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The Narrative Of The 2015 MLB Season

In 2014, the Kansas City Royals came up 90 feet short, as they left the tying run on third base in Game 7 of the World Series. The 2015 MLB season saw Kansas City commemorate the 30th anniversary of their 1985 title by finishing the job and winning the championship.

The American League’s third-best pitching staff was keyed by a dynamic bullpen. The relief corps was so deep that even though closer Greg Holland struggled with an elbow injury, Wade Davis just stepped up and posted an 0.94 ERA. A balanced starting rotation got a needed boost at the trade deadline when they acquired Johnny Cueto. KC’s everyday lineup was keyed by centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, who hit .307, stole 28 bases, played great defense, and finished third in the MVP voting. Kendry Moralez, Miks Moustakas and Salvador Perez provided the muscle, each hitting 20-plus homers.

Minnesota hung with Kansas City for the first half of the season in the AL Central. But the Royals broke it open in late summer, were up 12 games by Labor Day and rolled to the #1 seed in the American League playoffs. The Twins stayed in the race for the two wild-card spots until the season’s final week before ultimately coming up short.

The Toronto Blue Jays had the American League’s most potent offense, and it was led by third baseman Josh Donaldson. With a .297 batting average, 41 homers and 123 RBIs, Donaldson won the MVP award. Edwin Encarcion hit 39 homers and drove in 111 runs. Jose Bautista ripped 40 bombs and posted 111 RBIs to round out a potent Big Three. The Blue Jays were another team that strengthened their pitching at the trade deadline. They acquired David Price. In his nine starts as a Jay, Price went 9-1 with a 2.13 ERA, finishing second in the Cy Young voting.

In New York, Alex Rodriguez was 39-years-old, but he led up a group of veterans that got the Yankees in the race. A-Rod hit 33 homers, first baseman Mark Texiera hit 31, and catcher Brian McCann went deep 26 times. The Yankee offense ranked second in the AL, trailing only the Blue Jays. A mediocre pitching staff was kept upright by a 1-2 punch at the back end of games, as setup man Dellin Betances and closer Andrew Miller each had great years.

New York led the race at the All-Star break, with Toronto joining Tampa Bay and defending AL East champ Baltimore in the chase. The acquisition of Price in the late summer marked the momentum shift. The Blue Jays nudged out to a 1 ½ game lead by Labor Day and were able to keep the Yanks at arm’s length down the stretch. Toronto was the 2-seed in the American League. New York still earned the right to host what was then a single-elimination wild-card game.

The best race was in the AL West, where Texas, Houston and the LA Angels all stayed in the race for both the division title and playoffs until the final weekend.

Texas had the league’s third-best offense. No one was a star, but there were no weak spots. Shin-Soo Choo had a stat line of .375 on-base percentage/.463 slugging percentage. Prince Fielder’s line was .378/463, and Adrian Beltre clocked in at .334/.453. Pitching was a problem. While Colby Lewis and Yovani Gallardo combined to win 30 games, the staff as a whole was 13th in the American League for composite ERA.

Houston had no such problems with pitching. Their staff was the best in the AL, and Dallas Kuechel rolled to 20 wins, a 2.48 ERA and the Cy Young Award. Collin McHugh won 19 games. The everyday lineup had emerging stars in Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in the middle infield. Evan Gattis, Chris Carter, and Luis Valbuena combined to hit 76 home runs.

Los Angeles was led by the great Mike Trout, who finished second in the MVP voting behind a .299 batting average, 41 homers and 90 RBIs. Albert Pujols hit 40 more homers and tacked on 95 ribbies. Garrett Richards anchored the rotation as a 15-game winner and Huston Street saved 40 games.

Houston went to the early lead and was 6 ½ games up on LAA on Memorial Day. The Angels and Astros were in a virtual dead heat by the All-Star break. It wasn’t until the latter part of summer that the Rangers stepped up and made it a three-team race. In September, Texas moved into first place and ultimately prevailed by two games. The Astros and Angels went to the final day of the season for the second wild-card berth. Los Angeles lost to Texas and that spot went to Houston.

The Astros went on to Yankee Stadium and Kuechel delivered a big-time performance. He shut out New York 3-0. Houston would move on to play Kansas City in the Division Series, while Texas squared off with Toronto.

In the National League, the big three-team race took place in the Central. The St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Cubs pulled away early, not just from their division, but from the rest of the league. By Labor Day, it was apparent that all three would make the playoffs, that the division winner would be the #1 seed, and that the two runner-ups would play a single wild-card elimination game for the right to play the first-place team in the Division Series.

St. Louis ultimately won the division behind the National League’s best pitching staff. Even with Adam Wainwright missed much of the year, the Cardinals had a balanced rotation and a deep bullpen. John Lackey posted a 2.77 ERA. Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal were dominant at the end of games. No starting pitcher had an ERA higher than 3.38. It was enough to compensate for a weak offense.

Pittsburgh had a great bullpen of their own, with Tony Watson and Mark Melancon brilliant in finishing out games. The lineup was led by centerfielder Andrew McCutcheon, who was top-5 in the MVP voting behind a .292 batting average, 23 homers and 96 RBIs. Pedro Alvarez hit 27 homers, while catcher Francisco Cervelli batted .295. Pirate starting pitching was anchored by Gerrit Cole, who won 19 games with a 2.60 ERA.

