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Top 5 Biggest Surprises in 2012 MLB Season

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5 Biggest Surprises of 2012 MLB Season

Giants
Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

The MLB season has come and gone, leaving behind pieces for the baseball world to gather, analyze and articulate to capture the biggest stories in the 2012 campaign.

This year, there have been more than enough stories to take from the season that are sure to get your head spinning. In the first half of the season, division standings were beginning to take shape and front page storylines were starting to gain traction. The New York Mets saw their 38-year-old knuckleballer befuddle offenses around the league. The Los Angeles Angels brought a 21-year-old phenom into the majors and he hasn’t stopped hitting. And the Washington Nationals finally became relevant again after so many years of wading in the doldrums of the NL-East.

As months past, the league was hit was some more un-savory news. Just when you thought the steroid era was over, Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon were caught using performance enhancing drugs and were penalized 50 games for their actions, both inevitably ending their seasons. The Nationals then shutdown their ace Stephen Strasburg before he reached 200 innings, which, again inevitably, led to their postseason demise.

Still, the season ended with a few historic moments. Detroit TigersMiguel Cabrera set a new high for baseball players, besting the league in average, RBIs and home runs. Elsewhere, the economical Oakland Athletics pulled off an unlikely 13-game deficit to capture the AL-West crown over their division rival Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants were gearing up for a remarkable run at the World Series title.

All in all, it was an exciting year for baseball fans. But if you missed part of it, here are the top five surprises of a storied 2012 season.

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5. Mike Trout, the Young Gun

Giants
Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE

Quite possibly the youngest player in MLB history to make a bigger impact on his team, came when the Los Angeles Angels promoted a 21-year-old phenom named Mike Trout.

As soon as he was called up on April 28th, the Angels’ 21st game of the season, Trout has been on a mission to keep Los Angeles relevant again in the baseball world. Since his time on a major league field, the slugging outfielder batted .326 (2nd in AL) with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs. He also finished the season leading the league in runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49).

If that doesn’t wake you from your stupor, he could very well be the best five-tool player in the league, posting the third highest on-base percentage, third highest slugging percentage and third highest OPS, all while putting in a gold-glove-caliber season as the Angels’ center fielder. As a result, he tallied a robust 10.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), best in baseball.

In the MVP race, Trout has a legitimate case as one of the youngest players ever to own the prestigious award. In fact, if he does get the honor, he would be the second youngest player to ever earn the award behind Vida Blue of the 1971 Athletics (turned 21 in July).

Still, he has to contest against the likes of Tigers’ Cabrera, who was the first player to earn the Triple Crown award since 1967. But either way, Trout’s phenomenal season is one few saw coming.

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4. Oakland Athletics, Overcoming the Odds

Giants
Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

In a league where money matters, it goes without saying that the more you put into your ball club, the more you get out of it. Well, apparently the Athletics didn’t get the memo.

Strapped with only $52 million in payroll (the second lowest in the league when the season started), the A’s fell behind the division-leading Texas Rangers by 13 games. I mean, what else could you ask for in a handful of no-name Triple-A prospects, a slew of rookie pitchers and one unproven Cuban-born player in Yoenis Cespedes?

In fact, let’s play a game. Can you name the positions of these A’s baseball players: Brandon Hicks, Seth Smith, Brandon Moss and Ryan Cook. No? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Yet, in the second half of the season, the Athletics started to feel like a team of destiny. They rattled off a nine-game winning streak, taking four games from the New York Yankees in the process and climbing up the AL-West standings. Soon enough, the team found itself five games back of the Rangers with nine games to play.

And would you believe it, the A’s pulled off the unthinkable, winning seven of their last ten, the final win coming against the Rangers in the last game of the season to edge their division foes by that very amount -- one game. And yes, the victory capped an unpredictable season that brought a handful of no-name prospects and mid-season pickups that, frankly, went unnoticed to the average fan, to prove that money isn’t everything when it comes to the fickle game of baseball.

Hmm...can you smell a Moneyball sequel? Hollywood could even use the same casted players, and just change the names on the jerseys. It’s not like anyone would notice.

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3. R.A. Dickey, Defying Age

Giants
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

What’s an over-the-hill 37-year-old baseball pitcher doing in the majors? How about posting a 20-win season on a bad team as the only knuckleballer in the game. No, let’s take that again. That can’t be right, can it?

