Thursday, June 23, 2016

NL East 2016 Season Preview

Baseball is well underway  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 this post HERE.  Or for my AL West thoughts, check out THIS POST.  Lastly, you can get my thoughts on the NL West HERE.

But now I’ll move to the NL East.  The Mets made it to the World Series last year and are hoping to improve on that showing.  However, they had the benefit of a hot second half and a weak division.  Can they count on those things again?  The Washington Nationals look like the best team on paper.  But they looked that way last year and were a major disappointment.  Will a new manager be enough of a change?  The Braves and Phillies are clearly re-building.  Neither will be a factor this year, but the focus on them is about the talent coming down the pipe.  And nobody is sure what to make of the Marlins.  Are they in baseball purgatory?  Enough good players to win games, but maybe not enough to make the playoffs?  Is that enough for this ownership group?  At this point in the season, we are seeing pretty much what we expected with the Mets and Nationals playing well and the Braves struggling (albeit far worse than was expected).  However the surprises are the Phillies playing well initially and the Marlins playing even better.  We’ll see how long this continues this season.  I’ll keep my predictions the same as they were in the preseason despite the season being underway. 


Atlanta Braves-                    Did anyone think they would be this bad?

Miami Marlins-                    Could this hot start put them in wildcard contention?

New York Mets-                   If they can hit, can they be beaten?

Philadelphia Phillies-         If they play like this now, will this be a quick re-build?

Washington Nationals-      Was Dusty Baker really the missing piece for this team?


Washington Nationals-                  98-64

New York Mets-                               85-77

Miami Marlins-                                81-81

Atlanta Braves-                                72-90

Philadelphia Phillies-                     68-94

Washington Nationals

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                Ben Revere
3B                               Anthony Rendon
RF                                Bryce Harper
1B                               Ryan Zimmerman
2B                               Daniel Murphy
LF                                Jayson Werth
C                                  Wilson Ramos
SS                                Danny Espinosa

RHP                             Max Scherzer
RHP                             Stephen Strasburg
LHP                             Gio Gonzalez
RHP                             Tanner Roark
RHP                             Joe Ross
CLOSER                      Jonathan Papelbon

The Nationals were supposed to be great last year.  They were supposed to run away with the division and compete for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  That didn’t happen.  Despite having what clearly looked to be the best team on paper, the Nationals struggled early on and fell well short of the playoffs, instead seeing the Mets run away with the division and make it to the World Series.  So Matt Williams was ousted as manager and replaced with the player-friendly Dusty Baker.  They also upgraded second base with Daniel Murphy and shifted Danny Espinosa to short to make up for the loss of Ian Desmond.  They didn’t have an answer for the loss of Jordan Zimmerman to the Tigers, but hope that adding the offensive playoff hero from their division rival to go with a new manager will be enough.  With their talented roster, they have to feel like they can win it all this year.

