This is it for me, when the real spring season arrives… in the form of Major League Baseball! Shout out to The Masters for finishing in a close second.
Like every year, the storylines are abundant: The return of A-Rod, the Nationals scary rotation, the Jays, Padres, White Sox and Marlins all making big moves, the Cubs under a new regime, the Red Sox trying to go from worst to first to worst to first, the young but improving Astros and Mets, the potential regression of the World Series teams in San Francisco and Kansas City, a brand new Commissioner, the sad expected falls of the Phillies and Rays… there’s really just too many to list here. We have 162 games and about six months to let it all play out.
Here’s my best shot at predicting what will happen.
American League East
|1||Boston Red Sox||71-91||89-73||+18|
|2||Toronto Blue Jays||83-79||86-76||+3|
|4||New York Yankees||84-78||80-82||-4|
|5||Tampa Bay Rays||77-85||70-92||-7|
Boston Red Sox
The illustrious Boston Red Sox will be attempting to do something in 2015, that no other team in Major League history has done before, in trying to go from worst to first to worst to first. With the (expensive) additions of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to the lineup and the implementation of a more stable starting rotation (that included picking up Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson), I think they have the tools to pull it off. A bounce back season from Clay Buchholz, who was two completely different pitchers in ’13 and ’14, would be a big help.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays also completed a small roster makeover in the offseason that included the big additions of Josh Donaldson (whose numbers should get even better by playing half his games in the Rogers Centre) and Russell Martin (the perfect steady hand to support the plethora of young arms expected to pitch this season). And speaking of the youthful pitching, if Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris all have solid seasons, the Jays could be extremely dangerous. The Reyes-Martin-Bautista-Encarnacion-Donaldson combination in the batting order is already plenty scary. Also of note is the fact that the Jays did rid themselves of a couple of strikeout machines in Colby Rasmus and Juan Francisco (who played way too much last year).
I think the Orioles, who did very little in the offseason, will take a step back from a very impressive 96 wins last year. The losses of Nelson Cruz (the reigning AL home run leader) and long-time Oriole Nick Markakis will be a detriment to the offense. Chris Davis absolutely needs to return to a silhouette of his former 2013 self. Kevin Gausman is an intriguing prospect on the hill, if only the O’s can figure what they want to do with him. It’s a less magical middle-of-the-pack season for Baltimore in 2015.
New York Yankees
The Yankees, now one of the oldest teams in the league, will immediately look quite different without #2 in the starting lineup. Instead, the media circus that will be following them around will be the one tracking the progress and return of Alex Rodriguez, missing since the ’13 season. If the vets can stay healthy and produce at the plate, they’ll have a shot, but I’m not expecting that to happen and have them pegged as a .500 team at best. White a few question marks, the pitching must prove itself.
Tampa Bay Rays
After some great seasons under Joe Maddon, the Rays simply subtracted far too much this offseason without getting much back in return. The homegrown talent approach just won’t be enough in the division this year. While their young arms look promising on paper, as they always do, the offense is in rough shape to deliver enough run support. It’s going to be a long and miserable season at the Trop.
American League Central
|2||Chicago White Sox||73-89||82-80||+9|
|4||Kansas City Royals||89-73||79-83||-10|
The Tigers remain the cream of the crop in the American League Central. The loss of Max Scherzer will be minimal (especially at that price tag), as this rotation is already plenty deep and with David Price ready to resume his previous role of staff ace. I can’t help but see a bounce back season from Justin Verlander. He’s just too good (and Kate Upton won’t stand for it). Their offense should again be one of the very best and most efficient in baseball.
Chicago White Sox
The middle of the division is where there will be some shuffling in comparison to 2014. The White Sox, one of the league’s most active offseason teams, made some significant upgrades all over the diamond. They grabbed Jeff Samardzija to support Chris Sale in the rotation, they brought in Melky Cabrera to provide some hitting in front of Jose Abreu and lured a new elite closer in David Robertson away from the Yankees. It won’t be enough to win the division, but they could make it close.
