The 2014 SB Nation MLB preview contained predictions. A lot of those predictions were wrong. This is the 2015 SB Nation MLB preview, and you are about to read more predictions. They will be wrong. You will not get these minutes back, yet there’s still a chance you will continue reading. Are you just skimming? Are you a copy editor, employed by SB Nation? Why are you here?
Because there are reasons to read predictions that will almost certainly be wrong. Let us recount them.
You want someone to be angry with
Say you’re a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies. When you open up a predictions post like this, you know there is going to be a passage making fun of the Phillies organization and/or current roster. It’s a given, a box to check off for the person who writes it. Why are you here, then?
1. You’re a super fan, and you still believe in Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and 2008 wasn’t that long ago, and we’ll see, we’ll all see. So you want someone to motivate you and your team with cynical predictions, possibly while using the term "haterade" without irony.
2. You want to hate the Phillies even more right now, and these things help.
Either reason is fine with me. Thank you for reading.
You want someone to confirm your hopes and dreams
At some point, I will refer to the Nationals as the best team in baseball. Are you a Nationals fan? You’re here because you need validation. The baseball season is dark and full of terrors, and the last three Nationals seasons have ended in crushing disappointment. In one of those seasons, the Nationals were supposed to be the consensus best team in baseball — just like now — and they didn’t even make the postseason. It could happen again.
It could happen again.
Not in these predictions, though! The Nationals make the postseason in these predictions every time, just like you were hoping and predicting. It’s uncanny. Nothing bad happens to them in these predictions. There aren’t any freaky injuries, weird slumps or untimely suspensions. Just the Nationals winning the NL East over and over and over again.
Baseball writers are dumb and smug, and you want to rub their predictions in their dumb, smug faces next year
Fair enough. I predicted Prince Fielder to win the AL MVP last year. That prediction was the baseball equivalent of the reporter who fell down while stomping grapes. It was so painful to watch that it was a level removed from funny. (Fielder did not win the AL MVP.)
There will be something in here that’s just as stupid. Please, throw it in my face. I wear stupid predictions like merit badges, and I reference them often when freestyling, hoping to take ammunition away from my opponent. Baseball writers should never forget that baseball is both malevolent and smarter than them. Unless it’s waaaaay dumber than all of us, and we’re giving it too much credit. Either way, don’t take these predictions too seriously.
Even though most of them are probably right.
Please enjoy the 2015 SB Nation MLB Predictions!
1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Oakland A’s
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Houston Astros
5. Texas Rangers
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Not ludicrous or 80-point-font-on-the-Times-front-page surprising, but not great.
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: See the above. The Rangers would have been slight favorites for fourth place with Yu Darvish.
Dirty secret about these predictions: It’s possible to rip every team apart, except for maybe the Nationals and Dodgers. If you want to make an argument against the Angels, it would invoke the regression of Matt Shoemaker and Kole Calhoun, and it would loudly point out that the slow decline of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and/or Albert Pujols is about to evolve into sudden decline. David Freese was a mess last year, and C.J. Cron is unproven. They got worse at second, and they’re out of tantalizing prospects to dangle at the trade deadline. They might finish behind the Astros with a few bad breaks.
Then I look into those big doe eyes of Mike Trout, and …
They have the best head start in baseball, which means they get a pass on some of those other dodgy variables. If Freese is still a mess, they’ll find someone else and they’ll have Mike Trout. If Wilson never finds what made him so good in Texas, they’ll explore deals in July and they’ll have Mike Trout. One player doesn’t make that much of a difference over 162-game season … unless he’s Mike Trout.
I do not love the roster overhaul or the wacky permutations it took to get there. The A’s had a talented, low-cost team with holes, they made a dozen jarring, disorienting moves, and they emerged to field a talented, low-cost team with holes. It’s certainly possible that everyone on the team hated each other, but allow me to be the grandpa who argues in favor of continuity, both for the fans and the players. You’ve seen what happens when things are at risk of being yanked away by a claw from the heavens at any time. Their brain gets mushy. They start worshiping the claw. It’s all they can think about.
That written, the A’s are still a talented low-cost team with holes, but not enough to prevent them from contending. The Josh Reddick/Billy Butler/Ike Davis middle of the order scares the bejeepers out of me, and it should scare you too. The rest of the lineup features solid-to-excellent players, so it’s too easy to get hung up on that troika, but it’s not like you have to concoct the ultimate doomsday scenario to get 1,700 combined at-bats of 100 OPS+, .310 OBP and 500 strikeouts.
Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Hahn are a great start toward the rotation the A’s need, with a potential return from Jarrod Parker helping the depth. This just looks like the kind of pesky A’s team we underrate at our own peril, so I’ll put them a little higher than the projection systems have them. They’ll figure something out.
They’ll figure something out, or we’ll get 583 articles about how Billy Beane ruined the clubhouse chemistry. Brrrrr.
The Mariners have the best pitcher in the division. They have the second-best player in the division, but he would be the best player in almost any other division. They’re atop the FanGraphs projected standings by a game. So why do I put them third?
