Category Archives: MLB Preview

2015 MLB Preview: AL West

(Author’s Note: Sorry about the delay in posts, I’m going to try to complete this preview within the next week or so). The AL West was one of the best divisions in baseball in 2014, despite the dreadful duo of the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros at its tail end. The Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland Athletics, and the Seattle Mariners were either in the playoffs or in the hunt until the very last day. The AL West should remain fairly vicious this year, with those same three teams winning plenty of games. I do think two playoff teams will again emerge from the division this season, but the A’s will not be one of them.

Divisional Breakdown

  1. Los Angeles Angels
  2. Seattle Mariners
  3. Oakland Athletics
  4. Houston Astros
  5. Texas Rangers

Team Breakdown

  1. Los Angeles Angels

On the strength of unexpectedly solid starting pitching and Mike Trout’s first MVP season, the Angels won the most games in the league and took home the AL West title before falling to the spunky Kansas City Royals in the ALDS. The Angels’ roster didn’t change much over the offseason, which is a good thing when talking about a 98 win team. The Angels had the top-run producing offense last year, and the lineup should remain potent. Mike Trout is an outstanding talent and a perennial MVP candidate, Kole Calhoun is very good in right field, and Albert Pujols’ remaining efficacy has often been underrated in recent years. While the loss of Howie Kendrick to the crosstown Dodgers hurts, the upgrade from C.J. Cron to Matt Joyce at DH should make up for lost production. The rotation has the potential to be very good. I’m not the biggest fan of Jered Weaver or C.J Wilson, but each had a decent 2014 and can contribute in a solid rotation. The key factors in this staff are Garrett Richards and 2014 Rookie of the Year runner up Matt Shoemaker. If Richards can return (in mid-April) pitching like he did last year, and if Shoemaker can replicate his rookie year performance, the Angels’ rotation will be in good shape. If new addition Andrew Heaney can come up and contribute to the staff at some point, even better. The bullpen is in better shape than it was at the beginning of last year, with Huston Street installed as closer. Street and setup man Joe Smith form one of the better one-two bullpen combinations in the big leagues.

Verdict

Best Case- Trout wins his second straight MVP, Richards and Shoemaker are dominant once again, and the Angels take the AL West on the way to the AL pennant.

Worst Case- Age takes its toll on Pujols, Wilson, and Weaver, Richards doesn’t look the same after the injury, and the Angels fall behind the Mariners in the division.

Trout and the Angels willl be fishing for a championship in 2015.

  1. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners had a pretty good 2014, winning their most games since 2007. Robinson Cano was a welcome addition into Seattle’s lineup, Kyle Seager showed himself to be one of the better third basemen in the leagues, and Felix Hernandez added yet another fantastic season onto his resumé. The Mariners enter the season poised to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001, thanks to several key offseason acquisitions who should complement the incumbent stars well. Nelson Cruz should provide much-needed power in the heart of the lineup, and Seth Smith and Austin Jackson will make the Mariners’ once-weak outfield respectable. Meanwhile, the Mariners have one of the most fearsome rotations in baseball. King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma are a dominant one-two punch, and hopefully 2015 will be the year that Taijuan Walker shows the hype surrounding him to be true. The bullpen arms will aim to repeat the standard they set in 2014, when Seattle had the lowest bullpen ERA of any major league team. Closer Fernando Rodney is among the best in baseball, and Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar both had sub-3 ERAs last season. The Mariners should hold on to the lead in a lot of close games this year.

Verdict

Best Case- Hernandez is a Cy Young candidate, Cano and Seager are tops at their positions, and the Mariners win the AL West for the first time since 2001.

Worst Case- Walker cannot produce at the major league level, Cruz cannot replicate his powerful production of last year, and the Mariners just miss out on a wild card spot.

Hernandez and Cano must be on the top of their games for the Mariners to reach the postseason.

  1. Oakland Athletics

The A’s looked like the best team in baseball last season, until several ill-fated trades aimed to make Oakland even more formidable ended up backfiring. The midseason acquisitions of Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija served only to rid the team of Yoenis Cespedes and prospect Addison Russell. Somewhat poetically, Lester was on the mound for the epic Wild Card Game loss to the Kansas City Royals. Perhaps in response, the 2015 offseason has been one of massive turnover for the A’s roster. Gone are Lester, Samardzija, Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris, Brandon Moss, John Jaso, and Jed Lowrie, key components of the successful A’s squads of the past few years. In their place are several promising pieces which, if everything pans out, could turn out to be extremely valuable. The lineup is interesting blend of speed and power, with Coco Crisp and Billy Butler serving as examples of each attribute. Brett Lawrie, Ben Zobrist, and Josh Reddick form a solid heart of the batting order, but it remains to be seen if Ike Davis can be a starting first-bagger at the big league level. Similarly, the rotation could be very good, but there are nagging question marks. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir are a solid top two in the staff, but after that, things look a bit rough. Jesse Chavez appeared to revive his career, and the A’s will count on him to continue his success in 2015. The bullpen, 3rd in the league in reliever ERA last year, should be good, with former Nat Tyler Clippard assuming the closing role in place of the injured Sean Doolittle. Once the latter returns, the two should form an imposing end-of-game pair.

