One hundred years ago, the Chicago Cubs played their first game in Wrigley Field, beating the Cincinnati Reds 7-6 on April 20, 1916. A century of baseball later and there is yet to be a newly minted World Series pennant flying over the bleachers on the North Side. Other baseball goings-ons in 1916 included:
- The cessation of operations for the Federal League, the last time the omnipotence of Major League Baseball would be challenged by a rival baseball league.
- George Herman “Babe” Ruth continuing his young career dominance…as a pitcher. The Babe notched his first 20 Win season (23 to be exact) and led the American League in ERA at a 1.75 clip. He also was not a Yankee.
- Walter Johnson continued to be the best pitcher alive at the moment, albeit a down year with only 25 Wins, a 1.90 ERA, 369.2 IPs, 228 Ks, and an ERA+ of 147. Deadball era or not, Walter Johnson is still the best player to wear a Washington uniform, just don’t expect anyone at Nats Park to know who the hell he was.
- Speaking of deadball, Pete Alexander of the Phillies led all of baseball with 33 wins. Which would be amazing if it wasn’t a season sandwich in between 2 other 30+ Wins campaigns.
- Still speaking of deadball, we had a three way tie for the homerun title…at 12 dingers a piece. Needless to say, the New York Sun wasn’t investigating PEDs at the time.
- The Babe’s Boston Red Sox defeat the Brooklyn Robins in 5 games to notch back-to-back World Series titles.
Oh what a Dodgers fan would give to have the success of the Brooklyn Robins. In 2016, MLB seems to be in the midst of a multi-year transition from the stars of the post PED era, the likes of Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Cabrera, CC Sabathia, and Justin Verlander, into an era of the $400m young super-star. In the 2015 All-Star game, only 10 out of 79 players on both rosters had appeared in more than 5 All-Star games. Compare that to 41 of the players that considered it their first or second appearance at the Mid-Season Classic. The league belongs to Trout, Harper, Giancarlo now. Even guys like Buster Posey and Joey-Bats seem like again stars even though they’ve only been in our baseball consciousness for about 5 years. So we’re in a bit of transition, both on the field and off as the game continues to defy logic with dueling media narratives about the slow death of the sport versus the astronomical piggy bank that is MLB. After the exciting playoff run of 2015, the confluence of young talent and teams flush with cash with the outside chance to make even the Wild Card playoff, personally I think baseball is here to stay.
To the predictions!
REGULAR SEASON PREDICTIONS
1. New York Yankees – y
2. Toronto Blue Jays – x
3. Baltimore Orioles
4. Boston Red Sox
5. Tampa Bay Rays
Overall, I feel about this division like A-Rod above. Should be impressed, but kinda just a bunch of teams racing for 88 wins. And this for a division with the highest combined payroll of $780m.
As one Yankees fan friend of mine put it, “this team is pretty much a bad step away from offensive catastrophe”. Agreed. On paper, the Bronx Bombers are in the same position as the USAF’s reliance on B-52: some very old resources penciled in to do the long range heavy hitting. The projected Yankees lineup ages are shaking out like this: 32, 32, 40, 35, 32, 38, 31, 26, 26. Aaron Judge might be doing his best Jose Hernandez, but he might have to be summoned up sooner than later with a middle of the order relying on A-Rod, Tex, Beltran, and McCann. Those guys combined for 103 HRs last year and expecting an encore will challenge A-Rod’s Miami connections to the max. On the bright side, they have the best pitching in the division. By far. No David Price-ace, but Tanaka is solid at the top followed by good young arms in Severino, Eovaldi, and Pineda. If these three can combine for 500 IPs, that’s the best 4 man rotation in the AL East. Oh, and the Miller-Chapman-Betances trio might be bullpen equivalent of MJ-Pippen-Rodman.
