Tagged: Miguel Cabrera

Baseball is as America is

Baseball is America’s pastime. It is also a reflection of America. Anyone can rise to the top of the game. It doesn’t matter where you come from, only your ability on the field. You can be born the son of a saloon keeper in the Pigtown section of Baltimore, Maryland and grow up to become Babe Ruth. You can be born to poor African-American parents in Mobile, Alabama and grow up to break Babe Ruth’s home run record and establish yourself as Hank Aaron, the Home Run King. You can grow up in Commerce, Oklahoma and become Mickey Mantle, arguably the greatest switch hitter of all time. You can be the son of Italian immigrants and grow up in The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri and become Yogi Berra, one of the greatest catchers of all time. You can grow up in beautiful San Diego and become the greatest hitter of all time, as Ted Williams did. You can be a kid living in The Bronx, listening to the radio, wishing you were at the game and grow up to be Vin Scully, the greatest broadcaster ever.

Baseball can give people so much, yet it also has a shameful past. The exclusion of African-American players is indefensible. It will forever be a stain on the game. The resulting Negro Leagues are the truest American response to injustice. When faced with hatred and ignorance, players created their own leagues. Baseball in the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues was never perfect. However, African-Americans fought for their rightful place as equals in America with every pitch, hit, catch, and throw. The Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri continues to ensure this history, good and bad, is not forgotten.

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Baseball is a reflection of what is good in America, but it can also reflect what is not good in America. (www.si.com)

Baseball, like America, is a melting pot. People from all over the world come here to play the game. Ichiro crossed the Pacific and become a legend in Japan and America. One of the greatest right handed hitter of all time, Miguel Cabrera, left his native Venezuela to leave opposing players and fans in awe at his skills with a bat. Peter Moylan had a second chance at baseball after working as a pharmaceutical salesman in his native Australia. Gift Ngoepe continues to create a path for other African born players, as the South African became the first African born player to appear in a Major League game. Baseball and America takes players from everywhere in the world as Ed Porray proved, he was born at sea.

America is a true melting pot. We are not a perfect nation. We have done horrible things to our own people, from the Native Americans to African-Americans to religious minorities to the LGBTQ community. We fight and argue for what we think is right, just like in baseball. The rules that govern how we play the game and live together need updating from time to time. Change is never easy, but it is necessary. We are stronger together when we are willing to judge people by their abilities on the field and in life, and not on preconceived ideas based upon where they are from, what language they speak, or what god they worship. The wonderful thing about being an American is there is no mold to follow. Only a select few of us, when you trace your family back, are from here. Instead of telling our teammates and fellow Americans to conform, why not listen to them and learn from them to make yourself better, and by extension our team and country better.

Happy Independence Day!

DJ

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Mundane Greatness

There are several ways to define greatness. No single definition will satisfy everyone’s understanding of the word. One definition of greatness in baseball, and in life, is doing the unthinkable while also doing the basic things extremely well. There are several super star players in baseball at the moment, but Mike Trout rises above the others for his greatness and his ability to do the basic things well.

Greatness in a career, not just a singular moment, requires the ability to continually place yourself among other great players. In his first five full seasons in the Majors, Mike Trout has established himself as a consistent and reliable player for the Angels. There have not been any wild swings, up or down, in his statistics. He has scored more than 100 runs, collected at least 172 hits, hit 27 home runs, and hit 27 doubles in every full season. He has played in at least 157 games every season over the last four seasons. His consistency looks like this:

Career (2011-2016)

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB HBP SF IBB
811 3558 2997 600 917 175 37 168 497 143 28 477 784 .306 .405 .557 .963 1670 48 36 46


Average Season

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB HBP SF IBB
154 685 575 116 178 34 7 33 96 28 6 94 151 .310 .410 .564 .975 173 324 9 7 9

 

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Mike Trout makes the extraordinary seem commonplace. (Mark J. Terrill/ Associated Press)

This consistency, season after season, has led Trout to never finish lower than second in the American League MVP voting. He has received a vote on 148 MVP ballots in his first five seasons, out of a possible 148. Trout won the MVP Award in 2014 and 2016. He finished second to Miguel Cabrera in both 2012 and 2013, and to Josh Donaldson in 2015. In his rookie season, Trout received all 28 first place votes for the 2012 AL Rookie of Year Award, far outdistancing runner up Yoenis Cespedes.

