We who are baseball experts are all over the place in April every year. We are completely confident that we know how the new major league baseball season is going to unfurl and almost all of us base our assumptions on two things: how the previous season ended and how all of the off season player transactions and roster changes have fortified or diminished each team’s chances. Of course, we are all wrong, every last one of us. That’s why it’s fun.
Nevertheless, here I go with my outlook for 2015. The smart thing to do is not to save this until Halloween. In the National, or superior, League, the consensus among certified pundits is that the Los Angeles Dodgers are once again a cinch to win the Western Division, the Washington Nationals will easily repeat in the Eastern Division, and the all new Chicago Cubs will be the eventual winners in the crazy, mixed up Central. The lovable Cubbies sport an excellent new manager in Joe Maddon, have a fine nucleus of young talent led by Anthony Rizzo, and have added to their pitching staff the apparently invincible Jon Lester, so they are the trendy chipotle IPA team of the spring.
In the league where pitchers don’t bat,you don’t hear much about the New York Yankees any more, especially since Derek Jeter’s farewell tour finally ended. Instead, we are welcoming the Seattle Mariners back to the favorites’ circle in the maladjusted West while the Detroit Tigers are favored to hold off that other improved Chicago team, the White Sox, in the Central, and the Boston Red Sox are chosen to ride that roller coaster back to the top in the formerly formidable Eastern Division.
Horsefeathers, I say. Well, maybe not horsefeathers, but quite possibly bat guano.
In the National West, the Dodgers may very well have a 20 game lead by Memorial Day because, as manager Don Mattingly has said, they are more like a team now. Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins give them a much better infield, comparable to the Orioles if not the Royals or Rockies. Since you can’t strike everybody out, although that keeps getting easier, that’s important to their pitchers. If Joc Pederson is the center fielder they think he is, the Dodgers have a much better defense all around and a more balanced offense as well. I expect big things from Yasiel Puig this season.
If the defending world champions win five or more games in April they will eventually work their way into the race again. The starting pitching is shaky beyond Bumgarner and Hudson but the bullpen is solid and this team just knows how to win. Afull healthy season from Brandon Belt would help a lot and I think Buster Posey will be better offensively than last year. San Diego probably represents the biggest threat to L.A. but as much as their new outfield improves the offense, there are no gold gloves out there. Loads of pitching on that team, however. There are a lot of ifs in Colorado, as in how many games Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez can play and how well can any pitcher on that roster can compete. They could be the surprise of the division but don’t expect it. Arizona is doing what they never did in their early days, that is: look to the future. Goldschmitt is golden, Pollock is good, and upcoming young hurlers give them hope beyond 2015.
The Central NL is a bit of a tossup as it has been the last few years. One should never count out the St. Louis Cardinals but I am feeling good about the Pittsburgh Pirates this year. The loss of Russell Martin had me counting them out at first but I have to think that the coaching staff will be able to lead those young pitchers to success despite that. McCutchen is at his prime, Mercer seems to have improved defensively, and I especially like the move to first base for Pedro Alvarez. It was disappointing that Starling Marte did not improve his strikeout to walk ratio last season but the rest of his game is still great. If Josh Harrison plays anything like last year, this is a very solid team. The Cardinals do not have the tightest infield defense by far, but Kolten Wong’s development allowed Matt Carpenter to go back to third and Jhonny Peralta is adequate , as is Matt Adams, plus all of these guys can hit. Jason Heyward is a great addition to the lineup and the outfield and, let us not forget Mr. Yadier Molina and about 23 hard throwing pitchers. The Cubs could finish as high as third but remember, their shortstop is still Starlin Castro. Lester is overrated, but they are assembling the beginnings of a reputable team. People were bad mouthing Cincinnati over the winter but their situation is a bit like that of the Phillies last year, except that the chances of Votto, Bruce, and Brandon Phillips returning to good form are a bit better than were those of Utley, Howard, and Carlos Ruiz last year. Plus Billy Hamilton doesn’t just steal bases–he’s a very good center fielder, and Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco are still young and improving. I’m picking Milwaukee for last because even though they have Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, they also have Ryan Braun, ugly uniforms, and a P.O.N.Y league ballpark.
