Here we go into a new season where anything can happen. We had a lackluster off-season with a sputtering hot stove that saw some record-breaking contracts but weeks of “Will he or won’t he” that belongs on the Lifetime Channel rather than the MLB news wire. Teams seem willing to bet big on prospects but undervalue proven commodities. This is the same spirit we’re taking when we peer into our cracked crystal ball to make predictions about the 2019 season. We’re going to switch things up starting with the American League and Bernie is going to report on why they will or won’t do what we think they’ll do.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|AL East||Yankees||Rojo Sox (yeah I said it)||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees|
|Red Sox*||Bandwagoners*||Red Sux*||Red Sox*||Tea Partiers*||Red Sox|
|Blue Jays||Devil Rays||Blue Jays||Blue Jays||Pajaritos||Blue Jays|
|Orioles||Cal Ripkens||hOribles||Crush Davis Express||Blue Jays||Orioles|
New York Yankees
One hundred wins last season and they end up a Wild Card. They blasted more home runs in a season than any team before. The rotation didn’t quite hold up and the bats went a bit cold in the Postseason. They shored up their pitching rotation in the off-season by trading for James Paxton and re-signing J.A. Happ. Masahiro Tanaka may have developed a pitch that could keep him from getting blown up every five games. Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar had a season in the Bronx to settle in and help recreate a new Murderers’ Row.
Giancarlo Stanton will be flipping his bat and trotting around the bases plenty in 2019. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Boston Red Sox
They’re the reigning champs and they did it with a collective play that didn’t focus on one player’s excellence. Mookie Betts may be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors and Chris Sale wouldn’t surprise anyone if he makes another case to win the Cy Young. Craig Kimbrel hanging out in free agency does not help shorten games. We have to give the defending champs their due but they also didn’t do much in the off-season. Resting on your laurels while everyone else is re-configuring to beat the champs may not be the most sound strategy.
Tampa Bay Rays
Blake Snell threw the kind of fire that could have started the California wildfires last year. The Rays got him to bite on a 5 year, $50 million contract with a $3 million signing bonus. While it’s a big jump for him, it’s not elite ace money. The Rays are trying to win on a budget but that only works when you’ve got an analytical or strategic edge over your competition. You can’t Moneyball when everyone else is reading the statistics the same way. Then again, they probably would run away with the AL Central…
Toronto Blue Jays
There have been a lot of near misses with the Blue Jays’ recent signings. Randal Grichuk, Ken Giles, Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz…these are all (or were) solid role players to support a more elite group of players. *cough*Vladimir Guerrero Jr.*cough*
Mark Trumbo’s knee is looking better. Crush Davis is still their best option a first base? No left-handed pitching? Is Trey Mancini the only glimmer of hope on this roster? What happens is Jonathan Villar stays healthy and hits?
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|White Sox||Tigers||Sox||ChiSox||White Sox||White Sox|
The firing of Paul Molitor shows the Twins front office is getting impatient for wins. Rocco Baldelli coached the Rays for a few seasons so he knows how to work with a budget and talent, however Molitor was really the best sort of balance between analytics and gut feeling for the game. Derek and I saw Miguel Sano hit a laser in Detroit during BP that rocked the brick wall beyond the centerfield fence. We agree it would have carried over 500 ft. Perhaps Nelson Cruz can help guide Sano towards his All Star potential. Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop, and Ronald Torreyes are solid pick ups to shore up the infield that’s covered by a great outfield of Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario. They’ve got the talent to compete but only in their division.
Will Miguel Sano become the star Minnesota is hoping for? (Bruce Kluckhohn-Associated Press)
Cleveland’s lineup is looking a bit battered but they truly do their damage through hustle and pitching. Well, the hustle seems to be worn out. What’s worse is the arms seem to have cooled. A few years ago facing Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Trevor Bauer would have seemed like swinging at ghosts. Now it seems that the only trouble with the rotation is staying alert enough to make contact. There’s still a deep well of talent here, it’s just worn down and needs a refresh.
