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The Narrative Of The 2014 MLB Season

With championships in 2010 and 2012 under their belt, the calendar told you it was time for the San Francisco Giants. The even-year pattern held, and the Giants won their third championship in five years on the strength of one of the great postseason pitching performances of all-time.

San Francisco may have ended the year pouring champagne, but during the regular season the NL West belonged to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The National League’s second-best offense was led by Adrian Gonzalez, with his 27 homers and 116 RBIs. Carl Crawford and Juan Uribe each hit .300. A good pitching staff had a 17-game winner in Zack Greinke and a terrific closer in Kenley Jansen.

But what really fueled the Dodgers was a career year from Clayton Kershaw. Even missing about a month didn’t stop the great lefty from going 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA. He not only took him the Cy Young Award, but he rang up the parlay by taking home the NL MVP award.

The Giants took advantage of that opening month where L.A. was without Kershaw and spurted to a six-game lead by Memorial Day. Buster Posey was leading the offense with a .311 batting average and 22 homers. Madison Bumgarner won 18 games as the rotation ace.

But Los Angeles surged, and the race was a dead heat by the All-Star break. The Dodgers nudged out to a two-game lead by Labor Day. The Giants continued to hold position for one of the two wild-card spots, but L.A. gradually extended their lead and won the division by six games. They would be the 2-seed in the National League pairings.

San Francisco also made the playoffs with six games to spare, although they settled for a road trip for what was then a one-and-done single-game elimination wild-card game.

The NL Central had three contenders, with St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee all in the mix. The Cardinal rotation was anchored by 20-game winner Adam Wainwright. Lance Lynn added 15 more wins. A balanced lineup included 20-homer men in shortstop Jhonny Peralta and outfielder Matt Holiday. Jon Jay hit .300.

Andrew McCutcheon was coming off his MVP year in Pittsburgh in 2013, and he made another run at the honor, hitting .314 with 25 homers and coming in third in the final MVP tally. Neil Walker added 23 more dingers. Sterling Marte hit .291 and stole 30 bags. The Pirate staff was keyed by a balanced rotation and a terrific bullpen. Setup man Tony Watson had a dazzling 1.63 ERA. Mark Melancon saved 33 games with a buck-90 ERA. The Pirates were top-five in the National League for both runs scored and staff ERA.

Milwaukee, after a couple years of non-contention, got a big year from Jonathan Lucroy. The catcher hit .301 and finished fourth in the MVP voting. Three more players hit 20-plus homers and Ryan Braun added 19.

It was the Brewers who held a narrow lead for much of the first half and into the late summer. On Labor Day, Milwaukee and St. Louis were still tied for the lead, with Pittsburgh just two games back.

But the Brewers had poor pitching and that led to a dramatic September collapse. They not only fell out of the division race, but were all but gone from wild-card contention by the final week of the season. St. Louis and Pittsburgh raced to the final day of the season. The Cardinals prevailed, were the 3-seed in the National League and would play the Dodgers. The Pirates would host the wild-card game.

The wild-card game between San Francisco and Pittsburgh proved both anticlimactic and foreshadowing. A big early home run from shortstop Brandon Crawford gave the Giants a comfortable lead. And Bumgarner was nothing short of unhittable. San Francisco cruised to an 8-0 win.

Washington had the best pitching in the National League. The Nationals got a combined 59 wins from Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Tanner Roark and Doug Fister, all of whom had ERAs in the 2s to low 3s. The offense wasn’t bad either—the Nats were led by third baseman Anthony Rendon who finished with a .351 on-base percentage/.473 slugging percentage. Denard Span was a .300 hitter. Adam LaRoche at first base combined with shortstop Ian Desmond to hit a total of 50 homers and drive in 183 runs.

Atlanta was the defending NL East champ and took an early lead. But the race was even by the All-Star break. Washington had a six-game cushion by Labor Day and cruised home. They were the #1 seed in the National League and got set to host San Francisco in the Division Series.

The 96-win performance of the Nationals was matched by their neighbor an hour to the north in Baltimore. The Orioles got 40 homers and 108 RBIs from Nelson Cruz. Adam Jones hit 29 more home runs and added 96 ribbies. The American League’s third-best pitching staff got 16 wins from Wei-Yin Chen and had a deep bullpen. Darren O’Day had a 1.70 ERA in setup work. Zack Britton was an elite closer, nailing down 37 saves with a 1.65 ERA.

Baltimore moved out to a four-game lead in the AL East by the All-Star break and then blew it open in late summer. Even with slugging first baseman Chris Davis taking a PED suspension and catcher Matt Wieters being lost to injury, the Orioles still easily captured the division title and had the 2-seed in the American League.

The AL Central, like their Middle America neighbors in the National League, had a three-team race. The Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians all got in the hunt.

Detroit got their fuel from the American League’s second-best offense. Miguel Cabrera hit .313 with 25 homers and 109 RBIs. J.D. Martinez batted .315 and added 23 more home runs. And Victor Martinez had the best season of them all—finishing second in the MVP voting, the DH hit .335, drilled 32 home runs and rang up 103 RBIs. The Tiger offense, combined with top-of-the-rotation work from Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello covered for a pitching staff that had serious problems in the bullpen and the back end of the rotation

It had been a generation since baseball fans in Kansas City had anything to cheer about. A dominant bullpen led the way this season. The trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera locked down the final three innings of games and all had ERAs in the 1s. With James Shields and Yordano Ventura winning 14 games apiece, the Royals finished 4th in the AL for composite ERA. A lineup that could steal bases, led by outfielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar, got enough runs to win.

