Friday, April 3, 2015

MLB 2015 Predictions: New York's Irrelevant, Chicago's Recovering, And Los Angeles Rules

Baseball Yes, Water No
Baseball's opening day hasn't exactly snuck up this year. Spring training has been long, there's no World Baseball nonsense to ruin lives, and for once, there's no Stunt Casting of games in some Asian theater to mess up Opening Day. There's been a bunch of bummer pitching injuries, but with the leveling of the money field and less of a clear advantage to constantly contending MLB+ teams, the year seems more inviting. Unlike past years, you can't just scratch off a third of the franchises as for having no hope; it's more like a sixth, and most of those got there by incompetence, rather than salary tanking. It's encouraging, even though the lack of good NY teams this year will make the national media narrative go back to the Baseball Is Dying motif.

Having said that, there's still less competitive parity here than in most leagues, and the continuing Death Of Offense has made the real game and the fake ones a lot less fun than they used to be. Don't get me wrong, it's still a great game, and always will be... but only if your team is great. If your team is a boring drudgework of low scoring losses, it's just a good place to waste time and get your eat and drink on. But only if you can afford it, which is why the crowds are older and whiter and less likely to come very often. But enough of that... let's get to the prognosticating.

AL East

1) Baltimore
2) Boston
3) Toronto
4) New York
5) Tampa

The Orioles will miss Nelson Cruz, but not as much as they'll appreciate the continuing growth of Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop in the infield, and Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman on the mound. People forget these guys won 96 games last year, and that was with a fair amount of injuries. Boston will be a popular pick to continue their first or worst pattern, but the lack of a front-line ace on the mound and too many injury risks in the field will keep them from full potential.

Toronto can mess you up with their offense with increasingly rare true power all over the board, but the rotation has way too many questions for long winning streaks. New York is not so secretly terrible in the field, with an equal mix of guys that won't hit (2B, SS), stay healthy (C, 1B, RF) or overcome the increasingly toxic Bronx atmosphere (3B, LF, CF). The pitching staff will keep them from falling through the floorboards, but this looks like an 80 win team to me. Tampa may have a historically bad offense, with only 3B Evan Longoria looking to be better than league average at his position, if RF rookie Stephen Souza isn't real good, real fast. Look for a depressing year of 3-1 losses, half of them played in an empty warehouse.

AL Central

1) Cleveland
2) Detroit
3) Chicago
4) Kansas City
5) Minnesota

Maybe I'm overrating the Indians' emerging rotation, but there's just an awful lot of swing and miss here, and in a hodge-podge of a division, I think they'll make the difference. The club also got Brandon Moss for cheap to go with sneaky MVP Michael Brantley and solid pieces like C Yan Gomes, 2B Jason Kipnis and 1B Carlos Santana, and I think there's a reasonable chance Moss gets healthy and gives them real power. Detroit's rotation has fallen off a cliff recently, with Justin Verlander going to the DL with He's Not Good Anymore Itis, Doug Fister still in DC for no good reason, and Max Scherzer joining him there for big dollars. They'll still compete like mad, especially if Miguel Cabrera can stay healthy, but the bullpen stinks and the Tribe will be better. 

Chicago will be the division's breakout team for much of the year, especially if the 1B/DH combo of Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche can combine for 60+ HRs, but the back-end of the rotation and bullpen won't hold up to late-season innings. Kansas City's level of delusion following an 89 win year and hot October is charming, but they still don't hit enough, and teams built around dominant relief pitching fall apart faster than any other kind. The players on the next winning Minnesota team aren't ready to contribute at the major league level, but they're coming. Check back in 2017.

AL West

1) LA Angels
2) Seattle
3) Oakland
4) Houston
5) Texas

LA won this division going away last year with a tsunami of pitching injuries; this year, they'll do the same without, especially now that the bullpen is good from the start. Seattle is still a bat or two away from being truly dangerous, but the rotation could be the best in a playoff series. The bullpen, not so much. There's always a thought that whatever Billy Beane's doing in Oakland will work out, but sometimes it's just buying time until other things develop, and that's what's going on for 2015, especially when the offense looks this power compromised, and the pitching has too many guys with innings issues. Losing LF Coco Crisp for the first two months is also a real problem. For all of the man's genius, the drafting has been discouraging.

Houston could go higher, especially if OF George Springer emerges and stays healthy, but the back end of the rotation for the next +.500 Astro club is still in the minors. Texas has angered the Injury Gods, especially on the pitching mound, and needs Prince Fielder to be his old self. Not exactly great bets. Atonement will be long and painful.