Meanwhile, Toronto is seeing how far it can push the piggy bank of Rogers Communication’s, aka Comcast North. Most of the 93-win team returns, including a full season of Tulo, but the rotation falls off after Marcus Stroman, who is good to great in his own right, but isn’t someone you want to rely on with creaky RA Dickey and Marco Estrada manning the other 350 starter innings. If the Yankees finally get old, Toronto is in the driver seat as their offense is still the best in the division. Baltimore’s lineup is also just as punishing, of course, with Machado and AJ combining for the best young hitting duo in the league. But if there is ever an MLB team that might be more aggressive against the Yellow Peril more than Donald Trump, it may be Baltimore, first letting Wei-Yin Chen go in free agency despite the rest of the rotation looking like Replacement Plus with above average Tillman and Gallardo at the rotation top, but dropping off to questions marks in Ubaldo Jimenez, Kevin Gausman, and Mike Wright, and then the Hyun-soo Kim debacle.
Finally, the free-spending Red Sox have a weird team of David Price (woooo!) followed by very expensive 3rd starters in Buchholz and Porcello, followed by who the hell knows. Craig Kimbrel and Koji Uehara are great, but again, the roster falls off sharply after them. And the lineup is even more confusing, with great talents in Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts (who also have the best combo for teammate names in the AL), but a mishmash of expectations + horrendous fielding in Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, and Panda Sandoval. But when you’ve got a shaky pitching staff, why not rely on 3 fielding black holes to back them up?
Oh, and Tampa Bay is in perennial rebuild mode, so take the over on their win total, but don’t expect much either than chasing a winning record. I do like Jake Odorizzi, for what that’s worth.
1. Chicago White Sox – y
2. Kansas City Royals – x
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Minnesota Twins
This might be the most exciting, competitive division in baseball top to bottom…again. Each team has a lot to like and each team could see themselves winning the division at least once over the next 5 years.
The media is going bonkers over the Chicago Cubs and their prime positioning to be a perennial playoff contender for the next half decade, but their downtown neighbor have positioned themselves nicely to compete for a title too. After relying on bringing in veterans to make a postseason push, White Sox Generalissimo Kenny Williams doubled down and brought in more veteran names like Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie, and Jimmy Rollins for said push. Putting aside that Rollins and Lawrie aren’t that good at hitting or fielding, which might be an issue for your double play combo, the team has good balance throughout the lineup and the best pitching staff in the division, led by uber-All Star Chris Sale. Oh, and Jose Abreu is probably a top 3 1B in the league. If Adam Eaton and Austin Jackson can avoid horrendous slow starts and Carlos Rodon is a solid 3 starter, then this team will be competing with the Royals into September.
Speaking of the Royals, they have practically the same championship team as last year. And they’ll probably stuff the All Star ballot box again. But nothing seems to suggest that this group will change its dynamics or production anytime soon, with guys like Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain hitting their primes. Another starting pitcher would be nice, but with the best pure hitting lineup in baseball, they can worry about that kind of thing in July. Meanwhile, the Indians are trying to create Kansas City-lite with their collection of solid hitting players, albeit light on power. Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis are a top 5 double play combo, especially on offense, and Tyler Naquin (OF) and Yan Gomes (C) is a ROY dark horses. Michael Brantley might miss a few weeks to start the season, but should be in All Star form upon his return. Meanwhile, the pitching staff is once again young and deep, with former Cy Younger Cory Kluber flanked by young arms in Carrasco (age 29), Salazar (26), Anderson (25), and Bauer (25). With Chicago and KC loaded with talent, Cleveland might not have enough to overtake both of them, but within 3 years this team should be competing for division titles.
I won’t give much attention to Detroit since this team really is stuck in no-man’s land of rebuild and let it ride. The Miguel Cabrera Era still has a couple more years left, but he’s on the decline, even if he is owed like $268527692 still. Still, the lineup is solid with Upton, surprise JD Martinez (although let’s see if he can repeat), Ian Kinsler, and Nick Castellanos, but the rotation is a mess. Free Agent pickup Jordan Zimmerman, Verlander (RIP), and Anibal Sanchez are great #3 starters, but each one could be this team’s #1. Nope. And the bullpen, as always, is even worse. Finally, up in the Twin Cities, the slow rebuild continues as Byron Buxton makes his ROY case all season surrounded by a bunch of power hitters but no pitching to speak of until Jose Berrios is ready and if Alex Meyer can figure out command.
