It's time to embark upon Part II of our third annual Eye on Baseball Bloggies, giving us a nice look back at the best and worst parts of the year that was in Major League Baseball.
Just like in Part I, we'll run down 10 categories of our choosing with our nominees. Us three Eye on Baseball writers -- Mike Axisa, Dayn Perry and myself -- will give our selections for the winner. You, our dear reader, should feel encouraged to also make your voice heard in the comments section.
And we're off ...
•Pirates make the playoffs. As has been well documented throughout much of the Year, the Pirates hadn't even had a winning record since the year Bill Clinton was first elected President. They entered 2013 expected to trail many teams in the NL playoff race and picked to finish either fourth or fifth in the NL Central by most prognosticators. And yet they ended up hosting and winning the NL wild-card game.
•Nationals miss playoffs. On the flip side of the Pirates, the Washington Nationals entered the season picked by many to win the World Series after an outstanding 2012 regular season. They would win 86 games and miss the playoffs entirely in 2013.
•Red Sox go worst to first. The 2011 Red Sox collapsed in September. The 2012 Red Sox ended up in last place, an unmitigated disaster headlined by the Bobby Valentine debacle and a gigantic salary dump of a trade. The 2013 Red Sox? Oh, they just won the World Series, that's all.
•Robinson Cano signs with Mariners. Once Cano dumped Scott Boras for Jay Z, it seemed a move that he desperately wanted to stay with the Yankees -- the only team he's ever known. Plus, who would really outspend the Yankees if the Dodgers weren't in on the bidding? The Seattle Mariners? Really? Yes, really.
•Chris Davis explodes. Heading into 2013, we thought we'd just seen Crush Davis' breakout season -- when he hit .270/.326/.501 with 33 homers and 85 RBI. It turns out, his actual breakout season looks like so: .286/.370/.634, 42 doubles, 53 homers, 138 RBI, 103 runs.
•Roy Halladay retires. The first day of the annual Winter Meetings brought a pretty huge surprise, as Doc formally announced his retirement from baseball at age 36. He was coming off two disappointing seasons and injury woes, but it still seemed like he'd give it another go. Instead, he'll ride off into the sunset -- as a Hall of Famer, in my opinion.
•Marlon Byrd's comeback. In 2012, Byrd hit .210/.243/.245 with one homer and nine RBI in 47 games. He was traded, released and then suspended for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. At age 35, it looked like he might be done. Instead, he hit .291/.336/.511 with 35 doubles, 24 homers and 88 RBI for the Mets and Pirates. He played in the playoffs for the first time in his career, too.
•Giants. Two World Series titles in three years leading into the 2013 season -- in which the Giants would go 76-86 and finish tied for fourth place in the NL West? Yeah, that's a bit of a disappointment.
•Angels. Coming off a year in which the Angels inked Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to huge deals and saw the emergence of Mike Trout as an elite player yet still missed the playoffs, the Angels inked Josh Hamilton to a huge deal and then finished six games under .500.
•Blue Jays. Last offseason, the Blue Jays made a huge splash in acquiring the likes of Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Melky Cabrera, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and more, to add to an already talented base that included Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Morrow. Injuries, underperformance and a lack of pitching depth led to a wholly disappointing 74-88 campaign.
•Nationals. See above.
•Starlin Castro. The Cubs 23-year-old shortstop led the NL in hits in 2011 and entered this past season a two-time All-Star. He carried a career line of .297/.336/.425 (105 OPS+) and appeared a burgeoning star. He would hit .245/.284/.347 (72 OPS+) while also being benched for a defensive lapse.
•Yasiel Puig. What makes someone a compelling character? You can't look away. Whether you like or dislike the person, this character is an absolute must-watch. That was Puig in 2013. He was the most polarizing player in baseball among fans and media alike. I love watching him. Many agree. Many hate him, too. But they watch.
•Brian McCann, Sheriff of Fun Police. We'll cover this a bit later, but McCann and the Braves in general definitely made their feelings known when it came to other teams enjoying a big home run this past season.
•David Ortiz. The season began with Big Papi breaking out "this is our f***ing city!" in his Boston Strong speech in Fenway Park following the tragic Boston Marathon bombing. The season concluded with Ortiz coming through with several clutch postseason hits and winning the World Series MVP. If the 2013 season was a movie, Ortiz was the hero.
•Nick Swisher. An Ohio State graduate, Swisher returned to Ohio to play for the Indians. Or rather, Brohio, as he'd call it. He would be one of the emotional leaders of the upstart, playoff-bound Indians.
