Tagged: Andrew McCutchen

Predictions Sure to Go Wrong 6.0

Here we go into a new season where anything can happen. We had a lackluster off-season with a sputtering hot stove that saw some record-breaking contracts but weeks of “Will he or won’t he” that belongs on the Lifetime Channel rather than the MLB news wire. Teams seem willing to bet big on prospects but undervalue proven commodities. This is the same spirit we’re taking when we peer into our cracked crystal ball to make predictions about the 2019 season. We’re going to switch things up starting with the American League and Bernie is going to report on why they will or won’t do what we think they’ll do.

American League

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
AL East Yankees Rojo Sox (yeah I said it) Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
Red Sox* Bandwagoners* Red Sux* Red Sox* Tea Partiers* Red Sox
Rays Canadians Rays Rays* Rays Rays
Blue Jays Devil Rays Blue Jays Blue Jays Pajaritos Blue Jays
Orioles Cal Ripkens hOribles Crush Davis Express Blue Jays Orioles

 

New York Yankees

One hundred wins last season and they end up a Wild Card. They blasted more home runs in a season than any team before. The rotation didn’t quite hold up and the bats went a bit cold in the Postseason. They shored up their pitching rotation in the off-season by trading for James Paxton and re-signing J.A. Happ. Masahiro Tanaka may have developed a pitch that could keep him from getting blown up every five games. Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar had a season in the Bronx to settle in and help recreate a new Murderers’ Row.

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Giancarlo Stanton will be flipping his bat and trotting around the bases plenty in 2019. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Boston Red Sox

They’re the reigning champs and they did it with a collective play that didn’t focus on one player’s excellence. Mookie Betts may be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors and Chris Sale wouldn’t surprise anyone if he makes another case to win the Cy Young. Craig Kimbrel hanging out in free agency does not help shorten games. We have to give the defending champs their due but they also didn’t do much in the off-season. Resting on your laurels while everyone else is re-configuring to beat the champs may not be the most sound strategy.

Tampa Bay Rays

Blake Snell threw the kind of fire that could have started the California wildfires last year. The Rays got him to bite on a 5 year, $50 million contract with a $3 million signing bonus. While it’s a big jump for him, it’s not elite ace money. The Rays are trying to win on a budget but that only works when you’ve got an analytical or strategic edge over your competition. You can’t Moneyball when everyone else is reading the statistics the same way. Then again, they probably would run away with the AL Central…

Toronto Blue Jays

There have been a lot of near misses with the Blue Jays’ recent signings. Randal Grichuk, Ken Giles, Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz…these are all (or were) solid role players to support a more elite group of players. *cough*Vladimir Guerrero Jr.*cough*

Baltimore Orioles

Mark Trumbo’s knee is looking better. Crush Davis is still their best option a first base? No left-handed pitching? Is Trey Mancini the only glimmer of hope on this roster? What happens is Jonathan Villar stays healthy and hits?

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
AL Central Spiders Twinkletits sTinkies Cleveland Twins Twins
Twins Wahoos Native Americans* Twinkies Wahoos Cleveland
White Sox Tigers Sox ChiSox White Sox White Sox
Royals Black Sox Tigers Tigers Royals Tigers
Tigers Monarchs Royals Royals Tigers Royals

 

Minnesota Twins

The firing of Paul Molitor shows the Twins front office is getting impatient for wins. Rocco Baldelli coached the Rays for a few seasons so he knows how to work with a budget and talent, however Molitor was really the best sort of balance between analytics and gut feeling for the game. Derek and I saw Miguel Sano hit a laser in Detroit during BP that rocked the brick wall beyond the centerfield fence. We agree it would have carried over 500 ft. Perhaps Nelson Cruz can help guide Sano towards his All Star potential. Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop, and Ronald Torreyes are solid pick ups to shore up the infield that’s covered by a great outfield of Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario. They’ve got the talent to compete but only in their division.

Miguel Sano.jpeg
Will Miguel Sano become the star Minnesota is hoping for? (Bruce Kluckhohn-Associated Press)

Cleveland Indians

Cleveland’s lineup is looking a bit battered but they truly do their damage through hustle and pitching. Well, the hustle seems to be worn out. What’s worse is the arms seem to have cooled. A few years ago facing Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Trevor Bauer would have seemed like swinging at ghosts. Now it seems that the only trouble with the rotation is staying alert enough to make contact. There’s still a deep well of talent here, it’s just worn down and needs a refresh.

Chicago White Sox

Eloy Jimenez is not the second coming but that’s because the White Sox’ front office had thought that about Yoan Moncada. Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon, and Ivan Nova make up a serviceable rotation but let’s be honest, the ChiSox are only getting third because of their divisional competition.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are pretty much the White Sox without the prospects.

Kansas City Royals

Danny Duffy has a shoulder impingement in his throwing shoulder. Salvador Perez is out, getting Tommy John surgery…as a catcher. I have more faith in Bartolo Colon being able to pitch through 9 innings than this team to win more than 50 games.

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
AL West Astros Colt .45’s Stros Astros Athletics Astros
Athletics* White Elephants* Ohtanis Oakland Astros* Athletics
Angels Trouts Athletics Angels Angels Angels
Mariners Walker Texas Rangers Mariners Seattle Mariners Mariners
Rangers Mariners Rangers Rangers Rangers Rangers

 

Houston Astros

These guys are a team of superstars that play like a team. Justin Verlander, George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman deliver on such a regular basis that support from guys like Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick coming into a hot streak is just overwhelming for most teams. There’s a certain level of excellence that you have to bring to beat these guys. Few teams have it and fewer can do it as consistently.

Oakland Athletics

This is a team that makes you go “Who is that?” and they consistently outperform the expectations of the “experts”. Just bear in mind that the A’s outperformed Houston in OPS, BA, and HRs last season. Sean Manaea threw a no-no last season and he’s leading a rotation that doesn’t have the same regression potential that Houston has.

Los Angeles Angels

Shohei Ohtani isn’t throwing this season. Mike Trout signed a landmark contract that’s prompting players to question the utility of free agency (but really, without Bryce Harper and Manny Machado doing what they did, Trout wouldn’t have gotten his deal). This is team that’s signaling that they want to win but really not showing people that they know how to win. They may end up like the Yankees of the early 2000’s with enormous salaries, big names, cracked lumber…but no hardware to show for it.

Trout.jpg
Mike Trout got paid, but can the Angels ever put together a winning team? (FTW-USA TODAY Sports)

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are a lot like a superb AAA with some hot prospects just waiting for a call up. It’s not a rotation but a one-two punch in Marco Gonzalez and Yusei Kikuchi and I wouldn’t want to go into a boxing match with that combo. King Felix might have a few good games in him this season but that’s not a lot to float by on. The high point of their season is already over, Ichiro played in Japan and then retired.

Texas Rangers

This is a team full of redemption stories in the making. I’m not holding my breath. New stadium for 2020 might be the most exciting off-season move.

National League

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
NL East Nationals Follies Braves Phillies Phillies Phillies
Phillies* Bravos* Harpers* Marlins* (yeah Jeets!) Braves* Braves
Braves Gnats Nationals Nationals Mets Nationals
Mets Amazins Yets Braves Nationals Mets
Marlins Fish Minor Lg Team Mets Marlins Marlins

 

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies picked up some good talent in Andrew McCutchen who had a bit of a refresh by the Bay and in the Bronx, Jean Segura who’s production and defense are constantly overlooked, and J.T. Realmuto, who’s on-base and slugging continue tracking better every year in the majors. We also saw Aaron Nola turn the corner and take over the mound like an elite ace. Jake Arrieta may not find the stride he had in Chicago but an improved lineup may make his job easier and bolster his confidence to hold things down. Let’s not forget that they also picked up a certain free agent that could amplify all of those previous moves by a huge leap – Bryce Harper.

