3 Up 3 Down

As we’re heading into the final stretch of the season, there are some teams making a push for the playoffs, some teams sitting comfortably at the top of their division, and some teams starting to show some chinks in the armor. So, let’s take a look at three teams that are looking like they could make a legitimate postseason push (3 up), and 3 teams that may be primed for a late-season swoon (3 down).

3 UP

  • St. Louis Cardinals – this is a team that has underperformed in a pretty significant way. Despite the fact that they have outscored their opponents by more than 40 runs, they have only played to a 57-56 record. Their Pythagorean record is 62-51. So, what has happened? Well, they’re 5 games below .500 in 1-run games. They’re batting .262 with runners in scoring position (8th in the NL). So, with a little better luck, and some more timely hitting, this is a team that can capitalize on the fact that they have several games coming up against the Braves, Giants, Padres, and Reds.
  • Colorado Rockies – this might not seem like such a stretch to say that the Rockies are headed in the right direction. They’ve played to a .571 win pct. both before and after the break. And, it isn’t as if they have any chance of catching the red-hot Dodgers. But, consider this – they have already played most of the games they will play within their division. And, they have yet to play teams like the Marlins, Tigers, and Braves. Oh my.
  • Baltimore Orioles – at the time, I thought they made the worst trade-deadline decisions. A team that seemed clearly out of contention, and with players headed to free agency – they obviously should have been sellers, right? Well, don’t look now, but the offense in Baltimore has woken up. They’ve outscored their opponents by almost 30 runs since the break, and are now just 1.5 games out of the Wild Card. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to make up ground, too, as they will play several games against the teams right around them in the standings the rest of the way (like Tampa Bay, Seattle, and New York).

3 DOWN

  • Kansas City Royals – the Royals are 57-55. But, that record is a bit deceiving. Their Pythagorean win-loss record is 54-58, because they’ve actually allowed 21 more runs than they’ve scored thus far this season. And, while they went on a tear in June & July (33-19), they played an awful lot of games those months against the likes of the White Sox, Padres, Blue Jays, etc. They’re 2-6 thus far in August, and just lost their leader (Salvador Perez) for at least 10 days. I say they’re in position to have some mediocre days, and fall out of contention.
  • Seattle Mariners – yes, they’ve played to a 15-9 record since the All-Star break. But, they’ve managed to do that, in spite of actually being outscored by their opponents. They’re also an unsustainable 19-10 this season in 1-run games. So, it doesn’t seem likely that they will be able to sustain the run that has put them in a tie for the second Wild Card spot. They have middle-of-the-pack pitching, and rank 9th in the league in OPS. Not exactly the kind of stats that should make Mariner fans excited.
  • Milwaukee Brewers – the pitching that looked so good in the first half of the season (4th best team ERA in the NL), has begun to look more like what we should have expected (7th in the NL since the break), leading to a 9-15 record, and being outscored by 25 runs. But, even more telling is the fact that the Brewers racked up a ton of wins against some very bad competition in the first half: a 19-6 record against the Reds, Marlins, Mets, and Padres. They have series coming up against the Rockies, Dodgers, and Nationals, which is very likely going to push them out of serious contention.
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2016 All-Star Ballot (part 1)

Every team in baseball has played more than 40 games, at this point.  And, you know what that means . . . we’re half way to the All-Star break!  So, I thought it was about time to discuss who is looking like an All-Star this year.  Emphasis on this year.  Unlike some voters, I don’t really care what a guy did last season, and whether or not he was “snubbed” from the Mid-Summer Classic a year ago.  How are you performing right now?  Are you putting up All-Star numbers?  If not . . . better luck next year.  Well, that, or you have about another month or so to get your act together if you want my vote(s).

Since it’s still early in the season, we won’t spend a ton of time discussing each position.  But, I do think it’s worth taking a look to see who is actually performing like an All-Star.  Because, there may very well be some surprises.  Keep in mind, the stats listed are all prior to last night’s games.

