In the interest of making bold predictions before the season begins, we have decided to break down our projections of how the MLB season will go. Every division and wild card, with “analysis” to back up the majority opinion. Obviously, we expect to disagree, so we will be writing up our rationale for each consensus winner and maybe even a dissenting opinion.
National League Divisional Winners
G: Not exactly the disagreement we were hoping for, but then again, this one isn’t even close. The Nationals are far and away the most complete team in this division this year. They show up well for most divisional games and should have no problem winning the division with time to spare. We do not have a dissenting opinion on this one. The Braves are one-dimensional, the Mets are mediocre, the Phillies are a shell of their former selves, and the Marlins—Washington’s only real competition—have a lot of question marks, especially about their star, Stanton. Nationals win easily and no one here is particularly thrilled about it.
C: There are big money bets and there are safe bets. Until someone actually takes this division from the Cardinals, I can’t find a reason to pick against them. They took the loss of Albert Pujols in stride and it turns out, it almost doesn’t matter who they lose from the lineup, someone will step up and fulfill that roll. That’s the safe bet. Gavin is hell bent on being that guy and has chosen to base his pick on the Chicago Cubs. The Pirates maybe (ANDREW “No Locks To Hold Me Back” MCCUTCHEN)… but the Cubs? Joe Maddon is an interesting pick up at manager, but Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ most talked about talent, were just sent down the minors not too long ago. Take a nap, Gavin.
G: (Dissent) Everyone–except Caleb, Billy, and most of America–knows that the Cubs are the sexiest of sexy picks to win the division (not!). In all seriousness, they have secretly been building an army of talent–both developed and young–and now have a manager pedigreed enough to drag them out of the basement. They won the Lester lottery, and does Caleb really think that the young guys are going to languish in the Minors for long? If Back to the Future II taught us anything, it’s that I should have a damn hoverboard by now and that the Cubs are going to win the Series. It’s a movie, and I’m not prepared to say they’ll win it all. But, the Cardinals are set to have a hangover swoon from punching above their weight all last year. And the Pirates star is guaranteed to have a Samson Effect slump from cutting off his dreads. Let’s face it, the Pierogi Race is poised to, yet again, become the most recognizable thing about Pirates baseball.
B: The NL West has provided the MLB with it’s World Series Champion for 3 of the last 5 seasons. Unfortunately for the rest of the division, all 3 of those championships were captured by the San Francisco Giants. This division in recent years has been a 2-team battle between the Giants and their long-time rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers have certainly not spared any expense in their ongoing pursuit of their first World Series title since 1988, coming into this season with a league-leading payroll of around $270 million. The Dodgers certainly have the most talent in the division, but they need to look at the defending champions to find that missing ingredient that will help get them over the hump: team chemistry. Adding talented veterans like Jimmy Rollins and Brandon McCarthy in the offseason to an already loaded roster should help them improve clubhouse culture and take this insanely talented squad to the top of the NL West in 2015. The Giants will struggle to replace the offense lost when Bay Area-favorite Pablo Sandoval decided to take his talents to Yawkey Way in the offseason. But even without the Big Panda, they should still contend with the Padres to be the second best team in the division thanks to a strong rotation and the steady brilliance of their skipper, Bruce Bochy. The much improved San Diego Padres are going to be a fun team to watch. With a strong top-half of the rotation anchored by James Shields and an all-or-nothing lineup built around a brand new outfield of talented players who received a much needed fresh start, Wil Myers, Justin Upton and Matt Kemp, the Padres are a trendy pick to challenge the two traditional NL West powers. Ultimately, they are a few players away from being able to make too much noise and playing past the final days of September. The other two teams in the division are the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks. They are going to both be really young and really bad. So rather than comment too much on them, I will just give you a list of a few players from each team who are worth watching this season if you unfortunately find yourself watching either of them play. For Colorado, Corey Dickerson, Nolan Arenado, and (once they get called up) pitching prospects Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler. Also, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez until they either get injured or traded away. For Arizona, Paul Goldschmidt and Archie Bradley. No one else matters.