Offensively, they are led by NL MVP Bryce Harper.  He was ridiculously good last season hitting 330 with 43 HR, 99 RBI and 118 R.  He got on base at a silly 460 clip and played good defense in right.  The only thing he can’t do is steal bases, which is why many still only consider him the second best player in the game, behind Mike Trout (who is also a better defender at a harder position…not to mention he has a longer track record of success, even if it’s not much longer).  But that’s nitpicky.  Bryce Harper is likely the best player in the NL (just ahead of Paul Goldschmidt). He hits for power, average, drives in runners and gets on base to score runs.  I like him for another 300+ season (the constant pitching around will make him reach a bit dropping his average from the 330 it was last year) with 40 HR, 100+ RBI and 100+ R.  If he can steal double-digit bases (he was 6 for 10 last year) he could really help the Nationals out and make teams pay for all the intentional walks.  After Harper, there are no stars.  But there are plenty of good bats.  Ben Revere is a speedster.  He’s not a great defender and has a weak arm, but he covers ground like a gazelle.  He’s a career 291 hitter with a 325 OBP.  It’s not great for a leadoff hitter, but the OBP is sufficient, due to his high batting averages.  He hit over 300 in back to back seasons for the Phillies before hitting 298 in 96 games for them last year and then 319 in 56 games for the Blue Jays.  He stole 31 bags last year and scored 84 runs.  He’s never scored 100 runs and likely won’t unless he can learn to take a walk.  But he hits for a high enough average and steals enough bases to keep his job and should be good for another season around 300 with 30+ SB and 80+ R.   But an injury (he is injury prone) may eat into those totals. The key for this team may be the hitters on either side of Harper:  Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman.  Rendon has had issues staying on the field playing only 80 games last year.  He hit 287 with 21 HR, 83 RBI and 17 SB in 2014, his only healthy season.  I don’ know if he can return to that, but if he can hit north of 270 with double digit homers and speed, it would help the team a lot, specifically Harper with RBI opportunities.  The more important guy is the man hitting behind Harper, Ryan Zimmerman.  But he has to prove that he is healthy.  He hit 249 in 95 games last year, but with a strong 16 HR showing.  The 2009 Zimmerman is likely gone forever, but if he can hit 270 with 15+ HR, then likely things will be looking up for Washington.  To this point, he has struggled being dropped to 5th in the order.  But he’s playing better.  The big surprise so far is Daniel Murphy.  Murphy has always been a good player.  He’s got some pop and some speed and hits for a good average with a solid OBP.  Last year was more of the same….281 with 14 HR and 73 RBI.  He only went 2 for 4 on the bags, which broke a streak of 3 straight seasons of at least 10 SB.  But that’s just a bonus with him.  He can be a 280-290 player with perhaps 12 HR, 10 SB and 70+ RBI.  But he’s on pace for far more than that, hitting behind Harper this year.  He is off to his best start, currently hitting 347 as of this posting.  Werth is not what he used to be, but can pop a few over the fence and play good defense.  Wilson Ramos is in the same boat.  And Michael Taylor and Stephen Drew are quality backups.  This team has a star in Harper and enough supporting pieces around him to be one of the top offenses in the National League.

The pitching staff is similar.  It consists of one sure star, one possible star and some strong arms around them.  Max Scherzer is the star.  The former Cy Young winner was at his best in his first season in the NL going 14-12 with career highs 228 IP and 276 Ks.  He pitched to a career low 2.79 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.  He had multiple no hitters and has already tied the major league record with a 20 strikeout performance in this season.  He should threaten for 20 wins, if his team can support him, which I think they can do.  Think an ERA around 3 with 220+ IP and 250+ Ks.  He is an ace.  After him, the Nats have Stephen Strasburg, who they just signed to a 7 year $175 million dollar deal, with both third and fourth year opt outs.  Basically it will make Strasburg rich quickly, but still allow him to test free agency if he wants to after his third and fourth year.  It’s the best of both worlds, so nice work by Scott Boras.  But the Nats are happy too, because they got Strasburg for a friendly amount of money (not too friendly but they may well have been outbid) and now he’s theirs for at least 3 more years.  Some think Strasburg has been a disappointment, but I think that’s unfair.  He’s been injured a lot, but when he’s played he’s been pretty good, the beginning of last year not withstanding.  But he rebounded to end the season with 23 starts and a 3.46 ERA.  He still struck out well over a batter per inning and won 11 games.  The year before that he made a full slate of starts with 14 Wins, a 3.46 ERA and 215 IP (with 242 Ks).  If he can stay healthy (admittedly a decently sized “if”), then I like him for 12-15 Wins and over 200 Ks and IP.  I also wouldn’t be surprised to see that ERA fall closer to 3.25 or even approach 3.  The rest of the starting rotation is made up of Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross.  Gonzalez is the most decorated amongst them, but has not been the pitcher he initially was in his last year in Oakland and first year in D.C.  But while he may not be an All Star any more, he is a dependable number 3, with the upside of a low-end number 2.  And who knows, he has greatness in his past.  At worst he’s an innings eater, but he’s off to a good start this year.  Roark is a better than average fourth starter who has really taken hold of his starting opportunity.  Both of those guys could break 200 IP with sub 4 ERAs and double digit wins.  The bullpen has some good arms, including an experienced closer in Jonathan Papelbon and a shut down lefty in former starter Oliver Perez.  This pitching staff as a whole looks strong and is supported by a strong defensive group in the field.

