Baseball Springs Eternal: My 2016 MLB Predictions - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Baseball Springs Eternal: My 2016 MLB Predictions

Yes, it’s that time of the year yet again. The 2016 MLB season begins on Sunday with four games including a rematch of the 2015 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets. The time has come for me to share how I see this season unfolding.

But before I get to that, here’s a quick review of last year’s predictions. While my Cleveland Indians-Chicago Cubs World Series didn’t come to fruition, the Cubs did get to the NLCS where they were swept by the New York Mets — a team I also predicted would reach the post-season after a long drought. 

But without a doubt the best prediction I made last year (and, in fact, the best prediction I’ve made since writing my annual MLB predictions here at TAS since 2010) involved Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta. I predicted that Arrieta would win the NL Cy Young Award. Prior to 2015, Arrieta had never won more than 10 games in a single season, but when the Cubs signed free agent pitcher Jon Lester, I wrote the following:

The biggest beneficiary of Lester’s presence will be Jake Arrieta, who finally began to realize his potential in 2014. I see Arrieta building on 2014 and turning in a season that will earn him an NL Cy Young Award.

In 33 starts during the 2015 season, Arrieta won a league leading 22 games, posted an ERA of 1.77, and fanned 236 batters in 229 innings pitched. After the All-Star Break, Arrieta went 12-1. For this Arrieta, who the Baltimore Orioles couldn’t wait to get rid of, won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and made me look good in the process. 

On the other hand, I predicted the Kansas City Royals would not replicate their 2014 success and would finish in the cellar in the AL Central. Instead, the Royals won their first World Series title in 30 years.

So what might I get right and what might I get wrong this year? 

Well, here we go.


AL East
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Baltimore Orioles

Although the Boston Red Sox would finish in the cellar in the AL East for the third time in four years, the team was much stronger in the final two months of the season with the emergence of young players like Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Rusney Castillo, and Travis Shaw, who wrested the starting third base job away from Pablo Sandoval. How long will Panda remain in a Red Sox uniform collecting $18 million riding the pine? Look for Joe Kelly to live up to his Cy Young potential. The Red Sox were bolstered in the off-season with the addition of former Cy Young winner David Price and closer Craig Kimbrel. Combine these forces with a resurgent Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez, Xander Bogaerts’ quest for a 200-hit season, the versatility of Brock Holt, and David Ortiz’s final dance around the AL, it is recipe ripe for a return to glory for the Red Sox.

The Toronto Blue Jays reached the post-season in 2015 for the first time in 22 years. The mid-season acquisitions of both David Price and Troy Tulowitzki put the team on that course. However, with Price now in Boston and Tulo’s health always a question mark, I see a slide back to reality for the Jays in 2016. Frankly, I can’t see Josh Donaldson replicating his 2015 AL MVP performance. Don’t get me wrong. The Jays will be competitive. Tulo, Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion are an awesome lineup and Kevin Pillar can catch anything and everything in the outfield. But I wonder about their pitching. R.A. Dickey isn’t getting any younger, and while Marcus Stroman could be the Jays’ David Price it isn’t clear he can stay healthy over a full season. I am less worried about the Jays’ bullpen. If Roberto Osuna stumbles, ex-Washington Nationals’ closer Drew Storen is standing by.

The New York Yankees already had a deep bullpen with Dellin Bettances and Andrew Miller, but the addition of Aroldis Chapman makes it absolutely fearsome. Or does it? The Yankees may have to lean heavily on Betances as Chapman serves his 30-game suspension for a domestic incident with his girlfriend last October while Miller sustained a fracture on his non-throwing hand. Although Miller plans to pitch through the injury, it’s a risky proposition. But even if the Yankees have three closers, what good is that if the starting rotation can’t keep you in games? The Yankees worry about each pitch Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova throw. Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino made good accounts of themselves last year, but it remains to be seen if they replicate those performances. And how long will it be before Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, and Mark Teixeira collect Social Security? The double-play combination of Didi Gregorius and ex-Cub Starlin Castro should be interesting.

