Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – If you didn’t think Derek Jeter lived a
charmed life before, the way he ended his magnificent career may have changed
One of Major League Baseball’s biggest storylines this past year was the Jeter
farewell tour. Teams fell over themselves in giving away gifts to the man who,
essentially had been the face of baseball since the day he stepped onto the
field in 1996.
Jeter may never have won an MVP or had been the best player in the game at any
point in his career, but he was pretty freaking good and nobody won more than
the Yankees’ all-time hits leader.
Plus, he is one heck of a role model.
Parents never had to be ashamed to buy their kids a Derek Jeter jersey. That
was probably why there was such an outpouring of affection for him everytime
he visited an opposing ballpark for the final time. Heck, even the fans in
Fenway Park gave him a touching tribute after he left the field for the last
time on the final day of the regular season.
But, it was the way his Yankee Stadium career ended that will be remembered
for years to come. Jeter gave the fans something that even the hackiest of
scriptwriters could not have punched up, as he delivered a game-winning
walkoff hit to send the Yankees to a victory.
It was a fitting ending for a player who has been synonymous with winning
above everything else over his remarkable 20-year career.
Here are some of the other top stories of the past year, in no particular
INTERESTING FEW MONTHS FOR JON LESTER
Left-hander Jon Lester was in the midst of another spectacular year with
Boston, but rejected a multi-year, lucrative extension from the Red Sox, so
they made him available during the season. Lester was ultimately dealt at the
non-waiver trade deadline to the Oakland Athletics for Cuban slugger Yoenis
Cespedes. Although, the A’s faltered down the stretch, it was certainly no
fault of Lester’s, as he was a key reason why the Athletics reached the
American League Wild Card Game.
Lester then hit the free agent market and almost returned to Boston before
finally “settling” on a 6-year ,$155 million from the Chicago Cubs and reunion
with former general manager Theo Epstein.
With all due respect to Max Scherzer, Lester was the best pitcher on the
market this offseason. He’s a bulldog and he wins in October. If you are a
team that is on the cusp of getting ready to compete, like the Cubs, there is
no better pitcher to have at the top of your rotation than Lester.
MADISON BUMGARNER BECOMES ELITE
Speaking of front of the line starters, one pitcher certainly jumped into that
category this October, as Madison Bumgarner almost single-handedly led the San
Francisco Giants to their World Series title in five years.
Bumgarner went seven innings to win Game 1 against the Kansas City Royals,
then pitched a four- hit shutout in Game 5. But what he did in Game 7, though,
is something people will be talking about for years.
On just two-days rest and his team leading, 3-2, Bumgarner entered the game in
the fifth inning and tossed five more scoreless innings to lower his overall
World Series ERA to an amazing 0.25, while earning the save in the decisive
Twenty-one innings in this World Series and he allowed just one run.
You want more numbers?
Bumgarner pitched 52 2/3 innings this postseason, which was the most ever in a
single playoffs, eclipsing Arizona’s Curt Schilling (48 1/3 in 2001). He gave
up just six earned runs in the postseason and his 1.03 is the third best in a
single playoff run.
His 0.43 ERA against the Royals was also the lowest in a single World Series
among pitchers with at least 15 innings since Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax
compiled a 0.38 ERA for the 1965 Dodgers.
We needed a pitcher to take over for the retiring Josh Beckett as the best
postseason pitcher of this generation, Bumgarner may have stepped right into
ROYALS RETURN TO PROMINENCE
Although their season ended in a Game 7 loss, there was no better story this
postseason than the Kansas City Royals, who returned to not only the World
Series, but to the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
After a thrilling wild card game win over Oakland, the Royals relied on their
amazing bullpen and swept their way past both the Los Angeles Angels and
Baltimore Orioles to get back to the Fall Classic for the first time in 29
No team signified small ball more in the regular season than Kansas City,
which won 89 games this season thanks in large part to its ability to play
defense and manufacture runs. The Royals also led the AL with 153 stolen
bases, but their 95 home runs were the fewest in baseball.
The Royals may have found their power stroke in the postseason, but it was the
tremendous bullpen triumvirate of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland
that helped them get as far as it went. The group aided an overmatched Kansas
City rotation that became just the second team during the wild card era to win
the ALCS without a single starter completing six innings in the process.
And think about this. Teams are now copying the Royals’ model as they get
their teams ready for the 2015 season. The Royals. Teams want to be the
GIANCARLO STANTON BREAKS HIS FACE, THEN THE BANK
What an interesting couple of months for Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo
Stanton was in the midst of the best year of his young career, but it all came
to a screeching halt on Sept. 11 when he was hit in the face by a pitch from
Milwaukee Brewers starter Mike Fiers. The young star was carted off the field
and suffered facial lacerations requiring stitches, multiple facial fractures
and dental damage.