Catcher

AL – This is always one of the more difficult positions for me.  Trying to find the appropriate balance between offensive production, and defensive prowess is debated more behind the plate than anywhere else on the diamond.  At this point, though, in the American League, the decision is fairly easy:  Matt Wieters (BAL) – .283/.330/.455, 4 HR, 16 RBI.  There’s only one catcher in the AL with more than 100 PA’s that is legitimately out-performing Wieters offensively (McCann), and Wieters is lightyears ahead defensively.  On the flip side of that coin, there’s really only one catcher in the AL that is significantly better than Wieters behind the plate (Perez), and Wieters is head and shoulders ahead of him offensively, at this point.  So, for now, I believe Weiters is the best balanced candidate in the AL.

Others to watch:  Brian McCann (NYY), Jason Castro (HOU), Salvador Perez (KC)

NL – The catcher position in the National League is perhaps a little easier to decide:  Wilson Ramos (WSH).  Ramos is far and away the best offensive catcher in baseball, at this point.  His .347/.389/.525 slash line is especially impressive at a position that doesn’t really emphasize offense as much.  And, Ramos is middle of the pack defensively.  Depending on the metrics, there are about half a dozen catchers in the NL performing better than Ramos behind the plate.  But, only 2 of those are even having slightly above-average seasons offensively (Posey & Castillo).  For now, Ramos’ offense is so much better, that I think he deserves the vote.  But, if Posey heats up offensively, or if Molina or Lucroy make strides on defense to surpass Ramos, there could be a lot of fluctuation here.

Others to watch:  Buster Posey (SF), Yadier Molina (STL), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL)

 

First Base

AL – The choice here is easy:  Miguel Cabrera (DET).  Now, while I said it was an easy choice – that doesn’t mean it isn’t close.  Hosmer is just a notch behind Cabrera in pretty much every offensive category.  And, Cabrera even has him beat defensively at the moment.  Cabrera is quietly having another impressive season – .315/.388/.537, 9 HR, 26 RBI.

Others to watch:  Eric Hosmer (KC), Carlos Santana (CLE), Chris Davis (BAL)

NL – Another choice that was pretty easy, but still very close:  Anthony Rizzo (CHC) – .240/.379/.526, 11 HR, 34 RBI.  The bizarre thing about Rizzo’s stat line is that his OBP, and ultimately his OPS (which leads all NL first basemen), are both very high, in spite of the fact that his batting average is as low as it is.  But, that just further proves how obsolete of a stat batting average is becoming.  Rizzo is also one of the top fielding first basemen in the league.

Others to watch:  Brandon Belt (SF), Paul Goldschmidt (ARI), Chris Carter (MIL)

 

Second Base

AL – Wow.  There are some second basemen in both leagues that are having really impressive seasons, but likely won’t get close to starting in the All-Star game.  Mainly because there are two guys having unbelievable seasons.  In the AL, it’s Jose Altuve (HOU) – .328/.413/.582, 9 HR, 27 RBI, 15 SB.  If he keeps this up, he could be in the MVP discussion.  Well, if Houston doesn’t continue to tank, that is.

Others to watch:  Robinson Cano (SEA), Ian Kinsler (DET)

NL – Potential MVP candidate in the NL:  Daniel Murphy (WSH) – .387/.420/.607, 6 HR, 28 RBI.  He’s playing so well, I don’t think there’s more than one second basemen in the NL that has a shot at catching him before the break.

Other to watch:  Ben Zobrist (CHC)

 

Shortstop

AL – What a loaded position this is in the American League!  And, loaded with youth, which means we get to enjoy this for several years to come.  Right now, my vote goes to:  Xander Bogaerts (BOS) – .346/.397/.495, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 6 SB.  Bogaerts is also an excellent fielding shortstop.  His overall numbers are leading, but not necessarily overshadowing, others at this position.  So, there could be a decent amount of fluctuation between now and July.