The Tampa Bay Rays have their work cut out for them. They do have a genuine ace in Chris Archer, but will the injury-plagued Matt Moore return to his 2013 form when he won 17 games? Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly are serviceable, but the Rays are waiting for Alex Cobb to return from Tommy John surgery, which won’t be until August. Of more immediate concern is the bullpen. Closer Brad Boxberger will be out for the first two months of the season. Sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make. Unfortunately, the Rays saw fit to trade Jake McGee to the Colorado Rockies in return for outfielder Corey Dickerson on a team that has a surplus of outfielders. Of course, one of the Rays’ outfielders is Platinum Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier. I know the Rays need offense, but is Logan Morrison’s bat going to make up for the departed James Loney’s glove at first? If he can provide protection for Evan Longoria then maybe it’s not so bad. Former Orioles slugger Steve Pearce should help in this regard as well. The Rays always find a way to be competitive. I don’t think they have the horses to make it all the way, but they’ll have a good run.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles are all hitting and very little pitching. Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, the well-traveled Mark Trumbo, a healthy J.J. Hardy, and ex-Pirate Pedro Alvarez will hit a lot of bombs out of Camden Yards this year, but the pitching staff will probably surrender more, even with the addition of ex-Ranger Yovani Gallardo. It is unclear whether we’ll get the Chris Tillman of 2014 or 2015, the Orioles simply are never going to get the Ubaldo Jimenez of 2010 again, and Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Mike Wright are all suspect. The O’s have a good bullpen with closer Zach Britton and set-up men Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz. Unfortunately, for Buck Showalter, he is going to need them early and often.

AL Central
Kansas City Royals
Minnesota Twins *
Detroit Tigers *
Cleveland Indians
Chicago White Sox

*denotes AL Wild Card winners

It goes without saying that the Kansas City Royals are the team to beat in the AL Central, if not all of MLB, having won back to back AL pennants along with a World Series title in 2015. Most of that cast has returned for 2016: Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Salvador Perez. Throw in a resurgent Kendrys Morales and an awesome double play combination of Alcides Escobar and Omar Infante, and you have a formidable lineup that can beat you in ways you haven’t thought of.

The Royals have done this despite so-so starting pitching. Edinson Volquez, ex-Padre Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, and Kris Medlen aren’t exactly Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz. Yordano Ventura is still a diamond in the rough who often shows his rough side. Still, the Royals have an incredible bullpen with Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and the returning Joakim Soria, as well as veterans Danny Duffy and Luke Hochevar. Former Met Dillon Gee and ex-Yankee Chien-Mien Wang provide additional depth.

But the Royals will have company in what should be the best division in MLB. The Minnesota Twins were one of MLB’s biggest surprises in 2015. Expected to finish in the cellar of the AL Central, they instead were competing for an AL Wild Card spot until the next to last day of the regular season. I was not surprised by this as they are led by Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who commands an incredible respect just by his presence.

The Twins have two All-Star caliber infielders in third baseman Trevor Plouffe and second baseman Brian Dozier. The most exciting part of the team can be found in the outfield with Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, and Eddie Rosario. It will be even more exciting should Byron Buxton start to live up to his superstar potential. Throw South Korean import Byung Ho Park into the mix and teams may find it impossible to keep the Twins off the bases. Joe Mauer’s best days are probably behind him, but he can still hurt you with the bat. These days it will be Kurt Suzuki and ex-Yankee John Ryan Murphy splitting catching duties. A full year of Ervin Santana in the starting rotation should help. Phil Hughes, Tommy Milone, and Kyle Gibson will log their share of innings, but I would keep my eye out for big things from Tyler Duffey. Glenn Perkins is the most underrated closer in MLB. For that matter, the Twins are the most underrated team in MLB. But not for long.

Expect the Detroit Tigers to rebound from a disappointing 2015 season. After winning four consecutive AL Central titles, the Tigers were expected to go toe to toe with the Royals only to end up in the cellar. Injuries to Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, an ineffective Justin Verlander, and a shaky bullpen did not help their cause. The additions of Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin should do the Tigers’ outfield wonders not to mention the addition of ex-Washington National Jordan Zimmermann to the starting rotation and veteran closer Frankie “K-Rod” Rodriguez to the back end of the bullpen. Verlander has shown signs this spring of returning to his Cy Young/MVP form of 2011. In which case, a rotation of Verlander, Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey, and Daniel Norris could go a long way. Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler provide great defense up the middle, while J.D. Martinez might be the game’s most underrated slugger. Look for the Tigers to return to the post-season after the 2015 hiccup.

