Saturday, May 7, 2016

NL West 2016 Season Preview


It’s time for baseball.  I’m taking a quick look at each division and making some predictions before the season really takes off.  For my overall thoughts about the league and playoff predictions, check out my last post HERE.  Or for my AL West thoughts, check out THIS POST.

I’ll continue with the NL West.  The Dodgers have dominated headlines with their massive payrolls in recent years, but in an even year many don’t like to count out the Giants.  More important than the even year is the fact that the Giants had a fantastic offseason, while the Dodgers had a pretty bad one.  But to throw another wrench into the equation, the Diamondbacks may have had the best offseason in the division, which makes the NL West very interesting all of a sudden.  Will the Giants offseason translate onto the field?  Will the new look Diamondbacks be able to make some noise?  Do the Dodgers still have enough talent?  To this point, all of these teams are underperforming so something will have to change considerably if any of these teams are going to have success.


PRESSING QUESTIONS:

Arizona Diamondbacks-    A more talented team than many realized last season, will their new pitching staff be enough to help them contend?

Colorado Rockies-              Is CarGo on the way out? 

Los Angeles Dodgers-        Are they still talented enough to win this division with the losses they sustained this offseason?

San Diego Padres-               Are they going to sell off more pieces this year?

San Francisco Giants-        Can the even year and big offseason translate to a division win, and possibly another World Series?



PREDICTIONS:

San Francisco Giants-            91-71
Arizona Diamondbacks-       88-74                         SECOND WILDCARD WINNER
Los Angeles Dodgers-           85-77
San Diego Padres-                 77-85
Colorado Rockies-                  70-92


San Francisco Giants

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                Denard Span
2B                                Joe Panik
C                                  Buster Posey
RF                                Hunter Pence
1B                               Brandon Belt
SS                                Brandon Crawford
3B                               Matt Duffy
LF                                Angel Pagan

LHP                             Madison Bumgarner
RHP                             Johnny Cueto
RHP                             Jeff Samardzjia
RHP                             Jake Peavy
RHP                             Matt Cain
CLOSER                      Santiago Casilla

The Giants have a lot of buzz around them this year.  Many think they are now the best team in the division.  And, of course, it is an even year.  So while some think this dynasty is destined to win another World Series, they still have to prove it on the field.

(And for what it’s worth I don’t buy that dynasty stuff.  To be a dynasty you have to have a sustained run of greatness and be the best team for a while.  The Giants won every other World Series in this span and while that is undoubtedly impressive, they are no dynasty.  Many of the odd years saw them really struggle and miss the playoffs.  And the years they made the playoffs and won, they were always the worst team to get in and had a hot streak at the end that carried them.  Again, very impressive.  But you have to be the best team or close to it to be a dynasty.  At no point in this stretch were the Giants anywhere near the best team, usually not even in their division.  It’s a lucky streak that includes good postseason baseball.  I’m not actually a huge fan of this team, so the fact that I am picking them to win the division shows you how impressed I am with their offseason).

The Giants sustain success with strong pitching and just enough a hitting.  This offseason, they went out and added in both departments.  They already had an ace in Madison Bumgarner and a savvy veteran in Jake Peavy.  With Matt Cain coming back, they looked to be solid.  But they were not content.  They signed Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzjia to major deals and now they have one of the best starting rotations in the NL.  That rotation is bolstered by a strong bullpen consisting of a good closer in Santiago Casilla and other strong arms including Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Hunter Strickland.  If Casilla struggles, Romo is arguably just as good a closer, if not better.  Like always, this team will pitch well.  I could see Bumgarner threatening for 20 Wins and Cueto right behind him over 15.  And if Matt Cain has recovered his former mojo, he too could threaten for 15 Wins with both Samardzjia and Peavy good for double digits in the same department.  And those new signings were huge, because Samardzjia and Cueto are likely the best pitchers on the staff right now.  With Cain and Peavy’s struggles, don’t be surprised if the Giants make an offer to free agent Tim Lincecum, who had a great public bullpen session and is looking to come back and play with a major league team again.

But the question in San Francisco is always the same.  Will the Giants score enough?  This year, they will likely need to score less.  But even so, they had enough money to address the offense.  Posey is a star good for an AVG around 300 with around 20 HR and 85+ RBI.  Hunter Pence does a lot of stuff well and can be a 270 guy with 15 HR and 10 SB.  Joe Panik improved on his rookie 2014 campaign to hit over 300 again.  And Brandon Crawford broke out with a career high 21 HR and 84 RBI.  All those guys are back and healthy.  And now they’ve added Denard Span, a quality leadoff man good for a 280+ AVG, 20+ SB and a strong OBP.  He very recently led the league in hits.  With him at the top, this Giants team looks good. 

Overall, I like this team.  The defense looks great, the pitching staff looks even better and the offense, while not a juggernaut by any means, looks better than last year.  Add to that the stronger pitching and weakening of the other teams in the division and the Giants look like the team to beat.  I’m picking them as my division winner.


Arizona Diamondbacks

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                A.J. Pollock
2B                                Jean Segura
1B                                Paul Goldschmidt
RF                                David Peralta
LF                                Yasmany Thomas
C                                  Wellington Castillo
SS                                Chris Owings
3B                                Jake Lamb

RHP                             Zach Greinke
RHP                             Shelby Miller
LHP                             Patrick Corbin
RHP                             Rubby De La Rosa
LHP                             Robbie Ray
CLOSER                      Brad Ziegler


This team is going for it now.  After more success than anyone expected them to have, Tony LaRusa looked at the team and thought they were just a few pieces short of contending.  Paul Goldschmidt might be the third best player in baseball, but is likely top 5 at worst.  A.J. Pollock is a really good player, better than people realized.  David Peralta looks good.  So, the Diamondbacks went out and addressed their weaknesses adding two top of the rotation starters and another middle infielder with some legitimate potential.  Will that be enough? 

