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Sunday, March 22, 2015

2015 MLB Predictions

Well it is that time of year again where experts, bloggers, writers, and fantasy baseball players everywhere make predictions about a season that will ultimately unfold in a completely different way everyone envisions.  For instance, I am a diehard Giants fan.  I had them in the playoffs in my predictions last season but I had them losing in the NLCS to the Nationals (my 2014 predictions can be found HERE).  I didn't even have my team in the World Series, let alone winning it.  Yet they did. I've never been happier to be wrong.

I actually did okay last season, getting 50% of the division winners right, 4 out of 5 of the NL Playoff teams right, and 3 out of 5 AL Playoff teams.  My most egregious error was having the Rangers win the AL West when they actually wound up dead last (behind even the Astros).  I had the Rays as the AL East winners but they got hit with some devastating injuries early and crumbled.  I also nailed the AL MVP (Mike Trout) but most people got that one right.  I whiffed on all the other awards.

So without further ado, here are my 2015 picks for the MLB Season coming up.  Enjoy! (Bold = Division Winners, Italics = Wildcards):

AL East:  Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Rays
AL Central:  White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Indians, Twins
AL West:  Mariners, Angels, Athletics, Rangers, Astros

NL East:  Nationals, Marlins, Mets, Braves, Phillies
NL Central:  Cardinals, Pirates, Brewers, Reds, Cubs
NL West:  Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rockies, Dbacks

ALWC:  Angels over Royals
NLWC:  Marlins over Pirates

ALDS:  Mariners over Angels, White Sox over Orioles
NLDS:  Nationals over Marlins, Dodgers over Cardinals

ALCS:  White Sox over Mariners
NLCS:  Nationals over Dodgers

World Series:  Nationals over White Sox

AL MVP:  Mike Trout, Angels
NL MVP:  Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
AL Cy Young:  Chris Sale, White Sox
NL Cy Young:  Max Scherzer, Nationals
AL ROY:  Steven Souza, Rays
NL ROY: Kris Bryant, Cubs

A look at the AL East:  Last year, I called the East a beast as any of the 5 teams could have won the division on paper.  Three of the teams wound up with winning records.  This year, it looks to be the AL Least.  It again appears anyone could win this division but not because all 5 teams look good, but because all 5 teams look mediocre.  In 2014, the Orioles won the division while missing their star catcher Matt Wieters, their young third baseman Manny Machado, and for all intents and purposes Chris Davis who was not himself.  And while I am still not enamored by their pitching and they lost Nelson Cruz (who finished 7th in MVP voting) and Oriole lifer Nick Markakis, I can't see a team that is better all around in the division than the Birds.  The Blue Jays offense could be amazing this season but again, their pitching has its questions marks.  They still don't have that legitimate #1 starter.  The same can be said about the Red Sox.  While the Red Sox were one of the winners of the offseason, their rotation is filled with mid-rotation guys, no aces, and will have to rely on scoring a ton of runs to win ballgames.  They have a crowded outfield which could lead to disgruntled players. The Red Sox could sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card or they could wind up with Cole Hamels and become more legit but as of the time of this prediction, they look borderline wildcardish. Yankees are more of the same.  Their rotation is similar to the Red Sox situation except the Yanks actually have potential aces in Sabathia and Tanaka.  If both those pitchers can stay healthy, the Yankees could easily win this division.  But that's a big if.  The Yankees offense is never a problem but again, they're relying on a bunch of old guys and the Alex Rodriguez controversy will stew all summer.  The Rays could finish anywhere in this division but with Alex Cobb ailing and Matt Moore out for much of the first half, it'll be hard to see the Rays contending.  Without Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman, it'll be interesting how the "new" Rays evolve.  But I never overlook Tampa Bay and it would be none surprising to me if they were in the wildcard hunt come September.