My gut. There’s gold in there. And my gut tells me that four or five of the hitters in the Mariners lineup will struggle mightily all danged season. They’ll flail around in the land of the vacant-eyed 640 OPS, wondering why they’re not hitting like they should. The pitching will be fabulous, of course. There will be 2-1 games and 2-0 games and 4-3 games and, when things get wacky, maybe a couple of 5-4 games. The Mariners won’t win enough of them to win the division, and they won’t lose enough of them to fall out of contention.
You can hate this prediction. You can hate the reasoning behind it. But I don’t think Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz and J.A. Happ are enough to reverse the raging current that has annoyed/drowned Mariners fans for the last few years. Unless there’s something of a group effort from the under-30 set like Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller and Austin Jackson to emerge from their potential chrysalis at the same time, it looks like the same Mariners team as last season to me.
I’d apologize, but there are just so many Mariners fans that I actively hate, so that felt cathartic.
They sure had a fine offseason effort. I’ll miss the easy laughs and immobile targets.
RIP, FUNNY ASTROS. And Matt Downs. We’ll miss all of you.
The only thing missing if the Astros wanted to ape the 2006 Tigers was the what-are-they-doing feeling that came with the Tigers spending exorbitant amounts of money on All-Stars in their 30s. That might be next year for the Astros, but if they get on an early season roll, those fox-crazy deals might come at the trade deadline. Here’s the roster. Look for the gaping hole. Look for the player who should not, under any circumstances, belong to a major league lineup, bench, rotation or bullpen.
He’s not there. That player was the default of the 2012 Astros, and his bite would infect the players who were acquired or called up. The 2015 Astros are clean, though. Even the players you should be skeptical about (looking at Jake Marisnick) are talented enough to get at least a trial on a transitional team. When you have a roster like this, where everyone makes some sense, you have the potential for a surprise title run. Astros fans, especially the ones who have stuck around, deserve it.
It’s only a tragedy if they end the movie right now. It’s a delightful rom-com if they roll the last three years into an opening montage, where there’s nowhere to go but up! The Rangers won the pennant, then they won the wild card, then they missed the playoffs and then baseball set them aflame. Pretend this is just the start of their story, and when they win three straight titles behind Rougneds Odor, well, just remember how bleak it seemed for them once.
That isn’t to say this is a team without talent. It’s a team with plenty of talent, both dormant and possibly resurgent. There are former stars who could rise from the ashes, and there are emerging stars who could break through. They have a minor league system of note, with one of the most compelling power prospects of the last decade. It’s a cocktail that can come together quickly. Maybe even next year.
Not this year. They’re going to give up a billion runs. With Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation, they had the slimmest of glimmers. Now they just have Holland, Gallardo and the sketchiest 3-5 in the American League. Oh, and Holland’s shoulder is sore. A commenter on this Baseball Prospectus article on pitching depth said it well:
Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Rangers only needed a 6th or 7th starter, instead of a 22nd and 23rd starter?
1. Cleveland Indians
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Minnesota Twins
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Not very good, despite how it approached the offseason. The pitching and hitting could both be OK, and the Twins could surprise, but more in an 81-win kind of way.
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Decent. It won the pennant last year, after all.
1. Cleveland Indians
I can’t tell if this is a dark-horse pick, or if it’s a trendy pick. Maybe I’m just doing it to break up the monotony of picking the Tigers every year, can’t tell. Still, the Indians have a deep lineup that gets even better if/when Nick Swisher gets healthy, the rare starting nine that doesn’t give a pitcher a break anywhere. Jose Ramirez would have been a Rookie of the Year candidate if he didn’t lose his rookie status, but Francisco Lindor will be a Rookie of the Year candidate the second he’s called up. The best way to describe the depth of the lineup is with a sentence: Yan Gomes, who hit 21 homers and won a Silver Slugger award last year, is probably hitting sixth.
The rotation is risky in that old Rays kind of way, lining up youngish, half-proven pitchers behind their established ace, but it’s still filled with potential. That’s even if you don’t trust Trevor Bauer. If you’re predicting good things from him, well, this is probably the second- or third-best rotation in the division. That doesn’t sound impressive until you realize they have the best or second-best lineup in the division. It’s the combination of the two that makes them especially dangerous.
2. Detroit Tigers
There are just enough questions to push them closer to the wild card game than a division title. Justin Verlander will have to have an ERA over 5.00 to get bounced from the rotation — call this the Lincecum Theory — and even then, the team still might give him 32 starts. The bullpen problems might be a touch overblown, but they certainly aren’t completely manufactured. The up-the-middle defense is stellar, but the corner defense is a Christmas play put on by dizzy kindergartners.
They have the talent to win the division and the World Series, of course. Yoenis Cespedes is a fine replacement for Torii Hunter, David Price is one of the only pitchers who could replace Max Scherzer at the top of a rotation, and Anthony Gose’s talent would probably play Austin Jackson’s talent in a film adaptation, so it’s not as if they’re that much different from last year’s. It’s not like this roster is substantially worse than the roster that opened last season, and those Tigers were consensus favorites. The predicted second-place finish has more to do with the Indians being good than the Tigers being flawed.
