This past MLB season brought us a lot of competitive baseball, while keeping us entertained with the countless number of home runs. Four teams won over 100 ball games, while other teams surged late in the season to reach the playoffs. The Nationals were just the 9th team in history to sit under .500 by 12 or more games on May 31st, and still make it to the playoffs.
The playoffs finished off in Houston, and now MLB fans will be able to watch closely as offseason storylines begin to unfold. It took 7 games to crown a champion, but after a series in which the home team didn’t win once, the Nationals were able to bring home the Commissioner’s Trophy for the first time in franchise history. The Nationals had a handful of strong performances, but ultimately, Stephan Strausberg was named World Series MVP.
Coming into the World Series it was very clear that the Nationals were going to be the underdogs. But with baseball, sometimes the amount of talent on one side doesn’t matter, as the Astros were not able to take down the red hot Nationals although they had home-field advantage. The Nationals could see some changes in their roster, as Strausberg opted out of his contract, and MVP finalist Anthony Rendon is due for a massive payday. But for now, the Nat’s are going to enjoy a victory tour, as the teams that dominated the regular season came up empty this offseason.
Teams that Dominated the Regular Season
The league ran through the Astros this season, as they upped their record this season by a win en route to a league-best 107 victories. Only 12 other teams in league history have won more games in a season.
Pitching is what highlighted Houston’s third straight 100-win season. The team traded for Zack Grienke at the trade deadline this season, giving them a three-headed monster at the top of their rotation with Gerrit Cole, Justing Verlander, and Grienke. Since coming over to the Astros, Grienke posted a record of 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA, dominating the opposition.
Verlander and Cole were ranked 1st and 5th in pitching WAR with 7.8 and 6.9, 1st and 2nd in wins with 21 and 20, 4th and 3rd in ERA with 2.50 and 2.58. The two dominated all season and gave the Astros an edge that no other team had.
Houston’s dominant pitching paired with a strong offense gave the Astros a strong chance to win in every game this season. Houston was first in both strikeout stats, as their pitching struck out the most batters and their offense struck out the least this season.
The lineup posted the highest slugging percentage ever at .495, with Alex Bregman shining the brightest in a stacked lineup. Bregman hit .296 with 41 home runs and 112 RBIs, and it’s important to note that he had a higher WAR than Mike Trout this season (8.4 to 8.3). Bregman is sure to get a lot of MVP votes this year. George Springer and Jose Altuve were great wingmen to Bregman this season offensively, as they posted BA’s of .292 and .298, and hit 39 and 31 home runs respectively.
Something big to look at next season is where Gerrit Cole will be playing. Sure in the grand scale of things, losing one of your three aces doesn’t seem to be that big a deal. But this is Gerrit Cole, the best pitcher in baseball. The Astros have not lost a game where Cole started it since May 22nd. They’re essentially guaranteed a win when Cole gets the ball. Whoever claims Cole’s services next season, will be paying him a large sum of money.
The team Houston took down in the ALCS had arguably an even more impressive regular season given the cards they were dealt with.
The Yankees clinched their first AL East title since 2010 finishing the season 103-59. They embodied the next man up mindset as they seemed to have players go down one after another early on in the season. Andujar, Greg Bird, and Aaron Hicks all suffered season-ending injuries during the season, and the Bombers had to deal with key players missing big chunks of time as well (Stanton, Severino, Ursula, and Judge).
The Yankees responded with strong play from their young stars. Gleyber Torres had one of the strongest seasons in the league as he slashed .278 to go with 38 home runs and 90 RBIs. When healthy, Gio Urshela also showed the Yanks that he will continue to be a key part of their team in the future. He hit .314 to go with 21 home runs and 74 RBIs.
The addition of DJ LeMahieu proved key throughout the season as well, as he put up numbers that put him in the MVP conversation (.327, 26 HR, 102 RBI). The ALCS matchup was one for the ages, as the Yankees gave Houston everything they had in a well-fought six-game series.
Even though the Yankees season ended in the ALCS, expect for them to continue to be there in the postseason. This team has built a Yankee identity that the team has been missing since they won their last AL East title in 2010. The old guard of Jeter, Rivera, A-Rod as been turned over to Torres, Judge, Sanchez. The Yankees are young, hungry, and very, very rich, as they are valued at $4.6 billion, making them the second most valuable team in American sports. It is a known fact that this and every offseason, the Yankees will be big players in free agency. They have their young stars, and they will not hesitate to replace their aging vets with younger, more productive players next season.
Another team that is no stranger to playing in October, the Dodgers, capped off another regular season as the NL West Champs.
They were led by the NL MVP favorite Cody Bellinger, as he finished the year with a .305 average, 47 home runs, and 115 RBIs. Bellinger helped the team break the National League home run record this year as well, as they slugged 279 bombs collectively.
The Dodgers clinched their 7th National League West title and broke their franchise record for wins with 106, but unfortunately, they have nothing to show for it as the Nationals knocked them out in the NLDS.