1. Houston Astros – z
2. Seattle Mariners
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Anaheim Angels
5. Texas Rangers
Most of these teams should probably be in rebuilding mode, but can’t given a couple of players on their roster that are still prime producers or prime contracts. Except Houston, which will probably win the division going away.
The out of the wilderness Astros were the biggest surprise of 2015 and could have been the most remarkable rags to riches story if it weren’t for the other rags to riches story in Kansas City. If this were Cleveland, that meltdown in the ALDS against the Royals would have shut down the city permanently. But Houston returns with most of the young roster it had during its 2015 run, including the amazing combination of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. If Carlos Gomez, George Springer, and Evan Gattis combine for 60 HRs/average .460 SLG, then this team should have the division locked up by early September. The rotation is relying on a lot of guys to do something they’ve never done before: have back to back good seasons, but they have a lot of depth when you consider Mike Fiers is a nice 5th man. Meanwhile, the Mariners are once again stuck with trying not to waste whatever is left of Robinson Cano and King Felix’s primes, while making Kyle Seager happy. The bullpen is nothing to speak of, which is ok wince the rotation might actually be the most well rounded in the division with Hernandez, Walker, and Iwakuma, but lineup is once again a plethora of heavy power guys in a homefield that hates power. Ketel Marte should be a nice ROY contender though.
Oakland and Anaheim are both going to be competing for somewhere in between 76-80 wins, but that’s normal for Oakland as it rebuilds. Meanwhile, the Angels are in trouble. Mike Trout is signed through 2020, but his salary jumps to the mid-$30 million range in 2018 and right now the next best hitter on the team is Kole Calhoun, who has some nice pop, but is at the end of they, Kole Calhoun. Albert Pujols is good for 130 games these days and is pretty much headed for DH duty the next 6 seasons. And that’s it. The lineup is a goner. Meanwhile, Jared Weaver will be making $20m this year, which will likely be his final in Angels red, and will be a nice hired gun for the next 3 before he retires. Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney are solid future starters, but again the rotation tanks after them, just like the lineups drop off. Oh, and while Oakland continues its Billy Beane magic while letting Sonny Gray get some non-pressure playing time in, Anaheim is screwed. Like Arte Moreno might be brought in for the suspected murder of this team’s farm system screwed.
Meanwhile, Texas should start to get Adrian Beltre’s HOF ceremony ready in 2022. Get well soon, Yu Darvish!
1. Washington Nationals – y
2. New York Mets – x
3. Miami Marlins
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Philadelphia Phillies
I won’t spare more than 40 words on this Nationals team that has a fanbase with the collective baseball knowledge equivalent to President Trump’s foreign policy expertise. The division is crappy enough that they’ll inflate their way to 90+ wins though.
The Mets vaunted rotation got a national showcase during last year’s postseason and nothing should change on that front. Meanwhile, Daniel Murphy took his PEDs down I95 to Washington, leaving this mediocre lineup with even less to play with. Curtis Granderson was really the Mets offensive MVP last year, having quietly carried that team for the first 3 months, despite the praise for mid-season acquisition Cespedes, but his tank is running low. David Wright and Lucas Duda are nice, but they’re best a combined 5 WAR at best. Nonetheless, the bottom heavy division will allow the rotation to rack up a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 wins.