Cleveland’s pitching was anchored by Corey Kluber. With 18 wins and a 2.44 ERA, Kluber won the Cy Young Award. The lineup got a big year from Michael Brantley, whose .327 batting average, 20 homers and 97 ribbies, placed him third in the MVP results. Yan Gomes was one of the league’s top catchers.

Detroit led this race comfortably much of the year, with KC and Cleveland not even on the wild-card radar at the All-Star break. But by Labor Day, the division race was tight, and everyone was in the playoff hunt. The Indians couldn’t get quite over the hump in September and went home. The Tigers, after briefly slipping into second place, regained the lead and a win on the final day of the regular season gave them the AL Central title. Detroit would play Baltimore in the playoffs. And Kansas City earned the right to host the wild-card game.

Another three-team race went down in the AL West. The Los Angeles Angels had the American League MVP in Mike Trout, who hit 36 homers, drove in 111 runs and batted .287. The Angels got more power from Albert Pujols, with his 28 HR/105 RBI campaign. Erick Aybar was a versatile and reliable shortstop. LAA scored more runs than anyone in the American League. The pitching staff, led by a combined 34 wins from Jered Weaver and Matt Shoemaker was middle of the pack and good enough to win.

Oakland finished in the American League’s top three for both runs scored and staff ERA. Josh Donaldson led the attack with 29 homers and 98 RBIs. Brandon Moss added 25 home runs. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir were the 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. And at the July 31 trade deadline, the A’s made a big move—they acquired a legitimate ace in Jon Lester, who posted a 2.35 ERA the balance of the season in Oakland.

The Angels and A’s would shape this race, but the Seattle Mariners were never far from the picture. Felix Hernandez won 15 games and his dazzling 2.14 ERA got him runner-up in the Cy Young voting. Robinson Cano hit .315 and was top-5 in the MVP tally. At the All-Star break, while Oakland and LAA were neck-in-neck for the division title, Seattle was comfortably holding playoff position as the second wild-card.

Trout went to the All-Star Game and won game MVP honors. That foreshadowed an Angel surge that would see them open up this race, rack up 98 wins and get the #1 seed in the American League playoffs. Oakland and Seattle came back to the pack. Both were passed by Kansas City in the wild-card race, and the A’s barely edged out the Mariners for the final playoff berth.

Oakland went to Kansas City for the wild-card game, and it was a crazy, back-and-forth affair. After twelve innings, the Royals finally walked it off with a 9-8 win. Kansas City would go to Anaheim to play Los Angeles in the American League Division Series.

The Royals’ magical ride continued against the Angels. K.C. went on the road and won a pair of 11-inning thrillers, then came home and closed out an improbable Division Series sweep. In Baltimore, the Oriole bats unleashed. They scored 19 runs in two tone-setting wins over the Tigers. Then, Baltimore went to Detroit and won a 2-1 pitcher’s duel.

On the National League side, Kershaw’s reputation for postseason struggles grew in the Division Series opener against St. Louis. The Cardinal bats unloaded and delivered a 10-9 win. St. Louis got a road split and then won a tough 3-1 game in Game 3. Kershaw had a chance at redemption on short rest for Game 4. He pitched well and took a 2-0 lead into the seventh. But his playoff troubles eventually caught up with him—big Matt Adams took Kershaw deep for a three-run blast and the Cardinals advanced.

San Francisco went into Washington and took the series opener, but Game 2 is what this one will be remembered for. In an epic 18-inning pitcher’s duel, Brandon Belt finally won it for the Giants with a home run. San Francisco went home, picked up a split and closed out the series in four games.

Kansas City and Baltimore played four terrific baseball games. But the Oriole injuries finally caught up with them, and the Royals were feeling their mojo. They won a 10-inning classic in Game 1 and a 6-4 thriller in Game 2. Going back home to the Midwest, Kansas City pitching stepped up. They won a pair of 2-1 games. The Royals, led by Cain’s .533 batting average in the ALCS, were going to the World Series for the first time since their championship year of 1985.

Two years earlier, San Francisco and St. Louis played a seven-game NLCS. This one went a little easier for the Giants. Bumgarner set the tone, outdueling Wainwright for a 3-0 road win in the opener. San Francisco took a 3-1 series lead. Bumgarner and Wainwright dueled again in Game 5. This one went extra innings and was taken over by the bullpen. Travis Ishikawa took his place in history. The Giant outfielder ripped a three-run blast and San Francisco was going to the World Series.

Thus, we had an unlikely all-wild card World Series, the first since 2002 and the first since baseball began admitting multiple wild-cards in 2012.

To say Bumgarner played an important role in this Series would be to drastically understate the case. He delivered dominant outings in Games 1 & 5, giving up just one combined run. The Giants took a 3-2 series lead back to Kansas City. The Royals unloaded for a 10-0 win in Game 6. In Game 7, San Francisco held a 3-2 edge after four innings, but K.C. seemed to be consistently on the attack. Time again for Bumgarner.

Pitching on two days’ rest, he pitched the final five innings and allowed just two hits. The 3-2 score held. San Francsico was champions yet again. And Bumgarner, with an 0.43 ERA for the World Series, and a 1.03 ERA for the entire postseason, had delivered an October for the ages.