Verdict

Best Case- The rotation holds together, Billy Beane’s roster gambles pay off, and the new-look A’s take back the AL West title.

Worst Case- The new lineup doesn’t mesh, the rotation is a tire fire beyond Gray and Kazmir, and the Athletics fall behind– gulp– the Astros in the AL West.

Jesus- sorry, Josh Reddick and the new-look A’s hope to maintain the team’s recent success.

  1. Houston Astros

It’s difficult to imagine that a team that went 70-92 could be considered improved, but the 2014 Astros were Houston’s most successful squad since 2010. There were several brights spots for Houston– George Springer’s powerful debut, the breakout seasons of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh — but the brightest of all was diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve, who took home the AL batting title. Although the Astros won’t quite be in playoff contention in 2015, there should be plenty of hope for the future in Houston. The lineup is improved, even with the departure of Dexter Fowler. New additions Jed Lowrie and Colby Rasmus should be solid replacements at short and in center, and Evan Gattis, Chris Carter, and Springer form a powerful middle of the lineup. The lineup will look even better if Jon Singleton can realize his potential at first, and if Carlos Correa and his impressive bat can reach the majors by September. The rotation is less impressive at the moment, but it has the potential to be fairly good. If Keuchel and McHugh continue their 2014 success, new acquisition Dan Straily produces at the level he did in his rookie season, and top prospect Mark Appel impresses enough to reach the Show this season, the Astros might begin to scare some teams around the league. The bullpen, statistically the worst in the league last year, should be much improved. Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek are two of the better righty relievers in the league, so things should be a little less hopeless in the Houston ‘pen this year.

Verdict

Best Case- Houston’s pitchers realize their potential, the position player prospects impress, and the Astros are in the wild card race until late in the year.

Worst Case-  Correa and Appel suffer more setbacks, McHugh and Keuchel struggle, and the Astros finish in the AL West cellar.

Jose Altuve waves goodbye to the 60-win seasons of the past few years.

  1. Texas Rangers

The American League’s worst team in 2014, the injury-plagued Rangers looked nothing like their competitive teams of the last several years. Even though many of the Rangers’ struggles could be linked back to injuries to star players like Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish, I don’t believe that Texas will be much better this year. Darvish is hurt again, and Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo have yet to display why Texas invested $300 million in them as free agents last offseason. The lineup is ok, with perennial All-Star Adrian Beltre at third and Elvis Andrus at short, and should become better midway through the season, when minor league phenom Joey Gallo is projected to reach the majors. Still, Jurickson Profar has been set back yet again with injury issues, and the rest of the lineup just isn’t that eye-popping. Unless Fielder and Choo can return to their past levels of performance, Texas might have a difficult time scoring runs. The rotation is pretty unintimidating, especially without Darvish. Yovani Gallardo and Derek Holland are good starting pitchers, but not good enough to carry a rotation of Ross Detweiller, Colby Lewis, and Nick Martinez to the postseason. The bullpen was already going to be a weak spot on the team after the departures of Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor over the past year, but an injury-plagued spring has made the situation even worse. Closer Neftali Feliz will have to carry the load for Texas in the ‘pen.

Verdict

Best Case- Gallardo and Holland impress, Fielder, Choo, and Beltre form a solid core of the lineup, and the Rangers reinsert themselves into the wild card conversation.

Worst Case- The rotation and bullpen are disasters, Fielder and Choo look like shells of their former selves, and the Rangers are once again one of the worst teams in the league.

For the Rangers to have a shot at the postseason, Prince Fielder will have to stay on the field.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, MLB Preview

2015 MLB Preview: AL Central

Even though the Detroit Tigers won the AL Central for the fourth straight year in 2014, the Kansas City Royals had the more memorable season, reaching the postseason and the World Series for the first time since 1985 before losing to the San Francisco Giants in seven games. Despite the relative success of these two squads last year, however, I don’t think either one will be returning to the postseason in 2015. The Minnesota Twins will be better as their highly-touted prospects begin to arrive in the Show, and the Cleveland Indians have a formidable lineup to send out alongside AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. But I think the Chicago White Sox will be the team to end Detroit’s domination of the Central and to take the divisional crown for the first time since 2008.

Divisional Breakdown

  1. Chicago White Sox
  2. Cleveland Indians
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Kansas City Royals
  5. Minnesota Twins

Team Breakdown

  1. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox had a fairly discouraging 2014, with the team falling out of the AL Wild Card race after a terrible August. However, there were several bright spots, the most exciting of which being AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu. This year, the White Sox will depend on the 28 year old Cuban to be the key cog in a revamped lineup. The White Sox had one of the splashiest offseasons of any team in the league, adding OBP master Melky Cabrera and the powerful Adam Laroche into the fold. These two will be welcome additions into a lineup that doesn’t boast many household names. In addition to the improved lineup, the White Sox boast an imposing trio of starting pitchers: Chris Sale (my Cy Young pick), new acquisition Jeff Samardzija, and the underrated Jose Quintana. Although Sale is currently injured, and although the rest of the rotation is somewhat underwhelming, these three should serve Chicago well come October. Strides were also made to improve a bullpen that was among the worst in the league last season. New closer David Robertson and lefty Zach Duke should help the White Sox lock down a few more games over the course of 2015.

