With the Chicago Cubs hosting the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night and a full slate of games on Monday, it is time for my predictions for the 2015 MLB season.
Before I get to this year’s prediction though, let me discuss my best and worst predictions from last season.
My best prediction by far was with the Kansas City Royals. I wrote, “Look for Kansas City to end its 29-year post-season drought in 2014.” OK, I had them winning the AL Central rather than one of the wild card spots and I didn’t think they would get out of the ALDS, but considering the team was in last place in their division on June 1st, the prediction was a prescient one.
The same could not be said of my prediction that the Arizona Diamondbacks would win the World Series. Not only did the D’Backs not win the Fall Classic, their 64-98 record was the worst in MLB in 2014.
So, right or wrong, here is what I think will transpire this season.
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
The AL East was once MLB’s elite division. It would come as no surprise to me if this year’s division winner only manages 90 wins. Methinks the Red Sox will go from worst to first to worst to first. The additions of Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and the return of Justin Masterson will revamp the starting rotation and take some of the pressure off Clay Buchholz. The Sox offense is better with the addition of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and a full season of Cuban sensation Rusney Castillo, although I wish they hadn’t parted company with Yoenis Cespedes even if meant getting Porcello. But throw in the new guys with David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Mike Napoli and you have a lineup that will wear out pitchers. Having closer Koji Uehara on the DL is bit of a concern, but Edward Mujica could keep this concern to a minimum.
The Orioles didn’t do much this off-season and lost both Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. I don’t see starting pitchers Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen replicating their 2014 form nor do I see the likes of Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman, and Ubaldo Jimenez picking up the slack. Still, the O’s will be competitive with Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado in the lineup and Buck Showalter at the helm. The Blue Jays added Russell Martin behind the plate and Josh Donaldson at third to join Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but their ace Marcus Stroman is out for the season and their bullpen is weak. I also don’t think John Gibbons is any better a manager than he was for them a decade ago.
The Yankees have far too many question marks. Will Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow hold out? Can C.C. Sabathia stay healthy? Can Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Mark Teixeira come back from their reduced offensive output? Didi Gregorius is in the unenviable position of succeeding Derek Jeter at short. And how long can Joe Girardi stick with a closer by committee system? Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays are in upheaval under new manager Kevin Cash. It doesn’t help that Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore could begin the season on the DL. Ditto for Jake McGee, which means Grant Balfour is your closer. James Loney just isn’t enough protection for Evan Longoria although Steve Souza, Jr. could help in this department. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long season at the Trop.
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
Look for the Tigers to win their fifth consecutive AL Central title. The acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes makes the Tigers offense even stronger. The 3-4-5 combination of Cespedes, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez is the best in MLB. It’s true that former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is gone and Justin Verlander took a step back last year, but the rotation still includes David Price (another former Cy Young winner), Anibal Sanchez, plus the additions of Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene. Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain can be unpredictable in the bullpen, but it is deep enough to overcome those obstacles.
The Cleveland Indians will clip the Tigers at their heels. It won’t be enough to win the division, but I see a second Wild Card spot in three years. The team hasn’t changed much in the off-season, but the Tribe only needed fine-tuning and they got it in the form of ex-A’s slugger Brandon Moss, who should provide protection in the middle of the lineup for AL MVP candidate Michael Brantley and catcher Yan Gomes. Expect another big year from AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber.
I expect the Minnesota Twins will make a surprise run at the division under new manager Paul Molitor. The Twins lineup won’t be mistaken for Murderer’s Row but Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier are among the game’s most underrated players. A rebound year for Joe Mauer and the return of Torii Hunter should help. The Twins also have a pretty good starting rotation anchored by Phil Hughes, who came into his own last year out of the glaring New York spotlight. Though you never know what you’re going to get from Ricky Nolasco or Tommy Milone, and things just got complicated with Ervin Santana’s 80 game suspension. Still, Mike Pelfrey might be able to help in the short term and a breakout season for Kyle Gibson could be on the order paper.
