Photo courtesy: Bleacher Report
I've said here before why baseball is more than just a game, to me anyway. It's a sport I've enjoyed and have been passionate about since an early age. My dream job is to broadcast in baseball someday (join the club, right?).
Monday is the best day of the year... Opening Day! Every team is undefeated (except the Cubs now), and everybody has a chance. If I remember correctly, I didn't do so hot in 2014. Maybe this year will be a bit different. Feel free to let me have it if you disagree. It's part of what makes this fun.
1) Red Sox-They finished in last, then won the World Series, then finished in last again, and it's pretty much a case of blindfolding a kid and playing "pin Boston on the AL East standings." I've pinned them to win. They truly have a perfect balance of veteran leadership (Pedroia, Ortiz, Napoli), and some younger guys who have some experience under their belts (Betts, Bogaerts). Free agent pick ups of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval make the offense complete. Adding Porcello and Masterson gives the Red Sox some depth on the mound. Like many teams, the back of the rotation will be the big question mark, as well as middle relief.
2) Orioles- I don't think it will be a very close race in the A.L. East, for first anyway, but I like the Birds' chances of at least being competitive at the top of the division. Alejandro De Aza is a nice pick up to toss into the leadoff spot, and I love the look of Machado, Jones, Davis and Wieters, assuming they all can stay healthy. Look for Chris Davis to have a bounce-back season, after that adversity... well, cheating. The pitching rotation is the big x-factor here. Tillman and Chen have the potential for big years, but behind that will determine Baltimore's season. Also, O's fans, keep your eyes out for a kid named Christian Walker. He'll start the season in Norfolk, but should be a case of turf-toe away from getting the call-up. Once he's there, look for him to grow fast.
3) Blue Jays- They had a nice off-season, grabbing Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders, all players who can bolster their line-up. I think Martin has another good season left in him at the plate. Jose Reyes should provide a jolt at the leadoff spot, and I certainly expect another 40 home run season from Jose Bautista. It's another case of a good 1-2 punch at the top of the pitching rotation with R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, but the depth of the rotation and the bullpen is certainly up in the air.
4) Yankees- They didn't really have a Yankees-like off-season, did they? Didi Gregorius, Garrett Jones, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Miller... not your usual NYY caliber pick-ups, but I do like Miller in that bullpen. Of course, they'll have their good nights with Ellsbury, Beltran, Headley and a healthy Teixiera. And then there's always that fun talking point... A-Rod. With the starting DH spot likely his, it will be interesting to see how he fares after a year away from the game. He hit .267 with three homers and four RBI in 19 spring training games, but also whiffed 13 times, among the highs for veterans. We'll see what happens when the games are for real.
5) Rays- Not much to say about year one of the post-Joe Maddon in St. Petersburg. I like Longoria, Loney and Jennings in the line-up, but part of me wonders if Longo will be there all season. Cobb and Archer are two of the better young pitchers in the game. The team will struggle as it looks to rebuild.
1) Tigers- I know a lot of people have Cleveland winning this division, but I like Detroit. Say what you will about age, injury, talent, but I'm still giving them the best 1-2 punch in the AL in terms of Price and Verlander. I certainly think Verlander is capable of a big comeback campaign. Sanchez is a pretty solid number three arm, too. Let's look at that line-up, as well. Cabrera, V-Mart and Cespedes as your 3-4-5? J.D Martinez coming off a stellar year? A great young up-and-coming like Anthony Gose? This is an offense that might lead the league in some power categories, especially if Nick Castellanos gets his bat going. I really like Detroit.
2) White Sox- For everything we said about how good the top of Detroit's rotation is, Chicago is a close second. Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija are premium pitchers, and Jose Quintana and John Danks are good back-end rotation guys. They also added David Robertson, who could prove to be one of the best closers in baseball, if not the best. The Chi-Sox line-up upgraded, too. Adding Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche give the Sox some pop, and Jose Abreu could be a .300 average 40 homer guy this season. Make no mistake, I picked Detroit to win this division, but Chicago is every bit as good and could take the Central just as well.