This team has no clear weaknesses.  Sure, Strasburg could get hurt.  Or maybe it’s Gio Gonzalez.  And sure, teams will pitch around Harper.  Revere and Werth aren’t the healthiest.  And Daniel Murphy isn’t the best defensive second baseman.  But we are really nitpicking to find something wrong with this club.  They can hit it.  They can throw it.  They can catch it.  They have an MVP candidate in Bryce Harper and a Cy Young candidate in Max Scherzer.  And they have gotten off to a great start.  If Ryan Zimmerman starts to hit better to protect Harper, then I really like this team’s chances to win it all.  And, in fact, I like this team to be the home field winner in the NL, with three really good teams beating up on each other in the NL Central and the NL West looking somewhat weak.  They are my pick to win the World Series, and the beginning of the season has not dissuaded me from that.   

New York Mets

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

RF                                Curtis Granderson
3B                               David Wright
LF                                Michael Conforto
CF                                Yoenis Cespedes
1B                               Lucas Duda
2B                               Neil Walker
C                                  Travis d’Arnaud
SS                                Asdrubal Cabrera

RHP                             Matt Harvey
RHP                             Jacob deGrom
RHP                             Noah Syndergaard
RHP                             Bartolo Colon
LHP                             Stephen Matz
CLOSER                      Jeurys Familia

The Mets are hoping to keep the magic from their postseason and second half alive.  They were able to re-sign Cespedes, to what is essentially a one year deal, and they still have that great pitching staff.  Losing Daniel Murphy will hurt, but they hope a full season of Michael Conforto and the addition of Asdrubal Cabrera will make up for that.  They are off to a good start this year, but are struggling to deal with the injuries to Lucas Duda and David Wright.

This offense is tricky.  They were bad for the first half of last season.  Just no way around that.  Then they added Yoenis Cespedes, after they failed to acquire Carlos Gomez.  It ended up working out as Cespedes had his hottest stretch of games ever and pretty much singlehandedly carried the Mets offense into the playoffs.  When they got there, it was mainly Daniel Murphy providing the offense for the Mets and he’s gone now.  However the emergence of Michael Conforto has helped mitigate that loss.  In 56 games last year, he hit 270 with 9 HR and 26 RBI.  He was red hot to start this year.  While he’s cooled recently, he is a dangerous hitter.  Their other star, Cespedes is also having a great year.  He hit 35 HR with 105 RBI between Detroit and Flushing last year.  This year he is hitting 290 with 18 HR and 44 RBI as of this posting.  Those two guys are powering the Mets along.  However, they have other talent on the offense that has really played at its highest level ever to this point.  Lucas Duda is a slugger who hit 27 HR last year.  He had 7 so far this season before a stress fracture in his back sent him to the DL.  The Mets have signed James Loney, but he’s a very different kind of hitter.  Speaking of different kind of hitters, Curtis Granderson continues to serve as a non-traditional leadoff hitter.  Last year he hit 259, which isn’t bad but generally not high enough for a leadoff man.  He’s also got prodigious power, which is generally reserved for the middle of the order to drive in runs.  But his OBP of 364 kept him leading off.  He also still has speed with 11 SB.  He hit 26 HR out of the leadoff hole with 70 RBI and 98 R.  So it has worked for New York in the past, but this year Granderson is greatly struggling.  The big surprise has been Neil Walker.  He’s a 272 career hitter with generally around 15 HR a season.  This year he already has 11 HR.  He has really helped power the Mets to first place in the division.  David Wright was only playing part time, but an injury has knocked him out for a while, leaving Wilmer Flores to man the hot corner and seeing the Mets trade for Kelly Johnson from the Braves for the second straight year.  Also on the bench are Alejandro de Aza and Juan Lagares and multiple catchers to make up for the often injured Travis d’Arnaud, who is once again injured.  The outfield defense will be key on this club.  Cespedes starts at center, but isn’t great in the position.  Conforto starts in left, and is also a defensive liability.  So having de Aza and Lagares able to sub in late in games is key.  The defense in the infield looks solid and will get better with Loney at first. 