The Cleveland Indians face the unique challenge of having an abundance of pitching with a mediocre offensive attack. Although 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber struggled in 2015 with a 9-16 record, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Cody Anderson, and Josh Tomlin more than picked up the slack. If Kluber comes near to regaining his 2014 form, the Tribe will be competitive. Their bullpen is also good with closer Cody Allen and set-up men Bryan Shaw and Zach McAllister.

Unfortunately, I think the Tribe will be on the wrong end of a lot of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 games. Their best offensive player Michael Brantley begins the season on the DL. While Rajai Davis will be fine with the glove, they will miss Brantley’s bat. While Jason Kipnis hit over .300 for the first time in his career, it came at the expense of his production. Francisco Lindor should get better, but will Yan Gomes? Carlos Santana has pop, but strikes out way too much. Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe provide a veteran presence, but it remains to be seen if they can put up the numbers to back up that presence.

Then there are the Chicago White Sox. While they have the talent, given the acrimony raised with Adam LaRoche’s abrupt retirement over Chisox management’s anger with the presence of his son in the clubhouse, it promises to be a hot, unpleasant summer on the South Side of Chicago.

While the Chisox have a Cy Young candidate in Chris Sale, the rest of their rotation is a question mark. The same could be said of the bullpen after closer David Robertson. Adam Eaton had a nice breakthrough year, but Avisail Garcia continues to underachieve. You never know what you’re going to get from Melky Cabrera. Jose Abreu will hit some bombs as will ex-Red Todd Frazier. But I suspect the additions of Brett Lawrie and Jimmy Rollins won’t add much. Don’t be surprised if this team’s look is significantly different by the trading deadline at the end of July.

AL West
Texas Rangers
Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels
Seattle Mariners
Oakland A’s

One can make the case that the acquisition of Cole Hamels had as much of an impact on the Texas Rangers as the Toronto Blue Jays acquiring David Price. Unlike Price, Hamels is still with the Rangers and this shall loom large. Hamels leads a rotation of stalwarts like Colby Lewis and Derek Holland that will get even stronger once Yu Darvish returns from Tommy John surgery sometime in May. The bullpen of Sean Tolleson, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson was strengthened by the addition of ex-Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen.

Notwithstanding the debacle against the Jays in the ALDS, the Rangers have the best infield in MLB with Mitch Moreland at first, Rougned Odor at second, Elvis Andrus at short and Adrian Beltre at third. Did I mention this lineup also includes Prince Fielder and Sin Soo Choo? Ex-National Ian Desmond should also bring some pop to an already potent lineup and Josh Hamilton can still turn on a fastball.

The Houston Astros were one of MLB’s most surprising stories in 2015 en route to an AL Wild Card spot. This will not be the case in as Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel are no longer unknown quantities. With a lineup that also includes Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, and Evan Gattis, the Astros will score plenty of runs. However, I do wonder if Keuchel and Collin McHugh will replicate their 2015 performances, and it does concern me that more pressure will be put on them with Lance McCullers currently on the DL, although the addition of veteran starter Doug Fister helps. Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman are also options. Former Phillies closer Ken Giles should strengthen a bullpen that includes the likes of Luke Gregerson, Tony Sipp, and Pat Neshek. The Astros will be competitive, but I think will fall just short.

It’s hard to know what to expect of the Los Angeles Angels. Although they were in the pennant picture in 2015, they were a very inconsistent squad amid clubhouse and front office turmoil. While this has been resolved, it remains to be seen which Angels team will show up on the field. Of course, Mike Trout is in a league of his own and Albert Pujols can stand there with him when his foot isn’t bothering him. But the Angels’ offense becomes considerably thinner. C.J. Cron has shown flashes of power and Andrelton Simmons is an upgrade at short. But the Angels could do better at second than Johnny Giavotella. While Yunel Escobar is serviceable, the Angels might not be able to rely on Craig Gentry or Daniel Nava on an everyday basis. However, the Angels’ pitching should keep the team competitive. Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, and Andrew Heaney will more often than not take the Angels into the seventh inning with a lead. Although both Jered Weaver and Matt Shoemaker had disappointing campaigns in 2015, they should rebound in 2016 and if they don’t they can fall back on Tyler Skaggs and C.J. Wilson when they return from the DL. Huston Street leads an outstanding bullpen complemented by Joe Smith, Fernando Salas and Cam Bedrosian. The Angels will contend, but they won’t keep up with the Rangers or Astros.