This team can hit.  Last year, they were one of the top offenses in the NL.  Goldschmidt is great.  He is almost a lock for 300 with 30 HR, 100 RBI and R with 15 SB tossed in as well.  He also gets on base at a ridiculous rate and plays Gold Glove caliber defense.  For me, he is right after Trout in Harper in terms of talent.  The difference is that he has a more proven track record.  I cannot talk about him enough.  He is truly one of the best.  A.J. Pollock had a career year last season.   Like many players in the west, he got overlooked.  He hit 315 with 20 HR, 76 RBI, 39 SB and 111 R.  He got on base at a 367 rate.  The issue with Pollock has never been skill it’s been health.  He’s hurt again to start the year.  But I believe if he can come back healthy, he can hit 300 again with 15+ HR, 70 RBI, 100 R and 30+ SB.  He is also great in the field.  Pollock and Goldschmidt are the stars, but there is more talent behind them.  David Peralta built on a strong half year in 2014 to his first full season in the majors last year.  He hit 312 with 17 HR and 78 RBI.  Yasmany Tomas was signed to a big deal and much is expected from him.  In a partial season last year he hit 273 with 9 HR.  They need more from him, but if he can play left he will get every opportunity to succeed, and with all his talent many think it’s only a matter of time.  Jean Segura was added to play some short and some second.  He hasn’t lived up to his big 2013 season that saw him hit 294 with 44 SB.  But he’s dealt with some injuries and personal issues since then, including the loss of a child.  However he’s got great talent and is off to a great start this year.  There is a drop off after those guys, but the team has lots of depth and hopes to ride hot hands to support the top of the lineup.  But Goldy and Pollock can win many games on their own and with Peralta, Segura and Tomas helping, they can likely improve on what was already a good offense last year.

The issue with this team was always pitching.  So that’s what was addressed this offseason.  The big move was signing Zack Greinke to a major deal worth over $200 million.  Last year he went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA in 222 IP with 200 Ks.  While moving to Chase Field will inflate that ERA, I still think he can threaten 20 Wins, with 15 likely his floor.  Despite his rough start to the year, I like him for 200+ IP and Ks with an ERA right around 3, perhaps lower.  The other big move was trading for Shelby Miller from Atlanta.  While many think they overpaid (the overpay including trading first overall pick Dansby Swanson), the D’backs want to win now and are happy with the deal.  Miller played for a bad Braves team last year, which affected his win loss record (6-17…not good).  But he is not at all to blame.  He pitched really well, but the Braves couldn’t score.  Everyone agrees it was his best year as he pitched over 200 IP with a 3.02 ERA.  He’s not a big strikeout guy, but he can get guys out and is a very strong pitcher, especially as a number 2 in the rotation.  The rest of the rotation includes Patrick Corbin, Ruby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray.  Corbin had one season where he pitched very well, but then was lost to Tommy John.  While they aren’t sure how he’ll be coming back off that, he’s got talent and a track record of success.  Having him as a number 3 is a luxury for this team, as he used to be considered their ace.  In addition to the three strong arms at the top, the bullpen has some good pitchers as well.  Tyler Clippard is an All Star level reliever.  Brad Zeigler is a solid closer.  And both Daniel Hudson and Randall Delgado are former starters who have the stuff to do well as relievers. 

This team is much improved after this offseason.  They were better than people realized last year.  They have one of the best offenses in baseball.  They have three strong starters at the top of the rotation and some good arms in the bullpen.  The defense looks strong, especially in the infield. And with the Dodgers having a poor offseason, things are lining up for the Diamondbacks to have a solid season.  I like them for 88 Wins and the second wildcard spot.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

LF                               Carl Crawford
SS                               Corey Seager
1B                              Adrian Gonzalez
3B                              Justin Turner
RF                              Yasiel Puig
CF                              Joc Pederson
2B                              Chase Utley
C                                 A.J. Ellis

LHP                             Clayton Kershaw
LHP                             Scott Kazmir
RHP                             Kenta Maeda
LHP                             Alex Wood
RHP                             Ross Stripling
CLOSER                      Kenley Jansen

The Dodgers are not a popular team right now.  Despite winning the NL west for three straight years and having the highest payroll in baseball, the Dodgers are being largely overlooked by two other teams in their division.  The reason is that things have not gone well for them since the end of the regular season in 2016.  After losing in the playoffs again, the Dodgers saw their manager get fired, one of their aces go to a division rival and the teams behind them in the standings get better.  Even if they are able to win the division, it will be closer this year than they likely want it to be.

The Dodgers are not at all a bad team.  Their offense features few stars, but above average to good players at every position.  Adrian Gonzalez is a very good first baseman, still underrated at this later stage of his career.  He hits for AVG and solid power.  But he still gets on base, drives in runs and plays great defense at first.  Last year he hit 275 with 28 HR, 90 RBI and a 350 OBP.  I like the AVG and OBP to be similar with likely 25-28 HR again.  The biggest name with the Dodgers right now may be the young Cory Seager at short.  The younger brother of Kyle, the Mariners third baseman, Corey is expected to be a star.  He only appeared in 27 games in his rookie year last season, but hit 337 with 4 HR, 17 RBI, 17 R and 2 SB.  Hard to know what he’ll do this year, but he could be a 15/15 or even 20/20 guy with a plus AVG if he learns well on his feet.  The rest of the offense has questions.  Nobody knows what to make of Yasiel Puig.  An incredible athlete, the free-swinging Puig has seen his AVG drop every season he’s been in the majors.  Injuries and ineffectiveness limited him to 79 games last year where he hit 255.  But he still had 11 HR and 38 RBI in that half season of work.  He has a cannon for an arm, but make a lot of mistakes in the field.  He also seems to have maturity problems, whether they are blown out of proportion or not, and is not popular in the clubhouse.  But he’s only played one full season to this point and will likely still be getting better as he gains more experience.  I truly have no idea what his AVG will be, but he should be good for at least 20 HR and maybe 75 RBI.  Joc Pederson is a flawed young player.  He played the full season as a rookie last year.  But his solid first half devolved into a bad second half.  He hit 26 HR with 54 RBI.  But he hit 210 in that time with a 4 for 11 record on the bases.  Thought to be a future 50/50 threat, he has to learn to strikeout less and hit for a higher AVG.  The 346 OBP showed off his good eye, but they want more from him.  Justin Turner had a breakout season in 2014 and continued to play well in 2015.  The question is will this continue.  He was a backup on a bad Mets team before joining LA and having more success than he ever had before.  But there are good signs.  As a part time player for the Mets, he never hit below 260.  His last season in New York saw him hit 280.  He hit 340 with the Dodgers in his first season with 6 SB in 109 games.  Last year he played a career high 126 games with a 294 AVG and 16 HR.  He’s a bit of a wildcard, but I think he should be solid, maybe 280 with 10-15 HR.  Beyond those guys it’s a lot of depth with players you have heard of.  The Dodgers have both Howie Kendrick and Chase Utley at second.  They have Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford to go with young Trayce Thompson in the outfield.  They have Yasmani Grandal to start behind the plate.  Former starter A.J. Ellis is his backup.  The bench is deep.  This team will score runs, but the won’t be the top offense in the division.

