Monday, April 4, 2016

2016 MLB Preview: The Baseball Season Awakens #OpeningDay

By Alex Hale, @DaSportsGenius7

Finally, the cold of the Winter has gone away, well for the most part, and finally Baseball Regular Season has arrived. 

That means it’s time for everyone to look into their crystal balls and try to predict the MLB Regular Season Standing and also our predictions on Award winners.  Now I’m not going to go into all 30 MLB teams in depth and explain my standings.  Instead I’m going to show everyone my standings and give a brief explanation of how I’ve come to this conclusion.  As for the awards, I’m going to give you my prediction on who will win the award and for fun, we’re going to add my dark horse candidate to win those awards.  Now in past years, I’ve been off on my predictions so before you read on please remember, nobody is perfect with these.  I also follow my own rules of picking teams, learning from past years mistakes like, buying the hype on a team without closer examination (Cleveland in 2015, Oakland in 2014).  So with that said, let's get into my MLB Season Preview.

Regular Season Projections

NL East
1, New York Mets
2. Washington Nationals
3. Miami Marlins
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Philadelphia Phillies

Probably the easiest division to call in my personal opinion in terms of the standings.  The Phillies are about 2 years away from even being relevant again.  Their rotation is young, inexperienced, and the experienced starters are overrated.  They traded their young closer Ken Giles for prospects, setting their bullpen back again.  Maikel Franco might be the lone bright spot on this team as the 3B debuted last year, hitting .280 with 14 HRs and 50 RBIs in only 304 At-bats, and has killed Spring Training this year.  Jon Hart has done a masterful job rebuilding the Atlanta Braves, acquiring SS Dansby Swanson among others for SP Shelby Miller.  They already have a lot of young talented pitchers, now adding the 2015 MLB Draft #1 pick who could debut this season gives Braves fans, regardless of record a ton of hope for the future.  The Marlins hired Don Mattingly to turn this team around and although they acquired a few talents this offseason, they need another year before they can make a run at the divisional title.  That is IF the Marlins decide not to trade Jose Fernandez or Marcell Ozuna at all.  The Marlins have a great core and with Don Mattingly leading the way, he could take this core in a year to be a threat in the NL.  The Nationals have a great rotation, although Stephen Strasburg is bound to be the most sought after Free Agent next year.  With Bryce Harper leading the offense, the Nationals should make some noise, but unless Lucas Giolito debuts at some point soon and dominates, they don’t have the rotation depth to compete with the Mets.  The Mets are the defending NL Champs and should be in position to at least attempt to defend their crown.  Bringing back Yoenis Cespedes on basically what will be a 1 year deal was smart.  Cespedes gave them the bat they needed and having him back will do wonders.  I also love acquiring 2B Neil Walker from Pittsburgh, which is a huge upgrade to Daniel Murphy.  The Mets should run away with the division.

NL Central
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Cincinnati Reds

For the Top 3 spots in this division, it’s going to be an all-out race to the finish.  For the Cincinnati Reds, this is the start of their new rebuild.  After trading Aroldis Chapman and Todd Frazier this offseason, the Reds are going with a big time youth movement and I expect with Jay Bruce in the last year of his contract to be traded eventually.  I wouldn’t rule out Devin Mesoraco, Homer Bailey, and even Joey Votto to be dealt at some point as well.  The Brewers plan has confused me, they traded a young Khris Davis for prospects before dealing Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy.  They have a young rotation and bullpen, but their offense can still do some damage to teams.  I do expect at least Lucroy gone in July.  The Pirates surprised me by trading hometown favorite Neil Walker to the Mets for Jon Niese.  Niese wasn’t really the starter they needed and in order for the Pirates to win the division need SP prospects Tyler Glasgow and Jameson Taillon to finally make their long awaited impacts in the Majors.  The offense and bullpen is there to win, the rotation still is a question mark outside of Gerrit Cole.  I love the core that the Cubs have and think they could make a run at the World Series.  I think it’s the youth and quick success of the Cubs that might do them in for the divisional crown.  Jake Arrieta was dominant in the second half last year.  Can he along with Jon Lester dominate hitters for a whole year again?  How will Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber follow up their rookie years?  A lot of big questions, but if the Cubs can live up to the hype, the 108 year drought might be ending.  The Cardinals had a few injuries last year, but the Cardinals have players returning from injuries and always have more youngsters debuting.  Stephen Piscotty and Randall Grischuk led the new wave of young Cardinal bats and SP Marco Gonzales should make an impact at some point this year to bolster already a good rotation.  On top of that, the Cardinals might arguably have the most underrated bullpen in baseball.  Those little things give the Cardinals an edge on the Divisional crown over everyone else.