But the real power on this team is in the pitching staff.  Harvey has been an ace.  deGrom has shown ace ability.  Syndergaard may be the best of the bunch.  Colon is a wily veteran who continues to play at a high level.  Matz is a promising young lefty.  And this staff will get to add Zach Wheeler when he returns halfway through the season from Tommy John.  But the current newsmaker is Matt Harvey, who is really struggling.  Last year he went 13-8 in 29 starts with a 2.71 ERA and 188 Ks in 189 IP.  And he was hot in the playoffs.  But that magic has not carried over.  He started off ice cold with an ERA over 6 moving into June.  He’s gotten better recently dropping that ERA under 5, but its something the Mets have to be concerned with. Not sure what the issue is as he still has dominant innings.  But guys aren’t missing his stuff right now and he is getting hammered.  Luckily for the Mets, his starting brethren have his back.  Noah Syndergaard made 24 starts last year going 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA.  He also struck out 166 in 150 IP.  That’s insane.  He’s even better this year as their most dominant pitcher to this point.  Jacob deGrom is also spinning gems.  He made 30 starts last year with a 14-8 record and 2.54 ERA.  He struck out 205 in 191 IP a year after his Rookie of the Year campaign.  He hasn’t had his strikeout stuff so far this year, but is still playing well, on his way to a strong season.  Bartolo Colon is still playing well in his 19th season.  He’s not an ace like the others, but he is fun.  Last year he won 14 games with a 4.16 ERA.  This year he’s pitching to a sub 4 ERA and his first career home run.  They have a strong closer in Jeurys Familia and a good setup man in Addison Reed bolstering a bullpen made up of other good arms.  The pitching staff is the key to this team’s success and why they will be in the conversation for the playoffs all year.

The Mets are a good team.  They have one of the best pitching staffs in the majors.  While I don’t think they are an elite team, they are lucky enough to play in a division with two rebuilding teams and another team they should regularly beat.  While I think the Nationals, Giants, Cubs, Cards and Pirates are all better for sure, the Central teams will beat up on each other.  I thought there were 3 good NL West teams that would beat up on each other too, though that looks unlikely now.  Either way, the Mets should be in the conversation all year long.  But I think they are a flawed offensive team and will fall behind the Nats and end up looking in from the outside of the playoffs as the Central and West take the wildcard spots.

Miami Marlins

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

2B                               Dee Gordon
LF                                Christian Yelich
RF                                Giancarlo Stanton
CF                                Marcell Ozuna
3B                               Martin Prado
1B                               Justin Bour
C                                  J.T. Realmuto
SS                                Adeiny Hechavarria

RHP                             Jose Fernandez
LHP                             Wei Yen Chen
LHP                             Adam Conley
RHP                             Tom Koehler
LHP                             Justin Nicolino
CLOSER                      A.J. Ramos

The Marlins are probably the most loathed franchise in baseball.  Well maybe that’s not fair.  Everyone hates the Yankees except their fans.  But there is no ownership group more despised than that of Jeffrey Loria and David Samson.  And they should be.  They are everything that’s wrong with professional sports, capitalism and probably happiness in this world.  However, this season, their team is playing really good baseball.  They are currently in third place, but only 2 games behind the Mets for second and 4.5 back from Washington.  And they are doing this with Dee Gordon suspended and Giancarlo Stanton struggling.  I don’t think they can keep this up, but the Marlins have some talent on the team that has them looking good for the near future and certainly competitive if not more for this season.

This offense was pretty anemic last year.  But they are pretty much the same crew this year and are fantastic at the plate.  Giancarlo Stanton is their star.  A premier power hitter, Stanton hit 27 HR in only 74 games last year.  But an injury shortened his year.  He’s only made it to 150 games once (right at 150 in 2011) and only surpassed 120 games 3 times.  If he’s healthy, he is a great power hitter who hits a respectable 260+.  He’s also a great defender in right with sneaky speed (13/15 on the bags in 2014).  But he’s off to a bad start this year, despite the good power numbers.  Even a slumping Stanton can hit for great power, but the Marlins need him to be a good overall hitter (260+/35-40 HR/100 RBI/80 R) if they are going to be a playoff team.  He’s not looking like that hitter so far this year.  Their other offensive star is Dee Gordon.  Last season he hit 333 with 58 SB and 88 R.  He’s got no power and also lacks elite OBP.  But if he hits for a high enough AVG, he is a good leadoff hitter.  However a PED suspension has taken him out for 80 games this year.  I like him when he gets back, but will the Marlins still be in contention when he returns in late July?  Christian Yelich is becoming a star as well.  A good season last year (300 in 126 games with 16 SB and a 366 OBP), he is hitting 311 as of this posting.  The Marlins need him to stay hot as well as Martin Prado.  The veteran Prado is playing well at third currently hitting 320.  He’s a career 292 hitter, but lacks power and speed.  He is a good piece, but can’t do it alone.  He’s had help from Marcell Ozuna this year, though.  A 259 player with 10 HR last year, Ozuna was a disappointment.  But he’s blossomed under the hitting tutelage of Barry Bonds and his currently hitting 3123with 15 HR.  He is carrying the team and looks like he has finally fulfilled his potential.  This offense is playing well, but my concern is that some of these hitters are playing above their skills and can’t keep it up.

