The Most Bizarre Stories and Moments of the 2018 MLB Season
The MLB season always provides some bizarre moments and storylines.
We've taken a look at 10 to remember from the 2018 campaign, from freak injuries to unexpected bounce-back performances to a bald eagle attack.
Just further proof that in any given season or in any given game, you might see something you've never seen before or that you never thought possible.
That's the beauty of baseball.
Beware of Luggage
At the end of March, as he arrived home in Kansas City following spring training, Royals catcher Salvador Perez suffered a torn MCL in his left knee while carrying luggage into his home.
As he told reporters, he missed a step and hyperextended the knee, and it wound up costing him the first 20 games of the 2018 season.
Strangely enough, luggage was at the center of another high-profile injury later in the season, this time involving Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez.
The 26-year-old injured his right index finger June 21, but he tried to pitch through the injury before finally coming clean with what happened while talking with reporters two months later.
"It got stuck in my suitcase and it started falling. It all happened in a span of about 30 seconds. I said 'Ow,' and my knuckle got super fat," Sanchez said. "I pitched that day, probably didn't help, but it was the first time I was going to pitch in front of my family as a professional, and I wanted to see what I could do."
He lasted just one inning against the Los Angeles Angels—allowing two hits and two earned runs—and then spent more than two months on the disabled list. The injury never fully subsided, and he finally underwent surgery earlier this week.
Sanchez said, "I didn't want to say it then because I saw Salvador Perez go down with the same injury, and I didn't want to get laughed at."
Who will be the next victim of rogue luggage? Stay vigilant, MLB players.
The Shawn Kelley Debacle
The circumstances surrounding Shawn Kelley's trade to the Oakland Athletics are the perfect encapsulation of the season-long dumpster fire that has been the 2018 Washington Nationals.
Despite a 53-53 record July 31 and a 5.5-game deficit in the NL East standings, the Nationals front office opted against selling aggressively at the trade deadline.
In response to circling rumors that Bryce Harper might be on the trade block, general manager Mike Rizzo sent the following text to the Washington Post on deadline day: "Bryce is not going anywhere. I believe in this team."
On deadline day, the Nationals crushed the New York Mets by a score of 25-4, but an outburst from Kelley stole the headlines. Pitching with a 25-2 lead in the ninth inning, Kelley gave up a two-run home run to Austin Jackson and spiked his glove on the ground in frustration.
Obviously, not a good look. But grounds to release one of your most effective relievers when you supposedly believe in the team?
Apparently, because Kelley was designated for assignment the next morning and eventually traded to Oakland for international bonus pool money.
The frustration seemed to arise because one umpire told him to pick up the pace between pitches and another told him to slow down prior to the home run. While that seems understandable, the Nationals deemed the glove throw "disrespectful to the organization" and cut him loose.
For some teams, a vote of confidence from the front office and a 21-run win might have been a rallying point for a late-season push.
For the Nationals, it was just another nail in the coffin.
Christian Yelich Hit for the Cycle Twice...Against the Same Team
Hitting for the cycle is a fluky sports accomplishment that can happen at any time and be achieved by anyone. Need proof?
Felix Pie, Jody Gerut, Scott Hairston, Brandon Barnes and George Kottaras have all hit for the cycle in the past decade. Heck, Aaron Hill did it twice in the span of 11 days during the 2012 season.
Meanwhile, legends like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. never pulled it off.
All told, there have been 322 cycles in MLB history.
That group includes 31 players who have recorded multiple cycles.
And that group includes five players who have recorded multiple cycles in one season.
But only Christian Yelich did it twice against the same team in the same season.
Granted, the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff has not been great this year with a 4.65 ERA that ranks 24th in the majors, but it's an impressive coincidence nonetheless.
Those two cycles are just a small piece of the impressive season that Yelich has authored for the Milwaukee Brewers. The 26-year-old is hitting .321/.390/.583 with 34 doubles, 33 home runs, 104 RBI, 110 runs scored and 21 steals for 6.6 WAR. That should be enough to make him the NL MVP front-runner.
Josh Donaldson and a Series of "What Ifs"
What if the Toronto Blue Jays trade Josh Donaldson during the offseason?
The Blue Jays entered the season with an eye on contending in 2018, and that mindset carried over to the handling of their most valuable trade asset in Donaldson.
"It seems like it was one rumor that came out at the trade deadline, and people have continued to build off that rumor," general manager Ross Atkins told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com in December. "We're trying to win, and I can't imagine our team being better without Josh Donaldson."
As a result, the Blue Jays were insistent on bringing back MLB-ready talent and prospects in any trade talks, and their steep asking price was never met.