NL West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
3. San Francisco Giants
4. San Diego Padres
5. Colorado Rockies

The NL West will be very much like the Wild Wild West, especially at the fight for the divisional crown.  The Rockies once again are in a rebuilding position and while they have a lot of great offensive pieces (Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado), they don’t have the arms to make a lot of noise.  I expect at the deadline Carlos Gonzalez to be dealt at the deadline.  The Padres much like a lot of teams are trying to rebuild, yet retool their team for right now.  The Padres have some good pitching that if they chose to rebuild completely would gain a lot of buzz from other teams.  One of those arms (Cashner/Ross) will be gone eventually.  If the Padres want to make a run it will rely on a fully healthy Matt Kemp and a rejuvenated Wil Myers.  The San Francisco Giants added Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to form a great rotation on the Bay Area, while their offense doesn’t have any big time names other than Buster Posey, this is that “every other year” for the Giants.  Can they shock they world yet again?  The pitching is there to do it.  One of my rules for these predictions is to never pick the “Offseason Winner”, so this is why Arizona is my 2nd place finisher.  Without question the balance of hitting and pitching is there, yet their bullpen leaves a little bit to be desired.  With Paul Goldschmidt leading the offense, and Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller leading the rotation, the Diamondbacks could be the team that bucks the trend of the Offseason winner is a regular season loser.  But with the late Spring injury of AJ Pollack, the Diamondbacks took a huge blow.  The Dodgers have almost everything you could want, except they don’t get the job done in October.  Even without Greinke, the Dodgers added Japanese sensation Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir to fill the void.  Even without that, the Dodgers have Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu returning from injury.  On top of everything one name to remember on the rotation, Julio Urias.  If the Dodgers prospect debuts in 2016, he could emerge as the next lefty sensation.  What will carry the Dodgers is Yasiel Puig and the continued emergence of SS Corey Saeger.  The Dodgers have the balance that will top any of the competition in their division to take home the crown.

AL East
1. Toronto Blue Jays
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. New York Yankees

This is the one division where ANYTHING can happen.  Unlike other divisions, there is not one real standout team.  The Yankees haven’t fully embraced rebuilding and try to retool with their young prospects getting ready to debut in the next 2 years.  The Yankees have the bullpen, but can their lineup and rotation hold it together for 162 games?  The Orioles are built with no real pitching staff, and outstanding lineup and two really good relievers.  Without a real ace, the Orioles will continue to be a mediocre pitching team wasting great years of offense.  The Rays are young and talented, their rotation might be the best in the division, and their offense could surprise people this year.  With enough bullpen help, they could make a run at the Division title.  The Red Sox spent big money on David Price and have some nice young talent, but is the rotation behind Price enough to win the division, let alone the Wild Card?  I doubt so.  The Blue Jays have the best offense in the American League by far and it offsets their rotation having to rely on youngsters Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez to start at the top of the rotation.  The Jays bullpen is solid and playing in this division might give them a chance to have the best regular season record in the AL.