Harper.jpg
Bryce Harper moved to Philadelphia, can he win in October? (Drew Hallowell/ Getty Images)

Atlanta Braves

The Braves sort of caught lightning in a bottle with the emergence of young prospects in Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. The signing of Josh Donaldson blocks Johan Camargo from the everyday lineup and puts him into a super utility role. When a young star like Freddie Freeman is one of your elder statesmen and you win the division, there’s a lot to like about this team. But the Braves probably had the largest range of predictions among The Winning Run’s team with first and fourth place finishes.

Washington Nationals

There’s a lot of killer talent on this team. They might actually be better without Bryce Harper in their outfield. But just like the city they play for, there are a lot of management and clubhouse synergy issues to overcome.

New York Mets

Speaking of management issues…there is still an enviable amount of pitching talent in Queens. The Mets need to stop trying to be the Yankees and embrace the chaos and circus of the New York sports media. Less bro, more fun would go a long way into turning this team into winners. Oh and either fire the entire medical staff or protect their positions and salaries from the front office. Either way, there are too many injuries for this to be anything but incompetence or interference, neither is good.

Miami Marlins

The Marlins will not do what the Phillies did last year. Kevin’s just doubling down because when it doesn’t work out, he can brush it off as a joke. Derek Jeter may be on track to becoming to baseball ownership/front office management what Michael Jordan has been to basketball.

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
NL Central Cardinals Cards Brewers Brew Crew Cardinals Cardinals
Cubs Harray Carays Cards* Cardinals* Brewers* Brewers
Brewers Brewtus Maximus Reds Reds Reds Cubs
Reds Better Dead than Red Cubs Cubbies Cubs Reds
Pirates Bucs Privates Pirates Pirates Pirates

 

St. Louis Cardinals

I feel like a broken record. This team just reloads. Unlike last year, I think they won the off-season by trading for Paul Goldschmidt. They have great players in the rest of their positions or a deep bench to platoon. Yadier Molina is a cyborg because getting into that crouch in your late 30’s is just crazy, or I’m just jealous. Hopefully Molina is wearing a bulletproof cup this year. Regardless, the Cardinals seem to have a range and depth that provides them an edge over the regressing Cubs and volatile Brewers teams.

Milwaukee Brewers

There’s a lot of hitting potential on this team and they will probably be in the top 5 for HRs by the end of the season. The Brewers outperformed expectations on pitching last year but I think it can be done again. Corey Knebel being hurt is manageable since the bullpen seems infinitely interchangeable.

Chicago Cubs

Yu Darvish was a bust last year. Maybe he’ll turn it around this year. Jon Lester is a #2 guy who’s turning into a #3. Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana are all a step away from brilliance but it is a risky bet that this is the season they take that step. They’re dangerous on the other side of the ball but something isn’t gelling for them and it’s not likely to fix itself this year.

Puig.jpg
Yasiel Puig brings his energy to the Reds, can he bring more wins? (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)

Cincinnati Reds

While Yasiel Puig brings a whole lot of fun energy to southwest Ohio, the bigger story is the pitching rotation. Sonny Gray has mean stuff but the lights in New York were too bright. Alex Wood is an underrated pitcher who keeps his lineups in the game with a 3.29 ERA over six seasons. Puig bringing extra run support could mean good things by the Ohio River.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The NL Central may be the polar opposite of the AL Central in competitiveness. But that doesn’t mean Pittsburgh is fielding a team that’s contributing to that image.

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
NL West Dodgers Coors Dem Bums Dodgers Rockies Dodgers
Rockies* The Choking Kershaws* Rockies Rockies Dodgers Rockies
Padres Sneks Padres Padres Diamondbacks Padres
Diamondbacks Padres Giants D-backs Padres Diamondbacks
Giants Goliaths Diamondbacks Giants Giants Giants

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have won the division every season since 2013. It doesn’t seem likely to change but they didn’t do a lot in the off-season. The biggest move was to sign A.J. Pollock to a five-year deal to replace Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. Much like the Red Sox, this doesn’t portend well. However, it’s hard to argue that the rest of the NL West made the sort of moves that would make them legitimate challengers to that crown.

Colorado Rockies

Nolan Arenado got a big contract and remains one of the most exciting players in the Majors. The departure of DJ LeMahieu was softened by signing Daniel Murphy. So they have the firepower to run up scores on their opponents, but playing in Denver is simply a difficult balance for pitching. Jon Gray seems to be one of the few pitchers that’s unfazed pitching at home or away from that elevation. It’s just hard to develop a rotation and bullpen around that. Especially when you let a guy like Adam Ottavino go to the Yankees.

San Diego Padres

Seriously? How did this happen? Oh yeah, the Diamondbacks sold the house. Hey look Manny Machado.

Machado.jpeg
How long until the Padres are relevant again? Ralph (Freso/ Getty Images)

Arizona Diamondbacks

They sold the house. Zack Greinke cannot be happy that his departure from the Dodgers has left him with the team he has now. Goldschmidt is in St. Louis and Steven Souza Jr. went down with a terrible knee injury and is gone for the season. Can Jake Lamb stay healthy and will Adam Jones find a new home in the desert. They have a good rotation so if the hitting is good, they’re a dangerous team to play spoiler.

San Francisco Giants

How the mighty have fallen. Let’s not forget that the Giants have won three of the last ten World Series titles. But really, that’s all that’s going for them right now. One last trip around the Majors for Bruce Bochy.

Wild Card

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie Winning Run
AL Wild Card Red Sox Bandwagoners Red Sux Red Sux Tea Partiers Red Sox
Athletics White Elephants Indians Rays Astros Athletics
NL Wild Card Phillies Bravos Cards Cardinals Brewers Rockies
Rockies The Choking Kershaws Phillies Marlins Braves Brewers

 

Divisional Series

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie Winning Run
ALDS 1-4 Red Sox Rojo Sox Yankees Astros Yankees Yankees
Astros White Elephants Red Sux Red Sux Tea Partiers Red Sox
NLDS 1-4 Dodgers Follies Dodgers Dodgers Rockies Dodgers
Phillies Bravos Cards Cardinals Brewers Rockies
ALDS 2-3 Yankees Colt .45’s Astros Yankees Athletics Astros
Indians Twinkletits Twins Cleveland Twins Twins
NLDS 2-3 Cardinals Coors Brewers Brewers Cardinals Cardinals
Nationals Cards Braves Phillies Phillies Phillies

 

Championship Series

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie Winning Run
ALCS Yankees Rojo Sox Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
Red Sox Colt .45’s Astros Astros Athletics Astros
NLCS Cardinals Bravos Dodgers Brewers Rockies Cardinals
Dodgers Coors Brewers Cardinals Cardinals Dodgers

 

World Series

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie Winning Run
World Series Red Sox Coors Dodgers Brewers Yankees Cardinals
Cardinals Colt .45’s Yankees Yankees Cardinals Yankees

 

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Sorry CC Sabathia it is not looking good for you to end your career with a World Series victory. This one’s for you CC. (Kim Klement- USA TODAY Sports)

Our apologies to the New York Yankees because our prediction means they’re probably not going to win this year. We have been wrong the last five years, why change now.

