2015 Predictions: Playoffs

Yes, we’re barely on the cusp of Spring Training, and I’m already talking about October baseball.  But, what’s the point of making division-by-division predictions, if we aren’t going to try and guess who will finish the season on top??  So, here’s how I see the playoff picture coming into focus at the end of the year:

American League

Division Winners:  Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Oakland A’s

Wild Card Teams:  Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers

I don’t believe the Red Sox have improved enough with their pitching staff to overtake Baltimore.  And, I honestly don’t think they’ve done enough to end up even as a Wild Card team.  It will be a tight race between Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, and the White Sox – I only have 4 games separating them all.  But, in the end, the AL Central will have 3 playoff teams.

 

National League

Division Winners:  Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers

Wild Card Teams:  Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres

Until the Padres signed Shields, I had them two games behind the Cardinals for that second Wild Card spot.  But, I think Shields will make just enough of a difference to push them over St. Louis.  To me, the Cubs are the bigger surprise here.  Everyone has heard about their stellar young offensive players that are on the cusp of breaking through for big years.  But, if their bullpen and rotation perform as well as last year, they could have the best overall pitching staff in the league.

 

Now that we have the general playoff picture set, let’s talk winners…

AL Wild Card:  Cleveland def. DetroitSan_Diego_Padres_041e44_fcfefcCleveland_Indians

NL Wild Card:  San Diego def. Chicago

 

ALDS:

orioles-badgeBaltimore def. Cleveland (3-1)Oakland_Athletics

Oakland def. Kansas City (3-2)

 

NLDS:

Washington_NationalsWashington def. San Diego (3-0)th_Pittsburgh_Pirates

Pittsburgh def. Los Angeles (3-2)

 

 

ALCS:athletics-vs-orioles

Baltimore def. Oakland (4-2)

 

NLCS:Pirates-vs-Nationals

Washington def. Pittsburgh (4-1)

 

WORLD SERIES:

Washington def. Baltimore (4-2)

Washington_Nationals

2015 Predictions: NL West

Base_580I’m at least grateful that James Shields had enough courtesy to sign with a team of which I had yet to write.  That certainly made life easier for me as I worked on all of these posts.  The Padres certainly have been the busiest team in the west.  But, the question always is – did they make the right moves?  Every year, there is a team or two that makes several huge moves in an attempt to become suddenly relevant.  But, there are as many times (if not more times) in which it fails to make any difference.  Most recently, I recall everyone thinking the Blue Jays were going to run away with the AL East after several acquisitions in the offseason leading up to the 2013 season.  And, a season before that, it was the Marlins who signed several big-name free agents, and were expected to jump to the front of the division.  Both of those teams actually finished in last place, rather than first.  So, beware.  There’s no guarantee that making a big splash in the offseason will bring about any amount of success when the games are actually played.  With that in mind, here is how I see the NL West playing out:

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)
  2. San Diego Padres (87-75)
  3. San Francisco Giants (82-80)
  4. Colorado Rockies (74-88)
  5. Arizona Diamondbacks (72-90)

You might say I’m drinking the Padres Kool-Aid . . . sort of.  The signing of Shields actually did make a significant difference – but, you’ll see why when it comes time for my playoff predictions next week.  For now, let’s see how we got to this point…

Los Angeles

While it is a little bit tighter of a race, the Dodgers still have the best rotation in the division, top to bottom.  Kershaw is obviously not just the best pitcher in the division, but he’s the best in the National League, and possibly in the entire game right now.  Greinke would be the ace on every other team’s staff in this division – and he’s #2 in LA.  Ryu and McCarthy are average pitchers, which is fine if they’re in the #4 & #5 spots.  The wild card might be Brett Anderson.  If he can remain healthy, he has the stuff to be a legit top-of-the-rotation guy.  And, he might only be LA’s 3rd best pitcher.  The offense is still the best in the division, even after losing Kemp, Ramirez and Gordon.  Kendrick may not have Gordon’s speed, but he’s a much better defensive and all-around offensive player at 2B.  Joc Pederson is a stud, and can be a 30/30 guy at the top of the lineup.  Mix those in with Puig, Gonzalez, Uribe and Crawford and this lineup has very few holes.  The team defense and speed will be at or near the top of the division, as well – for basically the same reasons I just mentioned the offense will be excellent (Kendrick, Pederson, et al.).  The one area of concern for the Dodgers is one that didn’t rear its ugly head until the playoffs – the bullpen.  A below-average bullpen is an easy weakness to mask in the regular season if you have 3 or 4 quality starting pitchers.  But, come playoff time, you need a strong bullpen (just ask Kershaw). But, when League & Frias are two of your best relievers (1.46 & 1.24 WHIPs last year, respectively), you aren’t exactly elite. It isn’t the worst in the division.  But, don’t be surprised if it’s an issue yet again come playoff time.

