Ten takeaways from 2016 MLB season

The Chicago Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in one of the more memorable World Series that we will ever see. The seventh game of the series was really, unlike any baseball game in history. It was a truly memorable finish to the 2016 MLB season.

Now that the season is over, we can look back on the last seven months. What are we going to remember? What do we need to remember looking forward?

With the 2016 MLB season in the bag, what are the 10 main takeaways?

1. No more billy goats

Of course, we have to start here.

There was no stopping the Cubs this year. They won 103 games in the regular season, ended the “even year magic” of the San Francisco Giants, made mincemeat out of Clayton Kershaw to make the World Series, then stormed back from 3-1 down to win the World Series against the Indians.

With that, a narrative that has been prevalent in so many baseball seasons (especially postseasons) is now gone. A black cat running by Ron Santo at Shea Stadium? Leon Durham letting a grounder go through his legs? Steve Bartman touching a foul ball that Moises Alou was trying to catch? Alex Gonzalez booting a routine grounder? Those — and so many others — don’t matter anymore. We shouldn’t be seeing highlights of those the next time the Cubs are in the playoffs.

On that note, this team should be a fixture in the playoffs for a while. Joe Maddon is one of baseball’s best managers. Chicago is not only baseball’s best team, but is loaded with young talent. Theo Epstein is one of the greatest executives in MLB history. On top of all of that, they might as well print money at Wrigley Field. It won’t be easy to outspend this team.

The Boston Red Sox ended a long World Series drought in 2004 and won two more in 2007 and 2013. The Giants ended years of frustration in 2010 and backed that championship up with World Series wins in 2012 and 2014.

The Cubs are in better position than either of those teams were in 2004 and 2010, respectively. Chicago is already the clear favorite to win in 2017. Of course, the Cubs could turn in to the 1991-2005 Atlanta Braves, who were perpetually in the playoffs and only broke through once. But Chicago could well top the more recent achievements of Boston and San Francisco, as well. The Cubs are just that good and now, they know how to win.

2. A team can never have too much pitching

Specific injuries are never predictable. What is predictable is that some injuries will happen.

Entering the year, the New York Mets looked like their starting pitching rotation was unbeatable. Who would want to face Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz in a playoff series? The looming return of the once highly touted Zack Wheeler made New York even more daunting.

So, what happened?

Harvey, deGrom, and Matz all suffered season ending injuries. Wheeler had another setback in his return and never pitched in 2016. Going down the stretch, the once vaunted Mets’ rotation was now hanging by a thread. New York did hang on to the top Wild Card spot, but really only because of poor play from the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets had Syndergaard for the Wild Card Game against Madison Bumgarner. But even if New York had won that, it would have been badly shorthanded in a series with the Cubs.

The Cleveland Indians won the American League pennant, but suffered injuries to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar getting there. Trevor Bauer also hurt himself during the playoffs while repairing a drone. A once deep rotation was all of a sudden razor thin. Pitching consistently on short rest, Corey Kluber was fantastic. The three-headed bullpen monster of Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen certainly picked up plenty of slack.

But when Cleveland needed one more win, it’s bullpen looked taxed. In Game 7 of the World Series, Kluber was clearly fatigued. A once deep rotation couldn’t manage a single start beyond six innings.

So, during the offseason and again in the days leading to the trade deadline, let the Mets and Indians be an example to everyone. Even if the pitching looks deep, another arm or two won’t hurt.

3. Beware of the quick fix

Zach Grienke, Diamondbacks

The near polar opposites of Chicago in 2016 were Arizona Diamondbacks. Arizona followed in the footsteps of the 2012 Miami Marlins, 2013 Toronto Blue Jays, and 2015 San Diego Padres as a team that won the hot stove season, but failed miserably during the ensuing season.

The Diamondbacks spent a pretty penny on Zack Greinke and gave up a big haul of top Minor League prospects for Shelby Miller. Greinke struggled at times, but had a decent season. Miller was terrible all year. The team went 69-93, finishing 22 games behind the division champion Los Angeles Dodgers, and 18 back of the Giants and Mets, the National League’s two Wild Card teams.