Others to watch:  Francisco Lindor (CLE), Carlos Correa (HOU)

NL – While this is another position that often places an emphasis on defense, the two best offensive shortstops in the NL are so far ahead of everyone else, I’m going to ignore the fact that they are both a little below average with the glove.  Right now, my vote goes to a guy you’re going to have to write in:  Aledmys Diaz (STL) – .352/.386/.599, 6 HR, 23 RBI.  Taking the place of the injured Peralta, Diaz has played his way into the starting job, regardless of what happens to Peralta in my mind.  And, while Story had the hot start to the season, Diaz is batting almost 70 points higher, and his OPS is 40 points higher.  Plus, Story is striking out at an alarming 31.9%, while Diaz only 9.2%

Others to watch:  Trevor Story (COL), Zack Cozart (CIN), Corey Seager (LAD)

 

Third Base

AL – Two more no-brainers here.  In the American League, we’re looking at another potential MVP candidate:  Manny Machado (BAL) – .308/.367/.610, 12 HR, 26 RBI.  And, Machado is arguably one of the best gloves in the game – regardless of position.

Others to watch:  Nick Castellanos (DET), Travis Shaw (BOS), Josh Donaldson (TOR)

NL Nolan Arenado (COL) – .307/.383/.620, 14 HR, 34 RBI, and another excellent fielding third baseman.  Arenado isn’t as far ahead of the rest of the pack as Machado is, but it’s enough to say he’s the clear choice.  But, don’t be surprised if one or more of these others catch up with him.

Others to watch:  Kris Bryant (CHC), Matt Carpenter (STL)

 

Outfield

AL – It kinda makes me chuckle that no one is even talking about Trout, in spite of the season he’s having (.321/.411/.564, 10 HR, 31 RBI).  It’s almost like we just expect that from him now.  But, probably even more surprising was my third choice in the outfield: 1) Jackie Bradley, Jr. (BOS) – .342/.413/.618, 8 HR, 33 RBI; 2) Mike Trout (LAA), and . . . 3) Michael Saunders (TOR) – .322/.388/.570, 8 HR, 15 RBI.  Be honest – who saw that coming?  And yet, he is the clear choice, as everyone else is well behind him in overall offensive production.

Others to watch:  Mark Trumbo (BAL), Nelson Cruz (SEA), Jose Bautista (TOR)

NL – I don’t think there are any surprises here, other than perhaps the order: 1) Yoenis Cespedes (NYM) – .298/.381/.660, 14 HR, 35 RBI; 2) Dexter Fowler (CHC) – .316/.435/.533, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 6 SB; 3) Bryce Harper (WSH) – .260/.451/.565, 11 HR, 30 RBI, 7 SB.  Braun is neck-and-neck with Harper in overall offensive production, but lags way behind in defense, which is why Harper definitely gets the nod here.

Others to watch:  Ryan Braun (MIL), Christian Yelich (MIA), Stephen Piscotty (STL)

 

And, if you don’t know who to vote for at DH . . . you probably need to start reading a different blog.  Hahaha.  Let’s just say it’s your last chance to see him in the Mid-Summer Classic.  Happy voting!

Buy or Sell

One week down . . . 25 to go. With that much baseball left to play, you would think people would hold off on making too much of what has happened in just 5-7 games. But, as we often do, we get wrapped up in stories that get us excited early in the season. So, here are 3 trends I think we should “sell” (aka – don’t expect it to continue), and 3 we can “buy.”

SELL

1. The 5-1 Cincinnati Reds. Beating the Pirates 2 out of 3 is nice. But, it was at home, and neither win was dominant. And a sweep of the Phillies? Not exactly something to brag about, since the Phillies are probably the worst team in the NL. So, that 5-1 record is pretty deceptive. 

2. The 5-0 Orioles. The last remaining undefeated team. Sounds pretty good, right? Well… who exactly did they beat? The Twins and Rays. Two teams likely to finish at or near the bottom of their respective divisions. And, Baltimore’s offense wasn’t exactly on fire – 4.5 runs per game. When they face some good competition, we’ll have a better idea who Baltimore is. 

3. Trevor Story (COL). It’s a nice story (yeah, I said it), the way he has started the season. But, let’s be real, folks. Every game he has played thus far has been against a lot of mediocre pitching in the thin air of Coors Field. The guy had an .817 OPS in the minors. Don’t get me wrong – that’s not bad. But, this isn’t the next Tulowitzki. He’s going to come back down to earth, and I hope you weren’t foolish enough to trade for him in your fantasy league. 