San Diego

With the signing of Shields, the Padres starting rotation went from middle-of-the-pack in this division, to just a notch behind the Dodgers.  Assuming Shields would now be the ace of the staff, you have Shields, Cashner and Ross at the top.  That’s an impressive combination.  Despaigne isn’t exactly anything to write home about, but as a #4 or #5 starter, he’s more than adequate.  The real question might be whether or not Ian Kennedy can get back to his Arizona days.  Back when he was winning 20+ games with an ERA below 3.00.  It’s not like he was terrible last year (3.63 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) – but, if he improves just a little, the Padres could have the best overall rotation in the division.  The bullpen is also one of the best in the division – four players posting a WHIP at or below 1.10 last season.  And, their team defense and speed will be even better this year than last – when they were actually quite good already.  But, the reason they will fall short of the Dodgers is the offense.  Kemp and Upton are nice middle-of-the-order guys.  But, beyond those two, the Padres only have one other batter that is even somewhat significantly above average (Derek Norris – who has never played more than 127 games in a season).  This will create some problems in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

San Francisco

Their bullpen is probably the best in the division – Casilla, Machi & Romo all posted WHIPs below 1.00 last year.  But, they’re gonna have to lean heavily on that bullpen in order to be successful at all this year.  Bumgarner was the only above-average starter on the team in 2014 (117 ERA+).  Hudson, Peavy, Vogelsong and Cain combined for an average FIP over 4.00.  It may not be the worst rotation in this division – but, it’s still in the bottom 1/3 of the league.  And, while everyone around them was working toward improving their offense, the Giants lost a valuable leader, quality fielder, and above-average bat in Sandoval.  Posey and Pence are comparable to Upton & Kemp, and they do have a few more above-average bats (Belt, Pagan, Panik).  So, they’re a notch above the Padres offensively, but that’s as far as it goes.  And, while they aren’t bad defensively or on the base-paths, they are definitely the worst in this division.  Once again, it looks like the odd year is not going to be kind to the Giants.

Colorado

Anyone know who won the NL batting title last year?  Anyone?  How many guesses do you think you’d need before you guessed Justin Morneau?  And, he’s not even considered the biggest threat in their lineup.  If Tulo & Cargo can remain healthy (and, that’s a big “if”), this offense could be stellar.  And, it’s a good thing, because otherwise this would likely be the worst team in the division.  Only two starters in the rotation posted even slightly above-average seasons last year (an aging DeLaRosa & a young Tyler Matzek – though, both finished with ERA’s above 4.00).  Four of the five best relievers on the team finished 2014 with a WHIP of 1.19 or worse – including Rex Brothers at 1.85!  And, while the team defense and speed isn’t bad – it still manages to be near the bottom in this division.  The Rockies will really need their offense to be spectacular, to keep this team from ending up in the cellar of this division.

Arizona

The only reason I have Arizona below Colorado is because of the Rockies offense.  While the Rockies can at least expect some excitement in that part of their game – the Diamondbacks have nothing above middle-of-the-pack in their entire team makeup.  The rotation is easily the worst in the division.  Collmenter is the only starter on the team who finished last season even a little above average (11-9, 3.46 ERA, 1.13 WHIP).  Their #3-5 starters had three of the five worst seasons as starters last year . . . in the entire division.  Their bullpen is only slightly better than Colorado’s.  Four of their five best relievers finished 2014 with a WHIP above 1.20 (though, none worse than 1.36).  Their offense is mediocre.  Goldschmidt – who has also had health issues of late – is a stud.  Tomas has 30-HR potential, but he likely will take a year or more to adjust and mature (just 24 years old).  A.J. Pollock has the potential to be very good – but, he has yet to play a full season either.  And, beyond these three, the Diamondbacks offense is nothing to get excited about.  Which is pretty much what I would say for their upcoming season.