It’s safe to say that that’s not exactly what anyone in Arizona had in mind. In related news, manager Chip Hale and general manager Dave Stewart were both fired at the end of the year.

Spending money is nice and it’s a good way to show your fans that you care. But having a good group of talent in place is also vital. The Diamondbacks had some of that with superstar Paul Goldschmidt and All-Star A.J. Pollock and no doubt, Pollock’s injury really hurt this team. But outside of those two, Arizona was still rather thin coming into the year. The Greinke and Miller moves more resembled a quick fix than adding to a solid existing group.

If nothing else, let the 2016 Diamondbacks serve as another precautionary story for any team thinking about spending big for 2017.

4. Dodgers and Giants still reign supreme out west

Of course, like San Diego in 2015, Arizona’s moves were done in large part to break up the National League West monopoly enjoyed by the Dodgers and Giants since 2010.

It didn’t work. For the third year in a row, Los Angeles and San Francisco finished 1-2 atop the division.

Four times in the last five years, the Giants and Dodgers (in some order) have finished atop the division standings. In two of the last three seasons, both teams have made the playoffs. This dominance resembles what the Red Sox and New York Yankees enjoyed for so long in the American League East.

Neither team is perfect, by any means. But warts and all, the 2016 showed yet again that the Diamondbacks, Padres, and Colorado Rockies have a long way to go to challenge the two teams at the top.

5. Mike Trout’s prime getting wasted?

One would be hard pressed to find a much better player than Trout. He had another superb year in 2016, hitting 29 home runs, driving in 100 runs, scoring 123, stealing 30 bases, and slashing at .315/.441/.550. Trout is only 25, but is only a Hall of Fame track.

Unfortunately, he’s played in far too many meaningless games.

The 2016 season was the worst. The Los Angeles Angels — a veteran laden team built to win — went 74-88. With one of baseball’s worst farm systems, there’s really no reason to think that it will be much better in the near future.

To be fair, the Angels have managed a winning record in Trout’s other four seasons. Unfortunately, they’ve only made the playoffs once in his career.

We should want to see the game’s best players on it’s biggest stage — the playoffs. Los Angeles hasn’t figured out how to make that happen with any consistency. So far, Trout’s career is getting wasted. As baseball fans, we should certainly hope to see this change in the coming years.

6. Return of the long ball?

In Game 7 of the World Series, we saw four home runs. This included long balls from people like David Ross and Rajai Davis.

But in reality, the home run enjoyed a resurgence all throughout the season.

MLB teams averaged 187 home runs during the 2016 season. No season has been so prolific since 2000, dead smack in the middle of the steroid era.

Think about this. Mark Trumbo led the league in home runs in 2016 with 47. That total would have been tied for eighth in 2001 — the same year Barry Bonds hit 73 bombs, a record that may never be broken. Yet more home runs were hit in 2016.

So, what’s going on?

With any one player, it could be anything. But as a whole, it comes down to the players that front offices are searching for.

The strikeout is no longer a stigma with hitters. New age stats want guys that hit for power and don’t particularly care how those players make their outs. So, the hitters strikeout a lot and may not have a high average, but bomb the ball.

Conversely, more pitchers are throwing 95 mph plus now than ever before. Those pitchers have golden arms and strikeout a lot of hitters. But when contact is made on a hard pitch, the ball goes places.

The 2016 totals were much better than they’ve been in any of the last few years. So, we shouldn’t bet on a full repeat performance in 2017. But overall, the home run will continue to be a bigger part of the game than what we’ve grown used to.

7. Repeating is hard

No MLB team has repeated as World Series Champion since the Yankees’ 1998-2000 three-peat. The Philadelphia Phillies made it back to the World Series in 2009. The Yankees backed up a World Series win with a trip ALCS in 2010. The Cardinals did the same with a trip to the 2012 NLCS.

Since then, though, defending champions haven’t fared so well.

