Despite producing the 2015 World Series champions, the Kansas City Royals, the AL Central was a relatively weak division. The White Sox were streaky. The Indians started picking things up in the second half of the season but couldn’t overcome the deficit they built up in the first half. The Tigers just…struggled. The Twins made it clear they are on the rise but just aren’t ready for the spotlight yet. There are some interesting pick ups so far though that have the potential to make big waves in the coming season.
Jordan Zimmermann should help the Tigers rebound from a rough 2015. (www.dodgersbeat.com)
Todd Frazier and Jordan Zimmerman make up the two big moves in this off-season so far. The White Sox were in the bottom five of the league for total HRs and RBIs so they needed to get a big bat into their lineup. Todd Frazier also brings a good glove to support Jose Abreu at first base or he can play third base everyday. He even brings a boost in stolen bases which the White Sox were also well below the league average in 2015.
Todd Frazier should provide the protection Jose Abreu needs to help revive the White Sox. (Cincinnati Reds)
The Tigers picked up a new arm to back up Justin Verlander and make up for the loss of David Price. With 164 strikeouts and 201 innings pitched in 2015, Jordan Zimmerman can help the Tigers shore up the rotation and protect the bullpen. Detroit’s defense played relatively well in regards to fielding so the Tigers did well in getting Zimmerman. Detroit’s defense, compared to the rest of the league had a good fielding percentage and low number of committed errors so Zimmerman’s addition to the rotation should tighten up the defense even further.
The AL Central gave us a rollercoaster of streaky play with plenty of blowouts to enjoy on both sides. The Tigers were disappointing, the Twins were surprising, the White Sox could be depressing, the Indians fought the good fight but had too high a mountain to climb, and the Royals fulfilled their promise. The AL Central was not the most exciting division in baseball, but it showed the full range of emotions a team and fan base can experience throughout the course of a season.
Kansas City Royals
BL – They won the World Series in rather decisive fashion. They’ve got solid pitching with Wade Davis ascending into the ranks of elite MLB closers. They don’t need big power hitters as long as they can keep moving guys through the bases. This is as balanced a team as there is out there. So much so that losing a great utility player like Ben Zobrist isn’t likely to affect their chances of winning this division again.
The Royals play, win, and celebrate a World Series Championship as a team. (Jeff Curry- USA TODAY Sports)
DJ – The biggest strength the Royals have is team cohesion and trust. The last two seasons have seen them get to the World Series twice and win it once. Kansas City needs to stay hungry. The Royals always knew the next guy in the lineup would move them over or get them in, and this belief shows. In 2015, Kansas City’s team Batting Average with runners in scoring position was .281. Their opponents hit .240. The Royals team Batting Average with runners in scoring position with 2 outs was .278, while their opponents hit .196. Kansas City is playing team baseball beautifully. They should continue this in 2016 by replacing Zobrist with the sum of their pieces not just a single player.
BL – The Twins picked up Byung-ho Park which raises the question about Joe Mauer’s future. But I think they really need to focus on putting together a good rotation of young talent to build on. I feel like pitching is the aspect of the game that can’t be more effectively purchased than developed through scouting, drafting, and minor league coaching. Arms burnout and you don’t see as many pitchers getting into their late 30s as gracefully as their batting/fielding counterparts.
Byung-ho Park should help the Twins to start hitting and enter the playoff conversation. (www.koreatimesus.com)
DJ – The Twins finished over .500 and second in the division. A full season under his belt, Manager Paul Molitor will be better at making moves, in and out of the game. Minnesota’s biggest weakness is simply getting base hits. Joe Mauer had the worst batting season of his career, yet still led the Twins with a .265 Batting Average. Simply getting more hits will score more runs and take pressure off the pitching staff and defense. The Twins are close to making a run at the playoffs, they just need to hit the ball more. Adding Byung-ho Park, and his career .281 Batting Average is a good start.
BL – Cleveland had a .477 win percentage in first half of 2015 and a .534 win percentage in the second half. But the season win percentages have been declining under Terry Francona. I don’t see the Indians with the same history of developing players like the Twins. With the smallest payroll in the division, Cleveland management needs to either get ownership to loosen the purse strings or start developing their farm system. Corey Kluber is the lone star of the rotation which doesn’t bode well for the long term and picking up a solid number 2 pitcher and a 25+ HR hitter might be the best way to go. Derek is going to disagree about the Indians’ rotation but I don’t think the younger guys are going to develop their weaker pitches while pitching in the majors and that’ll make them one, may two, trick ponies who’ll get eaten up by some hungry AL bats.
Corey Kluber is the backbone of the Indians rotation that could lead Cleveland to success in October. (Getty Images)
DJ – I passionately disagree with Bernie. Cleveland has its work horses that should make it a contender in 2016. The four man rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer all made at least 30 starts in 2015. The Indians have youth on their side, at the start of the 2016 season Kluber will be 29, Carrasco will be 29, Salazar will be 26, and Bauer will be 25. Each pitched at least 175 innings and combined to have a 3.76 ERA. The foundation is there in Cleveland, the Indians just need to keep those young arms healthy and maintain a solid bullpen to support this fantastic pitching rotation.
BL & DJ
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 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.