The Rookie of the Year Award, two AL MVP Awards, and five Silver Slugger Awards are quickly filling up Trout’s awards case. In some ways, the awards mask Trout’s dominance. He has drawn at least 83 walks in each of the last four seasons, twice leading the league with 110 in 2013 and 116 in 2016. This while sharing the Angels lineup with Albert Pujols. Trout’s discipline at the plate has meant a .405 career OBP. Yes, Trout does strikeout more than he probably should (136 times or more in every season), there are two things to remember. First, his walk rate is increasing while his strikeout rate is decreasing, so he is still learning. Second, Mike Trout is 25 years old. He is still a young ball player.  

Despite all his ability on the field, Trout does not receive the appropriate fanfare he should. He is one of the most visible players in the sport, yet he could be so much more. There are three things that have dampened his rise to supreme super stardom. Above all baseball is a team sport. No individual can truly carry an entire team for a season like a player can in basketball or football. If Mike Trout were to get hurt, the Angels could replace him and still remain competitive. If LeBron James or Tom Brady were injured their team’s season is probably over. This understood, Trout has played on an Angels team that has not consistently competed in the American League West. In his first five full seasons, the Angels have finished as follows: 2012 89-73 (3rd AL West), 2013 78-84 (3rd AL West), 2014 98-64 (1st AL West, swept in ALDS), 2015 85-77 (3rd AL West), and 2016 74-88 (4th AL West). In baseball, great players need to be on competitive teams if they are to achieve the recognition their talents deserve.

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The most common comparison for Mike Trout is to Mickey Mantle, and it is easy to see why. (www.nydailynews.com)

The second issue is that Trout plays on the West Coast. East coast bias is a real thing, and here is one of the main reasons why. Night games in California during the week start too late for people living on the East Coast or in the Midwest to stay up and watch. It is tough to watch a three hour game that starts at 10pm, when you have to be at work by 8am the next morning. Unfortunately, Friday and Saturday nights are really the only time for players like Trout to shine at home before the national audience. Trout and the Angels are also fighting for an audience in Los Angeles. After the eastern half of the country has gone to bed, there are still plenty of baseball fans awake to watch Trout, if they so chose. The Dodgers’ return to competing for a World Series title has meant less attention on the Angels as they seek their own return to consistently competing for the post season. Anaheim will always be the second team in Los Angeles, in part because Angels Stadium is 25 miles from downtown and Dodgers Stadium is two miles from downtown. Anyone who has ever tried to travel 25 miles in Los Angeles traffic can tell you that reaching Anaheim in time for an Angels game often requires divine intervention.

Trout’s greatness is one of a remarkable craftsman. His play makes him a superstar, yet his consistency year after year has him steadily climbing closer to the all time greats. Players like Hank Aaron and Derek Jeter are craftsmen. Aaron hit 25 home runs in all but one season from 1955 to 1973, yet never hit more than 47 home runs in a single season. Jeter averaged 191 hits for 18 of his 20 seasons in the Majors, leading the league in hits twice (1999 and 2012). It is not always easy to see the greatness of these compilers early on in their careers, it is the consistency over an entire career that raises these players from great to legendary. Predicting the future of any player is impossible because the game of baseball is unpredictable. Injuries are the hardest thing to predict. What sort of career would Mickey Mantle have had if he could have stayed healthy? Mantle is already a legendary player, but did he reach his potential? We will never know.

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Mike Trout’s talent should help him rise to the top in baseball and in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill/ Associated Press)

The greatness of Mike Trout cannot be ignored but it is only occasionally celebrated. He is a superstar, yet few people understand the company Trout is in through his first five full seasons in the Majors. Comparing Trout by age has meant comparisons at age 20 to Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson at age 21, and Mickey Mantle from age 22 through 24. The top ten similar batters through their age 24 season are Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Mel Ott, Miguel Cabrera, Orlando Cepeda, Vada Pinson, Al Kaline, and Jimmie Foxx. Every comparison except for Vada Pinson is a Hall of Fame player, without question. Mickey Mantle is the most common comparison, and the longer these comparisons continue the higher Trout rises in baseball’s pantheon.

