I was hoping not to write an MLB preview this season because no AL team is projected to win more than 87 games this year, because I’m always wrong (my World Series picks since 2012: Brewers, Marlins, Blue Jays, Cardinals), and because the Phils will suck. More importantly, I haven’t had regular TV since April 2014 so unless I’m watching Cliff Lee get injured at Citizens Bank Park (Phils 4-7 when I bothered to show up in 2014), I will have to take the word of some random internet writer that Cliff Lee is actually injured (or, conversely, that Cliff Lee is still alive even though we do not see him every fifth day).
But writer friend Rob in Iowa has picks—lots of picks—so I guess it’s my turn. (Rob’s picks will follow my own.)
Tampa Bay 86-76
New York 81-81
The Red Sox have too much offense and not enough pitching (maybe) and it’s March. I wouldn’t be that worried about them, especially since this division is competitive without being scary, now that the Blue Jays won’t have Marcus Stroman (torn ACL) and are planning to DH Dioner Navarro, who can’t hit (career OPS of .689, OPS+ of 85). Tampa Bay probably has the best rotation (Cobb-Archer-Smyly-Moore-Odorizzi-Colome) when healthy, which they aren’t (though Moore will be back by June or July); on the other hand, James Loney is still their cleanup hitter. The Yankees won’t be awful—Beltran, Soriano, Stephen Drew, and Brendan Ryan were all worth negative wins last season, so replacing them with no one would automatically improve the team—and acquiring Eovaldi and Gregorius were both good moves. The Orioles may not outperform their numbers and win the division again, but won’t be awful either with Showalter as manager and better seasons from Manny Machado and Chris Davis, who can legally take Adderall again, just like Roger Maris when he hit 61.
1. Toronto (95-67): Donaldson’s the gin; Martin the garnish – that leads to the laurel. It’ll be a cake walk. Would love to be a sportswriter for these guys: “Pompey erupted last night ….” (Or the more factually correct: “Pompey and the Jays were buried last night (perhaps for an eternity) as the Yanks erupted for ….”)[My own take: In the event of an all-out brawl during an intense late-season Yankees-Blue Jays matchup, Gregorius could erupt, burying Pompey.]
2. Red Sox (82-80): Ortiz should play 1st. That way you’ve got massive grizzlies on both corners who might bend the diamond and raise the pitcher’s mound. Advantage Boston.
3. Orioles (75-87): can’t replace 40 dingers and 108 ribs unless Davis opts for Dr. Jekyll rather than 14’s Mr. Hyde.
4. Rays (72-90): can’t at-bat Longoria every inning – staff worn out by the ’break.’
5. Yankees (70-92): been heading toward the Mets for years. They have arrived.
Detroit 92-70 (wild card)
Kansas City 82-80
I was ready to pick the Indians in 2015 by the time the 2014 World Series was over—even before Max Scherzer moved to the NL and Kansas City decided to pay Edinson Volquez as much to pitch for them in 2015 as the Padres will be paying James Shields, and to replace a declining Billy Butler with an older, more declining, Cuban version of Billy Butler, and to complement their outstanding outfield defense with someone whose only non-negative defensive value over the past five seasons (according to dWAR) was 0 in 2012—so I would need a compelling argument not to pick them now. A shaky defense, an unreliable bench and bullpen, regression from Carlos Carrasco, and “Cleveland” are compelling arguments, plus Detroit brought back a rotation whose top three are Price-Verlander-Sanchez and an offense with the usual suspects (Cabrera-Martinez-Kinsler-plus Cespedes); the Tigers are top-heavy, but have been top-heavy winning the Central the past four years with even worse bullpens than they have now. On the other hand, they could completely collapse. The White Sox could have the deepest rotation (Sale when healthy-Samardzija-Quintana-Danks-possibly Carlos Rodon but if not Hector Noesi who was halfway decent with Chicago) but are still a below average offense. The Twins signed Torii Hunter and Ervin Santana and when I see they have Kennys Vargas as their projected DH, I think “Kendrys Morales” but Vargas is probably not terrible and much cheaper.
1. White Sox (92-70): (in) Samardzija, (out) Belisario = road to the final four. Flowers blooming would really help.
2. Indians (90-72): They got Chisenhall, the best manager and… Trevor Bauer comes of age. New logo needed asap.
3. Royals (84-78): Rios helps. Sir Hock-e-var returns. And… if Medlen returns to form…, but by September, Yost has driven everybody crazy.