A look at the AL Central:  The Central should be an interesting division this season.  What has long been the Tigers habitat seems a bit more cluttered now.  With the departure of Max Scherzer and the inconsistency of Justin Verlander, the Tigers once elite rotation now looks a bit more shaky.  Yes, they have David Price but the end of their rotation looks paper thin with newcomers Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene.  Anibal Sanchez has been solid for Detroit but he's not an ace.  Given Verlander's struggles in 2014, the whole rotation behind Price looks questionable.  The Tigers did do some things in the offseason to get more athletic by adding Anthony Gose and Yoenis Cespedes and they'll get elite defender Jose Inglesias back at shortstop but the division as a whole is better and Miguel Cabrera HAS to slow down at some point, right?  The Royals were in the World Series last season as a wildcard and despite losing James Shields and Billy Butler, they appear to have the same team that was a Madison Bumgarner away from winning a title.  They should be in the thick of the division hunt with their elite relief pitching, their speed and defense, and just enough power and starting pitching.  However, the White Sox appear to be the most improved team in the division and one of the better AL teams overall.  Chris Sale finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting in 2014 and this year he has a co-ace alongside him with the addition of Jeff Samardzija.  Not only do the White Sox have 2014 ROY Jose Dariel Abreu in the middle of their line-up, but they've added consistent performer Adam LaRoche and the enigmatic Melky Cabrera to it as well.  The White Sox could put it all together and make a World Series run this season behind their starting pitching and an offense that should score plenty.  The Indians followed up a wildcard berth in 2013 with a winning season in 2014 but failed to make the playoffs.  The Tribe have the reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber fronting their rotation but behind him there's still a lot of question marks.  No pitcher beside Kluber pitched more than 153 innings last season and that could be troublesome.  Cleveland did nothing in the offseason to improve and by standing pat, the other teams in their division may have passed them by. The Twins should again be a footnote in the division.  While they added Ervin Santana to a mediocre rotation and brought back Torii Hunter for a farewell tour, it's clear Minnesota is waiting for their youngsters to be ready, probably no sooner than 2016.

A look at the AL West:  The Mariners were oh-so-close to breaking their 13-season playoff drought last season, finishing one game back of the wildcard winning A's.  This year, they will break that drought.  The Mariners are deep in pitching and have a line-up that can score runs.  Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano should provide thump in the middle of a pretty decent line-up to go alongside the M's solid starting pitching.  Felix Hernandez probably should have won the Cy Young last season and he's backed by strong performers Hasashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, and talented youngster Taijuan Walker.  The rotation has depth even if Paxton and/or Walker struggle and the bullpen looks to be a strength as well.  Overall, the Mariners have what looks to be one of the best overall teams in the American League.  The other teams that will challenge them for the division look to be the Angels and A's.  The Angels had the best record in the AL last season and they essentially are bringing the whole gang back for a repeat.  The question mark is Josh Hamilton.  He fell off the wagon during the offseason and it appears uncertain when he'll return to the field.  Despite Hamilton's absence, the Angels shouldn't have problems offensively.  They still have Albert Pujols and Mike Trout and the rest of the Angels line-up is capable, if unspectacular.  The rotation is filled with upside and Jered Weaver is typically considered an ace but the rotation isn't elite.  The bullpen should be solid for Anaheim however and all things considered, they should be right there with the Mariners for the division.  The A's are interesting.  At the beginning of the offseason, they looked like they were doing a complete rebuild.  By the end of the offseason, they look to at least be wildcard contenders and if things go right, they can compete for the division title as well.  The offense had a makeover and it's hard to tell if the A's will be good or poor offensively without Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss.  Their starting pitching always performs better than expectations and the bullpen should be solid.  The A's always surprise and this season should be no different.  The Rangers and Astros probably will be battling for last place.  While the Astros slowly keep improving, they are nowhere close to contending.  The Rangers can't stay healthy.  They've already lost ace Yu Darvish and uber prospect Jurickson Profar for the year and even with Prince Fielder coming back from his own season ending injury from a year ago, this team doesn't seem to have the pitching depth to survive the division.  If the Rangers make a trade for Cole Hamels, they likely can contend for a wildcard spot, otherwise it'll be another wasted year for the Lone Star state.