Chicago was another team with a balanced starting rotation, and no starting pitcher in baseball was hotter than Jake Arrieta was down the stretch. Arrieta ultimately finished 22-6 with a dazzling 1.77 ERA and won the Cy Young Award. Hector Rondon posted 30 saves with a 1.67 ERA. And the everyday lineup was keyed by the emerging corner infield combo of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, who combined to hit 57 homers and drive in 200 runs.

The Pirates got separation from the Cubs and earned the right to host the wild-card game. Each team clinched with enough room to spare that the entire country basically knew by early September that Arrieta and Cole would go head-to-head. The game proved to be Arrieta’s show, with a dominant 4-0 shutout win that gave Chicago another chance at St. Louis in the Division Series.

In the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers had the 2-3 finishers in the Cy Young voting. Zack Greinke was the runner-up, going 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA. Clayton Kershaw won 16 games with a 2.13 ERA. The Dodger attack was built around a combined 54 homers from Adrian Gonzalez and Joc Pederson.

Even though the San Francisco Giants, with three World Series titles the previous five years, were in the NL West, the Giants never quite put it together in 2015. Los Angeles led by 4 ½ at the All-Star break, extended the margin to 7 ½ games by Labor Day and pulled away without duress. The Dodgers were the 2-seed in the National League.

The NL East was another division where the previous year’s winner didn’t quite click this time around. Even though the Washington Nationals got an MVP year from Bryce Harper (.330 batting average, 42 homers, 99 RBIs), it was the New York Mets who made a strong move in the season’s second half.

New York had the National League’s best closer. Jeurys Familia saved 43 games with a 1.85 ERA. Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom each had sub-3.00 ERAs to lead their rotation. The Mets got their offense from the power duo of Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson, who combined for 53 homers.

The Mets were two back of the Nats at the All-Star break, but the late summer saw New York surge to a four-game lead by Labor Day. Then they blew it open, with the margin quickly going to 9 ½ games by the middle part of September. The Mets would face the Dodgers in the Division Series.

Baseball fans got a lot of excitement in the Division Series round. Three of the four series went the full five games, and three of them were won by the team that lost Game 1. Kansas City got a surprising test from Houston. The Astros won two of the first three and had a 6-2 lead in the eighth inning of Game 4. Their season on the line, the Royals unloaded for five runs in the eighth, two more in the ninth and won 9-6. They went back home and closed it out behind Cueto.

Texas went on the road and got two wins in Toronto. But the Rangers couldn’t do anything back on their homefield and the series went back north of the border for a Game 5. Texas led that one 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh. But the Blue Jays tied the game, and then Bautista unloaded with a massive three-run blast that won it. Like Kansas City, Toronto had pushed back elimination and survived to the ALCS.

In the battle of the big media markets, the Mets took two of the first three from the Dodgers. Kershaw, with the burden of a troubled postseason history and a Game 1 loss looming over him, took the ball in Game 4 and was brilliant. He sent the series back to the West Coast with a 3-1 win. But deGrom was ready with an answer. He beat the Dodgers 3-2 in the finale and New York continued their second half surge.

No one in baseball had a more troubled postseason history than the Cubs, and a 4-0 loss on the road in St. Louis to start the series was more of the same. But Chicago was slowly starting to write a new chapter in their history. They got Game 2. In Game 3, with the score tied 2-2, Bryant and Rizzo went back-to-back. The Cubs won that one, won again in Game 4 and vanquished their historic rival en route to the NLCS.

After the Division Series drama, the LCS rounds went on a more workmanlike basis. New York second baseman Daniel Murphy was already hot, and he took it to a new level against Chicago. Murphy hit four homers in four games. The Mets got dominant pitching, allowing just eight runs in four games. And they won all four of those games, sweeping the Cubs and going to the World Series for the first time since 2000.

Kansas City had gone through Toronto in the ALCS in their 1985 World Series run and were looking for history to repeat itself. In ’85, the Royals dug a 3-1 series deficit before winning the final two games on the road. This one went a little easier. KC got a pair of decisive wins at home to set the tone. They unloaded for 14 runs in a Game 4 win that kept them in control when the series came back to the Midwest. And an exciting 4-3 win in Game 6 sent the Royals back to the World Series.

The Mets went on the road and had a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning of Game 1. But Familia, so good all year, coughed up the tying run. A long night went 14 innings. Kansas City eventually won it, and then got an easy 7-1 win in Game 2.

Back in Citi Field, New York won Game 3 in convincing fashion and took a 3-2 lead into the eighth inning of Game 4. The crowd was rocking, and this was set to become a series. But Familia again couldn’t close. Kansas City scored three times in the eighth and won. Game 5 was more of the same—the Mets led 2-0 in the ninth and were at least poised to avoid watching KC celebrate on their homefield. But one more time, the Royals tied the game off Familia. And in the 12th inning, Kansas City unloaded for five runs.

It had been a 30-year wait and they were pushed to the wall several times in October. But the Kansas City Royals were back on top of the baseball world.