Every fan wants to own part of their obsession. Star Wars fans want everything from shirts to full on costumes. Baseball fans are no different. Every die hard baseball fan wants to own a piece of the game. You collect a piece here and there, and over time it grows into a small collection. Few people can rival the collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but it does not mean we should not have our own version of Cooperstown.
This painting of Buck Leonard was a gift from my wife. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
I am under no illusion that my baseball collection of is vast, or even valuable. The value is the joy I get every time I walk through my baseball room. Every piece is a tiny part of baseball history and my own history. It is a reminder of my love for the game and what I have done in life. A wall can turn into two walls, then a room, and then hopefully into something even greater.
My baseball wall. It is small, but growing a little every year. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
My centerpiece is a signed Andruw Jones jersey my wife bought me. He is my all time favorite player. Jesse met Andruw Jones and Otis Nixon and had them sign a baseball for me. My other signed memorabilia has been collected through winning charity auctions; this includes signed baseballs by Billy Hamilton, Joey Votto, and Johnny Cueto. My wife bought me a signed Craig Breslow baseball. Our first real trip together was to Boston and a game at Fenway, Breslow was the winning pitcher that day for the Red Sox. I won cleats signed by Kal Daniels and a signed photographs of Brandon Phillips and Devin Mesoraco from charity auctions. My wife found the program from Johnny Bench night at Riverfront Stadium at a thrift store for me. I have the program from the 2016 South Atlantic League All Star game, which I attended in Lexington, Kentucky with my sister-in-law. I have a score card from a game I attended in Houston after a friends wedding. The Astros defeated the Blue Jays that day with the roof closed while it monsooned outside. I have a Dodgers cup and a Pirates plastic nacho helmet from attending games with friends and family. I have a Moneyball movie poster and a poster of all the professional baseball team names broken down by category. I have a reprint of a Norman Rockwell painting and a painting of Buck Leonard as a member of the Homestead Grays. These pieces of art have been given to me as gifts along the way. I have a Louisville Slugger signed by my friends and family from our wedding shower. My lamp is filled with baseballs signed by friends and family from our wedding.
Devin Mesoraco no longer plays for the Reds, but this photograph is still striking. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Some of my collection has actual monetary value, however small. However, much of my collection is important for sentimental reasons. All of it helps to create my personal version of Cooperstown. I love it and I know it will continue to grow a little every year as I experience new things in life and my love for the game grows.
Let’s try this again. For the fourth year in a row The Winning Run will try in vain to accurately predict what will happen during the 2017 Major League Baseball season. We do this knowing that we are terrible at this, yet it is still fun to try. The only thing that we can guarantee about our predictions are that they are wrong and the actual season will be better than the season we predicted. Thanks to Bernie for his commentary on each team.
We realize that the season has already begun and that we are late to the party. There is a good reason for this. We were all attending Derek’s wedding with Jesse as the Best Man, Bernie as a groomsman, and John as an usher. Sorry about the delay, life got busy. And so, here are our predictions for the 2017 season.
|1st||Washington Nationals||New York Muttz||Washington Nationals||Washington Nationals|
|2nd||New York Mets*||Washington Gnats||Atlanta Braves||New York Mets|
|3rd||Miami Marlins||Atlanta Bravos||New York Mets||Miami Marlins|
|4th||Atlanta Braves||Miami Fish||Miami Marlins||Atlanta Braves|
|5th||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Follies||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Phillies|
Washington Nationals – These guys are like Peyton Manning. Great in the regular season but can’t seem to navigate the playoffs. Will they capture hardware this year? I won’t hold my breath. Bryce Harper is pretty much a force of nature in the game but more like a tornado in that the damage is only done if you get in the way.
New York Mets – I’m torn about putting them further down the list. Why? Because of another f-ing football player – Tim Tebow. With arguably the best rotation in the league and young bats that are finding their stride, these guys only get in their own way. If they could borrow some of the “No F@#$s Given” attitude of their crosstown rivals, I’d put them in the NLCS without hesitation. If there’s even a whisper of Tebow getting called up after the All-Star Break, write these guys off.
Miami Marlins – Stanton looked good in the WBC. The team met with considerable tragedies last season. Even if they get it together and settled this year, they’re a couple seasons away from elbowing out the Mets and the Nationals.
Atlanta Braves – The Braves are rebuilding with some interesting young talent. Dansby Swanson is really just the icing on the cake. Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon, is just fun to watch as he continues trucking along as if he were decades younger. Hopefully, he’ll share his experience in a way that keeps the young guys on track and out of trouble. It’s still a long way from seeing them place higher in the division.