Verdict

Best Case- Sale, Samardzija, and Quintana are dominant, Abreu is an MVP candidate, and the White Sox win the AL Central.

Worst Case- Sale’s foot doesn’t heal properly, Robertson and Duke cannot fix Chicago’s bullpen troubles, and the White Sox are stuck at home in October.

I feel obligated to use this image whenever Chris Sale comes up in a post.

  1. Cleveland Indians

The Indians had a fairly good 2014 season, finishing 3 games back in the AL Wild Card race. Breakout seasons from Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley, who finished third in the AL MVP race, should have Indians fans very excited for 2015. Overall, this is a pretty solid baseball team. In addition to Brantley, the lineup boasts the underrated catcher Yan Gomes, the powerful Carlos Santana, and the newly acquired Brandon Moss, who should improve production out of right field. And if Jason Kipnis can return to his 2013 All-Star form, the Indians’ lineup might be among the best in baseball. The rotation is also promising, headlined by Kluber and filled with young fireballers. Getting production out of Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer will be particularly important if the Indians hope to compete this year. The bullpen is fairly solid, with no key departures from a squad that finished 7th in the league in reliever ERA. While I don’t know if I agree with Sports Illustrated’s prediction that the Indians will win the World Series, Cleveland will certainly be a formidable opponent in 2015.

Verdict

Best Case- The rotation is overwhelming, Brantley, Gomes, and Kipnis produce at a high level, and the Indians take home the AL Central title.

Worst Case- The young guns in the rotation show little development, the breakout seasons of last year appear to be a fluke, and Cleveland misses the playoffs for the second straight year.

Tests have confirmed that Kluber is not a robot, but he does exude a machine-like efficiency from the mound.

  1. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers missed yet another opportunity to bring home their first World Series title since 1984 when they lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS. Now, they try to do so in an AL Central that has improved, and with a team that is quite different than last year’s. Any lineup with Miguel Cabrera will produce a fair amount of runs. Adding Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez, and J.D Martinez into the equation in 2014 resulted in the Tigers scoring the second-most of any team last season. Jose Iglesias will return, intent on matching the offensive production and defensive wizardry of his rookie season, newcomer Anthony Gose will try to be a serviceable replacement to Austin Jackson in center, and Yoenis Cespedes will attempt to inflate the value of his next contract with a big season. While the lineup appears to be as strong as ever, Detroit’s rotation and bullpen are filled with question marks. Gone are Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Drew Smyly. In their place stand David Price, Alfredo Simon, and Shane Greene. I don’t know that the replacements will be able to match the production of their predecessors, a statement made even more concerning by the fact that no one knows if Justin Verlander will ever be the same pitcher that he was in 2011 again. I believe the Tigers’ rotation will be solid, but I’m not sure that they’ll match the dominance of the 2013 squad. Meanwhile, the team did little to improve what was an absolute mess of a bullpen in 2014. Joe Nathan is back, coming off one of the worst years of his career, and disappointing midseason acquisition Joakim Soria returns as well. It is up to those two, as well as the resigned Joba Chamberlain, to provide some stability to what has been consistently the worst aspect of Detroit’s team.

Verdict

Best Case- Miggy and Victor Martinez are MVP candidates, Verlander and Price look like their old selves, and the Tigers win their fifth consecutive AL Central crown.

Worst Case- The aging lineup is injury-riddled, the new pitching acquisitions can’t match the production of last year’s squad, and the Tigers miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Verlander and Price need to pitch like their old selves if the Tigers are to win this division.

  1. Kansas City Royals

The Royals shocked the world in 2014, sweeping their way to the World Series from the wild card game before finally falling to the San Francisco Bumgarners– sorry, the San Francisco Giants in seven games. Unfortunately, after losing three key members of that magical run- James Shields, Nori Aoki, and Billy Butler- and not matching some of the louder moves of their divisional rivals, I don’t think they’ll be returning to the postseason. The lineup is still quite solid and defensively elite, with Gold Glovers Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, and Alex Gordon all back at their respective posts. Newcomers Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales will attempt to produce at DH and RF, but both had fairly mediocre 2014s, which can be tough to come back from on the wrong side of 30. The rotation is solid, but will certainly miss its former ace Shields. Flamethrower Yordano Ventura and his fellow young gun Danny Duffy headline a staff that could be one of the better rotations in baseball, provided that Edinson Volquez can replicate his success of 2014. Chris Young is a nice end-of-the-rotation addition as well, and the signing of Kris Medlen (who will return later in the season from Tommy John surgery) could play a key role down the stretch. The core of the much-discussed Kansas City bullpen stayed relatively unchanged, with closer Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera all returning. If they can perform as they did last year, the Royals will win a lot of close games.

Verdict

Best Case- Perez, Hosmer, and Gordon show they’re among the best at their positions, the rotation holds together despite the loss of Shields, and the Royals snag another wild card spot.