2015 Predictions: AL West

AL-WestHere we are.  Just a few days away from pitchers and catchers reporting.  Are you excited yet??  I’m fairly excited to see what happens in the AL West.  Because I’m not sure you could say there is a bad team in this division.  The other two divisions have at least one team that you just know aren’t going to be able to compete in 2015.  But, even the bottom of this division has reason to be excited about the 2015 season.  Even if they aren’t competing for the division, they will still be relevant.  So, here’s how I see the division finishing the season…

  1. Oakland A’s (88-74)
  2. Los Angeles Angels (84-78)
  3. Seattle Mariners (81-81)
  4. Houston Astros (76-86)
  5. Texas Rangers (74-88)

As surprised as you may be reading this – I was even more surprised by this result when I looked at the numbers.  Looking at it right now, I want to make changes.  But, I am going to stick with the numbers that got me to this point.  So, here’s how each of the teams got to where they are in my rankings:

Oakland

I have spent most of this offseason questioning every move made by the A’s.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Billy Beane has tossed away his offense the way he has.  They weren’t a bunch of troublesome clubhouse guys.  They weren’t guys that were at the end of their contract, and were suddenly going to be too expensive for Oakland to keep.  And, it’s not like the A’s received top tier prospects in return for them.  So, I still have a lot of unanswered questions about their offense.  They rank as the worst offense in the division, not because they’re going to be terrible.  But, because they have several above-average bats (Zobrist, Reddick, Vogt, Lawrie), without any single batter that’s going to be a big threat to opposing pitchers.  However, in a division that seems lacking in the pitching department, the A’s will have the best rotation top to bottom.  All 5 of their starters had above-average seasons last year, and Gray and Pomeranz have the potential to be aces when they mature a little (24 & 26 years old, respectively).  And, the addition of Tyler Clippard to an already stout bullpen gives them five relievers who finished 2014 with a WHIP below 1.10 – three of whom were below 1.00!  So, the A’s pitching staff – rotation and bullpen – ranks as the best in the division.  Add that to the fact that, even with the losses of Donaldson, Moss and Norris, they will be at or near the top of the division in team defense, and you have a team that will win a lot of 3-2 games.

Los Angeles (or, is it Anaheim?)

And, down the Pacific coast we go to the team that is the anti-Oakland team.  The Angels have easily the best offense in the division, with the likes of Trout, Pujols, Calhoun, and Iannetta leading the way.  And, if Josh Hamilton can contribute after recovering from his surgery, they’ll just be that much more daunting.  But, once you get past the offense, the rest of this team is fairly mediocre.  Richards and Shoemaker had great seasons last year in the rotation.  But, Weaver is aging, and is now an average starter (4.19 FIP last year).  And, the back end of their rotation is highly suspect – Wilson and Santiago both posted FIPs well over 4.00 in 2014.  The bullpen is good – not great.  Street’s strikeout rate has been in decline since 2012.  And, the rest of the bullpen doesn’t really have anyone that just jumps out at you as a premier reliever.  The team defense and speed are near the bottom of the division.  If there hadn’t been two teams at the bottom of this division for the Angels to beat up on last year, they never would have won as much as they did.  With everyone else in the division finding ways to improve themselves, I see the Angels taking a significant step backward this year.

Seattle

Names.  I’ve decided that’s what Seattle continues to go after.  Year after year they are signing big names, rather than the kinds of players they need.  Nelson Cruz had the best year of his career in a favorable hitter’s park – so, the Mariners sign him for his age 34-38 seasons.  Seth Smith had the best year of his career at age 31, so the Mariners sign him.  I won’t even go into how big of a mistake the Cano contract was.  Their lineup has the look of being a great offense.  But, with Cano at 33, they simply have too many guys that are going to be declining in their production.  Felix Hernandez will carry their rotation (170 ERA+ last year!), but beyond him are a lot of question marks.  Iwakuma turns 34 in April, and had an average season last year.  Paxton pitched well in his 13 starts, and has top-of-the-rotation potential – but, he’s unproven.  Then you have an aging Happ, and a mediocre Elias at the back end.  And, unfortunately, the bullpen in Seattle is not built to pick up the slack – it’s easily the worst in the division.  Two of their best relievers going into this season had a WHIP over 1.30 last year.  And, a middle-of-the-pack team defense and speed isn’t really going to help them win.