Philadelphia Phillies – There are few franchises that I can think of that are more poorly managed from the front office on down. Did I bother to look up anything on their off-season? Why bother?
Bartolo Colon brings his power bat and arm to Atlanta, can Big Sexy hit career home run #2 for the Braves. (www.mlb.com)
|1st||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Harry Caray’s||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Cubs|
|2nd||Pittsburgh Pirates||Pittsburgh Buckos*||St. Louis Cardinals*||St. Louis Cardinals*|
|3rd||St. Louis Cardinals||Cincinnati Fighting Vottos||Pittsburgh Pirates||Milwaukee Brewers|
|4th||Milwaukee Brewers||St. Louis Dreadbirds||Milwaukee Brewers||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|5th||Cincinnati Reds||Milwaukee Brewniversity||Cincinnati Reds||Cincinnati Reds|
Chicago Cubs – The Cubs have to get the nod for being the World Series Champs but especially so because the win came on the backs of a core group of young talent in Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Addison Russell. Javier Baez continues to amaze with his acrobatic defense and it’s getting more refined. Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks are the only guys on the rotation I’d trust to finish the season strong but that may be all they need to go deep in the playoffs.
St. Louis Cardinals – I’m now more convinced than ever that Yadier Molina is a cyborg. I keep thinking they’re too old to keep up and I’m looking like a fool as they pull out wins. What’s also got me intrigued this season is the new roster of incoming talent with guys like Alex Reyes (before he needed Tommy John surgery) and Luke Weaver. They’re rebuilding while still competing for the playoffs. That deserves a lot of respect.
Milwaukee Brewers – I think they’re trying to follow the Cardinals’ example of rebuilding without demolishing. For some odd reason, I have a feeling Junior Guerra will have a great season. I don’t put a lot of stock into spring training except to see how individuals spent their offseason getting ready but they’re looking pretty good.
Pittsburgh Pirates – I’ve been high on them in the past. I think I need to sober up. Aside from their all-star outfield, I’m not sure there’s a lot else to be hopeful about.
Cincinnati Reds – They’re rebuilding. I don’t think they’ll be the worst but this division may be the overall best division in all of MLB. Finishing last in the Central but maybe 10th in the National League.
|1st||Los Angeles Dodgers||Colorado Silver Bullets||Los Angeles Dodgers||San Francisco Giants|
|2nd||San Francisco Giants*||Los Angeles Vin Scullys*||Colorado Rockies*||Los Angeles Dodgers*|
|3rd||Colorado Rockies||San Padres Big Macs||San Francisco Giants||Colorado Rockies|
|4th||Arizona Diamondbacks||Arizona Trouser Snakes||Arizona Diamondbacks||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|5th||San Diego Padres||San Francisco Gigantors||San Diego Padres||San Diego Padres|
San Francisco Giants – Cueto and Samardzija still have enough in the tank which makes this the best rotation in this division. Melancon is a solid closer addition to anchor a bullpen. The talent on this roster is well-experienced but not fighting the twilight of their careers.
Los Angeles Dodgers – These guys caught lightning in a bottle. Seager is my pick to take MVP this season. But there’s some age on this team that’s probably going to show. It’s not just tarnish, it might be rust. I’m not sold on Joc Pederson. Though he’s shown some moments of pure brilliance, it’s too streaky.
Colorado Rockies – If Trevor Story stays healthy this team may be knocking on the Dodgers door…wait, no pitching. Nevermind. Arizona might catch them by surprise.
San Diego Padres – This team may have better luck if they spent some time with the real life versions of their mascot.
The Diamondbacks and Paul Goldschmidt could be a surprise in the NL West. (Ezra Shaw)
|1st||Boston Red Sox||Toronto Canucks||Boston Red Sox||Boston Red Sox|
|2nd||Toronto Blue Jays*||New York Spankees||New York Yankees*||New York Yankees*|
|3rd||New York Yankees||Baltimore Riots||Toronto Blue Jays||Baltimore Orioles*|
|4th||Baltimore Orioles||Steve Irwin Killers||Tampa Bay Rays||Toronto Blue Jays|
|5th||Tampa Bay Rays||Boston Dead Sux||Baltimore Orioles||Tampa Bay Rays|
Boston Red Sox – Getting Chris Sale indicates the Boston Red Sox want to win now. With Price in the pipeline, they might have a slow start to the season but this is probably the most formidable American League rotation this season. There’s plenty of hitting available in the lineup without Benintendi. So he’s just icing on the cake. Blech.
