offensive showing. However, the game was a low-scoring affair, with LA taking the lead and holding it through the 8th inning. The tide of the game changed when Astros left fielder Marwin Gonzalez tied the game up with solo home run. The Astros then held the Dodgers in the bottom of the 9th, sending the game to extra innings. The notorious Houston offense proceeded to strike again in the 10th with a pair of solo shots from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. The Astros had crept back into this sleepy game and were 3 outs away from snagging a road win. The Dodgers however, weren’t about to let this game slip away and rallied to tie the game again in the bottom of the 10th with a home run from Yasiel Puig. The shootout that was unfolding in Los Angeles didn’t stop there, however, and the Astros pulled another miracle out of thin air with a 2-run dinger from George Springer putting his team up 7-5 into the bottom of the 11th. But just when it all seemed over for the Dodgers, another home run gave them hope yet again. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Charlie Culberson’s solo shot wouldn’t be enough to make up for the 2-run deficit, and they fell to the Astros with a final score of 7-6. 8 total home runs, 5 of them coming in extra innings, set the record for most ever in a world series game and made this an unforgettable game 2, and a pivotal win for the Astros. The series now headed to Houston, where the Astros had yet to lose this postseason, for 3 more games. Dodgers starter Yu Darvish’s first world series start didn’t go as planned, however, and the Astros jumped to an early lead after a 4 run 2nd inning. While making some dents in the Houston bullpen, the Dodgers weren’t able to recover from Darvish’s blunder and dropped their second straight game. The Astros now lead 2-1 in the series. Game 4 was scoreless through 5 innings until George Springer came up big again with a solo home run that ignited the home crowd at Minute Maid Park. The Dodgers showed no signs of giving up, though, and we were in for another late-inning showing from their offense. Astros reliever Ken Giles gave up 5 runs in the top of the 9th, featuring a huge double from the recently struggling Cody Bellinger, which opened the door for the Dodgers to take game 4 and tie the series 2-2. Both teams had a road win now, but there was still one more game to be played in Houston. LA pounced early in game 5, giving them a 4-0 lead. The Astros retaliated in the 4th however, through a monster shot from Yuli Gurriel that tied the game. It continued to be a slugfest in Houston, and both teams were tied at 12 through 9 innings, sending the game to extra innings yet again. The Dodgers sought revenge for game 2, but they would fall short yet again after a walkoff single from Alex Bregman gave Houston the win. The Dodgers were now facing elimination and needed a win in game 6 to stay alive. Houston, on the other hand, was looking to close out the series and earn the title of world champs, so they felt confident with their ace, Justin Verlander, on the mound. Houston struck first in the 3rd (another home run from Springer) but that would be their only run in the game as the Dodgers’ bullpen kept them quiet. Meanwhile, LA’s offense found a way to get to Verlander and took game 6, 3-1. This was it, Game 7, the holy grail of the World Series. Each team had showed amazing ability both at the plate and on the mound, and now came the finale. No matter what happened, only one team was going to emerge victorious, and the other would narrowly miss glory but just one game. Unfortunately, game 7 of the 2017 World Series wasn’t the thrilling conclusion many hoped it would be. Yu Darvish again struggled to stop the Houston offense from stepping all over him, and the Astros very quickly ran away with the game, and that was it. History had been made. The entire city of Houston rejoiced as their Astros had won the first World Series title in franchise history, and Dodgers fans were crushed after coming so close but falling short yet again. Either way, the series was wildly entertaining and full of surprises in every game as well as heroics from both teams. The power-happy, dinger-filled offense served as a fitting conclusion to this memorable season.

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Wrap-Up

This season served as a turning point, I think, for the game of baseball as a whole. With modern technology being utilized at an unprecedented rate, and new stars and teams continuing to emerge, baseball remains relevant in today’s world. The 2017 season (specifically the World Series) had more viewership than any other in recent years, which just shows that although we live in an era dominated by football, Americans still and probably always will love baseball, our national pastime.