Nik’s Picks: MLB Preview

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For many, there are only two seasons: winter and baseball. Now that winter is over, it’s officially baseball season and that means it’s time to get pumped for another great action filled Major League Baseball season! There are many questions we have entering the season, which starts on April 5, 2015 with the St. Louis Cardinals going to Chicago to play the Cubs. Last year, we saw the San Francisco Giants beat the Kansas City Royals in a thrilling 7 game World Series. It was an outcome no one could have ever expected. But, will this be another unpredictable season? Will the Nationals live up to their lofty expectations? Will A-Rod make a comeback after his PED suspension? Will the Padres’ crazy offseason lead to success? Will Matt Harvey come back to his Cy Young form? Will Giancarlo Stanton and the Marlins finally finish with a winning record? Only time will tell.

Nik Popli, News Editor

 

Welcome back to another season of Major League Baseball! Get ready for a summer’s full of memories and good times at the ballpark. This could be one of the more exciting seasons in recent years, with mid-market teams like Houston, Toronto, and Kansas City making headlines during the offseason. Baseball is one of the hardest sports to predict because injuries and streaks can instantly change the way a team plays, but I’m going to rub my lucky rabbit’s foot and give it a shot!

American League

East

First Place: Boston Red Sox (93 wins)
With a revamped lineup, it seems unlikely the Red Sox will not reclaim supremacy in this division. Just look at that lineup, featuring guys like David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Dustin Pedroia, and the newly acquired Cuban star Rusney Castillo. While the pitching rotation does leave some concern, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson are solid pitchers who can definitely get the job done. Expect the Red Sox to finish atop this division and have a decent shot at the title.

Second Place: New York Yankees (89 wins)

The Yankees are the ultimate boom or bust team this year. It’s never a good sign when the major strength of a ballclub centers around the back end of their bullpen. But, that could very easily change. The Yankees have the potential to be very good offensively, with big name players able to bring in runs. But, with injuries, lack of depth, and leadership all plaguing this team, it will have to be a huge bounce-back season for the Yankees in order to see them winning a championship. The Yankees are going to be exciting to watch this year now that Alex Rodriguez makes his return from a lengthy PED suspension. With a ton of unanswered questions like, “How many home runs will A-Rod hit?” or “How many starts will Masahiro Tanaka make?” this season looks to be fun for fans.

Third Place: Toronto Blue Jays (87 wins)

OK, no more excuses for the Blue Jays. After a not so quiet offseason, the Jays brought in catcher Russell Martin and All Star 3B Josh Donaldson. With one of the most powerful and consistent lineups in all of baseball, the Blue Jays boast 3 MVP candidates in Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson. What holds them back is their lack of pitching depth. The only way the Jays make the postseason cut is if 40 year old R.A. Dickey can repeat his 2012 Cy Young Award season with the Mets. The odds of that happening are about as low as A-Rod smacking 50 homers. It can happen, but it probably won’t.

 

Fourth Place: Baltimore Orioles (84 wins)

 

It’s tough to doubt the Orioles anymore, but they may find it difficult to defend their AL East crown after a quiet offseason. The difference between this year and last year is that Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis are no longer members of the team. In addition, I don’t think this rotation can last all that long with Chris Tillman as the ace. While the Orioles will benefit from Matt Wieters and Manny Machado returning from season-ending injuries, it looks like the O’s will find it a lot harder to make the postseason for the third time in four seasons.

 

Fifth Place: Tampa Bay Rays (77 wins)

No one’s job is safe in Tampa. After shipping away David Price, Wil Myers, and Ben Zobrist, everyone is wondering what is up with the Rays, including skipper Joe Maddon, who opted out of his contract upon hearing the news! It is rare to see a team willingly trade away the faces of their franchise unless they have a backup plan that revolves around the power of prospects. The Rays may look like fools now, but in two years or so, they could be back in the playoffs. One player the Rays received who will shine in his career is Steven Sousa, Jr., a top prospect acquired from the Washington Nationals in part of a three-team trade dealing Wil Myers to San Diego. The only thing looking good about the Rays this season is their pitching. Led by Alex Cobb and Chris Archer, the pitching rotation is about to become one of the strongest in the game with a bunch of young talent. Expect the Rays to finish in fourth or fifth place this year, but have some real breakout stars.