Houston

I believe the Astros will likely be a force to be reckoned with in 2016.  But, they aren’t quite there yet.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they approached a .500 season, but they have some fairly major holes to fill before they’re competing for the playoffs.  The biggest of which is their starting rotation.  It’s definitely the worst in the division.  I was surprised at how excited some Astros fans were at the signing of Scott Feldman – a mediocre #3 starter, at best.  McHugh and Keuchel had career years last year.  So, does that mean they will continue to be strong pitchers (and, by strong, I mean quality #2 starters), or will they digress?  And, then, there’s the #4 & #5 spots.  Dan Straily‘s coming off of a season in which his ERA was 6.75, and Brett Oberholtzer‘s was 4.39 – yuck.  Perhaps management was anticipating the struggles of the starting rotation when they went out and signed 3 quality free-agent relievers (Qualls, Gregorson, and Neshek).  But, even those three only raise the Astro’s bullpen to above-average status – and, Qualls & Neshek are 36 & 34, respectively.  The biggest bright spot for Houston has to be their offense.  But, unfortunately, they reside in an offense-heavy division, so they aren’t really going to stand out.  But, Altuve and Springer are just going to get better as they mature.  Carter and Gattis will provide plenty of pop.  They’ll be young and exciting.  But, not a complete enough team just yet.

Texas

Before looking at the numbers, I was expecting the Rangers to take a significant step forward this season.  But, in this division, they could win several more games, and still finish in last.  And, that’s honestly what I expect to happen.  Even with a healthy Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, this offense is going to rank in the middle of the division at best (what does that tell you about these offenses?!).  And, they are easily the worst defensive team in the division.  They do have a young, blossoming, bullpen.  Feliz, Mendez, and Cline are all quality relievers, and all under the age of 28.  But, the reason I don’t see Texas making a move in the division is their rotation.  Darvish is very good at the top.  But, then you have nothing but mediocrity the rest of the way down.  And, that’s being kind, considering how poorly Lewis, Martinez and Tepesch pitched last year.  The addition of Yovani Gallardo might push their overall rotation ahead of Houston’s depending on what kind of bounce-back year he could have.  But, that’s as good as it’s going to get.  There will be a lot of high-scoring, exciting games in this division.  Unfortunately for Rangers fans, they’re going to see their team lose too many 8-6 and 7-5.

2015 Predictions: NL Central

nl_centralThis is easily the most competitive division in the National League.  I’m not quite ready to say it’s the best division in the NL, but it might very well be.  If Milwaukee hadn’t collapsed at the end of last season, we might have seen three playoff teams from this division in consecutive years.  And, the Reds would have been much more competitive if they hadn’t had their lineup decimated by injuries.  The Cubs . . . well, they were the Cubs.  But, they have high hopes for this coming season.  Here’s how I see the division playing out this year:

  1. Pittsburgh Pirates (90-72)
  2. Chicago Cubs (88-74)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals (86-72)
  4. Milwaukee Brewers (73-89)
  5. Cincinnati Reds (71-91)

For those of you who know me well enough to know who my favorite team is, let me say this:  I really did use the numbers to develop this analysis.  In fact, I made a couple minor adjustments to move my team down a spot, just because the first result didn’t make any sense at all to me.  Okay, so now that I feel like I have kept most people from calling me a “homer,” let’s take a look at why each team landed where they did…

Pittsburgh

The Pirates are an impressive team.  They have the best offense in the division, without a doubt.  Marte and Harrison are excellent bats – and, will only get better as they approach their prime years (26 & 27 years old, respectively).  The addition of Cervelli behind the plate will make for a nice replacement for Martin, who signed with Toronto.  A full season of Gregory Polanco at age 23 will be exciting to see.  And, we haven’t even mentioned the perennial MVP candidate, McCutcheon (who’s only 28 years old!).  Their bullpen is excellent, with 3 relievers with WHIPs below 1.10 (Melancon’s was 0.87 last year!).  Their defense is also very good – but, will probably only be 3rd best in this division.  The starting rotation is a bit of a concern.  But, Cole, Worley and Locke are all very young (24, 27 & 27) and look to be coming into their own.  And, they brought back Burnett, who was a nice veteran presence and influence on the young pitching staff his last stint in Pitt.

Chicago

Until I did my own analysis of the stats, I expected the Cubs to be contenders in 2016 – not 2015.  But, when you look carefully at how they stack up in this division, it’s pretty impressive.  The additions of Lester and Hammel will give them the best rotation in the division, top to bottom.  Lester, Arrieta, and the fairly unknown Kyle Hendricks all had an ERA+ over 150 last year.  The addition of Motte also helps bolster what is now the best bullpen in the division as well.  Four excellent relievers in Motte, Rondon, Strop, and Ramirez (all with WHIPs under 1.10 and K/9 rates of 9.5 or higher) are going to make it difficult to score on the Cubs in late innings.  The offense is the biggest unknown.  If everything remains about the same, they will rank in the middle of the pack in this division.  But, Rizzo, Castro and Soler haven’t even reached their prime years yet.  And, who knows what eventual starting 3B Kris Bryant will bring to Wrigley.  And, Fowler will be a great addition in CF.  The team defense and speed will be better, but still near the bottom of the division.