The pitching staff is still strong, but weaker than before.  Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball.  He went 16-7 last year with a 2.13 ERA and 301 Ks in 232 IP.  His WHIP was 0.88 and his BAA was 194.  He isn’t talked about as much now, because his greatness has become too common.  It’s almost boring because we know he will be great.  He is the best pitcher in baseball by far.  I like him for another 220 IP with 15-20 Wins, 270+ Ks and another sub 2.50 ERA if he is healthy.  The question is, what comes after him?  The new number two is likely Scott Kazmir who had a career rebirth, but struggled at the end of the season last year, not even making the Astros starting rotation for the playoffs.  He struggled in 13 starts for Houston last year with a 4.17 ERA and 2-6 record.  I don’t think he will be at all successful this year and worry time has finally caught up with him.  I will be surprised if he makes it to 30 starts or 200 IP.  I frankly don’t think he’ll even make it to 20 starts this year.  Kenta Maeda is an international free agent who is making his MLB debut this year.  He’s been successful in South Korea, but who knows how he will do here.  I like the signing, but don’t think an unproven international free agent should be a number 2 or 3 starter for a team that wants to contend, despite his hot start.  Lefty Alex Wood is a good pitcher.  He is a high-end number 4 who could be a number 3 on some staffs.  But he struggled moving to LA in 12 starts last year with a 4.35 ERA (as opposed to 3.54 in 20 starts with the Braves).  He also saw his K rate drop last year overall.  If he gets to 200 IP, it will be with an ERA around 4 and maybe 160 Ks.  They are letting rookie Ross Stripling take the number 5 spot to start the year while Ryu and Brett Anderson recover from injuries.  There is not a lot of depth here and that worries Dodger fans.  The bullpen has some good arms, but isn’t elite.  The one great arm is Kenley Jansen, the closer.  But he cant be thrilled with the Dodgers right now after they attempted to bring in Aroldis Chapman to close which would make him a setup man, despite his great season.  After Jansen, none of those arms are overpowering or elite. 

The Dodgers aren’t a bad team.  Kershaw is great.  The offense is good and deep.  There are other decent arms on the staff and a good closer on the team.  The defense looks good.  There is nothing wrong with the Dodgers.  But they don’t excite anyone and they play in a division that has gotten better.  I like them to win 85 games, but just miss out on the playoffs.  Perhaps that will be the wake up call they need to make whatever changes they need to make to get back up to contention, and possibly finally be good enough to win a championship.


San Diego Padres

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                John Jay
SS                                Alexei Ramirez
1B                               Wil Myers
RF                               Matt kemp
C                                  Derek Norris
3B                               Yangervis Solarte
LF                               Melvin Upton Jr.
2B                               Corey Spangenberg

RHP                             Tyson Ross
RHP                             James Shields
RHP                             Andrew Cashner
RHP                             Colin Rea
LHP                             Drew Pomeranz
CLOSER                      Fernando Rodney

The Padres went for it all last offseason, signing James Shields to a major deal and trading for both Upton brothers, Matt Kemp and Craig Kimbrel.  Early on into the season, it became clear that things weren’t going to work out.  The Padres punted on the season, agreeing to trade away Craig Kimbrel this offseason and letting Justin Upton go to the Tigers.  This is a transitional year for San Diego.  They are re-setting, but still have plenty of talent on the team.  I doubt they are successful, which may free them up to ship some other players off, specifically Shields, Andrew Cashner and perhaps even Alexei Ramirez (an offseason signing) and Derek Norris (with young Christian Bethancourt on the bench).  If they have some success, they need to fight the urge to go for it in the present, instead focusing on re-tooling for the future, a future that may not be that far off with some good pieces already in place.

With San Diego, the issue is always offense.  Even with all the bats they added, this team didn’t hit enough (though they were significantly better last season than before).  Part of the reason is that they lacked a true leadoff hitter.  They also had too many outfielders, necessitating the move of Wil Myers to first base.  Injuries hurt him and the position move didn’t help him either.  Last year he hit only 253 with 8 HR in 60 games.  Matt Kemp is eating up a major portion of their payroll.  He didn’t have a bad season, but for the money he is making it is tough to like his production.  He hit 265 with 23 HR, 100 RBI, 80 R and 12 SB.  I’d expect more of the same this year.  Melvin Upton Jr. (the former B.J. Upton) is still playing too.  But for all the grief he gets, he actually improved significantly last year.  He only played in 57 games, but hit 259 with 5 HR and 9 SB.  Not nearly worth what he’s being paid, but it was enough to earn him a starting job this year.  The Padres signed Jon Jay this offseason.  He is a guy who hits for good AVG consistently.  But he lacks power or significant speed.  And last year he was limited to 79 games.  His 210 AVG didn’t help.  I’ll predict a bounce back, but to the tune of 270 with 5-8 HR and maybe 10 SB.  Playing time will help the numbers, but he is not an impact player at all.  Yangervis Solarte has proven to be more than a flash in the pan with the Friars.  He hit 270 last year with 14 HR and 63 RBI.  They like him at third and I think he can be a solid player there.  Think 270 again with 15 HR and 70 RBI.  The big offensive addition this offseason was Alexei Ramirez.  He is a rare shortstop with a consistent ability to provide offense.  But he’s fallen off in recent years.  His 249 AVG in 2015 was a career low.  He still hit 10 HR and stole 17 bags, but he’s getting older and moving to San Diego won’t help that power come back.  I’ll say he’s a 260 hitter with maybe 8 HR and 15 SB.  Catcher Derek Norris has been the San Diego All Star the last few years.  But he is another limited offensive player.  After his career year in 2014 where he hit 270 with 10 HR and 55 RBI, he saw his AVG drop 20 points but 4 HR get added to the tally.  He is likely going to split the difference this year at 260 with 12 HR.  That’s the offense.  There are a number of young players in the starting lineup and on the bench for depth.  There are a number of older veterans that may or may not be at the top of their game.  But there is also not a single bat you are nervous about if you are an opposing pitcher.  There is talent, but I suspect they will lose a lot of low scoring games.