Mike Trout’s greatness is known throughout baseball, yet he remains undervalued. A talent like Trout may only appear on the diamond once in a generation. Barring injury or some other unforeseen issue we have many more seasons to enjoy Trout and his greatness. Make sure you take time to watch Trout play, even if it means staying up late or fighting through Los Angeles traffic. Greatness should be appreciated, and looking back you will not remember how tired you were the next morning or sitting in traffic forever but that you were able to watch one of the legends of the game in action.

DJ

The 1%

One of the many reasons I am not a big football fan is due to the lack of games. I understand why there are so few games each year, but the lack of action leaves plenty to be desired. The dead time between games results in hours and days of continuous talking about what happened in the last game and the matchups for the next game. There is only so much anyone can talk about a game before or after it is played until you begin to repeat the same thing over and over again. There is no justification that I can find to spend more than 30 minutes discussing the upcoming Week 6 football game between the Chicago Bears and the Jacksonville Jaguars unless it is to recreate the Saturday Night Live Bill Swerski Superfans skits. Sadly, dozens of hours will be spent discussing a game that will most likely be forgotten in the not so distant future. In baseball you might spend 30 minutes before and after each game discussing the match up and what happened, but even that can be a stretch.

Da Bears
Not much to do between games but talk about DA BEARS. (nbc.com)

Football kills time between games by talking in circles about the same thing week after week. The beauty of baseball is once the post-game armchair manager talk is wrapped up, the discussion may continue to the future by looking at the minor leagues or reframe the present with a look to the past. Sometimes a quirky event about the game warrants a focused look on the great players in baseball history for an interesting connection.

I was invited to attend a talk by Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, by my fiancée’s work colleague. The talk was at the Green Diamond Gallery, which is the largest privately held baseball collection in the world. The talk centered mainly on the Hall of Fame and its current efforts to preserve baseball history and educate the fans. After the talk, Jeff Idelson began answering questions from the audience. Several of the questions had to do with the election process and potential changes to the induction process. The standard Pete Rose questions were asked, as the Green Diamond Gallery is located in Cincinnati. Finally someone asked “Who do you [Jeff Idelson] think should be in the Hall of Fame that is not?” He did the appropriate tap dance around the question so as to not give a definite answer. Then he gave the best possible answer.

Rose HOF
Is the Reds Hall of Fame the closest Pete Rose will ever get to Cooperstown? Probably (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)

There are 312 individuals enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame; 28 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires, 35 Negro League players, and 217 Major League players. There have been over 18,700 individual players in Major League history. This means only the top 1% of players are eventually enshrined. You can argue that every player that is in Cooperstown belongs there, plus many more who are not. However, there is little to be argued that the players enshrined do not deserve to be there.

There are plenty of players for whom the argument can be made that they should be enshrined in Cooperstown, but more is not always better. The NBA and NHL both have 30 teams and 16 of those 30 teams (53%) will make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets made the playoffs this year with a 41-41 record, why is a .500 team going to the playoffs? Yes there have been some dreadful divisions in Major League Baseball, the 2005 National League West was won by the San Diego Padres with an 82-80 record, but those are rare. The more slots you have in the playoffs, the worse the competition. It is better to leave a good team at home than to have a terrible team advance, although this is tough to say when the team you root for is that good team. The same is true for the Hall of Fame. Admitting more players means detracting from the significance of the honor. This only serves to muddle the difference between greatness and the very good.

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The Green Diamond Gallery is an amazing collection of any and everything that is baseball. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)

Eliminating the players who are known or highly suspected of using steroids and those who are on the permanently ineligible list, there are several players for whom a convincing argument can be made that they belong in Cooperstown. These are player who are no longer on the ballot for election by the baseball writers. Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Gil Hodges, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy, Roger Maris, Bret Saberhagen, Maury Wills, Thurman Munson, and the list goes on.

Would the Hall of Fame be better with these players enshrined, I would say so. Is the Hall of Fame seen as incomplete without these players, I do not think so. The Hall of Fame is reserved for the top 1% of players. Every generation has players who were spectacular on the field, yet begin to fade with time.

Dale Murphy
Multiple MVP Awards failed to get Dale Murphy enshrined in Cooperstown. (mlb.com)

Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, Mo Vaughn, and Brett Butler were all outstanding players in the early to mid 1990’s. Were they as emblematic of baseball excellence as Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, or Greg Maddux? Those enshrined in Cooperstown should be the players who can be compared against players from every generation and hold their own. Joe DiMaggio was not the best or most powerful hitter, but his skills and statistics hold up against players from every generation.

