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Monday, March 28, 2016

2016 MLB Predictions

Opening Day is a week away which means it's time for this guy's annual(ly wrong) MLB predictions. My 2014 guesses weren't terrible but 2015 was a whole different beast. I had the Nationals beating the White Sox in the World Series (neither team even made the playoffs) and I had the Cubs and Astros in the basement of their respective divisions (both teams won the wildcard). I only got one AL playoff team correct. Oops.

On the plus side, I got 3 out of 5 NL playoff teams right and nailed the NL ROY award only because it was almost as obvious as picking Mike Trout for the AL MVP in 2014. And I sort of predicted Cole Hamels would be a Ranger.

Regardless, the 2015 season is in the books and it's now time to take a close look at the 2016 teams and make educated guesses about how this upcoming season is going to play out. Play Ball!

(Division winners bolded, wild card teams in italics)

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

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

ALWC: Astros over Blue Jays
NLWC: Nationals over Cardinals

ALDS: Rays over Astros, Indians over Mariners
NLDS: Mets over Nationals, Giants over Cubs

ALCS: Rays over Indians
NLCS: Giants over Mets

WORLD SERIES: Giants over Rays*

*It's an even year.

AL MVP: Nelson Cruz, Mariners
NL MVP: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
AL CYA: Chris Archer, Rays
NL CYA: Max Scherzer, Nationals
AL ROY: Blake Snell, Rays
NL ROY: Corey Seager, Dodgers

A look at the AL East: This division has seemingly been up for grabs every season for several seasons and nothing changes in 2016. My predictions this year are based mostly upon strong starting pitching and the Rays have the best starting pitching in the division. If the Rays offense can score enough runs (always a question) and Matt Moore, Drew Smyly, and eventually Alex Cobb can return to form the Rays are going to be a handful. If the Rays need more offense they can trade a starter and promote Blake Snell near mid-season. Chris Archer may be the 2nd best pitcher in the AL East, behind only David Price, the guy he helped replace in Tampa. The Blue Jays will score plenty of runs like they did last season. That helped push them into the playoffs for the first time since the 90's but they had to acquire an ace at the deadline to help get them there. The ace is now gone and wearing a Red Sox uniform and Toronto shockingly did little to replace him. Still, the American League seems to be as wide open as ever and the Jays offense should make them contenders all season. The Yankees made the playoffs last season but couldn't get out of the wildcard game. Their starting pitching is slowly getting better and deeper but they're still balancing the whole getting younger while rebuilding and contending thing and this year the division may be too strong all around to support a Bronx playoff run. Alex Rodriguez had a shockingly productive 2015 but will he be able to replicate that in a season in which he turns 41? The Yankees likely will hover around the .500 mark most of the season. The Red Sox entered 2015 with question marks in their rotation but a top-billed offense after an offseason of spending big. The new acquisitions flopped and the rotation, lacking a true ace, struggled for much of the first half that buried Boston. This year, they got their ace but the rotation behind him is still questionable. They're expecting bounce back campaigns from their pricey acquisitions from the season before and further development of their young players. If everything breaks right for Red Sox Nation, they could conceivably be a playoff team especially after getting one of the league's best closers. But I'm not sold on them. Too many ifs. Finally, what are the Orioles doing? They seemingly had a window to contend but can't seem to figure out whether they want to contend or rebuild. That puts them in a weird middle ground area where they inexplicably throw money around for middle tier free agents like Yovani Gallardo and Pedro Alvarez while staying away from guys that could really impact the team. Their rotation lacks an arm that would scare a line-up and is full of high risk low reward guys. The O's will be able to score a ton of runs, but unlike the Jays, they don't have a lot of high upside pitching they can put their faith into that will help them scale the division standings.