The pitching should be solid once again.  Part of that is the park, but there are three very talented arms at the top of the rotation.  James Shields is their ace.  While he isn’t the pitcher he used to be, he still had a good season last year going 13-7 in 202 IP with 216 Ks with a 3.91 ERA.  The ERA climbed, which was a surprise moving to the NL and Petco.  But the Ks went up, which was a nice surprise.  I like him to reach 200 IP again with close to 200 Ks, 12 Wins and perhaps a 3.75 ERA.  Andrew Cashner is another talented arm who needs to stay healthy to have success.  But he struggled last year, which really surprised me.  He went 6-16 with a 4.34 ERA in 31 starts.  He only made it to 184 IP with 165 Ks.  All his totals climbed significantly as he recovered from injury.  But he was healthy a lot of last year and still struggled, which was one of the reasons San Diego didn’t play well overall.  I don’t know what to expect from him this year.  He is a true wildcard, but I doubt we see 200 IP or 15 Wins.  Think 170 IP with 10 Wins and maybe an ERA right at 4.  Their best starter may actually be Tyson Ross.  He went 10-12 last year, but with a 3.26 ERA and 212 Ks in 196 IP.  His numbers from 2014 all climbed, but he was still very good.  Unfortunately he is hurt at the start of this season and will miss some time.  Assuming he comes back healthily and sticks around, I like him for 10 Wins, 160 IP and 180 Ks.  If he gets those totals, think an ERA under 3.50.  They have lots of arms available to hold down the back of the rotation, including the hot starting Drew Pomeranz and Colin Rea.  Fernando Rodney replaces Craig Kimbrel as the closer.  Rodney is neither what he used to be nor is he Kimbrel.  But he should be effective.  The road to him isn’t as clear, as many bullpen spots are currently held by spot starters who may or may not succeed as relievers. 

This Padres team is not as good on paper as it was last year.  And last year injuries and surprising ineffectiveness from players who were supposed to be better wrecked the season.  They will hit more than people think they will.  They actually won’t pitch as well as people suspect they should.  And that will only make things worse in a division with 3 teams that plan to contend.  This isn’t a bad team, but it’s certainly not a winning team.  I have them falling short of 80 Wins and falling well short of the playoffs.


Colorado Rockies

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                Charlie Blackmon
LF                                Gerardo Parra
RF                                Carlos Gonzalez
3B                                Nolan Arrenado
SS                                Trevor Story
1B                               Mark Reynolds
2B                               D.J. LeMahieu
C                                  Nick Hundley

LHP                             Jorge De La Rose
RHP                             Chad Bettis
RHP                             Tyler Chatwood
RHP                             Jordan Lyles
RHP                             Christian Bergman
CLOSER                      Jake McGee

The Rockies are in a tough spot.  They seem unable to re-build and develop pitchers that can help them win at the major league level.  Additionally, not a single quality free agent pitcher wants to pitch in Coors Field.  They continue to develop a bevvy of offensive talent (and the talent is great in and out of Coors…it’s just insane at Coors Field) but not a single pitcher.  They know what the issue is, but don’t seem to be able to fix it.  They have tried, but not committed to anything.  They really need to commit to drafting a ton of pitching prospects and trading for more, letting them develop a deep stable of starters and trust that they will be able to develop more hitters, as they have done for years.  But that’s a hard thing to commit to, and as long as they keep bringing in fans, I doubt they will make such a harsh move and instead will continue to play the same type of baseball that consistently leads them to finish at or near the bottom of the NL West.

The offense is great.  Because of that, they can afford to splurge on players that are flawed, but play well in Coors.  Mark Reynolds is an excellent example.  While he usually hits around 210 with 200 Ks and 15 HR, in Coors he could hit 240 with 200 Ks and 30 HR.  He’s the same player, but playing in Denver will give him new life.  Carlos Gonzalez is their best player, but with Tulo being traded away in the middle of the last year, the question is will CarGo follow?  The thought was his injury history was going to limit his return.  But the Blue Jays took the risk with Tulo.  There are teams that will take the risk for CarGo.  The Rockies just have to accept that they won’t get what they want for him and instead take the best deal they can make.  He was healthy last year and had a strong season, hitting 271 with 40 HR and 97 RBI.  The AVG and OBP were down and he only stole 2 bags.  But that is one way to keep him healthy and the added power makes him very desirable.  I think a healthy CarGo has another 270, 30 HR season with 80+ RBI.  The Rockies’ new star is Nolan Arrenado, a multiple Gold Glove winning third baseman, who slugged 42 HR with 130 RBI, 97 R and a 287 AVG last year.  Obviously Coors helped, but that kind of talent will play anywhere.  He is a star and I expect another great year from him this season with another Gold Glove and a 270+ AVG with 30+ HR and 100+ RBI.  He’s been considered a good player for a while, but is now elite.  The other noteworthy bat is Charlie Blackmon.  The center fielder is currently on the DL and the Rockies want him back.  He had his second straight good year after a strong half season the year before that.  In 2015, he hit 287 with 17 HR, 58 RBI, 43 SB and 93 R.  I love him and hope that he continues to mash, which he has shown that he can do pretty well.  The uptick in stolen bases makes him especially intriguing.  The rest of the offense isn’t overly inspiring, but can be a threat, especially at home.  In addition to Reynolds, Gerrardo Parra is another bat that could excel in Colorado.  A former Gold Glover, Parra has recently been a fourth outfielder a number of teams.  But he hit 328 in 100 games with Milwaukee last year before struggling for 55 more in Baltimore.  He has a little pop and some speed.  But he will lock down left field defensively and maybe hit over 270 with 10 HR and 15 SB in this lineup.  D.J. LeMahieu is a quality player that often gets overlooked on this team.  He hit 301 last year with 23 stolen bases.  He should do more of the same this year.  The man who has taken all the attention early on this year is Trevor Story.  Tulo’s replacement has been on a rampage to start the year out, which is why I have him hitting so far up in the lineup.  But he has limited experience professionally and I wonder how long he can keep it up.  It’s easy to nitpick, but the fact is this offense is great.  The defense is also strong.  LeMahieu and Arrenado are great at second and third and the outfield is stellar.  Lots of runs will be scored by this team.  But I doubt it will translate to a lot of wins.

