Ladies and gentlemen, here are my 2015 Major League Baseball predictions.
1. Boston Red Sox
The last time the Red Sox were coming off a last-place finish in the AL East, they won the World Series. Expecting that to happen again could prove to be wishful thinking but the Sox do look like the finest team in the division. The key reason behind that is an offense that could end up being the top offense in the majors after the expensive acquisitions of third baseman Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, who will play left field. The key pieces remain in David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli and the talented outfielder Mookie Betts has folks excited. What may not have folks excited is the rotation, a unit that struggled last season and appears to lack a true ace after bringing in Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello to join Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly. However, a strong defense could help the pitchers look better than they are.
The division appears pretty wide open and any of the top three teams could feasibly get a divisional crown. That said, the Red Sox look like the best bet.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
Given the state of the division, the Jays can win the division even with their pitching questions but that middle of their lineup may only be able to take them so far.
3. Baltimore Orioles
The O's surprised a lot of folks with their run to the division title last season especially as Manny Machado and Matt Wieters missed significant chunks of the season due to injury, as well as Chris Davis missing due to a suspension for Adderall (and he had struggled greatly beforehand. Given all of those guys will be back (although not immediately back for Wieters), a powerful offense should be able to withstand the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, even after doing nothing this offseason. However, their starting rotation is still far from imposing where they have some decent arms but nothing fearsome (unless Kevin Gausman breaks out).
Buck Showalter has the reputation that he has for a reason and he proved it last year. I don't think they will be quite as good as they were a year ago since I think their pitching may get exposed but in a division that may have some parity this year, they can certainly win the division again.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
After losing both GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon, the key brain-trust behind the emergence of the Rays after a decade of bad baseball, the Rays poised to take a step back. They did not do anything exciting in the offseason save for the big Wil Myers trade to San Diego which brought in, among others, outfielder Steven Souza and catcher Rene Rivera, as well as hiring Kevin Cash as the new manager. The lineup is not very strong outside of Evan Longoria (who disappointed a year ago) but the rotation looks sharp as always even as Matt Moore is not expected back until midseason as he recovers from Tommy John surgery and as Alex Cobb is hurt also. The defense also looks good, especially in the outfield, at the corners of the infield and behind the plate with Rivera.
Given their strength in their pitching, Tampa Bay could get in the mix but it seems like the goals for this season are just to get back to .500.
5. New York Yankees
In my lifetime, the Yankees have not had a losing season. The last time it happened was in 1992, the first season under Buck Showalter. It has been a tremendous run of success for the club but now as the last vestige of the glory years of the 1990's has retired in Derek Jeter, a rare losing record or an even rarer finish in the cellar seems like a distinct possibility. It is an old team with only one lineup regular under 31 and one that could have significant struggles staying healthy. The rotation actually looks solid but for that to happen, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda all have to stay healthy and Nathan Eovaldi, acquired from Miami in December, has to have a breakthrough year. The bullpen looks strong on paper even after David Robertson signed with the White Sox, but it still is not certain who the closer is. The defense of the team may just be the strength of the team (going from Jeter to just about anybody at short is an upgrade, especially somebody like Didi Gregorious), but their lineup will need a bunch of bounce-back seasons from key contributors. Oh, and we've got A-Rod back.
Honestly, it is not that crazy that if everything comes together that the Yankees make some waves in the AL East and be a surprise entrant in the Wild Card race, but that will take a lot of favorable bounces.
1. Cleveland Indians
Cleveland feels like one of the chic teams this year; hell, Sports Illustrated has them winning the World Series. This does give the appearance of a team poised to win their first division since 2007. They feature a pretty good offense that returns all of their key guys, including left fielder Michael Brantley (who was spectacular last season), first baseman Carlos Santana and catcher Yan Gomes, plus it sees a big upgrade at DH with the trade for Brandon Moss from Oakland. They also feature the reigning Cy Young Award winner in Corey Kluber and they have got some talented arms behind him in Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer (I would add Danny Salazar to that list but he's been sent down again). Manager Terry Francona also has a solid bullpen to take advantage of as well.
The potential is here and the club has a solid hand at the helm in Francona but will it all come together?