Central

First Place: Kansas City Royals (94 wins)

After making an unbelievable postseason run but losing the World Series in 7 games last year, the Royals enter this season with unfinished business. Letting James Shields and Billy Butler go was a risky decision by the Royals organization, but coach Ned Yost is a creative guy and it will be interesting to see if he can figure out how to utilize fireballer Yordano Ventura as the team’s new ace. This should be another great year for the Royals, but my only concern is that they lack a legitimate All Star pitcher in the pitching rotation.
Second Place: Detroit Tigers (88 wins)

Despite losing former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, the Tigers still look like they can win this division and even do well in the playoffs. They may not have exactly made many improvements to their roster, but most of the talent is still there from last year. Adding Yoenis Cespedes looked like a smart move, but Torii Hunter is a way more productive outfielder. There are still many questions facing the Tigers, such as ‘Will Justin Verlander ever get back to his elite-form again?’ or ‘Was Alfredo Simon’s breakout season a fluke?’ Unfortunately for the Tigers, this could be a rough season for the injury plagued Tigers that could cause them to miss out on the playoffs.
Third Place: Chicago White Sox (81 wins)
After an impressive offseason, the White Sox are finally giving their fans hope. Fortunately for them, the Sox are led by Cy Young candidate Chris Sale and MVP candidate Jose Abreu. This could be the year those guys lead the Sox to the top of the AL Central, but only if all goes right. The White Sox have garnered the league’s attention with the signings of starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, outfielder Melky Cabrera, first baseman Adam LaRoche, and reliever David Robertson. It will be interesting to see if the White Sox can live up to their high expectations this season.

Fourth Place: Minnesota Twins (80 wins)

After four straight years of finishing with under 70 wins, the Twins might actually have a shot at 80+ wins. The rotation has greatly increased over the years, now with Phil Hughes locked up and Ervin Santana leading the way. Hitting wise, the team has a lot of young, raw talent that has still yet to be discovered, but many of these guys will produce good, solid numbers. There is no reason for the Twins to finish below 70 wins this year.

Fifth Place: Cleveland Indians (75 wins)

The Indians are one of those teams that doesn’t get much respect for the work they do. Every year it seems the Indians have a good enough record but fall short of the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Indians, not enough changes have been made to their roster for them to make a significant rise from last season. The rotation is there, especially with the reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, but the hitters are too inconsistent and streaky.

 

West-

First Place: Los Angeles Angels (92 wins)

The Angels did a lot better than expected last year, but I don’t see that happening again. Josh Hamilton looked to be a key part of the Angels lineup, but injuries and inconsistency have constantly held him out. Now at the age of 33, Hamilton is facing some legal issues as well. Albert Pujols, on the other hand, came back last season and surprised much of the league but only had a .256 batting average with runners in scoring position. The Angles have big names, but these guys are getting past their prime and for the Angels to win the division they would need Hamilton healthy and Pujols stronger than ever. Mike Trout will probably win MVP again and Garrett Richards could win the Cy Young award. Expect the Angels to be near the top of this division.

Second Place: Seattle Mariners (88 wins)

After an impressive display last year, this will be the year the Mariners finally hold onto 1st place in the AL West. This team has a high powered offense loaded with sluggers and a rotation loaded with stars. Adding Nelson Cruz was a huge move for the team, as Cruz led to league in homers last year and will likely continue his success this year and complement Robinson Cano in the batting lineup. The rotation features Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ. Injuries are the only way the Mariners would not finish in first.
Third Place: Houston Astros (80 wins)
Although they haven’t had much success recently, the Astros have really rebuilt their franchise. Jose Altuve’s emergence as an all-star and top contact hitters in the league is one of the main reasons why the Astros will very likely take a step forward this season. The rotation is not flawless, but it is slowly getting there. After numerous first round draft picks, the Astros have planned out a solid team with power hitters, contact hitters, and solid pitchers. But the team is just too young and immature to make an actual run this season. George Springer is a superstar in the making, and will complement Jose Altuve in a fantastic way since he is always getting on base. Still, these hitters have immense power but strikeout way too much. The only way the Astros finish higher than 4th is if the hitters learn better plate discipline.