Records and awards are designed to recognize greatness, not designed to settle debates. Ichiro now has more hits in professional baseball than Pete Rose. However, Rose got all of his hits in the Majors while Ichiro has split his time between the Majors and Japan. Who is the better hitter? It would be easy to insert Tony Gwynn, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Miguel Cabrera into the debate. Is Cy Young the greatest pitcher of all time because he has the most wins or Nolan Ryan because he has the most strikeouts? I doubt you will find many people so easily convinced. What about Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux, Bob Feller, or Old Hoss Radbourn?

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What could Bob Feller have done on the mound had his service in World War II not cost him nearly four full seasons early in his career. (http://vanmeteria.gov/)

Jeff Idelson repeatedly pointed to the democratic way that players are elected to the Hall of Fame. He understands that the process is not perfect, but ultimately gets it right. The recent changes to the voting process, revoking the voting rights of writers who have not actively covered baseball in the past 10 years and reducing the number of years on the ballot from 15 to 10, should help to reduce and then prevent a backlog of worthy players getting the look they deserve. This is not to say they will be elected, but that they will get a fair shot. The top 1% of players will rise to the top during voting as they did during their playing careers. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” Players and their accomplishments are never cast aside regardless of how short or long their careers. Thousands of players have taken the field and many have made a case for their inclusion with the legends of the game. However, those enshrined in Cooperstown leave no doubt about their worthiness in the history of the game. It is those who came so close to joining this exclusive club, yet have come up just short, that allows the debate to flourish over what makes a Hall of Fame player.

DJ

Rookie of the Year?

You cannot steal first base.  A player has to hit the ball, walk, or get hit by the pitch to make it to first.  Once on first base, a player can steal any base, a fact that Billy Hamilton is proving on a nightly basis.

Pitchers pitch and hitters hit, baseball can be as simple as this.  However, two of the leading contenders for the National League Rookie of the Year award seem to be proving this wrong.  Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs are tied for the most strikeouts in the National League this season.  The only player in Major League Baseball with more strikeouts is Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles.  Why are two players who fail to do their jobs the most leading the charge in winning an award that is designed for the best new player in the game?

Joc Pederson can hit a baseball a mile, but he needs to make more contact if he wants to be an elite player. (www.usatoday.com)

Joc Pederson can hit a baseball a mile, but he needs to make more contact if he wants to be an elite player. (www.usatoday.com)

Entering play on August 15th:

Joc Pederson has the following stat line:

G

PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG

OPS

113 464 378 56 83 18 1 22 45 74 137 0.220 0.359 0.447

0.806

BBRate 16.5%
K Rate 29.5%

Kris Bryant has the following stat line:

G

PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG

OPS

105 453 381 60 97 19 4 16 66 60 137 0.255 0.362 0.451

0.813

BBRate 13.3%
K Rate 30.2%
Kris Bryant has the ability to be the star the Cubs have been waiting for, but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts if he is to reach his potential. (www.northjersey.com)

Kris Bryant has the ability to be the star the Cubs have been waiting for, but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts if he is to reach his potential. (www.northjersey.com)

Both Pederson and Bryant are excellent players with extremely bright futures.  However, their consistent inability to put the bat on the ball should raise some concerns.  Both players are still young and are in their first full season in the Majors, so there is obviously plenty of time and room for improvement.  The idea of swing hard in case you hit something is fine on select pitches, but not during every at bat.  Swinging for the fences every time does not help a team as much as understanding when to back away from this approach.  The difference between hitting 30 and 40 home runs is at most 40 RBI (hitting 10 grand slams in a season has never happened, the most being 6, and the odds of shattering this record are astronomically small).  Could those maximum of 40 RBI be made up, and more than likely surpassed, by cutting down on the all or nothing type approach?

It is impossible to force the defense to make an error if the ball is not put in play.  Putting the ball in play means anything can happen.  The fielder can misjudge a fly ball, whiff on a grounder, make a poor throw, lose the ball in the lights or sun; the batter can move a runner over with a well-placed ground ball or fly ball.  None of this is possible if the batter does not put the ball in play.