BUY

1. The 4-1 Royals. So many “experts” were picking the Tigers or Indians or maybe even the White Sox to win this division. Here’s my question: what has changed? The Royals still have the best defense in baseball. They still have one of the top 2 or 3 bullpens. They still have an offense that puts the ball in play and pressures your defense and pitching. And, they still have starting pitchers that – while they may not be All-Stars – will pitch a lot of innings with a bend-don’t-break approach. It should surprise none of us if KC reaches a 3rd consecutive World Series. 

2. The Chicago Cubs offense. Through their first 6 games, they are averaging 7 runs per game – best in the NL. Obviously they won’t keep up that pace, especially this week in the cold air in Chicago. But, the additions of Heyward and Zobrist have helped round out an offense that got a little too homer-happy when it got to the NLCS. This now is an offense that is 2nd in the NL in OBP, leads the league in walks, and has some pop as well (6th in HR). 

3. The mediocrity that is the AL West. I was shocked to see a lot of folks picking one or more Wild Card teams to come out of the AL West before the season started. But, if you look at the division today, you’ll see what I expect we’ll see at season’s end. There’s only one team with a winning record right now – the 4-3 A’s. I’m not saying Oakland will win the division. Just that 84-86 wins is probably all you’ll need here. Every team has major holes that will be exploited by the better teams in the AL. Whether it’s offense (OAK – 3.28 runs/gm against so-so pitching; LAA – nothing beyond Trout), pitching (HOU – worst ERA in AL; TEX – very suspect beyond Hamels & eventually Darvish), or just plain mediocrity (SEA – middle of the pack in pretty much everything), this is not an exciting division. 

2016 Top 10 Third Basemen

The sun is shining a little brighter.  The air is warming up.  The grass is turning green again.  And, games are being played in Arizona and Florida.  It’s an exciting time of year!  As we continue to look through MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now” lists, we’ve come to the hot corner.  There is some impressive young talent at this position right now.  Several names that weren’t even in consideration just a year ago.  So, let’s take a look at MLB Network’s list:

  1. Josh Donaldson (TOR)21665415229_16f1a71113_k
  2. Kris Bryant (CHC)
  3. Adrian Beltre (TEX)
  4. Manny Machado (BAL)
  5. Justin Turner (LAD)
  6. Nolan Arenado (COL)
  7. Jung Ho Kang (PIT)
  8. Matt Carpenter (STL)
  9. Kyle Seager (SEA)
  10. Todd Frazier (CHW)

Before I even look at the numbers, my initial reaction is that this list is probably a little closer to what I would expect than the other lists have been.  The biggest question mark, for me, is Kris Bryant.  Yes, there seems to be an incredible amount of potential there, and yes he won the Rookie of the Year award.  But, he also led the league in strikeouts (199!), and has just one season under his belt.  Ranking him as high as #2 seems to be putting an enormous amount of stock in what he probably will be, rather than what he is right now.  Arenado seems a bit low, considering the year he just had.  And, while names like Justin Turner, Kyle Seager and Jung Ho Kang don’t strike me as guys that I would assume would be on the short list of great third basemen, I don’t immediately know who should be ahead of them.

After looking at the statistics, I see that my list ends up being even more similar to MLB Network’s list than I first imagined.  There just aren’t a lot of third basemen that are performing at a high level in today’s game.  Or, perhaps the best way of saying it is this:  there are very few third basemen that are excelling in a wide number of categories.  The difficult part of putting this list together ended up being where to place emphasis.  One guy gets on base a lot (Carpenter), but doesn’t really excel at anything else, and is actually atrocious defensively.  One guy has huge power numbers (Arenado), and is a top-5 defender, but his overall offensive production is mediocre because he doesn’t run well, and doesn’t get on base much.  Some guys have health concerns, some guys don’t have a lot of experience, and so on.