Worst Case- Morales and Rios aren’t suitable replacements, the rotation looks weak without Shields, and the Royals drop out of the wild card race by mid-September.

Ventura, seen here at his Rockettes audition, will bring 100+ MPH heat at the top of KC’s rotation.

  1. Minnesota Twins

The 2014 Twins were pretty bad, finishing in last place in the Central and not even getting a glimpse of the future after disappointing injuries to their two top prospects, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. While I don’t expect the Twins to be in contention this year, Minnesota could be a dangerous team come 2016. The lineup is filled with potential. Buxton and Sano are still stuck in the minors for the time being, but Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia have shown promise in the outfield, and Brian Dozier is one of the better second basemen in the league. Torii Hunter is back in Minnesota, returning to the team with which he spent the first nine full years of his career. While Buxton may very well steal his job when he finally arrives in the Bigs, Hunter will provide valuable veteran leadership (and may serve to put more Minnesotan butts in the seats). The rotation had the highest ERA of any AL team last year, but the addition of Ervin Santana should make things a little better. Phil Hughes had a terrific 2014 season and was rewarded with a 3-year, $42 million extension. Hughes and Santana alone aren’t enough to fix Minnesota’s pitching problems, though, and the back end of the Twins’ rotation will probably struggle. The bullpen is decent, with All-Star Glen Perkins closing games, but it is not very deep. The Twins may yet decide to pursue free agent closer Rafael Soriano to shore up their staff.

Verdict

Best Case- Buxton and Sano come up and impress, Arcia and Hicks emerge as key long-term pieces, and the Twins enter 2016 as a playoff favorite.

Worst Case- Buxton and Sano are again bitten by the injury bug, the rotation is a mess, and the window for contention moves even farther away than it already is.

On the bright side for 2015, Joe Mauer’s hair is still presumably dandruff-free.

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, MLB Preview

2015 MLB Preview: AL East

Hello, baseball fans, and welcome to the first College Sports Town divisional preview for the 2015 MLB season. I’m going to take a look at every team in the league, analyze each one’s offseason moves, and offer my prediction for what their respective seasons will look like. As always, I’m going to begin with the AL East. It has been a year of turnover for several teams in this division. The Tampa Bay Rays lost manager Joe Maddon and GM Andrew Friedman along with several promising young players, the Boston Red Sox could not bring back ace Jon Lester, and the New York Yankees said goodbye to a little-known shortstop named Derek Jeter (perhaps you heard something about his retirement?). Will any of these teams be able to adjust to these changes well enough to challenge the Baltimore Orioles for the division crown?

Divisional Breakdown

  1. Baltimore Orioles
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Toronto Blue Jays
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. New York Yankees

Team Breakdown

  1. Baltimore Orioles

Powered by Nelson Cruz’ league-leading 40 home runs and the stellar play of Adam Jones, the Orioles had a terrific 2014, winning 96 games before falling to the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. This season, the Orioles will return a fairly familiar roster. Though Nelson Cruz will be missed in the middle of the lineup, new acquisition Delmon Young aims to provide production in the DH role. And though someone other than Nick Markakis patrolling right field at Camden Yards seems strange, Travis Snider is a promising replacement. The most important acquisitions of the offseason for the Orioles were the returns from injury for Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters. If these star players can return to form, the Orioles will be a formidable offensive threat once again in 2015. With a rotation that remains fairly solid yet unremarkable, and a serviceable bullpen, Baltimore will once again depend on the core of their lineup to power the team to victory.

Verdict

Best Case- Jones is stellar yet again, Machado, Davis, and Wieters are All-Stars once more, and the Orioles win the AL East for the second straight year.

Worst Case- Cruz’ production cannot be replaced, Baltimore’s core of stars is injury-riddled once again, and Baltimore falls short of a playoff spot.

If Chris Davis can return to his 2013 form, the Orioles will take flight once again.

  1. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have for several years been the bane of my prognosticating career, as the squad has bounced from last place in the AL East in 2012 to a World Series championship in 2013, then back to last place in 2014. However, I have confidence that I have finally pegged them accurately as a wild card team in this upcoming season. Just like their division rivals the Orioles, the highlight of this Red Sox team is the lineup. Joining Boston mainstays David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, who both signed massive contracts this past November, and my Rookie of the Year pick Rusney Castillo. The Red Sox should score plenty of runs, especially if young players like Castillo, Mookie Betts, and Xander Bogaerts produce adequately. The concern for this squad lies with the pitching staff. Jon Lester chose to go to Chicago rather than headline this bunch of solid yet unspectacular starters. Presumptive ace Clay Buchholz is wildly inconsistent and oft-injured, and it remains to be seen if solid pitchers Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, and Justin Masterson can maintain a higher level of success. The bullpen is decent, with Koji Uehara closing, but is filled with question marks like Craig Breslow and and Edward Mujica. The pitching staff has the potential to be quite good, but it might also be a disaster.

Verdict

Best Case- The offense fires on all cylinders, the staff impresses, and the Red Sox win the AL East.

Worst Case- Ortiz shows his age, the offense can’t score enough to make up for lackluster pitching, and the Red Sox miss out on the playoffs again.