BL with DJ, JJ, JB, & KB

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Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 5.0

A new season is here and despite a lukewarm stove during the offseason, there are some interesting changes that should make our predictions even more misguided than before. Here’s a breakdown of how we see the final standings and playoffs going down. Bernie’s providing a “scouting report” based on our averaged predictions this time around.

National League

NL East Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Nationals* Follies* Nationals* Nationals* Nats* Nationals *
2 Braves Gnats Phillies Phillies Marlins* Phillies
3 Mets Braves Braves Marlins Braves Braves
4 Phillies Mets Mets Braves Mets Mets
5 Marlins Fish Marlins Mets Phillies Marlins

 

1st Place- Washington Nationals

The  Nationals seem to be suffering from the curse of most Washington sports teams with their inability to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. After last season, this led to a hasty change in management. Any moron with a working foot and hands can drive a Ferrari fast. That’s what this team is and why they’ll win the division.

2nd Place- Philadelphia Phillies

We rag on them a lot. It’s been ten head-scratching years since they won the World Series looking like they could have been contenders for several years. So it’s well-deserved. This time, they cleaned house a bit with a lot of cash-in-hand to build a team on the fly.

3rd Place- Atlanta Braves

They’re rebuilding too but the rebuild has had some setbacks. Shelby Miller and Alex Wood floundered. Wood may not have been comfortable in Atlanta but Miller was left out to dry without run support far too often. The front office traded away the pitching staff (giving up Kimbrel for what!?) to get hitters but also gave up one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors – Andrelton Simmons. Nothing has worked yet but they’re still not the head case that are the Mets.

4th Place- New York Mets

They still have formidable pitching if they can stay healthy. Their lineup isn’t drastically different than the one that made a World Series appearance in 2015. In some ways, this lineup has some serious slugging potential. But they’re the Mets. As long as there’s a lurking sideshow like Tim Tebow, you can bet these guys can’t stay out of their own heads long enough to hold it together for a season.

5th Place- Miami Marlins

Part of me would like to call this karmic retribution for ruining perfectly good World Series championship teams from the past. That part is because I don’t want to disparage Jeter but, to be fair, this also feels like certain teams flexing some influence to manufacture winners and losers. Or this could be a genius move to truly build from the ground up…I’m not holding my breath.

 

NL Central

Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Cubs* Reds* Cubs* Cardinals* Cubbies* Cubs*
2 Brewers* Cubbies* Cardinals* Brewers* Brewers Brewers*
3 Cardinals Brewers Brewers Cubs Reds Cardinals
4 Reds Pirates Reds Reds Cardinals Reds
5 Pirates Cardinals Pirates Pirates Pirates Pirates

 

1st Place- Chicago Cubs

Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana are in. Jake Arrieta is out. Kyle Schwarber looks like he was stranded on a desert island during the off-season but in a good way. There’s far too much young hitting and defensive talent on this roster to think that turnover in the rotation is going to do much of anything. Heck, if Schwarber can run down a fly ball better, Cubs fans should be rejoicing because he showed in Spring Training that he can hit for power just from his shoulder rotation.

2nd Place- Milwaukee Brewers

These guys were knocking on the door to the playoffs. I think they added some solid improvements to both sides of the ball with Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jhoulys Chacin.

3rd Place- St. Louis Cardinals

These guys are like the San Antonio Spurs. They capitalize on their experience and reload. However, the reloading hasn’t quite been adapting to the rapid changes going on in other places. Molina is still a machine but that’s relative to his age. Same goes for Carpenter, Fowler, and Wainwright (who’s currently hurt). Tommy Pham has a lot of hustle and if Wacha, Gyorko, Wong, and DeJong can find an extra gear to raise their game, third place is going to be off.

4th Place- Cincinnati Reds

One guy north of 30 on the top of their depth chart for fielding but a whole lot of questions about their rotation. If this team could gel together this season, the NL Central will probably be the most exciting division to watch this season.

5th Place- Pittsburgh Pirates

Heart doesn’t win games if you can’t keep them close. There isn’t enough depth here to contend with the rest of the division. Doubt they’ll come in last in the National League but they rest of the Central provides a big obstacle to move forward.

NL West Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Dodgers* Dodgers* Dodgers* D-backs* Dodgers* Dodgers*
2 Rockies* D-backs* Rockies* Dodgers* D-backs* D-backs*
3 Giants Giants D-backs Rockies Rockies Rockies
4 D-backs Padres Giants Giants Giants Giants
5 Padres Rockies Padres Padres Padres Padres

 

1st Place- Los Angeles Dodgers

Let’s give the 2017 National League Pennant winners their due. There’s little else to that’s necessary to mention.

2nd Place- Arizona Diamondbacks

I think Zack Greinke is ready to crush it this season. Taijuan Walker is a solid pick up to round out the rotation. Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb are a powerful one-two punch in a pretty formidable lineup. A healthy A.J. Pollock and an added bat with Steven Souza Jr. gives them a credible threat to unseat the Dodgers this year.

3rd Place- Colorado Rockies

The Rockies didn’t do a whole lot to solidify the impressive season they had last year. Blackmon has been on a steady increase over the last four seasons so he may regress this season. Their rotation is really well balanced without an elite ace.

4th Place- San Francisco Giants

The Giants added Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria to the lineup. Two guys whom many would have expected to be one-team guys for their HoF contending careers. Not sure if that’s a solution or snake oil for their woes that now include an injured (again) Madison Bumgarner.

5th Place- San Diego Padres

There are some shining examples of talent on this team with Brad Hand, Dinelson Lamet, Eric Hosmer, and Hunter Renfroe. Yeah…that’s about it.

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Paul Goldschmidt and the Diamondbacks have been waiting in the wings, could 2018 be there time to win the National League West. (Justin K. Aller/ Getty Images)

American League

 

AL East Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Red Sox* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees*
2 Yankees* Jays* Blue Jays Red Sox* Red Sox* Red Sox*
3 Blue Jays Orioles Red Sox Orioles Jays Blue Jays
4 Orioles Sox Orioles Blue Jays Orioles Orioles
5 Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays

 

1st Place- New York Yankees

Luis Severino made the case for being an elite ace to lead the Yankees’ rotation. They had one of most formidable bullpens in the Majors and they didn’t lose it. They dropped a Todd Frazier and picked up a Giancarlo Stanton. Can Aaron Boone lose with this team? It’s New York and odd things happen when you have that kind of pressure.

2nd Place- Boston Red Sox

Chris Sale is probably grinding his teeth a little bit about Corey Kluber getting the Cy Young. There’s also a healthy David Price. Rick Porcello is an enviable 3rd man in the rotation. Mookie Betts might be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors. They won the division last year and lost to the eventual World Series Champs.

3rd Place- Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays retooled their lineup a bit but they’ll have to do a lot in order to take any attention away from the Yankees or the Red Sox.

4th Place- Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles are losing depth on both sides of the ball as Chris Davis and Adam Jones have become the elder statesmen of the team. Having one of the best closers in the game being stuck on the DL again shouldn’t be a concern if they’re going to struggle to keep games close going into the later innings. Manager Buck Showalter is a crafty guy though and somehow gets his teams through a lot more than expected. But this is a pretty stacked division.

5th Place- Tampa Bay Rays

Carlos Gomez was a surprisingly good pickup to replace Steven Souza Jr (especially since Souza’s starting the season on the DL). The Rays have a solid rotation with Archer, Snell, Faria, and Eovaldi but there’s an extreme of old journeyman and hopeful prospect talent on the other side that doesn’t bode well for a good season.