2. Detroit Tigers (Wild Card)
The Tigers no longer look like the dominant force in the AL Central, a division they have won four years in a row, but they still look like a solid bet to get back to the postseason. Even after losing a guy like Max Scherzer, they still have a solid rotation as now David Price will lead the charge with Anibal Sanchez falling in behind him ahead of a declining Justin Verlander. The lineup should be deep once again, especially as Yoenis Cespedes replaces Torii Hunter in the outfield, and Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez will team up for an elite mid-lineup duo. Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias should be a nice keystone combo. However, the team's woes in their bullpen look like they will continue yet again.
I would be surprised if the Tigers were to miss the postseason altogether but this is a roster that does have some flaws.
3. Chicago White Sox
Both Chicago clubs had themselves very good offseasons but the White Sox may have had the better offseason of the two. They already had a decent core with star first baseman Jose Abreu and ace Chris Sale but they went out and spent $132 million to upgrade their offense by bringing in outfielder Melky Cabrera, first baseman Adam LaRoche and utility guy Emilio Bonifacio while also upgrading their pitching by trading for Jeff Samardzija from Oakland and signing closer David Robertson and lefty Zach Duke. The top three of their rotation in Sale, Samardzija and Jose Quintana is very good (the back two spots are not that good) and now their bullpen should be greatly improved.
I am not quite ready to predict Robin Ventura leading this team to the postseason for the first time since 2008 considering there still are a couple of holes on the roster, but they have definitely upgraded their club.
4. Kansas City Royals
The Royals were truly an awesome story last postseason as they came damn close to winning the World Series in their first postseason appearance since winning the 1985 World Series. Even after such an amazing run, it seems like it is going to be tough for the Royals just to get back to the postseason. The team has a ton of speed as well as a great bullpen, both of which carried them during their wild offseason run, but this is a team that will likely struggle to get on-base and will certainly miss ace James Shields, who signed with San Diego. Their signings of pitcher Edinson Volquez, right fielder Alex Rios and DH Kendrys Morales were not that great in my mind and now there is a lot of pressure on the very talented Yordano Ventura to develop as the club's ace.
The goodwill from last year's run will last for many years and hopefully will cover what is likely to be a disappointing 2015 campaign.
5. Minnesota Twins
The Twins, in their first year under new manager Paul Molitor, are not going to make a playoff push this year but that's okay. This team is clearly focused on the future and it is easy to see why with a number of talented prospects like outfielder Byron Buxton, third baseman Miguel Sano, pitchers Jose Berriors, Kohl Stewart and Alex Meyer, as well as some young regulars DH Kennys Vargas and outfielder Oswaldo Arcia. In the interim, their offense should be solid once again (they were underrated last season) and they have got some guys on their club that can run but their pitching, beyond a resurgent Phil Hughes, looks like a question even after the team spent some coin to bring in Ervin Santana, and their defense could be terrible as well.
Molitor made sense as a hiring because of his experience working in the Minnesota system considering all the youngsters in the mix. If they approach .500 this season, you could color me surprised.
1. Seattle Mariners
Could the Mariners be the best team in the American League? Grantland's Ben Lindbergh notes that they do not have an obvious weakness on their roster. Their lineup, generally on the weaker side of the offensive spectrum, looks to be pretty good as it features one of the elite players in baseball in second baseman Robinson Cano, budding star third baseman Kyle Seager and DH Nelson Cruz, who is coming off a resurgent and powerful 2014 in Baltimore. You know the pitching will be good as it was last season thanks to the elite Felix Hernandez and he is backed up by Hisashi Iwakuma and the talented youngsters, lefty James Paxton and righty Taijuan Walker. That's not to mention a loaded bullpen.
It has been fourteen years since that crazy 116 win Mariners team won the AL West, the last time the franchise made the playoffs. That streak may just end this year.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Wild Card)
The Angels only won 98 games last season but they did get swept by the Royals in the ALDS, so there's that. Their offense should be very good, especially considering they have Mike Trout the Gawd, but they may not be as good with some of their key guys like Albert Pujols getting older and the lack of a suitable replacement for Howie Kendrick, whose trading will also hurt the defense. The pitching looks like a question mark, not only with Garrett Richards being for a little bit and Tyler Skaggs being out for the season and the decline of Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. The team had to part with Kendrick to get the highly-touted Andrew Heaney but he may have to contribute right away.
Anaheim should still be a playoff team but it looks like they have gotten passed in the division.