The Dodgers have a team full of young players and have a farm system loaded with talent ready to compete in the big leagues, as shown with top prospect Gavin Lux coming into the mix, so continued success seems inevitable for this team. The only issue is the consistent theme of them not being able to capitalize on the playoffs. Last year they were close but ran into a Red Sox team that took care of them handily in 5 games. Dave Roberts just signed an extension with the club at the end of 2018, but after some questionable calls in the playoffs, many are doubting if Roberts is the man for the job. The biggest mishap that eventually cost the Dodger’s their season was bringing in ace Clayton Kershaw out of the bullpen to face the Nationals best two hitters, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, in the NLDS. Although the Dodgers had Kenta Maeda rested in the bullpen, Roberts threw in Kershaw, who proceeded to give up back to back home runs to allow the Nationals to tie the game. Maeda, the team’s best bullpen arm, would replace Kershaw and strikeout three consecutive batters. Moving forward, another season that falls short of a World Series title might cost Roberts his job.
Teams that didn’t meet expectations all share one thing in common: lackluster performances by their stars. When talking about disappointing performances, the two teams that come to mind are the Red Sox and the Cubs. Let’s start with Boston.
After winning the World Series in 2018, the team failed to make a bid at repeating as they missed out on the playoffs. They were pegged as a team with a strong pitching staff, but they were nothing but lackluster all season.
Chris Sale got off to a really slow start, posting one of the worst starts in his career. Before being shut down for the season, Sale was 6-11 and finished with an ERA over 4 for the first time in his career. The same goes for David Price, as he battled injuries all year only to be shut down by the team in hopes of coming back healthy next season. He finished the year only 7-5 and posted an ERA of 4.28, the highest of his career since his first full season.
The team capped off their nightmare season by firing GM Dave Dombroski. Though he was able to put a team together that won the World Series last year, he did so by gutting their farm system putting them in a tough situation moving forward.
Not only this, but the team is in a tough predicament moving forward as they are going to have trouble retaining their star Mookie Betts. There were whispers of trade talks throughout the season, as Betts is set to have a historic payday next offseason. With the budget already high, with JD Martinez, Price, and Bogaerts all under big contracts, Betts may not be playing for the Sox for much longer.
Although the Red Sox didn’t perform as a team, individual players still have something to build off of. Devers and Bogaerts both emerged as the franchise players that they were perceived to be. Both of them hit over .300, over 30 home runs, and at least 115 RBIs, forming arguably the best-left side of the infield in the league.
The trio of Devers, Bogaerts, and JD Martinez all hit over .300 and 30 home runs, which is the first time in Boston Red Sox history that three players all reached that statistical milestone in the same season.
Looking towards next season, all the Red Sox can do is hope for Sale and Price to have bounceback years. The team has a lot of money tied up in these players two for years to come, and have to bank on them to reach their once given All-Star status. Only the front office knows what will happen with Mookie Betts, but speaking for every Red Sox fan, we hope to see him in Boston for a long time. Two glaring areas that need improvement is the spot at second base, and bullpen depth. Going after a guy like Jonathan Villar will give the Sox another infielder than can play all over, and they would be able to plug him in with Devers, Bogaerts, and Chavis around the infield. For the bullpen, finding arms in free agency is essential. The pen is ranked in the bottom half of the league for ERA at 4.40, and if the Sox expect to compete next season, they need to address this.
The Chicago Cubs also left their fans wondering what the team will look like at the start of next season. The Cubs missed the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Though luck as a large part in the Cubs missing the playoffs, as they lost a lot of close ball games, a lot falls on their young talent not living up to the expectations set at the start of the season. Ian Happ had trouble staying healthy, and when he was on the field only hit to a tune of .264. Kyle Schwarber’s power numbers were there, but his inconsistent defense and high strikeout numbers were a detriment to the team’s overall success. 25-year-old Albert Almora was expected to take the next step after his successful first few seasons as well but instead took a step back as his batting average dropped by 50 points. This caused the front office to force a change, letting go of one of the most successful managers in team history, Joe Maddon. Maddon led the team to their first World Series title since 1908 in 2016 and is the only manager since Frank Chance to lead the team to back to back 100 win season in his short tenure. The next manager for the Cubs is going to have a lot of pressure thrown on them, as their fan base will be expecting a return to the playoffs.
Even though they aren’t playing in October, the Cubs still boast one of the best young cores in baseball with Rizzo, Bryant, and Javy Baez. With a core like that, the team has the opportunity to compete next year regardless of their new manager.
The Homerun Surge
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the home run surge in the league this year was what every fan and expert was talking about. There has been heavy speculation of the state of the baseballs being used throughout the league and if they have or have not been tampered with at all by the league. Regardless, with more home runs baseball is a lot more entertaining.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. 6,776 home runs were hit this year throughout the league, 671 more than the previous high set in 2017.
There were teams that broke records for home runs hit this season as well. 2019 teams hold the top four spots for most home runs hit in a season by a team. The Twins hit 307, the Yankees had 306, and the Astros and Dodgers had 288 and 279. The Yankees also broke the record for most consecutive games with a home run, as they put at least one out of the ballpark in 31 games in a row. The Twins had eight players to hit at least 20 home runs, which is a record, and they also had five players to hit at least 30 home runs, also a record.
The state of baseball changed drastically this season. With home run totals increasing, the power surge is what people are talking about around the league, not dominant pitching. Although the top pitchers still had success, they were giving up many more dingers than in previous seasons. The MLB’s goal this year was to make the games quicker and more interesting, and if this season is a sign for what is to come, they are headed in the right direction.