3) Indians- I know a lot of experts have the Indians winning the division, some even project the World Series. I'm just not there yet. Their line-up is solid. I think you'll hear Michael Brantley's name a lot this season, and when you have a Cy Young Award winner coming back to anchor your pitching staff, you don't have much to complain about from that aspect. I think the Indians are set to complete, I'm just not sold there at the same level with Detroit and Chicago this season. They'll compete, and if a bounce or two goes their way, sure they could make the playoffs, and once you're there, who knows what can happen? I still like them third in this division, though.
4) Royals- The feel-good story of the American League looks to follow up a pennant with another successful campaign. Kansas City's line-up has some pretty awesome players in it. Eric Hosmer could very well be that player everybody was raving he would be a few years back. Alex Rios is a nice off-season acquisition, and Alex Gordon will be solid, as well. If I'm an MLB team, though, I can't sign Kendrys Morales. He shows flashes of what he once was, but the consistency just isn't there. Yordano Ventura will be a Cy Young candidate at some point in the next three seasons, in my opinion, and Danny Duffy will be a great arm in that number two slot, but Varges, Guthrie and Volquez I'm not sold on.
5) Twins- Joe Mauer is still there, so that's nice. Torii Hunter is coming back to where he made his name, so that might help sell some tickets early. Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana may keep Minnesota in some games. Sorry, Twins fans. In a very competitive division, you just might be the odd man out. I am very curious to see how Paul Molitor fares as a manger, though.
1) Mariners- I hate picking this. Why? Because I'm a die-hard Seattle fan, and I feel like I'm totally setting this up to come crashing down. I've seen high expectations end in low win totals before, but alas, here we are again. Objectively, the M's have all the pieces, and it starts with pitching. Elite number one in Felix Hernandez, great 2-3 in James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma and a star in the making in Taijuan Walker. J.A. Happ is the only question to me in the rotation. Seattle's bullpen had the best ERA in the league last season, and most of them are back, and hopefully Rodney doesn't give as many heart-attacks this year. What's different? The Mariners just might have an offense. The addition of Nelson Cruz will get Robinson Cano some more looks, and Kyle Seager is primed to build on his first all-star year. Logan Morrison could be an over-looked bat, and some of the younger guys are coming along.
2) Angels- They're always a player, and the 100th year of the Mike Scioscia era should be no different (obviously kidding, but he's been there a long time). Matt Joyce is a nice pick-up for the batting order, who will fill in for Josh Hamilton. Hamilton just discovered he won't be disciplined for a recent drug relapse, but he still won't be with the team in the season's early stages after February shoulder surgery. This line-up has seven hitters who could be mid-order guys on many other teams. LAA also boasts strong pitching, led by the ever-consistent Jered Weaver. They're deep, have a good bullpen and a feared closer in Huston Street. They'll give Seattle a run for the money to win the West.
3) Rangers- After a season that saw everything go wrong in Arlington, somewhat of a bounce-back is in order. There are no real additions to their line-up, just healthy and another year of experience. Adrian Beltre is one of my favorite players. I love the way he plays, and I like him to be one of the best hitters in the AL. Rangers fans hope Prince Fielder will be healthy all year and Shin Soo-Choo will be the player they all hoped he would be when the team signed him prior to last season. The guy I really like, though... Rougned Odor. He'll be a big factor in Texas's success this season. A lot of weight falls on the shoulders of Derek Holland, Yovani Gallardo and Ross Detwiler, after Yu Darvish went down. I also question how much they'll be able to count on Neftali Feliz as closer, as I'm not sure he has what he once did.
4) Athletics- It's a line-up that added the likes of Ben Zobrist, Billy Butler and Brett Lawrie. In all, five of their projected starters are new acquisitions. I'm not saying that's bad, but it's a different look and a different chemistry than the A's teams of recent years that were flies in the ointment to AL West foes. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir anchor the rotation, with questions at closer. Sean Doolittle did a nice job there last year, and should be the guy again.