A look at the AL Central: Welp. I was way off in my AL Central pontifications last season. This year it's no easier to call. Since my theme this year is starting pitching, I believe the Indians will emerge as surprise divisional winners in 2016. The Tribe has a trio of top arms in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar and those three along with back end guys that are perfectly capable could help drag a lackluster Indians offense to the divisional banner. Meanwhile, the Tigers have improved their rotation from a year ago, when they finished in last place. Justin Verlander is no longer the ace he was (blame Kate Upton), but the addition of Jordan Zimmermann helps lengthen the Tigers rotation and while the Tigers don't have a clear cut #1 they should have steady starting pitching that will help complement a professional line-up. Will it be enough to make the playoffs? Unless Verlander or Zimmermann can recapture their previous ace-level talents, they may come up just a bit short, despite adding one of the better right handed hitting outfielders in Justin Upton (no relation to Kate) and a solid closer in Francisco Rodriguez. Still, the Tigers playoff aspirations may be better than the defending World Series Champions. Kansas City is a scrappy team and they've been in the last two World Series while overcoming the odds. They won their first title since the 80's last season with a bunch of guys that experienced heartbreak the year before in a Game 7 World Series loss. That should tell you the Royals know how to win. However, they are lacking a true ace unless Yordano Ventura can figure it out. Their rotation isn't bad but it's not great. Besides Ventura, they're relying on veteran starters who have had ups and downs in their careers. Will that be enough to reach October? Almost the entire line-up is returning and the bullpen should once again be lights out. The Royals emphasize defense and baserunning and all those things should be elite once again. So another deep playoff run cannot be discounted. But I can't help but think they're due for a step backwards after appearing in back-to-back Fall Classics. The White Sox, my prediction darlings of a year ago, fell flat on their face in 2015 and they haven't done too much to make me think they're any better going into 2016. They also had a weird drama with Adam LaRoche and his kid this offseason that soured the taste of some very respected White Sox players, namely their lights out ace Chris Sale. Adam LaRoche promptly retired and it's safe to say it's not the way the South Siders wanted to start their season. They have talent but it's a hodge podge of guys that couldn't get it done last season and newcomers that provide offense. There was no upgrades made on the pitching side of things and that's something the White Sox needed. They don't appear to have the horses to realistically contend in a tough AL Central. The Twins have begun graduating talent to the majors and actually ended last season in second place and with a winning record. However, a lot of that was due to a relatively weak division. The Twins should face more adversity in 2016. While it should be fun seeing their young prospects continue to develop, their pitching isn't strong enough to make a dent in the standings. Last season, Minnesotans would even admit they were pleasantly surprised with the team's contention. Because of that, this season may be frustrating as the slide back down to the bottom of the standings.

A look at the AL West: The Mariners were contenders until the very end in 2014. That led to them being favorites to make the playoffs in 2015. I predicted them to be in the ALCS. Instead, Seattle finished 10 games under .500 and didn't look all that impressive. Due to this, the team may be overlooked in 2016. After a full regime change in the front office and the dugout, the Mariners look interesting. Their pitching let them down last season but I expect a bounce back year for their rotation, specifically King Felix and Taijuan Walker. They were able to retain Hisashi Iwakuma and they acquired Wade Miley who wasn't great in Boston but was fine as a mid-rotation starter in Arizona. The backend of the bullpen could be a headache but the offense could be much improved. Robinson Cano shouldn't be as bad as he was the first half of last season and the defense may even be better all around. Don't sleep on the M's this season! Contending with them will be the upstart Astros and Rangers. The two Texas teams both grabbed playoff spots last season and both were surprises. They won't sneak up on anyone this season but they both look legitimate. The Astros have an emerging group of young talented players both in the line-up and on their pitching staff that makes them dangerous. If that core group can continue to improve and develop, the Astros can be legitimate World Series contenders. They even added a young up and coming stud closer to a bullpen that may have been their undoing in last season's playoffs. Houston should be good for the next several seasons. The Rangers have ridden a roller coaster from 2010-2015 and who knows what 2016 may bring. They should get back their erstwhile ace Yu Darvish early in the season to pair with the ace they acquired at the deadline last season, Cole Hamels. The offense in Texas is never a problem and if the starting pitching can hold up, the Rangers will be in contention for either the division or wildcard. Beyond those top 3 teams, it's hard to envision the Angels and A's being competitive. The Angels still have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout but his supporting cast is questionable at best. The A's appear to be missing the true talent to contend and could shop their young ace Sonny Gray during the season. Or the A's could surprise everyone and contend like they love to do in years where everyone writes them off. But it doesn't look promising this season. The starting pitching beyond Gray is either young, injury prone, or both. The line-up may score runs or it may not. It's hard to tell. The bullpen appears deep though. The A's are always a hard team to read but it seems more likely that Billy Beane will trade Josh Reddick and Sonny Gray this season and load up on prospects than it is that everything will break right for Oakland to push for a wildcard spot.