Washington breezed to a division title last season but then inexplicably faltered against the Giants in the playoffs, thanks in part to the questionable decision to remove Jordan Zimmerman from a game he’d been dominating . The Nats are spoken of as almost the perfect team but I’m not so sure. Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg lead the majors in ink and screentime, but they really haven’t done a whole lot yet. It could be that they will miss Tyler Clippard and Adam LaRoche but a healthy Jayson Werth makes them very tough. They should win a relatively easy division again–maybe that’s their problem. Miami is the favorite to challenge and I agree. There are some very good young players in Cuba North and a lot of them pitch. Giancarlo Stanton is for real and here come Christian Yelich and Adeiny Hechavarria. The Braves are being written off after last year’s plunge but they usually figure things out and Nick Markakis will help. Trading Craig Kimbel was a bit odd but so called closers are vastly overrated in my opinion. The Mets keep trying to get interesting but somehow they thought P.O.N.Y league field (Yankee Stadium) slugger Curtis Granderson was no slugger across town and he’s no leadoff hitter either with that strikeout rate. Meanwhile, David Wright’s youth is disappearing. Speaking of disappearing youth, the Phillies may now be realizing that it is time to revamp but it may be a while before we hear from them again. Jimmy Rollins is no doubt a happier fellow these days. They should trade Cole Hamels to the Giants for John Bowker and a boatload of sourdough.
For all of you youngsters out there, the P.O.N.Y (standing for protect our nation’s youth) was for 13 and 14 year old players back when I was that age. Hence, shorter fences.
The best team in the American League is a lot like a National League team—the Kansas City Royals. Sluggers tend to rule between Memorial Day and Labor Day but teams with strong pitching and defense that can use speed and the so called “small ball” thrive in the cooler weather before and after that. The Royals played seven World Series games last season and might well do it again in 2015. They have not just good but tremendous defense and speed. They lost franchise saver James Shields but seem to have plenty of good young arms to continue the work. They do not bash home runs but they do score and that is still what counts. Detroit bashes more with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez and, as of last year, J. D. Martinez, but those guys run more like my ’83 Volvo than K.C.’s Maseratis. The Tigers have to hope that glove dude Jose Iglesias can play a lot of shortstop this season and that starting pitchers other than Anabel Sanchez can throw enough effective innings to stay away from their shaky bullpen. Cleveland could surprise if the young pitchers in addition to Cory Kluber can progress and if they suddenly start catching and throwing the ball a lot better. The White Sox can bash (that seems so weird to someone who grew up in the 50s) but I still think that they lack enough to really contend, although Avisail Garcia might make a big difference. Minnesota has Paul Molitor, but he can’t play every day.
The Orioles did not get stronger but benefit by their division rivals, with the exception of Toronto, getting weaker. Good pitching, an improved season from Chris Davis, and Buck Showalter will help them repeat in the East. They would like to have Matt Wieters back and they would like Jonathan Schoop to get on base more often but the return to 2013 type form by Davis will make them forget about the loss of Nelson Cruz to Seattle. People got excited when Boston acquired Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval but, to me, the very strange divorce from most of their starting pitchers last summer is a bigger issue. And what, as they say, is up with Clay Buchholz and his Jekyll Hyde routine. What they really need is Jacoby Ellsbury. That brings us to New York, which will finish fourth. Here’s hoping that Alex Rodriguez plays good enough to stay in the lineup, assuring them plenty of defeats. Why did Ellsbury join this team? I know, I know. Brett Gardner is a good player, and Didi Gregorious is a much better shortstop than the aged Jeter was but he will probably get booed out of town because he doesn’t hit much. Screw them anyway. Toronto could get higher than third with the good additions of Russell Martin and Josh Donalson but the loss of young pitcher Marcus Stroman will hurt.As I used to say about Tampa Bay, love the team, hate their yard. Speaking of the Rays, they will miss Joe Maddon and David Price, but they will really miss Ben Zobrist.
I am actually picking the Angels from California via Los Angeles and Duarte to win the A.L West despite the fact that Josh Hamilton is still on the roster. I think that Albert Pujols has one more monster season in him and that that will carry this otherwise messy looking crew through to get trounced in the playoffs. Mike Trout blah blah blah. The A’s have better almost everything but something tells me they won’t get it together, even though they have Ben Zobrist and a very fine manager. Nelson Cruz is good but he will not hit 40 home runs for the Mariners. I wish Seattle would finish first but I don’t think they will. They do have most of the ingredients and youth to boot. Texas will struggle to be ahead of Houston if that makes sense–I’m referring to the Rangers of course. Big black cloud over that team has now taken Yu Darvish. Houston continues to improve but more seasoning is probably in order.
Now I have to hide this from myself but the game is what’s fun, ain’t it?