That is because the pitching staff is abysmal.  It always is.  The issue is that it is STILL bad like it has been for years and still nothing has been done to fix it.  They aren’t committed to a rebuild, which is the only way to get all the pitching prospects needed to find enough winners to help out the major league club.  The also-rans they run out there can’t win, haven’t before and still won’t.  It’s frustrating to watch, especially for Rockies fans.  The ace is Jorge De La Rosa.  He is at best a number 3 on other teams, probably a number 4 on most of them.  He went 9-7 last year in 26 starts with a 4.17 ERA.  The year before was 14-11 in 32 starts with a 4.10 ERA.  The consistency is nice, but he’s not a star.  At best he can eat innings.  I’d expect more of the same this year, if he can get to a full slate of starts, which is not guaranteed.  There is not a single other name that pops on this pitching staff.  Chad Bettis started on a full-time basis for the first time last year going 8-6 wit a 4.23 ERA in 20 starts.  It’s a small sample size, but it was his best work after two years starting and relieving before that.  It’s also very mediocre.  Tyler Chatwood didn’t pitch at all last year after returning from injury.  He only made 4 starts in 2014.  He made 20 starts in 2013 going 8-5 with a 3.15 ERA, but who knows if that pitcher is coming back. Jordan Lyles and a series of others will take the last two spots, but little is expected due to their track records of subpar play.  The bullpen has some good arms (Boone Logan, Jake McGee), some veterans (Chad Qualls) and some arms trying to make a comeback (Jason Motte).  But even the good arms will be so overused that they will lose effectiveness and the others are nothing special.

This is a team with issues.  They also play in a competitive division.  The issues are the same as always.  They can’t pitch.  They won’t be able to out hit everyone else.  They never have been.  To fix it, they have to take a nuclear approach, but they won’t.  They are okay with the status quo.  As long as fans keep showing up, they have no incentive to fix things.  It’s fun to watch a bunch of high scoring games, no matter who wins.  So who cares if the team is always in last and is awful on the road?  Most fans only see the exciting home games.  It’s hard to blame Colorado, but until they make a change they will get the same result.  Right now, I am curious to see if CarGo finishes the year on the Rockies.  Outside of that, I have little reason to watch this team as I see them really struggling and finishing last in the NL West.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

2016 MLB Playoff Predictions


As the season marches on and more games go into the books, I find myself, like last year, taking longer to get my team and divisional breakdowns out.  For that reason, I’m going to jump ahead and put out my playoff predictions before too much time goes by, which include standings for each division.  I will then return to the seasonal breakdowns, which won’t be adjusted after today and will still be based on my preseason rankings.


NATIONAL LEAGUE

NL East

Washington Nationals

New York Mets

Miami Marlins

Atlanta Braves

Philadelphia Phillies




NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals

Chicago Cubs                         (1st Wildcard Winner)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Cincinnati Reds

Milwaukee Brewers



NL West

San Francisco Giants

Arizona Diamondbacks         (2nd Wildcard Winner)

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Diego Padres

Colorado Rockies


I feel good about my picks for this league.  I made no changes from my preseason picks, which just haven’t been posted.  Obviously, picking 2 NL West teams to make the playoffs is looking rough right now.  And picking the Phillies to finish behind the Braves looks unlikely too.  However it’s still early, though if I were to make new picks today I might be changing those two things.  As far as the rest, the Cubs are hotter than I thought and the Cards aren’t playing as well, but I still like that to even out a bit.   I feel good about all my playoff teams at this point, even if the seeding changes.




AMERICAN LEAGUE

AL East

Boston Red Sox

Toronto Blue Jays                  (1st Wildcard Winner)

Tampa Bay Rays

Baltimore Orioles

New York Yankees



AL Central

Kansas City Royals

Detroit Tigers                                    (2nd Wildcard Winner)

Chicago White Sox

Cleveland Indians

Minnesota Twins



AL West

Texas Rangers

Houston Astros

Los Angeles Angels

Seattle Mariners

Oakland Athletics


This league requires some explanation.  I posted one division breakdown already, the AL West.  But upon viewing my notes, I realized that I picked three wildcard winners in my un-posted divisional breakdowns.  That’s not good.  So, the one I’m rescinding is the one that I gave to the Astros.  While I will maintain that I liked the Tigers and Blue Jays better this year anyway, the fact that the Astros are in last place right now is making this revision look more suspect.  I understand that.  You either believe me or you don’t.  But even in my initial post I casted doubt over the Astros, who were very average last year after their hot first month.  So, the Astros are NOT a wildcard pick of mine.

But let’s talk about the rest.  At this point, the White Sox hot start is making my AL Central picks look suspect.  Also, the Mariners are playing far better than I expected while the Astros are playing far worse.   And while I was right about the Yankees being bad, the Orioles and Blue Jays have both surprised me in completely opposite ways.  I like my division winners still and also still think the Blue Jays can make up some ground and take a wildcard spot.  While I don’t know that the rest will be right, I still think all of my playoff teams are alive and well at this point in the season.


