Tagged: Aroldis Chapman

Finally

The 2016 World Series was a classic. Game 3 was one of the greatest games I have ever watched, yet it does not come close to Game 7. Two teams and their fans have waited a lifetime, or more, to win the World Series and for the Chicago Cubs the wait is finally over.

The drought since their last World Series championship for the Chicago Cubs (108 years) and Cleveland Indians (68 years) was well documented. Many fans had lived and died without ever seeing their team lift the Commissioner’s Trophy. In any World Series where the teams are so evenly matched there are one or two players who rise to the occasion and give their teams the extra push they need to win. Leading into the Series it was easy to think Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant for the Cubs or Corey Kluber or Francisco Lindor for the Indians would provide that extra push. The struggle between the teams was ultimately between the managers, Terry Francona and Joe Maddon. Francona and Maddon currently sit 30th and 66th on the all time managerial wins list. They are a combined 301 games over .500 in the regular season, and have each guided two different teams to the World Series. Francona and Maddon played the World Series like a chess match, mixing and matching the opportunities they were presented with the players on their roster. Each trying to see several moves ahead to outwit the opponent.

kluber
Corey Kluber started three times for Cleveland and left it all on the mound. (Ken Blaze/ Custom)

Game 3 is one of the greatest games I had ever seen played. The game saw great pitching and defense. Neither Josh Tomlin or Kyle Hendricks pitched beyond 4 ⅔ innings, but they both kept their team in the game. The Indians relied upon Andrew Miller (1 ⅓ innings) Bryan Shaw (1 ⅔ innings), and Cody Allen (1 ⅓ innings) to secure the 1-0 victory. The key was Bryan Shaw’s ability to bridge the five out gap between Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Limiting Miller to 17 pitches and Allen to 18 pitches meant keeping them fresher for longer as the World Series wore on. Despite the Cubs losing Game 3, Joe Maddon still utilized his bullpen in a way that set him up for success later in the Series. After removing Hendricks, Maddon brought in Justin Grimm (⅔ inning), Carl Edwards Jr. (1 ⅔ innings), Mike Montgomery (⅔ inning), Pedro Strop (⅔ inning), and Aroldis Chapman (1 inning). Spreading the workload around meant keeping arms fresh and the pressure on the Indians. Edwards Jr. took the loss for the Cubs. He retired Cleveland in order in the Top of the 6th. The top of the 7th started with a single to right field by Roberto Perez, Michael Martinez entered the game to run for Perez. A sacrifice bunt by Tyler Naquin moved Martinez to second base. One out with a man on second is not horrible, however a wild pitch allowed Martinez to move to third. Rajai Davis was walked to set up a double play, but the next batter, Coco Crisp, singled to right scoring the only run of the game. A single bad pitch cost the Cubs Game 3.

The hype around a Game 7 rarely lives up to the expectations. This Game 7 was one of the few exceptions. The pressure to perform when any mistake cost your team the World Series is immense. Once again the fingerprints of Terry Francona and Joe Maddon were all over this game. The Indians and Cubs combined to scatter 24 hits, commit four errors, and allow 15 runs, yet the game felt like the final score was 3-2. Timely hitting and bend-but-do-not-break pitching and defense were the deciding factors for who was crowned World Series champions.

rajai
Rajai Davis hit the biggest home run of his life when the Indians needed it the most. (Fox)

Joe Maddon rode Kyle Hendricks as far as he felt he could and lifted him after 4 ⅔ innings and just 63 pitches. The move seemed questionable at the time, but Maddon is the one getting paid to make these decisions, not us. After Hendricks, the Cubs relied on Jon Lester (3 innings), Aroldis Chapman (1 ⅓ innings), Carl Edwards Jr. (⅔ inning), and Mike Montgomery (⅓ inning) to bring home the victory. Lester was the bridge the Cubs needed to get to Chapman. The trust in the veteran left-hander was well founded. Handing the ball off to Chapman for the final four outs exposed how much Chicago had relied on their closer throughout the series and he finally ran out of gas. Rajai Davis hit the biggest home run of his life to tie the game. 93 pitches at maximum effort over three days against the same team takes a toll on any pitcher, and on a pitcher as unhittable as Chapman, he suddenly is human. After taking a two run lead in the Top of the 10th inning, Maddon believed his best option was to call upon Carl Edwards Jr. to get the final three outs. Edwards Jr. has just two career saves, the first on September 1, 2016 with the Cubs leading the National League Central by 15.5 games and the second on the final day of the 2016 regular season. Not exactly high pressure moments.

Cleveland never gave up, every time they would be down, they continued to crawl their way back into the game. Corey Kluber gave the Indians everything he had in his third World Series start. Terry Francona had to bring in Andrew Miller after one pitch in the 5th inning, as it was clear Kluber was done. Andrew Miller was exhausted like Kluber and Chapman, yet he still found a way to give Cleveland 2 ⅓ innings before making way for Cody Allen. The Cubs went hitless against Allen over two innings, allowing the Indians offense to catch up. The Cleveland bullpen was stretched to the breaking point, and Bryan Shaw allowed two runs in the Top of the 10th inning that secured the Cubs victory. Yes, Shaw allowed the World Series clinching run, but he is not to blame for Cleveland’s defeat. Simply one team finally defeated the other.

celebrate
It is finally next year for the Cubs. (Brian Cassella/ Chicago Tribune)

There are games and World Series where one team does not necessarily win, but rather the other team loses. The 2016 World Series was just the opposite. Both the Indians and the Cubs played like champions. There was no Madison Bumgarner or Reggie Jackson in this World Series where a single player put the entire team on his back and carried them to the title. Instead, both teams used team baseball to carry themselves to the edge of a championship. The Cubs were a better team in only a few moments in the seven game series, but when two teams are so evenly matched that is the difference between winning and losing. 49 of the 50 players on the Indians and Cubs rosters appeared in at least two games; John Lackey’s only appearance was as the Cubs starter in Game 4. Terry Francona and Joe Maddon used every ounce of energy available on their bench, and the Cubs had just a little more.