AL Central
1. Kansas City Royals
2. Cleveland Indians
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Chicago White Sox

Much like the AL East, the AL Central could be won by any team in this division.  The White Sox never have fully embraced rebuilding and while they have Chris Sale and Jose Abreu, other acquisitions haven’t put them over the top.  Todd Frazier only had 2 good months for the Reds last year and to me is a questionable acquisition.  Robin Ventura will be fired after another bad year and watch the White Sox trade Chris Sale potentially at the Trade Deadline.  The Twins surprised everyone and for myself are 1 year ahead of schedule.  With Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton as their next young duo of potential stars, their offense is better than people think, and their bullpen stacks up with some of the better teams in the league as well.  Their rotation is subpar at best, Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana won’t be enough.  Mike Ilitch did what he does best…spend money.  Jordan Zimmerman was overpaid along with Justin Upton and while they improved their bullpen finally, the Tigers have major potential injury concerns and have no organizational depth to fill those holes.  3-4 injuries could end the Tigers year.  The Indians didn’t necessarily address the offense and are hoping on Tyler Naquin’s rookie year and the continued progress of Francisco Lindor.  The bullpen is solid and the rotation might the Baseball’s best in terms of talent and organizational depth.  Although the Royals lost Ben Zobrist and more importantly Johnny Cueto, you can’t be down after 7 innings versus this team the back end of the bullpen is that good.  All but Zobrist has returned on the offense and it seems Ned Yost gets just enough out of whoever he has starting to win.  You can’t go against the defending World Champs here.

AL West
1. Houston Astros
2, Seattle Mariners
3. Los Angeles Angels
4. Texas Rangers
5. Oakland A’s

This division is the Astros to lose. The Oakland A’s are back in rebuild mode (SURPRISE SURPRISE) and Billy Beane and co. have managed to scrape up another team that could surprise some people offensively (Khris Davis, Stephen Vogt, Marcus Siemen).  But come the Trade Deadline it wouldn’t stun me if RF Josh Riddick, C Stephen Vogt, and Ace SP Sonny Gray are all dealt for this rebuild process.  The Rangers have the offense to make a lot of noise, but they need Yu Darvish back soon.  Cole Hamels was great for Texas and should continue that this year, but the Rangers need to have that 1-2 punch to really compete with the Astros and Mariners going forward.  The Angels have an average starting rotation and a solid bullpen, but the Angels will go as far as their offense will take them.  Mike Trout will obviously be an MVP candidate, but it comes down to guys like Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun and others to do the rest.  The Mariners were that big offseason winner last year and struggled, but this year under new manager Scott Servais, they will take the next big step.  Their rotation can be deadly if Taijuan Walker can take his strong end to last year into the 2016 season.  The offense needs a little bit more contribution from guys like Robinson Cano this year and if so, they could challenge the Astros.  The Astros are built to win it all this year.  With reigning Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa along with George Springer and a strong rotation led by Cy Young Winner Dallas Kuechel and new closer acquisition Ken Giles, I don’t really expect the Astros to have much of a problem with the division.

MLB Playoff Predictions

NL Wild Cards: Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks
AL Wild Cards: Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners

NL Wild Card Game: Chicago Cubs over Arizona Diamondbacks
Cubs youth and Jake Arrieta are too much for the Diamondbacks and the Diamondbacks bullpen falters late to blow the game open for the Cubs.

AL Wild Card Game: Cleveland Indians over Seattle Mariners
Indians send out Corey Kluber against Felix Hernandez and the Indians rediscovered patience at the plate shown all throughout 2016 works the pitch count up on Hernandez, makes a few mistakes and is enough for Indians to win.

NL Divisional Series: Cubs defeat Dodgers, Cardinals defeat Mets
Cubs are in top form finally after a strong 2nd Half, sweep Dodgers easily.  In a 5 game epic Divisional series, the Cardinals offense gets to a weakened Mets bullpen in Game 5 to knock off defending NL Champs.

AL Divisional Series: Indians defeat Blue Jays, Astros defeat Royals
Indians rotation is too much for Blue Jays bats and Indians bats do enough to sweep the Blue Jays.  The Royals learn the importance of having an ace as the Astros trounce the Royals early in a quick sweep of the defending World Champions

NLCS: Cubs defeat Cardinals
The classic rivalry goes only 5 games as the Cubs continue on their 2nd Half and Postseason march to the World Series.  The Cardinals older veterans start to show their age as the 5 games series against the Mets exhausted them.  Cubs youth and talent is too much.