My list ended up with 12 guys being considered seriously, when it was all said and done.  Honorable mention goes to Matt Duffy, of the Giants.  It was a very close call at the bottom of my list.  Trying to decide between three guys for the last spot was nearly impossible.  Duffy is a top-10 defender, and an excellent baserunner.  But, his overall offensive production is closer to the middle of the pack, because his power just isn’t there.  It may still come, as he’s just going into his age 25 season.  But, for now, I had to put him at #11.  So, here are my top 10:

  1. Josh Donaldson
  2. Kris Bryant
  3. Manny Machado
  4. Adrian Beltre
  5. Anthony Rendon (WSH)
  6. Justin Turner
  7. Todd Frazier
  8. Jung Ho Kang
  9. Kyle Seager
  10. Nolan Arenado

Let’s start with the name left off my list – Matt Carpenter.  He ranks 12th for me.  He ranks 2nd only to Turner in OBP over the last two seasons, which is the primary reason his wRC+ is 5th among third basemen.  But, beyond these numbers, Carpenter goes from average (12th in SLG), to below average (19th in baserunning), to just plain awful (40th in DRS and 34th in UZR).  The only other person anywhere close to that bad in any category was Arenado (32nd in baserunning).  So, I couldn’t justify placing Carpenter ahead of any of the others who were at least able to be average in most areas.

14430676940_b00412109c_zThe biggest surprise, to me, was Rendon.  Not only was he not on MLB Network’s list – but, he didn’t crack any of the analyst’s lists on the show.  My first thought was – is he actually playing 3rd base?  And, he is projected to be the Nationals’ starter.  I’m guessing that what many have forgotten is how great his 2014 season was.  Yes, he played well below that in 2015 – but, he also only played 80 games due to an injury.  And, he’s going into his age 26 season, which tells me he’s still coming into his own.  So, I believe 2014 is much more the type of player he is than 2015.  And, even with a bad 2015 season, he still ranks 8th in OBP, 8th in DRS, 10th in wRC+, and doesn’t rank below 14th in anything else over the last two seasons.  That’s more than anyone ranked below him can say.

Arenado dropped to the bottom (and nearly out), because his OBP is below average (.325 – 22nd), which impacts his wRC+ (117 – 12th), and his baserunning is poor (-2.4).  Yes, his power numbers are great (.544 SLG – 1st), but don’t forget where he plays – his SLG was 71 points higher at home than on the road last year.  What got Arenado into the top 10, for me, was his defense.  Frazier, Kang & Seager were all very very tight.  The only area Frazier seems to struggle is OBP (.322 – 26th).  Other than that, Frazier is in the top 11 in everything.  Kang is a below-average fielder (17th in DRS & 23rd in UZR), but is very productive overall with his bat (130 wRC+ – 4th).  Seager is good, but not great, at pretty much everything – with the exception of being a terrible baserunner (-6.4 BsR – 40th!).

Justin Turner surprised me – he’s at the top in wRC+ and OBP, and is 3rd in SLG over the last two seasons.  And, while he’s an average defender, and only a below-average baserunner, I just couldn’t bring myself to put him any higher on the list than I did.  I was actually tempted to put him behind the Frazier/Kang/Seager pack.  Turner is going into his age 31 season, and has yet to play a full season.  His 126 games last season were the most he has played in his career.  And, he had knee surgery during the off season.  Yes, he has been very productive over the last two years – when he has played (235 games total).  But, they have also been, by far, the most productive seasons of his career.  I’m just not comfortable expecting great numbers to continue.

Kris BryantThe other surprise, to me, was Kris Bryant.  I tried to find a way to move Machado or Beltre ahead of him, but just couldn’t do it.  Beltre and Machado are clearly the superior defenders (along with Donaldson, they are the gold standard at 3rd), but it isn’t as if Bryant is stinking it up.  He’s 18th in DRS (which is a cumulative stat, and he has only one season under his belt), and 15th in UZR – putting him right in the middle of the pack.  And, Bryant’s offensive production (3rd in wRC+ & OBP, 4th in SLG) and baserunning skills (2nd in BsR) are so far ahead of Machado & Beltre, I just couldn’t justify moving him down.  And, if you throw in my subjective category of “age factor,” Bryant’s only going to get better.