Pablo Sandoval, pictured here with his brother, will be a key component of the Red Sox lineup.

  1. Toronto Blue Jays

The 2014 Blue Jays performed decently, finishing third in the AL East after falling behind in a tight AL Wild Card race. Toronto followed that performance with perhaps the splashiest offseason in the AL East. In addition to acquiring Michael Saunders and Russell Martin, the Blue Jays traded Brett Lawrie and prospects to the Oakland A’s for All-Star Josh Donaldson. Though Melky Cabrera will be missed at the top of the lineup and Colby Rasmus will be missed in center, Toronto’s offensive production should be similar to last year, when the Jays scored the fifth most runs in the league. In what is seemingly a trend in the AL East, the weakest part of this team is the pitching staff. R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle are solid but old, and the loss of the promising Marcus Stroman to an ACL tear will hurt. Toronto will have to hope Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris can live up to their potential and fill the voids in this rotation. In the bullpen, Brett Cecil will take over closing duties from the departed Casey Janssen. Toronto had one of the worst bullpen ERAs in the MLB last year, so hopefully this shakeup will improve things.

Verdict

Best Case- The offense is imposing, Sanchez and Norris pitch well, and the Jays return to the postseason for the first time since 1993.

Worst Case- Martin is injured, the staff shows its age, and Toronto finishes last in the AL East.

Josh Donaldson, attempting to taste the Canadian air, is a welcome addition to the Jays.

  1. Tampa Bay Rays

After finishing under .500 for the first time since 2007, Tampa Bay overhauled their roster and front office. In addition to the aforementioned departures of Maddon and Friedman, the Rays traded away or let walk key players including Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, and Wil Myers. The new Rays lineup might not be worse than that of last year, when the Rays scored the fewest runs in the AL, but it is not that impressive. New manager Kevin Cash will have to hope for bounceback years from Evan Longoria and James Loney if he wants to be competitive in 2015. John Jaso should provide power in the DH spot and highly-touted prospect Steven Souza will, at the very least, provide stellar defense in the outfield. The Rays might have the best rotation in the AL East, which is impressive considering the youth of their starters. Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and Jake Odorizzi all performed quite well last year, and Drew Smyly, acquired in the David Price trade with Detroit, has looked tremendous in his brief Rays stint. It will be up to them to keep games close for this relatively weak offense. Tampa’s bullpen is a bit of a mess at the moment, and it will be up to Brad Boxberger, Jake Mcgee, and new acquisition Kevin Jepsen to keep things relatively under control.

Verdict

Best Case- Longoria has an MVP-caliber year, the rotation is stellar, and the Rays sneak into a wild card spot.

Worst Case- The offense sputters, the inexperience of the rotation is on full display, and the Rays finish in the AL East cellar.

Evan Longoria, after realizing Maddon, Zobrist, and Price are gone.

  1. New York Yankees

Now, I’m not predicting that the Yankees will finish dead last in the AL East because it gives me great pleasure to do so (even if that may be true). The fact is, the Yankees overachieved during the 2014 Derek Jeter farewell tour- sorry, the 2014 season. The difference between their actual win-loss record and their expected (Pythagorean) win-loss record was 7 games, as the Yankees led the American League in luck. Even though the Yankees did make some quality moves this offseason, I do not think that the 2015 team will be as competitive as last year’s. The lineup can be solid when everyone is healthy, but health could definitely be an issue for a team that depends on so many older players. Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Chase Headley are all fairly good and should provide good production, but Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann had disappointing debut seasons in the Bronx and it will be up to them to turn things around, which can be tough when one is on the wrong side of 30. Also, Brian Cashman is presumably counting the days until he can replace Stephen Drew with Rob Refsnyder at second base. This is not to mention the return of Alex Rodriguez, likely to the DH spot from which he should provide a lot of drama, if not production. The rotation, like the lineup, can be pretty good when healthy, but that is a dubious assumption to make. Masahiro Tanaka was outstanding in his debut season, but his decision against Tommy John surgery for his partial UCL tear could come back to haunt him. Michael Pineda and C.C. Sabathia both have long injury histories, and both Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova will start the season on the DL. I’m a fan of Nate Eovaldi, whom the Yankees acquired from the Marlins, but there is a concerning lack of starting pitching depth for such an injury-filled rotation. The bullpen is the brightest spot on the team, with new acquisition Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances serving as a vicious end of game combo.

Verdict

Best Case- Tanaka’s arm holds up and he is a Cy Young candidate, the lineup stays healthy and productive, and the Yankees win a wild card spot.

Worst Case- Tanaka needs Tommy John, the rotation and lineup is filled with casualties, and the Yankees finish last in their division for the first time since 1990.

A-Rod, seen here attempting to bat with no hands, will bring even more drama into the Bronx this year.

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, MLB Preview

2015 MLB Preview: Playoff Picture and World Series

It’s time once again for my predictions for which teams will make the playoffs, and which team will come away from 2015 immortalized with a World Series trophy. As always, I expect to look back at some of these picks in October and wonder what I was thinking, but here are my best guesses as to which teams we will see playing this fall.