They are flawed, though. A list of players I’m skeptical about for 2015: J.D. Martinez, Gose, Nick Castellanos, Verlander, Alfredo Simon, Jose Iglesias, Shane Greene, and Joe Nathan, for some reason. Those players still might contribute, mind you, but I’m skeptical about their abilities to perform as well as they did last year, or as well as the Tigers are hoping for. It all might be enough to move a 90-win team to an 86-win team, and 86 wins is going to be on the fringes for the wild card game.
3. Chicago White Sox
What a dizzying offseason. What a surprising, aggressive offseason. They have one of the three best pitchers in the American League, and they have one of the three best hitters, too. So if the White Sox are building a roster, and have that kind of head start, shouldn’t a bunch of smart moves make them favorites?
Probably not. I believe a lot more in the Conor Gillaspie from 2013 than the one from last year, and that’s true for Adam LaRoche, too. Jose Quintana might be the most underrated pitcher in baseball, but John Danks and Hector Noesi are most certainly not. If either (or both) of them falter, there aren’t a lot of thrilling options to replace them unless 2014 first-round pick Carlos Rodon is even more special than believed.
I still almost put them ahead of the Tigers. I still might put them there before this is published. But when you think of a ball hit off Danks sailing over Carlos Sanchez’s head and shooting into the gap, you get a visual of why it’s hard for them to be favorites for anything.
4. Kansas City Royals
And then, in the middle of the World Series, for the first time in my life, I thought, "You know, I’m not sure if either of these teams in the World Series are that good." Hey, if I can admit it, Royals fans should be able to. The postseason is a barrel of monkeys, alright, but the monkeys are mischievous and extra-bitey, not fun. That barrel was how the Royals ruined the season for three different teams. Someone shook the barrel up, too.
Edinson Volquez isn’t James Shields, and the parallels are more depressing when you realize that he was even worse than Shields in his wild card game start. Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios have a chance to be as valuable as the players they’re replacing, but the Royals are almost certainly a little worse without Shields. Considering they were already a touch lucky last year (five games over their expected win-loss record), that’s not the direction they needed to go.
There’s a chance, a real chance, that they might have sub-.300 OBPs from the No. 5 spot in the lineup through the No. 9 spot — four of the five hitters did it last year — at which point the lineup would turn over with a player who also has a chance to make a lot of outs. Yordano Ventura is a treat, and they still have the competent veterans in the rotation and the world’s sludgiest, funkiest bullpen. But as Abraham Lincoln said to Abner Doubleday when giving him a medal for inventing baseball and winning the war: You can’t steal first.
5. Minnesota Twins
Maybe I should be nicer to the Twins. Every member of the starting lineup had an adjusted OPS above the league average last year, and while I dislike the Ervin Santana contract, I don’t dislike him as a contributor for a team that needs steadier pitching. Phil Hughes was a revelation last year, even if the ERA didn’t line up neatly with the historically outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio. They have two of the best prospects in baseball, and it’s not farfetched to think one or both might force their way into the majors. They’re not the Phillies. They’re not especially close.
Can’t trust them, though. They can’t possibly have enough pitching around Hughes and Santana. Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey are very, very, very Twins, in all the wrong ways, and Ricky Nolasco is morphing into a pure Twins pitcher by the light of a full moon. It would take some serious breakouts from the young hitters in the lineup, possibly around a resurgent Joe Mauer, to contend. Could happen. Might happen. Probably won’t happen.
1. Boston Red Sox
2. Baltimore Orioles
3. Toronto Blue Jays
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. New York Yankees
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Very realistic. The Yankees are a zombie team, and you cannot kill what is undead.
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Also realistic. Where there’s pitching, there’s a chance for surprises.
1. Boston Red Sox
If it’s not wise to predict the White Sox to reverse their record with a splashy offseason, maybe we’re giving the Red Sox too much credit. Maybe 71-91 means too much to ignore.
Except the Red Sox have a lineup this year that’s different from what they tried last year in one key way: They can be excellent even if the young hitters don’t develop right away or break out. Last year, they counted on Will Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Xander Bogaerts. When those players didn’t hit, it was too much to ask a lineup with A.J. Pierzynski and Jonny Gomes to overcome that. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia can’t do everything.
With the additions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, though, the Red Sox have an outstanding, five-deep run in the middle of their lineup that’s free of serious red flags. Ramirez, Sandoval, Ortiz, Pedroia, and Mike Napoli aren’t locks for anything — never forget that baseball is awful and age is even worse — but they’re all proven, reliable hitters. Now if Mookie Betts wants to break out? Sure, come along. Same goes for Bogaerts and Rusney Castillo. Happy to have you. The Red Sox don’t have to have them do things they’ve never done before.
The rotation sure does bring up a lot of questions, though, so this isn’t the lock of MLB. Every single pitcher comes with a "yeah, but," and those things can ruin the best-laid plans. Still, the Red Sox have depth upon depth upon depth at almost every position. They should be one of the more watchable teams this year. Other than the four-hour-game part.