Donaldson was the easiest choice of the entire group.  No one excels both offensively and defensively the way he does, at third base.  He’s in the top two in wRC+, SLG, DRS & UZR, 5th in OBP, and his lone “bad” category is his 2.4 BsR, which ranks 15th.  And, he’s still in his prime (just turned 30 in December), so I don’t expect him to relinquish the top spot anytime soon.

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.

All-Time Greatest: Colorado Rockies

Whether it’s because they can’t seem to attract high-quality pitching (even with the humidor), or due to poor management, among expansion teams in the last 25 years, the Rockies have certainly faired the poorest.  Their contemporary ’93 expansion team, the Marlins, have won two World Series.  The Diamondbacks (established in 1998), won a classic World Series, and have won the division 5 times.  The Rays (also established in ’98), though it took them a while, have become regular playoff and title contenders, since winning the AL East in ’08, and losing the World Series that same year.  Meanwhile, the Rockies, in their 21-year history, have never won their division.  They’ve only made the playoffs 3 times, and only once advanced beyond the NLDS – in 2007, when they made a miraculous run at the end of the season just to get into the playoffs as the Wild Card, and let that momentum carry them to the World Series, where they were swept by Boston.

The Rockies only have one retired jersey number – Jackie Robinson’s #42.  They’ve had one MVP winner (’97), one Rookie of the Year (Jason Jennings – ’02), and no Cy Young winners.  And, there are certainly no players in the Hall of Fame that spent their better years in Colorado.  In fact, no one who has ever played a game for the Rockies is in the Hall of Fame.  And, in spite of some who want to sing the praises of guys like Larry Walker, I don’t foresee anyone in a Rockies uniform in the HOF anytime soon.  This isn’t to say that no talent has come through the Mile-High City.  But, I will say that I was surprised at some of the names that ended up making my top-5 list.

ubaldo_jimenez5. Ubaldo Jimenez (’06-’11) – in 5.5 seasons in Colorado, Jimenez accomplished more than any other pitcher has been able to in such a hitter-friendly park.  He is one of only 5 pitchers to ever represent the Rockies in the All-Star game (2010).  He’s also one of just two pitchers to receive any votes for the Cy Young award (Jeff Francis finished 9th in ’07), and he’s the only pitcher in franchise history to finish in the top-5, when he finished 3rd in 2010 – when he led the league in win pct., going 19-8.  He ranks 2nd on the Rockies’ all-time ERA list (3.66), 4th in wins (56 – and everyone ahead of him has pitched at least 90 more innings for the Rockies), 3rd in win pct. (.554), 1st in WHIP (1.28), 1st in K/9 (8.18), 1st in K’s (773), and 5th in K/BB ratio (2.08).

4. Carlos Gonzalez (’09-present) – this choice is a bit of an assumption.  Assuming, he continues to play well the next 2-3 seasons, and assuming he doesn’t miss too much time from injury, he will rank a little higher on some of the “accumulation” stats for the Rockies.  But, in 5 years in Colorado, “CarGo” has already put together some impressive years.  He has appeared in 2 All-Star games, won 3 Gold Gloves, and finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2010, when he won the NL batting title.  And, he’s only 28, so he is likely just entering his prime.  Yet, he already ranks 7th on the Rockies’ all-time batting list (.307), 8th in OBP (.368), 4th in SLG (.552), 6th in OPS (.920), 8th in HR (121 – and everyone ahead of him has at least 400 more PA’s), 10th in RBI (393), 4th in stolen bases (103 – should be 2nd by the end of next season), and 3rd in OPS+ (131).

98665225.jpg.8011_display_image3. Troy Tulowitzki (’06-present) – here’s a guy that has been on the verge of some great seasons, but injuries have held him up.  But, even with those injuries, he has made 3 All-Star appearances, won 2 Gold Gloves at shortstop, finished in the top-8 in MVP voting 3 times, and was runner-up for Rookie of the Year in ’07.  He hasn’t ever led the league in anything, but again, just two legitimately injury-free seasons in 7 full years in the league.  But, if “Tulo” can keep himself healthy, he has the makings of a serious MVP candidate.  On the Rockies’ all-time lists, he ranks 9th in batting (.295), 9th in OBP (.367), 9th in SLG (.509), 8th in OPS (.877), 5th in runs scored (543), 5th in hits (961), 5th in TB (1569), 6th in HR (155), 6th in RBI (552), and 7th in OPS+ (120).

