31 March 2016

2016 MLB Predictions

(Kansas City Star)
After decades of being among the laughingstocks of Major League Baseball, the Kansas City Royals got the last laugh this past fall as they won the 2015 World Series four games to one over the New York Mets. And once again, my preseason predictions were way off. But in the meantime, the Royals are looking to become the first team to repeat in 16 years as well as the first team to reach three straight World Series in 15 years. Naturally, both teams were the Yankees.

Will KC repeat? Will the Mets do one better than they did a year ago? Or will a fresh face win the Commissioner's Trophy? It is time for the exclusive B-Flo 360 MLB predictions for 2016.

EAST
1. New York Mets
After breaking through last season by reaching the World Series, the Mets are now one of the favorites to not only return to the World Series but to do one better and it is easy to see why. Their top four starters, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndegaard and Steven Matz, are certainly the top group in the majors and considering their respective ages, their futures are all bright. You can add Zach Wheeler once he returns from Tommy John Surgery. The key for the Metropolitans will be how much offense they can get. Having a full season of Yoenis Cespedes should help but they'll need a healthy Lucas Duda and some impact from outfielder Michael Conforto.

2. Washington Nationals
Washington was the big disappointment of a year ago and it helped cost Matt Williams his job. Now they brought in Dusty Baker but given his track record, I'm not certain how much of an improvement he'll actually be. It's not a question of talent with this team but it is a question of whether guys like Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman can bounce-back from disappointing 2015's. Bryce Harper is a budding superstar but will there be lingering issues with closer Jonathan Papelbon after last season's scuffle? Max Scherzer is an ace but will Baker run Stephen Strasburg into the ground as he has done past young pitchers?

3. Miami Marlins
We all know how talented both star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and star pitcher Jose Fernandez are but we have yet to see either of them on the field for a full season. Even if we get strong seasons from both, I find it tough to see this team making a playoff push. Don Mattingly is the new skipper in Miami but he's not exactly known for getting the most out of his teams. The pitching staff is not exactly deep beyond Fernandez and Wei-Yin Chin and leadoff hitter Dee Gordon is almost certain to be coming back to Earth after a strong 2015.

4. Atlanta Braves
In their final season at Turner Field before moving to the totally necessary Sun Trust Park, the Braves are effectively going nowhere. After all, they have dealt a number of key veterans over the past couple of seasons for prospects, including Andrelton Simmons to the Angels and Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks this offseason, You almost have to feel for first baseman Freddie Freeman as he has got almost nothing around him in the lineup other than some veteran holdovers and the pitching staff is thin behind Julio Teheran. I don't think they'll be as bad as the Phillies but they're much closer to the cellar than they are to third place.

5. Philadelphia Philies
Philadelphia lost 99 games a year ago and considering they didn't really get any better this offseason, 100 losses seems like a legitimate possibility. Jeremy Hellickson is going to be the team's Opening Day starter and that says all you need to know about the state of the team's rotation. There are a few intriguing prospects in the lineup for the Phillies, guys like third baseman Maikel Franco and outfielder Odubel Herrera, but even if Darin Ruf takes over first from Ryan Howard, this lineup is not good. If Pete Mackanin can get this club to fourth place, he should be happy.

CENTRAL
1. Chicago Cubs
This is all everyone is talking about coming into this season: will 2015 be the year? Of course, we have been down this road before with the Cubs but looking at this team on paper, it is easy to see why hopes are high on the North Side. The lineup looks very strong with new acquisitions Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist joining the mix of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. And ace Jake Arrieta was pretty freaking good last year and we all love manager Joe Maddon. If there is any one thing that could keep them from either winning or even getting to the World Series, it would be a lack of depth in the rotation behind Arrieta.