The Chicago White Sox were busy this off-season with the additions of Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, Jeff Samardzija, and David Robertson. But I don’t think it will do much good. What worries me is Cy Young candidate Chris Sale’s foot injury. Given the amount of leg action in his delivery, I wonder if he will be the same pitcher. Don’t forget that when pitchers get foot and leg injuries they often lead to arm injuries. Although there’s no question Samardzija has great stuff, it must be remembered that he has yet to have a winning season as a starting pitcher. Jon Danks is a serviceable middle of the rotation starter, but Hector Noesi and Jose Quintana are anyone’s guess. The Chisox may have a better offensive output with Cabrera and LaRoche joining Jose Abreu and Alexei Ramirez, and a full season of Avasail Garcia in the lineup could make things interesting. But I suspect that their offense will be canceled out by suspect pitching.
As mentioned earlier, last season I predicted the Royals would make their first post-season appearance since 1985 and they did. This year I see a first to worst reversal of fortune. Yes, the Royals still have the core of last year’s team — Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Omar Infante, Salvador Perez. But the Royals also lost Nori Aoki, Billy Butler, and staff ace James Shields in the off-season and I don’t think Alex Rios, Kendrys Morales, and the well-traveled Edinson Volquez make up for those departures. It’s also true that the Royals still have the bullpen triumvirate of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland, but I suspect the starting rotation takes a step back this year. Yordano Ventura has the potential to be an ace, but I think he will have growing pains in 2015. Danny Duffy can’t stay healthy, while Volquez, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie are journeymen pitchers. Herrera, Davis, and Holland simply won’t get the opportunities they had in 2014. The Royals caught lightning in a bottle last year, but lightning seldom strikes twice in the same spot.
Los Angeles Angels#
(# — denotes AL Wild Card berth)
The AL West is now MLB’s premier division. Expect a strong three-team race between the Mariners, Angels, and A’s, with the Mariners making their first post-season appearance since 2001. The Mariners came within a heartbeat of gaining an AL Wild Card berth in 2014. The Mariners improved significantly in 2014 with the signing of ex-Yankee Robinson Cano and the emergence of Kyle Seager. This year they’ve added Nelson Cruz, whose 40 home runs led the AL and also were key in the Orioles AL East title. While I don’t think Cruz will hit 40 home runs in Seattle, I do think his presence will be enough to put them over the top. The Mariners also possess perennial Cy Young candidate Felix Hernandez and the underrated Hisashi Iwakuma at the top of their rotation. Big things are expected of both James Paxton and Tijuan Walker, while J.A. Happ gets an opportunity to pitch for a contender again. Fernando Rodney is a solid closer.
The Angels returned to form in 2014 with an MVP season by Mike Trout, a resurgent Albert Pujols, and a starting rotation featuring Jared Weaver, who outside of Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is the best pitcher in MLB never to have won a Cy Young. Although C.J. Wilson had a down year, the rotation saw the emergence of Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker. The mid-season acquisition of Huston Street solidified the closer’s role. However, the Angels do have question marks concerning Josh Hamilton’s litany of injuries and ongoing problems with alcohol and drugs, as well as the void left by veteran second baseman Howie Kendrick who was dealt to the crosstown Dodgers in the off-season. But these question marks won’t be enough to keep them from attaining an AL Wild Card spot.
The Oakland A’s appeared to be a cinch to win their third consecutive AL West title in 2014 when the cave fell in after the team dealt Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester (who is now with the Cubs). Their offense collapsed and just barely managed to hold off the Mariners for an AL Wild Card spot only to be dispatched by the upstart Royals in the AL Wild Card game despite leading late in the game. A’s GM Billy Beane responded by revamping the club. Lester departed via free agency while the club traded away Jeff Samardzija, Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris, and Brandon Moss. In their place are the likes of Ike Davis, Billy Butler, Brett Lawrie, Ben Zobrist, and Tyler Clippard. The A’s still have Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir at the top of the rotation, but it remains to be seen what they’ll get from the likes of Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman, and the returning Barry Zito. The A’s will contend, but don’t have the horses to get to the post-season finish line.
