Monday, April 6, 2015

Happy Opening Day!

Here's a fantastic heartwarming piece by the great Joe Posnanski. He calls it "A Baseball Story." It's not. It's a human potential story. Posnanski is a national treasure.

Now, on to the season. Last year I did detailed predictions for each division. Given that the season's started, and I was out of the country since mid-March, I'm not going to do that this year. But let's get some stakes in the ground:

National League East
Washington Nationals, 91-71: There are, in my mind, five locks in baseball this season. Three are in this division. This is one of them. The Nationals are, to me, clearly the best team in the division, arguably in the league.
New York Mets, 84-78: Mets fans are pessimistic about the team. Mets fans have learned their pessimism from experience. Still, even with young righthander Zack Wheeler out with Tommy John surgery, this is a...well, not excellent, but an okay team. Sure, the offense is suspect, but in 2015, just about everybody's offense is suspect.
Miami Marlins, 81-81: The Marlins are kind of a fashionable pick. I don't care for that fashion. The outfield's great, and they have some good arms, but there are too many weaknesses elsewhere for me to get excited.
Atlanta Braves, 69-93: Lock No. 2. The Braves have all but admitted they're in rebuilding mode, shedding stars (Jayson Heyward, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel) for prospects. But they won't be in last place because...
Philadelphia Phillies, 64-98: ...the Phillies are probably the worst team in baseball right now. Lock No. 3

National League Central
St. Louis Cardinals, 89-73: Yes, the Cards have a great farm system, but they're also reliant on some older players (Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday) who are going to get old someday. Probably not today, though.
Pittsburgh Pirates, 85-77: Probably the best outfield in baseball, but the loss of catcher Russell Martin to free agency will be felt, and I have a hard time seeing last year's surprise hero, Josh Harrison, duplicating his performance.
Chicago Cubs, 81-81: Cool your jets, Cubs fans. Your farm system's fantastic, even after graduating a lot of guys to the majors. You got Jon Lester and Joe Maddon during the offseason. But this was a last-place, 89-loss team last year. Getting to .500 would be a tremendous improvement.
Milwaukee Brewers, 78-84: They spent most of last season in first place. I'd be surprised if they see much if it this year.
Cincinnati Reds, 72-90: They can't hit, and if they're out of contention at the All-Star Break, they might trade starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, an impending free agent, and then things would get really ugly.

National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers, 94-68: The fourth lock. They've been criticized by some for trading outfielder Matt Kemp and second baseman Dee Gordon, but the replacements (rookie Joc Pederson, former Angel Howie Kendrick) could wind up being just about as good.
San Diego Padres, 86-76: Another trendy pick, as new GM A.J. Preller remade the team. They'll be better, but the infield's awful.
San Francisco Giants, 84-78: No, it's not just because the Giants win only in even-numbered years. They lost third baseman Pablo Sandoval to free agency, outfielder Hunter Pence is on the disabled list, and there are a lot of questions in the rotation after postseason hero Madison Bumgarner.
Colorado Rockies, 78-84: DON'T SAY IT. Yes, I know, this team could be pretty good if shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez can stay in the lineup together. But they can't. One or the other will get hurt. Or both. Don't get your hopes up.
Arizona Diamondbacks, 71-91: I wouldn't say they're a lock for last, but they're not a good club, either. Worst record in baseball last year, you know.

American League East
Boston Red Sox, 88-74: Viva la parity. The additions of Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, and the presumed return to health of Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli, makes the team's offense formidable. The pitching...not so much. But this is no longer a killer division.
Toronto Blue Jays, 84-78: Really, you could almost draw the names of these five teams out of a hat; they're all pretty close. I really like the additions of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin.
New York Yankees, 82-80: Because the Yankees are incapable of finishing a season with a losing record.
Baltimore Orioles, 80-82: Over the past three seasons, the O's have won the second-most games in the American League. I haven't been able to figure out why. The batters don't get on base a lot and the starting rotation is unimpressive if solid. In Buck we trust, I suppose. I'm probably going to be wrong about them again.
Tampa Bay Rays, 77-85: I think the departure of GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon are the beginning of the end for one of my favorite teams. (I like small-market, low-budget teams.)

American League Central
Detroit Tigers, 88-74: They've won four divisional titles in a row. The streak will come to an end, probably soon, as the team's getting old. But I don't think this is they year.
Cleveland Indians, 84-78: Another trendy pick, and I would like nothing more than to see this small-market, low-budget team succeed. But the team's pitchers, unbelievable in the second half of the year (2.95 starter ERA, best in the league), are due for regression, and the team's defense won't help. But I'll be pulling for them, if for no other reason than radio announcer Tom Hamilton's home run calls.
Chicago White Sox, 83-79: Another greatly improved team - they lost 89 games last year - but not enough to contend, yet.
Kansas City Royals, 79-83: Yeah, I know, they came within a game of winning the World Championship. But they didn't win their division, and they kind of lucked their way to a wild card win. Over the winter, they lost their No. 1 starter and their DH. I'm not buying sustained success.
Minnesota Twins, 70-92: My fifth and final lock. I've documented my lack of affection for the Twins.

American League West
Seattle Mariners, 89-73: You can make a case that the other two top contenders in this tight division enter 2015 weaker than 2014. Not so the Mariners.
Los Angeles Angels, 86-76: They had the best record in baseball last year. But they enter the season with concerns in the rotation and at second base and overpaid slugger Josh Hamilton recovering from shoulder surgery and a drug relapse.
Oakland Athletics, 79-83: I mentioned that I don't understand how the Orioles have managed the second-most wins in the league over the past three years. I even more don't understand how the A's are No. 1, but they are. What they did this offseason strikes me as a teardown. But I've been wrong before.
Houston Astros, 79-83: Everything is going according to plan. The Astros improved by 19 games last year, and I see another nine this year. Eight or so next year, and they're talking playoffs.
Texas Rangers, 75-87: I thought they might rebound strongly from their injury-riddled 2014, but then ace pitcher Yu Darvish went down with Tommy John surgery.

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