Chicago White Sox
Eloy Jimenez is not the second coming but that’s because the White Sox’ front office had thought that about Yoan Moncada. Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon, and Ivan Nova make up a serviceable rotation but let’s be honest, the ChiSox are only getting third because of their divisional competition.
The Tigers are pretty much the White Sox without the prospects.
Kansas City Royals
Danny Duffy has a shoulder impingement in his throwing shoulder. Salvador Perez is out, getting Tommy John surgery…as a catcher. I have more faith in Bartolo Colon being able to pitch through 9 innings than this team to win more than 50 games.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|AL West||Astros||Colt .45’s||Stros||Astros||Athletics||Astros|
|Mariners||Walker Texas Rangers||Mariners||Seattle||Mariners||Mariners|
These guys are a team of superstars that play like a team. Justin Verlander, George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman deliver on such a regular basis that support from guys like Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick coming into a hot streak is just overwhelming for most teams. There’s a certain level of excellence that you have to bring to beat these guys. Few teams have it and fewer can do it as consistently.
This is a team that makes you go “Who is that?” and they consistently outperform the expectations of the “experts”. Just bear in mind that the A’s outperformed Houston in OPS, BA, and HRs last season. Sean Manaea threw a no-no last season and he’s leading a rotation that doesn’t have the same regression potential that Houston has.
Los Angeles Angels
Shohei Ohtani isn’t throwing this season. Mike Trout signed a landmark contract that’s prompting players to question the utility of free agency (but really, without Bryce Harper and Manny Machado doing what they did, Trout wouldn’t have gotten his deal). This is team that’s signaling that they want to win but really not showing people that they know how to win. They may end up like the Yankees of the early 2000’s with enormous salaries, big names, cracked lumber…but no hardware to show for it.
Mike Trout got paid, but can the Angels ever put together a winning team? (FTW-USA TODAY Sports)
The Mariners are a lot like a superb AAA with some hot prospects just waiting for a call up. It’s not a rotation but a one-two punch in Marco Gonzalez and Yusei Kikuchi and I wouldn’t want to go into a boxing match with that combo. King Felix might have a few good games in him this season but that’s not a lot to float by on. The high point of their season is already over, Ichiro played in Japan and then retired.
This is a team full of redemption stories in the making. I’m not holding my breath. New stadium for 2020 might be the most exciting off-season move.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|Phillies*||Bravos*||Harpers*||Marlins* (yeah Jeets!)||Braves*||Braves|
|Marlins||Fish||Minor Lg Team||Mets||Marlins||Marlins|
The Phillies picked up some good talent in Andrew McCutchen who had a bit of a refresh by the Bay and in the Bronx, Jean Segura who’s production and defense are constantly overlooked, and J.T. Realmuto, who’s on-base and slugging continue tracking better every year in the majors. We also saw Aaron Nola turn the corner and take over the mound like an elite ace. Jake Arrieta may not find the stride he had in Chicago but an improved lineup may make his job easier and bolster his confidence to hold things down. Let’s not forget that they also picked up a certain free agent that could amplify all of those previous moves by a huge leap – Bryce Harper.
Bryce Harper moved to Philadelphia, can he win in October? (Drew Hallowell/ Getty Images)
The Braves sort of caught lightning in a bottle with the emergence of young prospects in Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. The signing of Josh Donaldson blocks Johan Camargo from the everyday lineup and puts him into a super utility role. When a young star like Freddie Freeman is one of your elder statesmen and you win the division, there’s a lot to like about this team. But the Braves probably had the largest range of predictions among The Winning Run’s team with first and fourth place finishes.
There’s a lot of killer talent on this team. They might actually be better without Bryce Harper in their outfield. But just like the city they play for, there are a lot of management and clubhouse synergy issues to overcome.
New York Mets
Speaking of management issues…there is still an enviable amount of pitching talent in Queens. The Mets need to stop trying to be the Yankees and embrace the chaos and circus of the New York sports media. Less bro, more fun would go a long way into turning this team into winners. Oh and either fire the entire medical staff or protect their positions and salaries from the front office. Either way, there are too many injuries for this to be anything but incompetence or interference, neither is good.