•Diamondbacks vs. Dodgers. They had the brawl for the ages back in early June, stemming from multiple hit batsman, and things didn't die there. The war of words continued throughout the season and then things took a very weird turn when the Dodgers clinched the NL West in Arizona and partied in the Chase Field pool -- where some of them reportedly urinated in said pool. Things continued further in the offseason when some D-Backs officials -- including manager Kirk Gibson -- took some more shots at the Dodgers.
•Marlins vs. their fans. Not only did the Marlins promise to spend lavishly upon entering their new publicly-funded stadium -- and renege on said promise after one year of spending -- but they had a rocky 2013 with their fans. Among the issues were reportedly threatening to sue fans for complaining about an obstructed view and then ejecting protesting fans from the stadium.
•Braves vs. Fun. This is sure to anger many old-school fans who think players are never supposed to "show up" opposition, but that's fine. It was 2013, not 1953. Baseball is meant to be fun and when a player hits a home run, I have no problem with him admiring his shot for a second -- just as a pitcher can be excited when he gets a big strikeout. Apparently it's OK for Braves player to admire home runs -- several do it regularly -- but when, say, Bryce Harper or Jose Fernandez does it, it's worthy of picking a fight. The Braves had multiple dust-ups this past season stemming from an opposing team hitting a home run. What was the common denominator? The Braves allowing a home run and being angry.
•The 'Mickey Mouse' NLCS. St. Louis vs. Los Angeles. Midwest vs. West Coast. Huge payroll against allegedly "small" payroll (only the Cardinals payroll actually isn't small). Officers of decorum and what is right against showboats who don't "play the game the right way." And on and on. This NLCS was quite the scene of polarization.
•Buck Showalter vs. Joe Girardi. This was short-lived, sure, but Showalter used to manage Girardi's Yankees and then this happened:
Most Annoying Storyline
•A-Rod. Yes, Alex Rodriguez. Everything. His hip injury rehab, Biogenesis ties (?), his feud with the Yankees -- including questioning their team doctor -- his appeal to his 211-game suspension, how much some fans and media absolutely despise his every move and everything in between. And now the emails between him and team president Randy Levine! It seems to never stop with the A-Rod soap opera.
•Biogenesis. This was our worst story of the year winner. It's nominated to be the most annoying storyline because we had to focus on this thing throughout the entire first half of the season while it detracted from the on-field action. Scandals like this harm the perception of the sport in the public eye, a sport that is already held to an unfair double-standard when compared to the NFL. And the story still isn't over until A-Rod's appeal has concluded.
•The war on WAR. If you don't like the stat, that's fine, but please stop saying "WAR, what is it good for, absolutely nothing." That is unfunny, uncreative and quite lame. No, it's not a stat that anyone with a brain considers the only meaningful stat. No, it's not a stat that "anyone who has ever played the game" ignores. Yes, it is useful. And no, you don't have to embrace it. Just quit whining about those who do.
•Puig fatigue. Unfortunately, in today's 24-hour-a-day news cycle, heroes can be built up and torn down in narratives rather quickly. With Puig, it was alarming how fast it happened. He was the best thing we've ever seen for the first month or so, and then the rest of the season, some media members couldn't go a few days without finding ways to tear him down.
•Boston beards. Did anyone hear if the Red Sox had beards? Seriously, this was utterly insufferable during the World Series. I actually had to wait to ask legitimate baseball questions at media day while some "reporters" went through line after line of questioning with the players about their beards. Oh the humanity.
Bush League Moment of the year
•Carlos Gomez vs. Braves. Ugh times infinity:
Here's what I've written before about this crap:
Embarrassment abound here. Gomez was so upset that Paul Maholm had accidentally hit him with a pitch earlier in the season that he made an utter fool of himself. If you can't take getting hit with a pitch, maybe just retire. The problem, though is he was far from alone in making a fool of himself.
Freddie Freeman couldn't just let Gomez make a fool of himself on his own. He had to join the party because his feelings were hurt -- and make no mistake about it, that only increased Gomez's idiocy. And then Brian McCann was so angry that he blocked Gomez from scoring, making of fool of himself.
Now here is about the time that the macho men pound their chests about how Gomez deserved it. Well, I disagree. I don't think it's manly to get your panties in a bunch (see what I did there?) about how an opposing player acts. It's a lot more mentally tough to ignore it and get back at him by beating him. Maybe even laugh at the one acting afool. The cry-babies are the ones who freak out and start huffing and puffing.Let us also mention the selfish nature of the actions. Freeman got tossed from that game. The Braves lost. The Braves -- owners of a great home record and poor road record -- missed out on the top seed by one game and had to face the Dodgers instead of the Pirates in the NLDS.