2. Baltimore Orioles
They did nothing this offseason. Nothing. Nooooooothiiiiiiiiing. I see you waving, Travis Snider, but the song remains the same. Nothing. It’s a fascinating gambit, if only because it’s amazing how short-term the Orioles’ collective memories are. Don’t they remember what it was like for most of the last two decades? It wasn’t fun at all. This should have been a pouncepouncepounce offseason, in which an owner who remembered the bad old days seized the opportunity to get greedy.
They can still hit dingers, though. They should have Manny Machado back. They’ll eventually have Matt Wieters back. They should have Chris Davis back, at least a version that’s better than the miserable 2014 variety. Even with Steve Pearce almost certainly taking a step back, the Orioles should ht the ball close to as well as they did last season, which is plenty well enough.
Which means their rotation just has to be OK, much like the Red Sox. The two teams at the top of these projections have a similar quantity-not-quality feel to them, and all the teams need to do is hit as well as everyone expects them to. The Orioles’ path to the 2015 postseason is the exact same as their path to the 2014 postseason. Maybe that’s why they did nothing.
Like, seriously. Nothing.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
Are the Blue Jays a hot dog? Probably. We’re talking a hot dog without condiments. Standard bun. Standard processed hot dog from a huge company. Boiled. They have been this hot dog for two decades, never odious enough to turn your stomach, and never delicious enough to leave you satisfied.
Like every team in the AL East, they could win the division. They’re better on paper than most people guessed last year’s Orioles would be, and by a good margin. The Blue Jays would be the second-biggest surprise in the AL East over the last two years. They have dingers and OBP for the first five lineup slots, even if the next four are a little underwhelming. They have intriguing arms in all five rotation spots, even if they’re almost all filled by someone too old or young to trust completely. A surprising season or two from random folks, like Dalton Pompey or Kevin Pillar, and they could coast into the postseason and end the nasty drought.
After Josh Donaldson, though, the lineup really is a leap of faith out of the nest. The Marcus Stroman injury hurt their depth, which they’ll probably have to tap into this season, but where the Red Sox and Orioles should both do at least one thing well, the Blue Jays are in danger of middling performances everywhere on the roster other than the middle of their lineup.
They’re in danger of being the Blue Jays, then. We probably should have seen that coming.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
If a team has five solid starting pitchers, it has a chance. You don’t need a list of former division winners to prove that maxim. The Rays had those five starting pitchers before the Grapefruit League started, and it might have made sense to slot the team higher in these projections. Heck, if Matt Moore came back on schedule, they might have had the best rotation in the division.
Instead, forearm tightness and shoulder tendinitis have already made two Rays questionable for opening day (Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly, respectively), and the Rays don’t have the backup plans to deal with worst-case scenarios effectively. While the lineup still has a couple candidates for breakout seasons, it’s probably the worst lineup in the division, or close to it, without those breakouts. Evan Longoria should return to form, and the Rays aren’t a team bereft of talent, but they aren’t balancing their noticeable flaws with a pile of sure things, either.
They have five solid starting pitchers. They have a chance. It’s just less of a chance than the three teams ahead of them.
5. New York Yankees
There is a monster who lives under Yankee Stadium like a rancor, and he’s made of magic. The only things it eats are cynical predictions from dumb sportswriters, and he uses them to as fuel for magic monster beams that help the Yankees contend, even when they have absolutely no right to contend. He’s eating this paragraph right now. The Yankees will use it to fuel another contending season. Sorry. Sorry for writing this.
I just can’t stop myself, though. The Yankees have a rotation that’s held together with twine and moist newspaper. CC Sabathia wasn’t good last year, and then he missed time with a serious injury. Michael Pineda had serious shoulder problems, and Masahiro Tanaka’s throwing ligament is partially torn. It’s more likely that all three of them miss chunks of the season than they all make more than 28 starts, so the Yankees would have to figure out how to make pitching stew out of flour and warm Tab if anything went wrong. Ivan Nova and Chris Capuano are already hurt, too.
The lineup is filled with I’ve-heard-of-them players, but they’re all a year older, and Chase Headley isn’t enough to save an offense that was comfortably below-average last year.
(You know Alex Rodriguez is going to hit 30 homers and the Yankees are going to win the division, right? Just making sure.)
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Diego Padres
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Colorado Rockies
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Only mildly ludicrous. Not desperately ludicrous.
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Only mildly ludicrous. Not desperately ludicrous. I’m pretty sure they’re both the same team, to be honest.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
One of only two teams I didn’t hem and haw with at the top of their division, the Dodgers are pretty, pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good. They remade their team, with their two best hitters from last season gone, and yet they somehow got better. What manner of dark alchemy is this? Money can’t buy World Series trophies, and money can’t buy happiness, but it can apparently buy some fancy roster moves and a new braintrust. Which can help that first part. So hold off on being so sure about what money can or can’t buy.
Even if Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy were both expensive risks (with delightful Twitter accounts!), the Dodgers clearly have the best rotation in the division. That starts with the best pitcher alive, an unfair head start on the rest of the world. Zack Greinke is excellent enough to give the Dodgers a formidable rotation, even if the three pitchers behind him falter or miss games. There’s a good mix of once-weres and should-bes in the minors, too, just in case of a serious emergency.