I’m seeing the Indians getting an absurd amount of love from a ton of experts as a potential “sleeper” team this season. I’m just not in that camp. Aside from Cy Younger Corey Kluber, I’m skeptical on that starting rotation (along with the bullpen for that matter). I also don’t think Michael Brantley is going to duplicate his ridiculous season from 2014. Aside from Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes and Brantley, it seems this team is pretty lacking in the power department. The Indians won’t be able to “manufacture” enough runs to compete for the division.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals are in for a reality check as they’re about to fall from the grace of the World Series. They had an almost unusual run all the way to the Series last year with their much-praised “small ball and speed” approach. I think the Central division will get the better of them this time around. I do like the Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios additions, but the back end of the rotation concerns me to be as successful as ’14. We all know the bullpen is the true strength of this team, but the starters have to get it to that point with the lead. It won’t happen as much this year.
I like what the Twins are cooking in Minnesota with their offense. They now have some young guys with pop and even more lined up in their system, waiting for their chance. The rotation is scary (not in a good way), especially with the loss of Ervin Santana for roughly a third of the season. They’ll improve by a couple of games, but won’t be enough to climb out of the basement. But it’s coming Twins fans, be patient (again).
American League West
|2||Los Angeles Angels||98-64||90-72||-8|
I love the pieces on this team. They have such a versatile mix of hitting and especially pitching. The starting rotation one through five is actually pretty intimidating, especially in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. They have leadership among Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, King Felix Hernandez and even Fernando Rodney. The M’s enjoyed a nice improvement last season, to which I expect another jump in 2015.
Los Angeles Angels
This team is a little hard to figure out. There are some nice individual pieces, but also some gaps. We can pencil in Trout and Pujols in for great numbers, but there are a few holes in the lineup, namely second base and left field. The back of the rotation (currently slated as Hector Santiago and Drew Rucinski) is a bit suspect. If Garrett Richards can make it back all the way, that will be a huge lift. I think the Angels will still be good enough for a playoff spot, but this is the Mariners AL West to lose.
I’m liking the direction the Astros franchise is heading. They didn’t go make a huge cannonball-like splash in free agency, but their moves were all pretty solid. After a 19-game improvement in 2014, they’ll continue to trend upward. And well, if you like “feast or famine” style baseball, the ‘Stros will be entertaining to watch. They hit the fourth most home runs in the entire league last year (163) and nearly died trying to hit even more, striking out a whopping 1,442 times, only 25 behind the league-leading Cubs. Is there still time to trade for Mark Reynolds or get Rob Deer out of retirement? I like them to sneak past the A’s for third in the West.
Josh Reddick needs to grow his beard back and newcomer Brett Lawrie needs to throw a few tantrums, because this team is a snooze fest. The A’s are often best known for their something-from-nothing starting pitching, but I see that good fortune running out this season, especially with a more competitive AL West. Even with some pitching, this team doesn’t have the bats.
After establishing a winning culture that included four straight 90 win seasons and two World Series appearances, to say the Texas Rangers took “a step back” last year would be quite an understatement. This team experienced a major reality check, one that saw them finish with the third worst record in baseball. The injury bug ravaged the team in 2014 and already reared it’s ugly head again in 2015, by taking away their one major bright spot on the mound in Yu Darvish. Unfortunately, it’s going to be another season deep in the basement for the Rangers.
National League East
|3||New York Mets||79-83||80-82||+1|
This rotation is Greek God-like. With the addition of Max Scherzer, this starting five (Scherzer, Strasberg, Zimmermann, Fister and Gonzalez) has the opportunity to be one of the most dominant in years. It’s certainly the reason that many have picked them to capture the World Series this year. They also have bats to back up the pitching, especially if one Bryce Harper stays on the field for 150+ games and takes a step forward to matching the hype. The Nats should at least take the NL East in a slight landslide.
Just two seasons ago, the 100-loss Miami Marlins were the laughingstock of the entire league. A fancy new stadium with no one to fill it, an embarrassing payroll and well, losing 60% of the games you play isn’t much fun either. In 2014, they significantly improved to the tune of 15 games. Fast forward to 2015, and after an exciting offseason shopping spree, suddenly there’s no room left on the new-look Marlins bandwagon, who many are picking to reach the postseason. If that happens, I guess that will work as evidence that not all rebuilding processes have to be slow and painful. It’ll be a fun crew down there in Miami.
