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Punxsutawney thrills: Repeat this history

From 20-K games to Bartolo home runs, some performances deserve an encore
February 1, 2017

No single day on the calendar has been usurped by cinema quite like Groundhog Day. Bill Murray's movie of the same name took an already bizarre holiday centered on a supposedly meteorological-minded rodent and gave it a time-loop layer. Now the phrase "Groundhog Day" is ubiquitous with the idea of

No single day on the calendar has been usurped by cinema quite like Groundhog Day. Bill Murray's movie of the same name took an already bizarre holiday centered on a supposedly meteorological-minded rodent and gave it a time-loop layer. Now the phrase "Groundhog Day" is ubiquitous with the idea of repetition, which is why ballplayers often use it to describe the seemingly ceaseless and sometimes-monotonous Spring Training schedule.
Obviously, we hope and expect those same players to provide us with new stories in the upcoming 2017 season. But in the spirit of "Groundhog Day," here are some developments from 2016 that we wouldn't mind seeing repeated:
Daniel Murphy's magic
Murphy didn't get the memo that he was supposed to turn back into a pumpkin after his Ruthian October 2015, when he went deep seven times in 14 games. In his first season with the Nationals, the work Murphy put in to reshape his swing and his stats with Mets hitting coach Kevin Long was put to the full-season test with a new club.
To say Murphy delivered is an understatement. He hit a career-high 25 homers and 47 doubles, and his .595 slugging percentage was 171 points higher than his previous career average, which had been accrued in 3,619 plate appearances.
This is not the kind of breakout we've come to expect from a 31-year-old hitter. Murphy's batting average could see some regression this year -- his .348 batting average on balls in play was a huge leap from a .281 mark in 2015 -- but the Nats would love to see the power production continue.

Justin Verlander's renaissance
Admit it, you thought we'd seen the last of Justin Verlander: Cy Young Award contender. Verlander entered 2016 with just shy of 2,200 big league innings to his name (counting the postseason), and his ERA+ marks in '14 and '15 were among the lowest of his career. He seemed to be enduring a possibly inevitable fade from his MVP peak.
But Verlander's resurgence in 2016 was a beautiful thing to behold. He posted a league-leading strikeout total (254) and WHIP (1.001) en route to a 16-9 record and a 3.04 ERA in 34 starts. This return to form could be important in Verlander's eventual Hall of Fame chances.
So let's keep it going, and maybe this time Kate Upton won't have anything to complain about when the Cy Young Award votes are revealed.

Big power from little Jose Altuve
Altuve vying for -- and winning -- a batting title was nothing new. But the 5-foot-6, 165-pound Altuve's 2016 effort combined that consistency with yet another improvement in pure power.
Altuve had already made strides in this department with a 34-point leap in isolated power from 2014 (.112), when he hit seven homers, to 2015 (.146), when he hit 15. But in 2016, that mark jumped to .194, and he crossed the 20-homer threshold. Altuve proved himself a viable No. 3 hitter, and while that might come at the expense of his stolen-base total, it's fun to watch the little man go deep.
The additions of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick lengthen the Astros' lineup, and we expect big things out of Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. But Altuve is still the straw that stirs the drink.

A 20-strikeout game
What Max Scherzer did last May against the Tigers was even rarer than a perfect game. Only five other times (four other times in a nine-inning game) had a pitcher struck out 20 batters. For Scherzer to do it a second time wouldn't be unprecedented -- Roger Clemens is responsible for two of the six -- but we've never had a 20-strikeout game in consecutive seasons. The closest we've come was when Clemens did it in 1996 and Kerry Wood followed in '98.
It's not totally crazy to think it could happen again in 2017.
After all, a new record for Major League-wide strikeout rate has been set each of the past nine seasons. Last year, batters struck out an average of once every 4.74 plate appearances, and Scherzer's gem was one of five instances in which a pitcher struck out 15 or more. So whether it's Scherzer or somebody else on the mound, the thought of seeing another one of these this year isn't inconceivable.

Robinson Cano's resurgence
History tells us second basemen don't age well, and the move from Yankee Stadium to Safeco Field didn't help Cano's power, either. His run production took a nosedive in the first half of 2015, when he had an unbecoming .660 OPS while battling a stomach ailment that sapped his strength.
But Cano bounced back in a big way in 2016. He hit a career-high 39 homers, and his .235 isolated power mark -- second only to James Dozier (.278) and Murphy (.249) among second basemen -- was his highest since his Yankee days.
It would be nice to see a reborn Cano do what he intended when he signed with Seattle and help end what is now the longest October drought in the game.

Zach Britton in the record books
The great Britton's 0.54 ERA in 2016 was a new record for a reliever with at least 50 innings pitched. Could Britton challenge another record this year? He hasn't blown a save since Sept. 20, 2015, a span of 49 opportunities. Eric Gagne holds the record of 84 consecutive conversions from Aug. 28, 2002, through July 5, 2004.
That's a tall order for Britton. But he famously didn't appear in the American League Wild Card Game, so at least we know he'll be fresh.

A Cubs-Indians World Series
C'mon. You've seen "Rocky II." Rematches can be thrilling. If the National League and AL champs were to repeat, it wouldn't be the kind of redundancy we typically bemoan. That's how good the 2016 Series -- especially that Game 7 grand finale -- was. Could the Indians make amends for their blown 3-1 lead? Could the Cubs, after 108 years of agony, actually go back-to-back and start to establish themselves as a modern-day dynasty?
Alas, not once in the Wild Card era have two clubs met in consecutive years on the Series stage. The last World Series rematch was in 1978, when the Yankees repeated against the Dodgers. But the Cubs continue to possess one of the most loaded rosters in baseball, and the Indians powered up with the signing of Edwin Encarnacion. So this isn't entirely far-fetched.
We're pretty sure the star of "Groundhog Day" would be cool with that.

A Bartolo Colon home run
On the one hand, there is value to what happened unexpectedly in Petco Park last spring as a once-in-a-lifetime, soul-stirring, smile-stoking, GIF-generating swing of the bat that won't soon be forgotten by anybody who witnessed it. Some experiences are signature, standalone moments in time that cannot easily be recaptured, and there is an argument that Big Bart's big blast should stand among them, or, at the very least, be the Halley's Comet of homers (after all, we're pretty sure Colon is going to play another 75 years).
Gif: Colon hits first career home run
On the other hand, pffft. Why should something so fun be so rare. Do it again, Big Sexy!

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.