The pitching staff has talent, but is also probably a year or two away from being elite.  Jose Fernandez is one of the best pitchers in baseball.  They are hoping he’s back to full health now as he is playing well to start this year.  In 14 starts, he’s gone 9-3 with a 2.36 ERA and 125 Ks in only 87 IP.  I like him for 200 IP and maybe 250 Ks with possibly 15 Wins this year.  He’s an ace, but seemingly not overly popular in the clubhouse, this is why he is frequently listed as a possible trade candidate.  Wei Yen Chen, the free agent signee, is a quality lefty with a different skillset than Fernandez.  Jose strikes you out, Chen gets you to get yourself out with weak contact.  He is an average to above average number 2 who might play better out of Baltimore, a great hitting park.  He got better in his seasons in Baltimore with a career low 3.34 ERA last year.  He’s never made it to 200 IP, but has never had fewer than 135 either, generally averaging about 180.  He’s not a strikeout guy, but could win double-digit games on this team with an ERA around 3.75.  He is a quality lefty who should be very good in Miami’s park. The rest of the starting rotation features Tom Koehler, Adam Conley and Justin Nicolino.  They have talent and could develop into a good back end of the rotation.  But I don’t think they will be enough to help the Marlins contend this year.  The bullpen has some good arms, including closer A.J. Ramos and setup man Mike Dunn.  But they lack depth and experience.  As with the rest of this team, the Marlins have talent and potential.  They should compete this year, but probably aren’t going to the playoffs for a few years.

The Marlins aren’t a bad team.  They have offensive talent and some good arms in the rotation.  The defense is solid and they have a bright future.  They should be competitive this season and despite their hot start, I think they will end up in third place as the Nats and Mets have also gotten off to a good start.  They have a bright future, perhaps a bright near future, but they aren’t on my list of playoff teams this year.

Atlanta Braves

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

LF                                Ender Inciarte
RF                                Nick Markakis
1B                               Freddie Freeman
3B                               Adonis Garcia
C                                  A.J. Pierzynski
2B                               Jace Peterson
SS                                Eric Aybar
CF                                Mallex Smith

RHP                             Julio Tehran
RHP                             Matt Wisler
RHP                             Mike Foltynewicz
RHP                             Williams Perez
RHP                             Aaron Blair

This is a rough year for Braves fans.  One of MLB’s seminal and most respected franchises have fallen on hard times.  They are in a clear re-build, but even so this team is far worse than anyone expected.  And to fall short of expectations that were so incredibly low is almost an achievement in and of itself.  But, overall, this team is struggling badly this year and while the future looks bright, it is at best 2 years away, meaning this year and likely all of next year will be a waste, the same as last year.