Divisional and Wild Card Winners

AL East– Baltimore Orioles

AL Central– Chicago White Sox

AL West– Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

AL Wild Card #1– Boston Red Sox

AL Wild Card #2– Seattle Mariners

NL East- Washington Nationals

NL Central– St. Louis Cardinals

NL West– Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Wild Card #1– New York Mets

NL Wild Card #2– Chicago Cubs

Wild Card Matches

AL- Seattle Mariners defeat Boston Red Sox

NL- New York Mets defeat Chicago Cubs

Divisional Round

AL- Los Angeles Angels defeat Seattle Mariners in 5 games, Chicago White Sox defeat Baltimore Orioles in 4 games

NL- Washington Nationals defeat New York Mets in 4 games, Los Angeles Dodgers defeat St. Louis Cardinals in 5 games

Championship Round

AL- Los Angeles Angels defeat Chicago White Sox in 6 games

NL- Washington Nationals defeat Los Angeles Dodgers in 7 games

World Series

Washington Nationals defeat Los Angeles Angels in 5 games

Harper and the Nationals will finally taste postseason success in 2015.

4 Comments

Filed under Baseball, MLB Preview

2015 MLB Preview: NL Awards

Hello, baseball fans, and welcome back to College Sports Town’s 2015 MLB Preview. I apologize for not posting since my AL Awards preview as I have been separated from my laptop, but, now that I’m back, let’s get right to it. Here are my picks for NL MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year in 2015.

NL MVP- Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

McCutchen’s sweet stroke should keep him at the top of the MVP race.

Two years ago, I predicted Cutch would win his first MVP award, and he validated my prognosis. This year, I expect more of the same excellence from McCutchen, who led the NL in OBP and OPS last season. His candidacy will be aided by an improved Pirates lineup. Though catcher Russell Martin will be missed, new additions Corey Hart and Korean import Jung-ho Kang, not to mention an entire year from young outfielder Gregory Polanco, will solidify an already potent offense and make McCutchen’s life easier. McCutchen’s MVP odds will be further helped by the difficulties several other top candidates will have to deal with this season. Clayton Kershaw is unlikely to win another MVP even if he were somehow able to duplicate last year’s numbers, Troy Tulowitzki can’t seem to play enough games to be considered, and I still don’t know how long it will take Giancarlo Stanton to readjust after that terrible beaning last September. Thanks to these roadblocks, Cutch’s path to the 2015 NL MVP might just be as simple as producing numbers consistent with those of the past few years, which I believe he is more than capable of.

NL Cy Young- Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Last year, I tried to not select him. I predicted Jose Fernandez would win the Cy Young, not a ridiculous selection but one that proved to be inaccurate when Fernandez became yet another victim of the Tommy John epidemic. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t reasonably predict anyone else but Kershaw to win this award. Kershaw, who came into 2014 already having won two Cy Youngs and arguably deserving a third, delivered a season for the ages, leading the league in wins, ERA, WHIP and several other categories. He tossed his first no-hitter, won his third Cy Young, and became the first pitcher since Justin Verlander in 2011 to win an MVP award. Oh, and he’s still only 27 years old. There are other outstanding pitchers in the National League, of course. Johnny Cueto, Adam Wainwright, and postseason hero Madison Bumgarner all deserve tremendous respect. However, when someone comes along and not only inspires comparisons to Sandy Koufax but validates them, it is difficult to expect anything less than greatness from him.

Kershaw should be dealing as always in 2015.

Kershaw should be dealing as always in 2015.

NL Rookie of the Year- Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

One of the prized cornerstones of the future for the Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant has displayed in Spring Training the prestigious power that produced 43 home runs at the minor league level in 2014 and earned him the status of Baseball America’s #1 prospect. His six  home runs would normally be enough to earn him a spot on the opening day roster, but issues over long-term contract control will likely leave him in the minors for the few first weeks of the season. Still, Bryant has shown that the hype surrounding him is well-deserved. I expect him to rake from the moment he gets called up, and to become yet another reason for folks around the league to be afraid of the quickly improving Chicago Cubs.

Bryant thanking his bat for all it’s done for him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, MLB Preview

2015 MLB Preview: AL Awards

Hello baseball fans, and welcome to the third annual College Sports Town MLB preview. It’s been quite some time since I last posted, but I’m excited to begin this new season! Let’s jump right into the preview with my preseason predictions for which players will take home the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year awards for the American League in 2015. Last year, I correctly selected Mike Trout for AL MVP but missed on my picks for AL Cy Young (I picked Felix Hernandez, the runner-up, instead of Corey Kluber) and ROY (which was won by Jose Abreu, not my pick Xander Bogaerts). Let’s see if I can improve this year.

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Listen, I know it’s a bit of a cop out, but it would be foolish to predict anyone else to outperform Trout and to win this award. He’s been arguably the best position player in baseball for the past three years, and he shows no signs of wanting to relinquish that title. The 23 year old finally got past Miguel Cabrera in his quest for MVP last year, winning his first after finishing second in 2013 and 2012. Trout’s slash line in 2014 was .287/.377/.561, outstanding despite being down from his 2013 numbers, and he led the AL in both runs and RBI. He even managed to lead the Angels to the best record in the MLB before the team faltered against the Royals in the divisional round of the playoffs. Barring injury, I see no reason why Trout would not be able to replicate his performance of the past few years, and that would be more than enough to bring him his second consecutive AL MVP.