The Marlins will not do what the Phillies did last year. Kevin’s just doubling down because when it doesn’t work out, he can brush it off as a joke. Derek Jeter may be on track to becoming to baseball ownership/front office management what Michael Jordan has been to basketball.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|NL Central||Cardinals||Cards||Brewers||Brew Crew||Cardinals||Cardinals|
|Reds||Better Dead than Red||Cubs||Cubbies||Cubs||Reds|
St. Louis Cardinals
I feel like a broken record. This team just reloads. Unlike last year, I think they won the off-season by trading for Paul Goldschmidt. They have great players in the rest of their positions or a deep bench to platoon. Yadier Molina is a cyborg because getting into that crouch in your late 30’s is just crazy, or I’m just jealous. Hopefully Molina is wearing a bulletproof cup this year. Regardless, the Cardinals seem to have a range and depth that provides them an edge over the regressing Cubs and volatile Brewers teams.
There’s a lot of hitting potential on this team and they will probably be in the top 5 for HRs by the end of the season. The Brewers outperformed expectations on pitching last year but I think it can be done again. Corey Knebel being hurt is manageable since the bullpen seems infinitely interchangeable.
Yu Darvish was a bust last year. Maybe he’ll turn it around this year. Jon Lester is a #2 guy who’s turning into a #3. Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana are all a step away from brilliance but it is a risky bet that this is the season they take that step. They’re dangerous on the other side of the ball but something isn’t gelling for them and it’s not likely to fix itself this year.
Yasiel Puig brings his energy to the Reds, can he bring more wins? (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)
While Yasiel Puig brings a whole lot of fun energy to southwest Ohio, the bigger story is the pitching rotation. Sonny Gray has mean stuff but the lights in New York were too bright. Alex Wood is an underrated pitcher who keeps his lineups in the game with a 3.29 ERA over six seasons. Puig bringing extra run support could mean good things by the Ohio River.
The NL Central may be the polar opposite of the AL Central in competitiveness. But that doesn’t mean Pittsburgh is fielding a team that’s contributing to that image.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|NL West||Dodgers||Coors||Dem Bums||Dodgers||Rockies||Dodgers|
|Rockies*||The Choking Kershaws*||Rockies||Rockies||Dodgers||Rockies|
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have won the division every season since 2013. It doesn’t seem likely to change but they didn’t do a lot in the off-season. The biggest move was to sign A.J. Pollock to a five-year deal to replace Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. Much like the Red Sox, this doesn’t portend well. However, it’s hard to argue that the rest of the NL West made the sort of moves that would make them legitimate challengers to that crown.
Nolan Arenado got a big contract and remains one of the most exciting players in the Majors. The departure of DJ LeMahieu was softened by signing Daniel Murphy. So they have the firepower to run up scores on their opponents, but playing in Denver is simply a difficult balance for pitching. Jon Gray seems to be one of the few pitchers that’s unfazed pitching at home or away from that elevation. It’s just hard to develop a rotation and bullpen around that. Especially when you let a guy like Adam Ottavino go to the Yankees.
San Diego Padres
Seriously? How did this happen? Oh yeah, the Diamondbacks sold the house. Hey look Manny Machado.
How long until the Padres are relevant again? Ralph (Freso/ Getty Images)
They sold the house. Zack Greinke cannot be happy that his departure from the Dodgers has left him with the team he has now. Goldschmidt is in St. Louis and Steven Souza Jr. went down with a terrible knee injury and is gone for the season. Can Jake Lamb stay healthy and will Adam Jones find a new home in the desert. They have a good rotation so if the hitting is good, they’re a dangerous team to play spoiler.
