In our second installment, we are staying out west but flipping over to the AL. It’s like an earthquake hit the western divisions in MLB with the moves and uncertainty in the aftermath. For the AL West though, only one of the moves appeared to fall in line with the problems we think the teams need to address.
Ken Giles could push the Astros over the edge towards a World Series. (www.todaysknuckleball.com)
The Astros took some huge strides in the second half of the 2015 season to become playoff contenders. The ALDS series against the Royals would have been a much different affair if Houston could have shortened the game with a lights out bullpen. The addition of Ken Giles gives them, with Luke Gregerson, the setup man and closer combination to do just that in crucial moments.
Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive SS in MLB and grabbing Yunel Escobar and Ji-Man Choi to round out the infield might seem like a big deal for the Angels. However, the Halos struggled in generating offense last season and none of these guys seem to address that problem. Mike Trout needs a lineup that can keep opposing pitchers honest with him. Maybe the Angels lost out to some other teams for getting the hitting and outfielding talent they need.
Andrelton Simmons and his glove could be the solution to the Angels problems. (www.rantsports.com)
The 2015 AL playoff picture was a bit of a mess with the Yankees stumbling backwards and just managing to hold onto a Wild Card spot. Otherwise, we could have seen both Wild Cards come out of the AL West; the only division that couldn’t produce a team with 90+ wins. Really though, the AL West was a promising division that collectively opened an umbrella indoors then walked outside under a ladder to find a black cat crossing their path only to step and trip on a crack in the sidewalk then break a mirror while trying to catch their balance.
BL – So what do the Rangers need to do? Recover. Make a sacrifice to the baseball gods that Yu Darvish comes back and has a 2016 season like Matt Harvey did in 2015. Will Josh Hamilton’s knee be okay? Will Cole Hamels make it through the entire 2016 season? The Rangers won the division despite being pummeled with injuries. If they can stay healthy, they’ll be in the playoff discussion in 2016.
The Rangers need to see plenty of this and not Yu Darvish sitting on the bench. (www.bleacherreport.com)
DJ – The Rangers need someone to help Prince Fielder. He led the Rangers in hits, Batting Average, HR, RBI, OBP, was second in games played, and fourth in doubles. Texas cannot be a one man show. Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland had solid years, but without solid pitching it is doubtful the Rangers can repeat what they did in 2015. Success in 2016 comes down to having a healthy pitching staff. The health and success on the mound of Yu Darvish (Tommy John), Cole Hamels, Derek Holland (shoulder), and Martin Perez (Tommy John) will decide the Rangers fate.
BL – The Mariners played a little Jekyll and Hyde last season. When they signed Robinson Cano before the 2014 season, it seemed like Seattle was moving towards becoming a big hit sort of team. More characteristically AL than NL. But the acquisitions of big hitting talent seemed to stall after getting Mark Trumbo, and then the focus shifted to pitching but that didn’t pan out well. It’s more apparent than ever that successful playoff teams can’t be made overnight. If GM Jerry Dipoto is really committed to creating a contender, then the Mariners need to establish an identity to build from. I suggest putting an intimidating rotation around Felix Hernandez and shoring up the defense. Mariners fans, if they’re like Seahawks fans, will learn quickly that stifling defense can be a joy to watch.
Taijuan Walker’s development should be on full display in 2016. (www.bleacherreport.com)
DJ – The King needs a Prince or two. Felix Hernandez is the undisputed ace in Seattle. While it is difficult to have two aces on a pitching staff, the Mariners would be smart to seek out pitchers who can be true #2 and #3 starters. Saving the bullpen early in the season can pay huge dividends beginning in August and carrying over deep into the playoffs. Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma could be those starters. The continued development of Walker along with Iwakuma having something to prove after a failed physical with the Dodgers could mean low scoring, NL style games in the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners have the pitching staff built for the playoffs, they just need Hernandez, Walker, and Iwakuma to all stay healthy and make at least 30 starts each in 2016.
BL – I’m a big fan of Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball. I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written and subscribe to Vanity Fair mostly because he’s a regular contributor. Billy Beane did something revolutionary with Sabermetrics in that he and Paul DePodesta reexamined the statistical analysis of the game and saw what the larger baseball community was missing. This was the only way to win on a budget, which was a necessity demanded from ownership. But now everyone is savvy to the Moneyball method of Sabermetrics. Moneyball worked because there was information asymmetry, like being able to count cards in a casino. Beane and Co. need find that new information asymmetry to get back on top or start spending the money necessary to become contenders.