In recent memory, Adam Dunn looms large as the king of the all or nothing swing.  Dunn hit 462 career home runs, but he also struck out 2,379 times.  Over his 14 year career Dunn’s 28.6% K Rate made him a liability for any team he played for that was not able to absorb the downside to his hitting abilities.  Dunn could change a game with one swing, but at what cost?  The all or nothing approach could kill rallies and scoring opportunities and shorten lineups.  The reward just does not seem to balance out with the benefit.  Dunn was an impact player for a long time; he averaged 33 HR, 83 RBI, 94 BB, 78 R a season.  However, those numbers are countered with a lifetime .237 BA and an average of 170 strikeouts a season.  Every season of his career he struck out more times than games played, not a recipe for long-term success.  Even his 15.8% career BB Rate is higher than that of Pederson and Bryant.  Adam Dunn, the most recent king of the all or nothing swing has a lower career strikeout percentage rate and higher walk rate than either Joc Pederson or Kris Bryant.

Adam Dunn is the most recent king of the all or nothing swing. (www.http://nowbatting9th.blogspot.com/)

Adam Dunn is the most recent king of the all or nothing swing. (www.http://nowbatting9th.blogspot.com/)

The Rookie of the Year award is supposed to reward the successful beginning of a players Major League career.  The idea that Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant appear to be the front runners to win the award in the National League is strange.  Yes, both players can hit the ball well beyond the outfield fence, but baseball is more than just a home run derby.  The acceptance of this approach is a return to the ideas of the steroid era, skip playing small ball and wait for the big three-run home run.  This approach is fine, as long as teams, fans, and players are willing to accept the fact that there will be fewer balls in play and strikeout totals from video games.

There is without a doubt a place within baseball for the sluggers, there is no denying that the game needs them.  However, not every player can or should try to be like Ken Griffey Jr. or Babe Ruth.  There is nothing wrong with hitting 20 to 25 home runs a year and having a batting average in the .280s, instead of hitting 30 home runs and batting around .240.  Those extra .040 points worth of batting average will almost certainly match and surpass the runs produced by the extra 5 to 10 home runs that the player lost by not swinging for the fences every time at bat.

Say what you will, but baseball is a team game.  The team needs each individual player to contribute if the team as a whole is going to be successful.  Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant have both played for successful teams so far in the Major League careers.  This has afforded them both the room to continue growing as professional hitters.  However, for both of them to reach their potential they will need to make more contact with the baseball.  This might require them hit fewer home runs.  This is a trade off for being a better all-around player.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig understood how to be both a slugger and a great hitter. (NY Post via the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore MD.)

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig understood how to be both a slugger and a great hitter. (NY Post via the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore MD.)

The great players are not the ones who have all or nothing types of swings, rather they are the Babe Ruth’s, Lou Gehrig’s, Hank Aaron’s, Willie Mays‘, and Miguel Cabrera’s of the world.  These are the hitters who could hit the ball a mile when need be, but could also simply put the ball in play.  Pederson and Bryant should learn from this approach.  Ruth hit 714 home runs, while posting a .342 career batting average, and having a 12.5% K Rate.  Gehrig hit 493 home runs, .340 career batting average, and having a 8.2% K Rate.  Aaron hit 755 home runs, .305 career batting average, and having a 9.9% K Rate.  Mays hit 660 home runs, .302 career batting average, and having a 12.2% K Rate.  Cabrera has hit 405 home runs, .321 career batting average, and has a 16.9% K Rate.  These all-time greats put the ball in play, and yet the home runs still came.  They all helped their team be successful every time they stepped between the lines.  Even Mike Trout and Bryce Harper understand that making contact is important.  Trout has a 22.4% career K Rate and Harper has a 21.1% career K Rate.  While their K Rate is higher than these legends, they are also much lower than Pederson and Bryant.

Adjusting to life in the Majors goes beyond just playing baseball.  Pederson and Bryant are hopefully just settling into the beginnings of long and successful careers.  They are off to good starts, but not Rookie of the Year award worthy starts, perhaps they should be on the second tier for consideration for that award.  Both players do many parts of the game well, but both need to work diligently on putting the ball in play and reducing their number of strikeouts.  If they can do this, they both have the talent to be successful year after year at the highest level of the sport.

DJ

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 2.0

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.

