Top 25: The best of MLB in 2018

From Ohtani to the Red Sox winning it all, the year was full of excitement

December 20th, 2018

When they report to spring camp, when the banners and the bunting are rolled out for Opening Day, when we stroll through the gates and find our seat, we know something interesting is coming. We know something potentially electric or historic or euphoric is coming.
We just don't know what, exactly.
That's the beauty of a season with 2,430 games and (at least) 21,870 innings to be played. There are always new territories to uncover, new riddles to unravel, new achievements to unlock.
True to form, the 2018 season came through with surprise squads and sluggers, unprecedented performances, great games, implausible plays and, well, a bunch of stuff that was just plain fun or funny.
With that in mind, here are 25 of the many things we loved about the '18 season.
Well, at least the ceremonial first pitch stayed in the park
The Cubs' hit the very first pitch of the 2018 season out for a home run at Marlins Park. Happ and Dwight Evans (1986 Red Sox) are the only players to begin a big league season in such a way.

Now don't let Harry Frazee sell him to another club
Though an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery brought his pitching season to a heartbreaking halt, Angels rookie joined Babe Ruth as the only players with 10 pitching appearances and 20 homers in a season, justifying the many Ruth comparisons that preceded his arrival from Japan and making him the runaway winner of the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Next step: The return of the solid-color pullover!
Bullpen carts, defining relics of the 1970s, made a return in 2018, with the D-backs, Tigers and Nationals offering them up to relievers who had, uh, "cart" blanche to decide if they wanted a lift to the mound. Yes, the rideshare craze found its way to the big league field.

Raise a glass to them (because they can't)
Though shy of the legal drinking age, the Nationals' Juan Soto, who turned 20 in late October, and the Braves' , who turned 21 in December, were the toast of their respective towns and staged a dynamic NL Rookie of the Year race. Soto became the first teenager ever with at least three multi-homer games, while Acuna won the prize after becoming just the seventh player to have a 25-homer year before turning 21 (five of the previous six are in the Hall of Fame, for the record).
How Brave of them
Acuna and teammate became the first pair of teammates with 20-plus homers before the age of 22. Those "Baby Braves" paired with some of the old fellas -- a typically stellar year from Freddie Freeman, and becoming a first-time All-Star at age 34 -- to elevate Atlanta in the NL East well ahead of schedule. Turns out, Chipper Jones' Hall of Fame induction wasn't the only thing to celebrate in Braves Country.
It's almost as if baseball predictions aren't ironclad
One year after surprisingly pushing the Cubs in the NL Central race, the Brewers, bolstered by their offseason acquisitions of and , finished the job in 2018. And they did so in dramatic fashion, with a division tiebreaker victory at Wrigley Field. And for the first time in MLB history, we had not one but two Game 163s, with another tie in the NL West! Alas, the Rockies weren't able to complete an NL division standings stunner trifecta by downing the mighty Dodgers. They settled for a Wild Card spot and a win of their own over the Cubbies.

When, exactly, did the Derby end and the game begin?
A night after penned a real, live love letter to Washington by hitting nine long balls in the final 50 seconds to win the Home Run Derby for the first time, the All-Star Game itself was pretty crazy, too. Consider this: Until the 2018 Midsummer Classic, there had never been a Major League game -- regular season, postseason or All-Star -- in which five different players homered for each team. The AL won, 8-6, and all but one of the game's 14 runs was driven in with a homer.
On the cutting edge
The Dodgers' and the Brewers' , both of whom were cut by their original teams (the A's and Indians, respectively) prior to 2017, were two of the NL's most bountiful sluggers in '18, with north of 30 homers apiece.
Anyone know if Brad Pitt is looking for a new movie project?
The A's entered the season with the lowest payroll in baseball. The reputable preseason PECOTA projections pegged them to finish 77-85. They had a double-digit deficit in the AL Wild Card standings as late as June 18. But none of the above prevented them from powering their way toward a postseason spot. Never in the last 30 years had a team with the lowest Opening Day payroll made it to October.
What's next? Pitchers hitting? Oh, wait …
On July 23, a record four position players (the Cubs' and and the Rangers' and ) pitched on the same day. And that was part of a broader trend in which more position players pitched this season than any other.

There are fewer fouls in a basketball game
In the top of the first inning of a Giants-Angels game on April 22, stepped to the plate against . Twelve minutes, 45 seconds later, the at-bat finally ended … with a flyout. Belt's 21-pitch at-bat, which included 16 foul balls, was the longest on record.
Chicks dig the long haul
A's rookie center fielder made an extraordinary catch to rob of extra bases on Aug. 11, and that would have been enough. But Laureano's ensuing 321-foot throw from the warning track to first base (longer than goal line to goal line on a football field), where got doubled up, was legendary, up there with some of the greatest throws of all-time.