San Francisco Giants
How the mighty have fallen. Let’s not forget that the Giants have won three of the last ten World Series titles. But really, that’s all that’s going for them right now. One last trip around the Majors for Bruce Bochy.
|AL Wild Card||Red Sox||Bandwagoners||Red Sux||Red Sux||Tea Partiers||Red Sox|
|NL Wild Card||Phillies||Bravos||Cards||Cardinals||Brewers||Rockies|
|Rockies||The Choking Kershaws||Phillies||Marlins||Braves||Brewers|
|ALDS 1-4||Red Sox||Rojo Sox||Yankees||Astros||Yankees||Yankees|
|Astros||White Elephants||Red Sux||Red Sux||Tea Partiers||Red Sox|
|ALDS 2-3||Yankees||Colt .45’s||Astros||Yankees||Athletics||Astros|
|Red Sox||Colt .45’s||Astros||Astros||Athletics||Astros|
|World Series||Red Sox||Coors||Dodgers||Brewers||Yankees||Cardinals|
Sorry CC Sabathia it is not looking good for you to end your career with a World Series victory. This one’s for you CC. (Kim Klement- USA TODAY Sports)
Our apologies to the New York Yankees because our prediction means they’re probably not going to win this year. We have been wrong the last five years, why change now.
BL with DJ, JJ, JB, & KB
This MLB offseason has unexpectedly been boring. Despite a marquee free agent class and a number of teams looking to make trades, since December it has followed last year’s offseason of inactivity, at least until Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sign. But as we countdown the days to Spring Training, this period of quiet affords us a perfect time to discuss another smoldering issue: the American League Central was garbage in 2018. While the division’s awfulness is apparent from a quick glance at the final 2018 standings — one team with a winning record, two hundred loss teams, and one 98 loss team — the level of stink went much deeper.
We’ll begin with Cleveland, the Central “Champions.” A cursory look seems to indicate Cleveland had a solid season. They put together 91 wins while finishing 3rd in the American League in runs scored, 2nd in batting average, 6th in OBP and SLG, and 4th in OPS. Their pitching staff was the only one to feature 4 starters putting up 200+ strikeouts en route to the 9th best ERA, 7th fewest runs allowed, and a collective 7.7 WAR, good for 6th best in the league. With the 5th best run differential in the league, Cleveland appeared to be a solid playoff team in 2018.
Francisco Lindor and Cleveland were not the World Series contenders their record said they were. (Ron Schwane/ Getty Images)
But this impression starts to fall apart when you take a deeper look into their stats, particularly when focusing on Cleveland’s splits again divisional and non-divisional opponents. In 2018, Cleveland put together a 49-27 (.645) record against their division and a 42-44 (.488) record against non-divisional opponents which included a 22-31 (.415) record against teams above .500. While their divisional record is to be expected given the sorry state of their opponents, the non-divisional record isn’t the result of bad luck, they were awful against better quality opponents.
Against non-divisional opponents, Cleveland was a sub-.500 team with a pedestrian +3 run differential. This is partly the result of a decline in pitching performance, as their staff’s ERA and RA/G against non-divisional opponents increased by over a run, falling below the league averages of 4.14 and 4.45, respectively.
|2018 Cleveland Pitching Stats|
They fared better offensively against non-divisional opponents, putting up a batting line that was above the league average in all categories but markedly below their overall numbers as a top offense.
|2018 Cleveland Batting Stats|
|Win-Loss (%)||Runs Scored||R/G||Avg.||OBP||SLG||OPS|
This split in performance was an outlier among the AL playoff teams. The other AL playoff teams, with the exception of Oakland, performed well against teams both inside and outside their division. The run differentials are against divisional and non-divisional opponents for each playoff team are broken out below with Tampa Bay added in to show how Cleveland compares with the best non-playoff team (Seattle was left out due to their improbable record in close games in 2018).
|2018 American League Playoff Team and Tampa Bay Run Differentials|
|Team||Overall||Against Division||Against Non-Division||Against AL Central|
With the exception of Oakland having a similar split in the opposite direction, no other playoff team was even close to the type of split that Cleveland put up, despite the AL East teams having the privilege of playing Baltimore more often. Houston may have even performed better against the AL Central than Cleveland, putting up a 102 rdiff against the division in 44 fewer games. That Cleveland played so poorly against opponents outside its division while the rest of the playoff teams did not, is not just the result of Cleveland being a weak playoff team but the division winner from one of the historically worst divisions in baseball since the beginning of the divisional era in 1969.