The Texas Rangers were bedeviled by injuries last season and continue to be as staff ace Yu Darvish will miss the season with Tommy John surgery while the highly touted Jurickson Profar will miss this season after shoulder surgery as he did in 2014. Prince Fielder missed 120 games due to neck problems while Shin-Soo Choo was disappointing in his first season in a Rangers uniform. They are both question marks in 2015 as are starting pitchers Derek Holland and Colby Lewis. The Rangers did acquire Yovani Gallardo from the Brewers, but it’s doubtful he’ll make up for the loss of Darvish. One of the few Rangers who isn’t a question mark is Adrian Beltre, who is less than 400 hits shy of 3,000 for his career. But even he can’t make up for a team that it is a shadow of its former self. Jeff Banister will have his work cut out for him in his first year as Rangers skipper.
The same can be said of A.J. Hinch in his new managerial assignment with the Houston Astros. After losing 100 or more games for three straight seasons, the Astros saw a 19-win improvement over 2013. However, it wasn’t enough to keep Bo Porter in his job. The Astros are not without exciting players such as AL batting champ Jose Altuve and George Springer, and newly acquired Evan Gattis should provide a nice power tandem with Chris Carter. Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh are developing into solid big league starters. But I think Hinch is better suited to the front office than the dugout and the Astros will take a step backwards as a result.
AL Rookie of the Year — Steven Souza, Jr., Tampa Bay Rays
AL Cy Young Award — Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
AL Most Valuable Player — Yoenis Cespedes, Detroit Tigers
AL Comeback Player of the Year — Barry Zito, Oakland A’s
AL Manager of the Year — Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins
New York Mets ##
If the Nationals didn’t have the best starting rotation in the NL with the likes of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Tanner Roark, and Gio Gonzalez, they got that much better with the free agent signing of ex-Detroit Tiger and 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. While it appears the Nats will start the season without leadoff hitter Denard Span and steady Anthony Rendon, the Nats still have a plenty potent offense with Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, and Ian Desmond. Look for Bryce Harper to be a strong NL MVP candidate.
While many have focused on the Marlins’ post-season additions, it is the Mets who will make the big move in 2015. Matt Harvey is back after Tommy John surgery and he is joined in the rotation by NL Rookie of the Year Jacob de Grom, Dillon Gee, Jonathan Niese and the ageless Bartolo Colon. Although Zack Wheeler will miss 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery, don’t be surprised if Noah Syndergaard makes a big splash around June. Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy enjoyed breakout seasons in 2014 and expect the same for Juan Lagares in 2015. Curtis Granderson will rebound from a mediocre .227 batting average while ex-Rockie Michael Cuddyer should add some spark and protect David Wright in the lineup. The Mets will shock the world and capture an NL Wild Card berth.
Meanwhile, the Marlins had a busy off-season signing Giancarlo Stanton to the biggest contract in MLB history despite his season-ending beaning last September. The Marlins did make some nice pickups in the form of Dee Gordon and Dan Haren from the Dodgers, Giants World Series hero Mike Morse, and ex-Yankees Martin Prado and Ichiro Suzuki as well as former Reds pitcher Mat Latos. They also signed outfielder Christian Yelich to a long-term deal. Steve Cishek might be MLB’s most underrated closer. The Marlins give the appearance of wanting to win now, but I am not convinced they are ready. Everything revolves around Stanton and although he has had a productive spring training, it remains to be seen if he has fully recovered from the beaning. It is also questionable if 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez will be in the same fine form he was before Tommy John surgery. The Marlins are certainly better in 2015 than they were in 2014, but I don’t think they’re quite ready for prime time.
It appears the Braves will take a step backwards this year. I don’t see how Nick Markakis and Jonny Gomes make up for the departure of Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, especially when you consider that Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, and Chris Johnson all had down years at the plate in 2014. Julio Teheran and Alex Wood are good at the top of the rotation but the rest are reclamation projects like Trevor Cahill and Eric Stults or underachievers like Mike Minor. Craig Kimbrel is great in the ninth inning, but if the Braves aren’t in contention after the All-Star Break he might be pitching elsewhere.