St. Louis

It’s no surprise that the Cardinals remained mostly under the radar this offseason.  That has been their M.O. for several years.  The trade for Jason Hayward surprised me, because while it fills a need in RF after the tragic loss of Oscar Taveras, they only get Hayward for 1 year, while giving up 4 years of Shelby Miller, who has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.  But, I’ve been proven wrong more than once by this organization.  And, even with the loss of Miller, they do still possess the second best starting rotation in the division, thanks to Wainwright, Lynn and Wacha.  However, Wainwright is no spring chicken anymore (33), and the back end of their rotation is highly questionable (Lackey’s another year older, and whoever their #5 starter ends up being, will be unproven).  A rotation with question marks could be overcome by a stellar bullpen (see 2014 Orioles).  But, the Cardinals bullpen is only middle-of-the-pack in this division.  Granted they are very young, but they’re also very unproven – several of their best relievers had a WHIP over 1.40 last year.  The offense is also rather mediocre.  Aging Holliday and Peralta are two of the best weapons available, and Hayward is best known for his defense – not his offensive prowess.  They do have the best team defense and speed combination in the division, which will help them be competitive.  But, this division is significantly better than it was a year ago, so I think they will take a slight step backwards.

Milwaukee

Were it not for the Red Sox & Braves collapses of 2011 (the worst I can remember), I think more attention may have been paid to how badly the Brewers finished last season.  On August 25th, the Brewers were 73-58 – 1st place in the division with a 2 game lead on St. Louis, and a 6 game lead on Pittsburgh.  They only won 9 games in their next 31, finishing 82-80 – well out of the playoff picture.  How Roenicke kept his job, I’ll never quite figure out.  And, management in Milwaukee hasn’t done anything significant this offseason to improve the team either.  If anything, they’re slipping further away from being a winning team.  With other teams getting better, Milwaukee is getting older, and less talented.  Their rotation is the worst in the division, with the only bright spots being the potential of Fiers and Peralta who are young, and already above-average pitchers.  Also, once you get past Broxton, the Brewers’ bullpen is uninspiring.  There has been talk of re-signing Francisco Rodriguez, or trading for Papelbon.  But, even that would only bring them to mediocre level.  The offense is the lone bright spot for Brewers fans.  They’re second only to Pittsburgh in this division.  Braun, Lucroy and Gomez are an excellent middle of the order.  But, that’s not enough to overcome the rest of this competitive division.

Cincinnati

Cueto is stellar, and might very well have been the best pitcher in the division last year.  Chapman is a lights-out closer, who is just now coming into his prime years (turns 27 later this month).  But, once you get past these two well-known commodities, the pitching staff in Cincy is sub-par.  They’re counting on Leake, Cingrani and Axelrod to make significant strides, since they traded away the only two starters outside of Cueto that finished 2014 with an above-average ERA.  And, Bailey has only had 2 completely healthy seasons out of the last six.  The bullpen is also lack-luster, with two of their best relievers sporting WHIPs in excess of 1.50 last year.  And, it’s not like they have the offensive fire-power to cover up some of their lack of pitching, like Milwaukee does.  If everyone is healthy, Votto, Bruce, Mesoraco and Frazier are formidable.  But, not frightening.  They will be one of the best defensive teams in their division.  But, they are lacking in so many other areas that they will fall well behind the other teams in this division.

2015 Predictions: AL Central

alcentralEasily the tightest division in the American League.  By my predictions, this one division will have four of the top seven teams in the league.  Which is actually a bad thing for that fourth team, because they might would fair better had they been playing in a different division.  But, so many teams in this division are going to be good that it was a very difficult division to sort out.   Other than the last place team, I wouldn’t be surprised by just about any reordering of my picks by the end of the year.  So, here we go…

  1. Kansas City Royals (89-73)
  2. Cleveland Indians (87-75)
  3. Detroit Tigers (86-76)
  4. Chicago White Sox (83-79)
  5. Minnesota Twins (67-95)

You’ll notice that the gap between 1st place and 4th place is only 6 games.  No one is running away with this division.  And, they might just beat up on each other enough to allow someone from another division to sneak into the playoffs ahead of them.  But, that remains to be seen.  Here’s my analysis of each team:

Kansas City

Speed.  Defense.  Bullpen.  It’s what led them to the World Series this past year.  And, no one in the division has caught up with them in any of those categories.  They certainly lost two key pieces to what was already the weakest part of their team – the rotation: Sheilds; the offense: Butler.  But, they’ve added Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales, who are above-average players.  And, in case you hadn’t noticed, their starting rotation and offensive players are still very young.  Hosmer and Perez are still not in their prime years.  Ventura and Duffy are going to be nice starting pitchers in the years to come.  Of the four competitive teams in this division, the Royals may have the worst rotation & offense.  But, they are so far ahead of everyone else in the other categories, I still give them the edge.