It’s the lineup that’s going to get them in the mid-90s, though. They don’t have any holes at any position, and even if there are some players you’re right to wonder about — say, third base and an outfield spot or two — they have contingency plans for everything. If they made a lineup out of their bench and prospects who won’t be on the team …
- Justin Turner - 3B
- Alex Guerrero - 2B
- Scott Van Slyke - 1B
- Andre Ethier - RF
- Corey Seager - SS
- Chris Heisey - LF
- Scott Schebler - CF
- A.J. Ellis - C
… it would out-hit more than a few teams around both leagues. The Dodgers are loaded. Except for the bullpen, but they’ll figure that out. Unless it RUINS EVERYTHING, ha ha ha ha aaaa ha ha. Ha ha ha. Uh. Ha?
2. San Diego Padres
After winning the imaginary offseason World Series, the Padres had an imaginary offseason parade. One of the imaginary floats drove into the crowd and exploded in a delightful explosion of cotton candy and sunbeams. You should have been there.
It sure was an offseason from Padre-fan dreams, though. Lots of activity and a new identity is just about everything fans from a previously dull team could ask for. The Padres couldn’t hit home runs, and now they can. They could pitch but not score, and now they can do both. While Alexi Amarista isn’t exciting, and Yangervis Solarte is probably closer to the player no one thought about before last season, there should be dingers and more dingers and then some more. The rotation would have been good enough to contend with that lineup, but then they signed James Shields. Lap it up, Padres fans. You’ve earned this.
If I can concern-troll for just a moment, though! I just mentioned the pitching as if its completely isolated from the rest of the team. It’s not. Pitchers need help from their fielders, and the Padres might have the worst defense in baseball. Matt Kemp is a known quantity in right field, and that quantity is negative-five billion. Wil Myers is likely to be rough in center compared to his peers. Derek Norris has well-chronicled problems throwing out baserunners, and he isn’t likely to make up for it with his framing. The best you say about the remaining five is that they could/should be average. There aren’t standout defenders anywhere.
It’ll bother you until the next dinger, which will usually be a half-inning away.
3. San Francisco Giants
Bonds help me, I tried to put them at No. 2. They were there for a week before I just couldn’t go through with it. Hunter Pence is hurt. Angel Pagan is having predictable back issues. Their biggest weakness is supposed to be their starting pitching, and all of their starting pitchers have been shelled this preseason, other than Tim Hudson. They can’t win in the Cactus League. Doomed. They’re doomed. Doooooooooomed
They still have Buster Posey, mind you. And you aren’t really buying into Madison Bumgarner being in trouble because of spring stats, are you? They just won the World Series, the difference between Michael Morse/Pablo Sandoval and Norichika Aoki/Casey McGehee can’t be much more than a win or two, so they have something going for them. Even though they’re starting some older/questionable pitchers, at least they have a lot of them in case repairs are needed.
If you were going to make a checklist of warning signs before this season, though, the Giants would have checked more than a couple off already. Even if you don’t believe in odd-year nonsense like a smart person, you can still look at the Giants and see all of the ways things could go horribly for them. They’ll need either superlative hitting or surprising pitching to make the postseason again. Sounds simple, except one of the best hitters will miss a month, and the pitchers aren’t showing any indication that they’ll surprise anyone.
4. Colorado Rockies
They have the potential to be an annoying team if they stay healthy. Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Morneau, Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado make a fearsome middle of the order, and they have worthwhile hitters at the top of the order, too. Team defense is a strength, which should help a rotation that needs every last bit of it. Really, I’m not sure what we’re so worried about.
Kyle Kendrick named Rockies’ Opening Day starter http://t.co/W2R1eaiidp— HardballTalk (@HardballTalk) March 19, 2015
Oh. Oh, dear. There might be an explanation for this, but it’s still a disconcerting start to the season.
That is a fake tweet, included because I lack restraint. Still, you get the idea. Injuries and pitching, pitching and injuries. If the Rockies can cobble a pitching staff out of some of their younger pitchers, and if they can stay healthy, they actually have a shot. That’s an "and," though, not an "or." It has to be both, which makes things exponentially more difficult.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
They have the same problem as the Rockies — an offense with a few steady names, but a pitching staff that should be a constant source of turmoil. They don’t have a lot of starting pitchers who can miss bats, and they’ll start the season with substantial worries about the players at third, behind the plate, and in right field. While they have at least two or three Gold Glove candidates, it’ll still be an occasional amusement park ride out there.
This wouldn’t be a huge issue a) if they had the frontline pitchers who would be good behind any defense, like the bulk of the Padres’ staff, or b) they had the 1-through-9 depth of the Dodgers. But they don’t come close to either, which leaves them wishing on Aaron Hill to hit better, for Mark Trumbo to rebound (or at least make a few assists), for Chris Owings to hit just enough, and for everyone to come together and help make up for the guaranteed offensive void left by various catchers.