As for the Phillies, I would be shocked if Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz and Jonathan Papelbon are still in Philadelphia at the end of July. In which case, the Phillies roster will be strongly represented by its Triple-A affiliate in Lehigh Valley. The Phillies will finish 2015 with the worst record in the NL.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are arguably the NL’s most balanced team. Their offense is anchored by the three Matts — Holliday, Carpenter, and Adams — with the league’s most reliable backstop Yadier Molina. Jhonny Peralta is solid at short and Kolten Wong is getting better by the day at second. The addition of Jason Heyward will help and soften the blow of the sudden death of Oscar Taveras. Mark Reynolds gives the Cards some extra power. Adam Wainwright is the best pitcher in the NL never to have won a Cy Young (the Angels’ Jered Weaver being his AL equivalent). Lance Lynn is a solid number two, while John Lackey can give the club innings. Both Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez can only get better. The only concern I have with the Cards is that closer Trevor Rosenthal looked very hittable at the times last year. In which case, Jordan Walden is waiting in the wings. Look for the Cardinals to capture their third consecutive NL Central title under manager Mike Matheny.
But the Cardinals will find themselves in a tough race with the Cubs and Pirates. The Cubs sent shock waves through baseball when they plucked manager Joe Maddon from the Tampa Bay Rays. Excitement was further aroused with the signing of free agent pitcher Jon Lester, owner of two World Series rings with the Red Sox. 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. Two less heralded off-season acquisitions were that of center fielder Dexter Fowler from the Astros and longtime Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero. Fowler gives the Cubs an authentic leadoff hitter while Montero provides them with a catcher strong on both offense and defense. Jorge Soler will continue to display prodigious power and prodigious strikeouts. While young slugger Kris Bryant might begin the season in Iowa he won’t be there long, leaving GOP presidential aspirants as the state’s only remaining prospects. But the Cub who will have the biggest season is Anthony Rizzo, who will earn his first NL MVP. It will be a dogfight, but the Cubs will make their first post-season appearance since 2008 and earn an NL Wild Card berth.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have reached the post-season for the past two years, but I think they will just miss it in 2015. The Bucs still have great players on the roster such as Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Josh Harrison plus the addition of South Korean sensation Jung Ho Kang. The Bucs have a decent rotation with Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Locke, and the return of A.J. Burnett will help. But I think they will miss the departed Russell Martin, and this will be what keeps them from playing October baseball.
The Cincinnati Reds are at a crossroads. They have an All-Star caliber team but they did not play like All-Stars last year, especially with the prolonged absence of both Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. A struggling Jay Bruce did not help matters, although Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco shone. So did 20-game winner Johnny Cueto, though he doesn’t have a great deal behind him. Mike Leake is inconsistent, Homer Bailey’s health is a question mark as is reclamation project Jason Marquis. They do have an outstanding closer in Aroldis Chapman. The club lost a great deal after the surprise firing of Dusty Baker following the 2013 season and Bryan Price can’t fill his shoes. By season’s end either the players go or the manager goes, and in this case it might be a bit of both. The highlight of the year at The Great American Ballpark will probably be the 2015 All-Star Game.
The Milwaukee Brewers led the NL Central for most of last season before an epic collapse beginning in late August. Teams usually don’t recover from a thing like that quickly. It doesn’t help that they traded away their ace in Yovani Gallardo and it isn’t clear who will step into the breach. Their offense does have some excitement with Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, but question marks will always accompany Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez isn’t getting any younger, and I suspect Jonathan Lucroy had a career year in 2014. Don’t be surprised if skipper Ron Roenicke gets the ax before the season is done.