The Seattle Mariners begin the Jerry DiPoto-Scott Servais experiment. I believe its inaugural season will be equal parts trial and error. The Mariners have three genuine superstars in Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Felix Hernandez. Kyle Seager has superstar potential and Adam Lind can provide some protection to Cruz and Cano, but the rest of the team lacks punch although Leonys Martin and Nori Aoki do provide good defense in the outfield. The starting rotation after King Felix is decent with Hisashi Iwakuma and ex-Red Sox pitcher Wade Miley, although the jury is still out on Tijuan Walker and Nathan Karns. The Mariners have gone through many closers in recent years with ex-Marlin and Cardinal Steve Cishek being the latest placeholder. If Cishek falters, they could turn to either Joaquin Benoit or 40-year old Joel Peralta as a stopgap.

The Oakland A’s have not been the same since they traded away Yoenis Cespedes in the middle of the 2014 season. They are lacking in an impact offensive player. Don’t get me wrong. Josh Reddick, Stephen Vogt, and Coco Crisp can swing the bat and ex-Brewers Khris Davis should contribute, but the A’s need more than Chris Coghlan and Yonder Alonso if they want to contend in the AL West. The A’s do have a bona fide ace in Sonny Gray. But when Rich Hill is your number two starter, things are very much up in the air. While Hill has been admirable in his perseverance and could be one of MLB’s big stories of 2016, on any other team he would be a number five starter. Chris Bassitt, Kyle Graveman, and Felix Doubront have yet to establish themselves as quality big league starters. Henderson Alvarez will probably get a shot in the rotation when he returns from injury in May. The A’s have a good bullpen and they will need it. Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, John Axford, Liam Hendriks, and Mark Rzepczynski will be getting a lot of work this season. 

AL MVP — Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins
AL Cy Young Award — Joe Kelly, Boston Red Sox
AL Rookie of the Year — Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
AL Manager of the Year — Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins
AL Comeback Player of the Year — Rich Hill, Oakland A’s


NL East
New York Mets
Washington Nationals
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves

The New York Mets were one of baseball’s biggest surprises, but not to me. The triumvirate of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard was too much for me to overlook, not to mention the ageless Bartolo Colon. Steven Matz may the best of them all. And did I mention Zack Wheeler should be back from Tommy John surgery by the All-Star Break? The closer role has now become familiar to Jeurys Familia, who is ably set up by Addison Reed. The bullpen should be strengthened with the addition of Antonio Bastardo and a healthy Jerry Blevins. The Mets will have the advantage of having a full season of both Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright. They are also stronger up the middle with the additions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda, and Travis d’Arnaud remain, while Michael Conforto should emerge as a major part of the Mets offense.

The Washington Nationals were MLB’s most disappointing team in 2015 despite an MVP campaign by Bryce Harper. Dysfunction was the order of the day and it would cost Matt Williams his job. Dusty Baker should smooth things over, although Jonathan Papelbon is still present in the bullpen. Although better in the bullpen than in the dugout. The Nationals are going to need productive seasons from Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, and Jayson Werth. The addition of Ben Revere gives them speed at the top of the order and ex-Met Daniel Murphy should be an upgrade at second. When Max Scherzer stepped on the mound it looked like he would throw a no-hitter (he threw two of them in 2015), but Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark need to rebound for the Nats to compete with the Mets. The Nats did add veteran help in the bullpen to back up Papelbon in the form of ex-Giant Yusmeiro Petit, former Angel Trevor Gott, and Shawn Kelley late of the Padres. The Nats will be better in 2016, but not good enough to overtake the Mets.