 

AL Central Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Indians* Indians* Indians* Twins* Cleveland* Indians*
2 Twins Royals* Twins* Indians* Twins* Twins
3 White Sox White Sox Royals Royals White Sox Royals
4 Royals Tigers Tigers White Sox Royals White Sox
5 Tigers Twins White Sox Tigers Tigers Tigers

 

1st Place- Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians were a game and a series away from being right back in the action everyone thought they were going to coast into. They were stopped a team on an ascendant run while battling some tough late season injuries. 2017 Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, leads a strong rotation that should hold things down for a bevy of young talent in Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, and Bradley Zimmer to really break out while hustlers like Jason Kipnis and Yonder Alonso keep the wheels on track.

2nd Place- Minnesota Twins

Paul Molitor managed the Minnesota Twins like a Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn shore up a strong rotation with Ervin Santana looking more like he did eight years ago and a young firestarter in Jose Berrios who just needs to bring his home game focus on the road. Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano have some devastating bats that will keep the pressure on opposing pitchers.  

3rd Place- Kansas City Royals

This team is rebuilding and it seems like they’ve got a plan. They’ve got some cash to pull in some talent later but only if they think they can make a run. It’s unlikely so third is an optimistic place that’s based more on their divisional opponents’ savvy and struggle.

4th Place- Chicago White Sox

Yoan Moncada has a lot of promise but it hasn’t been cashed in yet. Jose Abreu is either stuck or coasting. The White Sox rotation is patchier than a 12-year old’s security blanket.

5th Place- Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers are at least trying to hold it together and present some semblance of a team. I’m still sore about the way they let go of Dave Dombrowski and I hope they’re kicking themselves repeatedly for it.

AL West Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin

The Winning Run

1 Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros*
2 Angels* Angels Angels* Mariners Angels Angels*
3 Mariners A’s Mariners Angels Mariners Mariners
4 Athletics Rangers Rangers Athletics Rangers Athletics
5 Rangers Mariners Athletics Rangers A’s Rangers

 

1st Place- Houston Astros

They’re the champs. Let’s give them their due. They reloaded this offseason because there really wasn’t anything to rebuild.

2nd Place- Los Angeles Angels

The Angels probably aren’t putting all of their eggs into the Shohei Ohtani basket. They got Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler to add some firepower to the lineup. The rotation looks awful to me but maybe they think Garrett Richards is finally due to bounce back into his 2014 form. They’ll still need to tweak that bullpen.

3rd Place- Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners resigned Ichiro Suzuki. I really hope he can mentor some of their young talent. What I would love to see is that they ask him to start hitting for the fences instead of leading off so we can see some of his fabled home run hitting ability. There are some solid elements in Jean Segura and Robinson Cano, speed in the outfield with Dee Gordon, and if they can keep things close an excited closer in Edwin Diaz.

4th Place- Oakland Athletics

Moneyball doesn’t work when everyone else has the analytics you have now.

5th Place- Texas Rangers

The Rangers sold the farm and now they’re using some of their prize bulls to till the field for the next team to come in.

miguel-cabrera-d778d3f66afa5458.jpg
Will one of the best right handed hitters of all time, Miguel Cabrera, play for a last place Tigers team in 2018? (AP Photo/ Carlos Osorio)

Wild Card

NL WC Winner Rockies Cubbies Rockies Dodgers Dbacks Brewers
NL WC Loser Brewers D-backs Cardinals Brewers Marlins D-backs
AL WC Winner Yankees Royals Twins Red Sox Red Sox Angels
AL WC Loser Angels Jays Angels Indians Twins Red Sox

 

Divisional Series

NLDS 1-4 Winner Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
NLDS 1-4 Loser Rockies Cubbies Rockies Nationals Dbacks Brewers
NLDS 2-3 Winner Nationals Follies Cubs D-backs Cubs Cubs
NLDS 2-3 Loser Cubs Reds Nationals Cardinals Nats Nationals
ALDS 1-4 Winner Indians Indians Astros Astros Red Sox Astros
ALDS 1-4 Loser Yankees Royals Twins Red Sox Astros Angels
ALDS 2-3 Winner Astros Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
ALDS 2-3 Winner Red Sox Yankees Indians Twins Cleveland Indians

 

Championship Series

NLCS Winner Nationals Dodgers Cubs Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
NLCS Loser Dodgers Follies Dodgers D-backs Cubs Cubs
ALCS Winner Astros Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
ALCS Loser Indians Indians Astros Astros Red Sox Astros
01Sox1.jpg
Red Sox fans should be excited. The Winning Run picked the Yankees to win the World Series. We all know that means the Yankees have no chance for another ring. (AP Photo)

World Series

World Series Champ Nationals Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
World Series Runner Up Astros Dodgers Cubs Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers

 

Sorry in advance to the New York Yankees because this means they’re probably not going to win the World Series this year.

BL, DJ, JJ, & JB

That Doesn’t Look Right

Spring Training and the first few weeks of the regular season are always a time of double takes for baseball fans. Every off season players change teams, by trade or free agency, and it takes some getting use to. This season is no different.

There are three types of reactions to players in a new uniform in the early weeks and months of baseball. First is the big free agent signings. Second are the forgotten players that moved teams. Third are the players who will forever be linked to their old team.

There are the big names that changed teams, and while you know it happened it is still strange when you see it in real life. We all know Giancarlo Stanton was traded to the Yankees, yet it will take some time getting use to seeing him in pinstripes instead of the bright orange of Miami. The buzz around the damage he and Aaron Judge can do together is about all Yankee fans have talked about since the trade happened. Likewise, the signing of Yu Darvish was a major victory for the Cubs. His arrival in Chicago will help the Cubs remain the team to beat in the National League Central and in contention for the World Series for years to come. However, seeing Darvish in a Cubs uniform is weird.

Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton in Yankee pinstripes still looks odd. (Newsday/ Thomas A. Ferrara)

The forgotten free agents and traded players are often the difference makers for their new team. The Marlins trading Stanton meant many people stopped watching Miami and all but forgot Christian Yelich begged to leave South Florida and was traded to the Brewers. So much drama in Miami means the Marlins trading Dee Gordon to the Mariners early in the off season was forgotten by most. The Brewers have relatively quietly built one of the great outfields in baseball when they signed free agent Lorenzo Cain. The breakup of the Royals seemed to grab the headlines instead of where the majority of those players went. The Phillies signing Carlos Santana away from the Indians could be the jump start that franchise needs to return to relevancy, much in the way the Nationals began their rise after signing Jayson Werth. In Queens, the Mets signing Todd Frazier away from the Yankees gives the Mets flexibility at first and third, by protecting the team if David Wright and Adrian Gonzalez are unable to return to form. The Twins, like the Brewers, have quietly amassed talent and look to be ready to be serious threats in 2018. Minnesota signed Michael Pineda, who when healthy will be a major asset to the Twins pitching staff.

The final group of players forever linked to their old team. Andrew McCutchen will forever wear the black and gold of the Pirates. His arrival in San Francisco was the logical choice for a rebuilding Pittsburgh team and for the Giants who want to win now. McCutchen is 31 years old and should have several good years left. Evan Longoria is the first Rays player to have a lasting impact in franchise history. Yes David Price, Melvin (B.J.) Upton, and Carl Crawford were tremendous players for Tampa, but there should be no argument that Longoria is the player the Rays build their team around for years. Trading him to the Giants does not change the fact that he will forever be thought of as a Tampa Bay Rays.

