A new season is here and despite a lukewarm stove during the offseason, there are some interesting changes that should make our predictions even more misguided than before. Here’s a breakdown of how we see the final standings and playoffs going down. Bernie’s providing a “scouting report” based on our averaged predictions this time around.
|NL East||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
1st Place- Washington Nationals
The Nationals seem to be suffering from the curse of most Washington sports teams with their inability to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. After last season, this led to a hasty change in management. Any moron with a working foot and hands can drive a Ferrari fast. That’s what this team is and why they’ll win the division.
2nd Place- Philadelphia Phillies
We rag on them a lot. It’s been ten head-scratching years since they won the World Series looking like they could have been contenders for several years. So it’s well-deserved. This time, they cleaned house a bit with a lot of cash-in-hand to build a team on the fly.
3rd Place- Atlanta Braves
They’re rebuilding too but the rebuild has had some setbacks. Shelby Miller and Alex Wood floundered. Wood may not have been comfortable in Atlanta but Miller was left out to dry without run support far too often. The front office traded away the pitching staff (giving up Kimbrel for what!?) to get hitters but also gave up one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors – Andrelton Simmons. Nothing has worked yet but they’re still not the head case that are the Mets.
4th Place- New York Mets
They still have formidable pitching if they can stay healthy. Their lineup isn’t drastically different than the one that made a World Series appearance in 2015. In some ways, this lineup has some serious slugging potential. But they’re the Mets. As long as there’s a lurking sideshow like Tim Tebow, you can bet these guys can’t stay out of their own heads long enough to hold it together for a season.
5th Place- Miami Marlins
Part of me would like to call this karmic retribution for ruining perfectly good World Series championship teams from the past. That part is because I don’t want to disparage Jeter but, to be fair, this also feels like certain teams flexing some influence to manufacture winners and losers. Or this could be a genius move to truly build from the ground up…I’m not holding my breath.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
1st Place- Chicago Cubs
Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana are in. Jake Arrieta is out. Kyle Schwarber looks like he was stranded on a desert island during the off-season but in a good way. There’s far too much young hitting and defensive talent on this roster to think that turnover in the rotation is going to do much of anything. Heck, if Schwarber can run down a fly ball better, Cubs fans should be rejoicing because he showed in Spring Training that he can hit for power just from his shoulder rotation.
2nd Place- Milwaukee Brewers
3rd Place- St. Louis Cardinals
These guys are like the San Antonio Spurs. They capitalize on their experience and reload. However, the reloading hasn’t quite been adapting to the rapid changes going on in other places. Molina is still a machine but that’s relative to his age. Same goes for Carpenter, Fowler, and Wainwright (who’s currently hurt). Tommy Pham has a lot of hustle and if Wacha, Gyorko, Wong, and DeJong can find an extra gear to raise their game, third place is going to be off.
4th Place- Cincinnati Reds
One guy north of 30 on the top of their depth chart for fielding but a whole lot of questions about their rotation. If this team could gel together this season, the NL Central will probably be the most exciting division to watch this season.
5th Place- Pittsburgh Pirates
Heart doesn’t win games if you can’t keep them close. There isn’t enough depth here to contend with the rest of the division. Doubt they’ll come in last in the National League but they rest of the Central provides a big obstacle to move forward.
|NL West||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
1st Place- Los Angeles Dodgers
Let’s give the 2017 National League Pennant winners their due. There’s little else to that’s necessary to mention.
2nd Place- Arizona Diamondbacks
I think Zack Greinke is ready to crush it this season. Taijuan Walker is a solid pick up to round out the rotation. Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb are a powerful one-two punch in a pretty formidable lineup. A healthy A.J. Pollock and an added bat with Steven Souza Jr. gives them a credible threat to unseat the Dodgers this year.
3rd Place- Colorado Rockies
The Rockies didn’t do a whole lot to solidify the impressive season they had last year. Blackmon has been on a steady increase over the last four seasons so he may regress this season. Their rotation is really well balanced without an elite ace.
4th Place- San Francisco Giants
The Giants added Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria to the lineup. Two guys whom many would have expected to be one-team guys for their HoF contending careers. Not sure if that’s a solution or snake oil for their woes that now include an injured (again) Madison Bumgarner.