The Miami Marlins also have a new manager in Don Mattingly. It will be interesting to see how the team responds to the no facial hair rule, although I’m sure Giancarlo Stanton will hit bombs and Dee Gordon will get on base in front of him, facial hair or no facial hair. Justin Bour provided Stanton with some protection in the lineup in 2015 and Martin Prado provides a solid veteran presence, but both Christian Yelich and Marcel Ozuna will need to step up. The Marlins added former Orioles pitcher Wei-Yen Chen, but everyone will be watching to see if Jose Fernandez can return to the form of his rookie campaign in 2013 when he finished third in NL Cy Young balloting. But Adam Conley could turn out to be the real revelation. Tom Koehler will give the Marlins innings and they will hope the same of Jarred Cosart and David Phelps. However, beyond closer A.J. Ramos, the Marlins bullpen is thin.

It’s a miracle that the Philadelphia Phillies didn’t lose 100 games in 2015. Pete Mackanin replaced Ryne Sandberg in mid-season and did a good enough job to get a contract extension through next season. The Phillies do have their work cut out for them. Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz’s best years are well behind them, their starting rotation is shaky, and they have no closer to speak of. But Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera are stars in the making. Freddy Galvis is dependable at short and Peter Bourjos is the most underrated defensive outfielder in the game. The Phillies have nowhere to go but up. Perhaps Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton get a new lease on life and Aaron Nola has a chance to develop into an ace. The Phillies aren’t playoff bound in 2016, but they won’t finish in last place in the NL East either.

The NL East cellar is reserved for the Atlanta Braves. While they have a top flight offensive star in Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran is a dependable starter, the Braves have the look of the Class of 2006 with the returns of Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson, and Michael Bourn. As much as anything else they’ll mentor future stars like Hector Olivera and Ender Inciarte. With Bud Norris and Joulys Chacin in the Braves starting rotation, expect Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli, Alexei Ogando and Eric O’Flaherty to be quite busy while Arodys Vizcaino gets few save opportunities.

NL Central
St. Louis Cardinals
Pittsburgh Pirates **
Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee Brewers
Cincinnati Reds

** denotes NL Wild Card winner

Despite all the off-season activity and hype surrounding the Chicago Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals are still the class of this division. Yes, Jayson Heyward is gone, but Stephen Piscotty will fit in just fine with an outfield of Matt Holliday and Randall Grichuk. Jhonny Peralta is hurt, but Jed Gyorko can fill in the gap for a couple of months. Don’t forget this lineup still has Matt Carpenter, Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina, Kolten Wong, Matt Adams and Brandon Moss in it. While it’s true John Lackey has joined J-Hey in Wrigley and Lance Lynn is out for the season, the Cardinals rotation is deep with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia, and ex-Red & Giant Mike Leake. The bullpen is every bit as deep with Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Jonathan Broxton, and South Korean import Seung Hwan Oh. The Cardinals won 100 games in 2015. There’s no reason they can’t win 100 games this year.

The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t far behind the Cardinals in terms of their depth. Their leader, 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, patrols an outfield that includes Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. While hometown favorite Neil Walker has moved on to New York, Josh Harrison is more than capable of filling in the breach at second and will work well with shortstop Jordy Mercer. While Jung Ho Kang will begin the season on the DL, ex-Cardinal & Angel David Freese can bridge the gap. The Pirates probably have the deepest bench in MLB with the likes of Michael Morse, Sean Rodriguez, John Jaso, Matt Joyce, and Pedro Florimon. Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart are the best catching tandem in MLB. The Pirates starting rotation is outstanding with Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Jeff Locke who are joined by ex-Met Jonathan Niese and ex-Rockie & Dodger Juan Nicasio. Tony Watson and Mark Melancon might be the best eighth and ninth inning tandem in the NL. Jared Hughes and Arquimedes Caminero are also solid contributors. The bullpen has been strengthened by the addition of ex-Giant Ryan Vogelsong and ex-Ranger & Tiger Neftali Feliz. I know the Pirates are tired of winning an NL Wild Card spot, but they will do exactly that for the fourth straight year.

When you take the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Jake Arrieta and add Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey to the mix, the Chicago Cubs look unstoppable. Yet I have a feeling that 2016 will be a year when the Cubs come back down to earth. Look for sophomore jinxes from Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber. Don’t get me wrong. The Cubs will be contenders. Arrieta, Lackey, and Jon Lester are a strong starting three and the Cubs bullpen is good with closer Hector Rondon, Travis Wood, Pedro Strop, Clayton Richard, and ex-Yankee Adam Warren. It’s just that the NL Central is the best division in MLB and I don’t think this year’s edition of the Cubs keeps pace with the Cardinals and Pirates.