Trout, pictured here destroying a baseball's hopes and dreams.

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

Sale is the most dominant lefty in the MLB today not named Clayton Kershaw. In 2014, he led the league in ERA+ and K/9 while finishing third in the AL Cy Young race to Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez. The soon-to-be 26 year old figures to once again be one of the most entertaining pitchers in baseball, as soon as he returns from a fractured right foot, and the revamped White Sox lineup and rotation will only make his life easier. Sale and new addition Jeff Samardzija form one of the most dangerous 1-2 punches in baseball, and a lineup consisting of Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera, and Adam Laroche will help him lock down a few more W’s. If Sale can come back and produce similar numbers to those of the past few years, he could certainly come away from 2015 with the Cy Young.

This image alone gives Sale's candidacy legitimacy.

AL ROY- Rusney Castillo, Boston Red Sox

In 2014, Castillo joined the list of young Cuban players with massive contracts after receiving a $72 million deal from Boston. However, it is yet to be seen whether Castillo can prove the investment wise as compatriots such as Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jose Abreu have done in recent years. He looked good in his 10 game stint with the Red Sox at the end of 2014 but has suffered through an injury-stricken spring and may lose the competition for starting CF to another youngster, Mookie Betts. Even if he does not start the year in the majors, Castillo’s intriguing blend of power and speed will be on display in Fenway sooner rather than later, and I expect him to impress enough to take home Cuba’s second straight Rookie of the Year award.

Castillo having a swell time with Big Papi.

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, MLB Preview

2014 MLB Preview: NL West

Hello, baseball fans, and welcome to the final installment of College Sports Town’s divisional previews for the 2014 MLB season. Last but not least, I will be taking a look at the NL West.  In 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers took the division after a slow start to the season, but this year, they already are atop the West, due to their down-under sweep of the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks.  The Yankees West– AKA the Dodgers should be NL West champs for the second straight year, as no team in this fairly unimpressive division has enough firepower to take them down.

Divisional Breakdown

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Francisco Giants

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. Colorado Rockies

5. San Diego Padres

Team Breakdown

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

After an offseason of wild spending, the 2013 Dodgers were a disappointment on June 21, sitting in last place in the NL West. From that day on, however, the Dodgers were one of the best teams in the majors, winning the division, in part due to the arrival of Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig. This year, Puig and Co. are poised to take the division again. The rotation is scary. The outfield is as good as any in the majors, with Puig, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and (eventually when returned from injury) Matt Kemp vying for three spots. The infield is also impressive, with Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, and A.J Ellis. The Dodgers should score plenty of runs. In addition, the rotation will be among the best in baseball. Clayton Kershaw is simply the best pitcher in baseball, Hyun-Jin Ryu should continue his fine play in his sophomore season, and Zack Greinke is fantastic as well. New additions Dan Haren and Paul Maholm provide some rotational depth, as Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley are sidelined for the moment. Regardless of who the fourth and fifth starters are, however, the trio of Kershaw-Ryu-Greinke can be as intimidating as any in baseball. The bullpen is stacked as well. Kenley Jansen is one of the better closers in the MLB, and Brian Wilson and Chris Perez could be excellent additions if they can return to past levels of performance. Basically, this Dodgers squad is loaded any way you look at them.

Verdict

Best Case- The Dodgers ride excellent starting pitching, Puig, Ramirez, and Gonzalez to the World Series.

Worst Case- Injuries to Kershaw and Greinke are more serious than expected, Puig’s career path follows Jeff Francoeur, and the Dodgers barely hang onto a wild-card spot.

Most people are already tired of hearing about Yasiel Puig, but he has the talent to led the Dodgers to the Word Series.

Most people are already tired of hearing about Yasiel Puig, but in all honesty, he has the talent to lead the Dodgers to the Word Series.

2. San Francisco Giants

Last year, contrary to my World Series expectations, the defending champ Giants finished fourth place in the division. This year, the Giants should return to respectability, but not the postseason. The team is mostly unchanged, but I think that last year’s general performance was a fluke, and they will improve. The lineup is fairly solid. Buster Posey is one of the best catchers in the game, Brandon Belt is a solid first baseman, and the newly-extended Hunter Pence was probably the Giants best performer last season. Pablo Sandoval looks slim but powerful, Angel Pagan is a solid leadoff hitter, and new addition Michael Morse has a good amount of pop. As always, however, the rotation is where San Francisco really shines. Each of the Giants prospective starting pitchers has at least one All-Star appearance. Madison Bumgarner is the youngest and probably the best at this point of the starters, but Matt Cain and even Tim Lincecum have the potential to take that title back, and new addition Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong aren’t bad, either. If their starting pitchers can perform well, the Giants have a decent shot of returning to the postseason. The bullpen has the potential to be robust, if Sergio Romo can return to the level of performance he exhibited during the 2012 postseason. The Giants have a talented team, but the question remains: will this squad, so similar to the one San Francisco trotted out each of the two previous years, play like the 2012 World Series champions or the 2013 disappointments?