Giants
Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria in a Giants uniform is, in a word, weird. (Ben Margot, Associated Press)

Eric Hosmer and Adrian Gonzalez leaving the Royals and Dodgers respectively will forever be linked to those franchises because they led the charge in their revivals. Hosmer signing with the Padres mean Kansas City lost their leader, among others, and it is time to rebuild. When the Dodgers traded Adrian Gonzalez to Atlanta, only for the Braves to release him two days later, marked the end of a chapter in Dodgers history. Los Angeles traded for Gonzalez from Boston when they were rebuilding after the disaster that was the Frank McCourt ownership. Gonzalez helped bring the fans back and show the team was serious about winning. Gonzalez gave Los Angeles most of his best baseball, his arrival in Queens should help the Mets, however he will be remembered for his time in Dodger blue.

Certain players should only wear certain uniforms. The early stages of each baseball season are when we all adjust to seeing players in new uniforms. Like seeing Babe Ruth in a Boston Braves uniform or Willie Mays in a Mets uniform, players are remembered with certain uniforms on. Every off season players change cities and uniforms. It always takes some getting use to, but eventually we adjust and return our focus to the game instead of the player in an odd uniform.

DJ

Jenrry Mejia’s Exit

Three strikes and you are out is baseball 101. Apparently, Jenrry Mejia only understands this when he is on the mound. Mejia is the first player permanently banned due to failed PED testing. He has now failed three different PED tests since April 2015. Three failed tests in ten months is a quick way to find yourself out of baseball. Everyone makes mistakes, but Mejia seems to be unable to understand his mistakes and correct them.

Jenrry Mejia floated between the minor leagues and the Mets between 2010 and 2013. He appeared in 43 Major league games between 2010 and 2013. In 2014, he finally established himself as a legitimate closer, finishing 49 games with 28 saves for the Mets. Mejia had 98 SO and 41 BB in 93.2 innings in 2014. The Mets looked to have found their closer of the future. Then the 2015 season arrived and just as quickly as Mejia’s star rose in 2014, it fell.

Jenrry Mejia.jpg
Jenrry Mejia could have been the Mets closer of the future, but now it is all gone. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

On April 11, MLB announced Mejia had tested positive for stanozolol and was suspended for 80 games. Stanozolol is a synthetic steroid, made famous by Canadian Sprinter Ben Johnson who tested positive for stanozolol at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and subsequently stripped of his Gold Medal. Mejia served his 80 games and returned to the Mets on July 12. He pitched in seven games before MLB announced on July 28 that Mejia had again failed a PED test. Mejia was now suspended for 162 games having tested positive for two different drugs, stanozolol and boldenone. Boldenone is a veterinarian steroid, not meant for human use, that builds muscle and endurance when used in humans. It is bad enough to be suspended twice for failed PED tests, but Mejia failed the test twice for stanozolol. When you fail a test the first time, whether the failed test was due to a mistake or an attempt to use PEDs, it would make sense to alter what is going into your body to prevent another failed test for the same substance. Instead, Mejia doubled down on the same drug and added another drug for good measure. Coming so soon after his rise, the Mets and the rest of professional baseball must wonder if Mejia’s performance was real or if it was chemically enhanced.

Mejia managed to make it through the rest of 2015 without failing another PED test. He would serve the remaining 99 games of his suspension in 2016 and then rejoin the Mets for what, the fans in Queens are hoping, will be another trip to the World Series. Instead, on February 12, MLB announced Mejia had failed a PED test again, the third time, for boldenone. While he finally stopped using stanozolol, Mejia failed a second test for boldenone. This third failed test means Mejia is now permanently banned from MLB.

Jenrry Mejia Prayer.jpg
Jenrry Mejia’s only hope now may only come from above. (www.remezcla.com)

There are many reasons a player would want to be mentioned in the same sentence as Pete Rose, but joining Rose as the only other living member of the permanently ineligible list is not among them. Mejia’s stupidity has cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars, potentially millions. His banishment from baseball reaches beyond MLB. Mejia cannot simply sign with a team in a league in Japan, Korea, or elsewhere as international leagues usually respect MLB suspensions and refuse to sign those players. Mejia finds himself on the outside of baseball looking in. He could potentially sign with a team during Winter Ball, but the paychecks and length of the season are much smaller. There is some good news for Mejia. He can apply for reinstatement after one year. If granted, Mejia would have to sit out an additional season, meaning he would miss two complete seasons before he could return to the diamond. Mejia is only 26, so it is feasible for him to return to the mound. Although time is somewhat on his side, I am not sure how forgiving MLB will be with someone who has failed three tests within 10 months.

In some ways, MLB may use Jenrry Mejia to set an example. Mejia may not be a superstar like Andrew McCutchen or Bryce Harper, but he is far from a player who barely made it to the majors. Mejia was looking at a long and successful career with the Mets. They believed in him enough to resign him even after two failed tests. The reality is the number of chances a player gets depends on their skill and Mejia’s skills on the mound made him a risk worth taking. Now the failed PED tests change everything. A player failing a test when they are barely hanging on in the low minor leagues can kiss their career goodbye. A superstar,like Ryan Braun, can continue his career without worrying about job security. It will be a tarnished career though and shows that MLB’s drug testing is accomplishing its intended goal. It will never catch every drug cheat, but catching Mejia three times shows it is not giving players a free pass.

Any time news comes that a player has failed a drug test, there is usually a quote from the athlete saying something like, “I do not know how this substance got into my body. I never knowingly took this substance.” People then roll their eyes or believe in the statement, but the player remains forever marked as a drug cheat. Personally, players who fail drug tests make me sad, sometimes angry. It’s hard to believe a banned substance accidentally entered their body. I’m sad when I believe they made a mistake and angry when the player appears arrogant with their bluster exploding after their failed test. Players like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez are the public face of those players who no longer get the benefit of the doubt, and it is all due to their own egos and how they handled the media fallout from their failed tests.

ryan-braun-steroids-miami-clinic
After multiple failed tests, Ryan Braun seems surprised no one believes he did not cheat. (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

Jenrry Mejia failed three different tests with two different drugs. While it may sound a bit odd, I would be more willing to believe any plea he might offer of innocence if he had failed the tests for a different drug each time. The counter-argument there is that he may have been changing drugs in an attempt to avoid detection, plausible and likely true. However, it would have been equally likely that he stopped using the source of the drug to avoid another failed test, but as bad luck would have it, he was negligent again of knowing exactly he was taking. I readily admit that failing three different tests on accident is extremely unlikely, though still possible. Mejia, however, seems to have believed that he could beat the test. He failed spectacularly three different times. You fail the first test, whether you are dirty or clear you will reexamine and adjust what is going into your body. Instead, Mejia continued as he was doing and added another layer of drugs. Not surprisingly, he failed another test. Again, you would think he would change what was going into his body. Instead, he only stopped using the stanozolol while continuing to use boldenone. Coming as a surprise to no one, Mejia failed his third test. Why would you continue to take the same drug you failed a test for before when you know the next failed test could end your career?

Jenrry Mejia was stupid, either willingly or through neglect. Either he is the worst drug cheat in baseball or he is extremely unlucky. Regardless, he has failed three separate PED tests. Ultimately, it does not matter how Mejia has found himself banned from baseball, he now finds himself on the outside looking in. The argument about whether gambling or PEDs are the bigger threat to the game is moot; both sides have a legitimate case but are both being equally addressed. While Mejia hopefully collects himself and cleans up, baseball is left to savor a bittersweet victory. The MLB Drug Policy is working. It is not catching every player using PEDs, but it is catching some. Once they are caught they are serving their punishments, which in the case of many are career altering and in the case of Jenrry Mejia the punishment can be career ending.

