Tagged: playoffs

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 4.0

Let’s try this again. For the fourth year in a row The Winning Run will try in vain to accurately predict what will happen during the 2017 Major League Baseball season. We do this knowing that we are terrible at this, yet it is still fun to try. The only thing that we can guarantee about our predictions are that they are wrong and the actual season will be better than the season we predicted. Thanks to Bernie for his commentary on each team. 

We realize that the season has already begun and that we are late to the party. There is a good reason for this. We were all attending Derek’s wedding with Jesse as the Best Man, Bernie as a groomsman, and John as an usher. Sorry about the delay, life got busy. And so, here are our predictions for the 2017 season.

National League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Washington Nationals New York Muttz Washington Nationals Washington Nationals
2nd New York Mets* Washington Gnats Atlanta Braves New York Mets
3rd Miami Marlins Atlanta Bravos New York Mets Miami Marlins
4th Atlanta Braves Miami Fish Miami Marlins Atlanta Braves
5th Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Follies Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies

Washington Nationals – These guys are like Peyton Manning. Great in the regular season but can’t seem to navigate the playoffs. Will they capture hardware this year? I won’t hold my breath. Bryce Harper is pretty much a force of nature in the game but more like a tornado in that the damage is only done if you get in the way.

New York Mets – I’m torn about putting them further down the list. Why? Because of another f-ing football player – Tim Tebow. With arguably the best rotation in the league and young bats that are finding their stride, these guys only get in their own way. If they could borrow some of the “No F@#$s Given” attitude of their crosstown rivals, I’d put them in the NLCS without hesitation. If there’s even a whisper of Tebow getting called up after the All-Star Break, write these guys off.

Miami Marlins – Stanton looked good in the WBC. The team met with considerable tragedies last season. Even if they get it together and settled this year, they’re a couple seasons away from elbowing out the Mets and the Nationals.

Atlanta Braves – The Braves are rebuilding with some interesting young talent. Dansby Swanson is really just the icing on the cake. Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon, is just fun to watch as he continues trucking along as if he were decades younger. Hopefully, he’ll share his experience in a way that keeps the young guys on track and out of trouble. It’s still a long way from seeing them place higher in the division.

Philadelphia Phillies – There are few franchises that I can think of that are more poorly managed from the front office on down. Did I bother to look up anything on their off-season? Why bother?

Colon
Bartolo Colon brings his power bat and arm to Atlanta, can Big Sexy hit career home run #2 for the Braves. (www.mlb.com)
Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Chicago Cubs Chicago Harry Caray’s Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs
2nd Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh Buckos* St. Louis Cardinals* St. Louis Cardinals*
3rd St. Louis Cardinals Cincinnati Fighting Vottos Pittsburgh Pirates Milwaukee Brewers
4th Milwaukee Brewers St. Louis Dreadbirds Milwaukee Brewers Pittsburgh Pirates
5th Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewniversity Cincinnati Reds Cincinnati Reds

Chicago Cubs – The Cubs have to get the nod for being the World Series Champs but especially so because the win came on the backs of a core group of young talent in Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Addison Russell. Javier Baez continues to amaze with his acrobatic defense and it’s getting more refined. Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks are the only guys on the rotation I’d trust to finish the season strong but that may be all they need to go deep in the playoffs.

St. Louis Cardinals – I’m now more convinced than ever that Yadier Molina is a cyborg. I keep thinking they’re too old to keep up and I’m looking like a fool as they pull out wins. What’s also got me intrigued this season is the new roster of incoming talent with guys like Alex Reyes (before he needed Tommy John surgery) and Luke Weaver. They’re rebuilding while still competing for the playoffs. That deserves a lot of respect.

Milwaukee Brewers –  I think they’re trying to follow the Cardinals’ example of rebuilding without demolishing. For some odd reason, I have a feeling Junior Guerra will have a great season. I don’t put a lot of stock into spring training except to see how individuals spent their offseason getting ready but they’re looking pretty good.

Pittsburgh Pirates – I’ve been high on them in the past. I think I need to sober up. Aside from their all-star outfield, I’m not sure there’s a lot else to be hopeful about.

Cincinnati Reds – They’re rebuilding. I don’t think they’ll be the worst but this division may be the overall best division in all of MLB. Finishing last in the Central but maybe 10th in the National League.

West Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Los Angeles Dodgers Colorado Silver Bullets Los Angeles Dodgers San Francisco Giants
2nd San Francisco Giants* Los Angeles Vin Scullys* Colorado Rockies* Los Angeles Dodgers*
3rd Colorado Rockies San Padres Big Macs San Francisco Giants Colorado Rockies
4th Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Trouser Snakes Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Diamondbacks
5th San Diego Padres San Francisco Gigantors San Diego Padres San Diego Padres

San Francisco Giants – Cueto and Samardzija still have enough in the tank which makes this the best rotation in this division. Melancon is a solid closer addition to anchor a bullpen. The talent on this roster is well-experienced but not fighting the twilight of their careers.

Los Angeles Dodgers – These guys caught lightning in a bottle. Seager is my pick to take MVP this season. But there’s some age on this team that’s probably going to show. It’s not just tarnish, it might be rust. I’m not sold on Joc Pederson. Though he’s shown some moments of pure brilliance, it’s too streaky.

Colorado Rockies – If Trevor Story stays healthy this team may be knocking on the Dodgers door…wait, no pitching. Nevermind. Arizona might catch them by surprise.

Arizona Diamondbacks – It’s a team game. Goldschmidt and Greinke can’t do it all themselves. What I don’t get is why this team can’t seem to get it together when it seems to be there on paper.

San Diego Padres – This team may have better luck if they spent some time with the real life versions of their mascot.

Goldy
The Diamondbacks and Paul Goldschmidt could be a surprise in the NL West. (Ezra Shaw)

American League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Boston Red Sox Toronto Canucks Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox
2nd Toronto Blue Jays* New York Spankees New York Yankees* New York Yankees*
3rd New York Yankees Baltimore Riots Toronto Blue Jays Baltimore Orioles*
4th Baltimore Orioles Steve Irwin Killers Tampa Bay Rays Toronto Blue Jays
5th Tampa Bay Rays Boston Dead Sux Baltimore Orioles Tampa Bay Rays

Boston Red Sox – Getting Chris Sale indicates the Boston Red Sox want to win now. With Price in the pipeline, they might have a slow start to the season but this is probably the most formidable American League rotation this season. There’s plenty of hitting available in the lineup without Benintendi. So he’s just icing on the cake. Blech.