It took team baseball to end the Curse of the Billy Goat, but it was also team baseball that nearly kept it going for another season. The statistics are close, but the Cubs led in more offensive statistics and the Indians did not win any of these key pitching statistics. Here are the numbers for proof:

Offense

Cleveland Indians

Chicago Cubs

At Bats

232

245

Runs

27

27

Hits

55

61

2B

10

10

HR

7

8

Walks

24

22

Strike Outs

59

64

Batting Average

.237

.249

On-Base Percentage

.321

.316

Slugging

.371

.404

OPS

.691

.720

Pitching

Cleveland Indians

Chicago Cubs

ERA

3.71

3.43

Saves

1

2

Innings Pitched

63

63

WHIP

1.317

1.254

The 2016 World Series was an amazing seven game series to watch and enjoy. The numbers only confirm what we all know, this World Series was phenomenal. The fans of the Indians and Cubs were tortured while the rest of the baseball world were given the opportunity to step into their world for just a few days. I do not envy the stress and anguish felt by both teams and fans bases, but for the Cubs it was all worth it in the end. At last Cubs fans you do not have to wait until next year, celebrate for all the Cubs fans who were not able to see the Cubs win their third World Series championship. There is nothing to be upset about Indians fans your team gave you a great ride, the nucleus is there for Cleveland, you just have to wait a little longer.

Chicago Cubs Fans Gather To Watch Game 7 Of The World Series Against The Cleveland Indians
Cubs fans have waited a long time and celebrated accordingly. (Scott Olsen/ Getty Images)

P.S. This World Series was so heavily based upon team baseball that individual awards were not so easy to pick, nor did individual candidates stick out from the crown. Congratulations to World Series Most Valuable Player Ben Zobrist. Enjoy all the technology and stuff in your new Chevrolet Camaro.

DJ

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October Fest

The World Series is set; the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago Cubs. One of these teams is about to break a long championship drought. Every pitch and swing will be over analyzed because, in some way, they matter. Tension builds with every pitch and the players know one moment can define their career. Welcome to the World Series, October baseball at its finest.

The Cleveland Indians won the American League Central crown for the first time since 2007. Cleveland has some great players like Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber, but the key to their success has been team baseball. The Indians ranked 5th in MLB in Runs Scored, 4th in Stolen Bases (1st in the American League), 10th fewest strikeouts, 9th most walks, 3rd in the American League in sacrifice bunts, 2nd in sacrifices flies, 5th in team batting average, and 7th in team OBP. Offensively Cleveland wasted few opportunities to score runs. A successful season offensively means nothing if the pitching and defense cannot hold leads. Defensively Cleveland committed only 89 errors and had a .985 fielding percentage. Pitching has brought Cleveland four wins away from their first World Series victory since 1948. Indians pitchers allowed the 4th fewest hits, the 7th fewest runs, 6th fewest walks, 4th most strikeouts, and the 7th best team ERA in the Majors. All five members of the Indians rotation (Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar) made at least 25 starts and won at least 11 games. Cody Allen led the team with 32 saves with Andrew Miller making a significant impact on bullpen longevity after his trade to Cleveland late in the season. Consistency from the starting pitching meant less stress and strain on the bullpen, allowing the relievers to measure their efforts through the season. Team baseball allows the Indians to recover if a player or two do not perform. While not producing the nationally recognized super stars, team oriented baseball can produce a World Series championship.

world-series-trophy
Which team will raise the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2016? (Jamie Squire/ Getty Images)

The Chicago Cubs won the National League Central by 17.5 games with 103 wins. The Cubs were clearly the best team in regular season baseball. Offensively the Cubs scored the 3rd most runs, drew the most walks, were 2nd in OBP, and hit into the 5th fewest double plays. A lineup that includes Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Ben Zobrist intimidates any opposing pitching staff. Defensively, Chicago allowed the fewest runs per game, which is also a reflection upon their pitching staff. The Northsiders had the lowest ERA and WHIP, allowed the fewest hits, the fewest runs, the 6th fewest home runs, and had the 3rd most strikeouts. When your team is out scoring most of the league and allowing the fewest runs that is a recipe for success. If one side falters the other side can keep the team rolling. Every member of the Cubs starting rotation (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, and Jason Hammel) made at least 29 starts, collected 11 wins, pitched 166 innings, with an ERA below 3.85. Combined the starting rotation averaged over six innings per start, which late in the season meant the bullpen had just two innings to pitch before turning the ball over to Aroldis Chapman. Less work for the bullpen means fresher arms in high pressure situations and in the playoffs. The Cubs are easily recognizable for their play on the field, yet their super stars still play team baseball. Every team needs at least one player to elevate their game if they want to win it all, and the Cubs have plenty of players capable of doing so.

Saying it has been a while since the Indians or Cubs have won a World Series is an understatement. The Communist Party rose to power in China a year after the last Indians’ World Series victory. Since then, segregation was declared unconstitutional, man went into space and to the moon, AIDS emerged, the internet was invented, and the Indians have played over 10,000 games. Wrigley Field opened six years after the last Cubs World Series victory. It was followed by the United States participating in seven wars, the election of 16 Presidents, 11 Amendments being added to the Constitution, four states joining the United States, and the Cubs playing over 15,000 games. It has been a while for both teams.

Regardless who wins the World Series, 1948 and 1908 were a long time ago and another World Series victory is within reach for one of these two teams. The teams on the field are playing each other as much as the history of their own team. The attributable curses that have held these teams back for decades may finally be broken. Let us hope that the 2016 World Series has been worth the wait.

DJ

The Trade Deadline

So it’s a lovely midsummer afternoon and I am enjoying a fine matchup between the Mariners and the Cubs. I receive a little writing inspiration as I watch Aroldis Chapman come on to save a 1-0 game for the Cubbies. Now this time last year Chapman was playing for the Reds and was a division rival of these same Cubs, a lot can happen in a year. The concentration of moves at the trade deadline makes the end of July one of the best parts of the season.

Chapman
The Difference a year makes, Aroldis Chapman will be trying to save games against, instead of for the Reds. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Yes it is trade deadline season, and if you are following this blog and MLB in general you get the idea behind all the moves. But how does it affect you and I the fans? How are we supposed to feel when a star slugger or fireball closer are sent off to a rival team or a team in the other league entirely? Well let’s look at Chapman for perspective. The Yankees acquired him from the Reds this offseason to bolster their bullpen. The Yankees had high hopes for this season and thought a closer with 105 mph heat could help them, even with Chapman missing the first month of the season due to suspension. The Cubs went into the season with a lineup stacked with power hitters and great starting pitching. The Cubs went into the season with Hector Rendon as their closer, not a bad closer but still not one you ride to the World Series. Well as they say everything looks good on paper and that’s why you play the games. The Yankees season has not turned out well, surprise surprise, and the Cubs still have a shot at winning the World Series. So with the magic of owners and agents, Chapman was traded to the Cubs and here I am watching him come on from the bullpen wearing different pinstripes.