The Diamondbacks have two young, talented pitchers in Archie Bradley and Braden Shipley, so if the team is going to surprise, it’ll be with their help. It would take a surprise that eclipses last year’s Orioles team, though. They would need 2013 Pirates-level surprise, and Andrew McCutchen isn’t gliding effortlessly through that door.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Cincinnati Reds
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: Jason Marquis.
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: Could happen! Of all the fourth-place teams around, this is the one with the best shot.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
Owen Wilson in Meet the Parents. How can you hate him? And yet you do. Perfect in every way, but never with a guarantee that he’ll get exactly what he wants. Even after the most devastating of losses, he’ll look up with a dumb, optimistic, Labrador Retriever grin and mumble something about next year. He’ll always, always, always get that chance.
They’re probably the best team in the division. Again. For starters, the Cardinals have one of the cleaner 1-through-9s in the game, joining a group that includes the Dodgers, Nationals, Indians and maybe a couple others. They augment that with a deep rotation, with a nice mix of veteran talent and up-and-comers in the wings. If Jaime Garcia can’t stay in the rotation after his injury, the Cardinals have Carlos Martinez. If he’s not good to go, they have Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons in the seventh and eighth spots. The Cardinals are probably set.
Ah, but that assumes the front of the rotation is solid and dependable. Which it certainly could be, what with Adam Wainwright a perennial All-Star and Lance Lynn coming into his own. But anyone who watched Wainwright in the playoffs was at least a little uncomfortable with the apparent fatigue that was dragging him down, and Michael Wacha was a phantom in the postseason until the exact wrong moment. How will he recover from injury?
Whatever. They’ll be good. If those guys don’t do well, the other guys will. And if those guys don’t, the other guys will surprise. If those other guys don’t surprise, they’ll trade for some more other guys. They’re the Cardinals. They always land on their feet. They have Jason Heyward, you know. They’ll sign him to an extension before the season is over, and he really will turn into Stan Musial. Meet the Cardinals.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
They’ve been underestimated for two straight seasons, so it’s time to compensate, and while having the best outfield in the game doesn’t have to mean anything, it can’t hurt. The best way to evaluate the Pirates is by noting they have Pedro Alvarez hitting sixth, with a backup plan or two behind him. He’s not the shining hope, the slugger who needs to thrive to make everything work. If he hits well, he hits well. If he doesn’t, they’ll figure something out. That’s the spot they’re in, and it’s much different from the one they were in a couple of years ago.
It’s a solid lineup, with a competent rotation of familiar faces who all have a chance of being something more, something exciting. Gerrit Cole is the ace-in-waiting, and even if that’s an unfair label, he’s probably the best pitcher on the staff. A.J. Burnett is back, and so is Francisco Liriano, a veteran tandem that’s probably good for 40 starts or so, but with a great chance of being an above-average 40 starts. That’s a big deal. The fourth starters have fifth-starters-in-waiting, and the fifth starters have sixth-starters-in-waiting. They have a deep, absurd bullpen.
This could be the year. What, you think Liriano is going to get …
/ ligament makes SPROOING sound and shoots across the room
Well, it looks like a solid rotation on paper, at least. And it’s a lineup without a lot of obvious holes. The World Series will be won by a team that doesn’t have an obvious path to the championship, as is the Word Series’ way. Why not the Pirates? foreshadowing
3. Chicago Cubs
SO CLOSE. Probably a full season of Kris Bryant away, really. Maybe a non-dead-armed Jon Lester. Whichever the case, the Cubs will be competitive. They’ll be active, both before and after the trade deadline. They’ll offer hope for the present and the future. They’ll just come up a little short this time. Not next time. Probably not next time. Maybe the time after next time will be theirs. Everyone just be patient. EVERYONE BE PATIENT.
Do you think this is pessimistic? Possibly, but feast thine eyes on the Cubs hitters who will likely bat after the cleanup hitter:
- Miguel Montero
- Chris Coghlan
- Mike Olt
- Tommy La Stella
There are backup options, both Bryant-related and not, but for the first month or two of the season, the Cubs will be counting on a half-lineup. Dexter Fowler is a fine leadoff hitter, and three-time All-Star (!) Starlin Castro should be the right hitter to move him along. This is the year that Jorge Soler becomes the star that Anthony Rizzo already is. Those four are the offense until Bryant and others (Bryant, Baez, Alcantara, Russell) force their way into the lineup.
Assuming Lester (he of the dead-arm-that-isn’t-a-big-deal) is fine, the Cubs have a rotation to match the lineup, heavy at the top and light at the back. Even then, it’s not like the top of the rotation is filled with sure things after Lester. Can Jake Arrieta repeat his superb season? Was first-half Jason Hammel the real one, or is the dismal second-half version the one to expect now? Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks both have an upside of "OK, so long as everything else is going well," so the Cubs will be counting a lot on a small number of players.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
They probably deserve better. I’m not sure if there’s a division they would be the favorites for, but they are an overqualified fourth-place team. If we had some clue as to which Ryan Braun was going to show up, maybe the Brewers would jump up a spot or two or three. If Braun is closer to the MVP variety, the Brewers have the best start to a lineup in baseball, and they follow that with power. The rotation doesn’t have a clear, win-day ace, but there isn’t a Jason Marquis in the bunch, either. They have a shot to win the division, a real shot.