A look at the NL East:  Both East divisions don't seem elite in 2015.  However, the National League version might house the best team in either league.  The Nationals have been, on paper, one of the top 3 teams in baseball for the past three seasons.  However, they haven't been able to translate that talent into an extended playoff run.  They choked away the Division Series in 2012, they stumbled out of the gate and, despite a torrid run, couldn't crack the postseason in 2013, and they ran into an experienced Giants team that put them away in the NLDS in 2014.  The soul crushing moment may have been when ex-Giant and Nats rookie manager Matt Williams lifted Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2 after 8.2 masterful innings with the Nats leading 1-0.  The Giants immediately tied the game off reliever Drew Storen and won 9 innings later on a Brandon Belt homer.  The Series was essentially over after that.  The Nats responded by signing Max Scherzer and adding him to an already elite rotation.  The Nationals have no visible weaknesses.  They lost Adam LaRoche but Ryan Zimmerman will take his place at 1B.  They lost Asdrubal Cabrera but Yunel Escobar will take his place at second.  Anthony Rendon was in the MVP discussion and the league still has yet to see the best of Bryce Harper.  In short, the Nationals are primed for a World Series run.  They've experienced their heartbreaks in October.  Their manager has a year under his belt.  The whole team has more playoff experience and they took a guy with a ton of playoff pressure games on his resume (and a Cy Young award) and slid him into their rotation.  Unless everything goes wrong, the Nationals should run away with the NL East and have the horses in October they need to finally advance past the NLDS.  Aside from the Nationals, the Marlins look to be the only team that has the talent to contend.  The Fish will get back ace Jose Fernandez sometime during the season and when they do, he'll be added to an already talented rotation.  Miami upgraded its line-up by adding solid veterans Mike Morse and Martin Prado to it, alongside speedster Dee Gordon and they should be right there in the wildcard race.  The Mets hoped to contend this season but with the loss of Zach Wheeler they essentially swap in one talented youngster (Matt Harvey) for another.  It's conceivable the Mets could have a winning record if things go (W)right but the Mets probably won't truly be a legit contender for another season.  At the moment they look like a borderline .500 club.  The Braves and Phillies are in rebuild mode and while Cole Hamels is presently on the Phillies, he probably won't be after July 31st.  Cliff Lee's MLB career is hanging by a thread and he may soon throw in the towel.  The people of Philly have seen better baseball.  The Braves traded two of their starting outfielders and are building a new stadium that should open in 2017.  It looks like their goal will be to have a good team to open up that ballpark.  While Atlanta isn't terrible, they probably don't have the MLB talent at the moment to pose a serious threat to the rest of the National League.

A look at the NL Central:  The Cardinals have been consistently good for so long that every year you can pretty much pencil them in for a playoff spot.  This year is no different.  The Cardinals upgraded their outfield by adding Jason Heyward and otherwise left a team that won 90 games last season pretty much alone.  The one concern for the Cardinals has to be Adam Wainwright's health.  He is a true ace when healthy but health has been an issue for Wainwright since the end of last season.  The Cardinals have plenty of pitching depth to survive even if Wainwright falters but to be the class of the NL Central as they most often are, the Cardinals will need to stay relatively healthy.  The competition has improved.  In fact, the NL Central should be the most competitive division in the National League this year, if not the Majors.  Every team has a chance to finish above .500.  The Cardinals biggest threat has to be considered the Pirates.  The Pirates finished 2 games back of them last season and have made the playoffs (albeit as a Wildcard) twice in a row.  Their starting pitching is solid and Gerrit Cole should take another step towards becoming a true ace.  It looks like the Pirates will give their super prospect Gregory Polanco a shot at the right field job starting from Day 1 which will make the Pittsburgh line-up even stronger.  The rest of the NL Central is equally as tough.  The Brewers were in contention for the whole 2014 season before fading down the stretch.  They essentially are bringing back the same cast of characters hoping they can repeat the success they had for the better part of last season minus Yovani Gallardo, their innings eater ace.  However, they are hoping young stud Jimmy Nelson will be able to take his place.  The Brewers don't wow you in any particular facet of the game but they are solid enough all around to have hopes for the wildcard and, if the pitching can elevate, the division.  Meanwhile, the Cubs are ready to emerge as perennial contenders.  I am not ready to crown them contenders yet however.  They had Jeff Samardzija last season and couldn't escape the basement and they essentially swapped out Samardzija for Jon Lester.  Their young players will finally start to emerge but in a very competitive division, every young player would essentially have to pan out for the Cubs to really have a shot.  Young players typically aren't that reliable even if Kris Bryant looks to be the next Babe Ruth thus far in Spring Training.  The Cubs should be decent and they may flirt with the Wildcard for awhile, but I think they are one more season away from truly being a legitimate postseason team.  The Reds are an enigma.  They dismantled their starting pitching but on paper they have an offense that can still score a bunch of runs and a pitching staff that can probably win a good amount of games if given decent run support. Every year I feel good about the Reds but I feel their window is starting to close.  Do they have one last run in them?  I'm not so sure.  If Joey Votto can start playing like an MVP again, the Reds could be right there in both the division and wildcard races.  Like I mentioned, this division is going to be a dogfight.

