Events of the 2012 MLB season | October 6, 2012
Another major league baseball regular season is in the books and it was an eventful year. There were some things I’m sure most people would’ve predicted, the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers won division titles – though both did it very late – being widely predicted before the year. The NL was a little more unpredictable going into the season, but I don’t think too many would be shocked seeing the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants take their respective pennants. The Atlanta Braves, post season regulars over the past few decades also booked a place as a wildcard giving the playoffs a somewhat familiar look.
But in this piece I’ll have a look at some of the talking points from the season that made an impact in the major leagues.
There were Two big playoff surprises to end the season, one of which being the AL West division winning Oakland Athletics, who won 6 straight included a sweep of their rivals Texas in the final series of the year – the final game being a winner takes division game. The other being in the AL East as a team most expected to be sitting at the bottom with no more than 70 wins finished in a wildcard spot, the Baltimore Orioles. The Os managed an incredible 16 straight extra innings wins to end the season, a superb year from the bullpen who finished up 32-11 with an ERA of 3.00. In a conference full of power teams and star names, many feel it’s good for the league that the Athletics and Orioles will be playing extra baseball instead of the likes of Boston or the LA Angels.
It wasn’t just teams wowing fans either. While Miguel Cabrera is a lock for 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a .320 or so average, I don’t think anybody expected him or anyone to win a triple-crown. Miguel becomes the first leader in home runs, RBIs and average since the Red Sox Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. He’ll be looking to add a 2nd World Series ring to his triple-crown with his Tigers making the playoffs.
On the pitching side of things, a 37 year old old knuckleballer who won just 8 games in 2011 is favourite for the NL CY Young award. RA Dickey had some outstanding numbers to finish the year, which includes leading the league in complete games (5), shutouts (3) and strikeouts (230) to go with his 20-win, 2.73 ERA, season. It’s made all the more impressive that he managed to do this playing for a 74-win team in the New York Mets, making him the first 20-win pitcher on a losing team since Gregg Maddux in 1992.
LA Spending big
Neither of the Los Angeles teams made the playoffs, but over the past year, both clubs have shown they are committed to trying to win and are happy to spend, spend and spend even more to do that, making headlines in the process. The Angels arguably made the biggest splash in the off-season making the $331m double signing of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. During the season they picked up former CY Young winner Zack Greinke who performed well for the west coast team. It’s easy to say that given the spending they were disappointing for not making the playoffs, but an 89-win season is an improvement upon last year and such a win total would have been seen as likely good enough for the playoffs before the season started. And how could I talk about the Angels without giving Mike Trout a mention? A sensational rookie year from the all-star outfielder, probably the best since team mate Albert Pujols was a rookie over a decade ago in St. Louis.
The Dodgers didn’t do an awful lot in the off-season, but on May 1st it was announced that the club was being bought by a group that included Los Angeles sporting icon Magic Johnson. Their new found wealth seemed to give the Dodgers an added boost and they started the year well. At the end of July the Dodgers started to show their intent making some big trades which was kicked off by bringing Hanley Ramirez in from the Miami Marlins. This was followed up with Brandon League and Shane Victorino moving to LA on the same day. A month down the road saw the Dodgers make a bigger statement as they make a huge trade with the Boston Red Sox, bringing in Josh Beckett, Adian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto, a deal which saw that commit to an incredible $260m over the next few years. This statements made this past season could be the beginning of something very special for LA’s baseball teams.
Marlins: Committed to spending?
The Marlins made a splash (forgive me, I couldn’t resist) in the off-season spending big on numerous free agents to make what they hoped would be a competitive team for the first year in their new stadium. Though a look at the contracts and talk during the season suggests that maybe it’s a false dawn for Miami and though they still have many of the big contracts on their books, they may not be serious about the money they’ve ‘spent’. Hanley Ramirez was to earn over $45m from this season through 2014 and was traded to LA in what was essentially a salary dump and a look at their off-season signings’ contracts suggest they may try and do something similar in the near future with these players.
Mark Buehrle – 2012 he earned $6m, 2013 he will earn $11m. Then the 2 following years see a large increase to $18m and $19m.
Jose Reyes – Reyes contract has a similar look. In 2012 and 2013 Jose will earn $10m, an increase to $16m in 2014, then 2015-2018 sees the shortstop pick up $22m each year.
Heath Bell – The closer made $6m this season and for the remaining 3 years on his deal will pick up $9m each year, not as dramatic as the others and more in line with most contracts, but still a 50% increase from year 1 to year 2.
