Preseason Predictions are always the most fun. Mostly because they can go so awry so quickly. I think baseball is the hardest sport to predict because each pitch is so dependent on every player, and streaks make a BIG difference. That being said, lets dig in.
The American League
With only four games into spring training, we can only look at teams on Paper, and what history has taught us. At the beginning of the Off-season I told myself there was nothing the Blue Jays could do, to make themselves contenders next (this) season. But that was never on paper so I can go the other way. The Jays made massive strides in becoming serious contenders not only in their division, but their conference also. But I’m not going to start trumpeting their success just yet. Melky’s performance will see a serious decrease after his little PED problem, and Dickey is still a wild card as I discussed in other posts. But that combo of E.E. and Bautista makes a terrific anchor for their offense, and they’ve filled out that starting pitching staff well, even if Dickey doesn’t live up to last year’s hype. The biggest foreseeable gap is that Bullpen. It puts a ton of pressure on the starters and just as much the batters to perform at their best every pitch of every at-bat every day. That is just an enormous amount to ask for, especially in baseball where you are playing 6 days a week. But that being said, the Jays still have a lot of upside this season, and look for them to be serious contenders, particularly, if they can get that bullpen ironed out.
Next stop, Anaheim. They have a very powerful outfield, but Trout cannot and will not have the same season as last year. But he still has the potential to be one of the top bats in the league, we just cannot expect last years production. His youth and determination will provide a great spark for this team, especially when they need it down the stretch. It’s important to note that it is these young years that players work hardest, because now they are looking to earn those big bucks, and one year will not cut it. Pujols’ numbers have been declining these past few years but his experience and his raw power will come into play down the stretch as well. It will be up to the young guns like Trout, to get things going early, so they don’t start off slowly. The acquisition of Hamilton adds further power to that outfield, but as we all know Hamilton comes with more baggage than a mobster’s daughter. Look to the road to be their biggest obstacle. The most important thing in baseball (other than fundamentals which applies to all sports) is consistency. Make the road your home, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have a ticket to that World Series.
Lastly the Tigers have a good shot at this year’s AL Title. Look for them to fly under the radar and the League by storm. But I see this as a crash and burn team. They win big, or they go home. That’s all there is to it
Out of the American League I see the Tigers. Honestly I think that they look really impressive at the end of last year, after almost not making it. Fielder needs to rally that team with Cabrera and force some early offense.
The National League
Nats, Backs, Dodgers, Reds. The Nationals and the Reds went back and forth over home field advantage with the most wins in the regular season. The Nationals took that title, but neither team won the pennant. The Nats cannot rely too heavily on Strasburg, and the bullpen needs to stay consistent. The same goes for the Reds. Hands down the best bullpen last year, they slipped up at the end when it counted most. With Chapman moving to the rotation and Broxton filling that closing role, they still have lots of power in the pen. Leake, top LHP prospect Cingrani, Bray, Hoover, and Masset, will all be vying for a couple of empty slots in the pen. This kind of competition between good competitors promises another good bullpen this year for the Reds. If they continue to play consistently, and they all stay healthy, the Cincinnati Reds could very well see that Pennant.
Going back to the Nats, they need to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. Harper who took the NL Rookie of the Year award (A steal from Reds 3rd Basemen Todd Fraizer), will need to stay strong, and not be discouraged when he hits that second year wall. Play with confidence and ambition, and we will see good things from the Nats this year. That a lot of pressure for such a young guy, but he is not alone. The Nats scored top ten in average, runs, and slugging last year, proving that they can hit as a team. It will be fun to watch how Geo deals with his PED rumors as they move into the regular season play. As good as this Nats team is, and their experience together will help, it will be hard for them to match up with the newly formed powerhouse in the NL, the Dodgers.
Moving past money, T.V. Deals, and all that, the Dodgers made great pick ups in the off-season and promise to be a premier team this year. We said the same thing about the Lakers. A lot of egos just entered that locker room, and enough money to drown someone in, came along as well. The city is expecting a lot from new team members like Greinke and Jin at pitcher, and their ability to ignore the media will play a big role in their success. Couple those pitchers with Kershaw, Billingsley, and Lilly, Pitching should not be the issue for the Dodgers. Their bats have power, but consistency will be the question. Ramirez, Gonzales, Punto, Hairston, Uribe, Kemp, Crawford, the list goes on. The bats are there, it will be up to proper management to propel them to the next level.
Finally the Arizona Diamondbacks have an explosive outfield with the Upton brothers, and look to be the underdog team of the year. Look for a quiet ride to the top for D-Backs. They performed well stats-wise last season, ranking top ten in Runs, OBP and Slugging. Aaron Hill’s newfound prowess will play a big role to their overall moral next year. They will look to rally around him and the Uptons, to provide solid defense, and a booming offense.
The NL Champions:
This is a tough one. Ultimately it came down to consistency in every sense of the word. The Cincinnati Reds play well on the road, with and without streaks they are winning series’, and their bullpen provides the consistant pitching to cushion that explosive offense.
World Series Champions
Allow me to reiterate the difficulty in accurately declare a championship winner in the offseason. This is definitely a seven game series between the Detroit Tigers and the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds have explosive bats at EVERY position. Bruce, Phillips, Votto, Cozart, Fraizer, Ludwick, and now Olivo at catcher. Mesoraco was a bit of disappointment for the Reds last year, but they have a tendency to call up players too early so I would watch him yet. Choo is filling in a Gap stop role at CF, and the Reds hope to pull up Hamilton, the speed demon prospect, sometime mid-season. Choo is a great leadoff hitter, with good contact and decent power. If he can get on with some kind of consistency, those bats behind him will drive him across.
As for the Tigers, their star-studded line up will provide a difficult challenge for Cincinnati’s young pitchers. Latos and Cueto are both still maturing, and I expect a team like the Tigers to wear them down and frustrate them. Arroyo is really the only veteran on that rotation, so look for him to keep those young guys in check. This is a good point for the Reds. They have a very young team which makes their consistency last year all the more impressive. It looks like Rolen will not return next year which is a loss of defensive talent and veteran experience, but I don’t see that making a big difference. Verlander was almost immaculate in the offseason last year, and if we see that again, even the Reds hitters will be at a loss. After much hair-pulling and nail-chewing I’m calling it a Blue November. I hesitate to use this but we have to remember this is Cincinnati. Although their baseball prowess is much better than their football, we see that Cincinnati has the innate ability to fall short even with talent. Detroit’s veteran players, star power, and dominant pitching will propel them to the World Series win.