ALCS: Astros defeat Indians
In a phenomenal 7 Game Series, the Indians and Astros battle it out and the Astros emerge with the AL Pennant.  The Indians rotation was dominant in its 3 wins, but at the end of the day the offense of the Astros couldn’t be held down every game and in Game 7, Indians SP Carlos Carrasco gives up 3 early runs, Indians offense can’t get back in it against Astros SP Dallas Kuechel, who wins ALCS MVP.

World Series: Astros defeat Cubs in 6
In one of the best World Series match ups in recent years, the red hot Cubs hit a cold spell in Houston going down 0-2 as SS Carlos Correa starts to take his place as the game’s elite.  Returning to Chicago, Kris Bryant carries the Cubs to 2 straight wins, but Dallas Kuechel and Carlos Correa are too much in Game 5.  In Game 6, the Astros send out the 2016 bounce back SP Doug Fister against Cubs SP Jake Arrieta.  Fister goes 8 shutout innings, allowing 5 hits.  Carlos Correa hits a 3-run Home Run in the 5th and Ken Giles slams the door in the 9th, bringing Houston a World Championship.  Carlos Correa is named World Series MVP.

Award Predictions

AL MVP SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

This is the popular pick and rightfully so, some could go with Angels OF Mike Trout, but Correa offensively will be the heart and soul of the Astros offense this year.  I can see Correa hitting 35 HRs, driving in 110 RBIs this year.  Correa may not be the defender fellow Rookie SS last year Francisco Lindor is, but Correa provides solid defense and great effort.  For Correa this is the year he can emerge as the next face of the game of baseball (if he wasn’t already).  For the Astros, they will only go as far as Correa can take them.  If they finish in 1st place in the AL West, more than likely Correa will have the MVP year everyone is expecting, including myself.

AL MVP Dark Horse CF Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

Everyone talks about Correa as the next star of the game, but what about Mookie Betts?  In his first full year with the Red Sox, Betts almost had a 20-20 season and this year he should get that and maybe more.  Like Correa and the Astros, the Red Sox will need Mookie Betts to have an MVP type year if they are to win the AL East.  I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that Betts has a 30-30 season.  If so, Mookie Betts could emerge this year as the American League’s version of Pirates star CF Andrew McCutchen.  If you’re looking for a good dark horse bet for AL MVP, Bet on Betts!

NL MVP 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

With AJ Pollack injured for the Diamondbacks for the beginning of the year, the Diamondbacks need Goldschmidt to make a big impact right from the start of the season.  Goldschmidt has normally thrived on bad teams, but the Diamondbacks will rely on his bat to challenge the Dodgers and Giants for the divisional crown.  Most casual Baseball fans will talk about Carlos Correa, Bryce Harper, Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout as the elite players of the game.  This is the year Goldschmidt emerges as one of the game’s elite.

NL MVP Dark Horse SS Corey Saeger, Los Angeles Dodgers

Saeger is a long shot to win this award, but why couldn’t he?  Saeger showed last year that he not only was ready for the Big Leagues, but he was ready to tear up the Big Leagues.  Saeger can not only hit for average, but he’s an extremely good power hitter.  While the Dodgers have Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson as other young guys to watch, Saeger is the best of the bunch and could be the National League rival of Astros SS Carlos Correa.  Other than the fact that Saeger is a left handed hitter, Correa and Saeger resemble each other so much as players.  It wouldn’t shock me with the Dodgers plan to start him from day one that Saeger lives up to the hype and by year’s end is in MVP talks.

AL Cy Young SP Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

You could easily have Sonny Gray, Dallas Keuchel, Corey Kluber or David Price winning the Cy Young award.  But although I’ve got the White Sox finishing last in the AL Central, Chris Sale won’t be the reason why.  I’ll also add if Sale were to be dealt at the trade deadline to a contending AL team it could solidify the award for him.  We all know Chris Sale has the stuff to be a candidate every year for this award.  I expect Sale to have similar numbers to what Felix Hernandez had a few years ago when he won the Cy Young on a last place Seattle team.  It’s always a longshot for a last place team to have a major award winner, but Sale is the type of pitcher who can be the exception to the rule.