New York Yankees – I think it’s safe to say that Tanaka is a bonafide ace. I’ve heard that Sabathia may have finally perfected another pitch and developed the sort of patience necessary for an arm that’s lost some heat. They got some bats to hopefully keep them in games late so that they can show off what may be one of the top 5 bullpens in the league.

Baltimore Orioles – Manny Machado is a man amongst boys and it’s often forgotten how young he is. Adam Jones is still a force to be reckoned with. This is a roster that’s really good up and down but what I think puts them in third place is that there’s more potential firepower in the rotation and lineup than…

Toronto Blue Jays – Probably the most balanced team in all of major league baseball. Yet, the underachieving in the playoffs is problematic for me. I think this is the year where it’s going to catch up to them this season.

Tampa Bay Rays – Evan Longoria amazes me that he’s still producing the way he does. Chris Archer is an ace on almost any team. What else do they have? Yeah….

Sale
Chris Sale changed his sox and could make Boston untouchable in the East. (www.si.com)
Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Cleveland Indians Kansas City Monarchs Cleveland Indians Cleveland Indians
2nd Detroit Tigers Cleveland Up Three Games To None* Detroit Tigers Kansas City Royals
3rd Kansas City Royals Chicago Black Sox Minnesota Twins Detroit Tigers
4th Minnesota Twins Minnesota Twinkies Kansas City Royals Minnesota Twins
5th Chicago White Sox Detroit Militarized Zone Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox

Cleveland Indians – These guys didn’t get into the World Series because they were built on foundation of well-experienced and stalwart veteran stars. This is a dynamic team with a creative manager. 2017 is a reloading, not refurbishing, year.

Kansas City Royals – Something didn’t click in 2016 but this is a well-balanced team. The departure of Wade Davis and Edinson Volquez is troublesome but they added some bats to increase their hitting production. Danny Duffy is an exciting talent that is screaming elite ace but let’s hold judgement until we see how he navigates the season.

Detroit Tigers – A veteran team with the closest thing to Murderers’ Row in the AL. If Verlander bounces back quickly they should be considered higher but, aside from Zimmermann, the rotation is unexciting. K-Rod had a great 2016 season but this doesn’t seem to be a bullpen that can truly shorten games.  It’s feast or famine with the Tigers this year.

Minnesota Twins – They circled the wagons a bit with their lineup but it’s a solid core group. There’s an interesting variety in the rotation but that’s all that can be said about their pitching.

Chicago White Sox – New manager and a great prospect. But at what cost? Sorry, but the departure of Sale and Eaton leaves a lot to be desired.

West Derek Jesse John

Bernie

1st Houston Astros The Acute Angles of Anaheim Seattle Mariners Houston Astros
2nd Seattle Mariners* Houston Colt 45s* Houston Astros* Seattle Mariners
3rd Texas Rangers Oakland White Elephants Texas Rangers Texas Rangers
4th Los Angeles Angels Texas Dangers Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Angels
5th Oakland Athletics Seattle Seamen Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics

Houston Astros – Reddick, Aoki, and Beltran…the Astros built up one of the more enviable lineups in the American League. This should take the pressure off an ERA heavy rotation that can usually pitch deep into games. Gregerson and Giles is a great 1-2 punch in the bullpen.

Seattle Mariners – This remodeling seems to be going along well. Edwin Diaz looked good in the World Baseball Classic with some nasty late movement in his off-speed pitches. But still not sure the Mariners pitching can consistently give the lineup 8 innings to get to him. This lineup looks good though so opposing pitchers may have trouble getting around Cruz and Cano.

Texas Rangers – These guys finished first last season and are getting what should be a healthy Yu Darvish. But I’m not sold that the departure of Desmond, Beltran, and Moreland was properly accounted for in their hitting lineup.

Los Angeles Angels – Having the best player in baseball shouldn’t make a team complacent. But that’s what we have here. The addition of Cameron Maybin brings some good lumber to the yard but the rotation is iffy and the bullpen is in shambles.

Oakland Athletics – These guys may need a new training staff. To say the pitching staff is a stone’s throw away from triage belies the fact that it’s a stone thrown by my four year-old godson.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros
Robinson Cano and the Mariners should be tough to handle with solid pitching and hitting. (Troy Taormina- USA TODAY Sports)

The Playoffs

My season picks were more serious than these. This is more about what I would like to see happen and what I think would make a great storyline for the game. (The number following indicates games won in the series)

NL Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Buckos Colorado Rockies Los Angeles Dodgers
Loser New York Mets Los Angeles Vin Scullys St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

 

Al Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Seattle Mariners Cleveland Up Three Games To None Houston Astros New York Yankees
Loser Toronto Blue Jays Houston Colt 45s New York Yankees Baltimore Orioles

 

NLDS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner (1-4) Washington Nationals Colorado Silver Bullets Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers – 3
Loser (1-4) San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Buckos Colorado Rockies Chicago Cubs – 2
Winner (2-3) Chicago Cubs New York Muttz Chicago Cubs San Francisco Giants – 3
Loser (2-3) Los Angeles Dodgers Chicago Harry Caray’s Los Angeles Dodgers Washington Nationals – 1

 

ALDS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner (1-4) Boston Red Sox Kansas City Monarchs Cleveland Indians New York Yankees – 3
Loser (1-4) Seattle Mariners Cleveland Up Three Games To None Houston Astros Cleveland Indians – 2
Winner (2-3) Cleveland Indians The Acute Angles of Anaheim Seattle Marines Boston Red Sox – 3
Loser (2-3) Houston Astros Toronto Canucks Boston Red Sox Houston Astros – 2

 

NLCS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Washington Nationals Colorado Silver Bullets Washington Nationals San Francisco Giants – 4
Loser Chicago Cubs New York Muttz Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers – 3

 

ALCS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Cleveland Indians Kansas City Monarchs Seattle Mariners New York Yankees – 4
Loser Boston Red Sox The Acute Angles of Anaheim Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox – 2

 

celebrate
Who will celebrate in October in 2017? (Brian Cassella/ Chicago Tribune)

World Series

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Washington Nationals – 4 Colorado Silver Bullets – 4 Seattle Mariners – 4 New York Yankees – 4
Loser Boston Red Sox – 3 Kansas City Monarchs – 2 Washington Nationals – 2 San Francisco Giants – 3

 

Time will tell if any of our predictions are correct. This is our fourth year doing this and we still are horrible at making predictions. So don’t blame us if we are wrong, we warned you. Just remember, baseball makes it better.