3. Oakland Athletics
Billy Beane and the A's had themselves a pretty active and sort of wacky offseason that saw them part with Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Derek Norris and Jeff Samardzija but considering the team's collapse to barely making the postseason, maybe making some moves makes. I loved the acquisition of Ben Zobrist from Tampa Bay and he may just come in and, besides Josh Reddick, be their best hitter (which probably does not speak the best for their offense), Marcus Semien (acquired in the Samardzija trade) should settle the shortstop position for the future but the team also overpaid for Billy Butler to be their DH. The rotation looks the strength of the club with Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir at the top with the talented, albeit unproven, Jesse Hahn behind them.
Beane has made his nut from being unconventional but he will have his work cut out for him with this team in terms of improving on last season.
4. Houston Astros
Hey, the Astros are starting to look like a major league ballclub once again! Their offense should be a fun one to watch have they have a ton of power behind a full season of George Springer, the newly acquired Evan Gattis from Atlanta, a potentially resurgent Colby Rasmus and the returning Chris Carter, not to mention a two-time All Star at the top of the lineup. However, this lineup is going to strike out an estimated 750,000 times, or something like that. An atrocious bullpen should be better but the rotation still leaves something to be desired behind Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel.
Hitting .500 for the first time since 2008 may be a little bit of a stretch but considering where this franchise has been since then, I think they'll take it.
5. Texas Rangers
New manager Jeff Banister gets the seize the reins of a team that was a true mess in 2014 amid a season destroyed by injuries. And it already looks like this season will be hurt by injuries already, particularly with the loss of Yu Darvish for the season thanks to Tommy John. Without him, a weak pitching staff looks like an abject trainwreck behind Derek Holland and Yovani Gallardo. It is a shame that the pitching will be a mess once again because the lineup, specifically the middle of the order with Shin-Soo Choo, Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder, will not be terrible. Of course, that is provided that the injury bug does not plague the Rangers any further.
This season already seems like a bit of a lose cause in Arlington but there may be some hope in the horizon with a solid farm system.
Angels vs. Tigers
Both clubs will feature strong offenses this season as both did a year ago but the Tigers would have the superior pitching. All in all, I think they may be the superior overall club and I think that will power them to the ALDS.
Mariners vs. Tigers
While the Tigers were the superior club in their Wild Card matchup, I find it hard to think they will be the better team here. Look for the M's to take advantage of the longer time off to set up their rotation which will be the difference.
Mariners in 4
Red Sox vs. Indians
Can a decent but not great pitching staff for the Red Sox outduel a talented but largely inexperienced Indians rotation? I think a more balanced Cleveland club will prevail by getting to the Red Sox pitchers while slowing down a potent Boston offense just enough.
Indians in 5
Mariners vs. Indians
Who doesn't love matchups in the LCS of teams that did not make the playoffs the year prior? Both teams are very talented and are poised for big breakthroughs in a wide open American League. However, the better team from top to bottom here is the Mariners and they will show that en route to their first ever World Series appearance.
Mariners in 6
1. Washington Nationals
adding a guy like Max Scherzer to an already-stacked rotation has that kind of effect on you, especially when it bumps a guy like Tanner Roark to the bullpen. And while there is so much talk about the rotation, it is easy to overlook a pretty darn good lineup. Bryce Harper has been very good when healthy, and it is easy to forget that the guy is 22. Anthony Rendon was an All-Star last season and he is good enough to get a little NL MVP buzz. And guys like first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, outfielder Jayson Werth and shortstop Ian Desmond are no schmucks.
Let's be frank about the expectations here: it is World Series or bust for Matt Williams and the Nats.
2. Miami Marlins (Wild Card)
The Marlins took a step forward last season, even as they lost Jose Fernandez to Tommy John surgery in mid-May. Fernandez will return around July and he will join a rotation that performed relatively well without last year and returns holdovers Henderson Alvarez and Jarred Cosart as well as the offseason additions of Mat Latos and Dan Haren. While Martin Prado and Dee Gordon should help to improve a terrible infield, the core of this offense and of this team has to be the outfield, one of the finest outfields in the majors. Giancarlo Stanton has one of the elite power bats in the majors and was awesome last season, while centerfielder Marcell Ozuna and leftfielder Christian Yelich are pretty darn good in their own right and could each be poised for big seasons.
A lot of folks are high on the Marlins and their reasons are clear: this is a young and talented club that could be poised for a big breakthrough. I think they'll make their first playoff appearance since winning the 2003 World Series.