The Milwaukee Brewers are a team of uncertainty. Ryan Braun can still put up respectable numbers, but he doesn’t have much protection in the order even with the addition of former Astros slugger Chris Carter. Jonathan Lucroy had a down year and evidently wants out of Milwaukee sooner rather than later. Scooter Gennett and Jonathan Villar are good up the middle, as is former Met Kirk Niewenhuis in center field. It looks like Aaron Hill, normally a second baseman, will primarily play at third this season. The Brewers starting rotation isn’t much to write about. Matt Garza is coming off the worst year of his career and the jury is very much out on Willy Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, Chase Anderson, and Jimmy Nelson. The Brewers bullpen is an even worse state. Who will be closing games for the Brewers is as much of a mystery to manager Craig Counsell as it is to the rest of us.

But it could be worse. At least, they aren’t the Cincinnati Reds. Despite having Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce at the heart of their lineup, the Reds lost 98 games in 2015 including 14 of their final 15 games. And it isn’t bound to get any better. Despite 57 stolen bases, Billy Hamilton has underachieved. With All-Star Todd Frazier now in a White Sox uniform, Eugenio Suarez has some big shoes to fill. The return of Devin Mesoraco behind the plate should help a bit, but he will have his hands full with a young pitching staff that consists of Raisel Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafini, and Brandon Finnegan. It will be interesting how Finnegan fares as a starter after he turned heads with the Royals during the 2014 post-season. After a year in Detroit, Alfredo Simon returns to the city where he had his biggest success, and Homer Bailey should be back from Tommy John surgery in May. Even if the starting pitching fares better than expected, the bullpen is a mess. As with the Brewers, it’s anybody’s guess who will be closing games with Aroldis Chapman now in a Yankee uniform. My guess is that they will tab J.J. Hoover. But if he blows games early, Reds fans are liable to say that Hoover sucks. 

NL West
Los Angeles Dodgers 
Arizona Diamondbacks **
San Francisco Giants
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

**denotes NL Wild Card winner

Although the L.A. Dodgers aren’t without question marks, I am confident new manager Dave Roberts has the answers. The challenges facing the Dodgers are these. Can the rotation adapt without Zack Greinke? Will Yasiel Puig return to his 2013 form? Which Jock Pederson will show up? The one who made the NL All-Star Team or the one who finished the season hitting .210? Can Andre Ethier come back from a broken leg? Will Howie Kendrick and Yasmani Grandal end up on the DL to start the season?

Despite Greinke’s departure to Phoenix, the Dodgers still have 3-time NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. They have added Scott Kazmir and Japanese import Kenta Maeda. Throw in Alex Wood and expect Hyun-Jin Ryu to be back my May, and you’ve a pretty damn good rotation. Kenley Jansen is ensconced as closer accompanied by the capable arms of J.P. Howell, Luis Avilan, Pedro Baez, and Chris Hatcher out of the bullpen. The Dodgers still have Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner, and young Corey Seager in the lineup, and A.J. Ellis can fill in as a number one catcher if Grandal is out for any extended period. There is a lot of chaos in L.A., but Roberts’ calm demeanor is exactly what the doctor ordered. Vin Scully’s final season in the Dodgers’ broadcast booth should be a memorable one.

The Arizona Diamondbacks upgraded their pitching staff not only with the addition of Zack Greinke, but the acquisition of Shelby Miller from the Atlanta Braves. Rubby De Le Rosa won 14 games in his first full season as a starting pitcher and if Patrick Corbin can return to his 2013 form it will give Robbie Ray room to grow. The D’Backs’ bullpen is deep with closer Brad Ziegler, Josh Collmenter, Daniel Hudson, Randall Delgado, and ex-Nats, A’s & Mets reliever Tyler Clippard. Their offense is led by perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, who has protection with an outfield of A.J. Pollock, Yasmany Tomas, and David Peralta and catcher Wellington Castillo. The addition of Jean Segura solidifies the middle with Chris Owings and third baseman Jake Lamb should get better this year as well. Don’t be surprised if rookie Peter O’Brien makes an impression later this summer. Look for the D’Backs to make their first post-season appearance since 2007.