Lucroy
Going once, going twice, sold to the Texas Rangers. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Now I am all for teams being allowed to trade, it mixes things up and gives me something to look forward to between the All-Star Game and September call ups. It also gives you a little chuckle when you watch Chapman blow the save opportunity and allow 3 runs with a wild pitch thrown in. That’s part of the fun. I don’t wish many players, outside of Boston, any ill will or harm but seeing Chapman get roughed up for another team is entertaining. Other teams have been and still are looking for arms to finish games. As I write the Nationals acquired Pirates closer Mark Melancon seemingly ending the Pirates hope of the postseason. The  Brewers benched their catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and then traded him not once but twice.

It’s exciting to think about all the possible trades during the weekend of the trade deadline. I can just imagine every front office was  reenacting the scene from Moneyball where Brad Pitt and Johan Hill are working the phones to get the players they want at the price they are willing to pay. Meanwhile I’m sitting here watching baseball hoping someone will stocks my beer fridge for two years. Happy Trade Deadline.

JB

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 3.0

The Winning Run is back again with another attempt at predicting the outcome of the upcoming MLB season. The last two seasons we have tried and failed miserably to accurately predict what would happen. We have failed much more than we have found success, much like in real baseball. These predictions are not designed to jinx particular players or teams. These are honest predictions, designed to predict how we collectively see the 2016 season playing out. We can say without a doubt that our only perfect prediction is that reality is better than fiction.

Carnac.jpg
Carnac the Magnificent knew what was going to happen, The Winning Run not so much. (The Tonght Show with Johnny Carson)

Here’s the breakdown of how we each think the divisions and playoffs will end up. Our final standings, based on the average placement between the four of us, will also include a brief scouting report from Bernie, as to what he sees in each team heading into the 2016 MLB season. His personal predictions were close to the collective predictions, and we have noted where they vary greatly.

Let us begin with the Senior Circuit.

*Note* An exclamation point (!) after a team name denotes a Wild Card berth.

National League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 New York Mets New York Mets New York Mets New York Mets
2 Washington Nationals – ! Washington Nationals Washington Nationals Miami Marlins
3 Miami Marlins Miami Marlins Miami Marlins Washington Nationals
4 Atlanta Braves Atlanta Braves Philadelphia Phillies Atlanta Braves
5 Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies Atlanta Braves Philadelphia Phillies
  1. New York Mets:

The Mets shored up their interior defense by getting Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. If you watched last season’s playoff games, the Mets’ rotation always seemed to get beaten up the middle. Those guys will also likely provide a lot more consistent offense than Wilmer Flores or Daniel Murphy. The Mets are looking to play deep into October and I think they could do it.

2. Washington Nationals:

The Nationals are really the team equivalent of their star player, Bryce Harper; supremely talented, but mentally dysfunctional. There is a serious lack of team discipline and I don’t think Dusty Baker is the one to bring it. This is the major hurdle to the Nationals winning the division.

Dusty Baker
The question is will Dusty baker help the Nationals reach their potential. (Logan Bowles- USA Today Sports)

3. Miami Marlins:

Giancarlo Stanton’s contract has me believing that the Marlins are in it to win it now. They’ve always been good at developing talent so Manager Don Mattingly should have something to work with and collect some wins.

4. Atlanta Braves:

The Braves did some house cleaning, clearing the way for the wealth of talent in the minors. I’ve got to question whether they can generate any more runs this year than they did last year though. But they won’t be in last place.

5. Philadelphia Phillies:

I really shouldn’t have to say anything about this. No real change to expect anything better this year.

Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates
2 Pittsburgh Pirates St. Louis Cardinals – ! Pittsburgh Pirates – ! Chicago Cubs – !
3 St. Louis Cardinals Pittsburgh Pirates St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals
4 Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewers Cinncinati Reds Cinncinati Reds
5 Milwaukee Brewers Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewers Milwaukee Brewers
  1. Chicago Cubs:

Let’s be honest, they’re the Cubs. If they’re going to win it, it’s as Cinderella (Bernie has them going into the playoffs as a Wild Card). Chicago needs that storyline. I really like their rotation and bullpen but they overworked Jake Arrieta because they didn’t trust enough of their other players. That’s got to change.

  1.      Pittsburgh Pirates – !:

I liked the way AJ Burnett found himself in Pittsburgh and I think Jonathon Niese may very well have the same sort of fortune in the Steel City. Michael Morse was a fun guy to watch in Washington, I’m going out on a limb to say he finds himself again and becomes a solid 1B for the Pirates this season. I’m still puzzled how these guys didn’t win the division last season.

  1.      St. Louis Cardinals:

Last year, El Birdos found the fountain of youth for their stars. If it happens again this year, then the zombie apocalypse has started with Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. Or maybe they need to be checked out for cybernetic implants.

Kris Bryant Cubs.jpg
Kris Bryant is heping lead the strongest Cubs team since those uniforms were not retro. (Jonathan Danil/ Getty Images)
  1.      Cincinnati Reds:

The Cincinnati Reds may have done some house cleaning having traded away Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman. They still have some talent that I wouldn’t count out. What they definitely aren’t doing is wallowing.

  1.      Milwaukee Brewers:

Speaking of wallowing…you’ve got to wonder about the Brewers’ pitching. Like at what point do you ask whether you’d have better luck regularly shuffling up from your AAA squads just to give you opponents less time to scout out your pitchers.

West Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 San Francisco Giants Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers San Francisco Giants
2 Los Angeles Dodgers – ! Arizona Diamondbacks -! Arizona Diamondbacks – ! Arizona Diamondbacks – !
3 Arizona Diamondbacks San Francisco Giants San Francisco Giants Los Angeles Dodgers
4 San Diego Padres San Diego Padres San Diego Padres San Diego Padres
5 Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies
  1.      Los Angeles Dodgers:

I’m not sure what the Dodgers were thinking during the off-season. What I am certain of is that letting Zack Greinke go and shuffling the management is not a good thing to do for some of the young guns on the team like Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig. If they had kept everything the same, I would have put them in first place for the division. (Bernie predicted the Dodgers to finish 3rd)

  1.      San Francisco Giants – !:

I don’t really think pitching was their weakest issue last season but I think they are going into 2016 with one of the most enviable rotations a manager could ask for. I’m not completely sold on Santiago Casilla and bullpen. If Denard Span can stay healthy, he’s a great addition to a strong lineup that is capable of getting the ball in play and moving around the bases.