•Braves vs. Jose Fernandez:
•Ryan Dempster plunks A-Rod. Look, many of us are sick of the A-Rod saga, but that doesn't mean a pitcher should just hit him because he feels like it. Even David Ortiz spoke out against Dempster doing so to A-Rod.
•Dodgers in the pool. We can't be sure if the Dodgers actually urinated in the Arizona pool, but was partying in the pool in and of itself a bush league moment? That's up to the voters.
•Ian Kennedy throws at Zack Greinke's head. The score seemed to be even between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks when Kennedy went headhunting on Greinke. Even if the D-Backs felt Greinke deserved to be plunked, you stay the hell away from the head. Kennedy clearly breached the long, unwritten code here.
•Adam Rosales' non-homer. The umpires blew this call in real time and again while watching on instant replay. Rosales clearly homered off the railing in Cleveland, which would have tied the game. Instead it was ruled a double and remained a double even after review.
•Fieldin Culbreth's crew didn't know a rule. In an Astros-Angels game back in May, the Astros were allowed to make a pitching change before the pitcher on the hill threw at least one official pitch. This is against the rules, but the crew let it happen, leading to Culbreth's suspension.
•Why is Brett Lawrie ruled out here?
•Daniel Nava is ... out?
•Maybe be sure which guy actually caught the ball?
Snyder: Wrong guy caught the ball
•The Boston bullpen cop. No explanation needed.
•Alex Gordon/fireworks. Gordon badly misjudged a ball initially before getting his bearings and then making the catch several feet short of a home run -- but it faked out the White Sox home run people, as the organ started to play and the fireworks were shot off. Not only that, but Hawk fell for it, too! Watch and listen (Hawk's call is the second highlight):
•Cubs go ahead, 1-0 in 13th inning, when throw hits Nate Schierholtz in the helmet.
•Adrian Beltre, master of humor when he knows he's had:
•George Kottaras with a "throw" to ...
Bonehead Play of the Year
•Fredi Gonzalez loses elimination game with Craig Kimbrel standing in bullpen. It was Game 4 of the NLDS. The Braves were close to going home, tied 2-2 in the series, with Clayton Kershaw having already been used. And because Gonzalez and so many other managers cling to the notion that his closer absolutely must get his last three outs (or maybe four), Kimbrel stood watching in the bullpen while Juan Uribe hit a two-run homer in the eighth to put the Dodgers up by one instead of trailing by one. Even if the Braves won, it still makes no sense to leave the best reliever in the world in the bullpen in the eighth inning of a must-win game when the tying run gets to second base.
•Kolton Wong picked off to end a World Series game. Wong was a pinch runner and the tying run was at the plate in the form of postseason wrecking crew Carlos Beltran. And Wong got picked off to end Game 4. The Cardinals wouldn't win again.
•Bo Porter didn't know the pitching rules. See the Culbreth section of "worst call" above. Astros manager Porter actually didn't know the rule either.
•Nick Punto picked off in NLCS with the tying run at the plate and his team trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series:
•Max Stassi, what are you doing?
•Giants bat out of order. Shouldn't even a Little League team never let this happen?
Most Impressive Home Run
•Todd Frazier homers for Teddy. If you missed this story, definitely go check it out. It's heartwarming.
•Jonny Gomes in Game 4. Gomes wasn't even supposed to start, but Shane Victorino was a late scratch from the lineup. The Red Sox were facing a 2-1 deficit in the series and desperately needed someone on offense to step up. Gomes did so, hitting a three-run homer in the top of the sixth. The Red Sox controlled the rest of the series.
•Big Papi's grand slam. The Red Sox were in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the ALCS, trailing 5-1. They had only scored one run in the previous 16 innings of the series against the vaunted Tigers' pitching staff. And Ortiz clubbed a grand slam to tie the game, turning the tide in the series. Also, the bullpen cop meme was born.
•This was the longest homer of the year, courtesy of Evan Gattis:
•We love us some Giancarlo Stanton, Part I:
•We love us some Giancarlo, Part II:
•Ryan Howard grants a birthday wish:
•Travis Wood -- a pitcher -- leaves Wrigley Field:
•This was a combination: Garrett Jones homered into two different bodies of water this past season. Click through to check out both videos, wherein we can view Jones clubbing homers into McCovey Cove and the Allegheny River.