The real issue is the offense.  And I don’t mean that the pitching is good but the team can’t hit.  The pitching isn’t good.  But the team REALLY can’t hit.  They are trying to rebuild, though you could argue this level of re-build was not necessary.  No need to re-hash what the Braves decided before the 2015 season (a playoff team selling off Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, B.J (Melvin) Upton, Craig Kimbrel and more), suffice it to say that the past offseason was more of the same (Shelby Miller, Andrelton Simmons).  While the return was vast and sets the team up for the future, it continued to frustrate and alienate the dwindling number of Braves fans who want to follow this team.  This ownership group is new and frankly not that interested in the baseball team.  The Braves are a part of a larger corporation.  Corporations are run by boards of directors that want to make money.  That is good for the corporation overall, but bad for the team as they are treated like numbers on a ledger, rather than a team owned by a single person or family that wants to win and sees the players as friends and employees.  It’s bad for the fans, bad for the team and bad for baseball.  But nothing can be done to change that.  Instead, the Braves will just have to win in their future, in a window that will likely be small as they have to be making money or another re-build will begin, warranted or not.  This team’s offense is led by Freddie Freeman.  He is a 270-280 hitter with 25 HR power.  On a good team that can lead to 100 RBI.  On this team, it’s likely closer to 70.  He’s struggled some this year but is playing well now.  He is a good hitter with plus power and a good glove.  He will likely be the rock of the franchise, unless the Braves get a phenomenal offer for him.  And while that’s unlikely, it’s not off the table.  Nick Markakis was a veteran signing from last offseason.  The signing made no sense.  But he’s a good player, though perhaps on the downturn of his career.  He can still hit for a good AVG (270+), get on base at a high rate and play Gold Glove caliber right field.  But he’s no longer a top 3 defensive right fielder (though still likely top 10) and has lost both speed and power.  The best thing for Atlanta is if he can get hot and they can flip him for prospects, though his contract isn’t overly friendly (but not awful either).  The rest of the team is made up of mainly castoffs and young guys.  Ender Inciarte stands out amongst them, as he has had success with Arizona at the major league level.  While he’s off to a slow start this year, he’s shown some recent signs of life.  He hit 303 in 132 games in the desert last year and 278 in 118 games the year before.  He can play center well and is great in left.  He lacks power (10 career HR in almost 300 games), but has stolen 19 and 21 bases in his two shortened big league seasons.  And while he’s not an on base machine, he hits for a high enough average to make up for some of that.  He can start in center now, and perhaps move to a corner when the Braves contend in the future.  The rest of the offense is not worth mentioning because they have never been great or they haven’t had enough experience to merit discussion.  There is talent in the minors and even on the major league club (Dansby Swanson, Mallex Smith, Ozzie Albies), but it’s not ready and likely won’t be a real threat until late next year at the earliest.

The pitching staff is in a little better shape, but it too is more built for tomorrow rather than today.  The ace of the staff is Julio Tehran and he’s very good.  Last year was rough (4.04 ERA) but the year before he had a 2.89 ERA.  This year’s ERA is 2.66 to this point.  And his WHIP and BAA are currently at career lows.  The win /loss record is not great, but that’s not really his fault.  And while his K-rate isn’t great, it’s not awful.  He’s a good young pitcher who is likely better as a number 2, but may grow into an ace.  The rest of the rotation is largely unproven.  Bud Norris is around as a spot starter and long man.  The rest of the starting staff are youngsters trying to make a name for themselves.  They include Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair and Mike Folytnewicz.  While they have had a taste of major league experience, all are still growing and learning the game at this level.  Again, bright futures but not much happening in the present.  Growing pains will limit this team’s success at the top level this season and likely next.  The bullpen has some live arms, but again more secondary options that lack excitement.  Arodys Vizcaino could be a solid closer, but he’s not a sure thing either at this point.  The pitching staff looks better than the offense, but all their talent will likely not come together until next season at the earliest.

The Braves are in the middle of a serious re-build.  It has been a long time since they have been in this territory, but based on the moves the new ownership group has made, it’s not surprising.  The thought is that it will be a short rebuild, because the Braves had so much great major league talent that they parted with to really jumpstart the rebuilding process (Heyward, Upton, Simmons, Kimbrel, etc).  That’s all good news.  But the bad news is that they are awful this season, weren’t good last season and don’t look like they’ll be good next season.  What makes things worse is that this is their last year in Turner Field, and they are moving to a new stadium in Cobb County that many locals are upset about and that the ownership group seems excited about for all the wrong reasons (a.k.a….the new shops that will be around the stadium and all that revenue).  It’s hard to be a Braves fan right now.  This team is constantly changing to try and rebuild and they have already set Jason Grilli and Kelly Johnson free this year.  They want to flip more guys, but lack desirable trade targets.  Suffice it to say, while I saw this team as a fourth place finisher coming into the season, it’s clear that they are going to finish last and may be the worst team in baseball, and are certainly the worst in the National League.

Philadelphia Phillies

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                Odubell Hererra
SS                                Freddy Galvis
3B                               Maikel Franco
1B                               Ryan Howard
C                                  Carlos Ruiz
LF                                Tyler Goeddel
RF                                Peter Bourjous
2B                               Cesar Hernandez

RHP                             Jeremy Hellickson
RHP                             Aaron Nola
RHP                             Vince Velasquez
RHP                             Jared Eickhoff
RHP                             Charlie Morton
CLOSER                      David Hernandez

The Phillies are the second team in a rebuild in the NL East.  However, while I expected them to be the one in the basement, they started out playing very well.  While they have cooled significantly, the Phillies look like they will avoid the NL East’s bottom spot this year and might be closer to contending than Atlanta, which is not really what many expected coming into this year.