A look at the NL East: The Mets were the NL representatives in the World Series last season and that was a surprise. However, when looking at the Mets now, it should be no surprise if they're favored to return. The Mets starting rotation is arguably the best in baseball and has room to get better when Zack Wheeler returns. Their line-up, which was a question mark entering 2015, proved to be productive enough and when Yoenis Cespedes joined the team midseason, their offense took off. Cespedes is back and one can argue the Mets improved their middle infield offense as well by trading for Neil Walker and signing Asdrubal Cabrera. All this points to another great season for the Mets. The only concern will be if all the young starters can stay healthy after a year where they were all pushed to the limit. If they do stay healthy, the Mets should be right there as a World Series favorite. Pushing them will be the Washington Nationals, who always look good on paper but have trouble actually living up to the hype. However, there is a major difference this year for Washington, they swapped out former Giant All-Star Matt Williams as manager and brought in ex-Giants manager Dusty Baker. Dusty has a reputation of getting players with great talent and big egos (cough, Bonds, cough) to play nice and that will be his undertaking with Bryce Harper. Matt Williams may have lost his clubhouse by the end of his tenure but Dusty Baker has always been a players manager. If the Nationals can play up to their talent level, they'll be right with the Mets all season. Their rotation is almost as strong despite the loss of Jordan Zimmermann and their offense should score plenty. The Mets also will detract attention and expectations away from a Nationals team that has consistently underachieved. This may spur Washington to higher highs. They should absolutely be in the divisional race as well as the wildcard. Speaking of wildcards, the Marlins are one. It's hard to gauge how good Miami may or may not be. They have a legit ace in Jose Fernandez, finally back to full health. They have Barry Bonds as a hitting instructor mentoring their own young slugger Giancarlo Stanton. And they have a good amount of talent. However, the rotation behind Fernandez is questionable. Wei-Yin Chen is a solid pitcher but he's not a true #2. And the talent behind Chen is even more questionable. The bullpen also lacks depth. It wouldn't be surprising to see Miami contend for a wildcard but it also wouldn't be shocking to see them finish under .500 for the 7th consecutive season. After Miami, the  NL East gets ugly. The Braves are in a full rebuild and have traded every "name" player of theirs aside from Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran in the past 2 seasons. The only solace for Atlanta is that they shouldn't be the worst team in baseball. That mantle should belong to the Philadelphia Phillies who are finally embracing a long overdue teardown and starting from scratch. They do have two perspective studs in third baseman Maikel Franco and starter Aaron Nola but aside from that, Phillies fans don't have much to look forward to in 2016.

A look at the NL Central: This division housed 3 of the 5 NL playoff teams last season. And it wasn't really close. The Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs all had fantastic season while the Reds and Brewers were the division's punching bags. Not much looks to change this season except the order of the finish of the top 3 teams. The Cubs should continue to improve. They crashed the playoff party one season earlier than expected and now they have confidence and experience and a swagger. Of course, the Cubs also added talent this offseason, snagging two guys that helped the Cardinals to 100 wins last season - Jason Heyward and John Lackey. Those defections should cause the balance of power to shift in Chicago's favor this season and give the Cubs their first division title in years. The Cardinals are the Cardinals, meaning you can't write them off. And although they didn't really do anything splashy this offseason, they always find ways to win. Their rotation is still strong even after losing Lackey to the Cubs and Lance Lynn to Tommy John surgery. They have one of the best closers in the game and they have some depth on the bench. They should be right there in the divisional and wildcard races. The Pirates have had much success the past few seasons but a closer look at their offseason shows a team that may be standing pat and waiting for more of their talented prospects to arrive late in 2016 and early 2017. Could it be a rebuilding year in Pittsburgh? Not necessarily. But they didn't put much effort to improving a club that hasn't been able to get past the wildcard round for two consecutive seasons. The rotation after Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano is questionable at best though those 2 pitchers are both very good. The Pirates should be a winning team this season and will be contenders for yet another wildcard but unless they make some improvements midseason, I don't see them being a playoff team this year. The Brewers and Reds are going to be competing for 4th place. It's hard to say which team has an edge there as both teams are clearly rebuilding but still have franchise stars on their squad. Ryan Braun is still a Brewer and Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips are still Reds. Neither team has the talent to actually threaten the top 3 teams in their own division and the fun in the 2016 season for both franchises fans may be who will get traded for prospects and how the young talent already on the roster develops.