A look at the NL West:  Man, I hate to buy into the whole "odd year" thing with the Giants, but it's not even April and Angel Pagan is already having minor injury issues and Hunter Pence will open the season on the DL.  You look at this scrappy team and wonder if they can scrap their way into the playoffs but with an improved division, it could prove tough.  The Giants haven't made back to back playoff appearances since 2002-2003 and if they are going to do it again, a lot will have to go right. The starting rotation will have to pitch their hearts out and once Pence gets back, the middle of the line-up will have to stay healthy because this is a team with very little power.  The bullpen should again be a strength but the absence of professional hitters like Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse will be felt, even if Casey McGehee does his best Casey-McGehee-in-Milwaukee impersonation. Hell, I'd love to see Nori Aoki do HIS Nori-Aoki-in-Milwaukee impersonation.  But AT&T Park is NOT Miller Park.  I almost always pick the Giants to win the division or come in second but win a wildcard.  This year?  I'm just not sure.  There seem to be too many question marks and unless all of them are answered positively, it's going to be hard for this team to repeat as World Champs, even with 2 Wildcards.  The Dodgers didn't improve per se over the offseason, but they helped themselves by making their clubhouse more cohesive (in theory).  They subbed out diva Hanley Ramirez and malcontent Matt Kemp for good clubhouse type guys in Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick.  They traded away their leadoff hitter Dee Gordon and their 5th starter Dan Haren but also paved the way for their centerfielder of the future Joc Pederson to make the Opening Day roster.  Oh yeah, and they cut Brian Wilson.  Overall, with Kershaw and Greinke lined up 1-2, the Dodgers have to be considered the favorites.  They don't look better than the team that won 94 games last season, but they don't look much worse.  They are gambling with injury-risk pitchers Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy, but they also have depth in their minor league system.  And despite his baseball IQ being Forrest Gump-ish, Yasiel Puig has MVP talent floating around.  The Dodgers should be pushed by the Giants this year but also by the San Diego Padres.  The Padres, for the first time in a long time, are going to be interesting to watch.  They revamped their entire outfield adding Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Wil Myers and got on-base catching machine Derek Norris as well.  They did it all without sacrificing ANY of their starting pitching (minus Jesse Hahn) who was expendable because the team went out and signed James Shields.  The Padres rotation is solid from top to bottom. If Andrew Cashner can stay healthy, they have a true ace to pair with a trio of solid #2 types in Shields, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy.  Even their 5th starters are intriguing if they can stay healthy - Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow both can be above average starters.  The intrigue for the West though ends with the Padres, Giants, and Dodgers.  The Rockies, aside from trading away Michael Cuddyer, stood mostly pat hoping and praying for health.  It doesn't matter.  Even if the Rockies stay healthy, they won't be good enough to contend all season.  And the Rockies big guys never stay healthy.  The Dbacks are sort of in the space the Phillies were last season where they should just tear it all down and rebuild but their bad contracts are untradeable and in the way.  The Dbacks should be pretty bad this season.  They have interesting pieces, most notably Yasmany Tomas, but they don't have the pitching or the talent to keep pace with the better teams in the division, even if they do get Patrick Corbin and Bronson Arroyo back at some point in the year.

That's it for the predictions and divisional previews.  It will be fun to come back in October and see how awesomely right I was on all these calls.