There’s never a dull year in the world of sports, and 2014 was certainly no exception. While it definitely had its low points (Donald Sterling, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson), 2014 still produced more than its fair share of memorable games, performances and moments, so let’s take a look back at some of the best things that the world of sports had to offer in 2014.
With their 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night, the San Francisco Giants have now won three World Series titles in the last five years and established themselves as the latest dynasty in American sports.
The Giants became the first team since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates to win Game 7 of a World Series on the road, defeating the Royals before a raucous Kauffman Stadium crowd of 40,535 that had waited 29 agonizing years to see its team compete in the postseason once again.
Kansas City’s magical Cinderella run through the playoffs was truly remarkable and earned the team supporters throughout the country, and Royals fans now should be extremely excited about the future of the franchise. However, this October belonged to San Francisco and its ace, Madison Bumgarner.
It’s almost impossible to overstate just how spectacular Bumgarner was during this postseason. He posted a 4-1 record to go along with 45 strikeouts, a 1.03 ERA and two complete-game shutouts. Bumgarner also recorded the longest save in World Series history by tossing five shutout innings on two days’ rest to clinch the championship in Game 7. He was named MVP of both the NLCS and World Series, and his 52.2 innings pitched were the most by any pitcher in a single postseason.
Curt Schilling, regarded by many as one of the greatest playoff pitchers in MLB history, even took to Twitter to share his thoughts on where Bumgarner’s performance in this year’s postseason ranks all-time.
Best post season performance ever #amazing
— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) October 30, 2014
It’s certainly not a stretch to say that Bumgarner’s 2014 postseason was the best in baseball history, and it definitely is fair to say that the Giants might not have won the World Series without him.
In the World Series, San Francisco starting pitchers not named “Madison Bumgarner” allowed 18 runs in just 16.1 innings pitched, an ERA of 9.92. Bumgarner has already staked his claim to being one of the best postseason pitchers that baseball has ever seen, posting a 7-3 record and a 2.14 ERA in 14 appearances. In the World Series, he has a ridiculous 0.25 ERA, giving up just a single run in 36 innings pitched.
Of course, the Giants haven’t built a dynasty and didn’t win the World Series this season because of just one player.
Travis Ishikawa’s walk-0ff home run in Game 5 of the NLCS will forever live in baseball lore, Pablo Sandoval batted .366 during the postseason and continued to show his flair for the dramatic, the quirky Hunter Pence hit .333 with one home run and eight RBIs, Joe Panik helped turn a crucial double play to keep the game tied in the third inning of Game 7 and reliever Jeremy Affeldt was the unsung hero of the playoffs as he threw a total of 11.2 innings while allowing no runs.
Even Buster Posey, who didn’t record a single extra-base hit during the postseason, remained an integral piece of the team’s success with his game-calling and defense behind the plate, holding the speedy Royals to just one stolen base during the series.
There’s also the man that is the glue that holds everything together, manager Bruce Bochy, who almost certainly punched his ticket to Cooperstown with last night’s win. Bochy has yet to lose a playoff series with the Giants, and his penchant for pulling the right levers at just the right time is unparalleled. His career .502 regular-season winning percentage might not jump out at you, but there isn’t a manager in the game today that you’d rather have in the dugout when the calendar turns to October.
Of course, longtime general manager Brian Sabean, who has been the subject of plenty of criticism during his tenure, deserves a ton of credit for assembling a team that has won three championships in five years. After winning the World Series in both 2010 and 2012, the Giants missed out on the playoffs the following year. Whether or not they can buck that trend in 2015 remains to be seen, but it’s hard to imagine that they won’t be contending for the postseason each year for the foreseeable future.
Bumgarner and Posey are arguably the best pitcher-catcher combination in baseball, and both are similar in their business-like approach to the game. As long as they are Giants, the team will have an incredible foundation to build upon.
Therefore, it was only fitting that perhaps the most lasting image from Wednesday night will be their celebration after the final out, where Bumgarner told an uncharacteristically emotional Posey that he loved him as they shared perhaps the most iconic Buster Hug yet.
The only thing that remains to be seen is whether or not this image will go down as the moment a dynasty reached its peak, or a stepping stone to even greater success.
If I had to guess, I’d bet on the latter.
Last Friday, Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin announced that Ron Roenicke will return to manage the team in 2015. It ended nearly two weeks of speculation about Roenicke’s job security following an astonishing September collapse by the Brewers.
Despite holding the lead in the NL Central for a total of 150 days throughout the year, Milwaukee lost 22 of its final 31 games and finished the season third in the division with a record of 82-80. The Brewers became just the fifth team in MLB history to miss the playoffs after leading their division for at least 150 games (for what it’s worth, none of the previous four teams to do this fired their manager as a result).
The decision to retain Roenicke, who has gone 335-313 (.517) in four seasons with the Brewers, was unpopular among many fans, who felt that he should be held responsible for Milwaukee’s freefall. An online poll conducted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that just 43 percent of the respondents supported the decision to bring back Roenicke.
