Rounding Third: A look back at the year in MLB

Philadelphia, PA ( - If you didn't think Derek Jeter lived a charmed life before, the way he ended his magnificent career may have changed your mind.

One of Major League Baseball's biggest storylines this past year was the Jeter farewell tour. Teams fell over themselves in giving away gifts to the man who, essentially had been the face of baseball since the day he stepped onto the field in 1996.

Jeter may never have won an MVP or had been the best player in the game at any point in his career, but he was pretty freaking good and nobody won more than the Yankees' all-time hits leader.

Plus, he is one heck of a role model.

Parents never had to be ashamed to buy their kids a Derek Jeter jersey. That was probably why there was such an outpouring of affection for him everytime he visited an opposing ballpark for the final time. Heck, even the fans in Fenway Park gave him a touching tribute after he left the field for the last time on the final day of the regular season.

But, it was the way his Yankee Stadium career ended that will be remembered for years to come. Jeter gave the fans something that even the hackiest of scriptwriters could not have punched up, as he delivered a game-winning walkoff hit to send the Yankees to a victory.

It was a fitting ending for a player who has been synonymous with winning above everything else over his remarkable 20-year career.

Here are some of the other top stories of the past year, in no particular order:


Left-hander Jon Lester was in the midst of another spectacular year with Boston, but rejected a multi-year, lucrative extension from the Red Sox, so they made him available during the season. Lester was ultimately dealt at the non-waiver trade deadline to the Oakland Athletics for Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes. Although, the A's faltered down the stretch, it was certainly no fault of Lester's, as he was a key reason why the Athletics reached the American League Wild Card Game.

Lester then hit the free agent market and almost returned to Boston before finally "settling" on a 6-year ,$155 million from the Chicago Cubs and reunion with former general manager Theo Epstein.

With all due respect to Max Scherzer, Lester was the best pitcher on the market this offseason. He's a bulldog and he wins in October. If you are a team that is on the cusp of getting ready to compete, like the Cubs, there is no better pitcher to have at the top of your rotation than Lester.


Speaking of front of the line starters, one pitcher certainly jumped into that category this October, as Madison Bumgarner almost single-handedly led the San Francisco Giants to their World Series title in five years.

Bumgarner went seven innings to win Game 1 against the Kansas City Royals, then pitched a four- hit shutout in Game 5. But what he did in Game 7, though, is something people will be talking about for years.

On just two-days rest and his team leading, 3-2, Bumgarner entered the game in the fifth inning and tossed five more scoreless innings to lower his overall World Series ERA to an amazing 0.25, while earning the save in the decisive seventh game.

Twenty-one innings in this World Series and he allowed just one run.

You want more numbers?

Bumgarner pitched 52 2/3 innings this postseason, which was the most ever in a single playoffs, eclipsing Arizona's Curt Schilling (48 1/3 in 2001). He gave up just six earned runs in the postseason and his 1.03 is the third best in a single playoff run.

His 0.43 ERA against the Royals was also the lowest in a single World Series among pitchers with at least 15 innings since Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax compiled a 0.38 ERA for the 1965 Dodgers.

We needed a pitcher to take over for the retiring Josh Beckett as the best postseason pitcher of this generation, Bumgarner may have stepped right into those shoes.


Although their season ended in a Game 7 loss, there was no better story this postseason than the Kansas City Royals, who returned to not only the World Series, but to the playoffs for the first time since 1985.

After a thrilling wild card game win over Oakland, the Royals relied on their amazing bullpen and swept their way past both the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles to get back to the Fall Classic for the first time in 29 years.

No team signified small ball more in the regular season than Kansas City, which won 89 games this season thanks in large part to its ability to play defense and manufacture runs. The Royals also led the AL with 153 stolen bases, but their 95 home runs were the fewest in baseball.

The Royals may have found their power stroke in the postseason, but it was the tremendous bullpen triumvirate of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland that helped them get as far as it went. The group aided an overmatched Kansas City rotation that became just the second team during the wild card era to win the ALCS without a single starter completing six innings in the process.

And think about this. Teams are now copying the Royals' model as they get their teams ready for the 2015 season. The Royals. Teams want to be the Royals.