DJ, JJ, JB, and BL

Predictions That Did Go Wrong 3.0

Before predicting what will happen during the 2017 Major League season, let’s take a look back at The Winning Run’s predictions for the 2016 season. Once again we did a terrible job of guessing the final standings and playoffs. We are terrible at predictions, but we are consistent at our terribleness. So without further ado, a look back at our sad attempt at predicting the 2016 Major League season.

National League East

Prediction Reality
1 New York Mets Washington Nationals
2 Washington Nationals New York Mets
3 Miami Marlins Miami Marlins
4 Atlanta Braves Philadelphia Phillies
5 Philadelphia Phillies Atlanta Braves
160925_SNUT_fernandez2.png.CROP.promo-xlarge2.png
The death of Jose Fernandez was a shocking reminder that baseball is just a game. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

National League Central

Prediction Reality
1 Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs
2 Pittsburgh Pirates St. Louis Cardinals
3 St. Louis Cardinals Pittsburgh Pirates
4 Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewers
5 Milwaukee Brewers Cincinnati Reds

 

National League West

Prediction Reality
1 Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers
2 San Francisco Giants San Francisco Giants
3 Arizona Diamondbacks Colorado Rockies
4 San Diego Padres Arizona Diamondbacks
5 Colorado Rockies San Diego Padres

 

American League East

Prediction Reality
1 Toronto Blue Jays Boston Red Sox
2 New York Yankees Baltimore Orioles
3 Boston Red Sox Toronto Blue Jays
4 Baltimore Orioles New York Yankees
5 Tampa Bay Rays Tampa Bay Rays

 

American League Central

Prediction Reality
1 Kansas City Royals Cleveland Indians
2 Cleveland Indians Detroit Tigers
3 Detroit Tigers Kansas City Royals
4 Minnesota Twins Chicago White Sox
5 Chicago White Sox Minnesota Twins
i
In 2016, not every team could take a punch from the competition. (AP Photo/CSM/Albert Pena)

American League West

Prediction Reality
1 Houston Astros Texas Rangers
2 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Seattle Mariners
3 Texas Rangers Houston Astros
4 Seattle Mariners Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
5 Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics

 

Playoffs

Wild Card

American League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Cleveland Indians Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Toronto Blue Jays Baltimore Orioles

 

National League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Pittsburgh Pirates San Francisco Giants San Francisco Giants New York Mets
gettyimages-613008844-1
Francisco Lindor and the Indians came so close to a World Series Championship, but Cleveland will have to wait at least one more season. (Jason Miller/ Getty Images)

Divisional Series

American League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Toronto Blue Jays Cleveland Indians Toronto Blue Jays Texas Rangers
Houston Astros Kansas City Royals Cleveland Indians Boston Red Sox

 

National League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates Chicago Cubs San Francisco Giants
New York Mets Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers Washington Nationals

 

Championship Series

American League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Toronto Blue Jays Houston Astros Cleveland Indians Toronto Blue Jays

 

National League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Chicago Cubs New York Mets Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers

 

World Series

Games Won Prediction Games Won Actual
4 Games Houston Astros 4 Games Chicago Cubs
2 Games Chicago Cubs 3 Games Cleveland Indians

We did not get much right, but we did correctly predict six teams in their final standings, five playoff teams, and two Divisional Series Winners, and the National League Championship winner. Our predictions were not as accurate as in the 2015 final standings, but we found greater success in the playoffs. The playoffs are where it really matters, right?

GTY-World-Series-game7-end-25-jrl-161102_16x9_992
The Cubs are World Series Champions. (Ezra Shaw/ Getty Images)

Predicting the final standings for the regular season is not an easy task. Our predictions in 2015 (11 of 30 correct) were much higher than our average, so it came as no surprise that in 2016 our predictions fell back to earth. We were correct that the Miami Marlins would finish third in the National League East, ahead of the rebuilding Braves and Phillies but well behind the Nationals and Mets. The Cubs were the easy pick to win the National League Central, far outpacing the rest of the division.The National League West was a two team race from the beginning, but we were correct that the Dodgers would out last the Giants over the course of the season. Finally we were correct in predicting the American League East would leave the Rays behind and the American League West would leave the Athletics behind as both teams finished last in their division.

Our predictions in the playoffs were much better in 2016. There are ten playoff spots, we selected half the teams before the season began. The Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants all made the playoffs, but despite having half the teams in the playoffs correct, we did not do a great job of predicting what they would do once they made it to October. We were correct in predicting the Toronto Blue Jays would win the American League Divisional Series. We correctly predicted the Chicago Cubs would win the National League pennant, although we felt they were not yet ready to break the Curse of the Billy Goat. Opps.

The 2016 Major League season was not what we predicted it would be; it was better. No matter how careful we are in making our predictions, we will be wrong more often than we are right; such is baseball. Every season has its memories, for the Cubs it was finally winning the World Series after waiting more than a century. The Reds, Braves, Twins, Athletics, and other continued to rebuild. Every team is trying to get better, but not matter what baseball is unpredictable. We hope we are better at predicting the 2017 season than we were the 2016 season. However, there are only three guarantees that we can make: 1) baseball is unpredictable, 2) our predictions will turn out to be horribly wrong, 3) baseball makes everything better.

DJ, JJ, JB, and BL

Living The Dream

October is the month of dreams in baseball. Teams have worked tirelessly since Spring Training, and a select few are in the Playoffs with the chance to compete for a World Series title. Players who have toiled in the minors for years may finally get called up to the Major Leagues to fill the expanded Playoff rosters, for some this will be their only experience at the top of the sport. Umpires are rewarded for a year of excellent work by assignments in the Playoffs or the World Series.