New York Yankees – I think it’s safe to say that Tanaka is a bonafide ace. I’ve heard that Sabathia may have finally perfected another pitch and developed the sort of patience necessary for an arm that’s lost some heat. They got some bats to hopefully keep them in games late so that they can show off what may be one of the top 5 bullpens in the league.
Baltimore Orioles – Manny Machado is a man amongst boys and it’s often forgotten how young he is. Adam Jones is still a force to be reckoned with. This is a roster that’s really good up and down but what I think puts them in third place is that there’s more potential firepower in the rotation and lineup than…
Toronto Blue Jays – Probably the most balanced team in all of major league baseball. Yet, the underachieving in the playoffs is problematic for me. I think this is the year where it’s going to catch up to them this season.
Chris Sale changed his sox and could make Boston untouchable in the East. (www.si.com)
|1st||Cleveland Indians||Kansas City Monarchs||Cleveland Indians||Cleveland Indians|
|2nd||Detroit Tigers||Cleveland Up Three Games To None*||Detroit Tigers||Kansas City Royals|
|3rd||Kansas City Royals||Chicago Black Sox||Minnesota Twins||Detroit Tigers|
|4th||Minnesota Twins||Minnesota Twinkies||Kansas City Royals||Minnesota Twins|
|5th||Chicago White Sox||Detroit Militarized Zone||Chicago White Sox||Chicago White Sox|
Cleveland Indians – These guys didn’t get into the World Series because they were built on foundation of well-experienced and stalwart veteran stars. This is a dynamic team with a creative manager. 2017 is a reloading, not refurbishing, year.
Kansas City Royals – Something didn’t click in 2016 but this is a well-balanced team. The departure of Wade Davis and Edinson Volquez is troublesome but they added some bats to increase their hitting production. Danny Duffy is an exciting talent that is screaming elite ace but let’s hold judgement until we see how he navigates the season.
Detroit Tigers – A veteran team with the closest thing to Murderers’ Row in the AL. If Verlander bounces back quickly they should be considered higher but, aside from Zimmermann, the rotation is unexciting. K-Rod had a great 2016 season but this doesn’t seem to be a bullpen that can truly shorten games. It’s feast or famine with the Tigers this year.
Minnesota Twins – They circled the wagons a bit with their lineup but it’s a solid core group. There’s an interesting variety in the rotation but that’s all that can be said about their pitching.
Chicago White Sox – New manager and a great prospect. But at what cost? Sorry, but the departure of Sale and Eaton leaves a lot to be desired.
|1st||Houston Astros||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Seattle Mariners||Houston Astros|
|2nd||Seattle Mariners*||Houston Colt 45s*||Houston Astros*||Seattle Mariners|
|3rd||Texas Rangers||Oakland White Elephants||Texas Rangers||Texas Rangers|
|4th||Los Angeles Angels||Texas Dangers||Los Angeles Angels||Los Angeles Angels|
|5th||Oakland Athletics||Seattle Seamen||Oakland Athletics||Oakland Athletics|
Houston Astros – Reddick, Aoki, and Beltran…the Astros built up one of the more enviable lineups in the American League. This should take the pressure off an ERA heavy rotation that can usually pitch deep into games. Gregerson and Giles is a great 1-2 punch in the bullpen.
Seattle Mariners – This remodeling seems to be going along well. Edwin Diaz looked good in the World Baseball Classic with some nasty late movement in his off-speed pitches. But still not sure the Mariners pitching can consistently give the lineup 8 innings to get to him. This lineup looks good though so opposing pitchers may have trouble getting around Cruz and Cano.
Texas Rangers – These guys finished first last season and are getting what should be a healthy Yu Darvish. But I’m not sold that the departure of Desmond, Beltran, and Moreland was properly accounted for in their hitting lineup.
Los Angeles Angels – Having the best player in baseball shouldn’t make a team complacent. But that’s what we have here. The addition of Cameron Maybin brings some good lumber to the yard but the rotation is iffy and the bullpen is in shambles.
Oakland Athletics – These guys may need a new training staff. To say the pitching staff is a stone’s throw away from triage belies the fact that it’s a stone thrown by my four year-old godson.
