Saturday, April 4, 2015

MLB Opening Day - The Toughest Divisions

Happy New Year! It may have taken close to six months but for anyone outside of the city of San Francisco it was much needed time for the wounds to heal or the punch to take effect depending on either you lost in the playoffs or believe your club made enough off-season improvements to get into the playoffs this year. Well it’s April, Spring is here, and hope rings eternal. Not to mention it’s an odd number year so the Giants won’t be winning it, leaving the door open for someone else to come in and raise a banner. Some franchises are going ‘all in’ to make a run at it this year and for some this may be the last year to cash in on bets they already made. The “Money Ballers” need to get some immediate ROI for their owners whose patience might be running out, and the rebuilders need to see some more floors added to that foundation. Here are the divisions and what class each falls into. Starting with what we think is the toughest division the NL Central. If this were the NFL the consensus would be that because this division has beaten each other up all year the winner won’t have anything left for the playoffs, but this is baseball and the one that comes out of this division may be so battle tested that the rest of the playoffs seems downhill. We think the Cardinals will be back, but will hold off the Pirates in the final week to once again for the division. Hard to believe St. Louis had a weakness last year but they certainly did in right field, so they went out and got one of the best prospects out there in Jason Heyward which should solidify the outfield. They will need crafty vets Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and Jhonny Peralta to step up big and Wainwright to have another banner year as the ace. 1. Cardinals 2. Pirates 3. Cubs 4. Brewers 5. Reds The balance of power keeps us in the NL as the West is second but not far behind. The defending champs are going to try and break the ‘odd year’ omen but it won’t be this year as there is just too much power at the top of the division starting with the defending NL West Champion Dodgers. Despite winning 94 games last year it was considered a failure as they won the division and had home field against the Cards forcing them to beat Kershaw and Greinke to advance, and they did just that, so the team with the highest payroll in baseball not only didn’t win the World Series but couldn’t even get there. They have made both front office and field moves in the off season to see that they clear both hurdles this year but it will be tough as they have some serious competition from no just their own division but their own state. LA let shortstop Hanley Ramirez walk, also all-star Dee Gordon and opted for Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick. A real controversial move that will have the banter flowing if it doesn’t pay dividends, but where they really needed help last year was the pen and I don’t know if I see the big moves there just yet. At the end of the day they still have the two-headed monster of Kershaw and Greinke and any support could propel the Dodgers to where they (and their payroll) think they should be. 1. Dodgers 2. Padres 3. Giants 4. Rockies 5. Diamond Backs We move over to the AL but stay in the West as the trio of the Mariners, Angels, and A’s, will be among the best three inner-divisions teams in baseball. Ironically as ARod makes his comeback to the show the Mariners will be making their return to the playoffs and threating to make a deep run for the first time since ARod and Jr. graced the diamond together, coming off their best season since 09’. They added Nelson Cruz, Justin Ruggiano, and Rickie Weeks which should give them more pop in the line up to join Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. If King Felix can come back again for another strong year and anchor the pitching staff the M’s will be tough. The Angels seem to perpetually have the best regular season record in the division, much like last year’s 98-64, only to get upset in the Divisionals by the eventual AL representative Kansas City Royals. The Angels will try to get back but they will fall a little short, taking 2nd in the division. The A’s will do what they always do, fly under the radar then sneak up on teams in the end. 1. Mariners 2. Angels 3. A’s 4. Rangers 5. Astros Although we may not have it in the top three, the AL East may be the only division where every team ends up above .500 for the year. This division already reminds me of the old Big East Basketball conference back in its glory days, when every game of every week was just a war. Add that to the drama of the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry and the fact the Orioles and Blue Jays could take the flag and you’ve got the makings of must see TV. The Sox are coming off a very disappointing 71-win season last year and have made some key off-season acquisitions including Kung Fu Panda and Hanley Ramirez. They should improve an offense that scored a dearth of runs in 2014 and if nothing else they will have more personality. The Orioles are coming off a 96-win season, their best since1997 but a disappointing post season along with the other top-seed from the NL, losing in the first round. This year they hope to put together both ends, strong reg season and post season run to the World Series. 1. Orioles 2. Red Sox 3. Blue Jays 4. Yankees 5. Rays The AL Central has some quality at the top of the division as both the Tigers and Indians are contenders for not just for the division but the AL crown as well. However the lower half of the division is soft, and a big reason why we expect Detroit and Cleveland to win better than 85 games because they will get fat on the feeder fish of the division. The Royals are coming off a Cinderella run to the World Series last year but would do well to finish 82-80 this year. On the bottom the White Sox and Twins under/over are 78 and 74 respectively, meaning they will do their best just to get in the way. The Tigers lost their ace Max Scherzer to the Nats in one of the most lucrative contracts in MLB history adding pressure to the aging Justin Verlander and additions Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene. I’m not sure if that rotation can go the distance of a 15-round, 182 game season. If not, the Indians will gladly step into their place, and they have an ace of their own in Corey Kluber who will get help from Carlos Carrasco giving them a great 1-2 punch that was as good as any in baseball over the last month of the 2014 campaign. 1. Tigers 2. Indians 3. Royals 4. White Sox 5. Twins The last in line is the NL East. True, the Nationals may be the best team in the NL for the second straight year (based on record) but the air really gets thin after that as the Marlins and Mets will struggle to break .500, and the Braves and Phillies may not win 70 games. So if the those numbers hold true there may be a lot fluff in the Nats win total, as it turned out there was last season as well. The Marlins who have had the reputation for going beyond “money ball”, not only pried open their wallets but broke the bank in the process by offering Stanton the sports first 300m contract but it didn’t leave much for the rest. They are still very young and next year the story may end differently but this year we think they might finish 2nd in the division but not enough wins to make the wild card. The Metropolitans didn’t do much to the lineup after the addition of Michael Cuddyer so I’m not sure what they expect to see in the big apple but if Bartolo Colon is your opening day pitcher they must not be a whole lot in the cupboard. We’ve covered the feeder fish in this division, the Braves had a fire sale and blew up what was left of the team to load up for the future and Phillies have one of the oldest lineups in the league and are predicted to finish dead last in the NL. If you’re gonna’ be bad at least show signs of stockpiling for the future. 1. Nationals 2. Marlins 3. Mets 4. Braves 5. Phillies
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