There was a minor shake-up in the coaching staff, as hitting coach Jerry Narron and first base/infield coach Garth Iorg were both fired. Narron’s dismissal was pretty much a foregone conclusion given the offense’s dismal performance late in the year, and Iorg was let go because apparently it was his job to find a serviceable first baseman.
Despite the insistence by some fans that Roenicke played a significant role in the team’s September swoon, firing him would have solved absolutely nothing. The fact of the matter is, MLB managers’ in-game decisions don’t have that big of an impact on team’s overall record for a season. FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine wrote an analytical piece earlier this year, which found that 95 percent of managers are worth between -2 to +2 wins per 162 games.
Of the four major North American pro sports leagues, it can be argued that MLB managers have the lowest impact on their team’s performance when compared to their NFL, NBA and NHL counterparts. This, of course, won’t stop fans of every fan base from criticizing their favorite team’s manager. After all, it’s a national pastime as old as baseball itself.
This isn’t to suggest that managers don’t make boneheaded mistakes and should never be held accountable for their team’s performance, as that comes with the territory. But a majority of the Brewers’ late-season struggles really weren’t within Roenicke’s control, and firing him would have been making him a scapegoat.
The biggest and most obvious issue with the team is its offense, which averaged a mere 2.7 runs per game in September and scored two or fewer runs 17 times in the last 31 games. Milwaukee’s offense was great at the beginning of the season, but showed signs of weakening and had obvious flaws even before September. The Brewers averaged 4.1 runs in March/April, 4.2 in May, 5.4 in June, 3.5 in July and 4.0 in August. Their batting average on balls in play (BABIP) also followed a fairly similar pattern, sitting at .300 in March/April, .310 in May, .306 in June, .271 in July, .298 in August and .268 in September.
Milwaukee simply cooled off and regressed to the mean during much of the second half of the season. The offense reached cataclysmic levels of stagnancy in September due at least in part to solid defense from its opponents and a little bit of bad luck, which was only compounded as the slide got worse and players tried to desperately jump start the offense.
Given a roster oversaturated with free swingers and lacking a clear leadoff hitter, no lineup that Roenicke set could have prevented the Brewers’ meltdown. Twenty home runs in the last 31 games for a team that relies heavily on the long ball just doesn’t cut it.
Another common criticism of Roenicke is that he’s too soft, emotionless and won’t hold players accountable. Naturally, his predecessor, Ken Macha, was often derided for being too hard on his players.
The problem with this is that we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes and how Roenicke deals with players, but there is nothing to suggest that he has “lost the locker room” or that the players don’t respect him. In fact, players like Ryan Braun vocally supported him after the season concluded. Plus the September gaffes by players that some fans pointed to as proof that they are “undisciplined” were likely more the result of a team trying to do too much than anything else. Pretty much any other team stuck in that sort of funk would likely have made similar errors and mental mistakes.
Roenicke also does occasionally show some fire when defending his players, and even publicly criticized home plate umpire Mark Ripperger in late August. Is it fun to watch managers like Lou Piniella or Ozzie Guillén put on a big theatrical show when arguing with umpires? Sure, but let’s not pretend it’s essential to a manager’s success.
The Brewers have plenty of work to do this offseason, there’s no question about that.
Ryan Braun has already had surgery to fix a thumb injury that plagued him all year and was a major factor in his disappointing 2014 season. The new hitting coach will need to work with Jean Segura to help him rebound from a really tough season at the plate. And, perhaps above all else, Melvin will need to figure out a solution at first base. Whether it be through moving someone there or signing a veteran from free agency, the Brewers need to upgrade from the awful Lyle Overbay/Mark Reynolds platoon that was a burden on the offense all season long.
As for the 2014 team, the bottom line is that they came crashing back to Earth after overachieving for a significant portion of the season. Despite the disappointing outcome, Milwaukee showed that it can contend in the NL Central if it finds some answers on offense.
The Brewers should be expected to contend for a division title in 2015, and everyone, including Roenicke, will need to learn from their mistakes from this season. Sometimes changing voices in the locker room can spark a team, but that can also backfire (Exhibit A: Ken Macha in 2009 and 2010). By retaining Roenicke, Milwaukee decided to place consistency in the dugout above gambling with a new hire for 2015.
All that being said, the Brewers must play better and with greater consistency if Ron Roenicke is to stay in Milwaukee beyond 2015.
Well, the landscape of college football has been left in smoldering ruin. Between this insanity and the MLB playoffs, we were treated to one of the most exciting weekends of sports in recent memory, so tip your hat to the Buffalo Wild Wings employee that went rogue and finally hit the big red button.
Week 6 of the 2014 college football season will forever go down as one of the best in the history of the sport, with chaos reigning supreme and ruling with an iron fist. Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA all went down, marking the first time in history that five of the AP Poll’s top eight teams all lost in the same week. This week had everything a fan could want and more, leaving the race for the College Football Playoff wide open and throwing us into an alternate universe where the Egg Bowl might be as highly anticipated as the Iron Bowl.
So without further adieu, let’s take a look back on the sensational games from a memorable weekend that will, from this point forward, be my evidence for why I’ll take college football over the NFL any day of the week.