DJ

Missed Opportunity

Growing up around Atlanta in the 1990’s there was plenty of great baseball games and players to watch.  Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones were all Hall of Fame players.  Andruw Jones, Otis Nixon, Javy Lopez, and so many more were great players to watch.  These riches on the diamond were amazing, but as time has gone by the realization of how great it was to watch these players night after night has set in.  Fans across the country might only have a few chances each season to see these players and they understood that you should take the time to slow down and appreciate them.

The understanding that I need to slow down and watch when a great player passes through town has sunk in more as I get older.  Appreciating the greatest of a player goes beyond the highlight reel plays.  It is watching how they approach each pitch throughout a game, both at the plate and in the field.  There are only a select few players in baseball that can capture my attention even when they are not making great plays.  Players who make me stop and watch just in case they do something amazing.

Derek Jeter  was the definition of New York style cool and class. (www.jenhoffer.sportsblog.com)

Derek Jeter was the definition of New York style cool and class. (www.jenhoffer.sportsblog.com)

These stop what you are doing and watch players are the elite few.  Some I have had the pleasure of watching in person, others I missed my opportunity to watch their greatness.  When I was living in New York for graduate school and the few years after, I was lucky enough to see Derek Jeter play on a few occasions.  Jeter was never the best hitter, but he was good one.  He did not have the most power, the biggest arm, or greatest fielding range, but he commanded everything inside Yankee Stadium.  While only getting to see Jeter in the later part of his career, it was still special to see one of the few players who was respected across baseball without exception.  It takes a special player to be respected by Red Sox fans even though he was a lifelong Yankee that broke Boston’s heart on so many occasions.  Watching Jeter play consumed a majority of my time at Yankee Stadium.  I watched how he moved with every pitch and how he was the man on the field and yet everyone knew in their heart that he was never the most talented.  Derek Jeter could do everything on a baseball diamond, but it was what did not show up in the box score, which set him apart from everyone else.

I usually went to Mets games simply because the tickets were cheaper, however when I did venture up to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium it was special.  Even inside the new Yankee Stadium the history of the Yankees resonates.  Watching two players who will and should be first ballot Hall of Famers, Jeter and Ichiro, plus my favorite player in Andruw Jones meant the 2012 Yankees were the best for me.  Watching Jones patrol the outfield with the Braves growing up spoiled me.  If it was catchable, he seemed to always catch it.  The 2012 Yankees meant I got to relieve a bit of my childhood with Andruw Jones, watch the coolest man in baseball in Derek Jeter, and watch one of the greatest pure hitters of all time in Ichiro.

Ichiro continues to be a magician with a bat in hit hands. (www.metsmerizedonline.com)

Ichiro continues to be a magician with a bat in hit hands. (www.metsmerizedonline.com)

The beauty of Ichiro’s swing and his athleticism at the plate are what always caught my eye.  He seemed, and still seems, like a magician at the plate.  He never seems to be fooled on a pitch; he might swing and miss but never look awful in doing it.  Ichiro is to me what a baseball player ought to be.  He can beat you with power, though he rarely displays it.  He can put the ball in play and then beat you with his speed.  Then on defense, he can chase down fly balls with the best of them.  If runners are on base they advance at their own risk, as Ichiro is blessed with a cannon for an arm.  Ichiro has all five tools, though he keeps his power hidden until it is absolutely necessary.  Watching Ichiro hit is the closest I will ever come to watching a hitter on the same level like a Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, or Honus Wagner.  Watching Ichiro and Jeter play were and are a return to my childhood.  A return to when baseball was simple and the players were larger than life; the baseball that was and forever will be my first love.

I have not gotten to see every player I wanted to see play in person, though I did on television.  The two biggest players that I did not get to see play in person that I will forever be sad about are Ken Griffey Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero.  Yes, I saw both players on television, but not in person.  There is a big difference in appreciating how great a player is when you see them not through a camera lens, but with your own eyes.

Ken Griffey Jr. was the coolest man on the diamond plus he had the sweetest swing in the game. (www.tapiture.com)

Ken Griffey Jr. was the coolest man on the diamond plus he had the sweetest swing in the game. (www.tapiture.com)

The two most obvious reasons I never saw Ken Griffey Jr. play in person are that he played in Seattle and Cincinnati and I lived in Atlanta.  This meant at best his team would come to Atlanta once a year.  Interleague play did not start until 1997.  This meant seven seasons of Griffey’s 22-year career were already gone.  Then there were the last three years in Seattle before he moved on to the Cincinnati Reds.  There were some opportunities to see Griffey play in Atlanta during interleague at some point with the Mariners, but I went to only two or three games a year growing up.  So not great odds, plus we usually went to the less popular games with the slightly cheaper tickets and the smaller crowds.  I loved going to games, but looking back, I wish I had seen Griffey.  His time with the Reds meant he only came to town one time a season, and sadly there were several lost seasons in Cincinnati due to injuries.  Griffey was, and remains, the prototype for what it means to be cool on a baseball field.  Jeter was New York cool, suave.  Griffey was fun, exciting, and electric.  His wiggling batting stance is still mimicked by people today, though admittedly no one else, even in softball leagues can ever hope to hit a ball like he did.  Griffey could amaze you and do things that just did not make sense for a player his size.  You expected Frank Thomas and Albert Belle to hit the ball a mile, but Griffey at worst hit the ball as far as they did, plus he could run like the wind.  Ken Griffey Jr. was a once every few generations type player and I missed him.  As great as his highlight reel is, I can only imagine how great it would have been to see him play in person.

Missing several opportunities to see Ken Griffey Jr. makes sense, not seeing Vladimir Guerrero play does not.  Guerrero spent 8 of his 16 seasons with the Montreal Expos.  Playing in the National League East with the Braves meant I had plenty of opportunities to watch him play, but for whatever reason I never did.  It was not from a lack of interest, I just never seemed to go to Turner Field when the Expos were in town.  Not sure why, just the way it worked out.  Guerrero was a lot like Andruw Jones, great power and speed and a howitzer for an arm.  The main difference between Guerrero and Jones was that Guerrero was a more complete hitter and Jones played for Atlanta, not against them.  Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit.  It reminded me of playing baseball in the street with my brother and friends.  If it was within reach, you swung, partly so you did not have to go pick it up and partly because it may be the best pitch you will see.  Guerrero never seemed to care if the pitch was a foot outside and head high, he could serve it into the outfield.  He could also bloop a ball into short left field after the pitch bounced in front of the plate.  Ichiro is a magician in the batter’s box in the sense that he can almost place where he hits the ball.  Guerrero is a difference sort of magician as he can hit nearly everything thrown towards the plate, and hit it well.  The other thing I missed was seeing Guerrero unleash his arm.  There are few players with arms that stop the opponent from even attempting to take an extra base; Rick Ankiel and Jeff Francoeur are the players in recent years that come to mind regarding the fear their arms put into the minds of opposing base runners.  Perhaps Vladimir Guerrero was not the best player in terms of doing the conventional things on a diamond the best, though he did them extremely well.  What I missed the most in not seeing Guerrero play in person is his ability to leave fans speechless.  He could hit or throw a baseball a mile, or single on a pitch that most players could not even reach.  Vladimir Guerrero took the sort of baseball that I grew up playing to the Major Leagues and still made it look as amazing as it felt.

Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit or a runner he could not throw out. (www.prosportsblogging.com)

Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit or a runner he could not throw out. (www.prosportsblogging.com)

The opportunity to see something unique and amazing at a baseball game exists every time the gates open.  You could see Matt Cain throw a Perfect Game (as Jesse did in San Francisco), watch the final game at old Yankee Stadium (as John, Jesse, and I did in 2008), or just see a fun game like I have on so many occasions.  Baseball is a team sport played by individuals.  These individuals are what make the game great.  Players of all size can find success on a baseball diamond, whether they are Jose Altuve at 5’6”, Randy Johnson at 6’10”, or Jonathan Broxton at 300 lbs.  Great players come in every physical form possible and they are all capable to doing something amazing.  Most of us do not have the financial ability to go to every game, but we should all make the time when these elite, once in a generation type players come to town.  Continuing to put off going to see Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Aroldis Chapman, and others will be a sad memory.  There is no guarantee they will do something amazing at the game you attend, but you will still be able to say you saw them play.  No one cares if the one game you saw Sandy Koufax pitch he did not win the game, you still got to see Koufax pitch.  Do not miss your opportunity to see great players in person.  We can all watch highlight reels, but watching in person is always special and you will remember it better than any video.

DJ

The Next Generation

Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and the other men and women who worked tirelessly to not only create a space for African-Americans to play baseball, but also to successfully integrate Major League Baseball, are critical to the sports success.  African-American players have never made up a majority of the players in Major League Baseball; topping out at 19% according to SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member and researcher Mark Armour.  However, only 8.5% of the players on Major League rosters were African-American on Opening Day in 2013.  The dwindling numbers were a call to action for baseball to stop the loss of interest in the game by the African-American community.

Major League Baseball has taken action.  The creation of Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and MLB Urban Youth Academy have been instrumental in bringing baseball to kids who might otherwise be prevented from playing due to a host of obstacles.  John Young, a former Major League Baseball player and scout, started RBI in 1989 in Los Angeles.  RBI aims to give disadvantaged youth an opportunity to learn and enjoy the game of baseball.  Initially RBI was directed at 13 to 16 year olds, with the aim of both expanding the baseball talent pool in urban areas and creating a positive place for kids to learn and grow both mentally and physically away from the streets.  Today, RBI has expanded to include all kids from age 5 to 19 and the organization operates in more than 200 cities, reaching more than 200,000 urban boys and girls.

Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities is developing the next generation as both players and people. (www.sportsbusinessdaily.com)

Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities is developing the next generation as both players and people. (Peter Newcomb/ MLB Photos)

The MLB Urban Youth Academy (UYA) began in 2006 in Compton, California.  UYA seeks to instruct and groom baseball and softball players through open workouts.  Participants are taught fundamentals, theories in baseball, and their education in the classroom that extend beyond baseball.  UYA seeks to prepare urban students for playing beyond high school, either in college or professionally.  Like RBI, UYA focuses on opening up the game of baseball to urban youth, and those who might otherwise not have the opportunity to play the game.

The efforts of Major League Baseball to increase the participation of African-Americans in baseball are paying dividends.  In the 26 years since its founding, RBI has sent several players to the Majors.  RBI alumni include CC Sabathia, Jimmy Rollins, Coco Crisp, James Loney, Carl Crawford, BJ (Melvin Jr.) Upton, Justin Upton, Julio Borbon, Efren Navarro, Rickey Romero, Yovani Gallardo, Chris Young, and James McDonald.  While this list of RBI alumni who have played in the Majors is not pages long, it does speak to the success of the program.  These 13 Major League players are only a part of the success.  It is not out of the question that for each player who makes the Majors there is another who played in the Minors, bringing the total to 26.  Easily more than 100 alumni could be current or former collegiate baseball or softball players, and countless more could have stayed in school throughout high school so they could play baseball or softball.  RBI and UYA have positively influenced countless young men and women.  The proof of RBI and UYA’s success has gone beyond the baseball or softball diamond, and into the lives of the alumni.  The alumni have gained self-confidence, physical fitness, life skills, and an education that can propel them to greater heights.

MLB Urban Youth Academy has developed talented both on and off the field. (www.minors.mlblogs.com)

MLB Urban Youth Academy has developed talented both on and off the field. (www.minors.mlblogs.com)

Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates is one among many African-American players that RBI and UYA participants can see themselves in and aspire to emulate.  RBI and UYA are addressing the problems that traditionally create obstacles to African-Americans.  McCutchen wrote in The Players Tribune about the biggest hurdle he faced, money.  Youth baseball has become expensive, as travel teams have become how players garner attention.  The expenses to be a member of the team, the travel costs, and so on prevent players who come from families who are not financially well off.  In McCutchen’s case, he was able to gain the assistance of people who put him in the right place at the right time.  However, not everyone will be as lucky as McCutchen.  How many great players is baseball losing due to the financial barrier that disadvantaged youth cannot overcome?

Major League Baseball is addressing the decline in African-American participation in baseball.  While it will take time to reverse, RBI and UYA are producing results on and off the field.  Efforts must continue to open up the game of baseball to disadvantaged youth and to provide role models in and around the game to these kids.  The next generation of African-American baseball fans and players is dependent upon everyone involved with baseball continuing the legacy of Jackie Robinson in which everyone has the opportunity to play baseball regardless of their ethnic, economic, or social background.

D

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 2.0

Last season The Winning Run attempted to predict the outcome of the 2014 Major League Baseball season.  We were not highly successful in our first attempt.  Not to be deterred by our lack of success, we are back to try again.  Once again, let us apologize in advance for jinxing everyone’s favorite team, whether it is by dooming your team before it had a chance to do much better or by sending it spiraling down in flames as it does much worse than expected.  Either way in which we have ruined the chances of your team this season, we are sorry.

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The Giants are still recovering from winning the World Series last October. (www.espn.go.com)

Let us begin with the Senior Circuit.

National League

East  
1 Washington Nationals Division Winner/ 1st Seed
2 Miami Marlins
3 New York Mets
4 Atlanta Braves
5 Philadelphia Phillies

The National League East could be one of the weakest Divisions in all of baseball.  Beyond the Nationals, the rest of the division could struggle.  The Marlins and Mets could threaten for a Wild Card spot, but each have deficiencies that could prevent it from reaching the playoffs.  The Braves could surprise people if the bats and pitchers keep up with one another and hover around .500.  The Phillies will be the worst team in all of baseball.  A successful season would be to avoid 100 games, but even this could be out of reach in Philadelphia.

It will be a long season in Philadelphia, with or without Cole Hamels. (www.hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)

It will be a long season in Philadelphia, with or without Cole Hamels. (www.hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)

Central
1 St. Louis Cardinals Division Winner/ 3rd Seed
2 Pittsburgh Pirates Wild Card
3 Chicago Cubs
4 Milwaukee Brewers
5 Cincinnati Reds

Every team in the National League Central could win the Division or finish last.  The Cardinals should continue to be the class of the Central, as they have the pitching and the bats to match up against any team in baseball.  The Pirates could pace with the Cardinals all season, but they may fall a few games short of the division based upon a few miscues throughout the season.  The Cubs are dramatically improved, but playing in the Central will keep them out of the playoffs in addition to their young stars not all fully rising to their potential this season.  The Brewers are dependent upon their lineup supplying the offense that the pitchers need, but there are too many chances for the bats to go quiet throughout the season.  The Reds are recovering from losing several keys pitchers from last season.  The Reds could rise out of the cellar, but only if Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, and Brandon Phillips all have productive and healthy seasons.