NL East

1) Washington
2) Miami
3) Atlanta
4) New York
5) Philadelphia

The Nats will run away with this, because their rotation is absurdly good, and the offense is going to be better than last year. Watch for them to spend most of September coasting to a title and messing up their momentum, because they like to overthink things down there. Miami is the surprise team here, with the game's best young outfield overcoming their park and dragging the rest of the team to prominence in a weak division. Atlanta still has a lot of talent, but they can't seem to stay healthy, and no one knows why manager Fredi Gonzalez still has a gig. I'm also really not fond of the new-look OF.

The Mets could have been dangerous if Zack Wheeler had stayed healthy and if the corner OFs weren't big contract old guys (Michael Cuddyer, Curtis Granderson) who aren't going to perform better than league average. Philadelphia will be the worst team in the majors, and it won't be close, to the point where even the spectacularly negligent ownership will have to run off hopelessly failed GM Ruben Amaro Jr. With 3B Maikel Franco now looking like a Quad-A wind machine, there is absolutely no reason to watch this franchise, assuming that 2B Chase Utley and SP Cole Hamels get sent off out of mercy.

NL Central

1) St Louis
2) Pittsburgh
3) Chicago
4) Milwaukee
5) Cincinnati

Picking the Cards to be good is like picking the tides to come in, but so be it; baseball's best franchise just keeps rolling along, with a meat grinder OBP line up backing up a no nonsense pitching staff and power bully. When things go wrong, they always have an answer in the minors, too. It's maddening. Pittsburgh has a killer young OF and an ace in the making in SP Gerrit Cole, but 3B Josh Harrison will regress, 1B Perdo Alvarez looks broken, and not being as good as St. Louis is hardly a crime. Chicago should miss the wild card by the number of April games they will punt by not starting 3B Kris Bryant in the majors, because that is how karma works. If they were in the East, I think they'd make the playoffs as a wild card.

Milwaukee will hit enough to not fall through the floorboards, especially if OF Ryan Braun's spring thumb is the real deal, but a SP rotation where Kyle Lohse is your ace is not nearly good enough. Cincy brings up the rear with an offense that's more name than production in too many places (2B, RF, 1B) and a pitching staff that falls apart fast if Homer Bailey isn't healthy and great, which is to say, two things he's not. Closer Aroldis Chapman is an absolute beast, though.

NL West

1) Los Angeles
2) San Francisco
3) San Diego
4) Arizona
5) Colorado

It's cold comfort to Dodger Fan to know that his team was a half dozen games better than the world champs last year in the regular season, and are likely to be again, so long as SP Clayton Kershaw's arm doesn't fall off. OF Joc Pederson is going to be everything they could hope for, and look for the new DP combo of Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins to be surprisingly helpful. This rotation is unfair. In San Francisco, the loss of 3B Pablo Sandoval will hurt all year long, and the rotation depth might make them slide further if Matt Cain isn't really good really soon. San Diego's off-season shopstorm gets them to relevant, but they didn't pick up much in the way of defense, and the park isn't going to be enough to cover all of the leaks. It's going to be a lot more fun to watch than last year's punchless chuckleheads, though.

Arizona will be more fun this year, with the return of 1B Paul Goldschmidt, some promising new arms for the rotation (Jeremy Hellickson, Rubby De La Rosa), and the potential that Cuban import 3B/OF Yasmany Tomas will be a great big load of sunk cost (15Ks in 66 spring training ABs, defense at third that's shaky at best, new manager Chip Hale threatening him with the minors despite his contract). At least they won't be Colorado, where Kyle Kendrick (!) takes the hill on opening day. No, seriously. What do you get when you combine the majors' worst pitching staff with its best hitting environment? Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez getting hurt from a barrage of line drives, rather than their own devices, is what I'm guessing.

Surprise teams: Indians, Marlins

Disappointing teams: Yankees, Braves

Rookies of the Year: Dalton Pompey and Kris Bryant

Cy Young Winners:
Felix Hernandez and Stephen Strasburg

Most Valuable Players: Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen

AL Playoffs: Seattle over Detroit in the wild card, then LA over Cleveland, and Baltimore over Seattle. LA over Baltimore to get to the WS.

NL Playoffs: Miami over San Francisco in the wild card, then LA over Washington and St Louis over Miami. LA over St Louis to get to the WS.

World Series: Angels over Dodgers, with traffic ending just in time for Spring Training 2016

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