Living the baseball dream is not reserved for only those working at the top of professional baseball. It happens everywhere the game is played. Earlier this Summer I was given the opportunity to work the NABF (National Amateur Baseball Federation) Cincinnati Regional Tournament. I had two simple jobs for each game I was assigned; score the game, and operate the scoreboard. Not difficult jobs, but you have to pay attention to every pitch of the game. The players, coaches, and fans wanted to know the count and score, thus I had to keep up with the game. As the official/ unofficial scorer I had to determine what a hit or error looked like, which on some plays is not easy task. I worked seven games over two day, enough baseball to satisfy the appetite of any ravenous baseball fan.

img_20160914_194855
The action from the Marty Brennaman Press Box. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

Fast forward to October and I am working a Wednesday night baseball league at the Urban Youth Academy in Cincinnati. The NABF Tournament is filled with players ranging from fresh out of high school, to several years removed from college. The Wednesday night baseball league is filled with players in the late 20’s and 30’s, so even older still, who are playing for the love of the game. Players in both the NABF Tournament and the Wednesday night league are all chasing the same thing; how far can they make it in this game. The odds of any of them reaching the Major Leagues, are so small you would need a microscope to see them. No matter, they keep playing this game until everyone tells them they cannot play anymore.

This is how I find myself sitting alone in the Marty Brennaman Press Box at the Urban Youth Academy. In Middle School my desire to continue climbing the ladder towards professional baseball outpaced my physical abilities. Knowing my future playing career was with friends on a sandlot field and not under the bright lights of the Majors, I had to find a different path to continue my rise in baseball. Jesse and I started The Winning Run as a way to continue in baseball after our skills told us it would not be as a player. Over the past four years, this blog has grown and evolved with our love of the game. This passion is what led me to become an umpire. I work slow pitch softball games in a beer league. While not baseball, it is in the neighborhood. This season of umpiring has become a great source of networking and education on the game itself and those working within it. My willingness to work on an almost nightly basis will see me umpire more than 100 games this season. The quality and hustle I have put into each game has meant my boss has given me more games and other assignments, such as the NABF Tournament and the Wednesday night league. More trust, means more opportunities. I will be attending a local umpiring camp over the winter and hope to begin working high school baseball games in Ohio in the Spring. Most likely my work in the Spring will be a combination of 9th grade/ Junior Varsity high school games and plenty of slow pitch softball. It is a step forward, no matter how small.

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Baseball under the lights, a field of dreams. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

I have learned so much in my very short time working in baseball. This is not my full time job, the money I earn through baseball is for paying bills and putting a little in savings. My love for baseball began before my first memory. I do not remember picking up a glove or bat for the first time. Baseball has always been there, it was my first love and the passion continues to burn. I do not know which avenue will take me further in baseball: writing, umpiring, or something else. I love umpiring beer league softball, working small baseball tournaments, and writing The Winning Run. Regardless if I get a paycheck or not, I am living the dream. How many people get to say that?  

DJ

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 3.0

The Winning Run is back again with another attempt at predicting the outcome of the upcoming MLB season. The last two seasons we have tried and failed miserably to accurately predict what would happen. We have failed much more than we have found success, much like in real baseball. These predictions are not designed to jinx particular players or teams. These are honest predictions, designed to predict how we collectively see the 2016 season playing out. We can say without a doubt that our only perfect prediction is that reality is better than fiction.

Carnac.jpg
Carnac the Magnificent knew what was going to happen, The Winning Run not so much. (The Tonght Show with Johnny Carson)

Here’s the breakdown of how we each think the divisions and playoffs will end up. Our final standings, based on the average placement between the four of us, will also include a brief scouting report from Bernie, as to what he sees in each team heading into the 2016 MLB season. His personal predictions were close to the collective predictions, and we have noted where they vary greatly.

Let us begin with the Senior Circuit.

*Note* An exclamation point (!) after a team name denotes a Wild Card berth.

National League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 New York Mets New York Mets New York Mets New York Mets
2 Washington Nationals – ! Washington Nationals Washington Nationals Miami Marlins
3 Miami Marlins Miami Marlins Miami Marlins Washington Nationals
4 Atlanta Braves Atlanta Braves Philadelphia Phillies Atlanta Braves
5 Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies Atlanta Braves Philadelphia Phillies
  1. New York Mets:

The Mets shored up their interior defense by getting Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. If you watched last season’s playoff games, the Mets’ rotation always seemed to get beaten up the middle. Those guys will also likely provide a lot more consistent offense than Wilmer Flores or Daniel Murphy. The Mets are looking to play deep into October and I think they could do it.

2. Washington Nationals:

The Nationals are really the team equivalent of their star player, Bryce Harper; supremely talented, but mentally dysfunctional. There is a serious lack of team discipline and I don’t think Dusty Baker is the one to bring it. This is the major hurdle to the Nationals winning the division.

Dusty Baker
The question is will Dusty baker help the Nationals reach their potential. (Logan Bowles- USA Today Sports)

3. Miami Marlins:

Giancarlo Stanton’s contract has me believing that the Marlins are in it to win it now. They’ve always been good at developing talent so Manager Don Mattingly should have something to work with and collect some wins.

4. Atlanta Braves:

The Braves did some house cleaning, clearing the way for the wealth of talent in the minors. I’ve got to question whether they can generate any more runs this year than they did last year though. But they won’t be in last place.

5. Philadelphia Phillies:

I really shouldn’t have to say anything about this. No real change to expect anything better this year.

Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates
2 Pittsburgh Pirates St. Louis Cardinals – ! Pittsburgh Pirates – ! Chicago Cubs – !
3 St. Louis Cardinals Pittsburgh Pirates St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals
4 Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewers Cinncinati Reds Cinncinati Reds
5 Milwaukee Brewers Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewers Milwaukee Brewers
  1. Chicago Cubs:

Let’s be honest, they’re the Cubs. If they’re going to win it, it’s as Cinderella (Bernie has them going into the playoffs as a Wild Card). Chicago needs that storyline. I really like their rotation and bullpen but they overworked Jake Arrieta because they didn’t trust enough of their other players. That’s got to change.

  1.      Pittsburgh Pirates – !:

I liked the way AJ Burnett found himself in Pittsburgh and I think Jonathon Niese may very well have the same sort of fortune in the Steel City. Michael Morse was a fun guy to watch in Washington, I’m going out on a limb to say he finds himself again and becomes a solid 1B for the Pirates this season. I’m still puzzled how these guys didn’t win the division last season.