Verdict

Best Case- The rotation is stellar, Posey and Pence are All-Stars, and the Giants return to the postseason.

Worst Case- For the second straight year, injuries and disappointing performances lead to the Giants returning home at the end of the regular season.

Hunter Pence may have the eyes of a madman, but he can hit a baseball a long, long way.

Hunter Pence may have the eyes of a madman, as exhibited here, but he can hit a baseball a long, long way.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks had a decent 2013 season, finishing 2nd in the West with a .500 record. This year, the Diamondbacks should be about as good, but still finish behind the Dodgers and Giants in the division. The lineup is the most impressive part of this squad. MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt is joined by slugger Mark Trumbo in the heart of the lineup. Martin Prado is a serviceable third baseman, and young shortstop Chris Owings looks promising. If Gerardo Parra can replicate his success from last season, Aaron Hill can play the entire season, and Miguel Montero can return to his All-Star performance level, the Diamondbacks will score prolifically. The concern for the Diamondbacks falls with the rotation. All-Star Patrick Corbin is out for the year, so the rest of the pitching staff will have to pick up the slack if the Diamondbacks are to have any shot at the postseason. 2012 All-Star Wade Miley didn’t look the same last season, however, and former Athletics Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy looked better in Oakland. The Diamondbacks have to hope that Randall Delgado realizes his potential this year, and for star pitching prospect Archie Bradley to quickly make his way to the majors. That being said, the bullpen is fairly solid. Addison Reed, acquired for Matt Davidson from the White Sox, is a fine young closer, Brad Ziegler is one of the more consistent relievers in the league, and former Mets J.J. Putz and Oliver Perez have each become better pitchers following their stints in New York. The Diamondbacks have several robust pieces, but they are unlikely to contend this year.

Verdict

Best Cast- Goldschmidt is MVP, Trumbo hits 40 HR, Bradley is a ROY candidate, and the Diamondbacks make the postseason.

Worst Case- The rotation holds the team back, and the Diamondbacks finish under .500.

Goldschmidt might have the sweetest swing the majors.

Goldschmidt might have the sweetest swing the majors.

4. Colorado Rockies

The Rockies were dreadful last season, finishing last place in the NL West. Even though they seemed far from contention last year, the 2014 Rockies are closer to being a respectable squad. Although they are unlikely to make the postseason this year, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the Rockies’ future. The lineup is relatively impressive. When both are healthy, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are perhaps the most dangerous duo in baseball. Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting title last season, and Nolan Arenado is the best fielding third baseman this side of Manny Machado. The question marks at catcher and second base are too important to dismiss, but the lineup should be at-least league average. In contrast, the Rockies rotation is fairly pathetic. Their ace for the time being is the mediocre Jorge De La Rosa, as their best starter, Jhoulys Chacin, is out with right shoulder issues. The rest of the rotation is less proven, as young pitchers Tyler Chatwood and Juan Nicasio will try to improve upon decent 2013 performances and new addition Jordan Lyles will attempt to prove his worth. The Rockies’ bullpen is actually fairly stout, as closer Rex Brothers will be joined by old yet effective reliever LaTroy Hawkins, but the Rockies pitching in general might be pretty difficult to stomach. The Rockies have reason to hope, but they won’t really be in contention this year due to the state of their rotation.

Verdict

Best Case- Tulo and CarGo stay healthy, the rotation is decent, and the Rockies contend until August.

Worst Case- Tulo and CarGo are hurt once again, the rotation is among the worst in the league, and the Rockies finish last in the West for the second consecutive year.

Tu

Tulo and CarGo are a potent combination when they are able to share the field.

5. San Diego Padres

The Padres were worse than their third-place finish let on last year, finishing 10 games under .500. That being said, their young core was improved, and the Padres will look for that improvement to continue in 2014. The lineup is not very strong, but it is fairly young. Everth Cabrera was an All-Star before his PED-related suspension last season, Jedd Gyorko will improve upon an impressive rookie performance, and Chase Headley will attempt to return to his 2012 level of performance, when he took home both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove for NL third basemen. The rest of the lineup, filled with players like Yonder Alonso and Nick Hundley, is a bit of a question mark, however.  On the other side of the field, the rotation potentially could be strong. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are both young and effective, and Eric Stults has a few years left at age 34. Midseason addition Ian Kennedy and free agent signee Josh Johnson could improve the staff if they can replicate their best performances, but that would be a long shot. The better-than-expected bullpen will be bolstered by the arrivals of Joaquin Benoit and Alex Torres, who join former All-Star Huston Street. Like most of the teams in the division, excluding the Dodgers, the Padres have solid young players, but seem unlikely to put the pieces together successfully this year.

Verdict

Best Case- The young core improves, Headley is once again a Silver Slugger, the rotation is decent, and the Padres look like they could contend in 2015.

Worst Case- The rotation crumbles, the young core looks shaky, and the Padres flounder.

 

Everth Cabrera will have to redeem himself following his Biogenesis suspension.

Everth Cabrera will have to redeem himself following his Biogenesis suspension.

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, MLB Preview