4. Tigers (80-82): No team more deserving of a title. Baseball can be fickle. Victor gone yet again. Sometimes it sucks.
5. Twins (72-90): Hunter’s not the answer. Maybe Molitor’s a new start.
Seattle 87-75 (wins wild card playoff with Baltimore)
Los Angeles 86-76
I guess Oakland had a plan after all. Or maybe not; I might have picked Texas to win the West or at least a wild card if Darvish were healthy (I doubt we will see him in 2015, and the rotation, lacking Cole Hamels for the moment as well as Martín Perez, is suspect, although the offense should be much better). Seattle is the favorite and might have the fewest obvious weaknesses other than “expecting Fernando Rodney and Nelson Cruz to be good again,” but the A’s are deeper and have the better manager and more upside (including Marcus Semien, whom Joe Sheehan argues has been hurt by the gap between the MiLB and MLB strike zone) and probably won’t be the same A’s by July. Los Angeles won 98 games and won’t again; expect Pujols and Josh Hamilton, whose status on the Angels’ website is listed as “Timetable uncertain (shoulder; disciplinary issue),” to be worse, though Andrew Heaney (ZIPS projection of 10-8, 3.84) will help. The Astros should be improved, but I expect more regression than improvement, beginning with Jose Altuve (.341 in 2014) and Dallas Keuchel (3.21 xFIP, 146 Ks in 2014).
1. Mariners (86-76): Cruz sure has come a long way from botching that Freese fly in right.
2. Oakland (84-78): They were sailing along in ’ 14 … then Billy blew the dynamic. He should have traded himself. But then again – Semien, Lawrie, Zobrist, and I like Ike just might work.
3. Astros (75-87): Valbuena’s a solid addition. Aretha blasting from the locker room R.E.S.P.E.C.T. – just a little bit. Should Hinch want to return to the front office, Gardenhire would be a great hire for these newbies.
4. Angels (70-92): Trout’s league leading shameful 184 K’s – most valuable and least valuable at the same time.
5. Rangers (65-97): Best prospect is 3B Joey Gallo. Bit of gallows humor there.
New York 80-82
Once again, the Nationals could be the only winning team in the division, as on paper they may be better than last season’s team (rotation of Strasburg-Zimmermann-Scherzer-Fister-Gonzalez, with Tanner Roark as a long reliever and spot starter) and the Marlins’ improvement is overrated (despite 64 steals and a .289 average, ex-Dodger leadoff hitter Dee Gordon walked only 31 times for an OPS+ of 101—Jimmy Rollins (!) had 64 walks in as many at-bats last year). The Mets could break out, if Harvey is healthy and Syndergaard joins the rotation eventually; on the other hand, it’s the Mets; Colon and Cuddyer could break down and Granderson is pretty much Nick Swisher at this point. The Braves won’t be terrible because pitching counts (Eric Stults, the new fifth starter, would have made a good innings-eater for the Phils) but offensively, other than Freddie Freeman (138 OPS+ in 2014), this team, in the words of their centerfielder’s new namesake band, is doomed (no one else OPS+’d over 100 in 2014 except Nick Markakis at 107). I would have hated the Francoeur signing even a year ago, but he and Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams and Grady Sizemore are worth more to the Phils in potential trade value this summer than a few months of playing time for prospects who aren’t ready or don’t exist would be, so Vive la France! (On the other hand: Odubel Herrera.)