Cleveland

This might surprise a few people.  Primarily because I’m not sure how many people realize that Cleveland won 85 games last year.  So, for them to improve just a little makes them a very competitive team in this division.  With defending AL Cy Young winner, Kluber, at the top of this rotation, followed by the underrated Carrasco, they have a 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation that is as good as anyone in the division.  Now, #3-#5 in that rotation are a little bit of a wild card (Bauer, Salazar, and perhaps House?), but they’re all young and blossoming pitching talents.  Their bullpen doesn’t have the household names that the Royals do (yet), but they have four guys who posted WHIPs below 1.10 last season – two of which are still very young.  Michael Moss was a nice addition to the offense, and their team speed is well above average.  Defense is probably the lone area of concern, but if they call up Lindor from the minors to play SS, that will be a dramatic improvement.

Detroit

Too many losses.  Not enough additions.  Over the last couple seasons, the Tigers’ starting rotation has lost Scherzer, Porcello, and Fister.  What have they added?  David Price, Alfredo Simon, and Shane Greene.  Add that to the fact that Verlander has seen dramatic decline in his capabilities, and their starting rotation is middle-of-the-pack in this division (at best).  The bullpen is also a concern, as their closer, Joe Nathan, had a bit of a troublesome year (1.53 WHP), and is now another year older (40).  Joakim Soria was a nice pick-up late last season, but the rest of the bullpen is suspect.  Their offense is easily the best in the division (and got better with Cespedes), which is why I think they will remain competitive.  But, they have just sustained too many losses to their pitching staff for them to be as dominant as they have been the last couple years.

Chicago

I have a feeling a lot of people will pick the White Sox to win this division.  And, signing the top relief pitcher on the market, trading for a top-of-the-rotation starter, and adding offense like LaRoche and Melky Cabrera are going to make any team look significantly better.  But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  The White Sox lost 89 games last year – even with the likes of Chris Sale and Jose Abreu having spectacular seasons.  And, adding an aging LaRoche and injury-prone Melky aren’t exactly as exciting as they might first appear.  Meanwhile, the reason they needed to sign a top-notch reliever is because the rest of their bullpen is pretty underwhelming.  And, they didn’t do anything to help the worst team defense and speed in the division.  I’m okay with giving them the nod as the best starting rotation in the division, top to bottom.  But, the rest of their team is middle-of-the-pack at best.  And, there are more complete teams in this division that will make it difficult for them to take a more substantial stride forward.

Minnesota

The Twins have good team defense and speed.  In fact, they’re probably second only to Kansas City in this division.  But, that’s the end of the list of things to be excited about in the Twin Cities.  The best pitcher on the team is Phil Hughes – a guy who really should be a #3 starter.  They have some young hitters that look nice (like Danny Santana), but it’s still the worst offense in the division.  Once the young hitters develop some more, and they’re able to start calling up the likes of Buxton and Sano, they could have a very nice offense.  They’ll need to figure out a way to get some legitimate pitching, but that’s not something they’ll need to worry about until 2016 or 2017.  With so many other good teams in this same division, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Twins ended up losing 100 games.

2015 Predictions: NL East

NL-EastThe NL East has been one of the busier divisions this offseason.  Of course, everyone knows about the Scherzer deal, and the Stanton contract, and all the moves the Marlins have been making.  But, is it really going to make a difference in the playoff picture?  Well, that remains to be seen.  I’ll be revealing my playoff picks after reviewing each division.  If Shields signs with Miami (one of the rumored suitors), then that would likely change things.  But, for now, here is how I see this division playing out:

  1. Washington Nationals (96-66)
  2. Miami Marlins (84-78)
  3. New York Mets (79-83)
  4. Atlanta Braves (76-86)
  5. Philadelphia Phillies (67-95)

I’m not very surprised by these standings.  Even before I did my own statistical analysis, this is about what I would have predicted.  You might could make the argument that the Braves and Mets could be switched.  But, that’s about it.  Here’s where I came down on each team…

Washington

They will finish with the best record in baseball for a number of reasons.  They have the best starting rotation – not just in their division, but also in all of baseball.  They have the best bullpen, offense and defense in the division as well.  And, as if that wasn’t going to make life easy enough, they have possibly the worst team in baseball in their division, and two of the worst offenses in the entire game in their division.  The Nationals will get some competition out of Miami, but the rest of the division pales in comparison.

