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.
The Cubs are hoping Jason Heyward is not a big swing and a miss. (www.foxsports.com)
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 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.
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 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.
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’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.
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.
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
Speed is the name of the game for Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds. Blazing speed and smart base running have made Hamilton a threat. A single easily turns into a double when Hamilton swipes second base. He can go first to third on hits that would force other runners to stop at second. It is almost surprising if Hamilton does not steal a base and score a run every time he reaches base.
The baseball adage that speed never slumps is true but in the case of Hamilton, he is having difficulty using his speed because he is not getting on base enough. Hamilton has played 208 career games entering Sunday, roughly one and a quarter seasons in the Major Leagues. He has collected 89 stolen bases, been caught stealing 27 times (76.7% success rate), scored 106 runs, 187 hits, 29 doubles, 11 triples, 9 home runs, and walked 46 times. However, Hamilton is a career .248 hitter, with a .290 OBP, and 151 strikeouts in 753 at bats. When he does hit the ball, Hamilton is batting .297 on BAbip (Batting Average on Balls in Play). It might be time for Reds Manager Bryan Price, Hitting Coach Don Long, and Assistant Hitting Coach Lee Tinsley to institute the Willie Mays Hayes rule on Hamilton. If he hits the ball in the air or strikes out, he owes them 20 pushups. If Hamilton can make more contact he can put more pressure on the defense to make mistakes while fielding the ball and/or once on base by stealing a base or three, or by taking the extra base.
Billy Hamilton has the talent to climb the ladder towards Rickey Henderson’s record of 1,406 stolen bases. Although it may be unfair to compare Hamilton to Henderson at this point in his career, it is a compliment this early in Hamilton’s career. After his first two seasons in the Major Leagues, Henderson had played 247 games, with 133 stolen bases, been caught stealing 37 times (78.2% success rate), scored 160 runs, 275 hits, 35 doubles, 7 triples, 10 home runs, walked 151 times, and struck out 93 times in 989 at bats. Henderson was batting .292, with a .392 OBP, and .314 BAbip.
Rickey Henderson was a great hitter and knew that his abilities with the bat were necessary if he was to utilize his legs. Hamilton has the lineup behind him to see pitches to hit. Opposing pitchers cannot take Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce lightly. Pitchers have their hands full with any of this trio at the plate, and having Hamilton on base only adds to the stress for each pitch. Do you want to give up a hit or a stolen base; this is the dilemma facing the other team when Hamilton reaches. Hamilton can change the fortune of the Reds offense by improving his ability to get on base. He knows what to do once he is on base. He just needs to increase the frequency that he is on base.
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