  1.      St. Louis Cardinals:

Last year, El Birdos found the fountain of youth for their stars. If it happens again this year, then the zombie apocalypse has started with Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. Or maybe they need to be checked out for cybernetic implants.

Kris Bryant Cubs.jpg
Kris Bryant is heping lead the strongest Cubs team since those uniforms were not retro. (Jonathan Danil/ Getty Images)
  1.      Cincinnati Reds:

The Cincinnati Reds may have done some house cleaning having traded away Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman. They still have some talent that I wouldn’t count out. What they definitely aren’t doing is wallowing.

  1.      Milwaukee Brewers:

Speaking of wallowing…you’ve got to wonder about the Brewers’ pitching. Like at what point do you ask whether you’d have better luck regularly shuffling up from your AAA squads just to give you opponents less time to scout out your pitchers.

West Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 San Francisco Giants Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers San Francisco Giants
2 Los Angeles Dodgers – ! Arizona Diamondbacks -! Arizona Diamondbacks – ! Arizona Diamondbacks – !
3 Arizona Diamondbacks San Francisco Giants San Francisco Giants Los Angeles Dodgers
4 San Diego Padres San Diego Padres San Diego Padres San Diego Padres
5 Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies
  1.      Los Angeles Dodgers:

I’m not sure what the Dodgers were thinking during the off-season. What I am certain of is that letting Zack Greinke go and shuffling the management is not a good thing to do for some of the young guns on the team like Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig. If they had kept everything the same, I would have put them in first place for the division. (Bernie predicted the Dodgers to finish 3rd)

  1.      San Francisco Giants – !:

I don’t really think pitching was their weakest issue last season but I think they are going into 2016 with one of the most enviable rotations a manager could ask for. I’m not completely sold on Santiago Casilla and bullpen. If Denard Span can stay healthy, he’s a great addition to a strong lineup that is capable of getting the ball in play and moving around the bases.

  1.      Arizona Diamondbacks:

Zack Greinke and Paul Goldschmidt. Shelby Miller will get the run support he needed in Atlanta. But I don’t see enough depth here to remain consistent through the season. The bullpen can probably step in to help out the back end of the rotation. The lineup is young. Maybe they’re more disciplined and hungry than I think and could be a definite Wild Card contender.

Zack Greinke.jpg
Were the Dodgers Crazy to let Zack Greinke leave Los Angeles? (Rick Scuteri- USA Today Sports)
  1.      San Diego Padres:

The only reason I’m putting the Padres over the Rockies is that they made some interesting pushes last season that indicate to me they could get it together. Doesn’t mean there’s enough talent here to make the playoffs though.

  1.      Colorado Rockies:

The worst team ERA in 2015 and that’s with a pretty talented defensive infield. I’m surprised the fielders have enough gas in the tank to swing a bat when they’ve got to run around chasing hits all the time.

American League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Toronto Blue Jays Toronto Blue Jays New York Yankees Toronto Blue Jays
2 Boston Red Sox – ! Tampa Bay Rays Boston Red Sox Baltimore Orioles – !
3 New York Yankees New York Yankees Toronto Blue Jays Boston Red Sox
4 Tampa Bay Rays Baltimore Orioles Baltimore Orioles New York Yankees
5 Baltimore Orioles Boston Red Sox Tampa Bay Rays Tampa Bay Rays

The American League East was the hardest division to predict, as an argument could be made for each team winning the Division. Here are Bernie’s thoughts.

  1.      Toronto Blue Jays:

Biggest run differential of the 2015 season. Picking up Drew Storen was a great move to support their starting rotation. This team has what it takes on paper.

  1.      New York Yankees:

There’s no point in having three of the best relief pitchers in the league when you don’t have a strong enough rotation to have them shortening the games. Lots of experience but not the cohesiveness you see in the Cardinals. But these predictions are supposed to go wildly wrong and, in this case, I sincerely hope I am. (Bernie has the Yankees finishing 4th)

  1.      Boston Red Sox:

Ugh…I feel sick doing this. The Red Sox needed some serious pitching help. Clay Bucholz simply isn’t an ace. So they got one in David Price. They also picked up Craig Kimbrel so they’ve a good bullpen punch with him and Koji Uehara. As David Ortiz will be riding into the sunset this season, the Red Sox will be a good team to watch.

David Ortiz Swing.jpg
Can David Ortiz deliver one last magical run into October? (Elsa/ Getty Images)
  1.      Baltimore Orioles:

There’s a lot of great talent on this team. They’ve got a great rotation and bullpen with two highly competent catchers. I would somewhat question their interior defense but with Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and new addition, Mark Trumbo, the Orioles have got a lot of heavy bats to knock in runs.

  1.      Tampa Bay Rays:

This is a well-balanced pitching and defensive team but nothing exciting enough to write home about on the offensive side.

Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Kansas City Royals Kansas City Royals Minnesota Twins Kansas City Royals
2 Detroit Tigers – ! Cleveland Indians – ! Kansas City Royals – ! Cleveland Indians – !
3 Cleveland Indians Minnesota Twins Detroit Tigers Detroit Tigers
4 Chicago White Sox Detroit Tigers Cleveland Indians Minnesota Twins
5 Minnesota Twins Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox
  1.      Kansas City Royals:

They’re the champs so it’s sort of needed to give them the nod for their division. Plus, the 2015 squad wasn’t made up of veterans in the twilight of their careers reaching deep down for that extra something to win it all. They’re young and agile. They get on base. They aggressively move around the bases. No one’s yet figured out how to stop them or slow them down.

  1.      Cleveland Indians – !:

These guys have a surprisingly good rotation with Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Cody Anderson. When I say surprisingly, I’m saying that how did they not win more? Francisco Lindor is young and if he’s coming into form, then we could be seeing a Wild Card contender here.

Francisco Lindor
Francisco Lindor could help the Indians win a tough American League Central.  (www.cleveland.com)
  1.      Detroit Tigers:

Jordan Zimmermann is not David Price and I’ll let you figure out whether that’s a good or bad thing. I actually think Justin Upton was a good pick up for the Tigers but I’m not convinced they can make the jump from bottom of the division to much higher.

  1.      Minnesota Twins:

I want to put this team higher but I think their second place divisional finish last season was more due to mishaps from other teams than their own solid play. Don’t get me wrong though, they’re on the right track. Just not this season.