Robinson Cano and the Mariners should be tough to handle with solid pitching and hitting. (Troy Taormina- USA TODAY Sports)
My season picks were more serious than these. This is more about what I would like to see happen and what I think would make a great storyline for the game. (The number following indicates games won in the series)
NL Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)
|Winner||San Francisco Giants||Pittsburgh Buckos||Colorado Rockies||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Loser||New York Mets||Los Angeles Vin Scullys||St. Louis Cardinals||St. Louis Cardinals|
Al Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)
|Winner||Seattle Mariners||Cleveland Up Three Games To None||Houston Astros||New York Yankees|
|Loser||Toronto Blue Jays||Houston Colt 45s||New York Yankees||Baltimore Orioles|
|Winner (1-4)||Washington Nationals||Colorado Silver Bullets||Washington Nationals||Los Angeles Dodgers – 3|
|Loser (1-4)||San Francisco Giants||Pittsburgh Buckos||Colorado Rockies||Chicago Cubs – 2|
|Winner (2-3)||Chicago Cubs||New York Muttz||Chicago Cubs||San Francisco Giants – 3|
|Loser (2-3)||Los Angeles Dodgers||Chicago Harry Caray’s||Los Angeles Dodgers||Washington Nationals – 1|
|Winner (1-4)||Boston Red Sox||Kansas City Monarchs||Cleveland Indians||New York Yankees – 3|
|Loser (1-4)||Seattle Mariners||Cleveland Up Three Games To None||Houston Astros||Cleveland Indians – 2|
|Winner (2-3)||Cleveland Indians||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Seattle Marines||Boston Red Sox – 3|
|Loser (2-3)||Houston Astros||Toronto Canucks||Boston Red Sox||Houston Astros – 2|
|Winner||Washington Nationals||Colorado Silver Bullets||Washington Nationals||San Francisco Giants – 4|
|Loser||Chicago Cubs||New York Muttz||Chicago Cubs||Los Angeles Dodgers – 3|
|Winner||Cleveland Indians||Kansas City Monarchs||Seattle Mariners||New York Yankees – 4|
|Loser||Boston Red Sox||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Boston Red Sox||Boston Red Sox – 2|
Who will celebrate in October in 2017? (Brian Cassella/ Chicago Tribune)
|Winner||Washington Nationals – 4||Colorado Silver Bullets – 4||Seattle Mariners – 4||New York Yankees – 4|
|Loser||Boston Red Sox – 3||Kansas City Monarchs – 2||Washington Nationals – 2||San Francisco Giants – 3|
Time will tell if any of our predictions are correct. This is our fourth year doing this and we still are horrible at making predictions. So don’t blame us if we are wrong, we warned you. Just remember, baseball makes it better.
DJ, JJ, JB, and BL
Every time a major free agent signs with a new team the fans celebrate and begin dreaming about the future possibilities of the team. If you read the newspapers or internet after every blockbuster free agency signing, it would be difficult to believe anything other than that team is now destined to at least reach the World Series, if not win it all. This is especially true when starting pitchers sign major deals. While the debate over what the future holds for the player and their new team should ignite the passions of the fans and media, this offseason feels as though there is an additional layer to the hype and excitement.
The fans buying tickets, jerseys, hats, television packages, etc. are the driving force for the business of baseball. If fans were not willing to spend $10 for the cheap seats or hundreds of dollars for premium seats, not to mention food, clothing, and media, the players and owners would not see the financial benefits they do. Every free agent dreams of cashing in on their years of hard work for a contract like the one David Price has with the Red Sox. Price signed for seven years, $217 million contract. He does not have to worry about working another day in his life. The same is true for Jason Heyward with the Cubs (eight years, $184 million), Johnny Cueto with the Giants (six years, $130 million), and Justin Upton with the Tigers (six years, $132.75 million). Their talent on the diamond has more than secured each of their financial future.
Justin Upton looks to turn the Tigers around quickly. (www.rollingstone.com)
Financial security also exists for those players not in the upper echelon of free agents. Non-ace starting pitchers can often dictate whether a team contends for a World Series, or even for the playoffs, as much as an ace like Felix Hernandez can. Excellent pitchers like Scott Kazmir can dictate how a team plays throughout the season. This reality has resulted in Scott Kazmir signing with the Dodgers (three years, $48 million). Fans in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, and the north side of Chicago should all rejoice in the talent their teams’ have signed during this offseason.