5) Astros- It's a big year in the rebuilding phase for Houston. The Astros' pitching staff was one of the biggest surprises in the league last year. You may not score many runs against these guys in 2015. Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Brett Oberholtzer all made their names in Houston, and will this year be the season they make their names outside of it? Jose Altuve is where it all starts in the line-up and the infield. He's one of the best players in the game, and George Springer just may be an all-star this season. There's always a team that surprises everybody. I think, be it this year or next, Houston will end up being that team. The Astros aren't far away.
1) Nationals- They have the offensive weapons, along with the best pitching rotation in baseball, hands down. One through five... no rotation in Major League Baseball is better. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez... any one of those guys is probably a number one or two starter on any other team in baseball. I will love watching them pitch this year. The Nats' offense took a hit with injuries to Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth, but there's enough there to weather the storm until those guys get back. I'm curious to see Ryan Zimmerman's transition to first base. I think it will go very well and he'll have a clear head. This team is the team to beat, not just in the division, but in the National League.
2) Marlins- If any team is going to give Washington a run, it'll be Miami. In addition to Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna will provide some pop. Off-season additions of Dee Gordon and Michael Morse will help the line-up. I'm also curious to see what role Ichiro Suzuki plays with this clubThe big question is the pitching and if it can hold up, especially until Jose Fernandez gets back. Mat Latos and Dan Haren are two veteran guys who have proven they can win, which will help if they can get back to form.
3) Mets- Welcome back, Matt Harvey. Mets fans couldn't be happier with this news, and apparently the ace has put together a pretty good spring. I like New York's rotation. deGrom is great, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee have shown flashes on the mound, but the Mets' bullpen is a little shaky. If you're looking for a guy who will make a difference, keep your eye on Juan Lagares. He's a player who could have a break-out year. Of course, Michael Cuddyer is a nice off-season pick up who can give some support behind David Wright.
4) Braves- So they traded Craig Kimbrel to San Diego the day before their season opened, along with Melvin Upton, for Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, two minor leaguers and a draft pick. I'd say it's safe to say Atlanta is in rebuilding mode. I wonder who will replace Kimbrel and his one million saves. Jason Grilli, maybe? He may take over the role, but not the save total. The Braves' starting rotation is shaky, but their line-up has promise. Getting rid of Upton was long overdue. Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons should swing the bats well, and the additions of Nick Markakis, Jonny Gomes and Alberto Callaspo will help.
5) Phillies- They need an awful lot of help. I'm not going to break down the Phils very much, because I don't think they'll be very good at all. With an aging line-up and a pitching staff that's destined the struggle, look for the Fightin' Phils to lack the fight in 2015. I grew up about 90 miles outside of Philadelphia, so I grew up watching the Phillies. This team could be late 80's bad.
1) Cardinals- Every players in the St. Louis line-up might hit over .270 this season, and some will certainly hit between .290-.305. I'd say that's a good starting place. The Cards took an already solid line-up and added Jason Heyward. They're going to play some terrific offensive baseball this year, because they have all the tools... speed, power, contact, average. Adam Wainwright is a great elite pitcher at the top of the staff. Michael Wacca and John Lackey will be good on the hill for the Cards, too. Lackey's consistency is a bit of a concern, in my opinion, but he'll have the offense to give him some runs.
2) Cubs- It was a nice off-season for the Cubs, who not only added some hitters and arms, but manager Joe Maddon, as well. Maddon has a track record of success, and the Cubs are counting on that to continue. I love these young guys on this team. Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler are great players to build an organization around. Adding Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero and Tommy La Stella gives this line-up a chance to make an awful lot of noise right away. That's not even factoring in Kris Bryant, the young sensation who will start in AAA ball, but don't expect him to be there long. Jon Lester and Jason Hammel give this rotation a nice look, forming a formidable top three along with Jake Arrieta.
