Opening Day is here. A new season is upon us. We will see fantastic catches, jaw dropping throws, and impossible double plays. We will also see maddening errors and hilarious miscues. Baseball is back, and the beauty of the game is that no game is the same as any other. A team can collect ten hits, and still lose 1-0. A team can collect two hits and win 4-3. Baseball is a fickle game, but it is also a beautiful game.
The beauty of the game is the sweet swing of Joey Votto against the majesty of Clayton Kershaw’s curveball. Baseball is the game of the old and the young, the rich and the poor. The success of the team is dependent upon the success of the individual, but the success of the individual does not ensure the success of the team. Baseball is an everyday affair, 162 games in 180 days. A successful player will fail seven times out of ten. Baseball has a mind of its own. When you think you have seen everything imaginable in a game, something new happens and will take your breath away. Opening Day is here. Enjoy.
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.
Let us begin with the Senior Circuit.
|1||Washington Nationals||Division Winner/ 1st Seed|
|3||New York Mets|
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.
|1||St. Louis Cardinals||Division Winner/ 3rd Seed|
|2||Pittsburgh Pirates||Wild Card|
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.
|1||Los Angeles Dodgers||Division Winner/ 2nd Seed|
|2||San Francisco Giants||Wild Card|
|3||San Diego Padres|
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.
|1||Toronto Blue Jays||Division Winner/ 3rd Seed|
|3||Boston Red Sox|
|4||New York Yankees|
|5||Tampa Bay Rays|
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.
|1||Detroit Tigers||Division Winner/ 1st Seed|
|2||Cleveland Indians||Wild Card|
|3||Kansas City Royals|
|4||Chicago White Sox|
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.
|1||Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim||Division Winner (won 1 game playoff)/ 2nd Seed|
|2||Oakland Athletics||Wild Card (lost 1 game playoff)|
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.
October will once again give us some great moments to remember, beginning with the Wild Card games.
|American League||National League|
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.
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
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.
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.
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|
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
The gamble paid off for Max Scherzer. Simply put, the belief in himself that he was worth more than he had been offered, and that the lucrative contract was out there has come true. A year after turning down the Detroit Tigers offer of 6 years and $144 million, Scherzer has signed a 7 year deal worth $210 million with the Washington Nationals. This deal is the 10th largest in baseball history and the second largest ever for a pitcher, trailing only Clayton Kershaw. While the debate can be had of whether the Nationals paid too much for Scherzer, what cannot be denied is Scherzer’s gambled paid off.
Scherzer’s stock could not have risen much higher than after the 2013 season. He went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA, 240 strikeouts against 56 walks (4.29 strikeouts/ walks), 0.970 WHIP, 214 ⅓ innings pitched, elected to the All Star team, finished 12th in the Most Valuable Player voting, and won the Cy Young Award. Coming off by far the best year of his career, Scherzer signed a then record $15.525 million arbitration deal. His future depended on his having another elite season, and Scherzer delivered. In 2014, he went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, 252 strikeouts against 63 walks (4.00 strikeouts/ walks), 1.175 WHIP, 220 ⅓ innings pitched, elected to his second All Star team, and finished fifth in the Cy Young Award voting. While not quite as good as 2013, Scherzer showed he has the ability to be and remain an elite pitcher by his performance in 2014.
Prior to his ascension to becoming an elite starting pitcher, Scherzer showed his durability. He has made at least 30 starts and pitched 170 ⅓ innings per season for the last six seasons. Scherzer has average 197 ⅓ innings pitched during this stretch, with the last two seasons surpassing the 210 innings pitched mark. Durability is key if the Nationals are to get the full benefit of signing Scherzer to this long-term deal.
Scherzer’s belief in himself accomplished two things. First, it got him the contract he wanted. Additionally, the record salary arbitration and the deal with the Tigers and his new contract with the Nationals earned Scherzer an additional $81.525 million. Second, Scherzer was able to add at least an additional year to his career by gaining the seventh year of the deal. Assuming he stays healthy, this extra year should put 200 career wins easily within reach for Scherzer.
Players are deserving of the contracts they are offered. The money is beyond comprehension for many people, but I personally will never begrudge a player for taking every dollar they are offered. Major League Baseball is home to the absolute best baseball players in the world. People who are the best at what they do should be, and often are, rewarded with high incomes and other benefits. Baseball is no different. Max Scherzer is an elite pitcher among elite pitchers. His new contract with the Washington Nationals is his reward. Scherzer believed in himself and took a chance that he could recreate his magical 2013 season in 2014. While he may not have improved upon his performance he solidified his position among the best pitchers in the game and now has the contract to prove it.
The Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants have both thrown their best punches in the first two games of the World Series. Each one has landed cleanly and flush. In Game 1, Madison Bumgarner kept the Royals batters off balance and in check. Kansas City had no answer for him. In Game 2, the Royals bats came alive and the bullpen shut the door. The Giants kept battling but it was to no avail. The first two game of this World Series have shown what each team is capable of when locked in. This World Series has the potential to be a brawl. I do not mean benches clearing and fights breaking out. I mean where every player is pushed to their limit, where both managers are locked in a chess match where they are one move away from both triumph and defeat.
There should not be any real brawls on the field, even if Hunter Strickland gets back on the mound. I fully believe his frustrations simply boiled over and he let his emotions get the better of him. His actions show the stress and pressure these players are under. This is the biggest stage in their profession and they may only get one shot at winning a championship. Every pitch, every swing, every movement means something and their importance continues to ratchet up to greater and greater levels over the last two months. The Royals and Giants both raced into the playoffs, they did not just waltz into them. They both had to fight through the one game Wild Card playoff game, and then went through the best team in their leagues to advance through the Divisional and Championship rounds just to reach the World Series. Eventually all the stress and pressure is too much.
Every player and every team prepare all winter and spring, and fights throughout the summer for the chance to find success in October. Simply making the World Series is not enough. The hunger only builds as the leaves begin to change and the cool, crisp autumn breeze replaces the sweltering summer heat. The Giants are not content with their season, neither are the Royals. The Giants have won the World Series twice in the last four seasons; they are trying to make it three Championships in five seasons. Not all the players have been on the team for this stretch. Tim Hudson is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and he will make his World Series debut in Game 3. Joe Panik is at the beginning of his career and he has only played in two World Series games. Buster Posey has been there through it all. The Giants remain hungry, all for individual reasons, which collectively make the team hungry.
The Royals are not just happy to be a part of the World Series; they are there to win it. 29 years have passed since 1985 and their last World Series title. None of the players from the 1985 team remains; this is a new group. They wear the same team name on their chest and play for the same fans, though many of them have never seen a winning Royals team. Lorenzo Cain, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and on and on are the Royals now. These players do not care that it has been 29 years since the Royals last won the World Series. They do not care for one simple reason. If they cared how long it had been since the franchise had won, they would never be successful. They care about winning now. Not making up for lost time, but for giving this opportunity everything they have.
Baseball is a funny sport. The best players are not always the one left standing holding the championship trophy. Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout do not always get to take the last at bat. Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez do not always get to pitch with the game on the line. Baseball is a team sport, where the team can only be as good as the last guy on the bench. Super stars can propel a team towards success, but team success only happens when it is made up of players who can and are willing to put it all on the line.
Baseball is a fight, it is a brawl. The opponent knows the Pirates are going to throw Andrew McCutchen at them, or the Cardinals will throw Yadier Molina at them. These power punches take their toll on the opposition. The opposition throws counter punches back. The Tigers throw Victor Martinez or the Dodgers throw Zack Greinke. Teams throw crazy combinations and land blow after blow. They knock each other down and then get back up. The Giants and the Royals have knocked each other down with hooks to the body. Both have gone down and gotten back up to a standing eight count. These teams are in for a fight and are not afraid to leave themselves vulnerable if they think they can land the knockout blow. This October is going to be a brawl. So far it is shaping up to be a fight of the year contender. Let us hope it continues to live up to the great start it has given up.
The tear in the UCL in Jose Fernandez’s right elbow is a huge blow for baseball. He has clearly established himself as one of the bright young stars in Major League Baseball. He is also in the conversation for best pitcher. He may not be on the same level as a Clayton Kershaw or a Justin Verlander, but he will be in the not so distant future. Imagine how good he would be if he had a team who could play .500 baseball or better behind him.
You know a player is special when you hear fans of a rival team bemoan the injury. Jose Fernandez is a life line for baseball in South Florida. He brings fans to the ball park and is helping the Marlins rise from the ashes of their latest fire sale. The Marlins are getting better with young home grown talent at the core this time, instead of the overpriced talent from other teams. The latter method is how they built their team during their two World Series victories and how they tried to win a third before blowing up the latest experiment. The story around the Marlins has finally shifted from Jeffrey Loria and his use of tax payer money to build a new stadium and then selling off every valuable asset the team possessed, to the promise of both entertaining and competitive baseball in Miami.
The Marlins have been competitive all season, even briefly holding the division lead. Even though it is only mid-May, in recent years the team has been out of the race almost from Opening Day. So clearly there is some progress being made. There is life in Miami, but this season will be another rebuilding year without Fernandez. The Fish have lost their ace, but it also means the other members of the rotation will not be pitching in the proper spots in the rotation. This will cost the Marlins several games throughout the year. Fernandez had eating up valuable innings, over six per outing, thus saving the bull pen every fifth day. The loss of Fernandez begins the domino effect which hampers the Marlins in a way in which their current roster most likely will not be able to recover this season.
