Pitching, Pitching, Pitching, and Jayson Heyward. That’s the story of the National League in 2012.
NL East – Hands down the most competitive division in all of baseball in 2012. The division title came down to three teams battling it out the last two weeks of the season and none of the three were the Washington Nationals who had few bright spots. Bryce Harper made his pro debut and lived up to lofty expectations hitting 14 HRs after a July call-up. Unfortunately his teammate with equally lofty expectations, Stephen Strasburgh, was shut down with arm trouble for the second straight year. A move to the bullpen is being discussed in the offseason.
As for the three contenders---The Marlins, a bunch of young budding superstars led by their All-World veteran, Hanley Ramirez, were in third place and only one game out of first place heading into a 3-game series with the fourth place NY Mets. A team in transition, the Mets struggled through most of the season after trading their second superstar in as many years. In 2011 Jose Reyes was sent to the LA Angels and now, in 2012, the face of the franchise, David Wright, was traded for a package of prospects to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In what should have been an easy series for the Marlins, they were beaten two games to one by the Mets who overpowered young hitters like Morrison, Domingez, and Mike Stanton. In the final game of the year Johan Santana outdueled Marlin’s ace, Josh Johnson, in a 2-0 CG shutout. The big series of the final week was between the two teams tied for first place, Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. In Atlanta, The first game was Cole Hamels vs Tommy Hanson. The Braves won behind 7 strong innings from Hanson and a 2-4, 2RBI night from Jayson Heyward. Braves up one, Phils in second, Marlins in third. Second game saw the crafty veteran, Cliff Lee shut down the Braves while Dominic Brown drove in 2 runs and scoring two more himself in a Philly route. Tied again at the top, with the Marlins behind by one. The final game of the year saw two young up and coming arms pitted against each other. 2011 ROY, Kyle Drabek faced the Brave’s Julio Teheran, a July call-up who’s gone a surprising 7-1 since the promotion. The game was one for the ages and with both pitchers going into the eighth without giving up a run it came down to bullpens and Jayson Heyward. With one on, two outs, and trade deadline acquisition Bobby Jenks on the mound, the game and division was decided on one monstrous swing. Jayson Heyward sent a 98mph fastball over the right field wall and foam tomahawks littered the field. A superstar is born.
NL Central – The Houston Astros continue to be in rebuild mode after letting Lance Berkman leave via free agency before the season and trading Roy Oswalt and Carlos Lee at the 2012 deadline. They have few bright spots most notably Jason Castro. The Priates were respectable and they posted their first .500 season in almost 200 years---or so it seems. Andrew McCutchen put up MVP numbers and made his third straight All-Star game. St. Louis was hit by the injury bug as their already thin pitching was depleted and the normally reliable Albert Pujols missed a month with a bad shoulder. Colby Rasmus continued his steady play and notched his second straight 20-20 season. Chicago was competitive all year but fell behind shortly after the All-Star game and was forced to move aging veteran, Aramis Ramirez, opening up room for Josh Vitters to take over full time. Vitters struggled at first but came on late, knocking in 17RBIs in a three week span. The division came down to the Milawakee Brewers and Cincinatti Reds and for the first time since 1995, the Reds raised the pennant. Behind outstanding pitching (Volquez, Cueto, and rookie Mike Leake) and a scrappy, balanced offense the Reds finally put it all together. They were led by Joey Votto and Jay Bruce and the emergence of the new ‘Mr. Hustle,’ Drew Stubbs. The Brewers were a strong contender all year led by a nice mixture of Vets (Braun, Fielder) and young guys (Escobar, Gamel, Salome). Escobar made the All-Star game in just his second full year and has emerged as one of the best young shortstops in all of baseball. One surprise was the comeback and success of troubled young pitcher, Jeremy Jeffress. After meandering in the bullpen all of 2011, he made the opening day rotation and never looked back going 15-8 with a 3.98 ERA. Rookie pitcher Eric Arnett also pitched well but unfortunately, no one else did from the Brew Crew who look to bolster the staff in an attempt to make a run at 2013.
NL West – Big trade deadline deals rarely make a huge difference but one such trade put a jolt into the Arizona Diamondbacks and pushed them over the threshold and secured them the NL West crow. David Wright supplied a much needed punch to the Arizona offense after he was dealt and united with another former New Yorker, manager Bobby Valentine. Freed of the criticism, pressure, and circus-like environment that surrounded him in NY, Wright flourished down the stretch hitting .345 with 12 HRs and 27 RBIs. He provided NL MVP Justin Upton the protection he needed to create some runs behind one of the best pitching staffs in the NL. Dan Haren, Max Scherzer, and second year phenom, Jarrod Parker shut down opposing batters all year and rookie Wade Miley became an impact starter after July. The rest of the division was led by exceptional pitching as well but couldn’t match the Diamondback’s balanced attack. The Dodgers were the closest and finished only two games out of first but fell just short. They were led by their big two, Billingsley and Kershaw, both of whom won 18 games. Matt Kemp turned in an MVP-esque performance going 35-35 for the first time in his career. The Giants had THE best pitching staff in baseball but finished near the bottom of the league in runs produced. Madison Bumgarner won his first Cy Young going 23-5 with a 2.89 ERA. He and teammate, Tim Lincecum, became the first teammates to record 15+ strikeouts in back to back games. The offense had bright spots but it had holes as well. All-Stars Buster Posey and Pablo Sandovol couldn’t carry the offense but late season call-up Angel Villalona showed glimpses of the power hitter he could be by belting 13 extra base hits in his last 7 games including a two-HR effort in the final game of the year. Colorado was a fun team to watch and will no doubt be a team to reckon with in the future. And for the first time the Rockies will be less about hitting, and more about pitching. Their young rotation of Chacin, Jiminez, and Friedrich dazzled all year long. That’s not to say offense won’t be a strong suit either as Dexter Fowler continued to cement himself as one of the best CF in the game. 2013 is not out of their reach.
Offseason and playoffs
NL CY YOUNG: Madison Bumgarner, SF
NL MVP: Justin Upton, Arizona
NL Manager of the Year: Bobby Valentine, Arizona
NL ROY: Julio Teheran, ATL
NL HR leader: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
NL Avg Leader: Matt Kemp, LA Dodgers
NL RBI leader: Justin Upton, Arizona
NL SB leader: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
NL Wild Card: Philadelphia Phillies
NL CS: Arizona Diamondbacks Vs. Atlanta Braves
NL Winner: Arizona Diamondbacks
World Series Arizona Diamondbacks Versus Baltimore Orioles….why don’t you all discuss that for a bit.