3. New York Mets
Mets fans have been suffering for several years now and they have not had a winning season since the collapse in 2008 in the last year of Shea Stadium. This should be the year that that streak ends. The reason why it will end has to do with their deep starting rotation, even after Zach Wheeler was lost for the season after needing Tommy John. Getting a guy back like Matt Harvey is huge, he only was a Cy Young winner his last full season, and they also have the defending Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom as well as some talented prospects awaiting in the wings in Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. However, the lineup still leaves something to be desired outside of third baseman David Wright. The team made an bizarre signing to say the least in Michael Cuddyer, who really should be a DH and won't be in the friendly confines of Coors Field anymore. He and Curtis Granderson will be key if this offense is to improve if the Metropolitans want to return to postseason play.
4. Atlanta Braves
In almost any other division, this would be a cellar-dweller but fortunately, the Phils are in this division to keep Atlanta out of last. The positives for the Braves are that
Barring something surprising, this is looking like the worst season for the Braves since 1990.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
It took longer than it should have but GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. seems to have finally realized to begin a rebuilding process for the Phils. It is not out of the realm of possibility by any stretch that this could be the worst team in baseball, especially as it seems very likely that ace Cole Hamels, closer Goodluck Jonathon Papelbon as well as any veteran with any value on the roster at the moment are not likely to be on the team by the conclusion of the season. The team didn't really add anything in the offseason that would signify anything but a rebuilding process and that is ultimately a good thing. Well, everything for Phillies fans.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
While the Nationals have won the headlines this offseason and the Dodgers have their free-spending ways, the Cardinals may have fallen underneath the cracks as much as a potential World Series champion could be. They feature a strong rotation that is deep even with the trade of Shelby Miller to Atlanta and is led by the mainstay Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and the veteran John Lackey. Their bullpen is not that spectacular but the depth in their rotation should help in that regard. The lineup did not have that much power a year ago but that should improve after the acquisition of Jason Heyward in the Miller trade. All in all, it is a balanced lineup featuring a nice blend of experience and youth.
We all hate the #BFIB and the Cardinal Way but nobody should be surprised if either are celebrating a championship come fall.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates (Wild Card)
It has been a very long time since the Pirates have won a division title but this could be the year in which that streak ends. They feature a very good lineup without much if anything in terms of a weak spot, save for potentially at catcher, and they also just may have the best outfield in baseball with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregor Planco. Their rotation looks pretty good as Gerrit Cole looks like a star in the making while A.J. Burnett, returning from a one season sojoun on the other side of the state, and Francisco Liriano, should they stay healthy, should bring some quality starts as well. Their bullpen largely returns intact and is a top-notch unit.
Remember when the Pirates were the joke of the Senior Circuit? That's so 2010.
3. Chicago Cubs
The Cubbies are poised for a return to the top of the NL, but I do not think they are quite there yet. Of course, they made strong moves in that direction this offseason by hiring a top-notch manager like Joe Maddon and bringing in an ace like Jon Lester. There are a number of stellar prospects on the way like Kris Bryant, Javier Baex and Jorge Soler among others. And the current roster already has a pair of foundation pieces like first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro. While there is some reason to be excited on the North Side, the rotation behind Lester is not all that impressive and the back-half of the lineup, at least as of right now, is not all that much to be excited to be about.
Even as the Cubs are perhaps a year away from real contention, they could still slide into a Wild Card spot this year.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
The pitching of the Brewers was not a strength last season and it looks to be in even worse shape this season with the departures of Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada. If the Brewers want to contend, they are going to need solid campaigns from Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse and for the promising Mike Fiers to put everything together for a full season. That could be a lot to ask for, especially since their bullpen may be a mess yet again. Their lineup should be strong with a number of quality players, like MVP contender Jonathan Lucroy behind the play, centerfielder Carlos Gomez, third baseman Aramis Ramirez among others, and Adam Lind should be a nice upgrade at first base. And if Ryan Braun rebounds from another disappointing season, the Brew Crew could be sleepers.
5. Cincinnati Reds
It seems kind of funny to say that the Reds have no pitching when they feature one of the elite pitchers in the game in Johnny Cueto but behind him, little more than slim pickings. The fact that the team has had to struggle just to put together a rotation only shows how much of a problem the pitching is going to be this year. In fact, this team could remind you of some of those mid-to-late 2000's Reds teams that lacked pitching but had a good number of power, which this lineup should have. Therefore, it would be important if Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips all rebound from disappointing seasons.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
While the Nats may indeed have the better rotation, the Dodgers' starting five is pretty damn good in their own right. The greatness of Clayton Kershaw need not be described and when you have a guy like Zack Greinke be a second starter, you're already in really good shape. The remaining three starters in Hyun-Jin Ryu (when he's healthy), Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson are solid. Los Angeles also features a pretty good and balanced lineup that got better thanks to the additions of second baseman Howie Kendrick, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and catcher Yasmani Grandal. After all, who doesn't love Yasiel Puig?