1. Nationals (90-72): would help if McLouth has a banner year. Werth is a worry.
2. Marlins (90-72): Michael Morse blasts his way past expectations.
3. Braves (84-78): Upton won’t – but Markakis has to contribute – big time.
4. Mets (60-102): the mishmash continues – forever I guess. Does Seaver have a son? Two?
5. Phillies (60-102): they just don’t have a plan. Is that Francoeur in right? Really??
St. Louis 88-74
Pittsburgh 88-74 (whoever doesn’t win this division is the wild card—I’m punting)
I was tempted to pick the Cubs for a wild card, but St. Louis and Pittsburgh are both better teams. The Cardinals were a true 84-win team last season that won 90, but added Jason Heyward, a full season of Lackey, and a potentially healthier Molina and Wacha and only really lost Shelby Miller. The Pirates might be worse without Russell Martin, but Martin’s offense would have dropped off anyway and Cervelli, Sanchez, and Stewart can all frame pitches. The Cubs won 73 games last season; even as a true 77 or 78 win team, realistically they would need 10 more wins this year to make the playoffs. I would be less worried about the new Cubs (Lester, Fowler, rookies Soler/Baez/Bryant, manager Joe Maddon) than about regression from the old Cubs (Kyle Hendricks had a 2.46 ERA but a 3.92 xFIP and only 5 strikeouts per 9). The Reds could actually contend—Joey Votto in only 272 plate appearances last season walked 47 times for an OPS+ of 127 and played all 162 games in 2013, Johnny Cueto is a Cy Young candidate in a world without Kershaw, and Aroldis Chapman struck out 17.7 per 9 last season—but there’s no depth and their projected leadoff hitter has a small sample size career OBP of .297. The Brewers were 20-7 last April and 53-43 at the All-Star Break before finishing the year 29-37 and missing the playoffs. The rotation minus Gallardo is still decent, led by Matt Garza (I guess, unless it’s led by Kyle Lohse), and Jonathan Lucroy’s career year wasn’t wildly out of line with his prior numbers, but odds are even this is another typical Brewers season: sub-.500 and ultimately meaningless.
1. Brewers (85-77): they’ve got a new guy in the bull pen named David Goforth… and Weeks is gone. That’s good enough for me.
2. Cubs (82-80): (in) Lester (out) Samardzija = zero advantage … and whatever happened to Junior Lake? Castro trade might help. So many new faces. So many question marks.
3. Pirates (80-82): Loss of Snider and Martin has the tide ebbing. Can’t sail.
4. Cardinals (75-87): Given the competition they still might contend. Look for a tired second half.
5. Reds (75-87): When does the regression turn? Not with Byrd.
Los Angeles 96-66
San Diego 88-74 (wild card)
San Francisco 84-78
The Dodgers could beat themselves, and plenty of other things, including other teams, could beat them too, but they look like the best team in baseball to me, other than the manager part. Conversely, I don’t hate the Matt Kemp trade for the Padres as much as some do, but it won’t necessarily hurt them this season, and given their other acquisitions (Upton, Shields, Myers, Norris, the expected 10 starts from Brandon Morrow), San Diego should be a playoff team. It’s an odd-numbered year; the Giants don’t have quite enough and will be missing Hunter Pence until May, though the dropoff from last season (88-74) isn’t that dramatic. The Rockies (66-96 last season) were a true 72 or 73 win team last season with bad statistical luck on top of the usual bad injury luck; they won’t be dramatically better (Kyle Kendrick is in the rotation) but with Tulowitzki, Gonzalez, Arenado, and Morneau, they should be better than the Phillies and Diamondbacks, who despite Paul Goldschmidt (career .292/.381/.523, 145 OPS+) and the potential of Yasmany Tomas could be expansion-team bad (fifth-worst team OBP, third-worst team ERA+, and second-worst Wins Above Average by Position (-11.6) in 2014), and that was before moving Wade Miley. Dave Stewart is the new Ruben Amaro. But at least they’ll still hustle.
1. Diamondbacks 88-74: cause every year needs a big surprise. Trumbo/Goldschmidt/Tomas = 100 dingers.
2. Padres 82-80: They bought a whole new team. Might work. Big chance for Myers. Might help if Maybin and Quentin actually stay healthy (LOL).
3. Giants 82-80: Every other year – plus Pence is now the go-to guy in a run shy offense.
4. Dodgers 80-82: be great to see Barney @ 2B. team wise: so much talent; so much unhappiness. Has anyone ever seen Greinke smile?
5. Rockies 75-87: Love these guys. Tulo, Weiss, Morneau. Recall last April’s rampage? But then somebody gets hurt, then they go on the road, … then so it goes.
AL wild card: Detroit over Seattle
ALDS: Boston over Detroit, Cleveland over Oakland
ALCS: Cleveland over Boston
NL wild card: San Diego over Pittsburgh (Big Game James?)
NLDS: San Diego over Washington, Los Angeles over St. Louis
NLCS: Los Angeles over San Diego
World Series: Los Angeles over Cleveland
AL playoffs: Toronto / Chicago / Cleveland / Oakland / Seattle
AL pennant contenders: Toronto vs Cleveland
NL playoffs: Washington / Miami / Milwaukee / Atlanta / Arizona
NL pennant contenders: Washington vs Miami
Final 4 is where I call a halt. The playoffs are like tossing darts. They could go anywhere – but if forced… I say the Blue jays are the best bet to raise the flag …