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Baltimore Orioles (96-66) – AL East Winners
It wasn’t smooth sailing for Baltimore all year. On June 6th, the team was one game above .500 at 30-29, and 6.5 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles would go 66-37 from that point on to win the AL East by 12 games, the second-largest margin of any division winner in baseball.
There was no clear ace, but Baltimore pitched well enough to keep the offense in games, finishing 6th in the American League with a starters’ ERA of 3.63. The bullpen was able to hold it together all year, finishing with the third-best ERA in the AL. They were buoyed by a breakout season from an unlikely source as Zach Britton notched 37 saves with an elite 1.65 ERA.
Let’s not forget, though, that this team lived and died with the longball, finishing with 210 home runs, 25 more than the next-highest team in baseball (Colorado, 185).
Detroit Tigers (90-72) – AL Central Winners
Detroit needed a win on the final day to lock the AL Central, but they managed their fourth division title in as many seasons. That was despite down years from both Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, and a bullpen that was near the bottom of the American League (13th, actually).
Despite struggles heading down the stretch, Detroit was 45-34 on July 1st, and finished the season 45-38 from that point on, pointing to a fairly balanced year. Victor Martinez had an absolute monster season, setting career highs in OPS (by nearly 100 points), home runs (by seven), and batting average. A deadline acquisition of ace David Price didn’t have the intended consequences right away, but has set the team up with a formidable rotation including Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, and hopefully Verlander.
Los Angeles Angels (98-64) – AL West Winners
Much like Baltimore, the Angels didn’t start their season on a tear, either. On June 5th, the Angels were 31-28 and had just lost a series to Houston. From that point on, though, they went 67-36 to win the West by 10 games over Oakland.
A big part of the success for Los Angeles was Garrett Richards, who posted career-bests across the board, including a 2.61 ERA and 1.04 WHIP before suffering a season-ending injury towards the end of August.
The Angels managed to put together the top run-scoring offense thanks to the help of likely-MVP Mike Trout. Besides Trout, though, Albert Pujols managed 28 home runs with 105 RBI, largely thanks to driving in Trout and Kole Calhoun. Support players like Chris Iannetta and Erick Aybar managed very solid seasons as well, and the sum was the best record in baseball
Kansas City Royals (89-73) and Oakland Athletics (88-74) – Wild Card Winners
One team – Oakland – was expected to be among the best in the American League. The other – Kansas City – was one game above .500 as late as July 29th. By the end of the season, the teams finished within one win of the other and will play-off to get to the divisional round.
Oakland kind of crashed down the stretch, going 22-33 over the final two months of the season. This happened to coincide with the trade of now-100 RBI man Yoenis Cespedes. Kansas City, meanwhile, went 34-21 over August and September to earn their Wild Card spot.
Each team took a different path to get to the same place, and now it’s down to one game to see who moves on. It’s kind of amazing after 162 games, really.
Washington Nationals (96-66) – NL East Winners
Even without Bryce Harper contributing much for most of the year, the Washington Nationals ran away with the division, finishing 17 games ahead of Atlanta and the Mets.
Washington, undoubtedly, owes a lot of success to their pitching staff. Stephen Strasburg was very good, Jordan Zimmermann posted a career-best 2.66 ERA, Doug Fister led the rotation with a 2.41 ERA, and Tanner Roark excelled in his first year as a full-time starter. In all, the team boasted arguably the best rotation in baseball.
That rotation was complemented well by an offense that scored the third-most runs in the National League. On top of the rotation and the offense, the Nationals had the second-best bullpen ERA in the National League. From top to bottom, they were probably the most complete team in baseball this year.
St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) – NL Central Winners
In what was the most contested division in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals managed to overcome an offense that scored the second-fewest runs in the NL through the first half before turning their fortunes around with the sixth-most runs after the All-Star Game.
Even without the offense, it was pretty surreal what the Cardinals were able to do despite getting just 110 games from all-star catcher Yadier Molina, his lowest number of games played since 2004. It was also without Michael Wacha for two and a half months, who even when he came back from injury, wasn’t the same pitcher.
It wasn’t an easy path for St. Louis, who were a .500 team on June 6th, but Matt Holliday regained his form late, Jhonny Peralta out-performed expectations, and this team just found a way to win ball games.
Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68) – NL West Winners
After missing Clayton Kershaw from late March until early May, the Dodgers were able to cobble things together eventually. This was another team that started slow – they were seven games back of the San Francisco Giants on June 15th – but they finished strong in large thanks to Kershaw, who posted a likely MVP season for the Dodgers.
After Kershaw, though, the team was able to pick each other up at different points of the year: Matt Kemp put up a .950 OPS after the All-Star break; Yasiel Puig put up a .915 OPS before the All-Star break; Adrian Gonzalez started strong, cooled in the middle of the year, and finished strong; Justin Turner had a career year coming over from the Mets.
Even looking past Kershaw, Zack Greinke was excellent, Hyun-Jin Ryu was good enough when healthy, and the rest of the starters were sufficient. Combined with an offense that didn’t slump heavily in any month, and it’s obvious why the Dodgers were one of the best teams in baseball.
San Francisco Giants (88-74) and Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74) – Wild Card Winners
Like the American League Wild Card winners, the National League’s WC winners had different paths to the same place. The Giants, as mentioned, led the division well into June. The offense started very well as they had the most runs scored in the NL through the end of May, but slumped during June and July, where their division lead was lost. After that, they couldn’t catch the Dodgers, but managed to earn a playoff spot for the third time in five years. Oh, and the last two times they earned a playoff spot, they won the World Series.
Pittsburgh started very slow, being under .500 (34-35) as late as June 15th. The Pirates managed to put up the fourth-highest run total in the National League this year, though, thanks largely to Andrew McCutchen. The former MVP had the highest fWAR (FanGraphs WAR) in the National League this year, and the highest qualified OPS at .953. The team also enjoyed a career year from second baseman Neil Walker, and a pitching staff that managed to hold together with unheralded names like Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, and Edinson Volquez. In fact, the Pirates had seven pitchers make at least 10 starts this year, yet managed a middle-of-the-pack starters ERA at 3.61.
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