  1.      Chicago White Sox:

The addition of Todd Frazier will help them generate some more offense. But is the increased offense a wash after losing the veteran leadership of Adam LaRoche to early retirement (more on that later)? Whenever issues involving a front-office exec doing something about the locker room make the news, you just know there’s some serious dysfunction going on.

West Derek Jesse John Bernie
1 Houston Astros Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Houston Astros Houston Astros
2 Texas Rangers Houston Astros – ! Texas Rangers – ! Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3 Seattle Mariners Seattle Mariners Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Texas Rangers
4 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics
5 Oakland Athletics Texas Rangers Seattle Mariners Seattle Mariners
  1.      Houston Astros:

I was really impressed by how the Houston Astros finished off the 2015 season. Something clicked and I think they’re going to ride this wave. Adding Ken Giles to the backend of the bullpen already featuring Luke Gregerson makes up a dangerous one-two punch to shorten games.

  1.      Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – !:

I think the bigger reason I’m putting the Angels here instead of the Rangers is more on Rangers. I think Albert Pujols will still be remarkably dangerous in the batter’s box. Something about the balance on this team with Mike Trout’s hustle gives me a good feeling.

MVP
Can any one challenge Mike Trout for AL MVP? (www.nbcsports.com)
  1.      Texas Rangers:

The Rangers are not going to take the proper steps to recover. I’m calling that they’re going to try starting the season hot and aggressive. By the All-Star break, this team will be on life support and need some serious therapy. But in reality, they look a better version on the Angels and since this prediction will be wildly off, they may very well win the division again.

  1.      Seattle Mariners:

Nori Aoki was a good pick up to strengthen their outfield and improve getting on base. They’re going to rely too heavily on their rotation to go deep to win games and that’s not good for Felix Hernandez nor Hisashi Iwakuma.

  1.      Oakland Athletics:

If Marcus Semien were a better fielder, I’d have more faith in this infield. On paper, this team would be a solid 2nd place team in the division. I just can’t make that call.

Playoffs

October is special, as the best baseball is on display and tensions continually grow throughout the month. The playoffs begin with the Wild Card games, which are a one game winner take all showdown. Wild Card teams better bring everything they have, or they will be on vacation.

Wild Card

NL Winner NL Loser AL Winner AL Loser
Derek Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers Boston Red Sox Detroit Tigers
Jesse Arizona Diamondback St. Louis Cardinals Cleveland Indians Houston Astros
John Pittsburgh Pirates Arizona Diamondbacks Kansas City Royals Texas Rangers
Bernie Chicago Cubs Arizona Diamondbacks Cleveland Indians Baltimore Orioles
The Winning Run Pittsburgh Pirates San Francisco Giants Cleveland Indians Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

In the National League, the Pirates will finally get out of the Wild Card round. Gerrit Cole will have carried the pitching staff throughout the season, so why not one more game. In the American League, the Indians strong starting rotation will have saved the Cleveland bullpen and allow fresh arms to come out of the pen and dominate the Angels hitters when the pressure is on.

Garrit Cole.jpg
Garrit Cole will lead the Pirates charge into the playoffs. (Peter Diana- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Divisional Series

American League Divisional Series

ALDS 1/4 Winner ALDS 1/4 Loser ALDS 2/3  Winner ALDS 2/3 Loser
Derek Houston Astros Boston Red Sox Toronto Blue Jays Kansas City Royals
Jesse Kansas City Royals Cleveland Indians Toronto Blue Jays Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
John Minnesota Twins Kansas City Royals Houston Astros New York Yankees
Bernie Cleveland Indians Kansas City Royals Houston Astros Toronto Blue Jays
The Winning Run Toronto Blue Jays Cleveland Indians Houston Astros Kansas City Royals

National League Divisional Series

NLDS 1/4 Winner NLDS 1/4 Loser NLDS 2/3  Winner NLDS 2/3 Loser
Derek San Francisco Giants Washington Nationals Chicago Cubs New York Mets
Jesse New York Mets Arizona Diamondbacks Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers
John New York Mets Pittsburgh Pirates Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers
Bernie San Francisco Giants New York Mets Pittsburgh Pirates Chicago Cubs
The Winning Run Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates New York Mets Los Angeles Dodgers

In the National League, the Pirates will not be able to overtake the Cubs. The Pirates are a great team, but they have the misfortune of playing in the NL Central where the best team in baseball, the Cubs, also plays. The young arms from Queens and a more predictable offense will lead the Mets past the Dodgers who will miss Zack Greinke more in October than during the regular season. In the American League, the Astros will continue to play complete baseball and overcome the Royals, who after back to back trips to the World Series will finally run out of gas. While Cleveland’s pitching led them to the playoffs, it will be no match for the offensive power of the Blue Jays. Josh Donaldson is the reigning AL MVP, and yet he is most likely not the chief offensive threat for Toronto, as Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista can launch a baseball with the best in the game.

Byron Buxton.jpg
Byron Buxton and the Twins could make some noise, potentially even make the playoffs. (Scott Kane- Associated Press)

Championship Series

American League Championship Series

ALCS Winner ALCS Loser
Derek Toronto Blue Jays Houston Astros
Jesse Toronto Blue Jays Kansas City Royals
John Houston Astros Minnesota Twins
Bernie Houston Astros Cleveland Indians
The Winning Run Toronto Blue Jays Houston Astros

National League Championship Series

NLCS Winner NLCS Loser
Derek Chicago Cubs San Francisco Giants
Jesse New York Mets Chicago Cubs
John Chicago Cubs New York Mets
Bernie San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Pirates
The Winning Run Chicago Cubs New York Mets

A rematch of the 2015 NLCS. Two great teams, but the Cubs finally get over the hump and return to the World Series for the first time since 1945. The Cubs are a year older and wiser and have extraordinary talent at bat and on the mound. The Mets are a great team, but they lack the offensive prowess to overcome the Cubs. In the American League, Toronto will find out that teams cannot rely on power to guide them to a championship, there has to be a backup plan. The Blue Jays are not flexible enough to meet this challenge. The Astros have built a potential juggernaut in Houston, which relies on power, pitching, speed, defense, and hustle. Houston wins by the sum of its parts.

