We’re a few short days away from 2018 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2017. 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.
What do we talk about when we talk about a great team? I’d say that, almost exclusively, we talk about championship teams. Teams that win it all and hoist the trophy in October or November. That makes perfect sense, of course. Every team sets out to win it all and every team which doesn’t win it all ends their season with some level of disappointment about it.
Can we not, however, acknowledge that even teams which don’t win the World Series can be great? That the regular season, while not counting for anything when we count up championship rings, remains the part of baseball we consume the most and that dominating in the regular season is likewise laudable? I hope that’s not a controversial view. I hope that spending the 1990s rooting for the Atlanta Braves — who were almost always among the best in baseball but who only won one World Series — hasn’t skewed my senses on that too terribly much. Either way: I will always be a regular season guy and I will always think that, no matter what happens come postseason time, winning 100 games or more in the regular season is something worth talking about.
Some years we don’t get any 100-win teams. In 2017 we had three. I’ll talk about the 101-win Astros later in this countdown, obviously, but for now I’d like to talk about Dodgers and the Indians, each of whom had fantastic seasons, even if they risk being lost to history because they did not win it all.
The Dodgers were considered the best team in baseball for almost the entire season. They won 104 games, which was the most they had ever won in Los Angeles and the second best in overall team history, trailing only the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers. They won their fifth straight National League West championship. At one point in the season — starting on June 7th — the Dodgers went on a record breaking tear in which they won 43 of 50 games, going on win streaks of 9, 10, and 11 games during the stretch. They did this despite, on the tail end of that stretch, losing Clayton Kershaw to injury. They did it despite losing Adrian Gonzalez for basically all of the season. Well, I’m being cute there, because their tear coincided with rookie sensation Cody Bellinger taking Gonzalez’s place in the lineup and embarking on a record-setting Rookie of the Year campaign. More about that later in the countdown as well.
Until late in the year the Dodgers were on pace to match the Seattle Mariners single season win record. A really bad stretch of losing — including an 11-game losing streak and a run where they lost 17 of 20 — put the kibosh on that, but they still notched the most wins of any team since 2004. They still rolled through the Diamondbacks in the NLDS and still dispatched the defending champion Cubs in five NLCS games before taking the Astros to the seventh game of the World Series. If it was not for one stinker of a Yu Darvish start on that November evening, the 2017 Dodgers would be a team for the ages. That they did not win it all does not mean, however, that we cannot celebrate them here.
At least the Dodgers made the World Series. The Indians, the defending American League champions, could not get past the Division Series, losing three games to two to the New York Yankees. Still, 2017 was a fine season for them and it featured a record-breaking run.
In August and September the Indians broke the American League record for the longest winning streak and mounted the second longest winning streak in major league history — and the longest winning streak in 101 years — taking 22 straight games. When a team sets out to win the World Series they are just one of 30 teams in the hunt. Weight that for team quality and the odds are far worse than 1-in-30 for any given club, but according to one analysis, the chances of any team going on a 22-game winning streak is as low as 1 in 65,000.
The Indians finished the season with a record of 102–60. That was the best record in the American League, the second highest win total in franchise history and the fourth best winning percentage in franchise history. It featured Silver Slugger Awards for José Ramírez and Francisco Lindor and a second Cy Young Award for Corey Kluber. It was a resounding success from every moment between spring training and the second week of October.
The above highlights notwithstanding, neither the 2017 Dodgers nor the 2017 Indians seasons will go down in history. Not the super important parts of baseball’s history anyway. We’re too focused as a society on winning the ultimate prize for that to happen. But those seasons did happen and millions of Dodgers and Indians fans got to enjoy them. Not winning a World Series shouldn’t change that at all.