I would have a lot more confidence in Miami as a future contender if it wasn’t for the fact that their farm system is a mess. And this time they can’t unload a World Series roster to rebuild. This doesn’t bode well for the potential Stanton departure in a couple of years. Still, on paper the team should be in the mid-80s win zone and I’m still a believer in the Stanton-Yelich-Ozuna outfield being baseball’s best. But the pitching staff is a desert, and that’s with the prospect of a solid Jose Fernandez comeback. Otherwise, it will be fun watching Ichiro slap his way to 3000 hits (which A) will probably be in late August and B) should be in a Mariners jersey) and then spend the last month of the season trying out every other position, including the most daunting role as Marlins Fan for all 9 innings.
Much like the Washington club, there’s not much that needs to be said for the Atlanta-Philadelphia rivalry other than it was nice to know you. Somehow the Phillies still have a payroll north of $100m even though I honestly have no idea who any of these players are save for Ryan Howard and Chooch. As of now, Fangraphs projects 21 Phillies batters to combine for 7.9 WAR. Mike Trout is projected to have 8.5 WAR. This can’t end well. At some point, Sam Hinkie is going to reveal himself as Phillies GM Matt Klentak and Chip Kelly. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see Nerlens Noel closing out games in September. At this rate, there might not be a city leftover for the DNC Convention in August #MakePhillySportsGreatAgain. Oh, and the #FreeFreddie movement should get its own Super PAC by July.
1. Chicago Cubs – z
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Milwaukee Brewers
The Cubs bandwagon has a full tank and plenty of space on the rooftops! Cubs head honcho Theo Epstein finally released the offseason payroll floodgates after the Northsiders first playoff appearance since 2008. After surprising his old club with the Jon Lester signing in 2015, Epstein brought in Ben Zobrist and free agency gem Jason Heyward to add to an already, almost disgustingly deep Chicago lineup. Of course, it all starts with Rizzo and ROY Kris Bryant at the corners, who make up the NL’s best young hitting combo. In fact, since we’ve mentioned young hitting duos twice now, let’s take a break for the 5 Best Young Hitting Duos in MLB:
5. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa
4. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte
3. Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez
2. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant
1. Manny Machado and Adam Jones
Meanwhile, the rest of the lineup is balanced between power (Schwarber and Montero) and speed/contact (Fowler and Addison Russell). Jake Arrieta and John Lackey probably won’t repeat their 2015 campaigns, but even 75% of their production in a rotation shared with Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jason Hammel would be more than enough. The only soft spot is the bullpen with a not so dominant closer in Hector Rondon and mediocre setup men behind him in Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm.
Meanwhile, Andrew McCutchen and friends continue to be baseball best group of players nobody can name. Losing Jung-ho Kang for a month or so will hurt, but McCutchen and Marte are a good core for the offense. That being said, HRs might be harder to come buy with this team which might be a problem in a division with some good offenses to keep up with. For once, the pitching staff might actually be the anchor with Gerrit Cole chasing a Cy Young and Liriano, Niese and Nicasio making up a nice 4 man rotation. But the rest of the NL might have made the quality investments to move ahead of Pittsburgh, although a weak NL Central might give the Buccos as nice W-L buoy.
Meanwhile, I’ll dedicate even less words to the Cardinals than the Nationals, especially since I know they’re fan base is probably in bed by the time they get to this section. Sleep tight, AARP Nation. In all fairness, the pipeline of .290 hitters with clutch power may have run dry for the Cards offense. Molina and Holliday are past their primes and Matt Carpenter will have to rely on nice leaps from Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty to have a chance to keep up with Chicago. Still, their top three of Wainwright, Wacha, and Carlos Martinez in the rotation is definitely the best 1-2-3 in the Central, maybe even the NL after the Mets. But it will take a lot more to convince me Mike Leake was worth 5/$80m.
Finally, the dwellers. Poor Joey Votto. He finally has a comeback season to prove all the naysayers wrong and they trade away the Reds’ only All Star. At least Zack Cozart still has a cool looking name. Same goes for Ryan Braun who will also have a solid season, only to be out of contention by early August.