5th Place- San Diego Padres
Paul Goldschmidt and the Diamondbacks have been waiting in the wings, could 2018 be there time to win the National League West. (Justin K. Aller/ Getty Images)
|AL East||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
|2||Yankees*||Jays*||Blue Jays||Red Sox*||Red Sox*||Red Sox*|
|3||Blue Jays||Orioles||Red Sox||Orioles||Jays||Blue Jays|
1st Place- New York Yankees
Luis Severino made the case for being an elite ace to lead the Yankees’ rotation. They had one of most formidable bullpens in the Majors and they didn’t lose it. They dropped a Todd Frazier and picked up a Giancarlo Stanton. Can Aaron Boone lose with this team? It’s New York and odd things happen when you have that kind of pressure.
2nd Place- Boston Red Sox
Chris Sale is probably grinding his teeth a little bit about Corey Kluber getting the Cy Young. There’s also a healthy David Price. Rick Porcello is an enviable 3rd man in the rotation. Mookie Betts might be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors. They won the division last year and lost to the eventual World Series Champs.
3rd Place- Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays retooled their lineup a bit but they’ll have to do a lot in order to take any attention away from the Yankees or the Red Sox.
4th Place- Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are losing depth on both sides of the ball as Chris Davis and Adam Jones have become the elder statesmen of the team. Having one of the best closers in the game being stuck on the DL again shouldn’t be a concern if they’re going to struggle to keep games close going into the later innings. Manager Buck Showalter is a crafty guy though and somehow gets his teams through a lot more than expected. But this is a pretty stacked division.
5th Place- Tampa Bay Rays
Carlos Gomez was a surprisingly good pickup to replace Steven Souza Jr (especially since Souza’s starting the season on the DL). The Rays have a solid rotation with Archer, Snell, Faria, and Eovaldi but there’s an extreme of old journeyman and hopeful prospect talent on the other side that doesn’t bode well for a good season.
|AL Central||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
|3||White Sox||White Sox||Royals||Royals||White Sox||Royals|
|4||Royals||Tigers||Tigers||White Sox||Royals||White Sox|
1st Place- Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians were a game and a series away from being right back in the action everyone thought they were going to coast into. They were stopped a team on an ascendant run while battling some tough late season injuries. 2017 Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, leads a strong rotation that should hold things down for a bevy of young talent in Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, and Bradley Zimmer to really break out while hustlers like Jason Kipnis and Yonder Alonso keep the wheels on track.
2nd Place- Minnesota Twins
Paul Molitor managed the Minnesota Twins like a Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn shore up a strong rotation with Ervin Santana looking more like he did eight years ago and a young firestarter in Jose Berrios who just needs to bring his home game focus on the road. Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano have some devastating bats that will keep the pressure on opposing pitchers.
3rd Place- Kansas City Royals
This team is rebuilding and it seems like they’ve got a plan. They’ve got some cash to pull in some talent later but only if they think they can make a run. It’s unlikely so third is an optimistic place that’s based more on their divisional opponents’ savvy and struggle.
4th Place- Chicago White Sox
5th Place- Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers are at least trying to hold it together and present some semblance of a team. I’m still sore about the way they let go of Dave Dombrowski and I hope they’re kicking themselves repeatedly for it.
The Winning Run
1st Place- Houston Astros
They’re the champs. Let’s give them their due. They reloaded this offseason because there really wasn’t anything to rebuild.
2nd Place- Los Angeles Angels
The Angels probably aren’t putting all of their eggs into the Shohei Ohtani basket. They got Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler to add some firepower to the lineup. The rotation looks awful to me but maybe they think Garrett Richards is finally due to bounce back into his 2014 form. They’ll still need to tweak that bullpen.
3rd Place- Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners resigned Ichiro Suzuki. I really hope he can mentor some of their young talent. What I would love to see is that they ask him to start hitting for the fences instead of leading off so we can see some of his fabled home run hitting ability. There are some solid elements in Jean Segura and Robinson Cano, speed in the outfield with Dee Gordon, and if they can keep things close an excited closer in Edwin Diaz.
4th Place- Oakland Athletics
Moneyball doesn’t work when everyone else has the analytics you have now.
5th Place- Texas Rangers
The Rangers sold the farm and now they’re using some of their prize bulls to till the field for the next team to come in.