AL Cy Young Dark Horse SP Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians

Expecting Carlos Carrasco as the Dark Horse instead?  Nope I’m standing by my belief I’ve had since last year that Danny Salazar will make the big jump in 2016.  You started to see Salazar last year at the end of the year not just overpower hitters with his fastball, but use his secondary pitches more to get guys out.  Salazar has everything you could want in a pitcher and what scares me if I’m a hitter is that Salazar never really has started really using that changeup until recently.  Now that he knows he’s got that pitch, watch out everybody Danny Salazar is ready to emerge as the Indians 3rd Ace starter.

NL Cy Young SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Does this really need any explanation?  I think the real question is, why do you pick anyone else?  Moving on…

NL Cy Young Dark Horse SP Shelby Miller, Arizona Diamondbacks

Yeah we talk about the signing of Zack Greinke, but the trade for Shelby Miller could be the real star pitcher at the end of the day.  Miller was a highly prized prospect for the Cardinals and was traded to Atlanta where he seemed to find the consistency he was lacking in St. Louis.  Miller has the pure stuff to shut down any team any night.  The problem Miller had last year was he really didn’t get a ton of wins because he was playing for Atlanta.  On a Diamondbacks team that has a solid offense and if AJ Pollack returns later this year will have a great offense.  Miller could potentially win 17+ games this year and put himself in talks for the Cy Young award.

AL Rookie of the Year CF Tyler Naquin, Cleveland Indians

The popular pick will be Byung-ho Park or AJ Reed, but I’m going off the wall here.  Compared to Park and Reed, Naquin isn’t going to stand out because of one area he’s significantly better at than every other rookie.  But Naquin does everything well, he plays good defense, will hit for a solid average and a few home runs, and also Naquin will steal a lot of bases (depending on where in the order he hits).  The impact Naquin will make for the Indians all year won’t go unnoticed by the National media and when the Indians make the playoffs one of the big reasons will be the emergence of Tyler Naquin as an everyday outfielder for the Indians.

AL Rookie of the Year Dark Horse RF Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

Judge is the next young prospect that is on the verge of arriving in the Bronx.  Judge is a big frame standing in at 6’7’’ 275 lbs., but more importantly Judge has big time power.  While he is set to start the year in AAA, the Yankees are potentially one injury away from calling him up to the big leagues and in Yankee Stadium with his power, Judge can make an immediate impact.  For the Yankees to succeed, not only will a pitcher need to step up, but the youth of the Yankees need to make an impact like they’re expected to.  Highly unlikely he wins the Rookie of the Year but compared to other longshot candidates, Judge looks to be the best bet to shock everyone and steal the award

NL Rookie of the Year SS Corey Saeger, Los Angeles Dodgers

Technically Corey Saeger is still eligible to win this award this year.  I don’t think after my explanation with Saeger as my dark horse pick for the MVP that I need to explain this one.  Saeger is such a unique talent he’s going to tear up the National League this year.

NL Rookie of the Year Dark Horse SP Lucas Giolito, Washington Nationals

The Nationals may have lost Jordan Zimmerman, but if Giolito can make it up to the Nationals this year, he can easily fill the void.  Because of a UCL sprain before the 2012 MLB Draft, Giolito fell to 16th overall although scouts viewed him as talented enough to go #1 overall.  He’s currently viewed as the #3 prospect in baseball and the #1 pitching prospect.  He has an outstanding fastball that sits in the mid-upper 90s and a 12-6 curveball that’s devastating.  If he arrives this year, his talent can immediately take the league by storm.

The MLB regular season, as we all know, is one big roller coaster and a lot of things can happen that change what happens when it’s all said and done.  One thing I will say is to younger fans, enjoy Baseball season.  You cannot predict or even script what can happen throughout a Baseball season. 

This is the greatest season of the year folks and it’s time to get it started once again… IT’S BASEBALL SEASON!

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