Before those dreams of World Series championships and parades permanently ingrain themselves into their minds, it would be best to temper those dreams. This offseason has shown that both the teams and the players want to win and win now. Owners are using deferred money to soften the burden of paying large contracts. Consider Chris Davis’ contract with the Orioles. He signed a seven-year, $161 million contract, with $42 million of the contract deferred. The Orioles will continue paying Davis until 2037. The financial deferment will enable the Orioles to spend money elsewhere in the hopes of winning more games and hopefully a World Series.
Scott Kazmir proves the opt-out clause is not reserved strictly for top free agents. (Colin E. Braley/ AP)
Ownership is not alone in this win now mentality. Players understand they only have a small window to win at least one World Series during their career and they prefer not to waste valuable years playing for teams that have no chance of making the playoffs, much less winning a World Series. The no trade clause has long been the means by which players protected themselves against a trade to a terrible team. However, what if the team they are playing is that terrible team?
Not every player will want to opt out of their contract. Even some elite players may decide it is best to remain with a team despite not consistently contending for the playoffs. If Todd Helton had an opt-out clause in the nine year, $141.5 million contract that he signed in 2001, few would have blamed him if he had left the Rockies before the end of the contract. During Helton’s 17-year career, Colorado had five winning season, made the playoffs twice, getting swept by the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series and losing to the Phillies in the 2009 NLDS. Helton remained an elite player throughout his career, but he rarely played for a team that had a hope of making the playoffs. While Helton is a Rockies legend, having spent his entire career playing in Colorado, he could have moved on from the Rockies later in his career if he felt a better situation for winning was available. Given the option to leave the Rockies does not mean Helton would have left, but it could have pushed management to field a more competitive team in the short term instead of waiting for the team to rebuild through homegrown talent.
Would Todd Helton’s career be remembered differently if he could have opted out of Colorado? (www.beforeitwasnews.com)
Opt-out clauses seems to have gained enormous steam this offseason. Players will nearly always accept the large contracts from teams for their services, as they should. There does come a point for every player, when their financial future is secure, that enables them to prioritize winning and extending their careers. The opt-out clause empowers players to have more control regarding their career arc. They are no longer stuck with a team if the team’s plan for winning does not materialize. Players also gain time as they do not have to spend prime playing years waiting to become a free agent and lose interest from contending teams.
We may not see Johnny Cueto, Jason Heyward, Scott Kazmir, David Price, or Justin Upton fulfill the full length of their new contracts from free agency. Each player has an opt-out clause, enabling them to return to free agency in pursuit of a larger payday or joining another team they see as a better fit. All the big free agent signings of this offseason could be back on the market following the 2018 season.
|Team||Years||Contract Amount (Millions)||Opt Out After||Pre Opt-Out Seasons||
Pre Opt-Out Salary (Millions)
|David Price||Red Sox||
The excitement from these free agent signings may only last a few seasons. The opt-out clause in these contracts could act as a player friendly way to rent their services to a new team, much like teams trading away soon-to-be free agents to contenders. Players are in a win-win situation with these contracts, as they can now maximize their potential to earn money, play for winning teams, and have longer careers. The focus has long been on the downside for the team when they sign players like Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano to long and expensive contracts. The final years of these contracts result in players receiving higher annual salaries than their abilities would garner them if they were up for a new contract. Such long contracts also handcuff most teams in their efforts to field a contending team. The Texas Rangers would have remained irrelevant had they not traded Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. The Rodriguez contract (10 years, $252 million) was too large for the team to handle financially. Beyond the financial aspects, the rise in opt-out clauses means players have the opportunity to leave a team if they believe a better contract and situation exists for them elsewhere.
The contract signed by Giancarlo Stanton last offseason quietly signaled the shift away from gigantic contracts to shorter contracts that are more player friendly. The Marlins, aside from needing to regain some credibility with baseball fans in south Florida, solidified Stanton as the foundation they would use to build a contender. Stanton’s contract blended the old and new approaches to signing big free agent talent. Miami wanted to prevent Stanton from ever reaching free agency and signed him to a 13 year, $325 million contract. This means Stanton should be playing in South Florida until he is 37, maybe 38 if the Marlins exercise a team option for the 2028 season. The years and the money are comparable to the contracts for Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, and Alex Rodriguez. These 10+ year contracts lock down a player well beyond their productive seasons. While this contract may not seem like a move away from those other massive contracts, the inclusion of an opt-out clause was striking. However, Stanton received an opt-out clause following year six, the 2020 season. At the age of 30, Stanton could still command an enormous contract on the free agent market. The opt-out also prevents Stanton from playing the vast majority of his career for the Marlins, if ownership is not willing or able to put a winning product on the field. The Giancarlo Stanton contract gave the Marlins, and their fans, the stability of having their player signed long term yet it gave the player the ability to hold the team accountable.