Billy Burns is the model for how the Athletics can return to their winning ways. (www.athleticsnation.com)
“Singles hitters drive Fords, home run hitters drive Cadillacs.” ~ Ralph Kiner
The players’ parking lot in Oakland needs to look like a Ford dealership. Oakland’s big ballpark and low budget forces it to play NL style baseball. The Athletics need players who get on base early and often. A team on a budget needs a few players to hit above .300. Billy Burns led the A’s with a .294 batting average, and stole plenty of bases. However, only three players stole 10 or more bases (Burns was the only player to have more than 11 steals). Oakland has to get inventive to create sustainable offense. The rest of baseball has caught up to Moneyball, but Oakland must show that the original is still the best. Putting the ball in play, taking the extra base, and forcing the opposing pitchers to pitch in high stress situations is key for Oakland to manufacture a successful 2016 season.
BL & DJ
The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming
1908 was a great year for baseball. It was more than just the most recent World Series title for the Chicago Cubs. The season was one of the most exciting pennant races in baseball history. The Chicago Cubs, the New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates fought each other from Opening Day throughout the season until the final day of the season. Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, (Joe) Tinker-to-(Johnny) Evers-to-(Frank) Chance, John McGraw played prominent roles throughout the season.
The excitement of the pennant race is retold through newspaper articles that were published during the great 1908 season in The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming. This approach to the retelling of the pennant race allows the reader to be transported back in time. The use of the newspaper articles prevents the book from taking on too much of an academic tone, but rather it exudes the storytelling of every man. Fleming only inserts necessary background information, which helps to bridge the gap over the years and prevents any information from going by without understood. The daily notes regarding the previous day’s action show the dominance of the Pirates, Cubs, and Giants over the rest of the National League. The ebb and flow of these three great teams only built the tension and excitement of the season the closer it drew to October.
The most infamous play of the 1908 season surrounded the actions of Fred Merkle. While I knew the story of Merkle prior to reading The Unforgettable Season, Fleming allows the newspapers to paint a much clearer picture of the man prior to his gaining infamy. This clearer picture of what he could have become as a player before the newspapers and fans used him as a scapegoat for why the Giants did not reach the World Series. (Keith Olbermann of ESPN recounts Merkle’s story well).
Fleming does an excellent job of stay out of the way of history. He allows the story to tell itself. This is a refreshing approach, as it would be easy for any author to unintentionally get into the middle of the story. Modern day analysis of the season could shed more light on the details of the 1908 season. However, I believe Fleming was smart to simply stay out of the way of the history. The Unforgettable Season provides a glimpse of how great a pennant race can be, however the pennant race is not the same as it once was as the playoffs have expanded beyond just the World Series. The expanded playoffs are not better or worse, just different. The expanded playoffs allow more teams and fans to stay engaged in the baseball season later in the season than they might otherwise. Fleming provides an excellent read for anyone who wants to gain a greater understanding of baseball and its history.
More from The Winning Run library.
Long winters without baseball are awful. However, one of the best ways to keep your love of the game alive and well is by reading baseball. My library has plenty and I wanted to share a few with you.
One of Mickey Mantle’s many biographies. In The Mick you get a view of his life during his career but not so much on the field. He talks about teammates, parties, his family, and career moments. You get a feel for his love of the game, but also the hatred of things that occurred in his career. It is an enjoyable and quick read.
Yes this one is about the Red Sox and their championship season in 2004. Yes it was painful to read (as the resident Yankee fan). Despite this, authors Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King make you keep reading as they chronicle the Red Sox through email and blog posts and their knowledge. They are true friends and true fans of baseball. They remind me of my two partners in this blog and their knowledge and passion. This is a great read and a great part of history.
A chronicling of Joe DiMaggio’s record 56 game hitting streak. This is a great book about DiMaggio’s life to that point and what he went through during that time. It looks into what pressures and stress, and how DiMaggio dealt with them, his family, and teammates. Books like 56 help to show the personal side to these legends we will never be able to meet in real life.
Why haven’t you read this? The movie is great, and the book is amazing. I didn’t want to even put it here but figured it deserved recognition. Read this or you will never get on base.
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
Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox (1st Wild Card)
New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays
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
Cleveland Indians (2nd Wild Card)
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
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
Los Angels Angels of Anaheim
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.
The National League East
Washington Nationals (1st Wild Card)
New York Mets
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
St. Louis Cardinals
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
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants (2nd Wild Card)
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.
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.
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