The problem is that they’re counting on simultaneous somethings from just about everyone in the rotation, more so than the average team. They’re counting on Kyle Lohse to ward off the aging demons for another year, Matt Garza to stop being so flaky, Mike Fiers to put together a full season, Wily Peralta to keep the walks down and strikeouts up, and Jimmy Nelson to establish himself. Behind those five is a bullpen that’s probably going to be shaky for what feels like the second straight decade. If you rewrite this paragraph to highlight the things the rotation might get right, the Brewers would almost sound like the best team in baseball.
As is, they’re counting on too many parlays. If Braun hits and the question marks in the rotation become exclamation points, this is the ranking that’s likely to look the silliest by September. We were almost used to a good Brewers team last year when the calamity rained down from the sky and melted everything. If they started the season poorly and finished it strong, we would probably have a different, more optimistic view of them. Funny how that works.
5. Cincinnati Reds
It’s not that Jason Marquis is going to be in the rotation. It’s that two weeks before they needed to make a decision, the Reds said, "OK, we don’t need to see any more. Marquis is clearly the best option we have, so let’s just announce this now." This should be the last-gasp season of last-gasp seasons, with the Reds clawing frantically for one … last … shot … before nearly their entire rotation goes away in free agency. Instead, they embarked on a half-rebuild, half-contend strategy, trying to sell their cake and display it, too. This is how you end up with things like Jason Marquis.
If the All-Stars in the lineup return to form — as in, completely — the Reds could win 90 games, even with the questionable pitching. That’s how All-Starry the former All-Stars are. Joey Votto can still be one of the best hitters in the game, and Jay Bruce is young enough to expect a renaissance, even if Brandon Phillips isn’t. With Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier having a chance to hit 30 homers, that would give the Reds the kind of offense that made them World Series contenders just a couple seasons ago.
They’re stretched too thin, though, and even if Homer Bailey shows up like nothing was ever wrong with his arm, they’ll have two iffy starters in the rotation. The lineup probably won’t be strong enough to carry them 40 percent of the time, which makes .500 seem like a small victory. If they can surprise in the first half, though, I could see the Reds going bananas at the trade deadline, buying instead of selling. If things go well for them, the holes will be obvious and fixable. Hopefully for the Reds, it won’t be too late to do something about them.
1. Washington Nationals
2. New York Mets
3. Miami Marlins
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Philadelphia Phillies
Chances of the fifth-place team winning the division: And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
Chances of the fourth-place team winning the division: And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
1. Washington Nationals
Most of these predictions use words like "depth" to describe teams that feature rosters filled with good-to-outstanding players. Here, then, is a different kind of depth. Last year, according to wins above replacement, Tanner Roark was the sixth-most valuable starting pitcher in the National League. The Nationals looked at this and said, "Gee, if only there were some way to replace him." The Nationals won 96 games last year. They should be better this year. Here’s your best team in baseball, and I’m not sure if it’s especially close.
It’s been an ominous beginning, mind you. Jayson Werth and Denard Span are both going to miss chunks of the season, which leaves Michael Taylor and Tony Gwynn as the bookends of the lineup. That wasn’t the plan, and if Bryce Harper is more of a candidate to break than break out, there really aren’t any exciting options in the minors. Play a game, though. Pick the five worst lineups in baseball, and put any of them behind the Nationals rotation. Is that team still the favorite in the East? Probably. Surgically inserting the Phillies lineup into the middle of the Nationals’ roster would probably still give us a contender, if not a favorite.
They don’t have the Phillies’ lineup, of course. They have Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman in the middle of the lineup until Werth gets back. And they have Bryce Harper, who is going to lay waste to the National League this year, we’re totally serious, this time for real. If you venture down the dark alleys of the Internet, you’ll find people who are convinced that Harper is overrated, that he’s nothing but hype. Those people are bad people, and this is the year they feel bad.
Basically still a prospect. This is the year, everyone. This is the year. Just watch. Just wait. You’ll see. This is the year Harper goes nuts. Everybody kick back and watch the show.
2. New York Mets
And then the Mets reached into their bag of dad magic, rustled around and pulled out a Michael Cuddyer. Are you not impressed? They can do it again, you know.
What a bizarre offseason. Mets fans told me that the team’s inactivity was expected, considering the state of the Wilpons’ finances. It was as if the organization had a plan to make a quick strike in free agency to fool everyone into thinking the Mets were active. It didn’t work. The team went into the offseason without a shortstop they loved, and they didn’t do a thing about it. They went into the offseason in need of an outfielder, and they left with a DH. I don’t get it. Even considering the financial limitations, I don’t get it.
The Mets still have enough hitting to contend behind their rotation, though, even if you can tell how old Bartolo Colon is by cutting him open and counting the many, many rings. Dillon Gee is ostensibly the Zack Wheeler replacement, but that won’t last long if someone else like Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz starts pushing him from the minors, and Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom are good enough at the top to let the Mets contend for a wild card spot, even if the division is probably out of reach.
