One could make the argument that "Team of the Year" truly is decided on the field, and they wouldn't really be wrong; there is a perfectly fine* postseason system in place that allows for the best** team to emerge as World Series champions.
So why, then, are we not just handing this award to the Giants? Because they're lucky, stupid and entitled***, that's why.
* -- Except for, you know, that whole one-game Wild Card round thing
** -- Deepest ... allows for the deepest team to emerge as World Series champions.
*** -- AFHD/Papality/McC lurker trap. The Giants, in addition to those things, are really well put together.
Without further ado, here are the nominees for Best MLB team of 2014:
1) San Francisco Giants
Ah, yes. The hated Giants, winners of now three World Series titles in the last five seasons. The "lucky" label should officially be put to rest. San Francisco overcame injuries to Matt Cain and Brandon Belt, an AWOL Buster Posey for a large part of the regular and postseason, and the continued decline of Tim Lincecum to bear down, play solid second-half baseball and eventually win the whole damn thing. That is what we call a run-on sentence. And that is also what we call the mark of a great baseball team. Seems fitting.
No power and so-so starting pitching can get you a long way, apparently. The Royals hit the fewest home runs in the major leagues and had a good but certainly not great rotation in 2014. But speed, defense and relief pitching, man. Often three of the biggest things overlooked in baseball this day and age were the same three things that got Kansas City to within possibly one big hit of winning the World Series. I don't know how sustainable their success will be considering they still have major offensive issues and will lose James Shields to free agency, but what a story.
The Halos are the default nominee for this award based on the fact they finished the regular season with the best record in baseball. And for a while, they were one of the most impressive teams I've ever seen take the field, no hyperbole. In a month-long stretch between Aug. 12 and Sept. 13, the Angels went 25-6 and won 13 of those games by four or more runs. And their best pitcher, Garrett Richards, threw exactly nine innings during that time. Led by MVP Mike Trout (36 homers, 167 OPS+), a rejuvenated Albert Pujols (28 homers, 125 OPS+) and a breakout performance from Kole Calhoun (122 OPS+), the Angels had perhaps the deepest lineup in baseball throughout the regular season. It's just a shame they couldn't make it past the momentum-powered buzzsaw known as the Royals.
The Nationals, top to bottom, might have been the best team in baseball in 2014 and would also be my pick for that distinction going forward. First, they boast a rotation that doesn't walk anybody. They're exactly what the Rockies wish they had in terms of a staff that can effectively pitch-to-contact but get a strikeout when they need it. Four rotation members -- Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark and Doug Fister -- walked fewer than two batters per nine innings. Their fifth starter is Gio Gonzalez, who walked 3.2 batters per nine innings -- a figure that would've led the Rockies' staff, by the way -- but also posted a 3.57 ERA and struck out 162 batters in 158⅔ innings.
On offense and in the field, a core of Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Denard Span and an aging-but-effective Jayson Werth isn't a bad place to start. This team is probably one impact bat and a year or so of experience away from being one of the best we've seen in quite some time. I'm excited about their future, and that only adds to what they were able to accomplish in the regular season in 2014.
There's a reason Buck Showalter won the Manager of the Year award. The Orioles had approximately one great full-time offensive player -- Nelson Cruz -- and a rotation filled with average pitchers, yet they came within two games of the league's best record and easily dispatched of the powerful Tigers in the ALDS before falling to those Royals. Season-ending injuries to Matt Wieters and Manny Machado and a Chris Davis' performance-enhancing drug (yes, That Guy, even if it's a prescribed substance, it's still a PED) suspension should have buried Baltimore, but an incredibly well put together bench and great managing got this team deeper in the postseason than it had been in almost 20 years. Kudos to the Orioles, who will likely contend for many more AL East titles in the coming years.
Who do you have? Cast your vote below, then give us your nominations for the Rockies' Best Pitching Performance of the Year in the comments.