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The Giants are still recovering from winning the World Series last October. (www.espn.go.com)

Let us begin with the Senior Circuit.

National League

East  
1 Washington Nationals Division Winner/ 1st Seed
2 Miami Marlins
3 New York Mets
4 Atlanta Braves
5 Philadelphia Phillies

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.

It will be a long season in Philadelphia, with or without Cole Hamels. (www.hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)

It will be a long season in Philadelphia, with or without Cole Hamels. (www.hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)

Central
1 St. Louis Cardinals Division Winner/ 3rd Seed
2 Pittsburgh Pirates Wild Card
3 Chicago Cubs
4 Milwaukee Brewers
5 Cincinnati Reds

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.

West
1 Los Angeles Dodgers Division Winner/ 2nd Seed
2 San Francisco Giants Wild Card
3 San Diego Padres
4 Colorado Rockies
5 Arizona Diamondbacks
Wil Myers and the new look Padres are not going quietly. (www.sports.yahoo.com)

Wil Myers and the new look Padres are not going quietly. (www.sports.yahoo.com)

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.

American League

East
1 Toronto Blue Jays Division Winner/ 3rd Seed
2 Baltimore Orioles
3 Boston Red Sox
4 New York Yankees
5 Tampa Bay Rays
2015 could be painful in the Bronx. (www.nydailynews.com)

2015 could be painful in the Bronx. (www.nydailynews.com)

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.

Central
1 Detroit Tigers Division Winner/ 1st Seed
2 Cleveland Indians Wild Card
3 Kansas City Royals
4 Chicago White Sox
5 Minnesota Twins
Nick Swisher and the Indians will have a reason to smile this year. (www.en.wikipedia.org)

Nick Swisher and the Indians will have a reason to smile this year. (www.en.wikipedia.org)

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.

West
1 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Division Winner (won 1 game playoff)/ 2nd Seed
2 Oakland Athletics Wild Card (lost 1 game playoff)
3 Seattle Mariners
4 Houston Astros
5 Texas Rangers

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.

The laughable Astros are only a memory now. (www.diehardsport.com)

The laughable Astros are only a memory now. (www.diehardsport.com)

Playoffs

October will once again give us some great moments to remember, beginning with the Wild Card games.

Wild Card

American League National League
Oakland Athletics Pittsburgh Pirates
Cleveland Indians San Francisco Giants

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.

Divisional Series

American League
ALDS
Toronto Blue Jays Cleveland Indians
ALDS
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Detroit Tigers
National League
NLDS
St. Louis Cardinals Los Angeles Dodgers
NLDS
Washington Nationals Pittsburgh Pirates
Albert Pujols and the Angels will come up short again. (www.monkeywithahalo.com)

Albert Pujols and the Angels will come up short again. (www.monkeywithahalo.com)

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.

Championship Series

American League
Toronto Blue Jays Detroit Tigers
National League
Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers

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.

World Series

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
Washington Nationals 2 games
The Detroit Tigers will be celebrating again in October. (www.blog.detroitathletic.com)

The Detroit Tigers will be celebrating again in October. (www.blog.detroitathletic.com)

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

October Brawl  

The Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants have both thrown their best punches in the first two games of the World Series.  Each one has landed cleanly and flush.  In Game 1, Madison Bumgarner kept the Royals batters off balance and in check.  Kansas City had no answer for him.  In Game 2, the Royals bats came alive and the bullpen shut the door.  The Giants kept battling but it was to no avail.  The first two game of this World Series have shown what each team is capable of when locked in.  This World Series has the potential to be a brawl.  I do not mean benches clearing and fights breaking out.  I mean where every player is pushed to their limit, where both managers are locked in a chess match where they are one move away from both triumph and defeat.

There should not be any real brawls on the field, even if Hunter Strickland gets back on the mound.  I fully believe his frustrations simply boiled over and he let his emotions get the better of him.  His actions show the stress and pressure these players are under.  This is the biggest stage in their profession and they may only get one shot at winning a championship.  Every pitch, every swing, every movement means something and their importance continues to ratchet up to greater and greater levels over the last two months.  The Royals and Giants both raced into the playoffs, they did not just waltz into them.  They both had to fight through the one game Wild Card playoff game, and then went through the best team in their leagues to advance through the Divisional and Championship rounds just to reach the World Series.  Eventually all the stress and pressure is too much.