Fourth Place: Oakland Athletics (76 wins)
It seemed like the A’s were throwing away any chance of them repeating their success again during the offseason. After losing Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jed Lowrie, Derek Norris, and Yoenis Cespedes, the A’s are a completely different team this year. That means no one knows how they are going to do this year. As smart as GM Billy Beane is, this season probably won’t result in a postseason berth. However, the A’s aren’t absolutely horrible. They did add Brett Lawrie, Ben Zobrist, and Tyler Clippard. The A’s like to take the “underdog” approach and could find themselves surprising everyone, but it’s just too hard to tell.

Fifth Place: Texas Rangers (72 wins)
The Rangers will hope for better health and results this season, but they still won’t find it. Superstar pitcher Yu Darvish just had season-ending elbow surgery and now the team enters the season in an even worse spot than it did last season. No matter how good Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre do, the Rangers still won’t place higher than the Astros because they have no pitching whatsoever without Yu Darvish present.

National League:

    East-

First Place: Washington Nationals (95 wins)
The Nats have been solid the past 3 years, but still haven’t gotten done anything in October. Will this be the year that the Nats finally make it to that World Series Washington has been dreaming of? Only time will tell, but with a rotation as stacked as theirs, the answer is probably yes. Even if the hitters do not perform well, the pitching will once again make up for it. The rotation is so strong that Tanner Roark, a guy who would be a #2 starter in most rotations, has to find himself in the bullpen. Bryce Harper and his fiery attitude are about to do wonders this year. The Nationals seem to be ready, but the bullpen and second base situation is always an issue with this club. With Yunel Escobar and Dan Uggla at 2B, the Nats look to have a lot of strikeouts this year. The bullpen also looks worse than it did last year, without all star setup reliever Tyler Clippard. Being unable to close out games and nagging injuries will be the flaw of the Nationals, but otherwise this is a very good team that should come close to another 100 win season.

Second Place: New York Mets (90 wins)
The Mets have not had a winning record since 2008, but things could finally change this year. The key? Matt Harvey. He should be just as dominant as he was in 2013, but with Zack Wheeler likely out for the season, the Mets could find health problems a major issue. With a combination of good hitting and good pitching, the Mets might have a chance to compete with the Nats.

Third Place: Miami Marlins (83 wins)
The young Marlins look to finally break through this year. It will be interesting to see how Giancarlo Stanton serves the Marlins after receiving a 13 year contract for $325 million. That’s right; $325 million. The Marlins have revamped the lineup which now features speedster Dee Gordon, Michael Morse, and Martin Prado. The Marlins look like serious contenders, but it’s time to see how they react to the pressure.

Fourth Place: Atlanta Braves (77 wins)
The Braves are a very competitive team, but the NL East is a very competitive division. It’s tough to see the Braves doing well this year after a complete offensive makeover, but only time will tell. Although they still have superb pitching, the hitting has dropped off majorly after losing Justin Upton and Evan Gattis. To further my doubt on the Braves, the team traded away the best relief pitcher in baseball, Craig Kimbrel, along with Melvin Upton Jr. to the San Diego Padres the day before opening game. Expect the Braves to finish towards the middle to bottom of the NL East at around 75-80 wins.

Fifth Place: Philadelphia Phillies (71 wins)
The Phillies have entered a dark phase. Reconstruction is finally beginning, but it’s happening very slowly and inefficiently due to poor draft picks. The Phillies simply have too many high-priced vets who are just too old to compete anymore. Those guys need to be cleared out and then the Phillies will turn things around, but for now, the Phillies will take another visit to the NL East basement.

    Central-

First Place: St. Louis Cardinals (97 wins)
The Cardinals will no doubt defend their NL Central division title from last year. The team seems to be in a better place with outfielder Jason Heyward, but it will be interesting to see how the Cards will fare without Shelby Miller’s presence in the rotation anymore. Once the Cards make the playoffs, it will be hard to count them out.

Second Place: Pittsburgh Pirates (88 wins)
The group of hitters here, led by star outfielder Andrew McCutchen, is very impressive and looks to do even better this year. The Pirates should find themselves at the top of the NL Central division and could very easily be in the wild card hunt. They have a very talented young group of guys who can steal bases, hit homers, and get on base. The pitching can be a little inconsistent, but when the starters are firing, the Pirates will easily gain wins. The main concern comes during the postseason, where the Pirates are known to struggle.