Will one of the best right handed hitters of all time, Miguel Cabrera, play for a last place Tigers team in 2018? (AP Photo/ Carlos Osorio)
|NL WC Winner||Rockies||Cubbies||Rockies||Dodgers||Dbacks||Brewers|
|NL WC Loser||Brewers||D-backs||Cardinals||Brewers||Marlins||D-backs|
|AL WC Winner||Yankees||Royals||Twins||Red Sox||Red Sox||Angels|
|AL WC Loser||Angels||Jays||Angels||Indians||Twins||Red Sox|
|NLDS 1-4 Winner||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers|
|NLDS 1-4 Loser||Rockies||Cubbies||Rockies||Nationals||Dbacks||Brewers|
|NLDS 2-3 Winner||Nationals||Follies||Cubs||D-backs||Cubs||Cubs|
|NLDS 2-3 Loser||Cubs||Reds||Nationals||Cardinals||Nats||Nationals|
|ALDS 1-4 Winner||Indians||Indians||Astros||Astros||Red Sox||Astros|
|ALDS 1-4 Loser||Yankees||Royals||Twins||Red Sox||Astros||Angels|
|ALDS 2-3 Winner||Astros||Astros||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees|
|ALDS 2-3 Winner||Red Sox||Yankees||Indians||Twins||Cleveland||Indians|
|ALCS Loser||Indians||Indians||Astros||Astros||Red Sox||Astros|
Red Sox fans should be excited. The Winning Run picked the Yankees to win the World Series. We all know that means the Yankees have no chance for another ring. (AP Photo)
|World Series Champ||Nationals||Astros||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees|
|World Series Runner Up||Astros||Dodgers||Cubs||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers|
Sorry in advance to the New York Yankees because this means they’re probably not going to win the World Series this year.
BL, DJ, JJ, & JB
The Tampa Bay Rays and a host of dignitaries from Major League Baseball were part of the thawing of tensions between the United States and Cuba on Tuesday. President Obama became the first American President to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge when he visited the island in an attempt to build relations between to two nations. Baseball provides some distraction from the real events taking place. The embargo on Cuba is receding and for the first time under either Fidel or Raul Castro’s rule, Cuba is slowly opening itself to the United States and the rest of the world. Sports, especially baseball, have played an integral part in the process and the game between the Rays and the Cuban National team was as much ceremonial as it was competition.
It was a packed house in Cuba to watch the Cuban National Team face the Tampa Bay Rays. (Yamil Lage/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Sports can act as a bridge when traditional diplomacy runs into a wall. The past is littered with examples of how sports have overcome seemingly impassable obstacles in domestic and international relations. The thawing of the relationship between the United States and Cuba is just the latest chapter. The embargo on Cuba has meant increased isolation for Cubans, who were left to live their lives under a repressive regime that concerns itself with control over everything else. This repression has led thousands of Cubans, if not more, to risk their lives to leave the island through any means possible. As Dan Le Batard, the son of Cuban exiles, of the Miami Herald wrote,
“The ocean between our countries is filled with the Cuban bodies that tell the story, lives literally thrown to the wind in desperation, hoping to reach America’s possibility-soaked shores on boats made of old tires and wood and poverty’s debris.”
The pain and anger for Cubans, both in and out of Cuba, is real. Families have been indefinitely separated through no fault of their own. Countless lives have been lost when boats and rafts, ill suited for crossing the Straits of Florida, sink or capsize. Their human cargo like flotsam in the water floating miles away from land. Cubans have gone to desperate lengths to escape their homeland. Le Batard makes it crystal clear that the pain Cubans who have made it out is not self inflicted. They are not immigrants, rather they are exiles. The difference between willingly leaving your home and being forced to leave. Cubans want to reunite with their families, but the Castro regime continues to prevent this.
Hope remains, no matter how long it takes, that some day all Cubans can be reunited. The politics of Cuba and between Cuba and the United States begin at the foul lines during the Rays game. The game on the field is only a piece of the larger diplomatic puzzle. Normalizing relations between the two countries does not bring back the lives lost in the Straits of Florida, nor do they replace the years of separation between families. Yasiel Puig, Orlando and Livan Hernandez, and numerous other prospective baseball players endured harrowing trips in pursuit of freedom using human smugglers. Jose Abreu took a boat with other members of his family to the Dominican Republic. Aroldis Chapman defected while in the Netherlands for a baseball tournament. Every story of defection is about starting a new life, but it is also about the life the players leave behind.