With the above contracts in mind, the trading of Hanley Ramirez and the mid-season talk of them willing to listen to offers for Josh Johnson, were the Marlins ever realistic about trying to put a competitive team together? I for one would not be shocked to see Reyes and Buehrle gone by 2014 or so, maybe I’m being cynical.
A 2nd wild card spot, good or bad?
Baseball purists have argued that what makes the MLB playoffs so special is that it really is the best of the best. With just 8 of 30 teams making the playoffs before this season, it really means that only the elite will be able to make it in. When you compare this to the NFL, where it’s possible teams with a .500 record can make it in through the wildcard – or even division winners with a losing record in the Seahawks case the other year, this rings true. Even more so when compared with the NHL and NBA where over half the teams make the playoffs and, in the NBAs case, teams with losing records make it in fairly often.
It was thought adding an extra wildcard spot and having a wildcard playoff would allow a ‘bad’ team to make it. Though it may happen in the future, there’s no bad team in this years playoffs. Last years ‘worst team’ were the eventual World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals who managed an 90-win season. This season the St. Louis Cardinals are the ‘worst team’ again, this time winning 88 games. 2 wins less is 2 wins less, but over a 162 game season, is it really enough to say a team isn’t good enough?
There is a good argument for the 2nd wildcard spot though and this season is a good example. If you look at the Washington Nationals, they’ve had to fight to the very end of the season to hold off the Cincinnati Reds for the #1 seed in the National League. Their division rival Braves have comfortably been in a wildcard position for quite some time – even if there were still only a single wildcard spot available, they’d not been under threat any time recently. In previous years, this would almost be a disadvantage for the Nationals as they would have to go out needing wins each night to secure homefield. The Braves, however, could’ve used spot starts or done a little shuffling in their pitching to have their rotation in prime position going into the post-season. Is that really an advantage for the #1 seed, even at home?
Under the new system, the wildcard teams will likely have to ‘waste’ their ace in the single playoff game to make it to the divisional series round, or risk it going with a different guy. This gives the #1 seed a deserved advantage for earning their place through a large number of wins.
I personally think the spectacle of a 1 game playoff to make the true post-season is an enjoyable one. The Rockies beat the Padres in 13-innings in a tie-breaker in 2007 in what was a very intense, edge of your seats, game. If the wildcard playoffs are anything like that over the coming years, they’re more than welcome.
Year of the Pitcher
2012 saw 3 perfect game, the most in any season in major league history. It also had 4 no-hitters, meaning 7 pitcher shut down opposing offenses, which is the joint best with the 1991 season.
Phil Humber kicked things off with the major leagues 21st perfect game in MLB history. Incredibly it was the 3rd no-hitter achieved by White Sox pitching (Buehrle with both others) in 5 years and their 2nd perfect game in the past 3 seasons. Even more amazingly, Phil Humber became the 7th player to have left the Mets to pitch a no-hitter – with the Mets still having yet to get one themselves.
Humber shut down the Seattle Mariners on his way to perfection, who 6 weeks later had an interesting night of pitching themselves. Kevin Millwood pitched 6 hitless innings before getting hurt and the Seattle club used 5 pitchers in relief to combine for a 6-man no-hitter, the joint most pitchers to combine for the achievment in league history (2003 Astros). 2 months later ‘King’ Felix pitched the 3rd no-hitter of the season at Safeco Field, this one being a perfect game in favour of the home team, striking out 12 batters in the process. This was the 3rd perfect game (and 4th no-hitter) Tampa Bay had against them in the last 3 years!
Jared Weaver pitched the 2nd no-hitter of the year and the 1st against the Minnesota Twins since the Yankees David Wells threw a perfect game against the mid-west club in 1998. Homer Bailey ended a longer stretch for a team failing to hit as the Red pitched the first no-hitter against Pirates since 1971.
After Phil Humber became the 7th former Met to shut down opposition, the New York team finally no-hit the opposition in their 50th anniversary season, 8,020 games of baseball is all it took! Though he nearly didn’t get it as former Met Carlos Beltran looked to have broke it up, only for it to be called a foul ball.
I saved the best for last. Matt Cain’s perfect game against the Houston Astros. Cain tied the record for most strikeouts in a perfect game with 14 (Sandy Koufax the other) and recorded 20 of 27 outs through strikeouts or groundballs in a truly dominating display. The San Fran Giant also became the first perfect gamer to score a run for his team on his way to the 23rd perfect outing in the MLB.
It’s always sad to see a season end, especially one so eventful and historic as this one. But the playoffs are underway and it’s unlikely it will have the suspense of last year’s World Series, but there’s no doubt it’s been a great season for baseball.