  1.      Arizona Diamondbacks:

Zack Greinke and Paul Goldschmidt. Shelby Miller will get the run support he needed in Atlanta. But I don’t see enough depth here to remain consistent through the season. The bullpen can probably step in to help out the back end of the rotation. The lineup is young. Maybe they’re more disciplined and hungry than I think and could be a definite Wild Card contender.

Zack Greinke.jpg
Were the Dodgers Crazy to let Zack Greinke leave Los Angeles? (Rick Scuteri- USA Today Sports)
  1.      San Diego Padres:

The only reason I’m putting the Padres over the Rockies is that they made some interesting pushes last season that indicate to me they could get it together. Doesn’t mean there’s enough talent here to make the playoffs though.

  1.      Colorado Rockies:

The worst team ERA in 2015 and that’s with a pretty talented defensive infield. I’m surprised the fielders have enough gas in the tank to swing a bat when they’ve got to run around chasing hits all the time.

American League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Toronto Blue Jays Toronto Blue Jays New York Yankees Toronto Blue Jays
2 Boston Red Sox – ! Tampa Bay Rays Boston Red Sox Baltimore Orioles – !
3 New York Yankees New York Yankees Toronto Blue Jays Boston Red Sox
4 Tampa Bay Rays Baltimore Orioles Baltimore Orioles New York Yankees
5 Baltimore Orioles Boston Red Sox Tampa Bay Rays Tampa Bay Rays

The American League East was the hardest division to predict, as an argument could be made for each team winning the Division. Here are Bernie’s thoughts.

  1.      Toronto Blue Jays:

Biggest run differential of the 2015 season. Picking up Drew Storen was a great move to support their starting rotation. This team has what it takes on paper.

  1.      New York Yankees:

There’s no point in having three of the best relief pitchers in the league when you don’t have a strong enough rotation to have them shortening the games. Lots of experience but not the cohesiveness you see in the Cardinals. But these predictions are supposed to go wildly wrong and, in this case, I sincerely hope I am. (Bernie has the Yankees finishing 4th)

  1.      Boston Red Sox:

Ugh…I feel sick doing this. The Red Sox needed some serious pitching help. Clay Bucholz simply isn’t an ace. So they got one in David Price. They also picked up Craig Kimbrel so they’ve a good bullpen punch with him and Koji Uehara. As David Ortiz will be riding into the sunset this season, the Red Sox will be a good team to watch.

David Ortiz Swing.jpg
Can David Ortiz deliver one last magical run into October? (Elsa/ Getty Images)
  1.      Baltimore Orioles:

There’s a lot of great talent on this team. They’ve got a great rotation and bullpen with two highly competent catchers. I would somewhat question their interior defense but with Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and new addition, Mark Trumbo, the Orioles have got a lot of heavy bats to knock in runs.

  1.      Tampa Bay Rays:

This is a well-balanced pitching and defensive team but nothing exciting enough to write home about on the offensive side.

Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Kansas City Royals Kansas City Royals Minnesota Twins Kansas City Royals
2 Detroit Tigers – ! Cleveland Indians – ! Kansas City Royals – ! Cleveland Indians – !
3 Cleveland Indians Minnesota Twins Detroit Tigers Detroit Tigers
4 Chicago White Sox Detroit Tigers Cleveland Indians Minnesota Twins
5 Minnesota Twins Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox
  1.      Kansas City Royals:

They’re the champs so it’s sort of needed to give them the nod for their division. Plus, the 2015 squad wasn’t made up of veterans in the twilight of their careers reaching deep down for that extra something to win it all. They’re young and agile. They get on base. They aggressively move around the bases. No one’s yet figured out how to stop them or slow them down.

  1.      Cleveland Indians – !:

These guys have a surprisingly good rotation with Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Cody Anderson. When I say surprisingly, I’m saying that how did they not win more? Francisco Lindor is young and if he’s coming into form, then we could be seeing a Wild Card contender here.

Francisco Lindor
Francisco Lindor could help the Indians win a tough American League Central.  (www.cleveland.com)
  1.      Detroit Tigers:

Jordan Zimmermann is not David Price and I’ll let you figure out whether that’s a good or bad thing. I actually think Justin Upton was a good pick up for the Tigers but I’m not convinced they can make the jump from bottom of the division to much higher.

  1.      Minnesota Twins:

I want to put this team higher but I think their second place divisional finish last season was more due to mishaps from other teams than their own solid play. Don’t get me wrong though, they’re on the right track. Just not this season.

  1.      Chicago White Sox:

The addition of Todd Frazier will help them generate some more offense. But is the increased offense a wash after losing the veteran leadership of Adam LaRoche to early retirement (more on that later)? Whenever issues involving a front-office exec doing something about the locker room make the news, you just know there’s some serious dysfunction going on.

West Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Houston Astros Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Houston Astros Houston Astros
2 Texas Rangers Houston Astros – ! Texas Rangers – ! Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3 Seattle Mariners Seattle Mariners Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Texas Rangers
4 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics
5 Oakland Athletics Texas Rangers Seattle Mariners Seattle Mariners
  1.      Houston Astros:

I was really impressed by how the Houston Astros finished off the 2015 season. Something clicked and I think they’re going to ride this wave. Adding Ken Giles to the backend of the bullpen already featuring Luke Gregerson makes up a dangerous one-two punch to shorten games.

  1.      Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – !:

I think the bigger reason I’m putting the Angels here instead of the Rangers is more on Rangers. I think Albert Pujols will still be remarkably dangerous in the batter’s box. Something about the balance on this team with Mike Trout’s hustle gives me a good feeling.

MVP
Can any one challenge Mike Trout for AL MVP? (www.nbcsports.com)
  1.      Texas Rangers:

The Rangers are not going to take the proper steps to recover. I’m calling that they’re going to try starting the season hot and aggressive. By the All-Star break, this team will be on life support and need some serious therapy. But in reality, they look a better version on the Angels and since this prediction will be wildly off, they may very well win the division again.

  1.      Seattle Mariners:

Nori Aoki was a good pick up to strengthen their outfield and improve getting on base. They’re going to rely too heavily on their rotation to go deep to win games and that’s not good for Felix Hernandez nor Hisashi Iwakuma.