Had they taken a more future-focused approach and been willing to offer Donaldson up for the best package of prospects, it could have been a huge boon to the farm system.
What if Donaldson stays healthy?
The Blue Jays didn't trade him during the offseason, but he still had a chance to be one of the prizes of the trade deadline.
The 32-year-old missed time in 2017, but he posted a 147 OPS+ with 33 home runs in 113 games en route to 4.8 WAR.
A return similar to what the Baltimore Orioles received for Manny Machado would have been a reasonable expectation, which would also have been a boon to the farm system.
What if Donaldson gets healthy in July?
Even with the time he missed early in the season, Donaldson could have still rebuilt significant value with a few healthy and productive weeks leading up to the trade deadline.
Instead, he wound up traded to the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 31 for a player to be named.
According to Jon Heyman of Fancred, that player will be right-hander Julian Merryweather. The 26-year-old is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, and he posted a 5.32 ERA over 128.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017.
So, he isn't exactly a franchise-altering haul.
No one would have predicted this outcome when the season began.
Bartolo Colon Beat Dee Gordon in a Footrace
Dee Gordon is one of the fastest players in baseball.
He's led the league in steals three times in his career, racked up 308 stolen bases in eight seasons and been clocked with an average sprint speed of 29.0 feet per second in 2018.
Bartolo Colon is not one of the fastest players in baseball.
The 45-year-old is listed forgivingly at 5'11" and 285 pounds, and he was moving quite a bit slower than 29.0 feet per second on this double in the gap two years ago.
Yet, somehow, Colon walked away as the victor when the two matched up in a footrace to the first base bag earlier this season.
Big Sexy seemed extremely pleased with himself after the play.
Alex Bregman Delivered a Pair of Weird Walk-Off Winners
Alex Bregman is having an excellent season for the Houston Astros, hitting .289/.395/.538 with 51 doubles, 31 home runs and 103 RBI for a 7.0 WAR.
He made his first All-Star team, participated in the Home Run Derby and hit his first career walk-off home run in June.
However, the most memorable moments of his season have come on a pair of poorly hit balls that didn't make it past the pitcher's mound.
In just their ninth game of the season, the Astros matched zeroes for nine innings against the San Diego Padres at Minute Maid Park.
After a scoreless top of the inning, Brian McCann led off the bottom of the 10th with a single and Derek Fisher stole second base as a pinch-runner. He was initially called out, but the ruling was overturned.
Two quick outs followed, and it looked like the Padres had escaped trouble when Bregman hit a towering fly ball out in front of the pitcher's mound.
However, first baseman Eric Hosmer misplayed it, and Fisher raced around the bases to score for the walk-off win.
After coughing up a 4-0 lead in the top of the ninth inning, it looked like the Astros were on their way to taking the loss when Stephen Piscotty homered for the Oakland Athletics in the top of the 11th inning.
Josh Reddick walked and Kyle Tucker singled to lead off the bottom of the inning against All-Star closer Blake Treinen. Reddick scored on a fielder's choice by Tony Kemp to tie it up, and with two outs Alex Bregman stepped to the plate with two homers in the game.
Instead of going deep again, he hit a dribbler down the first base line that initially looked like it was headed foul before spinning back fair. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy pounced on the ball and tried to quickly tag Bregman, but he bobbled the ball and then dropped it as Bregman eluded him.
Lucroy's rushed throw down to first base then glanced off Bregman's helmet and went out into right field as Tucker crossed home plate for the winning run.
What are the chances the same batter is at the plate for what may be the two of the weirdest walk-off wins of the season?
James Paxton Was 'Attacked' by a Bald Eagle
Nothing says America like a bald eagle attacking a Canadian-born pitcher.
"I guess the eagle knew I was Canadian," James Paxton told reporters after his encounter with the United States' national bird April 5 in Minnesota. "I don't know. But it came for me."
As far as weird moments go, this one was about as bizarre as it gets.
"It was not the first time I've seen a bald eagle," Paxton said. "But it's the first time I had one try to land on me. That was interesting. It was coming right for me. I'm like, 'The guy is over there and I'm not eagle guy.' But I guess this eagle just got confused."
To his credit, Paxton kept his cool, and his logic for doing so was sound.
"I wasn't gonna run," he said. "I figured I'm not gonna outrun an eagle, so might as well just see what happens."
The Tampa Bay Rays' 'Opener' Philosophy
It's not unusual to see a team temporarily fill a spot in the starting rotation with a "bullpen day" where innings are cobbled together as a number of different relievers work multiple innings.
The Tampa Bay Rays have taken that approach to another level this season.