When you are spending over $275 million on payroll, I think the expectations are clear.
2. San Diego Padres
After an eighth-straight season in which the team missed the playoffs, the Padres embarked on a pretty aggressive offseason that saw that attempting to add some punch to a, well, punchless offense. They acquired, all via trades, outfielders Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton, third baseman Will Middlebrooks and catcher Derek Norris. All of those guys have a good amount of power and should help improve the San Diego offense, even as their infield is still a work in progress and their defense looks terrible. They don't need a huge deal of production from their offense considering their pitching staff is pretty good and only got better with the big-dollar addition of James Shields. The holdovers in Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross are all solid in their own right.
San Diego is far from a World Series contender but they are good enough to be in the tight Wild Card contention in the NL.
UPDATE: San Diego has traded for closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielder Melvin Upton, Jr. Bringing in the best closer in the game certainly helps but I'm still not there on the Padres making the postseason.
3. San Francisco Giants
It really was wild to see the Giants go on to win the World Series but hey, that's baseball. It also was an even-numbered year last year so that naturally means that they are going to miss the playoffs this year, right? Well I do not have them making the playoffs but that is not the reason why. I find it hard to look at this team, one that squeaked into the postseason last year, and see it improved after replacing Pablo Sandoval with Casey McGehee and now with some concerns with their rotation as their star and horse, Madison Bumgarner, threw a ton of innings last year and could be prone for a step back while the back-end of the rotation isn't in great shape. Their lineup is largely the same and Buster Posey is tremendous but will the offense be enough to propel another run?
4. Colorado Rockies
It is the same old song and dance for the Rockies: what will the pitching provide? We know the offense will be strong, especially if Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki can actually stay healthy, if Nolan Arenado continues to show promise at the hot corner and if Justin Morneau shows last year was not a fluke. Their defense also looks very good which should help the pitching staff out. The pitching was the worst in baseball a season ago and thus could use all the help they could get, and it is a unit that really will not see that many changes this year. After all, if it's broke, why fix it?
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
Tony La Russa is now running the baseball operations out in the desert and while anything will be better than the nonsense that Kirk Gibson brought to the ballpark these past couple of seasons, this teams looks terrible once again. The pitching staff does not look good at all and it could sorely use a resurgent Patrick Corbin, who will return from Tommy John surgery, and the talented Archie Bradley to have a strong campaign. It also will be key for a healthy season from first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and for the powerful Cuban newcomer Yasmany Tomas, wherever he plays, to be more than just the second coming of Mark Trumbo, who is still in the mix.
All in all, do not expect a great deal out of these guys.
Pirates vs. Marlins
Even as anything can and will happen in these Wild Card contests, I think the superior team will come out on top this time. That would be the Pirates.
Nationals vs. Pirates
Clint Hurdle will have the Pirates game for anything with the Nationals and their offense gives them a shot to pull off an upset. However, the big edge in the rotation tilts this series cleanly to Washington.
Nationals in 3
Dodgers vs. Cardinals
It seems like these two ballclubs are drawn to each other in the postseason. This would be the top LDS matchup to watch since these are two very balanced teams with good lineups and good pitching. While their bullpen issues are still worrisome, I think the Dodgers will get the better of the Cardinals this go-around.
Dodgers in 7
Nationals vs. Dodgers
Pitching, pitching and even more pitching. These are the two best rotations in baseball and the fact that they would be facing off makes such a scenario exciting. The Dodgers have struggled to get past the NLCS while the Nationals have never even gotten past the NLDS while in D.C. I think that now is their time and their superior bullpen will be the difference.
Nationals in 7
2015 World SeriesI picked the Nationals to make the World Series did not go so well as they failed to even make the playoffs that season. Maybe I am drinking the Kool-Aid because of where I currently am but I truly think that this Nats team is the finest in baseball from top to bottom and I think they will meet the massive expectations by bringing Washington its first baseball championship since 1924.
Nationals in 5