2. Todd Helton (’97-’13) – Helton announced his retirement at the end of the 2013 season, and will long be regarded as one of the greatest to play in Colorado.  He was drafted by the Rockies in the first round of the ’95 draft, and spent every day of his career with the franchise.  In 17 seasons, Helton appeared in 5 All-Star games, won 3 Gold Gloves, finished runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting in ’98, and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 3 times.  His best season, by far, came in 2000, when he led the league in hits (216), doubles (59), RBI (147), batting (.372), and OPS (1.162).  He finished 5th in MVP voting, which likely had a lot to do with the fact that the Rockies ended the season in 4th place – barely above .500.  He ranks 3rd on the Rockies’ all-time batting list (.316), 2nd in OBP (.414), 7th in SLG (.539), 3rd in OPS (.953), 1st in runs scored (1401), 1st in hits (2519), 1st in total bases (4292), 1st in HR (369), 1st in RBI (1406), and 2nd in OPS+ (133).

284335_f2601. Larry Walker (’95-’04) – a 4-time All-Star, 5-time Gold Glove winner, and an MVP in 1997.  And, in spite of some inflated stats thanks to Coors Field, this Canadian led the league in batting 3 times, OPS twice, and HR once, during his 9.5 seasons in Colorado.  He was plagued by injuries, and only had 500 AB’s once his entire time with the Rockies (’97).  And yet, in spite of all those injuries, he continued to play well.  While he may rank behind Helton in several categories, when you compare what he was able to do in the number of at-bats he had, it far surpasses Helton’s achievements.  And, in the statistics that don’t rely simply on accumulation, he leads Helton often by head and shoulders.  He ranks 1st on the Rockies’ all-time batting list (.334), 1st in OBP (.426), 1st in SLG (.618), 1st in OPS (1.044), 2nd in runs scored (892), 2nd in hits (1361), 2nd in total bases (2520), 2nd in HR (258), 2nd in RBI (848), 2nd in stolen bases (126), and 1st in OPS+ (147).

That’s my list – what’s yours?

2013 Preview: NL West & Playoffs

And, so we’ve come to the last division in our “preview” (albeit after the season has already started) of the 2013 season.  The NL West is another very interesting division.  Over the last 4 seasons, every team in this division has made the playoffs at least once, except the Padres (though, they did win 90 games in 2010, finishing just 2 games behind the eventual World Series champion Giants).  The Giants have won 2 of 3 World Series, the Dodgers have had a major facelift with all the money they’ve spent, the Rockies have some impressive offense, the Diamondbacks have some very good pitching, and the Padres . . . well, they moved the fences in a little.  So, on to this year’s predictions:

  1. San Fransisco Giants (95-67)World Series - San Francisco Giants v Detroit Tigers - Game 3
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks (90-72)
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers (88-74)
  4. Colorado Rockies (82-80)
  5. San Diego Padres (70-92)

Giants:  Pitching . . . wins . . . championships.  That’s our NL West theme.  And, it’s something the Giants have a lot of.  Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Vogelsong and Zito is an impressive 1-5 (5th best ERA in the NL in 2012 – 3.73).  Then comes a nasty bullpen with six guys that finished 2012 with an ERA well under 3.00.  Now let’s talk hitting: for the season, the Giants were 7th in the NL with a .724 OPS.  Nothing to get too excited about, but consider this: after the All-Star break last year, they were 4th in team OPS (.755) and 3rd in runs scored (380).  They have speed at the top with Pagan and Blanco, followed by a bunch of guys that can drive in runs – Posey, Sandoval, Pence and Belt.  Not to mention Scutaro, who was an integral piece of their championship puzzle a year ago.  This is definitely the most complete team in the NL West.