It’s an even numbered year. So doesn’t that mean the San Francisco Giants should be penciled in to win the World Series as they did in 2010, 2012, and 2014 under the stewardship of Bruce Bochy? The Giants still have 2014 NL MVP Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, and Angel Pagan left over. Matt Duffy was an improvement over Pablo Sandoval at third and Denard Span gives the Giants a top flight centerfielder. Madison Bumgarner is joined by Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, though you never know what you’ll get from Samardzija and Cueto. Chris Heston is still developing and Matt Cain and Jake Peavy are on the downside of their careers. The Giants still have a strong bullpen with Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javy Lopez, and George Kontos. But the retiring Jeremy Affeldt, Ryan Vogelsong, and Yusmeiro Petit will be missed. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but now that Tim Lincecum is no longer a Giant it somehow won’t be the same at AT&T Park.

As usual, the Colorado Rockies’ offense is fine in Denver’s thin air. Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Ben Paulsen, D.J. LeMahieu, and ex-Brewer & Orioles outfielder Gerardo Parra make for a potent lineup. But once again, the problem is pitching. Jorge De La Rosa is coming off a so-so season and Tyler Chatwood, Chad Bettis, and Jordan Lyles aren’t exactly Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito in their prime. The Rockies have a new and improved bullpen with the addition of ex-Cardinals & Cubs closer Jason Motte, ex-Rays set-up man Jake McGee, and the well-traveled Chad Qualls joining veteran lefty Boone Logan. They are going to be very busy this year. The other big question mark is shortstop. Although Jose Reyes won’t be facing domestic violence charges, he will certainly be facing a suspension (as new Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman is). Trevor Story will be the Opening Day shortstop. Is he the second coming of Troy Tulowitzki, or is he just holding Reyes’ spot?

The San Diego Padres went for broke last year and were broken. The Opening Day trade that landed the club Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel was all for naught. Upton is now in Motown while Kimbrel will be closing games for the Red Sox. The Padres still have James Shields, Derek Norris, and Matt Kemp. But for how long? Will Myers will be sticking around as he has been moved from the outfield to first base? Longtime White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez is a nice pickup, as is veteran Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay. I also expect good things from third baseman Yangervis Solarte. But the starting rotation is very much in question. Tyson Ross looks like a future number one starter, but aside from how long Shields will remain a Padre there is the underachievement of Andrew Cashner. The fact that Padres GM A.J. Preller is waiting with baited breath as to when 2-time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum will have his long awaited showcase demonstrates he doesn’t think much of Colin Rea, Robbie Erlin, or Drew Pomeranz. The Padres do have a veteran bullpen. Fernando Rodney is a hit or miss proposition as a closer. Matt Thornton and Carlos Villanueva join Kevin Quackenbush in middle relief. Rookie manager Andy Green has his work cut out for him.

NL MVP — Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
NL Cy Young Award — Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
NL Rookie of the Year — Peter O’Brien, Arizona Diamondbacks
NL Manager of the Year — Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Comeback Player of the Year — Tim Lincecum, San Diego Padres


AL Wild Card Game — Minnesota Twins vs. Detroit Tigers (winner: Twins)
ALDS (Best 3 out of 5) — Minnesota Twins vs. Kansas City Royals — Twins in five
ALDS (Best 3 out of 5) — Boston Red Sox vs. Texas Rangers — Rangers in four
ALCS (Best 4 out of 7) — Minnesota Twins vs. Texas Rangers — Twins in six
ALCS MVP — Trevor Plouffe, Minnesota Twins

NL Wild Card Game — Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (winner: Pirates)
NLDS (Best 3 out of 5) — Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals — Pirates in five
NLDS (Best 3 out of 5) — New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers — Dodgers in five
NLCS (Best 4 out of 7) — Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Los Angeles Dodgers — Dodgers in seven
NLCS MVP — Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers

Minnesota Twins vs. Los Angeles Dodgers — Dodgers in seven
World Series MVP — Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Riding Off In The Sunset — Vin Scully

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