2. St. Louis Cardinals (Wild Card)
As I just mentioned, all the preseason talk is focused on the Cubs and rightfully so but as always, you know the Cardinals will be in the mix. After all, this is a team that just won over 100 games after losing Adam Wainwright for the season in late April. They already have some injury issues, most notably with shortstop Jhonny Peralta being out until the All-Star Break, and they will miss outfielders Jason Heyward, Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay. However, a solid rotation and a lineup that should benefit from full seasons from outfielders Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham will help keep St. Louis in the playoffs.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates
Despite spending a fraction of much of their competition, the Pirates have been a remarkable symbol of consistency these past three years with three straight NL Wild Card appearances. They will be in that mix again, especially considering they still have the terrific outfield combination of Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte in the middle of their lineup and a strong bullpen. Gerritt Cole is the legitimate ace the team has lacked but beyond him, can the Pirates continue their remarkable run of finding diamonds in the rough, this time with guys like Jon Niese, Ryan Vogelsong and Neftali Feliz? I'm not so sold and that could keep this team out of the playoffs.

4. Milwaukee Brewers
There's a sizable gap from third to fourth place in the NL Central down to a Milwaukee team without a whole lot going for it right now. If they want any shot at making it interesting, they'll have to be carried by their offense and that would mean big seasons from Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter. The pitching staff looks terrible with a top three of Matt Garza, Willy Peralta and Jimmy Nelson leading the charge. Fortunately for the Brewers faithful, the rebuilding process is underway.

5. Cincinnati Reds
Even with the always terrific Joey Votto holding down the fort at first base, and the always exciting Billy Hamilton tearing it up on the basepaths, this Reds team is clearly looking down the road. After all, trading away guys like third baseman Todd Frazier and closer Aroldis Chapman for prospects gives you that vibe. Simply because they played in a pretty good hitters park, their offense should be pretty good but their pitching is going to be very bad, and not just for the same reason. Save for Homer Bailey, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and won't pitch until around midseason, there are no proven arms in either the rotation or the bullpen.

WEST
1. San Francisco Giants
Whether or not you buy the whole even-year/odd-year stuff with the Giants, they do look poised to reclaim the NL West this year. The San Francisco offense was unexpectedly strong last season and should be so again, even as surprise third baseman Matt Duffy will likely take a step backwards. That's because they added a quality leadoff hitter in Denard Span and hopefully get a full season out of Hunter Pence while praying that Buster Posey continues to hold up. The Giants likely overpaid for Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, especially with how inconsistent both were last season, but both bring much-needed depth to the rotation behind Madison Bumgarner.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (Wild Card)
Time will tell if Dave Roberts will be an upgrade over Don Mattingly, although Mattingly was no Walter Alston, but what we do know is that he's got an expensive club with some notable flaws. Most notably is the rotation which features the pride of Highland Park High School, Clayton Kershaw, and little beyond him. The hope is that Japanese stud Kenta Maeda can make an immediate impact but even a strong rookie campaign from him may not be enough. The bullpen lacks depth as well and the lineup is thin as well. The Dodger offense should still be strong thanks to the usual suspects and with all eyes on star prospect Corey Seager at shortstop.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks
The comparisons were bound to come after an aggressive offseason with the Padres from a year ago but it seems like the Diamondbacks spent much more wisely than their division counterparts. They brought in a legitimate ace in Zach Grienke while trading for a pretty good starter in Shelby Miller (albeit one they overpaid for in giving up Ender Inciarte and last year's top pick Dansby Swanson) but while they'll definitely take a step forward, I'm not certain if they'll get back to the postseason. They'll need Patrick Corbin to return to form and another strong season from A.J. Pollock but at least they've got Paul Goldschmidt and he's elite.

4. San Diego Padres
So much for aiming to contend. After last year's bold offseason resulting in a pretty disappointing 74 win season, the Padres are back to rebuilding. There are still some solid pieces in the mix as Matt Kemp finished 2015 strong, Wil Myers is (hopefully healthy) and Alexei Ramirez should be a marked improvement at shortstop. The front of the rotation could be very good but only if James Shields rebounds from a surprisingly average 2015 and if Andrew Cashner can pitch more like the pitcher he was two years ago but we know Tyson Ross will be very good. All of that said, the lineup is still very thin and the bullpen may be a tire fire.