  1.      Oakland Athletics:

If Marcus Semien were a better fielder, I’d have more faith in this infield. On paper, this team would be a solid 2nd place team in the division. I just can’t make that call.

Playoffs

October is special, as the best baseball is on display and tensions continually grow throughout the month. The playoffs begin with the Wild Card games, which are a one game winner take all showdown. Wild Card teams better bring everything they have, or they will be on vacation.

Wild Card

NL Winner NL Loser AL Winner AL Loser
Derek Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers Boston Red Sox Detroit Tigers
Jesse Arizona Diamondback St. Louis Cardinals Cleveland Indians Houston Astros
John Pittsburgh Pirates Arizona Diamondbacks Kansas City Royals Texas Rangers
Bernie Chicago Cubs Arizona Diamondbacks Cleveland Indians Baltimore Orioles
The Winning Run Pittsburgh Pirates San Francisco Giants Cleveland Indians Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

In the National League, the Pirates will finally get out of the Wild Card round. Gerrit Cole will have carried the pitching staff throughout the season, so why not one more game. In the American League, the Indians strong starting rotation will have saved the Cleveland bullpen and allow fresh arms to come out of the pen and dominate the Angels hitters when the pressure is on.

Garrit Cole.jpg
Garrit Cole will lead the Pirates charge into the playoffs. (Peter Diana- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Divisional Series

American League Divisional Series

ALDS 1/4 Winner ALDS 1/4 Loser ALDS 2/3  Winner ALDS 2/3 Loser
Derek Houston Astros Boston Red Sox Toronto Blue Jays Kansas City Royals
Jesse Kansas City Royals Cleveland Indians Toronto Blue Jays Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
John Minnesota Twins Kansas City Royals Houston Astros New York Yankees
Bernie Cleveland Indians Kansas City Royals Houston Astros Toronto Blue Jays
The Winning Run Toronto Blue Jays Cleveland Indians Houston Astros Kansas City Royals

National League Divisional Series

NLDS 1/4 Winner NLDS 1/4 Loser NLDS 2/3  Winner NLDS 2/3 Loser
Derek San Francisco Giants Washington Nationals Chicago Cubs New York Mets
Jesse New York Mets Arizona Diamondbacks Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers
John New York Mets Pittsburgh Pirates Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers
Bernie San Francisco Giants New York Mets Pittsburgh Pirates Chicago Cubs
The Winning Run Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates New York Mets Los Angeles Dodgers

In the National League, the Pirates will not be able to overtake the Cubs. The Pirates are a great team, but they have the misfortune of playing in the NL Central where the best team in baseball, the Cubs, also plays. The young arms from Queens and a more predictable offense will lead the Mets past the Dodgers who will miss Zack Greinke more in October than during the regular season. In the American League, the Astros will continue to play complete baseball and overcome the Royals, who after back to back trips to the World Series will finally run out of gas. While Cleveland’s pitching led them to the playoffs, it will be no match for the offensive power of the Blue Jays. Josh Donaldson is the reigning AL MVP, and yet he is most likely not the chief offensive threat for Toronto, as Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista can launch a baseball with the best in the game.

Byron Buxton.jpg
Byron Buxton and the Twins could make some noise, potentially even make the playoffs. (Scott Kane- Associated Press)

Championship Series

American League Championship Series

ALCS Winner ALCS Loser
Derek Toronto Blue Jays Houston Astros
Jesse Toronto Blue Jays Kansas City Royals
John Houston Astros Minnesota Twins
Bernie Houston Astros Cleveland Indians
The Winning Run Toronto Blue Jays Houston Astros

National League Championship Series

NLCS Winner NLCS Loser
Derek Chicago Cubs San Francisco Giants
Jesse New York Mets Chicago Cubs
John Chicago Cubs New York Mets
Bernie San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Pirates
The Winning Run Chicago Cubs New York Mets

A rematch of the 2015 NLCS. Two great teams, but the Cubs finally get over the hump and return to the World Series for the first time since 1945. The Cubs are a year older and wiser and have extraordinary talent at bat and on the mound. The Mets are a great team, but they lack the offensive prowess to overcome the Cubs. In the American League, Toronto will find out that teams cannot rely on power to guide them to a championship, there has to be a backup plan. The Blue Jays are not flexible enough to meet this challenge. The Astros have built a potential juggernaut in Houston, which relies on power, pitching, speed, defense, and hustle. Houston wins by the sum of its parts.

World Series

World Series Winner World Series Loser
Derek Toronto Blue Jays Chicago Cubs
Jesse Toronto Blue Jays New York Mets
John Chicago Cubs Houston Astros
Bernie San Francisco Giants Houston Astros
The Winning Run Houston Astros Chicago Cubs

Sorry Cub fans, you will have to wait until next year…again. The Astros win it all in 2016. The speed of Jose Altuve, the power of Evan Gattis, the starting pitching of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, the bullpen of Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson, the all-around ability of Carlos Correa, not to mention George Springer and Carlos Gomez puts Houston over the top. The Cubs have everything to win. The young core of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, plus Javier Baez all can continue to grow with a solid rotation of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and John Lackey. However, the Cubs are missing that it factor. Joe Madden will get the Cubs o click eventually, but in 2016 they will come one game short of that ever elusive World Series Championship.

Jose Altuve.jpg
It will be time to celebrate in Houston this October. (Houston Chronicle)

So there they are, the 2016 predictions by The Winning Run. Are we right about all our predictions, doubtful. Only time will tell how right or wrong we were with these predictions. Welcome to the 2016 MLB season, enjoy another great season of baseball.

DJ, JJ, JB, & BL

A New Day in Havana?

The Tampa Bay Rays and a host of dignitaries from Major League Baseball were part of the thawing of tensions between the United States and Cuba on Tuesday. President Obama became the first American President to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge when he visited the island in an attempt to build relations between to two nations. Baseball provides some distraction from the real events taking place. The embargo on Cuba is receding and for the first time under either Fidel or Raul Castro’s rule, Cuba is slowly opening itself to the United States and the rest of the world. Sports, especially baseball, have played an integral part in the process and the game between the Rays and the Cuban National team was as much ceremonial as it was competition.

