What the Pittsburgh Pirates started a few seasons back, the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros have completed this season. It seems that what everybody grew tired of in baseball — you know, the same four or five teams in the post season EVERY year — is coming to an end. And it’s awesome.
The Kansas City Royals showed that Dayton Moore’s plan of patience with prospects paid off as the made a Cinderella run to the World Series. Yes, they fell short to the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 to one of the best pitchers in the game — who fell short in becoming a dynasty by Wayniac Nation standards this season — but man, what an exciting run it was.
Where the Royals fell short in last year’s World Series, even though yours truly thought they had the moxie to win, they seemed to have figured out this year. Making the improbable run to the Wild Card spot and ending a 30-year playoff drought was as exciting as baseball had been in a long time. This year, they let some big names walk, like James Shields and Billy Butler, and made some interesting moves, like Alex Rios and Johnny Cueto. And because of their patience, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have become stars that have led the Royals to their first division title since I was in elementary school (for those that don’t keep up, I celebrated my 40th a few months back!).
Now it is the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros (and even the Minnesota Twins, despite their improbable run for the playoffs coming to an end) taking their turns. While the Astros are holding on for dear breath, the Mets and Cubs have already stamped their return to the playoffs for the first time in awhile. Real fans of baseball won’t tell you they didn’t see it coming, but anyone who thinks that these three teams were ready for the seasons they had THIS YEAR, is lying to you.
The New York Mets defied all logic, running through an NL East behind one of the most exciting pitching staffs in the game. They took down the team I have coined the Biggest Joke in Baseball (that’s the Washington Nationals, folks) with the perfect blend of young guns in Jacob deGrom (he is the first Met I have liked since 1986), Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz and the crafty fatness of the ageless veteran Bartolo Colon. The first brilliant midseason move the Mets have made in nearly two decades — snagging Yoenis Cespedes at the deadline — has completely transformed this team and you have to believe that they are legitimate contenders.
The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros entered 2015 with farm systems that other organizations could only dream about having. We all knew Kris Bryant was on his way, anointed the savior of Chicago before even taking an at bat. We all knew that with Joe Maddon and a solid veteran in Jon Lester, that the Cubs were going to begin their turnaround this year. I don’t think anyone saw it coming to fruition this quickly. And if you didn’t think Joe Maddon was already the best manager in the game, you better realize it now.
In my opinion (and who else’s would it be) the Cubs are the most exciting team in the game right now. They are buried in the ultra competitive NL Central and the casual baseball fan doesn’t realize that their 91-65 record would have them sitting atop the entire American League as well as the other two divisions in the NL East. They have done it with a crop of youngsters and an ace who we have waited five years to see.
Kris Bryant should be your National League Rookie of the Year. Jake Arietta should be your National League Cy Young. He has been so good for a team that needed him to be, they should just eliminate the American Cy Young Award this year and give Arietta the MLB Cy Young. The sad thing is that Zack Grienke, due to notoriety and where he plays, will probably steal it. Arietta is sitting at 21-6 with a 1.86 ERA, including four complete games and three shutouts (one of which was a no hitter that I got to watch on Sunday Night Baseball with my brother who happens to be the biggest Cubs fan I know) while striking out 229 batters over 223 innings. Translation… stud.
Kyle Schwarber has also been a welcomed addition to this lineup. If you haven’t watched him, you must. He reminds me of Ram Man from the old He-Man shows. His home runs are fun to watch, and if you aren’t rooting for the short little fat guy, you have no place in sports fandom. Throw in names like Addison Russell, the injury plagued Jorge Soler, C.J. Edwards and Javier Baez and the Cubs have a team that will be fun to watch for quite some time.
The same can be said about the former National League Houston Astros. The Astros are being led by a young arsenal a year or two ahead of their time and their ace is Dallas Keuchel, whom like Arietta, we all knew had the goods (and beard), we were just waiting to see them. Like the Cubs, the Astros could possibly have the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award winners for the American League on their current roster.
Unlike the Cubs, the Astros are clinging to a half game lead on the final Wild Card spot over Mike Trout and the surging Angels. But here’s the thing. Should the Astros finish their collapse and not make the playoffs… it’s ok. They weren’t even supposed to contend this season, never mind being in the hunt with six games to go. They are ahead of the curve and with the young pieces in place, they are ready to stay relevant for awhile.
Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers are all young arms atop their rotation and if former first round draft pick Mark Appel ever comes to fruition, these guys are dangerous. Jose Altuve and my vote for Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa are quite possibly already the best middle infield combo in the big leagues. Preston Tucker, Jake Marisnick and George Springer lead an all under-25 outfield that actually may have gotten stronger in the long haul in this year’s draft. And when they are ready to turn the page on the Chris Carter experiment, they have my boy and Minor League Player of the Year A.J. Reed waiting in the minors (I say my boy because I had the honor of interviewing the big guy earlier this year. Check it out).
If the season ended right now, the NL would be sending the Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates and Cubs to the playoffs while the AL would be sending the Blue Jays, Royals, Rangers, Astros and Yankees. No one, I mean, NO ONE saw that coming. And that is what’s making the rebirth of America’s Pastime so exciting.
If you have given up on baseball over the past few seasons as too many have, tune in this October. Grab some peanuts and Cracker Jack because we are set for one heck of a ride.