5. Colorado Rockies

The Rockies seem bound for the cellar in a strong division but we do know they will hit (especially considering where they play their games). Nolan Arenado is a star at the hot corner and Carlos Gonzalez had himself a very good 2015 as he was able to stay healthy and they will lead the offensive charge. But as always, it will come down to pitching, pitching and pitching for Colorado and beyond the veteran Jorge de la Rosa, there's not a whole lot of proven arms in the rotation. Now hopes are high for talented righties Chad Bettis and Jon Gray but we know how tough the altitude can be on young arms.

POSTSEASON
WILD CARD
Given that I think that the Dodgers may not be able to utilize Clayton Kershaw given the fight I think they'll have to undertake to get to the playoffs, I like St. Louis to win it here.
Pick: Cardinals

DIVISION SERIES
But just like I don't think the Cardinals have the depth to overtake the Cubbies in the divisional race, I think they will come up short against a team that is stronger from top to bottom.
Cubs in 3

The G-Men are good enough offensively to take it to the Mets pitching staff but in the end, the dominant front four for the Mets will be enough.
Mets in 5

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
This is the matchup that I think everyone wants to see in all of the postseason, World Series included. After all, it doesn't get much sexier than the matchup of the Cubs offense and the Mets pitching. I think the Mets are good enough offensively and I think that will power them back to the World Series.
Mets in 7

EAST
1. Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays look like the favorite once again in the AL East but what could make things interesting is their rotation. They lost David Price in free agency to the Red Sox  and so now Marcus Stroman is the ace of this rotation. You could do a lot worse than him and Marco Estrada but beyond that, it gets a little hairy. Luckily for them, they have one of the truly great offenses in baseball. When you can throw out there Josh Donaldson-Jose Bautista-Edwin Encarnacio,-Troy Tulowitzki as your 2-5 in your lineup, that's pretty freaking good.

2. New York Yankees
If we have learned anything from the run of success from the Royals, it is having a lock-down bullpen can go a long way. The Yankees are going to try that theory on for size as they will have the best bullpen in the majors. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, although he's hurt, who already made for a strong pen but now after trading for Aroldis Chapman, albeit despite accusations of domestic violence that led to a 30 games suspension, look out. They'll shorten games greatly but a rotation that has struggled with injuries in the past needs to stay healthy. It would also be nice if Nathan Eovaldi could finally break out. The lineup isn't getting any younger and needs to stay healthy after a solid 2015.

3. Boston Red Sox
He didn't come cheap by any extent but David Price should be the ace that the Sox have sorely needed for several years. However, he doesn't answer all of Boston's rotation issues as behind him, there are a lot of questions. They'll need Clay Buchholz to stay healthy and for Seton Hall Prep legend Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly to bounce back bad seasons. Craig Kimbrel should be a big boost to the back of the bullpen while the defense should improve by moving Hanley Ramirez from left to first. The lineup should be good once again, but they'll need a bounce back from Ramirez as well as a solid season from new third baseman

4. Tampa Bay Rays
We know the pitching will be strong down in Tampa, that is their modus operandi, but it won't matter if their offense continues to underachieve. Their offense was one of the worst in the Junior Circuit this season and their only addition of any significance was outfielder Corey Dickerson and he's a little bit of a question outside of Coors Field. Evan Longoria has been sliding but they'll need him to stabilize, Steven Souza to improve and Desmond Jennings to stay healthy. But should the rotation stay healthy, they'll be competitive at the very least.

5. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles have doubled down on the power as the driving force of their offense by bringing in Pedro Alvarez and Mark Trumbo. They have quality bats in Chris Davis and Manny Machado and Adam Jones and Matt Wieters but they don't have a lot of good speed, average or on-base guys. The pitching staff is going to have to be the difference and I just don't see that happening. They will really need strong campaigns from Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Miguel Gonzalez but I'm not sold. At the very least, the back of their bullpen is terrific.