But, then just over two months later he signed one of the more lucrative deals
in the history of sports, signing a 13-year, $325 million extension to stay
with the Marlins.
Not a bad way to get over having your face smashed.
CLAYTON KERSHAW JOINS SELECT COMPANY
The postseason may have been all about Bumgarner, but no pitcher dominated the
regular season more than Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw not only won the NL’s Cy Young Award, but also joined became the first
pitcher to win an NL MVP since Bob Gibson back in 1968. He was simply
magnificent this season, as he led the majors with a 21-3 record, an .875
winning percentage, a 1.77 ERA and an 0.86 WHIP. He was also second in the NL
with 239 strikeouts, three behind Johnny Cueto of the Reds and Stephen
Strasburg of the Nationals, in 27 starts.
It was the fifth consecutive season that Kershaw tallied 200 or more
strikeouts. He also allowed a .197 batting average to right-handed hitters and
just .193 to left-handed hitters.
Of course, Kershaw’s season ended in disappointment, as he once again stumbled
in the playoffs, losing both of his starts, while pitching to a 7.28 ERA. He
is now just 1-5 all-time in the playoffs with a 5.12 ERA.
Major League Baseball will have a new commissioner come January. And to
nobody’s surprise it’s exactly the guy the outgoing commissioner wanted.
But, it wasn’t exactly the rubber-stamped approval Bud Selig may have hoped
for. In the end, though, he got his man in MLB chief operating officer Rob
Manfred, who has served as a league executive since 1998, will officially
replace the retiring Selig and become the 10th commissioner in MLB history in
Manfed was elected unanimously on the third vote, which was kind of telling
considering he was essentially handpicked by Selig to be his successor. Not to
mention the fact that MLB owners raked in money hand over fist under Selig’s
Selig may have done a lot wrong in his time as commissioner. Who can forget
the tied All-Star Game in 2002. And, of course, the steroid era will be a
permanent stain on his resume and probably ultimately be his legacy. Nobody
can argue, though, that he is handing the reins over the Manfred at a time
when revenues are up in a major way across the board.
Financially, the game is in the best place it ever has been. Owners are making
money. Players are making money. Everyone is happy, except for maybe the fans.
JOE MADDON BOLTS RAYS
There may not have been a bigger offseason move than Joe Maddon leaving the
Tampa Bay Rays to become the new manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Maddon stunned the baseball world, as after nine years with Tampa Bay, he
chose to exercise an opt-out clause in his contract, ending the most
successful era in the team’s history.
Most assumed he would eventually join former Rays’ executive vice president of
baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who earlier this offseason left Tampa to
become the baseball czar for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was actually Friedman’s departure that triggered Maddon’s opt-out.
Regardless, it was a moot point because Friedman was happy with Don Mattingly
and Maddon wanted the challenge of ending the Chicago Cubs’ historic World
Series championship drought.
SAN DIEGO PADRES BECOME A FACTOR
No team has been more active this offseason than the San Diego Padres, who
completely revamped not only their entire outfield, but the overall perception
of their organization.
San Diego drastically upgraded the worst lineup in baseball, as it acquired
outfielders, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton, along with catcher Derek
Norris and third baseman Will Middlebrooks, while re-signing righty Josh
Johnson and adding flamethrower Brandon Morrow.
Have these moves made San Diego the team to beat now in the NL? Absolutely
not. Truth be told they are still probably the third best team in the NL West.
But they have closed the gap on both the Dodgers and Giants and at the very
least they are a legitimate wild card contender.
And people are certainly now talking about the Padres. When was the last time
you could have said that?
TROUT TAKES HIS SPOT
We started talking about Derek Jeter and we will close with the new face of
baseball, Mike Trout, who won his first AL MVP Award this season.
Trout had MVP numbers the last two seasons, but the deciding factor in most
voters’ eyes was the fact that Miguel Cabrera’s Detroit Tigers reached the
postseason, while the Angels sat home in October.
This year, though, Trout almost willed the Halos to the postseason, as he hit
.287 to go along with a league-best 115 runs scored, while setting career-
highs with 36 home runs and 111 RBI. He also stole 16 bases in 18 attempts
However, he did lead the AL with 184 strikeouts, but for the third year in a
row led all of baseball with a 7.9 WAR. His 338 total bases, 137 runs created
and 84 extra-base hits also topped the AL.
You could make the case that this was the worst of his three seasons, but
regardless, the 23-year-old is headed toward his first of what could be many
AL MVP Awards.