Kansas City Royals fans had to wait 29 agonizing years to see their team in the postseason again, but Tuesday night’s dramatic win over the Oakland Athletics in the American League wild-card game just may have been worth the wait.
Appearing in the playoffs for the first time since winning the franchise’s lone World Series title in 1985, when Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” topped the charts and “Back to the Future” reigned supreme at the box office, the Royals were aided by a raucous crowd of 40,502 that packed Kauffman Stadium. Behind that sea of blue, Kansas City showed incredible resiliency on its way to winning a game that will surely live forever in MLB postseason lore.
Heading into the game, the stage appeared set for an epic pitchers’ duel. The Royals sent James Shields to the mound in this winner-take-all affair. Though his career postseason numbers weren’t exactly great (he came into the game with a 4.98 ERA), he has earned the nickname “Big Game James” for his reputation to seemingly perform well when the stakes are at their highest, plus he was one of the few Kansas City players that had been to the playoffs before.
Meanwhile, the A’s gave the ball to Jon Lester, who boasts impressive career numbers against the Royals. In 13 career regular-season starts against Kansas City, Lester has gone 9-3 with a 1.84 ERA (his best against any AL team), including a no-hitter back in 2008.
In addition to that, neither offense has been particularly good at producing many runs, as the Royals hit the fewest home runs in the majors and Oakland’s offense struggled mightily during the second half of the season. Despite the game having all the makings of one in which runs would be at a premium, it turned out to be a fairly high-scoring affair.
A’s first baseman Brandon Moss, who hit just .162 over the last two months of the regular season while dealing with a hip injury, was the team’s MVP of the game. Despite hitting just two home runs from July 25 to the end of the regular season, Moss went yard twice in his first three at-bats for five RBIs.
The Royals had battled back from Moss’ two-run blast in the first to take a 3-2 lead, but his home run in the sixth inning looked like it might be a back-breaker for Kansas City. With two men on and nobody out, Royals manager Ned Yost made the most Ned Yost move of all time by pulling Shields, who had thrown just 88 pitches, and replacing him with rookie Yordano Ventura, who made of 30 of his 31 appearances during the regular season as a starter.
Somewhat predictably, Moss promptly drilled a three-run homer, and Oakland added two more runs to take a 7-3 lead. Kansas City’s postseason dreams seemed dashed.
But the Royals refused to go down quietly, scoring three runs in the eighth to pull within one. But even that rally seemed like it wasn’t as good as it could have been, with Salvador Pérez and Omar Infante both striking out to end the inning with the tying run just 90 feet away.
Yet, Kansas City continued to battle. Josh Willingham singled to lead off the ninth and was replaced by pinch runner Jarrod Dyson. Yost moved him to second in his favorite way possible, the sacrifice bunt, and made the gutsy call to have him steal third. The gamble paid off in a big way, as Norichika Aoki bringing him home on a sacrifice fly to force extra innings.
After the Royals failed to bring the winning run home from third in the 10th and 11th, the A’s took the lead in the 12th inning on an Alberto Callaspo RBI single. With its back against the wall again, Kansas City delivered once more.
Eric Hosmer hit a deep, one-out triple and was brought home on a chopper to third by Christian Colón. After Colón advanced to second on a failed pitchout with two outs, the stage was set for Salvador Pérez to earn redemption.
Peréz had struck out wildly in the eighth with a chance to tie the game or even give the Royals the lead, but he now had a chance to deliver a playoff victory to Kansas City for the first time since 1985. This time, he didn’t waste the opportunity, sending a hot shot just centimeters past the outstretched glove of Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson to end the game.
As Kauffman Stadium erupted in a celebration 29 years in the making, the camera briefly panned to Kansas City legend George Brett, who perfectly summed up the feelings of Royals fans everywhere.
It was a victory that perfectly reflected the identity of this Royals team. Kansas City tied a postseason record by stealing seven bases during the game, which isn’t too shocking considering that they led baseball in stolen bases in 2014 with 153.
The win was also a total team effort, with contributions coming from the most unexpected of places. Brandon Finnegan, a 21-year old pitcher who was the Royals’ No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft and appeared in just seven regular-season games, seemed unfazed by the big stage, allowing just one run in 2.1 innings of relief.
The Royals’ never-say-die attitude was also on full display as they rallied time and time again. They overcame a stellar performance by Brandon Moss, multiple mystifying moves by Ned Yost and several Oakland leads. In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, they became the first team in MLB postseason history to come back from at least four runs down in the eighth inning or later in a winner-take-all game.
The game itself was an instant classic loaded with drama that kept everyone watching on the edge of their seats. It was the kind of game that reminds baseball fans why we love this game to begin with. And above all else, we got to see a franchise that has been a perennial doormat for 29 years finally give its fans a thrilling postseason win.
Of course, this victory did only get the Royals into the ALDS, where they’ll face a Los Angeles Angels team that finished the regular season with an MLB-best 98-64 record. The task may seem daunting for Kansas City, but it’s impossible to count them out after watching what they accomplished at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night.