World Series

World Series Winner World Series Loser
Derek Toronto Blue Jays Chicago Cubs
Jesse Toronto Blue Jays New York Mets
John Chicago Cubs Houston Astros
Bernie San Francisco Giants Houston Astros
The Winning Run Houston Astros Chicago Cubs

Sorry Cub fans, you will have to wait until next year…again. The Astros win it all in 2016. The speed of Jose Altuve, the power of Evan Gattis, the starting pitching of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, the bullpen of Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson, the all-around ability of Carlos Correa, not to mention George Springer and Carlos Gomez puts Houston over the top. The Cubs have everything to win. The young core of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, plus Javier Baez all can continue to grow with a solid rotation of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and John Lackey. However, the Cubs are missing that it factor. Joe Madden will get the Cubs o click eventually, but in 2016 they will come one game short of that ever elusive World Series Championship.

Jose Altuve.jpg
It will be time to celebrate in Houston this October. (Houston Chronicle)

So there they are, the 2016 predictions by The Winning Run. Are we right about all our predictions, doubtful. Only time will tell how right or wrong we were with these predictions. Welcome to the 2016 MLB season, enjoy another great season of baseball.

DJ, JJ, JB, & BL

Life is Full of Options

Every time a major free agent signs with a new team the fans celebrate and begin dreaming about the future possibilities of the team. If you read the newspapers or internet after every blockbuster free agency signing, it would be difficult to believe anything other than that team is now destined to at least reach the World Series, if not win it all. This is especially true when starting pitchers sign major deals. While the debate over what the future holds for the player and their new team should ignite the passions of the fans and media, this offseason feels as though there is an additional layer to the hype and excitement.

The fans buying tickets, jerseys, hats, television packages, etc. are the driving force for the business of baseball. If fans were not willing to spend $10 for the cheap seats or hundreds of dollars for premium seats, not to mention food, clothing, and media, the players and owners would not see the financial benefits they do. Every free agent dreams of cashing in on their years of hard work for a contract like the one David Price has with the Red Sox. Price signed for seven years, $217 million contract. He does not have to worry about working another day in his life. The same is true for Jason Heyward with the Cubs (eight years, $184 million), Johnny Cueto with the Giants (six years, $130 million), and Justin Upton with the Tigers (six years, $132.75 million). Their talent on the diamond has more than secured each of their financial future.

Justin Upton
Justin Upton looks to turn the Tigers around quickly. (www.rollingstone.com)

Financial security also exists for those players not in the upper echelon of free agents. Non-ace starting pitchers can often dictate whether a team contends for a World Series, or even for the playoffs, as much as an ace like Felix Hernandez can. Excellent pitchers like Scott Kazmir can dictate how a team plays throughout the season. This reality has resulted in Scott Kazmir signing with the Dodgers (three years, $48 million). Fans in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, and the north side of Chicago should all rejoice in the talent their teams’ have signed during this offseason.

Before those dreams of World Series championships and parades permanently ingrain themselves into their minds, it would be best to temper those dreams. This offseason has shown that both the teams and the players want to win and win now. Owners are using deferred money to soften the burden of paying large contracts. Consider Chris Davis’ contract with the Orioles. He signed a seven-year, $161 million contract, with $42 million of the contract deferred. The Orioles will continue paying Davis until 2037. The financial deferment will enable the Orioles to spend money elsewhere in the hopes of winning more games and hopefully a World Series.

Scott Kazmir
Scott Kazmir proves the opt-out clause is not reserved strictly for top free agents. (Colin E. Braley/ AP)

Ownership is not alone in this win now mentality. Players understand they only have a small window to win at least one World Series during their career and they prefer not to waste valuable years playing for teams that have no chance of making the playoffs, much less winning a World Series. The no trade clause has long been the means by which players protected themselves against a trade to a terrible team. However, what if the team they are playing is that terrible team?

Not every player will want to opt out of their contract. Even some elite players may decide it is best to remain with a team despite not consistently contending for the playoffs. If Todd Helton had an opt-out clause in the nine year, $141.5 million contract that he signed in 2001, few would have blamed him if he had left the Rockies before the end of the contract. During Helton’s 17-year career, Colorado had five winning season, made the playoffs twice, getting swept by the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series and losing to the Phillies in the 2009 NLDS. Helton remained an elite player throughout his career, but he rarely played for a team that had a hope of making the playoffs. While Helton is a Rockies legend, having spent his entire career playing in Colorado, he could have moved on from the Rockies later in his career if he felt a better situation for winning was available. Given the option to leave the Rockies does not mean Helton would have left, but it could have pushed management to field a more competitive team in the short term instead of waiting for the team to rebuild through homegrown talent.

toddhelton
Would Todd Helton’s career be remembered differently if he could have opted out of Colorado? (www.beforeitwasnews.com)

Opt-out clauses seems to have gained enormous steam this offseason. Players will nearly always accept the large contracts from teams for their services, as they should. There does come a point for every player, when their financial future is secure, that enables them to prioritize winning and extending their careers. The opt-out clause empowers players to have more control regarding their career arc. They are no longer stuck with a team if the team’s plan for winning does not materialize. Players also gain time as they do not have to spend prime playing years waiting to become a free agent and lose interest from contending teams.

We may not see Johnny Cueto, Jason Heyward, Scott Kazmir, David Price, or Justin Upton fulfill the full length of their new contracts from free agency. Each player has an opt-out clause, enabling them to return to free agency in pursuit of a larger payday or joining another team they see as a better fit. All the big free agent signings of this offseason could be back on the market following the 2018 season.

Player

Team Years Contract Amount (Millions) Opt Out After Pre Opt-Out Seasons

Pre Opt-Out Salary (Millions)

Scott Kazmir Dodgers

3

$48 2016 1

$12.60

Johnny Cueto Giants

6

$130 2017 2

$37.60

Justin Upton Tigers

6

$132.75 2017 2

$44.25

David Price Red Sox

7

$217 2018 3

$90

Jason Heyward Cubs

8

$184 2018 3

$65.50

Jason Heyward Cubs

8

$184 2019 4

$88

The excitement from these free agent signings may only last a few seasons. The opt-out clause in these contracts could act as a player friendly way to rent their services to a new team, much like teams trading away soon-to-be free agents to contenders. Players are in a win-win situation with these contracts, as they can now maximize their potential to earn money, play for winning teams, and have longer careers. The focus has long been on the downside for the team when they sign players like Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano to long and expensive contracts. The final years of these contracts result in players receiving higher annual salaries than their abilities would garner them if they were up for a new contract. Such long contracts also handcuff most teams in their efforts to field a contending team. The Texas Rangers would have remained irrelevant had they not traded Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. The Rodriguez contract (10 years, $252 million) was too large for the team to handle financially. Beyond the financial aspects, the rise in opt-out clauses means players have the opportunity to leave a team if they believe a better contract and situation exists for them elsewhere.