West
1 Los Angeles Dodgers Division Winner/ 2nd Seed
2 San Francisco Giants Wild Card
3 San Diego Padres
4 Colorado Rockies
5 Arizona Diamondbacks
Wil Myers and the new look Padres are not going quietly. (www.sports.yahoo.com)

Wil Myers and the new look Padres are not going quietly. (www.sports.yahoo.com)

The Dodgers are the clear class of the National League West; they have the arms and bats to compete with any team in baseball.  Ultimately, the Dodgers will chase the Nationals for the best record in the National League.  The Giants will recover from their October success last season, breaking the cycle of boom and bust that they have experienced the last four seasons.  They will make the playoffs as a Wild Card, but they will not win another World Series this season.  The Padres like the Marlins and Cubs are greatly improved, but will not be able to put it together this season to reach the playoffs in the first season of their new reality.  The Rockies will continue to be successful offensively, but their pitching staff is not ready to take the team to the next level and compete for a playoff spot.  The Diamondbacks are in full rebuild, and will be searching for answers in every phase of the game.  The trade of Trevor Cahill was the clearest sign of Arizona looking to the future beyond the 2015 season.

Now let us examine the Junior Circuit.

American League

East
1 Toronto Blue Jays Division Winner/ 3rd Seed
2 Baltimore Orioles
3 Boston Red Sox
4 New York Yankees
5 Tampa Bay Rays
2015 could be painful in the Bronx. (www.nydailynews.com)

2015 could be painful in the Bronx. (www.nydailynews.com)

The Blue Jays finally have all the players they need to win the American League East.  Even with the loss of Marcus Stroman for the season, Toronto has the arms and bats to win the Division.  The Orioles will return with another strong team.  If Chris Davis or Manny Machado can return to half of their 2013 form Baltimore will stay in the hunt for the playoffs into the final days of the season, but could ultimately fall short.  The Red Sox are better than last season, but their pitching leaves too many questions for the bats to make up.  Boston should finish above .500, but they will not play in October.  The Yankees are a mixture of old talent and youthful ignorance.  New York may face more injury worries as the season progresses, which could derail any dreams of reaching the playoffs, or even .500.  The Rays are in full rebuild mode.  Tampa has to rediscover the magic of over performing if it hopes to avoid finishing last in the East.

Central
1 Detroit Tigers Division Winner/ 1st Seed
2 Cleveland Indians Wild Card
3 Kansas City Royals
4 Chicago White Sox
5 Minnesota Twins
Nick Swisher and the Indians will have a reason to smile this year. (www.en.wikipedia.org)

Nick Swisher and the Indians will have a reason to smile this year. (www.en.wikipedia.org)

The American League Central could be the best Division in all of baseball.  The Tigers should be the class of the Division so long as David Price, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez are able to stay healthy.  The Indians will finally get over the hump and make the playoffs as a Wild Card.  Corey Kluber needs another good season, not necessarily another Cy Young season, and young stars like Michael Brantley need to emerge to power Cleveland back to October.  The Royals are still recovering from their World Series hangover.  While they will be competitive until late in the season, they will not make a return trip to the playoffs, as the loss of James Shields and Billy Butler will be the difference this season.  The White Sox should be much improved but in the Central, it could be difficult to crack the top three in the division even with the addition of Jeff Samardzija to the rotation and David Robertson to the bullpen.  The Twins need their bats and arms to light up the box score this season.  The continued worry about the health of Joe Mauer and the suspension of Ervin Santana could prevent Minnesota from reaching .500.

West
1 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Division Winner (won 1 game playoff)/ 2nd Seed
2 Oakland Athletics Wild Card (lost 1 game playoff)
3 Seattle Mariners
4 Houston Astros
5 Texas Rangers

The American League West has three potential Division winners.  The Angels once again have a tremendous offense led by the best player in the game, Mike Trout, a star looking to rediscover his old form, Albert Pujols, and a declining star, Josh Hamilton.  If the Angels pitchers can stay healthy, they could win the Division.  The Athletics will once again work their magic and surprise everyone to finish the season tied with the Angels.  Another star will emerge in Oakland, a player who another club gave up on and let go.  The Athletics and Angels will have to play a one game playoff to determine who wins the Division and who is the Wild Card.  Ultimately, the Angels will win the Division and send Oakland to the Wild Card.  The Mariners will unfortunately fall just short once again and miss the playoffs.  They need a bit more offense in Seattle if they are to reach to playoffs, but that will have to wait until 2016.  The Astros are once again going to take a huge step forward.  Houston should finish .500 or better thanks to the continued development of its young stars in Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Collin McHugh.  The Rangers should be able to avoid the injury plague they suffered from last season; however, they still lack the pitching to compete, especially after losing Yu Darvish for the season due to Tommy John surgery.

The laughable Astros are only a memory now. (www.diehardsport.com)

The laughable Astros are only a memory now. (www.diehardsport.com)

Playoffs

October will once again give us some great moments to remember, beginning with the Wild Card games.

Wild Card

American League National League
Oakland Athletics Pittsburgh Pirates
Cleveland Indians San Francisco Giants

In the American League Wild Card game, the Athletics will have spent too much energy getting to the Wild Card game to overcome the Indians.  Cleveland will continue on their excellent season into the Divisional Series.  In the National League Wild Card game, the Pirates will finally give Pittsburgh the full playoff series it has been waiting for since 1992.  The Giants will finally run out of gas after back-to-back seasons of hard-fought competition to reach October.

Divisional Series

American League
ALDS
Toronto Blue Jays Cleveland Indians
ALDS
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Detroit Tigers
National League
NLDS
St. Louis Cardinals Los Angeles Dodgers
NLDS
Washington Nationals Pittsburgh Pirates
Albert Pujols and the Angels will come up short again. (www.monkeywithahalo.com)

Albert Pujols and the Angels will come up short again. (www.monkeywithahalo.com)

In the American League Division Series, the Blue Jays will run through the Indians after Cleveland runs out of gas fighting through the Wild Card.  Pitching should be fairly even, but offensively Toronto should have an advantage with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.  The Angels will once again come up short due to a lack of pitching to match up against the rotation of the Tigers.  Detroit has the best hitters in baseball in Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, who can make up for any problems the pitching staff encounters.  In the National League Division Series, the Cardinals will fall to the arms of the Dodgers, as Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke finally translate their dominance to October.  The Nationals will continue their dominance as they fight past the Pirates.  While the series could be tight, Washington has the pitching staff to quiet the bats of Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, and the rest of the Pirates.

Championship Series

American League
Toronto Blue Jays Detroit Tigers
National League
Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers

The Championship Series will pair off great offenses in the American League as the power bats of the Blue Jays match up against the all-around hitting ability of the Tigers.  The experience and rotation will be the difference for Detroit, even if Justin Verlander and David Price are not in vintage form.  In the National League, the Championship Series will see the matchup of two great pitching staffs.  Los Angeles will send Kershaw and Greinke to the mound to face off against Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasburg.  The Nationals will stop the Dodgers as Washington has a deeper roster and the ability to recover if any of its starters faulted.

World Series

The 2015 World Series will pit the Washington Nationals against the Detroit Tigers.  Both have excellent pitching staffs and line-ups.  Detroit has the better lineup, while Washington has the better pitching staff.  The biggest advantage exists in the lineup for the Tigers, which will propel Detroit to another World Series victory in six games.

Detroit Tigers 4 games
Washington Nationals 2 games
The Detroit Tigers will be celebrating again in October. (www.blog.detroitathletic.com)

The Detroit Tigers will be celebrating again in October. (www.blog.detroitathletic.com)

These are our predictions for the 2015 Major League Baseball season.  Love it?  Hate it?  Time will tell if we are right or wrong.  We never claim to know what will happen, but this is what we are predicting to happen.  Now it is time to watch how bad our predictions turn out to be once they meet reality, while enjoying another great season of baseball.

D, J, and B