3) Pirates- Andrew McCutchen and company will be competitive this year. It's another case of a division that's wide open. McCutchen will once again be one of baseball's premier players. Starling Marte won't be far behind this year, and I see big things from Gregory Polanco. If Pittsburgh's pitching lives up to its potential, there's a chance they can even win this division. The consistency of Garrit Cole and A.J. Burnett, along with Burnett's and Francisco Liriano's health, will tell the tale at PNC Park this season.
4) Reds- The pieces are there, but can they put them together? Cincinnati's line-up will be headlined by Joey Votto once again. The success of this team is going to depend on the performance of his supporting cast. Billy Hamilton can create runs with his legs. Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce have some power potential, and Marlon Byrd was a good addition. Can Brandon Phillips perform like he did in year's past? That's a big question. Johnny Cueto will go after the Cy Young, and Homer Bailey and Mike Leake should be decent, but it's another case of what the back of the rotation can do. It's also always fun to see Aroldis Chapman. I wonder how many saves he'll end up with, if he can throw a complete season.
5) Brewers- Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun should have nice seasons at the plate. Aramis Ramirez still has some pop left in his bat, and Khris Davis could grow into a good weapon in the line-up this year. The problem is the pitching, and that's why I think there will be a gap between the rest of the division and Milwaukee this year. Trading Gallardo didn't help their depth and the guys they have, like Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza, seem past their prime and shouldn't be at the top of a rotation.
1) Dodgers- Let me start by saying that this race is going to be awesome. I think the Dodgers, Padres and Giants will compete all season long for this division. I'll give LA the leg up, though. They have five guys in that line-up who could flirt with the .300 mark and have more skills than just the ability to connect. Yasiel Puig is one of the most fun players in the game, Howie Kendrick is a great add for this club and players like Crawford, Gonzalez and Uribe are all seasoned veterans who can help a team win. Also look for Alex Guerrero to make an impact during his rookie season. Pitching-wise, it doesn't get any better than Clayton Kershaw. Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu compliment the rotation nicely and Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson are decent 4-5 guys.
2) Padres- They sure have been busy. After a full-throttle off-season that saw them add Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Derek Norris to the line-up, along with ace James Shields to the rotation, San Diego grabbed Craig Kimbrel from Atlanta Sunday night. That's a lock-down closer the Padres needed to become more of a complete team. In addition to the new guys, Yondor Alonso and Yangervis Solarte are decent bats, as well. If the rest of the pitching can provide depth behind Shields, San Diego has a shot at this thing.
3) Giants- The defending World Champions are once again in the mix. San Francisco has a line-up that can produce from top to bottom and a group of pitchers that can get the job done. I'm anxious to see Joe Panik this year, after he's had a full season in the majors under his belt. Buster Posey is a terrific hitter and catcher, and Brandon Belt should be a feared hitter this season. Of course, Madison Bumgarner will anchor the staff on the mound, and the three arms behind him in Cain, Hudson and Peavy have the potential to have big years. As far as Tim Lincecum, part of me thinks he'll struggle and work his way out of the rotation this year.
4) Rockies- There's a HUGE gap between the top three and the bottom two. There are pieces of Colorado's line-up I really like, and it starts with Nolan Arenado. I know Tulowitzki is the big name, and rightfully so, but I think Arenado might be the next big name in baseball. There is a lot of potential for power in the Rockies' line-up, but they'll be doomed by their pitching. It stinks.
5) Diamondbacks- I'm excited to see Yasmany Tomas play and I think Paul Goldschmidt is good, but other than that, it could be a long summer in Phoenix. On the mound, Jeremy Hellickson is a really nice pick-up, but they don't have much beyond him.
Wild Card- CWS over LAA
Division Series- SEA over CWS, DET over BOS
Championship Series- SEA over BOS
Wild Card- SD over CHC
Division Series- WAS over SD, LAD over STL
Championship Series- WAS over LAD
2015 World Series prediction:
WAS over SEA
Thanks for reading and enjoy the season!