1. San Francisco Giants – y
2. Los Angeles Dodgers – x
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres
I hope you got a big whiff of that reverse jinx. The combined Dodgers ($254) and Giants ($171) payrolls of $425m is the most for division payroll leaders save for the, of course, Yankees-Red Sox $428m money bomb. So flip a coin between these two teams to come out on top of the division. Hell, the last series is in San Francisco, so it’ll probably come down to an October decision. LA has been purging cash and sportsbook odds the last 3 years, but the Scrooge McDuck gold vault may finally have found a bottom. Zack Greinke was let go after taking a massive contract offer from the Diamondbacks that will pay him $35m when he’s 37 years old. Great guy, but that’s even too much for the Guggenheim printing press. Instead, LA is relying on a core of young position players in Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, and Corey Seager to set the Dodgers foundation for the next 7 years. The good news is that pitchers Julio Urias and Jose De Leon, along with the league’s best farm system, are a year or so away. The not so good news is the team is still paying that quarter of a billion to win now-ish, especially with Clayton Kershaw doing Kershaw things. If those aforementioned hitters can combine for 65 HRs, 200 RBIs and Runs, and hit .270ish, they should be there with the Giants for the division and definitely in the running for a Wild Card spot. If Pederson can’t adjust, Seager is the rookie that he is, and Puig self destructs, all very possible, then Arizona will have a nice 2nd place finish 8 games back.
Oh, and those Giants. Its an even year, so let’s just pencil them in as the contenders. That being said, Cueto was a nice signing, but the Jeff Samskfjwotrardzija signing was a bit of an overpay. Otherwise, the lineup is solid, although Hunter Pence or player to be acquired later hitting 25 HRs would be nice. Speaking of nice, Arizona looks just that: nice. Paul Goldschmidt and AJ Pollack would have been very nice, but the latter’s broken elbow is now featuring phrases like “season-ending” in media reports. Big blow to the offense, and AJ Pollock’s elbow, of course. Without Pollock, the offense takes a nosedive with some nice power from David Peralta and that’s it. Luckily, the rotation is a bit more solid with Greinke, Shelby “Uhaul Truck” Miller, and Patrick Corbin. An 84 win season is very doable, but reaching the 90s might prove difficult, without Pollock.
Finally, the two teams that seem to be forever on the outskirts of relevant baseball discussions. Per usual, Colorado seems to find great offensive talent and the Tulo-CarGo era really should have been more. And Nolan Arenado is going to compete for an MVP trophy and would be the best 3B in the league hands down if it weren’t for his twin Manny Machado. But even with an altitude injected offense, pitchers are needed for the other 81 games on the road. Try to name 2 Rockies pitchers not named Jore de la Rosa. I’ll wait…still thinking?…..hold on, almost done with this Rubik’s Cube….and this one too…..ok, time’s up! If you said Jake McGee and Chad Bettis, good for you! You probably are the bartender at the Coors Field Rooftop, which I’ll admit looks pretty cool. But sorry, when Chad Qualls is still somehow in the league AND prominently involved in your bullpen, I’m signing off. Regarding the San Diego Padres, just read this article last summer from Grantland’s (RIP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) Rany Jazayerli, “Teardown Artist”. Oh, and AJ Peller is still the Padres GM and their farm system is at 23rd now. At a minimum, we’ll be all over the trade deadline buzz around Matt Kemp and James Shields.
NL MVP: Anthony Rizzo (CHC)…DOUBLING DOWN!
AL MVP: Manny Machado (BAL)
NL Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner (SFG)
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale (CWS)
NL ROY: Corey Seager (LAD)
AL ROY: Byung Ho Park (MIN)
NL Wild Card:
Los Angeles over New York
AL Wild Card:
Kansas City over Toronto
Chicago over Los Angeles
San Francisco over Washington
Kansas City over Houston
Chicago over New York
Chicago over San Francisco
Chicago over Kansas City
I mean, who DOESNT want to root for this World Series?
Cubs defeat White Sox in 6