Madison Bumgarner and the Giants landed the first punch in the World Seres. (www.bleacherreport.com)

Madison Bumgarner and the Giants landed the first punch in the World Seres. (www.bleacherreport.com)

Every player and every team prepare all winter and spring, and fights throughout the summer for the chance to find success in October.  Simply making the World Series is not enough.  The hunger only builds as the leaves begin to change and the cool, crisp autumn breeze replaces the sweltering summer heat.  The Giants are not content with their season, neither are the Royals.  The Giants have won the World Series twice in the last four seasons; they are trying to make it three Championships in five seasons.  Not all the players have been on the team for this stretch.  Tim Hudson is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and he will make his World Series debut in Game 3.  Joe Panik is at the beginning of his career and he has only played in two World Series games.  Buster Posey has been there through it all.  The Giants remain hungry, all for individual reasons, which collectively make the team hungry.

The Royals are not just happy to be a part of the World Series; they are there to win it.  29 years have passed since 1985 and their last World Series title.  None of the players from the 1985 team remains; this is a new group.  They wear the same team name on their chest and play for the same fans, though many of them have never seen a winning Royals team.  Lorenzo Cain, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and on and on are the Royals now.  These players do not care that it has been 29 years since the Royals last won the World Series.  They do not care for one simple reason.  If they cared how long it had been since the franchise had won, they would never be successful.  They care about winning now.  Not making up for lost time, but for giving this opportunity everything they have.

Royals

Baseball is a funny sport.  The best players are not always the one left standing holding the championship trophy.  Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout do not always get to take the last at bat.  Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez do not always get to pitch with the game on the line.  Baseball is a team sport, where the team can only be as good as the last guy on the bench.  Super stars can propel a team towards success, but team success only happens when it is made up of players who can and are willing to put it all on the line.

Baseball is a fight, it is a brawl.  The opponent knows the Pirates are going to throw Andrew McCutchen at them, or the Cardinals will throw Yadier Molina at them.  These power punches take their toll on the opposition.  The opposition throws counter punches back.  The Tigers throw Victor Martinez or the Dodgers throw Zack Greinke.  Teams throw crazy combinations and land blow after blow.  They knock each other down and then get back up.  The Giants and the Royals have knocked each other down with hooks to the body.  Both have gone down and gotten back up to a standing eight count.  These teams are in for a fight and are not afraid to leave themselves vulnerable if they think they can land the knockout blow.  This October is going to be a brawl.  So far it is shaping up to be a fight of the year contender.  Let us hope it continues to live up to the great start it has given up.

D

Predictions Which Are Sure To Go Wrong

Let me begin by apologizing to everyone for jinxing their favorite time. I have the ability to ruin a good thing in baseball when I suggest the individual or team will be successful. Don’t believe me, ask the people I play fantasy baseball with. In the last two years I have drafted Roy Halladay, Kris Medlen, Jurkson Profar, Mike Minor, Matt Kemp, Albert Pujols, ect. Understand now? So in keeping with this tradition I thought The Winning Run might offer up our own predictions for every team heading into this season. I am sure that we, myself and two contributors, either are completely wrong or just ruined the season for someone by believing in them. If this happens, we are sorry, but nevertheless here are our predictions.

The American League East

  1. Tampa Bay Rays

  2. Boston Red Sox (1st Wild Card)

  3. New York Yankees

  4. Baltimore Orioles

  5. Toronto Blue Jays

Not every bounce may go David Ortiz and the Red Sox way this season.

Not every bounce may go David Ortiz and the Red Sox way this season.

The Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, and Orioles could finish in any order 1 through 4. The Blue Jays are the clear favorite to finish fifth in the East. The Rays have the youth to stay healthy which the Yankees lack and the pitching which the Orioles lack. Repeating as World Series Champions is a difficult task. Nearly all the breaks when Boston’s way last year. It is time for the Rays to harness their young talent and win the American League East.

The American League Central

  1. Detroit Tigers

  2. Cleveland Indians (2nd Wild Card)

  3. Kansas City Royals

  4. Minnesota Twins

  5. Chicago White Sox

Nick Swisher and the Indians are a very good team, too bad the Tigers are in the way.

Nick Swisher and the Indians are a very good team, too bad the Tigers are in the way.