The contract signed by Giancarlo Stanton last offseason quietly signaled the shift away from gigantic contracts to shorter contracts that are more player friendly. The Marlins, aside from needing to regain some credibility with baseball fans in south Florida, solidified Stanton as the foundation they would use to build a contender. Stanton’s contract blended the old and new approaches to signing big free agent talent. Miami wanted to prevent Stanton from ever reaching free agency and signed him to a 13 year, $325 million contract. This means Stanton should be playing in South Florida until he is 37, maybe 38 if the Marlins exercise a team option for the 2028 season. The years and the money are comparable to the contracts for Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, and Alex Rodriguez. These 10+ year contracts lock down a player well beyond their productive seasons.  While this contract may not seem like a move away from those other massive contracts, the inclusion of an opt-out clause was striking. However, Stanton received an opt-out clause following year six, the 2020 season. At the age of 30, Stanton could still command an enormous contract on the free agent market. The opt-out also prevents Stanton from playing the vast majority of his career for the Marlins, if ownership is not willing or able to put a winning product on the field. The Giancarlo Stanton contract gave the Marlins, and their fans, the stability of having their player signed long term yet it gave the player the ability to hold the team accountable.

giancarlo-stanton_tri
Giancarlo Stanton’s contract ushered in a new era of mega contracts but with an opt-out clause. (www.grantland.com)

The ability to opt out of a contract may transform the way free agency operates. Players now have the ability to hold their team accountable. Opting out means a team cannot place all of its faith in building a winning team in a single player, or simply building for the future. Baseball is a team sport and players expect and demand that management works to build a winning team. This new approach to signing players to contracts allows successful teams to sign premium players for the long-term, while giving players the ability to leave a team for a better situation or payday if they desire. No player wants to make less than they are worth or languish with a team going nowhere for their entire career. Fans must understand until a player decides not to opt out of the contract the new free agent has in reality signed for only a few years. Opt-out clauses create two contracts out of one. The player holds all the cards in deciding if the second contract comes into effect. Fans can dream, but their dreams need to focus more on short-term results instead of building a dynasty with their newly signed free agent.

DJ

2016 New Year’s Resolutions for the AL West

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.jpg

Ken Giles could push the Astros over the edge towards a World Series. (www.todaysknuckleball.com)

The Moves

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 Simmons1.jpg
Andrelton Simmons and his glove could be the solution to the Angels problems. (www.rantsports.com)

The Advice

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.

Texas Rangers

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.

Yu Darvish pitching.jpg
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.

Seattle Mariners

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

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.

Oakland Athletics

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.jpg
Billy Burns is the model for how the Athletics can return to their winning ways. (www.athleticsnation.com)

DJ-

“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

Acceptance

Late August can be one of the most exciting times on the baseball calendar.  The Playoff race is getting red hot, teams are looking to make a charge towards the Division lead, or to grab one of the Wild Card spots.  The hope to reach October is still alive and well, because anything can happen in baseball.  If your team or teams are still in the hunt, August baseball is the beginning of the magic that happens in October.  What about August baseball when your team or teams are without a prayer?  When the team is so far back in the standings that the wins and losses are almost meaningless.  How do you view August baseball then?

The best is to accept the inevitable.  Accept that you will be watching October baseball filled with the teams that normally you only see as competition.  Accept that this is just not the year for your team to bask in the glow of October glory.  Accept also that you can still watch your team play meaningful games.  They can play spoiler for keeping the big favorites out of the playoffs, like the Washington Nationals, or just to frustrate other teams and their fan bases.

Watching Andrelton Simmons play defense is worth the cost of admission even if the Braves won't be playing in October. (www.espn.go.com)

Watching Andrelton Simmons play defense is worth the cost of admission even if the Braves won’t be playing in October. (www.espn.go.com)

Aside from living by the code of misery loves company, you can also start looking critically at the team you love.  As the season gets away, you lament what your team does not have.  The lack of a strong starting rotation or bull pen, the inability of a team to get runners in who are in scoring position with less than two outs, does the team have some young players who just need some more seasoning before their defense and/or offense comes around, etc.  Now that it is clear, you will not have to worry about your teams’ shortcomings in October, start looking at what your team does have.  Is the starting rotation really that bad, or does it have a couple middle to back of the rotation guys who have been pressed into acting like the ace or the number two starter?  Are there some diamonds in the rough in that rotation, but they just need to be placed in the right position to be successful?  The same goes for the bullpen.  Do you have a legitimate closer or would your current closer be better off as a setup man in the 7th or 8th inning?  Closing games is important, but you have to make it to the 9th inning with the lead before your closer will get a chance to do their job.  Is your team able to consistently get runners in scoring position with less than two outs, or do the scoring threats come with two outs?  Are the batters hitting the ball hard, but right at the defense or are the not getting a runner over or in because they are striking out too much?  Does your team need to have some patience with a potential cornerstone, as the player works out some of the struggles either at the plate or in the field, but at the Major League level?

August baseball offers plenty of good games to watch.  Some games are good because they are helping to shape the race for the Division Crown or for the Wild Card.  Some games are good for finding out what is right about your team.  Teams are playing for playoff positioning or pride and jobs, regardless August baseball can be fun and exciting regardless what the standings tell you.  There is no shame is watching those teams headed for October.  Getting a feel for who you can cheer for even if they are not your preferred team, or deciding which team you are rooting against.  Late August is scoreboard watching season and trying to figure out how the playoff races will shape up.  However, even if a team is done for the year and is playing for pride and trying to spoil the fun for other teams, do not forget that the future of those teams is in part already visible.  Accept the reality of the season, but watch the teams who have no chance of playing in October, as they can give you a glimpse of future Octobers.

DJ