Top baseball stories of 2016: Cubs win, Odor punches, Jays reach ALCS

Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista gets hit by Texas Rangers' second baseman Rougned Odor. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Star-Telegram via AP)

After more than a century, Cubs fans finally had the chance to celebrate in 2016, so for many fans, the year will be defined by a dominant Chicago team that ended a 108-year wait.

But that was just one of many memorable stories to emerge in a year that included tragedy, strategy and flat-out brawls. Our ranking of the year’s top 10 baseball stories includes the biggest Blue Jays stories mixed in with other major stories from around MLB…

10. Memorable years for aging superstars

Baseball’s best players skew young, but Ichiro Suzuki and David Ortiz had memorable seasons at the ages of 42 and 40, respectively. Ichiro collected his 3,000th hit while the retiring Ortiz led the American League with 48 doubles and a 1.021 OPS.

Ryan Dixon: Big Papi’s finale: What Ortiz has meant to the Red Sox and to Boston
Ben Nicholson-Smith: Impossible to avoid hyperbole when it comes to ‘amazing’ Ichiro

9. Chris Colabello suspended 80 games

After a breakout 2015 season and some big playoff hits, Chris Colabello arrived in spring training poised to play lots of first base for the Blue Jays. Instead, he tested positive for a banned substance and obtained an 80-game suspension.

Arden Zwelling: Big Read: Blue Jays’ Chris Colabello still seeking answers
Jeff Blair: Why failed drug test of Blue Jays’ Colabello is frustrating
Stephen Brunt: Blue Jays’ Colabello is hard to believe

8. The contract status of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion

Even before Jose Bautista declared he wasn’t going to be handing out hometown discounts, it was apparent that his contract status would be a year-long story. With fellow slugger Edwin Encarnacion also on the brink of free agency, the Blue Jays faced a year of transition, one that ended with a $60 million deal with Cleveland for Encarnacion and continued uncertainty surrounding Bautista.

Shi Davidi: Bautista names his price; doesn’t intend to bargain with Blue Jays
Jeff Blair: Unless Bautista, Encarnacion lower demands they’re gone after 2016
Michael Grange: Blue Jays’ Bautista needs to let his bat do the talking
Shi Davidi: Breaking down the split between Blue Jays, Encarnacion

7. Year of the Reliever

The post-season began when Buck Showalter made the ill-advised decision not to use Zach Britton. Within weeks, MLB managers had changed course completely, using elite relievers early and often. Andrew Miller, arguably October’s top performer, pitched as early as the fifth inning while baseball tradition gave way to aggressive win-now managing throughout the post-season.

Gare Joyce: Showalter will be forever scrutinized for Britton blunder
Ben Nicholson-Smith: Creative bullpen usage turning tradition ‘upside down’ this post-season
Arden Zwelling: How Andrew Miller is shutting down the Blue Jays’ offence

6. Blue Jays, Rangers brawl in Texas

Jose Bautista’s bat flip may have been the most entertaining moment of the 2015 season. As a sequel, Rougned Odor punched Bautista in the face, sparking a melee in Texas in the last regular season game between the Rangers and Blue Jays.

Shi Davidi: Moment of vengeance leads to wild new chapter of Blue Jays-Rangers rivalry
Mike Wilner: Hurt feelings at root of Blue Jays-Rangers brawl
Shi Davidi: Strong ruling against Rangers could help ‘make baseball fun again’
Arden Zwelling: Blue Jays reflect on Bautista’s satisfying HR

5. Blue Jays’ season-long efforts to manage Aaron Sanchez’s workload

Aaron Sanchez wasn’t even assured of a rotation spot when he arrived at spring training, but it soon became apparent that the right-hander had developed into an impact starter. That led to a season-long dilemma for the Blue Jays: how to get the most out of Sanchez in the short term while keeping him healthy for the long term? He ultimately established himself as a frontline starter, leading the AL with a 3.00 ERA while surpassing 200 innings (including playoff innings).

Arden Zwelling: How Sanchez earned the Blue Jays’ fifth starting spot
Ben Nicholson-Smith: Sanchez’s success creates more tough decisions for Blue Jays
Shi Davidi: How the three days that kept Aaron Sanchez in the rotation shook down

4. Cleveland beats Blue Jays to reach World Series

A depleted pitching staff didn’t stop Cleveland from advancing to the World Series with a chance to win their first title since 1948. By using Andrew Miller and Corey Kluber aggressively, Terry Francona got by without Carlos Carrasco
and Danny Salazar, ending the season of a Blue Jays team that came within spitting distance of the World Series for the second season in a row.

Shi Davidi: Blue Jays enter off-season of uncertainty after ALCS disappointment
Kristina Rutherford: Indians’ bullpen ace Miller as humble as he is devastating
Gare Joyce: Merritt shows Blue Jays what you don’t know can hurt you

3. Edwin Encarnacion hits Wild Card walk-off

The stakes don’t get much higher than a winner-take-all game, and Edwin Encarnacion responded in a big way against the Baltimore Orioles, hitting a walk-off home run to advance to the ALDS.

Shi Davidi: Encarnacion adds signature moment as Blue Jays advance
Ben Nicholson-Smith: Blue Jays react to Edwin Encarnacion’s walk-off shot

2. Jose Fernandez tragically killed in boating accident

Jose Fernandez was tragically killed in a September boating accident. Just 24 years old, Fernandez was beloved by those who knew him. On the field, the two-time All-Star had a lifetime ERA of 2.58 in four seasons.

Ben Nicholson-Smith: Devastating loss of Marlins’ Jose Fernandez felt at Rogers Centre

1. Cubs end 108-year championship drought

It took seven World Series games, a rain delay and extra innings, but the Cubs ended baseball’s longest title drought and won the 2016 World Series. There’s no doubt that the Cubs, 103-game winners during the regular season, were MLB’s top team from start to finish.

Dan Robson: Big Read: Watching the Cubs in the World Series in Wrigleyville
Dan Robson: Lovable losers: The agonizing history of the Chicago Cubs

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