CENTRAL
1. Kansas City Royals
Kansas City continues to get no respect but hey, they just keep on winning. They did lose Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist in free agency but importantly, they were able to bring back Alex Gordon which was huge. He'll be back in the middle of a pretty strong lineup led by Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas. Their defense should be very good yet again and their bullpen is still one of the finest in all of baseball. But once again, the questions are whether the rotation can hold up. They overpaid Ian Kennedy, who they hope will benefit from playing in a pitcher's park, while Edinson Volquez is overmatched as an ace. Yordano Ventura has to take a step forward.

2. Cleveland Indians (Wild Card) 
The Indians have been likened to an American League version of the Mets and it is not exactly a far-fetched comparison. After all, their pitching rotation is one of the best in baseball. Corey Kluber was great last season even as he dipped a little from his awesome 2014, Danny Salazer is one of my favorites and Carlos Carrasco feels poised for a big 2016. Even Trevor Bauer, who has yet to break through, gives you his fair share of K's. The key will be the lineup as they'll need a healthy Yan Gomes behind the plate, repeat performances from rising star Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis as well as a return to form from Carlos Santana and newcomers Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe.

3. Detroit Tigers
Not many folks saw the Tigers finishing in last place last season and so they responded in a big way this offseason, bringing in Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Upton and Francisco Rodriguez. All should be useful contributors but this team still has some key holes and weaknesses. The rotation behind Zimmermann is spotty so they'll need a resurgent Justin Verlander and solid work from the rising Daniel Norris. And the aging veterans in their lineup have to continue to stay healthy and maintain their levels of production.

4. Chicago White Sox
The whole Adam LaRoche-Kenny Williams brouhaha is a total mess and it has the potential of causing some serious issues in the locker room. We will have to see how it could potentially impact a team that does have goals of getting back to the postseason. They will need the newly-acquired Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie to be immediate contributors to help a punchless offense as well as Melky Cabrera to rebound from a disappointing 2015. At least they've got Jose Abreu in the mix and he's terrific. Chris Sale is one of the elite pitchers in the game and Jose Quintana is better than his win totals indicate. Meanwhile, Carlos Rodon is very talented but needs better control and the rest of the rotation is a total mess.

5. Minnesota Twins
Tell me you foresaw the Twins finishing about .500 and in second last season and I'll show you an eight dollar bill. But alas, it's the world we live in. I do think the Twins will take a step back after a very quiet offseason in which much of the rest of the division got better. The offense, even with a nice debut from Miguel Sano, was awful last season and even with a full season of hyped prospect Byron Buxton, I don't see it being much better in 2016. The rotation did a decent job last season but could definitely be better if they get a more consistent Phil Hughes and if prospect Jose Berrios makes a big impact when he hits the bigs when he debuts.

WEST
1. Houston Astros
Houston returned to the playoffs last season for the first time in a decade, earlier than many folks expected. Therefore, many are expecting the Astros to be a serious World Series contender this season. They do have the pieces and especially so if both George Springer, who missed a chunk of the season due to injuries, and budding superstar Carlos Correa, who wasn't called up until June, play full seasons. They may strike out a lot but their offense has some great pieces and are fun to watch. Dallas Kuechel was spectacular at times last season but Lance McCullers's shoulder injury will be one to watch. They may have overpaid for closer Ken Giles but he will be an upgrade.

2. Texas Rangers (Wild Card)
The Rangers got really hot when they needed to down the stretch and it helped to propel them to a division crown. Bringing in Cole Hamels was huge and should Yu Darvish come back strong when he returns from Tommy John, that's a really strong one-two punch. Their rotation is as deep as it has been in recent years while the bullpen really came on in the second half. The key players in the middle of their lineup, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo, are not getting any younger but the hope is that guys like Delino DeShields Jr. and Mitch Moreland can keep it up from their strong 2015's.