Third Place: Chicago Cubs (85 wins)
Will the rebuilding plan work? Will the young Cubs breakout? There are just too many questions about the Cubs entering this season. Jon Lester was a great pickup, and this rotation looks pretty fierce. But for now, the hitting looks too inconsistent. This looks like a streaky team that will have too many strikeouts. They may enter the season with high hopes, but those will likely be put down once the season starts.

Fourth Place: Cincinnati Reds (76 wins)
The Reds struggled last year, but a large part of that was injuries. With Joey Votto healthy again, the Reds should find themselves doing a lot better this season. Although they did little in the offseason to improve, the Reds can still compete if they stay healthy.

Fifth Place: Milwaukee Brewers (72 wins)
The Brewers looked very good last year, but missed out on the playoffs once again. If they can avoid injuries and play on a more consistent level throughout the season, Milwaukee could be able to prove that they can actually contend. But right now, the Brewers are far from winning this division because the rotation lacks a true ace.

    West-

First Place: Los Angeles Dodgers (93 wins)
The Dodgers lost speedster Dee Gordon which could affect their amount of runs scored, but overall, the Dodgers should have a pretty similar season to last year. That means another postseason berth and another great season for 27 year old Clayton Kershaw.

Second Place: San Francisco Giants (89 wins)

After winning the World Series last year, it’s hard to doubt the Giants anymore because of coach Bruce Bochy’s mind. Madison Bumgarner is an elite pitcher who will have a fantastic season this year after winning World Series MVP. The Giants lost Pablo “The Panda” Sandoval in the offseason but signed Casey McGehee, a solid replacement. Expect them to make the playoffs again as a wild card. Once they make the playoffs, who knows what will happen? The Giants have a lot of playoff experience and could make a big run.

Third Place: San Diego Padres (84 wins)

After completely revamping the lineup and rotation, the Padres are finally here to compete. As good as they look, no one knows how their free agency frenzy will turn out. Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, James Shields, and Craig Kimbrel are all top signings from the offseason that will likely have an immediate impact on the Padres. Usually, teams that spend a fortune in the offseason don’t do well in the season, but the Padres look to be on the path for success. Expect them to make the playoffs or fall just short, as this division is the toughest in the entire league.
Fourth Place: Colorado Rockies (76 wins)
The Rockies have great hitting, but zero pitching. Why? Because in Colorado the air is thinner and it’s easier for homers to be hit. So, once again, the Rockies find themselves in a sticky situation in which they have excellent hitters at home and average hitters on the road. The Rockies will do better than last year now that injuries seem to be behind them, but there is no way they finish above fourth place with the current pitching situation. Expect them to trade away some of their top hitters like Carlos Gonzalez before the trade deadline to make the pitching better.

Fifth Place: Arizona Diamondbacks (74 wins)
The D-Backs have great hitting now that they signed the elite Cuban third baseman Yasmany Tomas. Combined with Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo, the D-Backs could pose a real hitting threat. But, like the Rockies, they lack solid pitching. Patrick Corbin is healthy again, but will he ever be the same Corbin we saw in 2013? The D-Backs haven’t had much success lately, but if they can stay healthy, the D-Backs could finish above 75 wins.

Nik’s Picks for the World Series:
St. Louis Cardinals over Kansas City Royals

As much as I want to pick the Nats, I can’t see it happening. Even though the rotation is flawless and probably the best we’ve seen in a decade, they lack hitting in the playoffs. The Nationals have had solid pitching for the last 3 years, but still haven’t won a championship. For it to happen this year would mean the hitting and defense would have to step it up in the clutch, which does not happen overnight. That’s why I think the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals will make it to the World Series–they have the experience needed to win in the postseason. The Cardinals lost rookie outfielder Oscar Taveras after they were eliminated from the playoffs when he died in the Dominican Republic. That’s their purpose. The Cardinals will be wearing OT 18 patches on their jerseys and a World Series victory would only reinforce the bond the St. Louis Cardinals community has created since his death.