PLAYOFFS

NL Wildcard-                       Diamondbacks over Cubs

AL Wildcard-                       Blue Jays over Tigers

NLDS 1-                                  Nationals over Diamondbacks (3-1)

NLDS 2-                                  Cardinals over Giants (3-2)

ALDS 1-                                  Rangers over Blue Jays (3-2)

ALDS 2-                                  Royals over Red Sox (3-0)

NLCS-                                       Nationals over Cardinals (4-2)

ALCS-                                       Royals over Rangers (4-2)

World Series                        Nationals over Royals (4-2)


Those are the picks.  Right now, the Diamondbacks beating the Cubs in a one game wildcard game looks unlikely.  And while I generally go with pitching over hitting in the playoffs, I broke that rule with the Blue Jays over the Tigers in the AL wildcard round, because I think Toronto really tends to raise it up in the playoffs, based on last year.  And I expect them to be playing at home.  But after that, I generally went with the better pitching staff.  Now, that being said, Toronto does seem to have an ace that I wasn’t expecting them to have, so maybe they can upset the Rangers, because that offense is insane.  But I don’t see them getting past Kansas City.  And while the Giants might be able to upset the Cards in the NLDS, I like the Nationals to beat either team.  And ultimately, I think they win the whole thing this year.  (And I say that as a Braves fan).

Okay, full divisional breakdowns starting back up.  To read my AL West breakdown click HERE.  NL West will be next. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

2016 AL West Divisional Breakdown


It’s time for baseball.  I’m taking a quick look at each division and making some predictions before the season really takes off. 

I’ll start with the AL West.  A division thought to be between LA and Seattle last year instead saw the Astros finally make good on their potential and the forgotten Rangers get healthy and add an ace (that’s four words in a row that began with “a”) to make a late season run to the division crown.  What will happen this year?


PRESSING QUESTIONS:

Texas Rangers-        How good can this team be with Cole Hamels pitching for them all season?

Houston Astros-      Can this young team maintain the discipline to contend with expectations heaped upon them, a very new element for this club?

Los Angeles Angels- Is the best player in the game enough to carry this team and their questionable pitching staff?

Seattle Mariners-     Will some new faces be enough for this highly touted team from last year to make good on last off-season’s promise?

Oakland Athletics-  Is there a plan in place?  Or are they just treading water, doing the best they can until their stadium situation gets ironed out?




PREDICTIONS:

Texas Rangers-          90-72                          DIVISION WINNER
Houston Astros-         86-76                         
Los Angeles Angels-  82-80
Seattle Mariners-      80-82
Oakland Athletics-     68-94


Texas Rangers

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

SS                                Elvis Andrus
RF                               Shin Soo Choo
3B                               Adrian Beltre
DH                              Prince Fielder
LF                               Ian Desmond
1B                               Mitch Moreland
2B                               Rougned Odor
C                                 Robinson Chirinos
CF                               Delino DeShields

LHP                             Cole Hamels
RHP                             Yu Darvish
LHP                             Derek Holland
LHP                             Martin Perez
RHP                             Colby Lewis
CLOSER                      Shawn Tolleson


For the Rangers, the key is health.  Two years ago many picked them to win the division, but they were torpedoed by injuries.  People forgot about them last year, and then they got healthy, added an ace at the deadline and raced up to the top of the standings.  I love them this year. 

Hamels is a legitimate ace.  If Darvish and Holland are healthy (and if Darvish comes back early in the season) then this is a very strong pitching staff.  While the bullpen is a little muddled, they do seem to have lots of good arms, which may help them if they end up with closer issues.  They are going with Tolleson, but perhaps will let others earn some Saves from time to time.

Either way, they have a phenomenal offense, which will always keep them competitive.  Fielder is still a legitimately fearful power bat that can hit over 300.  Desmond, Moreland and Beltre can all chip in 20 HR.  Andrus isn’t a traditional leadoff man, but he provides some speed while Choo has a great OBP.  One or two of them should get on base enough to score a decent amount of runs. The defense doesn’t blow you away, but it should be solid.  I believe that if this team is healthy, they will win a very close division.


Houston Astros

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                Carlos Gomez
2B                               Jose Altuve
SS                                Carlos Correa
DH                               Evan Gattis
RF                                George Springer
3B                               Luis Valbuena
LF                                Colby Rasmus
C                                  Jason Castro
1B                               Tyler White

LHP                             Dallas Keuchel
RHP                             Colin McHugh
RHP                             Mike Fiers
RHP                             Scott Feldman
RHP                             Doug Fister
CLOSER                      Luke Gregerson

The Astros rebuild is over.  They finally cashed in on their potential and made the playoffs.  They are young and talented.  They can hit, run and field.  But, they are dealing with something new this year.  They finally have to face expectations. Houston kind of snuck up on everyone last season and contended a year earlier than expected.  But now, people are ready for them and they will get the best that every team has to offer.  Additionally, they never lived up to their hot start.  They played better down the stretch, but they had an insane first month that set them up for success.  But they didn’t win the division and were slowing down as time went on.  I like this team, but I worry that their youth will be an additional hurdle for them.  
Altuve is a star that will hit over 300, steal at least 30 bases (probably closer to 40) and can probably score 85+ R.  He also showed surprising pop with 15 HR last year, which is why I dropped him down a spot to his second.  Perhaps with Gomez on base in front of him, he can see more fastballs and slug another 15 HR.  Gomez is a great fielder who was in the conversation for best center fielder in baseball a few years ago.  He may not be there now, but he should hit for plus AVG with double digit HR and SB.  The big question is:  how good will Carlos Correa be?  A lot of people have him as their MVP pick this year.  I think that’s a little overly ambitions, but I love his talent.  I could see another 270+ season and a 20/20 campaign with close to 100 RBI and R.  There is a drop off after that, but Gattis can slug 30 HR and threaten for 90+ RBI, Springer is always getting better and could be a 20/20 man, Valbuena should surpass 20 HR again and Rasmus can at least slug 15 HR, if he offers little else. 

