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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 8: Christian Yelich goes from unhappy Marlin to MVP

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

This time last year Christian Yelich was not where he wanted to be. He was 26 years-old — in the middle of his prime — but he was stuck on a Miami Marlins team that had no interest whatsoever in contending in 2018. New owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter had shipped off All-Star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, second baseman Dee Gordon and outfielder Marcell Ozuna, leaving Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto as the only two threats in the lineup. Yelich wanted out, and reports were that his relationship with the Marlins was “irretrievably broken.”

In late January that relationship came to an end, as Yelich was traded to the Brewers in exchange for Lewis Brinson, Isan Diaz, Monte Harrison, and Jordan Yamamoto. Brinson has yet to break the Mendoza line in parts of two big league seasons and the others are still working their way up from the minors so we don’t know how they’ll do. We do know what Yelich did after coming over to the Brewers, however.

Specifically, he led the National League with a .326 batting average, a .598 slugging percentage, and a 1.000 OPS. He also put up a .402 on-base percentage with 36 home runs, 110 RBI, 118 runs scored, and 22 stolen bases while playing above-average defense in the outfield. Yelich hit for the cycle twice in 2018, on August 29 and September 17.

His strong finish helped propel the Brewers to the NL Central crown, thanks in part to his 3-for-4 day against the Cubs in the game 163 tiebreaker. Yelich would reach base eight times in 14 plate appearances in the Brewers’ NLDS sweep of the Rockies. His bat would go quiet as Milwaukee fell to Los Angeles in the NLCS, but everyone has a bad week once in a while. Yelich’s season would end with the National League MVP Award, finishing in first place on 29 of the 30 ballots cast.

From discontent to division champ to MVP. It was a heck of a year for Christian Yelich.

Astros claim AL pennant with walk-off win against the Yankees

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Following a rollercoaster performance on Saturday, the Astros clinched the American League Championship Series with a decisive 6-4 walk-off win against the Yankees, claiming their second AL pennant and earning a well-deserved entrance to the World Series.

Both clubs decided to preserve possible Game 7 starters Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole, electing to have a “bullpen day” for a pivotal Game 6. Chad Green took the mound for the Yankees, tossing one inning before handing the ball off to a long line of relievers, while Brad Peacock‘s rare playoff start was capped at 1 2/3 innings. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that made it the first postseason game since 1999 in which neither starting pitcher lasted two innings or longer.

All told, the two clubs utilized a total of 13 pitchers to make it through nine innings. The Astros lost Ryan Pressly to a worrisome knee injury in the third, but were able to lean on José Urquidy for 2 2/3 innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball. Although Yankees’ bullpen fought back in every inning, they had considerable difficulty recovering from Yuli Gurriel‘s three-run homer off of Green in the bottom of the first:

Still, New York managed to get in a couple of knocks as well: first, with Gary Sanchez‘s RBI single in the second inning, then with Gio Urshela‘s 395-foot blast in the fourth inning — the second of his postseason career to date. That wasn’t enough to close the gap, however, and Alex Bregman‘s productive groundout in the sixth helped cushion the Astros’ lead as they headed toward the final few innings of the series.

That lead started to look a little shaky in the ninth. Only three outs away from a ticket to the World Series, Houston closer Roberto Osuna gave up a leadoff single to Urshela, which was quickly followed by a jaw-dropping, full-count, game-tying two-run shot from DJ LeMahieu that barely cleared the right field fence.

With the threat of extra innings and a potential loss looming, the Astros engineered a last-minute rally to regain the lead and stake their claim for the pennant. With two outs and no runners on, George Springer took a five-pitch walk from Aroldis Chapman. In the next at-bat, Houston pinned their hopes on José Altuve — and he didn’t disappoint, lifting a 2-1 slider out to left field for a 406-foot, two-RBI homer that confirmed the Astros’ series win.

The 2019 World Series will mark the third Fall Classic appearance for the Astros and the first for the Nationals. It all begins on Tuesday night.