We can't wait to find out how it ends
Game 3 of the World Series lasted 18 innings and seven hours, 20 minutes, making it the longest postseason game in history on both fronts. It ended at 12:30 a.m. PT at Dodger Stadium, with an orange moon hanging above the San Gabriel Mountains, as Muncy swatted 's 97th pitch of relief over the left-field wall. It was the Dodgers' lone win in the Series, but it's a game people will talk about for -- appropriately -- a long time.
You mean to tell me a stat invented in 1884 is out of date?!
On the night of Sept. 11, broke Leslie "King" Cole's single-season record that had stood for 108 years when he tossed his 26th straight start in which he allowed three runs or less. Fittingly, in a year in which deGrom rarely received much run support from his teammates and won just 10 games, deGrom took the loss that night. His NL Cy Young season became the best example yet of the modern-day hollowness of the age-old "win" stat.
Do these qualify as international incidents?
Speaking of wins, (who, no, was not alive in 1884) became the winningest Latin American pitcher in history when he notched No. 246 on Aug. 7, passing Dennis Martinez. And on June 14, with his 3,090th career hit, another Ranger from the Dominican Republic, Adrian Beltre, became the all-time hits leader for a foreign-born player, passing .

The 'big things come in small packages' axiom is not just for jewelers anymore
In a year preceded by breathless hype about what gargantuan outfielders and could accomplish together, the Yankees' most interesting power-hitting duo turned out to be infielders and , who became the first pair of Yankees rookies to hit 20 homers in the same season. Meanwhile, the Indians' and became the first pair of infield teammates -- and only the ninth pair in history at any position -- to notch at least 30 homers and 20 stolen bases apiece in the same season.
Hits are overrated, anyway
In a season in which strikeouts outpaced hits for the very first time, there were three no-hitters within just 17 days of each other early in the season. A's lefty got the party started by blanking the Red Sox on April 21. On May 4, the Dodgers' , , and Tony Cingrani threw a combined no-hitter against the Padres during the first regular-season series in Mexico (a Mexico-no?). And on May 8, the Mariners' betrayed (or perhaps capitalized upon) his Canadian roots by no-hitting the Blue Jays in Toronto.

Someday, pitchers will just text images of their pitches to the hitter
During the second annual Players' Weekend in August, D-backs reliever Brad Boxberger became the first player in history to wear emojis on his jersey (a box and a burger, duh).
Big deal. I used to do that in my backyard all the time
On Aug. 12, in a nationally televised tilt against the Nationals, the Cubs' got to live out the dream of every kid with baseball on the brain. Down three, two out, ninth inning, Bote came through with the game-winning grand slam. It was just the 15th known slam to occur in those exact conditions.

Has an active player ever been put in the Hall of Fame? Just asking
, who finished in the top two of the MVP voting for the sixth time in seven years, became just the second player to have three 30-homer, 20-stolen base seasons before his age-27 season. The other? Willie Mays. By the time he played his 1,000th career game in mid-June, Trout had already passed 69 Hall of Fame position players in career Wins Above Replacement.
Sure, it works, but pitching job titles have never been more confusing
The Rays may have reinvented baseball as we know it on May 19, when they used reliever as "the opener" in a game against the Angels. They employed the experimental strategy -- in which relievers with advantageous matchup outlooks handle the first inning of games before a "starter" takes over and gives a little more length -- throughout the rest of the season, and other teams followed suit.
Isle never forget this
Mere months after Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, the Twins and Indians staged the two-game Puerto Rico Series at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan in April. , a native of Caguas, hit a dramatic homer in the first game, and , a native of Bayamon, stepped up with a stellar start the next night. The island had issues far bigger than baseball, but at least the sport was there to help with the healing.

Not the first time an actor has been in the good seats in LA
Mets third baseman fooled an umpire with some impressive acting when he toppled over the wall on an attempted catch of a foul ball into the stands at Dodger Stadium, dropped the ball in his glove and quickly replaced it with a rubber baseball that had fallen out of a fan's bag and happened to be laying nearby.
Note to self: Never leave early
The 2018 season didn't match the 2017 season's record number of home runs, but 2018 was unmatched in terms of tater timing. When the Astros' hit the game-winning homer in a key division tilt against the A's on Aug. 31, it was the record-breaking 81st walk-off homer of the season. The final number was 102.

There's a decent chance he'll be back for a second year
In their first season with Alex Cora at the helm, the Red Sox won a franchise-record 108 games in the regular season, got an AL MVP year from and a Hank Aaron Award-winning output from newcomer J.D. Martinez, owned the rival Yankees in the AL East and then in the ALDS, and -- with overcoming his October bugaboo, Steve Pearce emerging as an unlikely MVP and Chris Sale capping his dominant season with the final outs -- won their fourth title in 15 seasons. Cora had never previously managed a game at any level. For his next trick, maybe he can get everybody to agree on the DH rule.