A look at the NL West: The Dodgers have won this division three years in a row but a changing of the guard is due. LA let their co-ace Zack Greinke go to a division rival. To the surprise of many, that division rival wasn't San Francisco but Arizona. The move equals the playing field in the West. The Giants had a solid offseason where they came in needing at least one starter and likely two and an outfielder. They got all three. The Giants signing of Johnny Cueto gives them a co-ace to pair with Madison Bumgarner that they hope will give them the edge the Dodgers had with Clayton Kershaw and Greinke. The addition of Jeff Samardzija also gives San Francisco an innings eater who has ace-level stuff but hasn't yet been able to truly harness it consistently. If Samardzija can be anything close to his 2014 version, the Giants will trot out a trio of top end starters to go with a balanced offense and solid defense. Their bullpen has always been consistent and given that it's an even year, it's fair to believe the West will belong to them for the first time since 2012. With the addition of Zack Greinke, the Dbacks announced to baseball that they're in a win-now mode as well and right now, they look to be the 2nd best team in the NL West. They revamped their rotation with Greinke and the trade of Shelby Miller and they have their 2013 ace Patrick Corbin back to being fully healthy. Those top 3 starters should help the Dbacks win plenty of games with an offense that was very good in 2015. Even the Dbacks back end starters have great potential with top prospects waiting in the wings down in the minors as well. Arizona should battle San Francisco for the division and be firmly in the wildcard hunt as well. The Dodgers are doing a weird thing down in LA. They have a massive payroll, the largest in the game. Yet they're also trying to build the best farm system in the league while sacrificing a true "go for it all" mentality. The Dodgers haven't advanced past the first round the past two seasons and Dodgers fans will say that's because the front office didn't make the one big move they needed at the deadline each season to get them there. The Dodgers have opted to create depth instead of going for the home run and it has cost them thus far. This past offseason was no different. The Dodgers let Greinke go and replaced him with Kenta Maeda, an unknown Japanese import with a middling ceiling, and Scott Kazmir. They re-signed a bunch of their second basemen instead of improving a bullpen that could have been improved. All told, the Dodgers don't look to be any better than the team that won 92 games last season. While they have their phenom Corey Seager manning shortstop for the entire season, they've lost Andre Ethier for a couple of months due to injury and already lost starter Brett Anderson for most of the year. The Dodgers depth will be tested immediately and with improved division rivals, it's hard to see them overcoming their losses this season. The Padres are quasi rebuilding but they still can pitch. Their bullpen always seems to perform and Tyson Ross, James Shields, and Andrew Cashner are solid starting pitchers. The Padres problem always seems to be the offense and this season could be a real struggle in that regard for San Diego. Only Matt Kemp seems to be a true threat in the line-up and he can be pitched to. A lot would have to break right just for the Padres to finish above .500, let alone compete for a playoff spot. The Rockies have finally acknowledged it's time to rebuild. It started with the trade of Troy Tulowitzki last season and will likely continue this season with Carlos Gonzalez being traded at some point. The Rockies are the opposite of the Padres. They always hit but pitching is a problem. If MLB could combine these two teams, they'd have something. Alas, it should be another long season in Denver as balls should fly out of Coors Field consistently both for the home team as well as their opponents. The Rockies are not close to contention at this time.

And that's it for my Nostradamus takes on MLB 2016. Games count in a week!

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