Considering what the Nationals look like, maybe this is what the Mets should do. Hang back, see what they have, and add at the deadline if they need to. Next year might be the better season to make an all-in push. Still, for a team this close, the Offseason of Cuddyer didn’t make a lick of sense.
3. Miami Marlins
On the other hand, the Mets could have gyrated and jiggled like the Marlins all offseason, making move after move, and come away with a roster that isn’t that improved in the short term at the expense of the long term. The Marlins traded some of their best assets for a second baseman who hit his ceiling last year and isn’t likely to do it again, and then they traded even more for Martin Prado, who is showing signs of rapid decline. They traded even more for a pitcher who isn’t likely to be much better than the one they traded away for Prado, and they spent money on a first baseman who can’t really play first base. If they got better, you have to squint to see it.
The good news is they were already pretty respectable, with one of the two great young outfields in the game (along with the Pirates), and a rotation that should do fine until Jose Fernandez is ready to return. While I’m fond of making fun of the Dee Gordon trade, he’s a serious asset if he does exactly what he did last year, and there’s enough talent in the lineup to have a hitter like Marcell Ozuna hitting sixth, which is where he should be in a productive lineup. They don’t have the pitching of the Mets, not yet, so there’s no sense in pretending they’re favorites, but like every other No. 3 team in these predictions, don’t be surprised by the surprise. One of these No. 3 teams will win the division. Why not the Marlins?
Right. The Nationals. Still, the wild card isn’t out of the question, and even though they made a big push for a pending free agent (Mat Latos) and the already arbitration-eligible Gordon, they’re still set up well for the future. If Fernandez comes back and looks like his old self, and if Latos reclaims his velocity and ace-like stuff, the Marlins won’t be that far behind the other contenders in the National League.
4. Atlanta Braves
Good news, Braves fans! The Braves signed Nick Markakis because they still think they’re contenders. Let’s just check in on how his spring is going …
DNP - NECK SURGERY
Well, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Let’s check in on his temporary replacement.
Hey, it’s the guy who won that MVP back in the ’60s! Good for him. Good for the Braves.
But this lineup probably won’t score 600 runs. It might threaten to score fewer than 500. They spent the offseason trying to deal Chris Johnson, and no one bit because he’s not a very good hitter. He’s hitting fifth in the lineup. In a power-starved open market, everyone still passed on Jonny Gomes because it’s been a couple years since he hit enough to justify his strangeglove ways. He’s the cleanup hitter. The Mets didn’t have any use for Eric Young because he couldn’t hit enough. He's the Braves’ leadoff hitter.
You get the idea. The sad part is the Braves still might have the second-best rotation in the division, and that’s even assuming Mike Minor will miss a little time. It takes a special lineup to look at Alex Wood, Julio Teheran and Shelby Miller at the front of the rotation and think, well, there’s no way this team can contend.
This is a special lineup. Freddie Freeman might have 35 homers and 36 RBI this year. If they can find offense anywhere, anywhere at all, they’ll be better than expected. As of right now, though, this is the worst lineup in baseball, give or take. Although it’s also possible it isn’t even the worst lineup in the division, considering the …
5. Philadelphia Phillies
If you’re looking for a reason to pick the Marlins or Mets for the wild card, consider that they each play 36 combined games against the Phillies and Braves. When the Phillies went out of their way to re-sign Jerome Williams last year, I remember wondering why they did so. Because it turns out Williams is one of their five best options to start baseball games, apparently. Welcome to Philliestown, population: aw, jeez.
Pretend you have a Game Genie for the Phillies and you can make Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz as good as they were in 2011 or so. Would they have enough pitching to contend with that fearsome start to a lineup? Probably not. Now realize the Game Genie is a fantasy, and those older players are surrounded by once-weres and never-will-bes. I’m starting to wonder if Domonic Brown might not work out. And is that Grady Sizemore in right? At least Jeff Francoeur is behind him, just in case!
The Braves have Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons as their core, and they still have the bounty of young pitching, so they can be bad without being actively depressing. The Phillies still have the players that used to make them a yearly contender, which makes them extra sad. Trading Cole Hamels might even improve spirits, considering that he reminds everyone that this team used to be so excellent.
For now, though, appreciate them for what they’re best at: giving the world a chance at 600 at-bats from Jeff Francoeur in the year 2015. Keep your fingers crossed, everyone.
Wild card game: Pirates over Mets
NLDS: Dodgers over Cardinals, Pirates over Nationals
NLCS: Pirates over Dodgers
Wild card game: Tigers over Orioles
ALDS: Angels over Indians, Red Sox over Tigers
ALCS: Angels over Red Sox
Pirates over Angels
You know it’s going to be someone random. Why not the Pirates?
NL MVP: Bryce Harper
AL MVP: Jacoby Ellsbury
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
AL Cy Young: Masahiro Tanaka
NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant
AL Rookie of the Year: Robert Refsnyder