Best of 2012: looks back at the Year in Baseball Staff

12/24/2012 10:15:12 AM

As 2012 winds to a close, looks back at the stories that made the year memorable.'s writing staff reflects on the best baseball moments from the past 12 months including the Blue Jays' facelift, the upstarts of the American League, the toughest man in baseball and more.

Shane McNeil on Alex Anthopoulos' busy off-season

While it is way, way too early to judge the Toronto Blue Jays' busy off-season one way or the other, the moves completed by Anthopoulos have to be called a success on one very specific front.

Call it a by-product of months without hockey, but the city of Toronto has been buzzing about the Jays since the evening the 12-player Miami blockbuster broke in a way that it hasn't since the World Series years.

Fans are already intrigued by the prospect of R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Melky Cabrera (among others) lining up alongside Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Morrow, Brett Lawrie and the rest of the team's young talent core.

Much hyperbole has been made about the cost of landing five former All-Stars in both positive and negative lights and all fans know as of right now is that the Jays took risks, be they on players playing up to their contracts or prospects living up to their potential.

However, Toronto is talking baseball more than two months ahead of the first reports for spring training. Whether or not the trade works out, Alex Anthopoulos should be applauded for getting the city's attention.

Ken Rodney on the Upstarts of the American League

The sprint of the Major League Baseball playoffs are the domain of luck, the regular season is a long and grueling marathon that weeds out even the slightest pretender to give us the best and most worthy teams to compete for the World Series.

This season was supposed to be easier than most to predict, in the American League West the reloaded Los Angeles Angels and the defending league champion Texas Rangers would battle, in the East it would be the high flying New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and young Tampa Bay Rays that would decide the division.

When the dust cleared however the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles were both still standing after 162 games.

According to the New York Times, 133 respected baseball writers across 19 publications and websites failed to predict either team qualifying for the second season.

The Orioles were referred to as a "sorry franchise" and were called a "potential 100-loss team." While the Athletics were honoured as having, "all but assured themselves of a last-place season." and should prepare themselves for a "warm, comfy spot in the cellar."

Athletics skipper Bob Melvin was named 2012 manager of the year with Orioles bench boss Buck Showalter as the runner up in the category.

With teams in both the AL East and West loading up again for the 2013 season, it will be interesting to see if these two surprising franchise will be underestimated once again.

Daan De Kerpel on the Toughest Man in Baseball

The greatness of Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen is largely overlooked.

His 2012 season was unbelievable. He hit .327 with a .400 on-base percentage. He also clubbed 31 home runs, stole 20 bases, scored 107 times and notched 97 RBI, while leading the National League in hits.

The 26-year old was also third in the NL MVP voting and picked up a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award.

One thing that doesn't show up in McCutchen's stat line is his toughness, which was displayed prominently in August in a game against the Cincinnati Reds.

It was the ninth inning of the game and McCutchen was facing Reds' closer Aroldis Chapman. Chapman hit McCutchen in the shoulder with a 101 mile per-hour fastball.

McCutchen took off his shin guard and walked to first, only sending Chapman an angry glance.

That highlight was played a great deal in the office in the days and weeks that followed, and it always gets the same response from those who watch it: Andrew McCutchen is the toughest man in baseball.

McNeil on Bryce Harper, One-Man Show

The Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper did a lot of foolish things in his rookie MLB season.

The eyeblack smeared on like war-paint, the subsequent ridiculous red-tinted contacts to keep the sun out of his eyes and his immortal quote: "That's a clown question, bro," all go into the negative end of the ledger.

But what was really impressive was Harper's first head-to-head against Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels.

Finishing off his first full week in the bigs, Harper strode up to face the former World Series MVP in the first inning and was greeted with a pitch labeled for the small of his back. It was a plunking Hamels would subsequently admit was intentional.

After being singled over to third, Harper would seek immediate revenge on Hamels.

Eyeing the lefty all the way, Harper waited until Hamels threw over to first to check the runner and sprinted home. The throw to the plate was high and Harper brazenly answered his "Welcome to the big leagues" with his first career stolen base, safely sliding into home.

Rodney on Aaron Hill's Monster 11 Days

When Aaron Hill slid into third base with a sixth inning triple off Milwaukee Brewers reliever Livan Hernandez on June 29th, he completed the 292nd cycle in Major League History, a number that dates all the way back to Curly Foley of the Buffalo Bisons who hit for the first one in 1882.

What made Hill's accomplishment even more historical is that on June 18th, just 11 days earlier, he ripped a home run off Mariners reliever Shawn Kelley into the left field seats in the seventh to earn the 291st cycle, making him the sixth player and first since Babe Herman in 1931 to achieve the feat twice in the same season.

In an incredible two-week span, Hill equaled the number of cycles that have been hit in the entire history of his former club the Toronto Blue Jays and he now has more than have been hit for in the histories of the Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres.

As far as Diamondbacks lore is concerned, they were the fifth and sixth cycles since the desert franchise was founded in 1998, ironically the previous member of the team to complete the feat was second baseman Kelly Johnson who was dealt to the Blue Jays to acquire Hill the previous season.

De Kerpel on the Nats' Folded Ace

The Washington Nationals, long the bottom dwellers of not only the National League East, but also of baseball in general, were expected to be a much better team in 2012.

Very few would have believed that the Nationals would have the most regular season wins in the game with 98.

The Nationals lost in heartbreaking fashion to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NL Division Series, despite leading the game 7-5 with two outs in the ninth inning, but the thing that people will remember most was their decision to shut down the ace of their staff Stephen Strasburg.

The Nationals had stated all season that Strasburg, who missed the majority of the 2011 season following Tommy John surgery, would be limited to around 160 innings. That strategy that the club employed with another starter, Jordan Zimmermann in 2011, became more and more scrutinized as the season wore on, not only because of the Nationals record, but because Strasburg posted an impressive 15-6 record with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. He also posted 197 strikeouts in only 159.1 innings when he was shut down in September.

The Nationals stuck to their guns saying they would choose Strasburg's long-term health over their chances in 2012.

In 2013 Strasburg will pitch with no limitations, but regardless of the outcome, there will always be 'what if?' questions regarding the decision and what could have been in 2012.