Cuban National Stadium
It was a packed house in Cuba to watch the Cuban National Team face the Tampa Bay Rays. (Yamil Lage/ AFP/ Getty Images)

Sports can act as a bridge when traditional diplomacy runs into a wall. The past is littered with examples of how sports have overcome seemingly impassable obstacles in domestic and international relations. The thawing of the relationship between the United States and Cuba is just the latest chapter. The embargo on Cuba has meant increased isolation for Cubans, who were left to live their lives under a repressive regime that concerns itself with control over everything else. This repression has led thousands of Cubans, if not more, to risk their lives to leave the island through any means possible. As Dan Le Batard, the son of Cuban exiles, of the Miami Herald wrote,

“The ocean between our countries is filled with the Cuban bodies that tell the story, lives literally thrown to the wind in desperation, hoping to reach America’s possibility-soaked shores on boats made of old tires and wood and poverty’s debris.”

The pain and anger for Cubans, both in and out of Cuba, is real. Families have been indefinitely separated through no fault of their own. Countless lives have been lost when boats and rafts, ill suited for crossing the Straits of Florida, sink or capsize. Their human cargo like flotsam in the water floating miles away from land. Cubans have gone to desperate lengths to escape their homeland. Le Batard makes it crystal clear that the pain Cubans who have made it out is not self inflicted. They are not immigrants, rather they are exiles. The difference between willingly leaving your home and being forced to leave. Cubans want to reunite with their families, but the Castro regime continues to prevent this.

Hope remains, no matter how long it takes, that some day all Cubans can be reunited. The politics of Cuba and between Cuba and the United States begin at the foul lines during the Rays game. The game on the field is only a piece of the larger diplomatic puzzle. Normalizing relations between the two countries does not bring back the lives lost in the Straits of Florida, nor do they replace the years of separation between families. Yasiel Puig, Orlando and Livan Hernandez, and numerous other prospective baseball players endured harrowing trips in pursuit of freedom using human smugglers. Jose Abreu took a boat with other members of his family to the Dominican Republic. Aroldis Chapman defected while in the Netherlands for a baseball tournament. Every story of defection is about starting a new life, but it is also about the life the players leave behind.

Cuban Raft
Cubans have used everything they can to escape to freedom. (AP Photo/ Hans Deryk)

Several Cuban players were reunited with their families this week. Jose Abreu was reunited with his five year old son this week after a three year separation. Do you think that weighs on his mind more than striking out? Imagine having to leave your family when your child is two years old and not seeing them again until they are five. What about leaving on a boat in the middle of the night and not knowing if you will ever see your parents again? The dangers are real for Cubans fleeing oppression both for personal safety, but also losing part of who you are.

There is no easy, plausible solution to the the situation. Cuban exiles want the Castros out of power and the Castros want to remain in power. The oppression in Cuba is real. If it was not, it is doubtful that so many would risk their lives to find freedom. The American presidential campaign season has brought xenophobia to the dinner table. However, at our core, I believe, America remains the refuge for the oppressed. The Cuban Adjustment Act, or Wet Feet, Dry Feet Policy, remains in place only for Cubans. The Cuban embargo is a remnant of the Cold War, but the United States remains a safe haven for those who seek peace and justice. President Obama is using Major League Baseball in an attempt to invite Cuba to play nice in other political dealings.. Baseball is a tool that can be used given the passion for the sport in both nations. While this excursion in Havana may not bring down the Castro regime and create a free and open Cuba, at least the United States has changed its stance and is probing for an opening to help end the suffering of all Cubans.

Street baseball
How long will Cuban  baseball players have to risk it all to reach freedom to play the game they love? (Lisa Shires, Your Shot, National Geographic)

Cuba, its politics, and its love of baseball are alive and well in south Florida. The Miami Marlins may not set records with their attendance, the good ones at least, but there is a reason Marlins Park is situated in the middle of Little Havana. Ownership hopes to draw more fans, especially Cuban fans. The stadium rises high above the working class homes that surround it. The big apartment buildings, shops, and restaurants have not followed the team just yet. The neighborhood is still its own. Last September during a trip to Miami and the Florida Keys, my girlfriend and I dutifully stopped by just to see Marlins Park. The Marlins were out of town, so there was only so much we could see.

On the advice of one of the men working inside the team gift shop we went to lunch at Morro Castle. It is a non-descript building with bars on the windows of the dining room instead of glass. The open air cafe sits about a mile down the street from the stadium. Everything inside is in Spanish, but distinctly Cuban. Not reading or understanding Spanish, I ordered through pointing and hand gestures. The food was as amazing as you would hope. The authentic feel of being the visitor to not only Morro Castle, but also Little Havana, transported us the roughly 100 miles south to Cuba.

Morro Castle
Little Havana feels and tastes like Cuba, but the exiles living there know they are not home. (The Winning Run)

No matter how much the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami feels like Cuba, it is not Cuba. The neighborhood is full of exiles, not immigrants. People who want to go home, who want to be reunited with family and friends, people who want the Castro regime to live only in the history books. The politics of Cuba exists in Little Havana and throughout south Florida. Jose Fernandez is a fan favorite, he is a phenom on the mound, and a Cuban exile like so many in Little Havana. Fidel and Raul Castro, and their regime, are the devil incarnate for these Cuban exiles. Understandably, they do not have time or sympathy for anyone who disagrees with the experiences they have personally lived through. Ozzie Guillen’s tenure as the Marlins Manager was not destined to last long when in 2012 he spoke of his respect for Fidel Castro. Regardless of the point that Guillen, a Venezuelan, was trying to make, invoking Castro in a positive light meant he was a supporter in the eyes of the Cuban exiles. Guillen was suspended five games for his comments by the Marlins and was fired at the end of the 2012 season. A solid manager, but his comments on his respect for Fidel Castro has meant he has talked his way out of American baseball. No Major League team has been willing to hire him with this sort of baggage, among other reasons. The Cuban community, especially in south Florida, does not waver in its collective hatred for the Castros nor their desire for the regime to become a painful memory of the past.

Baseball may be the tool necessary to create better relations between the United States and Cuba. The dialogue between President Obama and Raul Castro could lead to a breakthrough decades in the making. Baseball diplomacy could also fail to change anything in Cuba, and simply provide a brief glimpse into life of the island. Only time will tell if the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team helped to change policies designed to isolate the communist regime. Baseball, and all sports, allow political battles to be fought on the athletic field instead of the battlefield. The passion for baseball remains strong in both countries. The personal toll on the Cuban community both on the island and in exile continues to mount as more Cubans are dying trying to reach freedom and families continue to be separated from one another due to politics. Sports can work to unite people, let’s hope that baseball can start the path towards reunifying the Cuban people and ending the suffering of so many.