Cubans have used everything they can to escape to freedom. (AP Photo/ Hans Deryk)
Several Cuban players were reunited with their families this week. Jose Abreu was reunited with his five year old son this week after a three year separation. Do you think that weighs on his mind more than striking out? Imagine having to leave your family when your child is two years old and not seeing them again until they are five. What about leaving on a boat in the middle of the night and not knowing if you will ever see your parents again? The dangers are real for Cubans fleeing oppression both for personal safety, but also losing part of who you are.
There is no easy, plausible solution to the the situation. Cuban exiles want the Castros out of power and the Castros want to remain in power. The oppression in Cuba is real. If it was not, it is doubtful that so many would risk their lives to find freedom. The American presidential campaign season has brought xenophobia to the dinner table. However, at our core, I believe, America remains the refuge for the oppressed. The Cuban Adjustment Act, or Wet Feet, Dry Feet Policy, remains in place only for Cubans. The Cuban embargo is a remnant of the Cold War, but the United States remains a safe haven for those who seek peace and justice. President Obama is using Major League Baseball in an attempt to invite Cuba to play nice in other political dealings.. Baseball is a tool that can be used given the passion for the sport in both nations. While this excursion in Havana may not bring down the Castro regime and create a free and open Cuba, at least the United States has changed its stance and is probing for an opening to help end the suffering of all Cubans.
How long will Cuban baseball players have to risk it all to reach freedom to play the game they love? (Lisa Shires, Your Shot, National Geographic)
Cuba, its politics, and its love of baseball are alive and well in south Florida. The Miami Marlins may not set records with their attendance, the good ones at least, but there is a reason Marlins Park is situated in the middle of Little Havana. Ownership hopes to draw more fans, especially Cuban fans. The stadium rises high above the working class homes that surround it. The big apartment buildings, shops, and restaurants have not followed the team just yet. The neighborhood is still its own. Last September during a trip to Miami and the Florida Keys, my girlfriend and I dutifully stopped by just to see Marlins Park. The Marlins were out of town, so there was only so much we could see.
On the advice of one of the men working inside the team gift shop we went to lunch at Morro Castle. It is a non-descript building with bars on the windows of the dining room instead of glass. The open air cafe sits about a mile down the street from the stadium. Everything inside is in Spanish, but distinctly Cuban. Not reading or understanding Spanish, I ordered through pointing and hand gestures. The food was as amazing as you would hope. The authentic feel of being the visitor to not only Morro Castle, but also Little Havana, transported us the roughly 100 miles south to Cuba.
Little Havana feels and tastes like Cuba, but the exiles living there know they are not home. (The Winning Run)
No matter how much the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami feels like Cuba, it is not Cuba. The neighborhood is full of exiles, not immigrants. People who want to go home, who want to be reunited with family and friends, people who want the Castro regime to live only in the history books. The politics of Cuba exists in Little Havana and throughout south Florida. Jose Fernandez is a fan favorite, he is a phenom on the mound, and a Cuban exile like so many in Little Havana. Fidel and Raul Castro, and their regime, are the devil incarnate for these Cuban exiles. Understandably, they do not have time or sympathy for anyone who disagrees with the experiences they have personally lived through. Ozzie Guillen’s tenure as the Marlins Manager was not destined to last long when in 2012 he spoke of his respect for Fidel Castro. Regardless of the point that Guillen, a Venezuelan, was trying to make, invoking Castro in a positive light meant he was a supporter in the eyes of the Cuban exiles. Guillen was suspended five games for his comments by the Marlins and was fired at the end of the 2012 season. A solid manager, but his comments on his respect for Fidel Castro has meant he has talked his way out of American baseball. No Major League team has been willing to hire him with this sort of baggage, among other reasons. The Cuban community, especially in south Florida, does not waver in its collective hatred for the Castros nor their desire for the regime to become a painful memory of the past.
Baseball may be the tool necessary to create better relations between the United States and Cuba. The dialogue between President Obama and Raul Castro could lead to a breakthrough decades in the making. Baseball diplomacy could also fail to change anything in Cuba, and simply provide a brief glimpse into life of the island. Only time will tell if the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team helped to change policies designed to isolate the communist regime. Baseball, and all sports, allow political battles to be fought on the athletic field instead of the battlefield. The passion for baseball remains strong in both countries. The personal toll on the Cuban community both on the island and in exile continues to mount as more Cubans are dying trying to reach freedom and families continue to be separated from one another due to politics. Sports can work to unite people, let’s hope that baseball can start the path towards reunifying the Cuban people and ending the suffering of so many.
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