Miami

The Marlins’ front office has done a nice job this off-season, in putting together their major-league team.  Granted, I do believe that it was at the expense of their farm system, which may come back to bite them in a couple years.  But, they have put together a very competitive team at the major league level.  While the Nationals are running away with the best . . . well, everything . . . the Marlins are right behind them in this division with a very nice starting rotation (Fernandez, Alvarez, Cosart & Latos).  That alone would lead to a lot of wins.  But, even though they have probably the second best offense in the division, once you get past Stanton, it isn’t exactly going to make pitchers nervous.  Morse was a nice addition, but he’s getting older, and you’re counting on his out of the ordinary production from last year (his highest OPS since 2011, and one of only two seasons he has remained healthy his entire career).  Beyond that, the lineup has some above-average hitters (Ozuna & Yellich), but it’s certainly not a dominant offense.  And, what concerns me even more is the fact that the bullpen in Miami is not stellar.  It isn’t ugly.  But, it is going to allow a decent number of hits and walks (average WHIP among the best relievers is 1.21). In a different division, I’m not sure how well Miami would do.

New York

Mets fans should be excited about the future – just, not 2015.  They have some very nice young pitching (Harvey, DeGrom, Wheeler) that’s likely to get even better when prospects like Noah Syndergaard make their way to the majors.  But, that’s about the extent of what there is to be excited about in New York.  The bullpen might be the second best in the division (Parnell, Familia & Edgin are very good), but it’s still not exactly elite.  And, the offense, which was middle-of-the-pack in the NL last year, isn’t getting any better.  The addition of Michael Cuddyer sounds nice.  But, closer inspection reveals that he’s going into his age 36 season, only played 49 games last year, and has had inflated stats from playing in Colorado.  Until they can bring in (or up) some quality offensive production outside of Duda, this team won’t get very far.

Atlanta

2017.  I believe that’s the target.  That’s when the Braves will move into their new stadium north of Atlanta, and that’s likely the next time they will field a competitive team.  I think the Braves have made some good moves that have provided some quality prospects (3 of their top 6 prospects have come as a part of the Gattis & Upton trades).  But, it has left an already weak offense with just one batter to be excited about – Freddie Freeman.  So, here’s my question:  how close do you think Freeman gets to a .400 OBP this season?  He’s going to be pitched around so often that, if he can be patient, he’ll draw well over 100 walks.  But, don’t be surprised if his power numbers drop even more from last year.  Because he is the Atlanta offense, and even an aging Nick Markakis can’t help.  Kimbrel is phenomenal, and Teheran, Wood & Hale look to make a decent rotation.  But, those guys are likely going to lose a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games with this offense.

Philadelphia

If it wasn’t for Atlanta’s putrid offense, the Phillies would be the worst in the division in every single category.  Once you get past Hamels, you may not have even an average pitcher left in the entire rotation.  Other than Papelbon, the bullpen is littered with guys whose WHIPs are 1.34, 1.40, 1.42.  And, the only reason I rank their offense a notch above Atlanta’s is because they have some young guys that played decently last year, and who look like they may improve to be above average batters (Ben Revere & Cody Asche).  The Phillies’ farm system isn’t terrible, but it could use a boost.  Why a team headed toward almost 100 losses is trying to hang on to Papelbon and Hamels, I do not know.  Those two could net the quality and volume of prospects that could have this team competing again in just 2-3 years.  If this team loses less than 90 games – Sandberg should be manager of the year.

2015 Predictions: AL East

AL-EastAs I’m working on evaluating all the teams in each league, I realize that some of these predictions are likely to change.  Injuries during Spring Training are an impossible circumstance to forecast.  And, even as I’m writing this, there’s still one impact free-agent who could have a significant impact on where I would expect a team to land (James Shields).  I was hoping he would sign before I started these posts, but it seems more and more likely that he may not have a home even by the beginning of Spring Training.  There’s also the outside chance of a major trade for someone like Hamels, Tulowitzki, etc.  But, for now, we will move forward assuming that each teams’ roster is all but set, as we are just a couple weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting.

Let’s begin with how I see the division shaking out in 2015:

  1. Baltimore Orioles (90-72)
  2. Boston Red Sox (85-77)
  3. Tampa Bay Rays (79-83)
  4. Toronto Blue Jays (75-87)
  5. New York Yankees (73-89)

I think there are a couple surprises in there for most of you reading this.  So, allow me to explain how I came to these conclusions.