What an interesting couple of months for Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

Stanton was in the midst of the best year of his young career, but it all came to a screeching halt on Sept. 11 when he was hit in the face by a pitch from Milwaukee Brewers starter Mike Fiers. The young star was carted off the field and suffered facial lacerations requiring stitches, multiple facial fractures and dental damage.

But, then just over two months later he signed one of the more lucrative deals in the history of sports, signing a 13-year, $325 million extension to stay with the Marlins.

Not a bad way to get over having your face smashed.


The postseason may have been all about Bumgarner, but no pitcher dominated the regular season more than Clayton Kershaw.

Kershaw not only won the NL's Cy Young Award, but also joined became the first pitcher to win an NL MVP since Bob Gibson back in 1968. He was simply magnificent this season, as he led the majors with a 21-3 record, an .875 winning percentage, a 1.77 ERA and an 0.86 WHIP. He was also second in the NL with 239 strikeouts, three behind Johnny Cueto of the Reds and Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals, in 27 starts.

It was the fifth consecutive season that Kershaw tallied 200 or more strikeouts. He also allowed a .197 batting average to right-handed hitters and just .193 to left-handed hitters.

Of course, Kershaw's season ended in disappointment, as he once again stumbled in the playoffs, losing both of his starts, while pitching to a 7.28 ERA. He is now just 1-5 all-time in the playoffs with a 5.12 ERA.


Major League Baseball will have a new commissioner come January. And to nobody's surprise it's exactly the guy the outgoing commissioner wanted.

But, it wasn't exactly the rubber-stamped approval Bud Selig may have hoped for. In the end, though, he got his man in MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred.

Manfred, who has served as a league executive since 1998, will officially replace the retiring Selig and become the 10th commissioner in MLB history in January.

Manfed was elected unanimously on the third vote, which was kind of telling considering he was essentially handpicked by Selig to be his successor. Not to mention the fact that MLB owners raked in money hand over fist under Selig's watch.

Selig may have done a lot wrong in his time as commissioner. Who can forget the tied All-Star Game in 2002. And, of course, the steroid era will be a permanent stain on his resume and probably ultimately be his legacy. Nobody can argue, though, that he is handing the reins over the Manfred at a time when revenues are up in a major way across the board.

Financially, the game is in the best place it ever has been. Owners are making money. Players are making money. Everyone is happy, except for maybe the fans.


There may not have been a bigger offseason move than Joe Maddon leaving the Tampa Bay Rays to become the new manager of the Chicago Cubs.

Maddon stunned the baseball world, as after nine years with Tampa Bay, he chose to exercise an opt-out clause in his contract, ending the most successful era in the team's history.

Most assumed he would eventually join former Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who earlier this offseason left Tampa to become the baseball czar for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It was actually Friedman's departure that triggered Maddon's opt-out.

Regardless, it was a moot point because Friedman was happy with Don Mattingly and Maddon wanted the challenge of ending the Chicago Cubs' historic World Series championship drought.


No team has been more active this offseason than the San Diego Padres, who completely revamped not only their entire outfield, but the overall perception of their organization.

San Diego drastically upgraded the worst lineup in baseball, as it acquired outfielders, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton, along with catcher Derek Norris and third baseman Will Middlebrooks, while re-signing righty Josh Johnson and adding flamethrower Brandon Morrow.

Have these moves made San Diego the team to beat now in the NL? Absolutely not. Truth be told they are still probably the third best team in the NL West. But they have closed the gap on both the Dodgers and Giants and at the very least they are a legitimate wild card contender.

And people are certainly now talking about the Padres. When was the last time you could have said that?


We started talking about Derek Jeter and we will close with the new face of baseball, Mike Trout, who won his first AL MVP Award this season.

Trout had MVP numbers the last two seasons, but the deciding factor in most voters' eyes was the fact that Miguel Cabrera's Detroit Tigers reached the postseason, while the Angels sat home in October.

This year, though, Trout almost willed the Halos to the postseason, as he hit .287 to go along with a league-best 115 runs scored, while setting career- highs with 36 home runs and 111 RBI. He also stole 16 bases in 18 attempts

However, he did lead the AL with 184 strikeouts, but for the third year in a row led all of baseball with a 7.9 WAR. His 338 total bases, 137 runs created and 84 extra-base hits also topped the AL.

You could make the case that this was the worst of his three seasons, but regardless, the 23-year-old is headed toward his first of what could be many AL MVP Awards.