Corey Kluber may leave Cleveland if the team is going to become a real contender. (www.mlb.com)
In June 2018, The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh wrote an article detailing the strength of each division since 1969 using an analysis supplied by Dan Hirsch of The Baseball Gauge. The method is similar to the “Simple Rating System” at Sports Reference Sites and adds the average RDiff of a division against teams from outside its division (“RDiff”) to the average run differential of the division’s opponents in their own non-divisional games, excluding games against the division listed (“SoS”) to produce an overall rating (“SRS”). You can find the full list here, noting the AL Central results are from June 2018.
At the time, the AL Central was on track to beat the awful 2005 NL West (which the Padres won with a 82-80 record) for weakest division. Using stats from Baseball Reference to calculate the AL Central’s final 2018 SRS shows they managed to avoid the embarrassing mark of worst division by finishing as the second worst division since 1969.
|2005 NL West||-1.014||0.099||-1.005|
|2018 Al Central||-0.977||0.092||-0.885|
While this may seem as another historical curiosity produced by baseball, under MLB’s current schedule and playoff structure, having a division that performs far below the others could add to the trend of teams committing to lengthy rebuilds instead of improving to make a playoff push.
A good example of this is Seattle. The Mariners finished 2018 with 89 wins, good for 7th best in the AL, but 8 games behind Oakland. This offseason, Seattle has decided to undergo a full rebuild, seemingly concluding that they can’t make the necessary improvement to catch up to Oakland or Houston. But that calculus might have been different under a playoff system that sent the top-5 teams in each league to the playoffs instead of the division winners and 2 wild cards. Catching up to Houston and Oakland would still be out of reach in 2019 under such a system, but Seattle making enough smaller improvements to compete with Cleveland, Minnesota, or Tampa Bay for the 5th playoff spot seems attainable.
Cleveland has to point the finger at themselves and take a hard look at their team if they want to win in the Post Season. (John Kuntz/ http://www.cleveland.com)
Instead, none of those teams just mentioned are doing much to improve their rosters. Seattle is rebuilding, Minnesota has made a couple of tweaks (claiming C.J. Cron and signing Jonathan Schoop and Nelson Cruz) but hasn’t improved their pitching, Tampa is pursuing its usual strategy, and Cleveland is shedding payroll and looking to trade Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer.
Maybe a Kluber or Bauer trade will bring back current players to improve their outfield and bullpen, it appears that Cleveland may focus on the future and seek prospects and young players. A prospects orientated trade would make Cleveland worse in 2019, yet they likely would still be favorites to repeat as AL Central champs. This is made possible because the AL Central is crud and, at a time when MLB revenues are rising, AL Central teams aren’t spending money to improve (all of its team’s 2018 payrolls were in the bottom half of MLB). This removes a playoff spot from being truly competitive, and may add to the growing list of teams undergoing rebuilds and results in less meaningful and interesting games for fans.
The World Series is set; the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago Cubs. One of these teams is about to break a long championship drought. Every pitch and swing will be over analyzed because, in some way, they matter. Tension builds with every pitch and the players know one moment can define their career. Welcome to the World Series, October baseball at its finest.
The Cleveland Indians won the American League Central crown for the first time since 2007. Cleveland has some great players like Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber, but the key to their success has been team baseball. The Indians ranked 5th in MLB in Runs Scored, 4th in Stolen Bases (1st in the American League), 10th fewest strikeouts, 9th most walks, 3rd in the American League in sacrifice bunts, 2nd in sacrifices flies, 5th in team batting average, and 7th in team OBP. Offensively Cleveland wasted few opportunities to score runs. A successful season offensively means nothing if the pitching and defense cannot hold leads. Defensively Cleveland committed only 89 errors and had a .985 fielding percentage. Pitching has brought Cleveland four wins away from their first World Series victory since 1948. Indians pitchers allowed the 4th fewest hits, the 7th fewest runs, 6th fewest walks, 4th most strikeouts, and the 7th best team ERA in the Majors. All five members of the Indians rotation (Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar) made at least 25 starts and won at least 11 games. Cody Allen led the team with 32 saves with Andrew Miller making a significant impact on bullpen longevity after his trade to Cleveland late in the season. Consistency from the starting pitching meant less stress and strain on the bullpen, allowing the relievers to measure their efforts through the season. Team baseball allows the Indians to recover if a player or two do not perform. While not producing the nationally recognized super stars, team oriented baseball can produce a World Series championship.