The Marlins are on the rise, but their rise will have to wait until Jose Fernandez returns next season to begin with earnest. The trend in pitchers who go through Tommy John surgery is they are back in a year, but are back to their pre-surgery abilities after two years. So much like the New York Mets and Matt Harvey, the Miami Marlins are looking towards the future. The 2014 and 2015 seasons will be building towards playing competitive baseball in 2016. The fans in Queens and South Florida will be reawakened and these two members of the National League East will be competitive again.
Injuries are a part of the game, and while we should feel some concern for all players who are injured, the reality is there are some players who impact the game more than others. Jose Fernandez is this sort of special player. He will be missed for the rest of this season and his return will be greatly anticipated by the Marlins, their fans, and everyone who loves and cares about baseball.
The Los Angeles Dodgers signed pitcher Dan Haren to a one year $10 million deal. This helps to replace Ricky Nolasco (more on him later) at the back of the rotation. Haren has the ability to strikeout a ton of batters while not walking many, he has led the league three times in his career in strikeout to walk ratio. The past two seasons have been far from his best, but the Dodgers are betting that Haren can stay healthy and provide the back of the rotation stability needed to compliment the front end with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Overall a good, fairly safe deal for the Dodgers.
Chris Young should bring some stability and veteran leadership to the outfield in Queens. Young signed a one year, $7.25 million deal with the New York Mets, which should help the Mets faithful celebrate a few more years in 2014. The trading away of Marlon Byrd last season meant the Mets were in need of a veteran voice in their outfield. Despite back to back down years, with limited playing time, Young should return to being an everyday outfielder who can provide above average defense and could slug 20+ homeruns. Good signing by the Mets, they maybe be turning the corner in 2014 towards better times in Queens and the hunt for a playoff spot in the next few seasons.
The Minnesota Twins should win more than 66 games in 2014 for the first time since 2010. After suffering through a 2013 campaign which saw Kevin Correia lead the team in wins with 9 and the entire starting staff collect 31 wins, the Twins pitching staff was in need of an upgrade. The improvement has come in the form of Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco. Hughes signed a three year deal and is coming off a 4-14 season with a 5.19 ERA. It is important to keep in mind he was pitching his home games at Yankee Stadium where you could probably bunt a pitch over the outfield wall. A change of scenery might be what Hughes needs to return to the form that saw him win 18 games in 2010 and 16 in 2012. Nolasco signed a four year deal after going 13-11 last year, splitting time between the Marlins and the Dodgers. Both signings point towards a more stable rotation and more opportunities for Glen Perkins to save games, he had 36 in 2013. the Twins could be on the rise after signing Hughes and Nolasco, as well as the return of a healthy Joe Mauer playing at first base.
The Kansas City Royals are on the rise, thanks in large part to General Manager Dayton Moore who was given a two year contract extension this week. The Royals finished 10 games over .500 last season with a 86-76 record, good enough for third in the American League Central. They remained in the playoff conversation until late in the season, which has not always been the case for the Royals. Since being named the General Manager of the Royals in 2006, Moore has rebuilt the franchise from the ground up. Developing young talent before trading them away at their peak value to restock the farm system with promising talent. Baseball America named the Royals as having the best farm system in 2011. The mix of young talent with enough veteran leadership should enable the Royals to be playing in October in 2014, instead of just missing out. The Royals understand they cannot compete dollar for dollar with the Yankees and Red Sox, thus their strength will come from their farm system, which has been developed and strengthened by Dayton Moore for the past seven seasons and should be for many years to come.
Clayton Kershaw did not pitch his best game last night. He threw too many 55 foot curve balls and the pitches which were over the plate we hit hard, or just out of the reach of the Dodger defense. While his stat line did not help the Dodgers win Game 6 of the NLCS, he was not the sole reason for the Cardinals advancing to the World Series for the fourth time in the last 10 years.
The Dodgers got off to a slow start, but once they got hot they stayed hot throughout the summer and into the fall. They had the misfortune of running into the St. Louis Cardinals. These teams have been built upon good scouting, prospect development, key free agent signings, and smart trades. While the Dodgers have made all the headlines with the mega-deal they made with the Red Sox, and their $216 million payroll, the Cardinals and the Cardinal Way have become a model for how to build and run a baseball on a manageable budget.
Ultimately both approaches can be successful. The Florida Marlins won both of their World Series after accumulating the high priced talent from other teams. The Atlanta Braves were able to win 14 straight NL East Division title, and one World Series by scouting and drafting well, signing key free agents, and making smart trades. There is no correct method for buying or building a World Series champion. The 2013 NLCS was a showcase for two approaches to winning, and this year the Cardinal Way won out. No one can be sure which way will win it next year.