Cy Young candidate Blake Snell has led the rotation all season, while Chris Archer filled a regular rotation spot before being traded and Tyler Glasnow has stepped into that spot since.
However, the other three rotation spots have been largely filled by "openers" as the team employed a regular bullpen game philosophy. That has led to some interesting pitching stat lines:
- Ryan Yarbrough: 37 G, 6 GS, 15-6, 3.93 ERA, 144.1 IP
- Yonny Chirinos: 17 G, 7 GS, 4-5, 3.68 ERA, 85.2 IP
- Ryne Stanek: 57 G, 27 GS, 2-3, 2.70 ERA, 63.1 IP
- Austin Pruitt: 21 G, 0 GS, 2-3, 4.57 ERA, 63.0 IP
- Diego Castillo: 42 G, 11 GS, 3-2, 3.13 ERA, 54.2 IP
- Jalen Beeks: 12 G, 0 GS, 5-0, 4.47 ERA, 44.1 IP
- Hunter Wood: 25 G, 8 GS, 1-1, 3.72 ERA, 38.2 IP
That group has pitched alongside the trio of Sergio Romo, Jose Alvarado and Chaz Roe, who have filled more traditional late-inning relief roles.
How will this idea evolve in the years to come, and will any other teams employ it with such regularity?
The Rays' 87-70 record has helped lend credibility to the approach.
Edwin Jackson and Anibal Sanchez Might Both Start a Playoff Game
Based on their 2017 numbers, the fact that Edwin Jackson and Anibal Sanchez even got a chance this season is surprising.
- Jackson: 76.0 IP, 5-6, 5.21 ERA, 6.14 FIP, 1.51 WHIP, -0.3 WAR
- Sanchez: 105.1 IP, 3-7, 6.41 ERA, 5.33 FIP, 1.60 WHIP, -0.7 WAR
The 35-year-old Jackson signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals during the offseason, but he was released June 1 without appearing for the big league club.
An injury-plagued Oakland Athletics squad scooped him up five days later, and he's emerged as a consistent option in the rotation, going 6-3 with a 3.18 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 87.2 innings over 16 starts.
With Sean Manaea out for the rest of the year and Trevor Cahill falling off since the All-Star break, it will likely come down to Jackson or Mike Fiers to start the Wild Card Game for Oakland.
As for Sanchez, the 34-year-old wrapped up a five-year, $80 million deal in disastrous fashion last season, struggling to a 6.41 ERA and spending much of the season in the Detroit Tigers bullpen.
The Minnesota Twins signed him to a minor league deal during the offseason, but he was released March 11 and signed five days later by the Atlanta Braves.
While he broke camp with a rotation spot, his season got off to an inauspicious start when he suffered a hamstring injury in April while running in the outfield before the game.
He made just four appearances over the first two months of the season as a result, but he's been rock solid overall, going 7-6 with a 2.96 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 130.2 innings spanning 23 starts (24 appearances).
Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman will front Atlanta's postseason rotation, but Sanchez will be a candidate for the Game 3 start.
Who would have ever guessed these two would make an impact in October?
The Service Time Debate Has Reached a Tipping Point
To anyone familiar with the minutiae of MLB service time rules, it was no surprise to see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez held back this September.
What moves this storyline into bizarre territory was the feeble attempts by their respective front offices to convince the media they were being held back for any non-financial reason.
"We feel like there is a good opportunity in the minor leagues for [Guerrero] to become a better more well-rounded player than in the major leagues," Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told reporters in May. He added: "What I can tell you is service time is not going to be the issue. That is not what this market deserves. It is not how anyone in this organization is wired."
Come on now, Ross.
Guerrero wrapped up the season with an eye-popping .381/.437/.636 line that included 20 home runs and 78 RBI in 408 plate appearances across four minor league levels. But even with a glaring hole at third base with Josh Donaldson injured and eventually traded, he never got the call.
As far as Jimenez, White Sox GM Rick Hahn said the following to reporters in September in defense of not calling him up:
"I do think, with regards to service time, we have a really strong track record here that speaks for itself of we will promote potential impact prospects when we feel they are ready to make that next step, or are ready for that next level. ... Our track record's pretty clear on this. When we feel a player is developmentally ready to fulfill, or put in the best position to fulfill and meet their ceiling, we will advance them to the next level."
Jimenez hit .337/.384/.577 with 28 doubles, 22 home runs and 75 RBI in 456 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. That included a .488/.512/.683 line over his final 10 games in August, which would have led perfectly into a September promotion.
Clearly, this is a broken system that needs fixing.
Until it is, we've entered a bizarro world where front offices try to downplay the abilities of players they simultaneously hope will become franchise cornerstones.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and accurate through Sept. 25.