The 2017 MLB Season
By Matt Frey
As the Major League Baseball season comes to an end, it’s time to reflect. From all the way back to the early 2017 Season to the October Playoffs, records have been broken, Gold Glove plays have been witnessed, the trade deadline was a metaphorical hot stove and a new generation of stars is cornering the traditional pastime. This 2017 season has been a remarkable year and most likely will be ranked upon the best season out of this decade. Underdogs have risen, just like our local San Francisco Giants, who had three glorious years after being in the dark for over 50 years. For instance, the Chicago Cubs finally won the championship last season after a 103-year drought. This appears to be the beginning of a new, enlightened era of baseball, especially this season.
This past Opening Day, teams came out like it was their organization's last. Opening week was overkill with scores. Teams went past 10-plus run limits which does not happen that often.
One individual player that really rocketed off the charts was Milwaukee Brewer, Eric Thames. This is Thames’ first year back in the MLB and he is attacking the stat charts quickly. The slugger that returned from Korea had an eye for the ball in America and with a powerful bat, Thames astonished viewers all over. Like the Giants Melky Cabrera in 2012 (who later tested positive for steroids), Thames came in very underrated but he is apparently PED free. Thames was not making any progress in the MLB from 2010 to 2012, but once he left he produced big numbers in Korea. After leaving Korea as a legend, he returned this year to the MLB again as an Average Joe. Sports outlets went on a full-out media rampage and some were stating that Eric Thames was deflecting PED talk and making up stories just to hook fans. ESPN made a story headlining the story with a eye-candy question “Did Eric Thames almost replace David Ortiz in Boston.”
But the new slugger had a month to remember. Thames had an .810 slugging percentage in April which made him the only Brewer to go past .700 in slugging percentage. Eric Thames hit 11 home runs in one month, Thames is the only Brewer in Milwaukee franchise history to record eleven or more home runs in one month. Thames’ 11 April bangs was unhuman because eight of his home runs were hit against the same team, the Cincinnati Reds. Willie Stargell, Deron Johnson, Barry Bonds, and Babe Ruth were the last to hit 8 home runs against the same team in a month. Any time a player can get himself to a level or even to the point where he is discussed with Ruth's name, you know he has hit a major pinnacle in performance.
Another player who made an out-of-this world mark on baseball is the New York Yankees bomber, Aaron Judge. It is impressive how Judge rose to the top, recording 50 home runs as a rookie, passing the great Mark McGwire for most home runs by a rookie. Judge has the power of Jose Canseco and the potential of Bonds. With that, he crushed the record. In fact he might be the next Bonds if he keeps hitting 50 home runs every season. By seeing this home run machine plow through the league as a rookie, Judge has a better chance of hitting 756 than any other player in the American league.
The National league, on the other hand, has Giancarlo Stanton, who from the start of his career is Judge’s equal. During the MLB All-Star weekend, the two sluggers almost faced each other in the home run derby. Viewer’s expectations did not come true but they should expect to see the two butt heads in 2018.
Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers thoroughly showed what it's like to be a natural ball player, in terms of defensive fielding and offensively hitting. Sluggers who can hit 90 mph or higher pitches are true talents. There is a certain dynamic precision when an outfielder can leap in the air and execute a circus catch. Bellinger is that one rookie who has that type of defensive fielding and offensive hitting to become the next huge star. Bellinger, who along with Judge attended the home run derby as rookies, dominated the slugger show. Bellinger finished with 25 home runs before the All Star break, but seeing how Bellinger took the stage in the first round, he was batting like it was another sunny practice in Los Angeles. A walkoff-shot pushed him to the next round. The second round was a game for the better hitter, Bellinger swatted out 12 home runs, but in the end fell to Judge by one home run. Judge versus Bellinger is equivalent to Seabiscuit versus War admiral in horse racing. The pop of Bellinger’s bat is phenomenal but his fielding outlasts gloves across the National league.
On May 10, 2017 the rookie showed what he was worth. Right off the bat of the first inning, he hit a two-run home run. The 4th inning came and Gregory Polanco of the Pittsburgh Pirates hit a line drive out to left field where Cody Bellinger swiftly made a hovering dive, tumbling to catch the second out. That week Bellinger produced 2 home runs, 8 runs batted in and batted above 300. Later that May, he won the MLB Athlete of the Month.
Whether it was stealing, sliding or passing homeplate under seconds, Jackie Robinson and Rickey Henderson have been known to be the best players to ever run the basepaths in MLB history. A number of players have attempted to chase their legacy, but Josh Harrison of the Pittsburgh Pirates has been the most noticeable in the decade. Harrison is the architect of stealing. The fielders don't expose him. Harrison actually embarresses the fielders becuase it’s rare for the shortstop or second baseman to perform a tag on the acrobatic Pirate. Harrison performs acts as if he was Houdini. He never gives into the tag but at the same time never surrenders. Harrison executed a modified pop-up slide versus the Washington Nationals on May 16, 2017. Stiffly planting his leg and flailing in the air, he finished in an x-shape stance safely beating the tag at second base. One blink and a fielder can miss the tag on Harrison just by inches. For Harrison, getting caught in a pickle, is not that rare. Harrison is taking sliding to the next level. It will slowly develop to be as normal as a rundown to players all over MLB.
The Oakland Athletic’s 20-game winning streak, best known as the Moneyball record, was recently broken by the Cleveland Indians. Lavishly, the Indians racked up statistics that made this twenty-two game win streak historical. The streak started August 24, 2017 and ended against the Kansas City Royals on September 15, 2017. On September 5, it was the bottom of the ninth and the Texas Rangers were leading by one run. Shortstop Francisco Lindor was up to bat and executed the impossible, hitting a wanderlust grand slam to save the streak. The situation was like something out of a book; unreal. Thanks to Lindor, Cleveland fans referred to Cleveland during this mad streak as the WINdians. Fans might as well call Lindor “The Hatteberg” because Oaklands Scott Hatteberg's Moneyball home run was the rescue to the record back in ‘02.
After an historic month, the playoffs came. Unfortunately, the Indians fell to the Yankees in the American League division series (3-2) not qualifying for the 2017 World series. With the glorious Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Indians reaching Game 7 of the World series last year, Cleveland fans have been rejuvenated.
And now, the Astros and Dodgers are battling it out in a memorable World Series. Major League Baseball is definitely on the upswing.