DJ

2016 New Year’s Resolution for the AL East

Being home to one of the better known and somewhat hostile rivalries in baseball, if not all major sports leagues, the AL East has some of the heaviest spending teams in MLB. This usually means that a blockbuster trade will occur every offseason from one of these teams. Since 2000, the Yankees and Red Sox have had one of the top 10 largest payrolls in MLB. Let’s be honest, it’s probably easier to count the number of seasons when the Yankees didn’t have the largest payroll in the league than when they did. However, championships can’t simply be bought. You can probably argue that a big payroll is a contributing factor towards winning a championship but that’s a discussion for another day.

The Moves

To say the Boston Red Sox had pitching headaches last season is like saying that President Obama gets annoyed by Congressional standoffs. Clay Buchholz doesn’t quite have the stuff to be the ace in the rotation but he’s definitely a viable 2-3 man when he can stay healthy. So in classic AL East fashion, the Red Sox smashed the piggy bank to pick up David Price, as solid an ace as you can find. There might be mixed reactions about the third year opt-out clause but it seems like a good incentive to get the best out of Price in the next few years.

MLB: ALDS-Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays
David Price is the biggest signing in the AL East this offseason, will he have a major impact at Fenway in 2016? (Fred Thornhill-Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

This move really overshadows the acquisition of some bullpen help in Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith to support Koji Uehara. David Ortiz’s impending retirement leaves questions about how they’re going to hit next season but this might be one of the better off-season pitching overhauls. Maybe we’ll see some of Boston’s speedsters go for more stolen bases knowing that their pitching staff will keep the pressure on the other side.

The Yankees are the best known team in MLB for throwing down money to get hot free agents or make monumental trades. Since acquiring the services of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, big money moves started slowing down since it didn’t seem like the money was making the Yankees any more competitive than they had been.

With that said, the acquisitions of Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman are fairly conservative moves by a team that stumbled into the playoffs and handily defeated by a dominant Dallas Keuchel leading the surging Houston Astros. Castro actually addresses a problem issue for the Yankees in their struggles to make contact and generate runs. Didi Gregorius is a fine defensive SS but the Yankees have been accustomed to a productive hitter at SS for so long that they just weren’t built for this. Maybe, similar to A-Rod moving to 3B when joining, Castro will make a transition and play 2B. The Yankees should try to keep Gregorius on the field though.

Starlin Castro.jpg
Starlin Castro should help produce the hits and score the runs the Yankees need. (www.articles.chicagotribune.com)

Aroldis Chapman may seem like damaged goods but the Yankees run a pretty tight ship. So we’ll see if Chapman is deserving of a the benefit of the doubt/second chance because if he can’t keep his personal life under control as a Yankee then there’s no place that will be able to do it. This pick up seems more like taking advantage of an opportunity than addressing a problem. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances already made up one of the toughest bullpens to get through. Bringing in Chapman means that the Yankees now have all of the closers that racked up more than 100 Ks in the 2015 season into one bullpen. At the very least, the Yankees have trade fodder to address other issues next season if they need to do some gut-check work during the trade windows.

The Advice

Toronto Blue Jays

BL – The Blue Jays have heavy hitting and practically lapped the rest of the league in run differential for the season. There’s a lot of infield position play by coalition and David Price’s departure from the rotation leaves a hole for a genuine elite ace. Something Toronto needs to be a serious playoff contender. Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison are young and either may develop into a solid ace but it’s too early to tell. Troy Tulowitzki probably isn’t the answer at shortstop but maybe Toronto’s trainers can find a way to keep from needing so many days off.

Marcus Stroman pitch2.gif
Marcus Stroman could be the ace the Blue Jays need to complement their offense. (www.forums.prosportsdaily.com)

DJ – Toronto was a machine in 2015, but, run hard enough, all machines eventually break down. The Blue Jays did not make it to the World Series, but should be a contender again in 2016. Starting pitching needs to be the focus this offseason. Toronto did get 28 or more starts out of four starters in 2015, however Drew Hutchison struggled. He only pitched 148 innings with a 5.47 ERA. Mark Buehrle was his usual workhorse making 32 starts and pitching 198.2 innings, however he is now a free agent contemplating retirement.  David Price only made 11 starts for the Blue Jays, but he was dominant in those starts.  R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada are the foundation for this rotation and the return of Marcus Stroman from injury gives them three solid pitchers. Hutchison could be in the mix for the fifth starter, but this still leaves the Blue Jays short of an ace. Toronto would be smart to look at signing a pitcher like Yovani Gallardo or Justin Masterson. An ace like David Price is tough to come by, but a Dickey, Estrada, and potentially Stroman could be the de facto ace for the Blue Jays.

Baltimore Orioles

BL – At the start of the 2015 season, I really thought the Orioles would win the AL East. I can’t explain the early or late season losing streaks. Perhaps Baltimore entered the season a little too cocky and expected things to simply fall into place. Inconsistency at catcher between Caleb Joseph and Matt Wieters could not have been easy for the rotation to deal with. If the Orioles can steady that position up and get some team psychologists to keep the team on an even keel, next season could be a great one for Baltimore.

Matt-Wieters_Throwing-Out-Runner
Matt Weiters needs to return to his All Star and Gold Glove ways to help the Orioles compete in the AL East. (Photo by: Todd Olszewski)

DJ – The Orioles starting pitching ate up plenty of innings in 2015. Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Chris Tillman all made at least 31 starts and pitched at least 173 innings. However with a combined 4.12 ERA the trio were 34-29.  Jimenez led the team with 12 wins with Chen and Tillman contributing 11 wins each. If Baltimore is going to compete for the AL East in 2016, their starters need to find ways to win more games. Any easy way to win more games is for the starters to pitch deeper into games. Jimenez, Chen, and Tillman averaged less than 6 innings per start. The Orioles need the majority of their rotation to pitch at least 6 innings per start in order preserve the bullpen and save those arms for close games and late in the season.

Tampa Bay Rays

BL – They’re not the Miami Marlins, but the Tampa Bay Rays haven’t been really great to their fan base over the years by consistently trading away some great pitching and fielding talent. I’m continually surprised that Evan Longoria is still there. It’s not in quite as dramatic a fashion as the Marlins’ fire sales after every World Series win but the Rays are consistently bleeding themselves into talent anemia. Chris Archer can anchor a rotation and a bullpen boasting a scrappy closer like Brad Boxberger means there’s development potential here. Manager Kevin Cash needs to pick a direction for the batting lineup then adjust the rest of the team accordingly.