Which team will raise the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2016? (Jamie Squire/ Getty Images)
The Chicago Cubs won the National League Central by 17.5 games with 103 wins. The Cubs were clearly the best team in regular season baseball. Offensively the Cubs scored the 3rd most runs, drew the most walks, were 2nd in OBP, and hit into the 5th fewest double plays. A lineup that includes Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Ben Zobrist intimidates any opposing pitching staff. Defensively, Chicago allowed the fewest runs per game, which is also a reflection upon their pitching staff. The Northsiders had the lowest ERA and WHIP, allowed the fewest hits, the fewest runs, the 6th fewest home runs, and had the 3rd most strikeouts. When your team is out scoring most of the league and allowing the fewest runs that is a recipe for success. If one side falters the other side can keep the team rolling. Every member of the Cubs starting rotation (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, and Jason Hammel) made at least 29 starts, collected 11 wins, pitched 166 innings, with an ERA below 3.85. Combined the starting rotation averaged over six innings per start, which late in the season meant the bullpen had just two innings to pitch before turning the ball over to Aroldis Chapman. Less work for the bullpen means fresher arms in high pressure situations and in the playoffs. The Cubs are easily recognizable for their play on the field, yet their super stars still play team baseball. Every team needs at least one player to elevate their game if they want to win it all, and the Cubs have plenty of players capable of doing so.
Saying it has been a while since the Indians or Cubs have won a World Series is an understatement. The Communist Party rose to power in China a year after the last Indians’ World Series victory. Since then, segregation was declared unconstitutional, man went into space and to the moon, AIDS emerged, the internet was invented, and the Indians have played over 10,000 games. Wrigley Field opened six years after the last Cubs World Series victory. It was followed by the United States participating in seven wars, the election of 16 Presidents, 11 Amendments being added to the Constitution, four states joining the United States, and the Cubs playing over 15,000 games. It has been a while for both teams.
Regardless who wins the World Series, 1948 and 1908 were a long time ago and another World Series victory is within reach for one of these two teams. The teams on the field are playing each other as much as the history of their own team. The attributable curses that have held these teams back for decades may finally be broken. Let us hope that the 2016 World Series has been worth the wait.
Despite producing the 2015 World Series champions, the Kansas City Royals, the AL Central was a relatively weak division. The White Sox were streaky. The Indians started picking things up in the second half of the season but couldn’t overcome the deficit they built up in the first half. The Tigers just…struggled. The Twins made it clear they are on the rise but just aren’t ready for the spotlight yet. There are some interesting pick ups so far though that have the potential to make big waves in the coming season.
Jordan Zimmermann should help the Tigers rebound from a rough 2015. (www.dodgersbeat.com)
Todd Frazier and Jordan Zimmerman make up the two big moves in this off-season so far. The White Sox were in the bottom five of the league for total HRs and RBIs so they needed to get a big bat into their lineup. Todd Frazier also brings a good glove to support Jose Abreu at first base or he can play third base everyday. He even brings a boost in stolen bases which the White Sox were also well below the league average in 2015.
Todd Frazier should provide the protection Jose Abreu needs to help revive the White Sox. (Cincinnati Reds)
The Tigers picked up a new arm to back up Justin Verlander and make up for the loss of David Price. With 164 strikeouts and 201 innings pitched in 2015, Jordan Zimmerman can help the Tigers shore up the rotation and protect the bullpen. Detroit’s defense played relatively well in regards to fielding so the Tigers did well in getting Zimmerman. Detroit’s defense, compared to the rest of the league had a good fielding percentage and low number of committed errors so Zimmerman’s addition to the rotation should tighten up the defense even further.
