Sports Commentary by: Paul Slobodzian, Writer and Editor at The Prowl and Growl
Paul makes predictions about the season in terms of teams, divisions and players. Read the final installment of Paul’s Preseason Coverage (Part 4 of 4)
For those who may have been reading this series over the past week, I have updated you one the various free agent signings, trades, retirements and injuries that are have shaped Major League Baseball over the past six months and the regular season is just about to get underway this Sunday.
Now, I’m going to conclude this series with my very own predictions for 2016. These picks are obviously my opinion, so I in no way mean to offend any die-hard fans of my projected losing teams. Let’s start off with the final wins and losses for all thirty teams:
American League East
Toronto Blue Jays: 97-65
Boston Red Sox: 90-72
New York Yankees: 83-79
Tampa Bay Rays: 77-85
Baltimore Orioles: 73-89
National League East
New York Mets: 95-67
Washington Nationals: 89-73
Miami Marlins: 85-77
Philadelphia Phillies: 68-94
Atlanta Braves: 66-96
American League Central
Detroit Tigers: 92-70
Cleveland Indians: 91-71
Kansas City Royals: 87-75
Minnesota Twins: 80-82
Chicago White Sox: 71-91
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: 101-61
Pittsburgh Pirates: 92-70
St. Louis Cardinals: 86-76
Milwaukee Brewers: 76-86
Cincinnati Reds: 69-93
American League West
Seattle Mariners: 94-68
Houston Astros: 91-71
Texas Rangers: 85-77
Los Angeles Angels: 77-85
Oakland Athletics: 74-88
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers: 93-69
Arizona Diamondbacks: 92-70
San Francisco Giants: 85-77
Colorado Rockies: 76-86
San Diego Padres: 74-88
I think the Blue Jays are going to win the AL East simply based on their offensive output. A quartet led by Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion is pretty formidable, and I don’t see anyone within the division competing with that. The Red Sox are going to have a dramatic turnaround from their last place finish in 2015 because of all their offseason acquisitions, but it ultimately won’t be enough to nab first place from the Blue Jays. The Yankees have arguably the best bullpen in baseball with Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but Chapman is suspended for the first thirty games of the season and Miller will be pitching through a fractured right wrist. New York is also comprised of a plethora of aging veterans, and I don’t think they’ll have enough firepower to win the division or even make the playoffs. The Rays and Orioles aren’t technically rebuilding this season, but the Rays are dealing with injuries to a decent rotation and the Orioles have too many feast-or-famine sluggers for my liking.
In the NL East, the New York Mets are my frontrunners for the division crown. Their starting staff is just too deadly. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon and Steven Matz strike fear in most hitters’ eyes, and facing three or even four of those guys in any given series is intimidating for sure. The Nationals have been the projected preseason champs over the past few seasons, but nothing has really come to fruition for the ultra-hyped team. Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer will lead the team to another winning record, but they won’t have enough to get past the Mets’ pitchers. The Marlins are a team on the rise. With Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez and Dee Gordon as the stars of a youthful roster, they could be a surprise in a rather weak NL East division this season. I just don’t see their rotation being able to compete on the Mets’ or Nationals’ levels, which is why they’ll finish third again this year. The Phillies and Braves are both rebuilding, so I’m not expecting anything out of them in 2016.
One of my boldest picks is the Detroit Tigers winning the AL Central. I have the champion Royals finishing third behind the Indians, as well, but here’s my thinking. The Tigers have an amazing offense like the Blue Jays. Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton and Victor Martinez make up at least five spots in the order on any given day. That could be a tough day for their opposing pitcher(s). If Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Verlander can put the starting rotation of their backs and carry the team throughout the year, I’m expecting big things out of Motown. The Indians also have a dominant starting rotation with Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis are also nice bats in the order, so a good year is in order for the Indians. Now the Royals. No one really departed from the team in the offseason aside from Johnny Cueto heading to San Francisco, so I might not be making the best decision to sleep on the 2015 champions. I don’t really know what to say other than I feel it in my gut. The Twins are another interesting team filled with promising young talent in Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. They could come out of left field this year and win more games than anticipated, but I’m not going to put my money on it. The White Sox just don’t have all the right pieces. Chris Sale and Jose Abreu are the big names on the roster and they made some moves in the offseason, but the division is too loaded for them to make a convincing run to the top.
The Cubs are going to be phenomenal this year. I have Chicago coming away from the regular season with over 100 wins and the best record in baseball. Their roster has the names to justify that selection. Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester leading the rotation; Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo manning the hot corners; Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist up the middle with Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber in the outfield. Oh yeah, big things out of the North Side in 2016. I have the Pirates and Cardinals finishing second and third, respectively, because the Cubs will be so dominant. Pittsburgh and St. Louis are both good teams, don’t get me wrong. Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole in Pittsburgh and Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday in St. Louis are just four of the players those two cities boast, so they are both equally capable of great things. It wouldn’t surprise me if either of these teams wound up atop the division, but I don’t think it’ll happen. The Brewers and Reds both appear to be rebuilding, the Cincinnati even more so. Therefore, they will finish at the bottom with respectable draft picks for next year.