GTY 486121214 S BBA USA MD
Kevin Kiermaier’s Gold Glove defense is just as vital as his bat for the Rays to be successful. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/ Getty Images)

DJ – Tampa Bay needs a leadoff hitter. The Rays had 22 different players bat leadoff in 2015. Combined these players hit .258. Only Brandon Guyer played at least 50 games batting leadoff, and he hit .274 with a .379 OBP. The logical choice for the Rays would be to move Guyer or Kevin Kiermaier there permanently. Guyer hit .265 overall in 2015 with a .359 OBP, 10 SB, and only 61 SO in 332 AB. Kiermaier hit .263, with a .298 OBP, 18 SB, and 95 SO in 505 AB. The stability at the top of the lineup could trickle down the order. Tampa Bay has to manufacture runs to support the pitching staff. Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe provide the power. If Guyer and/or Kiermaier can get on ahead of them, the offense could combine with the pitching staff to balance the Rays overall team approach.

BL & DJ

2016 New Year’s Resolutions for the NL Central

The midwest got to enjoy some great baseball in 2015, especially NL fans. When the 3rd place team in your division would have won every other division in MLB, the offseason becomes a treacherous minefield of making the right minor tweak to improve or maintain the status quo. For the Brewers and Reds, offseason trading goals are clear but often seem like a management nightmare. The other teams need to maintain or improve their lineups, replace aging talent, and make sure they can afford it all. Baseball remains the team game that one single superstar cannot change a team’s fortune from struggling scrapper to playoff contender.

Jason Heyward.jpg
The Cubs are hoping Jason Heyward is not a big swing and a miss. (www.foxsports.com)

The Moves

The Chicago Cubs were that third place team in the NL Central but they were also seen as a legitimate World Series contenders. With some good front office management, the Cubs were able to sign both Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist to beef up their batting lineup. They also got John Lackey and Adam Warren to solidify the rotation behind Jake Arrieta. It’s almost like the Cubs bought a whole new team that’s going to supplement the young guns they already have in Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Schwarber. This isn’t a 450ft HR move but more like a 6-5-3 double play move – a collection of several good moves but we’ll have to see how it works out.

Brandon Phillips Flying
Brandon Phillips and the Reds are rebuilding in a hurry. (Joe Robbins/ http://www.datdudebp.com)

In a completely different direction, the Reds cleaned house for salary space and prospects. They made this space with Todd Frazier going to the White Sox and Aroldis Chapman going to the Yankees. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips have big contracts but the Reds probably wouldn’t have been able to find the buyers to pick them up. So what does that leave the Reds? A lot of room to build up some young talent. Cincinnati is a good sports city with patient and loyal fans. The only question is “Do the Yankees have good talent scouts?” because, in return for Chapman, the Reds got Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, Tony Renda, and Caleb Cotham who have all gone through the Yankees’ system. If you ask us, the Reds are looking to be respectable in 2016 but to win big in 2017-2018 as their competition ages out.

The Advice

There really isn’t a lot of advice to give out for any of the teams in this division. They pretty much owned the rest of the league. But what’s a baseball blog for except to play armchair manager for our own amusement.

St. Louis Cardinals

BL – The Cardinals have an aging lineup but the sort of talent that’s been able to play for a long time. It’s part of the reason for their continued success. But El Birdos are soon going to feel the pains the Yankees are now as a storied core of players are starting to lose their elite edge. Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright…scouts and minor league managers better be working overtime to build up the talent to start taking over for them soon.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina continues to be the backbone of th Cardinalds success. ()

DJ – St. Louis is a smart baseball town. Yes the Cardinals have lost Jason Heyward and John Lackey to the Cubs, but these players are not irreplaceable. St. Louis needs to make some minor moves to shore up their bench and build up some power the team seemed to lack last season. Matt Adams and Jason Heyward were not the power hitters many expected, due to injuries and too high expectation. The Cardinals need to add some pop to the line up and continue to produce Major League quality players from their farm system.

Pittsburgh Pirates

BL – When the 2015 playoff picture was decided, I really thought that the Pirates would go much deeper into the playoffs, if not get to the World Series. They’ve got a stellar rotation, elite closer and bullpen, a young rockstar outfield, and a strong infield. If they can get some solid core guys in their infield, who’s going to keep them from taking the division? The Cubs? Maybe. The Cardinals? Only if they find some temporary fountain of youth. But really, I think it’ll be the Pirates in 2016.

Josh Harrison

Josh Harrison’s ability to do and play anywhere on the diamond has kept the Pirates moving up the standing. (www.post-gazette.com)

DJ – The Pirates seem to be one player away from making a deep run in the playoffs. Pedro Alvarez and Sean Rodriguez are solid Major Leaguers, but if Pittsburgh wants to get past the Wild Card game they need to upgrade at first base. Platooning at first is never a good sign. Pirates first basemen hit 30 HR with 88 RBI in 2015, however they also hit a combined .231. First base is never going to be where you play a slap hitter, but Pittsburgh needs a player who can put the ball in play on a more consistent basis if they are to be successful in 2016.

Milwaukee Brewers

BL – To be perfectly honest, I don’t see what the Brewers can do to be competitive in the NL Central. Nothing exciting about the rotation and on the wrong side of the league average in nearly every hitting category. There are some oversized contracts that I don’t think they’ll be able to unload without a fire sale. The Brewers need to clean house and rebuild like the Reds. I just don’t think they’re going to do it until it’s too late to try.

Ryan Braun
The Brewers and Ryan Braun are tied together for better or worse. (www.thesportsfanjournal.com)

DJ – The Brewers are hurting in every area.  Ryan Braun was unable to stay healthy in 2015, and with an immoveable contract, along with history, he will remain the foundation for Milwaukee. Matt Garza and the rest of the rotation under performed. Only Jimmy Nelson was able to reach double digits in wins, he finished with 11 wins, but he was also second on the team with 13 losses. Milwaukee needs to find bullpen help and innings eating arms in the rotation, Nelson led the team with 177 ⅓ innings pitched.  Milwaukee cannot fix it all at once but getting starting pitching that can eat up innings to prevent the bullpen from being too tired to hold leads when they do exist is key to starting the turn around.

BL & DJ