Baltimore

For much of this offseason, the focus has been on the GM, rather than the team.  And, many analysts have lamented the fact that the Orioles have only lost assets (Markakis & Cruz), without adding any help.  But, oh how quickly we forget what Baltimore’s offense could have been last year.  Matt Wieters, a phenomenal switch-hitting catcher, played in only 26 games before having to undergo Tommy John surgery.  Manny Machado only played half a season, and was on his way to his best offensive season yet (and, he’s still only 22 years old!).  Chris Davis missed about a month of the season, and clearly wasn’t himself last year.  Add to these factors that the Orioles have added Delmon Young and Travis Snider, and I believe their offense will be every bit as potent as it was last season.  They also have easily the best bullpen in the division, and are the best defense as well.  With 5 above-average starting pitchers, I see a team that might come back down to the pack a little – but, is still the team to beat in this division.

Boston

As much as they may want to talk about signing some big names like Sandoval & Ramirez, I don’t believe the Red Sox addressed enough of their needs.  When you lose 91 games one year, you don’t win 91 the next year by signing two big-name bats.  Keep in mind that Sandoval (outside the postseason) is only an above-average hitter at best.  What concerns me the most is the starting rotation.  Buchholz, Porcello, Miley, Masterson, Kelly.  A lot of names you recognize.  But, a lot of guys that have under-performed of late.  If you want to consider any of these guys a #1 starter, it would have to be Porcello, based on his performance.  But, in reality, Boston has a #2 starter, two #3’s, and a couple bottom-of-the-rotation guys.  I would have thought that with a rotation like this, they would have bolstered their bullpen.  But, once you get past Uehara, there’s nothing terribly impressive.  Their offense will be one of the top 2 in the division, and they will play very good defense.  But, they will have to win a lot of 9-7 games.

Tampa

Yes, they lost one of the best coaches in the game.  Yes, they have traded away some significant pieces (Zobrist, Myers, etc.).  But, have you taken a good look at their pitching staff?  From top to bottom, they are 2nd only to Baltimore in this division.  Cobb, Archer and Odorizzi are formidable (though unknown at this point) starting pitchers.  And, their bullpen is rock solid, including the likes of McGee, Boxberger, and Beliveau – all averaging 10+ K/9 last season with WHIPs of 0.89, 0.84, and 1.08, respectively.  But, the Rays fall short in offense and defense – potentially the worst in the division in both areas.  Their biggest offensive threat outside of Longoria looks to be a young right-fielder named Kiermaier, who will be entering his first full season in the majors (though, he did play 108 games last year).

Toronto

This might come as a surprise to many, because everyone seems to think the Blue Jays are on the rise.  And, the additions of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson are going to make an already potent offense that much more dangerous – easily the best offense in the division.  But, you know how I said Tampa has a great overall pitching staff?  Well, the polar opposite is true of the Blue Jays.  In this division, they have the worst starting rotation (Dickey & Buehrle at the top are getting old, and are both more suited to be #3 starters), and the worst bullpen (a closer with a 1.37 WHIP? Yikes.).  They will be much improved on defense with the additions of Russell and Donaldson, but as a team they will remain middle-of-the-pack at best.  If the Red Sox will need to win a lot of 9-7 games – the Blue Jays will have to win a lot of 12-10 games, if they are going to compete in this division.  And, I just don’t see that happening.

New York

I’m not sure this comes as much of a surprise to anyone.  They managed to outperform everyone’s expectations a year ago, and finished with a winning record, though 12 games out of first place.  However, they have lost their anchor – their captain – #2.  No, he wasn’t lighting up the stat sheet in his final season, but there’s no question he was the leader and inspiration in that clubhouse.  Now, it’s Girardi’s team.  And, it just keeps getting older.  Tanaka is probably the best pitcher in the division.  But, the rotation has nothing but question marks after that.  Can Pineda stay healthy?  Can Sabathia even be a shadow of his former self?  Can Eovaldi and/or Capuano perform as even average pitchers?  I will give GM Brian Cashman credit for recognizing that if he was going to have this starting rotation, he would need a stellar bullpen.  And, with Betances and Miller leading the way (along with a little-known rookie named Chasen Shreve – who could be phenomenal), they likely have the best bullpen in the division.  But, with a below-average starting rotation, and an offense that seems to be aging before our eyes (your best legit weapon might be Chase Headley!!), I don’t see how they could overcome others in the division who continue to improve.