The pitching staff has a legitimate ace in Keuchel who can win 20 games with 200+ IP and Ks.  McHugh and Fiers are strong arms behind him and I think Fister will surprise and come close to being as dominant as he was in 2013 and 2014.  Gregerson will transition nicely to the closer’s role and Neshek, Giles, Sipp and Fields all have great bullpen arms.  This defense looks fantastic on paper with 2 center fielders patrolling the outfield next to a very good right fielder and a phenomenal double play combo.  I like this team a lot this year and think they have a good chance to return to the postseason.  But, upon review, I'll pick them as the first team to finish outside of October.


Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

3B                               Yunel Escobar
RF                                Cole Calhoun
CF                                Mike Trout
1B                               Albert Pujols
DH                               C.J. Cron
C                                  Geovany Soto
LF                                Daniel Nava
2B                               Johnny Giovotella
SS                                Andrelton Simmons

RHP                             Garrett Richards
LHP                             Andrew Heaney
RHP                             Jered Weaver
LHP                             Hector Santiago
RHP                             Matt Shoemaker
CLOSER                      Huston Street


There are lots of questions with this team.  And it’s frustrating, because you see the talent of Trout and think that this team should go for it all now.  He is in his prime and is the best player in baseball.  Instead, he gets a little protection from an aging Albert Pujols and nothing else.  The team lacks a true leadoff hitter.  They don’t have a true left fielder.  And they look weak at second base and catcher.  Additionally, they didn’t really address any of those concerns in the offseason. 

They also have lots of pitching questions.  Richards is a very good pitcher.  Not one of the top aces, but I like his stuff.  Heaney has talent and good stuff, but is largely unproven.  I love Santiago and think he gets consistently overlooked.  He’s not an ace, but I like him as a number 2 or a great number 3.  But then the question marks come in.  Jered Weaver has lost all of his velocity.  He is smart, but you can only do so much pitching in the low 80s.  And Shoemaker is nothing more than a back of the rotation starter.  The bullpen looks solid with Street, Smith and Salas, but those are end of the game guys.  It’s the other names that don’t excite you, and with this starting staff’s potential issues, those are the arms that will likely end up throwing more innings than the Angels would like. 

This offense should score runs, but they aren’t the Blue Jays.  Trout is great.  Think 280+ with 30+ HR and over 100 RBI and R.  He wants to run more, but I don’t think we will see another 40 SB season from him again.  Stealing bases can lead to injuries, especially with big guys.  I’ll put my ceiling for him at 20 and expect closer to 15.  Nobody else comes close to performing like him at the plate.  Pujols had a great 40 HR/95 RBI season last year.  I’d expect more like 30 and 80 this year with a 250 AVG.  Kole Calhoun showed some power last year with 26 HR.  He can likely do that again, but offers a fairly pedestrian AVG and little speed. There is nothing else after them.  They added Andrelton Simmons who is the best defender in baseball.  But he plays short, which wasn’t a position of need for them.  The Braves got Aybar back in return, but while the defense will be better, Aybar’s defense wasn’t bad and he was a better hitter.  Simmons is still figuring it out on the plate and offers inconsistent power and little speed.  Escobar is being asked to be a leadoff man based off what he did last season in Washington.  He was very good, but it came out of nowhere.  I don’t know if he can repeat it.  I bet he will hit for at least 270, but offers no speed and can be a clubhouse drain.  Left field will be a platoon between Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry, but neither is exiting.  Gentry is a speedster, but lacks the ability to get on base enough to utilize that tool.  With him in left, this outfield defense should be great.  When it is Nava, it should still be solid.  Simmons and Escobar may comprise the best left side of the infield in baseball.  That will help this team go get it overall.  And they will need to, because the pitching staff has question marks.  I think this team will continue to sit around 500, which is not good enough to contend, but also not good enough to reap draft picks and re-build.  This is a team eternally stuck in purgatory and likely not going anywhere else this year.



Seattle Mariners

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

LF                                Nori Aoki
3B                               Kyle Seager
2B                               Robinson Cano
DH                               Nelson Cruz
1B                               Adam Lind
C                                  Chris Ianetta
RF                                Seth Smith
SS                                Ketel Marte
CF                                Leonys Martin


RHP                             Felix Hernandez
RHP                             Hisashi Iwakuma
LHP                             Wade Miley
RHP                             Taijuan Walker
RHP                             Nate Karns
CLOSER                      Steve Cishek


This team was expected to do good things last year.  They did not.  They have not played well since signing Cano to that huge deal.  I don’t think that has anything to do with their issues, but the fact is the Mariners can’t seem to put it all together.  However, they went out and hired Jerry DiPoto to be their GM and I love what he does. 

I like his moves this offseason.  He added another strong arm in Wade Miley and re-signed Iwakuma.  This pitching staff looks to be strong.  Hernandez is a legitimate ace.  Iwakuma has had a lot of success in Seattle and I see no reason why that won’t continue.  Miley struggled in Boston, but I think a change in scenery will do him well.  He had some success in Arizona, so perhaps a smaller market will take some expectations off of him.  And moving to Seattle helps any pitcher.  All three of those guys can reach 200 IP with King Felix threatening for 20 Wins and an ERA around 3.  Iwakuma could be around 3.50 and I wouldn’t be surprised if Miley was right at 4, or slightly under.  Walker has great stuff but has to put it all together.  He will one day, but I don’t know if it will happen this season.  The back end of the bullpen looks strong with Benoit leading to Cishek, but the other arms are suspect.  And Cishek isn’t bulletproof because he struggled in Miami, which isn’t a bad place to pitch, and lost his job as the closer.  I think he’ll be fine here, but that is something to be aware of.  If the top of the rotation can eat up innings, this pitching staff should be fine. 