Giancarlo Stanton’s contract ushered in a new era of mega contracts but with an opt-out clause. (www.grantland.com)
The ability to opt out of a contract may transform the way free agency operates. Players now have the ability to hold their team accountable. Opting out means a team cannot place all of its faith in building a winning team in a single player, or simply building for the future. Baseball is a team sport and players expect and demand that management works to build a winning team. This new approach to signing players to contracts allows successful teams to sign premium players for the long-term, while giving players the ability to leave a team for a better situation or payday if they desire. No player wants to make less than they are worth or languish with a team going nowhere for their entire career. Fans must understand until a player decides not to opt out of the contract the new free agent has in reality signed for only a few years. Opt-out clauses create two contracts out of one. The player holds all the cards in deciding if the second contract comes into effect. Fans can dream, but their dreams need to focus more on short-term results instead of building a dynasty with their newly signed free agent.
It is time to set some resolutions for 2016 and some teams have decided to start early on their resolutions with some big off-season moves. We thought it might be nice to give a quick recap of what we think are the top 2 moves in each division so far and what the other teams need to do in order to position themselves best for long-term success. We’re starting from the west and giving the nod to the NL as the elder statesman of MLB.
The two big moves in the NL West so far were made by the Giants and the Diamondbacks with the signings of Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Zack Greinke respectively. Both of these teams have the hitting and fielding necessary to win games and all that they need is a rotation that could keep games from having NFL box scores.
Jeff Samardzija does not back down from anyone or anything. He will throw punches and eat innings for the good of the team. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
The bigger move here is the Giants getting Cueto and Samardzija because, with Madison Bumgardner as their ace, there won’t be many easy games in a 7-game series. Looks like the Giants want to keep the even year cycle going into the 2016 season.
The Diamondbacks, with a lineup mostly under 30, can anchor a rotation with Greinke for a season or two as they piece together a powerhouse rotation. Maybe it’s a bit biased but Shelby Miller is better than you might think and with the run support he can get from the D-Backs’ lineup, should make him a solid #2.
Shelby Miller was excellent in baseball history in 2015. Only a Braves team being torn down around him was able to overcome his excellence on the mound. (www.statliners.com)
Now we’re not saying that there haven’t been other moves worth noting, but the two we’ve discussed change the dynamics of the division. At the beginning of the 2015 season, the NL West looked like a matchup between the Dodgers and the Giants. The rest of the division was going to be an afterthought. Now the Giants look like they’ve taken the catbird seat with the D-Backs as the biggest threat to unseat them. That said…
Los Angeles Dodgers
BL – I think the Dodgers need to balance themselves out and get themselves a good core group. It seems like they’ve got good hitters who don’t have the legs to field and the younger guys can’t make consistent contact. The best place to start would be revamping their infield fast…like should have been done yesterday.
Is Yasiel Puig destined to become a Dodgers legend or will he be moved to break up the outfield log jam? (www.gardygoesyardy.com)
DJ – The Dodgers have to focus on getting value instead of overpaying for everyone. Their payroll is shrinking some so they cannot continue to spend like the George Steinbrenner Yankees of old. The Dodgers need to decide who is the future of their outfield. Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford make for a crowded outfield. Each of these players plays best when they are in the lineup everyday. The Dodgers Front Office must decide if they will take the financial hit of paying Crawford or Ethier to go away, or risk trading away a decade or more of All Star play by moving Pederson or Puig.
BL – The Rockies lost nearly a quarter of their games in 2015 by substantial margins (4+ runs and 38 games to be precise). Colorado could use a lot more consistent pitching to keep games close. Keeping some scoring margins manageable means having a consistent defense to keep things under control but that might mean letting go of some hitting to get that. The focus should stay on improving the rotation and bullpen in order to make it easier on the defense. Losing John Axford might hurt them in the long run but a closer should only be the icing on the cake.
Nolan Arenado’s perennial Gold Glove defense is overshadowed by hit skill with the bat. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
DJ – The Rockies need power from their first baseman. Combined the Rockies first basemen hit 17 HR with 78 RBI. Ben Paulsen played 88 games at first and hit 8 HR with 38 RBI. Colorado needs more power to drive in runs. Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez both had monster years. If the Rockies can land a first baseman that can add a bit more power to the line up the Rockies could overcome many of their other struggles.