Another bold pick is the Mariners winning 94 games and the AL West division. I think GM Jerry Dipoto has done a fantastic job this offseason reeling in the right free agents and pulling the trigger on the right trades that Seattle will compete for a World Series this season…if Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz have any say in it at least. The Astros are a hot pick early on, and I project a large win total out of them. Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel will lead to the playoffs for the second consecutive season but not a division crown. Texas boasts an underappreciated Rangers team, in my opinion. Adrian Beltre is still putting up quality numbers, and Cole Hamels will join Yu Darvish at some point this year to form a great one-two punch in the rotation. I just don’t see them getting over the Seattle/Houston hump within the division. The Angels have Mike Trout, arguably the best player in baseball. That’s all fine and well except for the fact that there isn’t too much around him. Garrett Richards is the “ace” of the staff with Mr. 80-mph-fastball Jered Weaver and injury-prone C.J. Wilson behind him-not too menacing. Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols accompany Trout in the lineup, but Pujols is a shell of his former self and Calhoun isn’t a superstar. Fourth place finish as a result for the Angels. As for the Athletics, they’re rebuilding…again.
And now finally the NL West where I have the Dodgers winning the division, narrowly edging out the redesigned Arizona Diamondbacks. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and he will prove it again this year with Cy Young, borderline MVP, numbers. Despite the Spring Training injuries, Los Angeles will battle through with veteran leadership and success to win the division. Zack Greinke hopped the California/Arizona state line to join the Diamondbacks in the desert. Shelby Miller also helps round out the rotation, and Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock are superstars. They will be good this year, 93-win good and could even win the division. We’ll see how it all plays out. The Giants in third may catch some by surprise. Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey are the faces of the franchise. That’s not so bad. Plus, it’s an even year, so San Fran is already destined to win the World Series this fall. This is another pick where I’m going with my gut, and I’m not sure if it’s the best thing to do. Oh, well. The Rockies and Padres each want to compete, but they just don’t have enough to get the job done. Maybe next year
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Someone has to lead the way for my AL West champions. Enter “King Felix.” He’s been one of the top pitchers in the game over his career and already won a Cy Young Award in 2010, so this year will be big for him with a dramatically improved lineup and overall roster. I project 17+ wins, an ERA sub-2.50 and over 200 strikeouts.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
As previously mentioned, Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. He has won three Cy Young Awards in 2011, 2013 and 2014, and had if it hadn’t been for the historically good seasons from Greinke and Arrieta, he might have won a fourth last year. I think it’ll be Kershaw’s this year. I project 18+ wins, a sub-2.20 ERA and over 280 strikeouts.
AL MVP: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
I have Baltimore projected to finish last in the American League East, but it isn’t because of Manny Machado. Machado has overall skills to put up MVP numbers this year. With a line-drive swing that is consistently producing more and more homeruns and one of the best gloves and arms in baseball, Machado is definitely someone I envision putting up gaudy numbers this year. I project 30+ homeruns, a batting average north of .280, 100+ RBIs and another Gold Glove at third base.
NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
“Goldy” is a pitcher’s nightmare. Not only can he leave the yard on any given at-bat, but his also one of the best pure hitters in the game. Oh, and his glove isn’t shabby either. You could make a MVP case for him last year, but Bryce Harper ultimately won the coveted award. This year, though, I project 35+ homeruns, 110+ RBIs and a batting average close to .325. I’m not going to say that he’ll win the Triple Crown in 2016, but I believe he has the best chance out of anybody.
AL Rookie of the Year: Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
Sano saw success in limited time last season with Minnesota, so I think his success will continue in 2016. Sano’s a big power hitter with the capabilities of blasting 30 or more homeruns over a full season (he hit 18 in 80 games last year) and posting a respectable average for a slugger. His teammate Byron Buxton could give a run for his money, but I project 30+ homeruns, 90+ RBIs and close to a .270 average for Sano.
NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
Seager saw time in Los Angeles late last year, and he showed some signs of immediate and future success at the big league level. He has a good bat and glove, and he’s also 6’4’ playing shortstop, so that helps, too. Seager’s baseball’s number one prospect heading into this season, and I think he can live up to the lofty expectations. I project 20+ homeruns with 75+ RBIs and a batting average near .300.
AL Manager of the Year: Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners
This pick will all make sense in a few short graphs.
NL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs
It’s hard to not bestow such an award to a man who leads “The Loveable Losers” to 101 wins.
Who do I have representing Major League Baseball in the 112th installment of the Fall Classic? The 101-win Chicago Cubs will face the 94-win Seattle Mariners in October. This is where my Scott Servais MOTY pick is justified. Seattle has missed the playoffs each of the last fourteen seasons, but I think 2016 will be different. With a roster teeming with superstars, I boldly have the Mariners coming out of the American League side as champions, facing the Cubs for the Commissioner’s Trophy. Is it a “Cinderella story?” Maybe. Either way, I have them taking on a loaded Cubs team who many project as World Series favorites before the season even gets underway. I’m going to agree with Vegas on this one and put the Cubs in the Fall Classic.
But who do I have winning it all?
The Cubs will break their 108-year World Series drought and win the World Series. I just don’t see any team with as much talent and depth as Chicago, so that’s who I have coming out victorious.
Thank you all who have taken the time to read and/or skim my series over this past week. Hopefully I was able to inform you on some of the happenings of the MLB offseason and maybe what to expect as the season gets underway. Enjoy the MLB season!