But pitching hasn’t been an issue is Seattle.  It has been the offense.  Cano is the offensive centerpiece.  He is very good, but moving to Seattle has affected his numbers.  Not just because Seattle is a harder place to hit, but also because the new Yankee stadium is a ridiculous place to hit.  But I think Cano should approach 300 with 20-25 HR and perhaps 90 RBI, if the top of the lineup can bet on base.  And that is a big if.  Aoki isn’t a bad signing.  But his speed has diminished and he never had much power.  He has a strong OBP, but looks to be primarily a singles hitter without a ton of stolen base speed.  I like him for 285 and a 350 OBP, but no more than 15 SB and likely only 80-85 R.  Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz primarily offer power.  Neither will hurt you in terms of AVG, but both are likely dealing with a 270 ceiling.  And Seager isn’t running much anymore.  Adam Lind is a nice addition to extend the offense a bit, but I think moving to Seattle turns his 20 HR to 15.  The rest of the team offers little in the way of offense.  The defense looks solid with Leonys Martin locking down center, Cano and Seager looking strong at second and third and enough talent everywhere else to keep things in control.  This may not be the best defense in baseball, but it is solid. 

This is a team that looked to do it all last year, but fell short.  They made some changes and hope to bounce back this year.  Lots of people are picking them as dark horse candidates to come out of nowhere and contend.  And that’s possible.  But I think there is too much talent in this division for them to make a real run.  Perhaps they leap the Angles, but I still see them as a team that hovers around 500.




Oakland Athletics

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                            Billy Burns
2B                                           Jed Lowrie
LF                                            Khris Davis
RF                                            Josh Reddick
DH                                           Billy Butler
C                                              Stephen Vogt
1B                                           Mark Canha
3B                                           Danny Valencia
SS                                            Marcus Semien

RHP                                         Sonny Gray
LHP                                         Rich Hill
RHP                                         Chris Bassitt
RHP                                         Kendall Graveman
LHP                                         Felix Doubront
CLOSER                                  Sean Dolittle


The A’s are in a tough spot.  They always have a plan, but have been hamstrung by their financial situation for years.  Billy Beane found ways to contend despite that, but things seem to have gotten worse for the team recently, forcing them to cut and run sooner than ever from talent.  Additionally, other teams know they can’t keep their studs, which is limiting the returns Oakland is getting back.  The team wanted to move to San Jose, which would free them up to be competitive again, but the Giants blocked that, despite other teams seeming to be on board.  So Oakland is stuck wallowing in an old stadium in a market that doesn’t support the team well enough to keep them competitive.  I can’t claim to be an expert on the situation, but from my understanding, the Giants are really forcing the A’s into a corner and refuse to give up their territorial rights on an area that arguably has more A’s fans and is not a stronghold for the Giants.  What also hurts the A’s is that each year that they struggle they lose more fans in that area, eventually making the Giants claim, which was tenuous when they initially stopped the move, grow stronger each year.  It’s bad for baseball and awful for Oakland, but it is where they are.  For that reason, nothing much can happen with this team.  They have some young talent, but have to get rid of it before it can mature fully because they can’t even afford arbitration salaries for most of these guys. 

The biggest question in Oakland, unfortunately, is how long can they keep Sonny Gray.  Gray is a legitimate ace.  He may not be a huge strikeout guy, but I like him for 200 IP, 15 Wins and another sub 3 ERA.  Things drop off after that.  Rich Hill looked great in 4 starts with Boston last year.  But that is a tiny sample size and he is a real unknown.  The other guys are young and also relative unknowns, beyond Felix Doubront.  However, Doubront is coming off down seasons, and the fact that he made this rotation actually speaks to the issues the A’s are facing.  The good news is they have a strong bullpen. If Doolittle is healthy, then I like it a lot.  He will start the year late, but Ryan Madson and John Axford support him.  Neither is the ace closer they used to be, but both know how to pitch and still possess enough stuff to be solid relievers. 

The bigger issue is the offense.  I love young Billy Burns.  He had a great rookie season last year that many missed because it happened in Oakland.  I like him for maybe 30 SB and an AVG north of 270.  Khris Davis was a strong addition to bring some power.  But moving to Oakland from Milwaukee will hurt him.  Think 20 HR this year, not 27.  Billy Butler is likely due for another 250/15 HR campaign.  Reddick and Vogt are likely in line for another 270/20 HR year.  That’s it.   No stars here and little depth.  I don’t like the rest of the offense much and think this will be another long year in Oakland.  The defense even has questions with Semien at short.  The rest of the team looks solid and the outfield looks strong defensively. 

The problem for Oakland is that there is no end in sight.  The rest of their division got better and they just have no path to improve in their financial situation.  They draft and develop well, but have to cut and run so quickly that they can’t build any momentum.  I hope this changes for them soon because they do a great job developing major leaguers.  But until they improve their finances, nothing can happen with this team.



DIVISION MVP:                     Mike Trout.   (Also wins the league MVP)

Hard to pick against the best player in baseball.  Even with a subpar team around him, I like Trout for 290 with 38 HR, 110 RBI, 95 R and 12 SB.  I also think he gets on base at a 350 rate and will win a Gold Glove.  Another great season, wasted by the Angels front office.

I did consider Jose Altuve here.  And he is good enough that I think he is worthy of mention.  This guy has shown an incredible ability to adapt on top of his prodigious talent.  I think he is in for a big year.  I’ll say 340 with 18 HR, 88 RBI, 104 R and 51 SB.


DIVISION CY YOUNG:           Cole Hamels

This one was tough for a different reason.  There were lots of good options.  I love King Felix.  Sonny Gray is really good.  Keuchel won it last year and should be set up for another good year.  And Garrett Richards is a guy to watch out for. 

But I have to go with Hamels.  Generally the Cy Young goes to a guy on a playoff team.  While I think that is a dumb requirement (I know it’s not a real requirement it’s just something that a lot of voters prefer), I think that will help separate Hamels. I’m thinking 15+ Wins with an ERA under 3.25 and over 200 IP and Ks.  Don’t expect the ERA much lower, because while Philly was hitter friendly, Texas is more hitter friendly and moving to the AL and not getting to frequently face the Braves and Mets will hurt his ERA.

The other guy I considered was Dallas Keuchel.  He is another guy who could threaten 20 Wins with 200 IP and Ks.  But Hamels has more strikeout inducing stuff, which will improve his overall chances.  And I suspect Texas will win the division, which makes him my division Cy Young.