New York Mets
It’s still hard to fathom that the New York Mets, irrelevant for a while now, finished second in the division last year. With a lineup primarily filled with veterans, they could contend for second place once again (the Nats should have this thing wrapped up), in which their playoff ticket would have to be one of the Wild Card spots. A huge bonus for the Mets is having flamethrower Matt Harvey return from Tommy John surgery last year, giving them a dominant lead guy on the mound.
The Braves are certainly undergoing a major “transition” period right now. If you didn’t believe that before, perhaps the trade of Craig Kimbrel, only the single most dominant closer in the game the past four seasons, will serve as evidence. While I’m sure they’re pleased to finally be rid of the B.J. Uptons and Dan Ugglas of the world, they do find themselves with some less established players at second base and the outfield, as well as on the mound. This year’s team won’t exactly resemble the 1990’s Braves, or even the 2000’s for that matter.
The 2010 Philadelphia Phillies won 97 games. The next season, the 2011 squad won 102 games! Those days in the City of Brotherly Love are long gone, as they’ve been on a steady decline since then, finishing .500 in 2012 and with an identical 73-89 record in both 2013 and 2014. With aging (but handsomely paid) stars, an mostly unproven lineup, a rotation that would likely hold up well in AAA and having addressed none of it in the offseason, the Phillies are about to experience one of the worst seasons in a LONG time. If there are any true “fanatics” out there, brace yourself…
National League Central
|1||St. Louis Cardinals||90-72||93-69||+3|
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards are like one of those cagey old golfers. Boring, always down the middle and somehow manage to be ahead of you on the scorecard at the end of the round. This team just wins. Since 2000, they’ve captured 8 division titles (including a bunch when the division still included six teams), have been to the postseason 11 times and have held the World Series trophy twice. Fast forward to 2015 and they have excellence in the batting order, in the starting rotation and out in the bullpen. While people love to root for up-and-comers like the Cubs and Pirates, it’s going to be “boring, old” St. Louis in the driver’s seat again.
If anyone is going to challenge the Cardinals for the division crown, it’s the Pirates, who were only two games short of them last season. They have practically the same roster back this year, so chemistry and consistency should be a strong suit. Andrew McCutcheon (a now annual MVP candidate) will lead the offense, while they’ll lean on a mix of vets (Liriano, Burnett) and youngsters (Cole, Locke) on the pitching staff. It should be a fun year again in the Steel City, especially if they can extend their season into October.
Look, I love The Sporting News’ MLB Previews as much as the next baseball fan, but when I grabbed a copy of this year’s mag, I experienced a ‘WTF?’ moment regarding their take on the Chicago Cubs. They have the Cubbies (who just finished last in the NL Central for the second straight year) not only winning the division, but winning THE WORLD SERIES! Wow, the boldness! A team that’s showed very little progress with improvement over the past decade, going from worst-in-division to raising the World Series trophy in October? Hey, I’m optimistic about what the Cubs did in the offseason (including Joe Maddon) and about some of their talent-in-waiting, but c’mon, a little less drama and an injection of logic please? Let’s start with a third place finish, alright?
I hate to lay it out for you Cincinnati Reds fans, but the high point of your season might be when you get to host the 2015 MLB All-Star Game in July. The postseason chase won’t be quite as exhilarating. I actually don’t think the lineup is half bad, provided they get a nice, healthy comeback season from their Mr. Joey Votto. In terms of pitching, their ace (Cueto) and their closer (Chapman) are fine, but everything in between is anything but a sure thing. The Reds just won’t have the depth to compete with a few of the other Central teams, who are just plain better, top to bottom. Oh, and the Homer Bailey contract gives me indigestion.