Diamondbacks:  Pitching … wins … championships.  This is why the Diamondbacks have a decided advantage over everyone else in this division (besides SF).  Wade Miley (remember him? LHP, ROY runner-up, won 16 games last year, etc. etc.) is #4 in their rotation.  #4!!  Following Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy.  Now, their bullpen is a little suspect (middle-of-the-pack ERA in 2012), but Putz still managed to save 32 of 37 opportunities a year ago.  I’ll be curious to see how their offense does without Justin Upton in the mix (though, his 17 HR and .785 OPS weren’t exactly striking fear in pitcher’s hearts last year), but they finished 2012 scoring the 4th most runs in the NL (754) with the 5th best team OPS (.746).  They still have plenty of pop with Kubel, Hill and Goldschmidt in the middle.  And, insisting that Martin Prado be a part of the trade that sent Upton to Atlanta was very smart.  I think this is a team that was unlucky in a lot of ways last year (fewest wins in 1-run games in the NL), and will make a big turnaround this year.

Dodgers:  Pitching … wins … championships.  All that money the Dodgers spent, and all the big names they traded for, and what did they do to improve their pitching?  Picked up two back-of-the-rotation guys that appear to be on the downslope of their careers.  Once you get past Clayton Kershaw (who is amazingly good), the Dodgers don’t really have a starter you can sink your teeth into.  They have high hopes for Ryu (the rookie from Korea), but again, it’s a lot of “hopes.”  Yes, they finished 2012 with the 2nd best team ERA (tied with Cincinnati), but I think that was a bit deceptive, as they were middle-of-the-pack in WHIP, and had the 2nd best BABIP in the NL (.283).  Offensively, surely they couldn’t do worse than they did in 2012.  Only the Marlins, Cubs and Astros finished 2012 with a worse team OPS (.690).  But, here’s what concerns me:  Matt Kemp was injured in the first half of the season (not the second), Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford all came over to the Dodgers after the All-Star break, and guess what LA’s post-All-Star-break OPS was . . . .695.  Even in the month of September, when they were trying to make a push for the division, it was a miserable .689.  The Dodgers have some good pitching, but with all the question marks offensively, they need more pitching than they have.

Rockies:  Pitching … wins … championships.  I don’t think it would come as a total shock to anyone that the Rockies finished 2012 with the worst ERA in the NL (5.22).  Pitching in the thin air in Denver wouldn’t be my preference if I were a major league pitcher.  But, what really tells the tale is that they also ranked 12th in the NL in ERA on the road, with a miserable 4.41.  Now, Jorge De La Rosa is completely healed from his Tommy John surgery, and will be able to fill the #2 spot in the rotation for the entire season.  I’m not saying he’s an All-Star, but he is serviceable in the #2 slot, and that makes a big difference when the other guys can slide down a spot.  The reason I think the Rockies could actually put together a winning season is because of their offense.  Tulowitzki is back from his injury, and Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and Michael Cuddyer make for a nice lineup.  I think they will score a lot of runs.  They don’t have the pitching to be competitive in this division, but they definitely won’t be as bad as last season.

Padres:  Pitching … wins … championships.  And, the Padres simply don’t have any.  Their “ace” finished 2012 with a 4.14 ERA.  Their closer is Huston Street, who actually had a nice year in 2012 – when he had a chance to actually save a game.  And, other than Street & Luke Gregerson, no one in that bullpen stands out as exceptional.  It’s no wonder this team finished with a team ERA over 4.00 last year.  And, all that was before they moved the fences in.  Add to the poor pitching the fact that the offense finished 2012 ranked 11th in OPS (.699) and 10th in runs scored (651), and you have a team that has no chance against a division loaded with talent.

So, now it’s time for my NL postseason predictions.  Here’s how I see it playing out:

Wild Card:  Nationals def. Diamondbacks

NLDS:  Reds def. Nationals (3-2) & Braves def. Giants (3-2)

NLCS:  Braves def. Reds (4-2)

And, that leads us to the World Series.  Tigers vs. Braves.  The Tigers won’t have to sit around and wait a week this time, after taking 7 games to put away the Blue Jays.  The Braves will put up a decent fight in every game – nothing decided by more than 3 runs. But the Tigers prove to be too much, and Detroit brings home the World Series trophy in 5 games.

Coming next week:  my postseason award predictions.