3. Seattle Mariners
A chic team for many to get to the World Series last year but as we all know, that didn't happen. It is tough to get great offense at Safeco Field but the team's offense has to be better. Robinson Cano was disappointing last season despite the big contract but considering he should be fully healthy this season, I think he can return to form. I don't think you can expect Nelson Cruz to be as good in 2016 as he was last year but I think Kyle Seager will prove to be worth his big contract. As we all know, Felix Hernandez is great and Hisashi Iwakuma is a very solid number two starter but I'm not certain what they'll get from the rest of the pitching staff.

4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Mike Trout is the best player we have seen in baseball in many years but in baseball, one player can only take so far. Beyond him, the lineup is not particularly imposing especially as you factor in an aging Albert Pujols right behind Trout and even then, he's still one of the few solid bats in the mix as well as outfielder Koke Calhoun. The pitching staff was pretty middling a year ago and especially so when you don't factor in ace Garrett Richards and I don't see that unit getting any better. And most importantly for a team that may be rebuilding soon, their farm system is bad to boot!

5. Oakland Athletics
The A's won a hearty 68 games this past season and they may have to fight to do better in the won total. This roster is, frankly, a mess. Sonny Gray as an ace is pretty good but the rest of the rotation is a big question and the bullpen, even after bringing in guys like Ryan Madson and Liam Hendricks, doesn't look all that good either unless Sean Doolittle can return healthy. The offense will probably have to carry this team but they're not exactly a stout group either. There is some decent power among Josh Reddick, Khris Davis and Danny Valencia.


POSTSEASON
WILD CARD
The offensive advantage, as well as the homefield advantage, that will be favoring the Rangers here I think will be the difference.
Pick: Rangers

DIVISION SERIES
Hey, another divisional matchup in the Division Series. Similarly as with on the Senior Circuit side, the superior club will be able to sail on to the ALCS and we all know that is the Astros.
Astros in 4

Can the Royals do it again, get back to the ALCS? This is the point where that World Series run ends. The pitching won't be able to hold up against the Jays' loaded offense and a rising Toronto rotation will be good enough to make the difference.
Blue Jays in 4

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Naturally, the two best teams in the American League will face off in the ALCS and yes, these two are the top clubs in that mix. I do think it is the Astros's time to get back to the World Series and compete for their first ever World Series.
Astros in 6

WORLD SERIES
Call it East Coast Bias (although the folks that know know that I don't particularly care for that team from Queens) or whatever you want. I think that the spectacular pitching of the Mets is good enough to carry them all the way to their first Commissioner's Trophy since that legendary 1986 squad.
Mets in 6

3 comments:

  1. Hi Ben
    As a Blue-Jay fan I would settle for ALCS (same as 2015). It is no disgrace nor failure to get that far. After all only one team can win the thing and if it can't be the Jays then at least credit them for a divisional title and play-off victory (assuming your prediction pans out). Just as long as Kenny Albert doesn't call any of their play-off games... As for your predictions I agree the Mets have a great shot at winning the lot but KC won't give it up without a fight.

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    1. Well then your NOT a true fan then because it might NOT be a failure but it sure is a disappointment & IF you don't like listening to Kenny OR anyone else then don't mute the tv

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    2. I have been a Blue-Jay Fan since 1983 so I do consider myself to be one given that I have followed them through the highs and many lows. I didn't say it wouldn't be a disappointment - I said it isn't necessarily a failure. How can a divisional champ be classed as a failure? By the time the play-offs arrive who knows how many injuries a team may be enduring... there are many X factors to be considered by the time Fall arrives. The most a fan can hope for is his/her team to be competitive and the rest is a bonus. Ben has already predicted the Mets to be in the World Series and that may well come true but for a Mets' fan to ASSUME that is risky. I hope the Jays make it to October but if the divisional title is ours and we lose in the ALCS I would never classify that as a duff year. Putting Kenny Albert on mute definitely improves the quality of the play-by-play.

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