The AL Central gave us a rollercoaster of streaky play with plenty of blowouts to enjoy on both sides. The Tigers were disappointing, the Twins were surprising, the White Sox could be depressing, the Indians fought the good fight but had too high a mountain to climb, and the Royals fulfilled their promise. The AL Central was not the most exciting division in baseball, but it showed the full range of emotions a team and fan base can experience throughout the course of a season.
Kansas City Royals
BL – They won the World Series in rather decisive fashion. They’ve got solid pitching with Wade Davis ascending into the ranks of elite MLB closers. They don’t need big power hitters as long as they can keep moving guys through the bases. This is as balanced a team as there is out there. So much so that losing a great utility player like Ben Zobrist isn’t likely to affect their chances of winning this division again.
The Royals play, win, and celebrate a World Series Championship as a team. (Jeff Curry- USA TODAY Sports)
DJ – The biggest strength the Royals have is team cohesion and trust. The last two seasons have seen them get to the World Series twice and win it once. Kansas City needs to stay hungry. The Royals always knew the next guy in the lineup would move them over or get them in, and this belief shows. In 2015, Kansas City’s team Batting Average with runners in scoring position was .281. Their opponents hit .240. The Royals team Batting Average with runners in scoring position with 2 outs was .278, while their opponents hit .196. Kansas City is playing team baseball beautifully. They should continue this in 2016 by replacing Zobrist with the sum of their pieces not just a single player.
BL – The Twins picked up Byung-ho Park which raises the question about Joe Mauer’s future. But I think they really need to focus on putting together a good rotation of young talent to build on. I feel like pitching is the aspect of the game that can’t be more effectively purchased than developed through scouting, drafting, and minor league coaching. Arms burnout and you don’t see as many pitchers getting into their late 30s as gracefully as their batting/fielding counterparts.
Byung-ho Park should help the Twins to start hitting and enter the playoff conversation. (www.koreatimesus.com)
DJ – The Twins finished over .500 and second in the division. A full season under his belt, Manager Paul Molitor will be better at making moves, in and out of the game. Minnesota’s biggest weakness is simply getting base hits. Joe Mauer had the worst batting season of his career, yet still led the Twins with a .265 Batting Average. Simply getting more hits will score more runs and take pressure off the pitching staff and defense. The Twins are close to making a run at the playoffs, they just need to hit the ball more. Adding Byung-ho Park, and his career .281 Batting Average is a good start.
BL – Cleveland had a .477 win percentage in first half of 2015 and a .534 win percentage in the second half. But the season win percentages have been declining under Terry Francona. I don’t see the Indians with the same history of developing players like the Twins. With the smallest payroll in the division, Cleveland management needs to either get ownership to loosen the purse strings or start developing their farm system. Corey Kluber is the lone star of the rotation which doesn’t bode well for the long term and picking up a solid number 2 pitcher and a 25+ HR hitter might be the best way to go. Derek is going to disagree about the Indians’ rotation but I don’t think the younger guys are going to develop their weaker pitches while pitching in the majors and that’ll make them one, may two, trick ponies who’ll get eaten up by some hungry AL bats.
Corey Kluber is the backbone of the Indians rotation that could lead Cleveland to success in October. (Getty Images)
DJ – I passionately disagree with Bernie. Cleveland has its work horses that should make it a contender in 2016. The four man rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer all made at least 30 starts in 2015. The Indians have youth on their side, at the start of the 2016 season Kluber will be 29, Carrasco will be 29, Salazar will be 26, and Bauer will be 25. Each pitched at least 175 innings and combined to have a 3.76 ERA. The foundation is there in Cleveland, the Indians just need to keep those young arms healthy and maintain a solid bullpen to support this fantastic pitching rotation.
BL & DJ