San Diego Padres
BL – The Padres need some sports psychiatry and not just for the players but the managers and front office as well. There’s plenty of talent on this team but it’s simply not working together well. Craig Kimbrel was brought in too early when there were other issues for the team to sort out. There’s a lot of money locked up in the outfield and pitching staff. Best thing for them to do is sort out a plan and stick with it.
Kevin Quackenbush and the rest of the Padres bullpen were severly overused in 2015. San Diego starters needs to do better in 2016. (www.friarsonbase.com)
DJ- The Padres were a mess and it showed in the pitching. The starting rotation only had one starting pitcher average at least 6 innings pitched per start, James Shields. This left the San Diego bullpen with too many innings to chew up. San Diego overworked their relievers. Five relief pitchers appeared in at least 53 games; Brandon Maurer (53 games), Shawn Kelley (53 games), Kevin Quackenbush (57 games), Craig Kimbrel (61 games), and Joaquin Benoit (67 games). No bullpen can survive this workload over the course of a season. If the Padres want to be better in 2016, it all starts with putting together a starting rotation that can go deeper in games.
BL and DJ
The Kansas City Royals beat the New York Mets in five games to win the 2015 World Series. Half of The Winning Run staff (Bernie and myself) were correct in our predictions for which team would win. However, while we expected the Royals to win, we did not expect the Mets to lose so quickly. The Mets seemed to run out of steam in the World Series. Their bats went cold, the back half of the bullpen became wobbly Jell-O, and the team seemed to forget how to play fundamentally sound baseball. This doomed the boys from Flushing.
The Mets and Royals both played like a team. No single player led them to victory or defeat; rather the teams, as a whole, decided their fates. The Mets held the lead in all five games; in four of the five games the Mets held the lead at least through the end of the 7th inning. New York got quality pitching out of their starters. The issues arose when the starters were left in for too long (Game 5, Matt Harvey) or when the bullpen had to hold a close lead late in the game. Mets’ closer Jeurys Familia blew three saves. Blaming an error here or a poor decision there for the Mets defeat would be easy. However, the Royals victory was as much a team effort as the Mets defeat was a team effort and the numbers show it.
The Royals had the advantage on offense. Kansas City had 197 AB, 47 Hits, 10 Doubles, 1 Triple, 2 HR, 25 RBI, and 27 R in the World Series. The Royals drew 17 BB against 37 SO. Kansas City had a .239 BA, .295 OBP .330 SLG, .625 OPS, and were 7 for 7 in Stolen Bases.
The Mets had 181 AB, 35 Hits, 1 Double, 0 Triples, 6 HR, 18 RBI, and 19 R in the World Series. New York drew 14 BB against 46 SO. The Mets had a .193 BA, .254 OBP, .298 SLG, .552 OPS, and were 1 for 3 in Stolen Bases.
The Royals and Mets both sent 16 different players to the plate during the World Series. Kansas City had 16 more At Bats and collected 12 more hits. The Mets displayed their power by hitting 4 more HR. While the Royals did not hit many balls out of the park, they collected 9 more Doubles and the only Triple in the World Series. Kansas City collected 7 more RBI with 3 more BB and 9 fewer SO. Putting the ball in play more consistently resulted in the Royals having a .046 higher BA, a .041 higher OBP, a .032 higher SLG, and a .073 higher OPS. Additionally, the Royals attempted 4 more Stolen Bases than the Mets and collected 6 more Stolen Bases. The Royals were constantly pressuring the Mets.
The Royals knew they would not win trying to engage in a slugging contest with the Mets, thus Kansas City relied on their speed and ability to get on base. Putting pressure on the New York defense paid off, as the Mets committed six errors in the four World Series games they lost. These errors, from Daniel Murphy missing a ground ball to New York’s inability to turn a double play, gave Kansas City more opportunities to score. The boys from Flushing seemingly forgot how to play fundamentally sound baseball when it counted the most.