C: (Dissent) Listen, I’ve been waiting for the Dodgers to make the leap for awhile. But the truth is, they just don’t have the intangibles. Billy mentioned that this has been a two team race and nothing has changed but Clayton Kershaw is only going to get you so far. Billy mentioned the loss of Pablo Sandoval but I think losing Hanley Ramirez is worst. Funny they’re both on the Red Sox, but with no Hanley and no Kemp, the star power falls on Yasiel Puig. HA! Obviously it’s an odd year so the Giants won’t win the World Series, but that won’t stop them taking the division this year. Buster Posey is arguably the best all around catcher in the league (Go Noles!) and with some experience under his belt, he’s going to lead this team to over their division rival.
Gavin: Giants, Cardinals
Caleb: Dodgers, Pirates
Billy: Marlins, Pirates
American League Divisional Winners
Gavin: Blue Jays
Billy: Red Sox
C: When we talk about most entertaining, we talk about most fun to follow, right? Of all the divisions in baseball, the AL East might hold that title. Not because of the star power, there’s no Mike Trout in this division, but because it’s going to be a bloodbath right up through game 162. My division champion is as much hope as it is a calculated decision. The Orioles could easily win the East, but so could Boston, or Toronto, or New York, or Tampa… okay maybe not Tampa. Outside of my own fandom, I’m inclined to pick Baltimore simply for the chemistry. I don’t mean chemistry in that everyone gets along. In baseball that doesn’t matter as much as it would in football or basketball. I mean chemistry in that everyone fits their role perfectly in Baltimore.
Gavin: White Sox
B: Picking the winner of the AL Central is like picking a name out of a hat, there is no wrong answer. Unless of course you pick the Minnesota Twins out of that hat. The Chicago White Sox are the most improved team in the American League on paper after their massive offseason overhaul. The additions of Jeff Samardzija, Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera and David Robertson will help the Southsiders easily improve on their 73-89 record in 2014. Their rotation has a strong top 3 in Chris Sale, Samardzija and Jose Quintana and they should be able to score runs in bunches with their new additions surrounding last year’s AL Rookie of the Year, Jose Abreu. The Detroit Tigers are an aging team that may finally begin their descent down the mountain that is the AL Central. The Tigers are loaded with high-end talent, but other than David Price and J.D. Martinez, most of their big name players may be on the downside of their careers. The loss of Max Scherzer and the rapid decline of former ace Justin Verlander combined with some real injury concerns from Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez could lead to a tough season for the 4-time defending AL Central Champions. The defending AL Champion Kansas City Royals caught lightning in a bottle last season when their formula of strong starting pitching, exceptional defense, timely hitting and ruthless baserunning led them all the way to the World Series. Ned Yost’s squad has lost some of what made it tick in 2014 and will have a tough time replicating that magical run. James Shields, Norichika Aoki and Billy Butler were important pieces in the locker room that produced and provided leadership for a very young team. The Minnesota Twins have an array of big-time prospects that bring hope to a franchise that really needs it. Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios and Miguel Sano are all potential All-Star level talent. Unfortunately for their fans, that talent is not ready to be called up to the big club yet, and Twins fans should expect to suffer through another season of rebuilding just hoping that a player or two can establish themselves as a long-term option to support the wave of talent that is on the way. The final team in the division, the Cleveland Indians, is the one that is most well positioned to make the leap and take the throne at the top of the division from the Tigers. Their rotation is stacked with young arms that are led by 2014 AL Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber. The Indians possess the deepest, most dynamic lineup in the Central that will rely on the continued growth of young hitters like Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley. The addition of Brandon Moss secured the power bat that has been sorely missed the last couple of season for the Tribe and he will help bring some leadership to that young clubhouse. Terry Francona is the perfect type of manager for a ballclub on the rise and I believe he can motivate all that young talent the Indians have to the top of the AL Central in 2015.