The Kansas City Royals were out of the race by the trade deadline. A 20-9 August got helped the champs finish at .500, but they never contended. Yet, they had the second best World Series title defense of the last four years.

Now, World Series championship seasons often feature trade deadline deals for pending free agents. In 2015, Kansas City landed Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto, who both went elsewhere. That could happen with the Cubs and Aroldis Chapman this year.

But in reality, it’s hard to win the World Series. The Royals did the opposite of the 2008-09 Phillies, losing one year and winning the next, making their title defense even more challenging.

In general, Chicago should look hard at the failures of the last four champions. The Cubs should be in better position than any of them, but getting back to October will be tough.

8. Chris Sale doesn’t like throwback jerseys

MLB trade deadline, Chris Sale

Normally, an incident in July involving a player on a non-contending team wouldn’t be worth mentioning after the World Series. But this Sale incident was just so bizarre.

Days leading up to the trade deadline, the Chicago White Sox  announced that Sale was scratched from a start. A trade? Not exactly. It then was announced a clubhouse incident. An argument? A shoving match? A fight? Not ideal, of course, but nothing terribly shocking.

In the coming hours, reports would come out that Sale didn’t want to wear his team’s throwback jerseys while pitching. He requested that the team wear different uniforms, management declined the request, citing the corresponding promotion.

Sale responded by taking a knife to not only his jersey, but everyone’s. He apologized later, but it didn’t exactly ring sincere.

Incidents don’t get a lot crazier. Now, it’s at least worth wondering if it does anything to his potential trade value. Sale is a great pitcher. If the White Sox put him on the market, teams will certainly want him. But will they be willing to give Chicago as much as Sale is probably worth?

But teams — including the White Sox — now have to wonder if something else might set him off. It may not be throwback jerseys. But this incident was crazy enough to think that it could, realistically, be anything.

9. The Blue Jays and Texas Rangers don’t like each other

When one thinks of MLB rivalries long standing ones like the Yankees/Red Sox, Giants/Dodgers, or Cardinals/Cubs likely come to mind. But over the last two seasons, no rivalry has burned quite has hot as the one between the Blue Jays and Rangers.

The two teams met in the ALDS in 2015 and 2016, with Toronto winning both meetings. In between was a spirited game in May. Baseball doesn’t get many good brawls. But when Jose Bautista slid into Rougned Odor, it set off a good one.

The fight also exposed problems with MLB’s famed unwritten rules. Bautista slid hard because he was hit by a pitch. Texas felt that was justified because of Bautista’s famed bat flip in the previous year’s ALDS. So, is this over now, or are we in for more redemption?

The animosity was limited in the ALDS. Still, scores typically aren’t settled in playoff games.

In 2017, the two teams will meet in Toronto from May 26-28, and in Texas from June 19-22. At that point, we’ll find out if this is truly over.

10. Fond farewells, sad farewells

The 2016 season doubled as a farewell to David Oritz. The Red Sox star is the greatest designated hitter of all-time and likely a future Hall of Famer. Teams said their goodbyes to him, giving Big Papi presents.

Cubs catcher David Ross is nothing close to Ortiz as a player. But at times, the postseason served as a goodbye to him, with Eddie Vedder dedicating Wrigley Field’s final Take Me Out to the Ballgame of the season to the retiring catcher.

Of course, the final week of the season also doubled as a farewell to Jose Fernandez, who tragically passed away in a boating accident on the penultimate Sunday of the regular season.

When the Marlins finally took the field again, Dee Gordon led the game off with a home run (watch here) in the season’s most emotional moment. Even the opposing Mets, who were in a playoff race, expressed joy in the home run.

The loss of Fernandez was tragic on so many levels. Of course, Fernandez’s skills on the field as secondary, but they were immense. His life was full of promise and ended way too soon. A mother lost her son, the Marlins lost a friend and teammate, and the people of South Florida — especially the Cuban community — lost a potentially fantastic role model.

The 2016 MLB season provided many great memories. But it will also be remembered as the season where Fernandez was lost far too soon.