Let’s be honest… the Brew Crew had a serious overachieving season a year ago. Personally, I don’t expect them to be quite as close to .500 this season. Maybe it’s because I find them incredibly boring to watch, and that’s not exactly fair, but I have a really hard time associating the 2015 Brewers with a “winning” team. Call me paranoid, but I’d like to see the Fiers-Nelson combo in the rotation be solid for an entire season first.
National League West
|1||San Diego Padres||77-85||92-70||+15|
|2||Los Angeles Dodgers||94-68||91-71||-3|
|4||San Francisco Giants||88-74||78-84||-10|
San Diego Padres
This team re-wrote the book on “offseason movement” over the winter… and I love all the moves they made. They went from a punchless offense (almost historically so), to acquiring enough significant hitting upgrades to immediately change the direction of the franchise. Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Meyers and Daniel Norris can all rake it. On the hill, they made almost as big a splash, grabbing themselves an ace in James Shields, took a flier on a potentially dominant guy in Brandon Morrow and most recently, acquiring the best closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel. I understand that it’s so very easy to get caught up in flashy player movement and the notion that making moves for the sake of making them equals more wins. It often doesn’t. But these weren’t just moves, they were a collective statement. Many teams added pieces, but this is the one team I think pulled off the perfect set of upgrades for what they lacked. I think it was just enough to overtake the Dodgers out West.
Los Angeles Dodgers
All of the talent money can buy! After a 94-win season in 2014 (with Clayton Kershaw missing 5-6 starts), I expect the Dodgers to come close to reaching that number again. I liked like pick ups of Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick to solidify what’s been a weak middle infield and I’m very curious to see Joc Pederson in action. While I’m unsure as to what they’ll do with the final spot in the rotation, I trust that they’ll figure it out, especially with new management in town. And if it’s not working by July for some reason, they’ll just go get someone. It’s that easy.
While crushing the baseball is definitely the “cooler” of the two elements, pitching is where the wins are located. Or, where there are not located, as evidenced by the 2014 Colorado Rockies. While the Rockies, in their cozy, weightless-aired confines of Coors Field, ranked in the Top 5 in most offensive categories in the entire league last year, won a pathetic 66 games. Why? Two reasons. Their pitching was just gross. It was so horrible that they must have addressed it in the offseason right? Well, not exactly. However, the second reason is health. I’m banking on the Rockies being a surprise team this year, one in which their core remains healthy for most of the season.
San Francisco Giants
We’ve called the Giants the “defending World Series Champions” more than enough over the past five years (three times, if you can’t remember). I have the Giants as one of the teams taking a major step back this season. I think the field in the NL West has finally caught up. The offense doesn’t “wow” me and Bumgarner excluded, I think the age of their starting rotation is a slight concern. I don’t think they’ll get as many innings they’d like.
Almost unfathomably, not a single team in Major League Baseball lost 100 games last season. However, the bad news for the Arizona Diamondbacks is that they were the closest to that futile number with 98 losses. While they added a very high upside player in Cuban import Yasmany Tomas, they didn’t do nearly enough overall to keep pace in an improving division. While another 98-loss season projection might be a tad harsh, they won’t be that far off. This team stinks. We should all pour out a little liquor for Paul Goldschmidt, the D-Backs underrated superstar that won’t receive nearly enough attention because of his under-performing surroundings.
|American League Division Winners and Wild Cards|
|Red Sox||Tigers||Mariners||Angels||Blue Jays|
|American League Wild Card Game|
|Angels over Blue Jays|
|American League Division Series|
|Red Sox over Angels||Mariners over Tigers|
|American League Championship Series|
|Mariners over Red Sox|
|National League Division Winners and Wild Cards|
|National League Wild Card Game|
|Dodgers over Pirates|
|National League Division Series|
|Nationals over Dodgers||Cardinals over Padres|
|National League Championship Series|
|Cardinals over Nationals|
|Seattle Mariners over St. Louis Cardinals|
The Award Winners
|MVP||Mike Trout, Angels|
|Cy Young||Felix Hernandez, Mariners|
|Rookie of the Year||Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays|
|MVP||Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins|
|Cy Young||Adam Wainwright, Cardinals|
|Rookie of the Year||Kris Bryant, Cubs|