The Tigers may well be the best team in baseball. Miguel Cabrera and the rest of the offense will put up plenty of offense while the pitching staff led by Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer could make short work of the opposition. The Twins and White Sox are both in full rebuilding mode and are fighting to stay out of the basement. The Indians are putting it together and could win the division if it was not for the Tigers and their dominance. The Royals will remain in the hunt for the post season well into September, however the youth which will make the Royals winners for years to come will fall just short this year.

The American League West

  1. Oakland Athletics

  2. Los Angels Angels of Anaheim

  3. Texas Rangers

  4. Seattle Mariners

  5. Houston Astros

Moneyball has reinvented itself and Oakland will find new ways to continue winning. Their pitching will carry them while they will over power the rest of the West by doing all the little things. The Angels will be healthier and have better pitching, but the pitching still is not quite there, and the offense relies too much on power, so when the bats go quiet the Angels will lose ground. The Rangers have had too many injuries this Spring to dig put of an early hole. Texas should be back in the race next year. Robinson Cano is now the man and he will be enjoying an extra month of vacation as the Mariners will be out of the hunt by mid summer. The Astros will be a major threat. Not now, in the future. 2014 is about not losing 100+ games again.

Every team is playing to win this trophy.

Every team is playing to win this trophy.

The National League East

  1. Atlanta Braves

  2. Washington Nationals (1st Wild Card)

  3. New York Mets

  4. Philadelphia Phillies

  5. Miami Marlins

Will Bryce Harper be his own worst enemy again and get hurt?

Will Bryce Harper be his own worst enemy again and get hurt?

The Atlanta Braves will get more production from B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, things could not have gone worse for these two in 2013. A rebound by two of the regular line up and the signing of Ervin Santana should pick up what was lost when Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy went down for the season. Washington Nationals have the tools but should fall just short. Injuries remain a constant worry for Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Both the offense and defense are among the best in baseball, but they still have not bridged the gap to the elite even with signing Doug Fister. The Mets will pass the Phillies as New York is building towards the future while Philadelphia is still dreaming that it is 2008. The Marlins will be better, but they need more time before the can get out of the basement.

The National League Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

  2. Cincinnati Reds

  3. Pittsburgh Pirates

  4. Chicago Cubs

  5. Milwaukee Brewers

Speed could kill.

Speed could kill.

The Cardinals will once again be the class of the National League Central. The Cardinal way should have an easier time winning the division this season, as they are among the best in all of baseball. The Reds lost Shin Shoo Choo and Bronson Arroyo but they will have a full season of Billy Hamilton tearing up the base paths. The Pirates, like the Red Sox, had nearly every bounce go their way last season. Pittsburgh should see I slight step back this season, but not like in their two decade absence from the playoffs. The Cubs and Brewers are both a mess. Neither is in a quick rebuilding cycle and both should be out of the race fairly quickly. Look for a fight to stay out of the basement of the Central.

The National League West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers

  2. San Francisco Giants (2nd Wild Card)

  3. Arizona Diamondbacks

  4. Colorado Rockies

  5. San Diego Padres

The Dodgers, and their highest payroll in Major League Baseball, should keep the momentum of 2013 going as they should have the West won easily in time to align their rotation for the playoffs. The Giants should stay with the Dodgers for a while this year, but ultimately their season comes down to how healthy Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, and company can stay. If healthy San Francisco could do some damage. The Diamondbacks cannot keep pace with the Dodgers and Giants and will be a strong 3rd place team all season that could dictate who does and does not make the playoffs. The Rockies and Padres are full of young talent. Colorado has Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki to lead their revival. San Diego is still seasoning their young talent at the Major League level. Look for San Diego to be the best last place team in baseball.

World Series

Once the playoffs go through their paces the Cardinals will play the Athletic’s in the World Series. Oakland will win the World Series over the Cardinals 4 games to 2 as the Cardinals finally tire out due to late post season runs the last several seasons and the Athletic’s and their intangibles finally win a World Series in the Moneyball era.

A's win the World Series

A’s win the World Series

Love our picks? Hate our picks? Regardless this is what we think will happen in 2014. If we are correct in our picks it will be by luck, because anyone who knows baseball knows it is never predictable. We have had Opening Day now lets get going and see how the season works out.

D, J, and B