(## — denotes NL Wild Card berth)
San Diego Padres
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
The Padres were very best this off-season. They sport a brand new outfield consisting of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Will Myers. Catcher Derek Norris, third baseman Will Middlebrooks and ace starting pitcher James Shields are also significant additions. Shields is joined in the rotation by Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and ex-Blue Jay hurler Brandon Morrow. Yonder Alonso has not lived up to expectations and veteran Carlos Quentin could see time at first. Jedd Gyorko’s numbers declined during his sophomore campaign in 2014, but they could improve with the enhanced offense. Joaquin Benoit is a solid in the closer’s role. It will be enough for the Padres to see their first post-season appearance since 2006.
The Dodgers arguably have the best pitcher and hitter in MLB with Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig. Catcher Yasmani Grandal, acquired from the Padres in the Matt Kemp deal, could also become a Dodgers mainstay for years to come. But too many on this team are on the wrong side of 30 — Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, as well as new additions Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins. Kershaw and Zack Greinke are a great one-two punch at the top of the rotation, but an injury to Hyun-Jin Ryu hurts their depth and it’s unclear if Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson can answer the call. With closer Kenley Jansen out for at least month recovering from foot surgery, it is unclear who will fill the closer’s role. The Dodgers will contend, but they won’t grab the brass ring and it will cost Don Mattingly his job.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy, on the other hand, is secure through 2019. Bochy guided the Giants to their third World Series title in five years in 2014. But this is an odd year so the Giants won’t be in the postseason in 2015. It’s doubtful lightning will strike twice with Madison Bumgarner. Can Matt Cain’s elbow hold up? Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy are nearing the end of their careers, and the jury is very much out on Tim Lincecum (although I believe he will be NL Comeback Player of the Year). Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Yusmeiro Petit, and Javier Lopez make for a dependable bullpen, but they might be overtaxed by season’s end. Buster Posey is back, but Hunter Pence will likely be out for two months with a broken forearm and it’s doubtful that ex-Royals Nori Aoki and Justin Maxwell can fill the void. Nor can Casey McGehee fill the void left by Pablo Sandoval. The Giants’ chances will likely be much better in 2016.
There’s nothing wrong with the Rockies’ offense. Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and defending NL batting champion Justin Morneau are a murderer’s row. Unfortunately, I suspect the Rockies’ pitching staff will give up more runs than the Rockies drive in. Outside of Jorge de la Rosa and ex-Phillies hurler Kyle Kendrick, the rotation is very thin and the bullpen isn’t much better. You know you’re in trouble when 42-year old LaTroy Hawkins is your closer.
New D’Backs manager Chip Hale has his work cut out for him. On most pitching staffs, Josh Collmenter would be a number three starter. But in Phoenix he is the ace. Behind him are ex-Ray Jeremy Hellickson, ex-Red Sox Rubby de la Rosa, Chase Anderson, and rookie Archie Bradley with Patrick Corbin and veteran Bronson Arroyo out at least until the All-Star break. Addison Reed struggled in his first year as D’Backs closer. Paul Goldschmidt is one of the premier offensive players in the NL, but he has precious little protection with Aaron Hill (who the D’Backs are desperately trying to trade), Cody Ross, and Mark Trumbo all having down years.
NL Rookie of the Year — Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
NL Cy Young Award — Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
NL Most Valuable Player — Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
NL Comeback Player of the Year — Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
NL Manager of the Year — Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs
2015 MLB POSTSEASON
AL Wild Card Game — Cleveland Indians vs. Los Angeles Angels (winner: Indians)
ALDS (Best 3 out of 5)
Cleveland Indians vs. Seattle Mariners — Indians in five
Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers — Tigers in four
ALCS (Best 4 out of 7)
Cleveland Indians vs. Detroit Tigers — Indians in seven
NL Wild Card Game — Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets
NLDS (Best 3 out of 5)
Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals — Cubs in five
St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Diego Padres — Padres in three
2015 World Series (Best 4 out of 7)
Cleveland Indians vs. Chicago Cubs — Indians in six
That’s right, the Cubs will win their first NL pennant in 70 years while the Indians will win their first World Series since 1948.
Well, we’ll know more in six months. In the meantime, let’s play ball.
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