The Phillies have some good press around them right now, but are definitely in a rebuild.  The knock against them is that they were the last humans on earth to realize that they should be sellers the last few years.  But after moving on from Ruben Amaro Jr., the new front office group did what should have happened three years ago and started the rebuild.  And they are really coming along ahead of schedule.  There is some intriguing young talent on this team, but most of it is unproven.  Coming into this season, Maikel Franco was the name everyone was keeping an eye on.  Like the rest of the team, his experience is thin.  But last year he played in 80 games hitting 280 with 14 HR and 50 RBI.  He is experiencing growing pains this season, as you might expect, but the power is there with 12 HR already this year in fewer games.  But the AVG has fallen about 40 points.  I like his bat and think he could threaten for 25 HR in that park.  But I’d be surprised if he hit too far north of 250 this year.  If he continues to grow, he could develop into a 280/30/100 hitter for Philly, but I don’t think that will be this year.  The name that has really jumped out this year has been Odubell Herrera.  A rule 5 pick, Herrera has become the primary leadoff man in the city of Brotherly Love.  He got his first MLB action last year and ended up playing 137 games and chasing Ben Revere out of center field, even before he was traded.  He hit 297 last year with 16 SB, a 344 OBP and 8 HR.  This year, he already has 7 HR to go with a 303 AVG, 11 SB and a 398 OBP.  He is one of those finds that you don’t expect to get, but are so key to turning a team into a contender.  I love him as a player and see him as a guy who should hit 285+ with maybe 12 HR, 80+ R and 20 SB.  The rest of the offense features youngsters who are trying to make a name for themselves and veterans who are past their prime or have never really been super successful in the big leagues.  Peter Bourjous is the primary right fielder, but offers little besides speed.  Carlos Ruiz is still catching, but has never been a great hitter (outside of a few seasons which included a PED suspension).  And Ryan Howard is just running the clock out until he is cut.  The Phillies hope he catches fire and they can flip him to a contender at the deadline.  But that seems unlikely, even with the Phillies agreeing to take the majority of his money on.  This offense is not great.  There is some talent, even beyond the names I mentioned.  But this offense won’t really be one to be feared this season.

The pitching staff is in a similar spot, but maybe a little farther ahead.  Aaron Nola is the big name arm that people recognize.  Last year he went 6-2 in 13 starts with a 3.59 ERA.  He was hot to start the year with a 2.65 ERA in his first 12 starts, but has struggled since then with an ERA over 4 at this point.  He has great talent, but needs experience and will have to learn to adapt, as all players do.  If healthy, he may amass 200 IP, but likely with an ERA around 4, possibly in the high 3s.  Jeremy Hellickson is a veteran name, but not one who excites anyone.  He hasn’t had a year with a sub 4.50 ERA since 2012.  He is an innings eater at this point, but those are important for re-building teams.  If he can prove he can hold down innings consistently, he could be perhaps flipped for prospects.  But I don’t know that he will get a good return and the Phillies may opt to keep him in that case, despite the fact that he is likely a 200 IP player with a losing record and an ERA north of 4.50.  The rest of the pitching staff features young arms with talent, but no experience and bullpen arms that are trying to re-invent themselves.  Jeanmar Gomez and David Hernandez are people worth watching, but neither will likely greatly affect the team this year and possibly in the future when they are competitive.  Like most rebuilding teams, the pitching staff will be a bit of a revolving door as many arms come in and the Phillies just make notes about who can help them now and in the future, with more emphasis on the future.

This team is headed in the right direction.  They aren’t very good.  So, they hope the Nationals and Mets will start to move away from their peak when they are ready to contend.  They also hope to beat the Braves out on their path to contention.  Phillies fans are historically impatient, but this team has been worse off than they were acknowledged to be by the front office for so long, that the fans were almost begging for a re-build.  So the Phillies have a rare reprieve from their fans and will hope to take advantage by building up a winner as soon as possible.  However, that won’t be this year, and I doubt it will be next year either.

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.


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?


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.