G: The AL West this season has all the makings of a runaway train affair between the Mariners and the Angels. While I don’t personally believe the hype emanating from Seattle, there are plenty of baseball nuts like Billy who are ready to crown them divisional champs. But, like the issue with Caleb and the NL West, I’m having trouble picking anyone not named the Angels until someone comes along and unseats them. Admittedly, the Josh Hamilton drama is unsettling, but then again Josh Hamilton has been a gravity well for drama ever since the first time he fell off the wagon. Still, in the all important realm of baseball’s voodoo–aka team chemistry–it’s not unreasonable to think LA may stumble out of the gate. But, with Trout in year 2 of his massive deal, the Angels are going to be tough to beat. The sheer mash power from the Angels youth coupled with the experience on the bump from the likes of Weaver leads me to the conclusion that the Angels will be nearly unbeatable head to head in their division. I think this division has too much parity among the other teams that the divisional race will start to look like crabs in a bucket with the Angels coming out on top. I also can’t pick the Mariners for anything likely due to my bias that they haven’t been good since being the best team in Ken Griffey, Jr. Baseball on the N64–circa 1998. In the words of JP in Angels in the Outfield, “Hey, it could happen…”
B: (Dissent) The Angels and the Mariners are the two best teams in the AL West and the most popular picks to challenge for the division title in 2015. In order to properly analyze them and convince my fellow writers that Seattle has the slightly better squad and will take the West, I will compare them across the board at every projected starting position, the projected rotation and bullpen, and their managers.
Advantages will be in bold.
Catcher: Angels, Chris Iannetta vs. Mariners, Mike Zunino – Both of these hitters will struggle to hit above .250 and Zunino has the definite power advantage, but Iannetta’s veteran leadership and superior defense makes up for any lack of pop. Tie
1st Base: Angels, Albert Pujols vs. Mariners, Logan Morrison – Pujols rejuvenated himself last season and even at 35, he is a better player than LoMo will ever hope to be. Angels
2nd Base: Angels, Johnny Giavotella vs. Mariners, Robinson Cano – Not gonna take the time to explain this one. You have only heard of one of these guys before. Mariners, big
Shortstop: Angels, Erick Aybar vs. Mariners, Brad Miller- Erick Aybar is a slightly better hitter and a much better defender. Angels
3rd Base: Angels, David Freese vs. Mariners, Kyle Seager – Seager is a stud. He has three straight 20+ home run seasons and had a breakout season in 2014. David Freese probably shouldn’t be starting for a potential playoff team. He is still living off his big postseason success in 2011 and 2012. Mariners
Left Field: Angels, Matt Joyce vs. Mariners, Dustin Ackley – Both of these guys will be platooning most likely. Joyce has the better bat, Ackley the better glove. Tie
Center Field: Angels, Mike Trout vs. Mariners, Austin Jackson – I like Austin Jackson. But he is not Mike Trout. That isn’t his fault. He is going up against a buzzsaw. Angels, big
Right Field: Angels, Kole Calhoun vs. Mariners, Seth Smith – Both guys had breakout seasons last year and can be relied on for about 15 homers and a .350+ On-Base Percentage. Tie
Designated Hitter: Angels, Josh Hamilton vs. Mariners, Nelson Cruz – Shouldn’t have to explain this one either. Josh Hamilton has barely been an average player the last two seasons and has bigger issues than his dwindling power. Nelson Cruz led the MLB in homers last year. Mariners, big
Rotations: King Felix and Iwakuma are as good of a 1-2 punch as any team has in the American League. Combine that with the young power arms of James Paxton and Tajuan Walker and the Mariners may very well have the best rotation in the AL, let alone their own division. The Angels really need Garrett Richards to get healthy, and for Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson to stay healthy and have bounce back years on the bump. There is some big upside in their rotation as well with Matt Shoemaker and Andrew Heaney. Mariners
Bullpen: Huston Street is a slightly more consistent option at the back-end than Fernando Rodney, but the rest of the bullpen advantage goes to Seattle. Tom Wilhelmsen, Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush are all coming off strong seasons, are reliable set-up arms and can get out both lefties and righties. Outside of Joe Smith, the Angels will rely on relatively unproven relievers such as Cory Rasmus, Cesar Ramos and Fernando Salas. Mariners, slightly because of depth
Manager: Angels, Mike Scoscia vs. Mariners, Lloyd McClendon Angels
The final tally is 5-4-2 to the Mariners, which means the race will probably be tight. But with advantages in the rotation and bullpen, the strength of the Mariners entire pitching staff should help to overcome their slightly weaker lineup and overtake the Angels and win the division.
Gavin: A’s, Orioles
Caleb: Red Sox, Mariners
Billy: Angels, Tigers
And there you have it. Some final thoughts, Billy needs to be given a word limit in the future and we didn’t break down the wild cards because it’s a crapshoot all over a one game “series.” We would have ended up quibbling over nuances and, truthfully, baseball can be funny sometimes. As you can see, we are all pretty stoked for the season to begin tonight.