The 9th inning of Game 5 is the perfect example of the Mets not playing fundamentally sound baseball. Eric Hosmer is on third after a double and moving to third due to a ground out to the right side of the infield. Salvador Perez hits an easy chopper to David Wright at third. Before throwing to first to put out Perez, Wright briefly looks Eric Hosmer back to third. Instead of looking Hosmer back longer, Wright hurried his look back in order to throw out the slow running Perez. As soon as Wright began his throw to first, Hosmer broke for home. The Royals scouting report said Kansas City had a good chance to score a run with Wright throwing to Lucas Duda at first. David Wright has had to alter his throwing motion to a more side arm throw due to a shoulder injury, and he no longer has a strong arm to throw across the infield. Duda likewise does not have a good throwing arm, although not due to an arm injury. Wright’s weakened throw to first, Duda having to stretch for the ball then quickly adjust into a throwing position to deliver a good throw to Travis d’Arnaud at home meant the Royals had a good chance to score. Hosmer’s dash home would have been for nothing had Duda delivered a good throw. However, his throw was well off the mark, missing d’Arnaud completely and allowing Hosmer to score the tying run that eventually sent the game into extra innings. Putting pressure on the defense forcing them to make plays, or forcing pitchers to make more stressful pitches out of the stretch wears on a team. The Royals put the ball in play and used their speed to put more and more pressure on the Mets, until New York faltered, enabling Kansas City to take advantage.
The fight between the Royals and Mets pitchers favored the Royals. In total, the Royals used 11 pitchers over 52 innings. The starters pitched 31.1 innings and the bullpen pitched 20.2 innings for Kansas City. Royals’ pitchers gave up 35 Hits, 19 R, 17 ER, and 14 BB, with 46 SO. As a team, Kansas City pitchers had a 2.94 ERA and a 0.942 WHIP.
The Mets used 11 different pitchers over 51.1 innings. New York’s starters pitched 30 innings and the bullpen pitched 21.1 innings. Mets pitchers gave up 47 Hits, 27 R, 24 ER, and 17 BB, with 37 SO. New York pitchers collectively had a 4.21 ERA and a 1.247 WHIP.
The Mets and Royals used the same number of pitchers, 11, during the World Series. Kansas City pitchers had to pitch 0.2 fewer innings due to more victories at home and leading going into the 9th inning. The Royals starters pitched 1.1 more innings and the Kansas City bullpen pitched 0.2 fewer innings. The Mets gave up 12 more hits, 8 more Earned Runs, 7 more Runs, had 9 fewer strikeouts, and issued 3 more walks than Kansas City. The advantage of the Royals is most glaring in their 1.27 lower ERA less KC and 0.305 lower WHIP.
One of the critical turning points of the World Series came in Game 2 with Johnny Cueto’s complete game victory for the Royals. Aside from putting Kansas City up 2-0 against the Mets in a best of seven series, Cueto’s effort allowed the Royals bullpen to recover from the 14 inning marathon in Game 1. The Mets bullpen used five pitchers for 7 1/3 innings of relief in Game 1, while the Royals bullpen used six pitchers for 8 innings of relief. In Game 2, the Mets had to use four pitchers over three innings when Jacob deGrom was pulled after going five innings. Cueto’s complete game allowed the Royals to completely rest their bullpen in Game 2. This extra day of rest before the travel day to New York gave Kansas City an advantage heading into the rest of the series.
Two full days of rest are invaluable when every pitch means so much. Ned Yost was not faced with the same bullpen concerns as Terry Collins. The Royals could afford to pull their starters, if necessary, in the following games unlike the Mets. New York did win Game 3, but being forced into their bullpen after Yordano Ventura went 3 1/3 innings at worst pulled the Royals back even with the Mets. Cueto’s complete game prevented the Royals from blowing out their bullpen in Game 3 enabling the bullpen to remain strong and keep the Mets from building large leads in Games 4 and 5. Keeping the Mets close enough until the bats came alive in the late innings enabled the Royals to win the World Series after coming back from behind in all four of the games they won.
The Royals winning the World Series in just five games may give the illusion that the Mets were over matched. However, the series was much closer than it might appear. Kansas City capitalized on their opportunities by manufacturing runs and forcing New York to make mistakes under pressure. The Mets were not defeated because of their inability to match up with the Royals; they lost because their fundamentals broke down at critical moments and were unable to build large leads or hold smaller leads in the late innings.
Both the Royals and the Mets played team baseball. Neither team was too reliant upon a single player or a hand full of players. The 2015 World Series was truly about who had the better 25-player roster. Kansas City’s bullpen had to pitch slightly fewer innings but had a crucial extra day of rest. The Kansas City offense was able to put the ball in play more to force the Mets defense to make a play. Generally, New York made the plays they needed to, however the Mets did eventually make mistakes and, with the Royals constantly getting on base, these mistakes cost New York runs and games. More than anything these slight differences between the Royals and Mets are why Kansas City is celebrating their first World Series championship in 30 years and why the Mets are left to wonder what they could have done differently.