The Mets’ R.A. Dickey was a revelation for a team who found it common to slosh around in the cellar of the NL-East standings on a year-to-year basis. But Dickey was the one bright spot, reaching a 20-win season for the first time of his 9 years in the league, pitting him in strong contention for the Cy Young Award.

Dickey’s long, winding major league career is a path few have taken. During his rookie campaign, he unfortunately learned that his right arm (pitching arm) “did not have an ulnar collateral ligament, the primary stabilizer of the elbow,” per New York TimesAndrew Keh. In his attempt to continue pitching, Dickey learned how to throw the knuckle ball after a few years of bouncing around the league. Finally, at the ripe old age of 37, he came to New York and harnessed the knuckle ball pitch with the utmost precision, baffling hitters around the league on a weekly basis.

Dickey finished the season as one of the best pitchers in the league, cementing a Cy Young-caliber season, with a league-leading 230 strikeouts, 2.73 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. And while we’re not in the business of giving free handouts to old-timers, this honor is one well-deserved.

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2. Miguel Cabrera, Triple Crown-er

Giants
Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

It doesn’t come easy to post the first Triple Crown in over 40 years, but Miguel Cabrera somehow found a way. His historic season ended with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs to lead the Detroit Tigers to yet another postseason appearance. In fact, when he saw the award in his sights the last month of the season, he set flame to the after burners and posted a miraculous .343 average with 42 runs, 19 homers and 52 RBIs. The month was the best in Tigers history, pitting an emphasis on Cabrera’s endurance after 162 games (of which he played 161).

That brings into question the league’s MVP race.

The race, for all intents and purposes, is judged on a player’s efficiency and the direct effect he has on his team. If that’s the case, some suggest Trout should be the frontrunner for the MVP because he posted a higher total WAR (10.3 to Cabrera’s 7.1). Still, the 29-year-old Cabrera has a higher percentage of his team’s scoring total, either by RBI or run scored (33.5 percent to Trout’s 27.2 percent), according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports. He also led his team to a first-place finish atop the AL-Central while the Angels’ finished third in the AL-West.

Though, Cabrera’s career year could be tarnished by his unsavory absence during the World Series. One that saw him batting .220 with 2 RBIs and one home run against the Giants in an ugly 4-game sweep. And to think, many thought the Tigers were the overwhelming favorites behind Justin Verlander and a rotation that boasted a 1.03 ERA through nine games of the postseason.

Still, it was an impressive and surprising feat to post such numbers in this day and age, when players excel at different aspects and intricacies of the game, and when so much relies on your teammates success. So take your curtain call Cabrera, it’s been your best season yet.

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1. San Francisco Giants, World Series Champs

Giants
Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE

While San Francisco didn’t seem to share the same “ Torture” brand it did back in their historic 2010 World Series championship season, you can definitely draw some comparisons from this year’s world champions.

Yes, the Giants, and their fans alike, are still dazed from a miraculous, if not tortured, kind of season. One that saw their division rival-Dodgers pull off an unprecedented 10-man trade that saw Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett land in LA. One that saw their best hitter, Melky Cabrera, lost for the season midway through the 2012 campaign for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. And one that saw not one, but two remarkable, come-from-behind playoff series victories, improving their record to 6-0 when playing on the brink of postseason elimination.

Even more unpredictably, the Giants had to rely on some of the most unreliable of baseball players. In Game 4 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco sent out the struggling Barry Zito to keep their season alive, and surprisingly enough, he came through. In Game 1 of the World Series, Zito did one better, this time beating out ace Justin Verlander and the hot-hitting Detroit Tigers to post a 1-0 lead in the World Series. The game sparked a wave of confidence for the Giants in their route to a four-game sweep over the Tigers to win their second World Series in three years.

Could this be a dynasty in the making? Not only is San Francisco a prevailing franchise in recent years, but one still built for long-term success. Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval are in their mid-twenties, while Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner will be holding down the pitching staff for years to come. They’ve also got some talent at other parts of their infield with shortstop Brandon Crawford (25) and Brandon Belt (24) beginning to blossom into major league mainstays.

If there was any doubt, the Giants are the biggest surprise in the 2012 season.