Saturday, August 15, 2015

American League Home Stretch 2015

With just about a month and a half left in the season we can clearly separate teams that are legitimate contenders from the teams that are playing out the string. We can also start to see that some players we expected to be difference makers are having an average, below average or just horrible season. Here is a review of where we stand so far this year in the American League as well as a mid season report card on how my original predictions have helped prepare you for the season and how I have led you astray:

American League East:
Heading into this season it appeared that any team had a chance to win this division and that this was the closest division in baseball.  My final predictions from top to bottom were Blue Jays, Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Rays, .  Here is where my predictions stand:

Blue Jays:
The Blue Jays have gotten power from where you would expect it (Donaldson,  Martin, Encarnacion and Bautista).  They were getting good speed on the base paths from Jose Reyes and they are getting pleasant surprises at the plate from Devon Travis, Justin Smoak and Chris Colabello.  Mark Buehrle is pitching well.  So is Drew Hutchinson.  Marco Estrada's two starts in late June, early July were a highlight of the first half.  What they need is a return to Cy Young season form from R.A. Dickey and consistency from the bullpen.  The offense seems to be solid and has been bolstered by the addition of Tulowitski.  What Toronto needed was a bullpen and one more starter.  They got bullpen help with the addition of LaTroy Hawkins and an ace when they got David Price.  They are red hot right now and look like the team to beat in the east..
First Half Grade: A

Red Sox:
Sandoval has not worked out too well so far.  Hanley Ramirez started slow and dealt with injuries.  Big Papi's age is always a question at this point.  Mike Napoli started the season in a massive funk.  Shane Victorino hit below .250, and Dustin Pedroia has spent significant time on the DL.  The rebuilt pitching staff has not impressed with Justin Masterson being specifically disappointing.  The Sox agot hot just before the All Star Break and looked to be making a run but fell again following the break.  The lone highlight this year has been Mookie Betts who leads the team in just about everything.  The team unloaded at the deadline sending Victorino to the Angels and Napoli to the Ranges. Three weeks ago I would have given them a C for the first half witha  chance to make a run.  Now they have completely failed.
First Half Grade: F

Baltimore has had every chance to run away with this division and they haven't done so.  Adam Jones slumped a bit in late June and early July due to injuries but he is back on track.  Matt Wieters started the season on the DL and in the minors but looked to be regaining his form until another recent injury. Manny Machado is nothing short of amazing at the plate and in the field.  Chris Davis is bashing Home Runs again.  The team surprise is Jimmy Paredes who was hitting over .300 into mid July but has cooled off since them.  The starting pitching is the team's downfall.  Chris Tillman has suffered through injuries.  Wei Yen Chen and Ubaldo Jimenez have been the highlights of the staff but their records are not impressive and they have been truly inconsistent.  Bud Norris has been a disaster and was sent down to the minors.  Kevin Gaussman has been limited by injury and the help of the young arms in the minors have also been slowed by injury. The Orioles are still within strking distance of the top but not showing signs of making a move.
First Half Grade:  C-

Just as the Orioles should be running away with this division, the Yankees should be near the bottom.  They lost their leader Derek Jeter.  Carlos Beltran has been injured off and on.  Stephen Drew was hitting below .200 as of mid July.  The club has had a public, ongoing argument with their star Third Baseman.  Their two aces (Tanaka and Sabathia) have been injured most of the season and not very good the rest.  They can't decide if Betances or Andrew Miller is their closer.  Still, Drew has 12 Home Runs despite the low average.  Mark Texieira has 22 despite being written off.  A-Rod is hitting very well despite the off the field distractions.  Jacoby Ellsbury has very small power numbers but he is getting on base and hitting well above .300.  Michael Pineida and Nathan Eovaldi are each picking up for the struggling aces.  And who cares which is the actual closer becuase both Betances and Miller are pitching beautifully.  It all adds up to a surprisingly competitive team in the Bronx.
First Half Grade: A+

Every year this team amazes me.  Since the 2008 climb to the top this team has found ways to remain competitive.  Evan Longoria is still there and having a strong season but not spectacular.  Stephen Souza came over from the Nationals in the winter and is having the best season of any Ray but it is still not being noticed nationwide.  The team has no power, no speed, average pitching and they lost the man who led them in the dugout for so many years.  So what?  The team spent most of the first half of the season in first place.  They have started to fall back but they are still right in the thick of things.
First Half Grade: A

American League Central
In the preseason preview I told you that the division would look this way at the end of the season:  Tigers, White Sox, Royals, Twins, Indians.  I also told you that the Royals would likely see a big drop off.  I said the Tigers would continue to win the Central mostly because of a lack of challenge from the others.  What can I tell you?  I'm an idiot. Here is where my predictions stand:

The season has been a bit of a mess.  The line up did not look half bad in April.  Cespedes, Cabrera, Martinez, Martinez, Kinsler.  There are some great bats there.  Cespedes had a decent first half at the plate (but was traded at the deadline) and J.D. Martinez has been a nice surprise.  Cabrera started in normal fashion but the extended loss of his bat and leadership will kill this team's chances.  David Price is having a Cy Young type season but if he wins the award it will be in Toronto and the drop off following Price is the difference between playoff contention and distant third place.  Justin Verlander has had a tough year.  He is no longer the power pitcher he used to be and is struggling to make the adjustment.  Unfortunately this team does not seem to have enough left for a post season run..
First Half  Grade:  F

White Sox: 
There was a lot of buzz around this team coming into the season.  This team under Robin Ventura seems to revel in doing the exact opposite of what you would expect.  In 2012 they were considered a last place team but led the division for most of the season yet missed the playoffs by a few games.  In 2013 they fell off drastically.  In 2014 they stayed competitive thanks to Chris Sale and Tony Abreu.  In the offseason they made some big moves that were expected to put them near the top.  Instead they are bringing up the rear.  Despite a pre-season injury scare Chris Sale is Chris Sale and Tony Abreu is still leading the offense.  The rest of the team is disappointing. Adam LaRoche and Adam Eaton are particularly disappointing in their lack of production and Jeff Samardzija has struggled.  This team does not look like it will be able to get their life back before the end of the year. Will they keep this group together for next year and will Ventura be around to see it?
First Half Grade: F

There's an old saying:  "Speed doesn't slump."  Apparently neither does a strong bullpen or strong defense.  I expected the loss of Billy Butler to be a big loss.  I realize his numbers were not always great but he was a face of this franchise stretching back to the beginning of this rebuilding process.  I also expected the loss of James Shields to play a big part in a fall.  Again, not always because of the number but because of the leadership he gave to younger pitchers.  I'm an idiot.  I laughed a little when the Royals signed Kendrys Morales.  It was an uncomfortable laugh because I like Morales but I thought his career had passed him.  Sadly his career was derailed by a freak injury.  This year it has been reborn.  On a team with little power, Morales is in double digit Home Runs and is on his way to a possible 100 RBI season.  The Royals have proven they are the best team in the AL through August.  Can they finish the season that way?
First Half Grade: A

Along with Houston, Toronto and Kansas City, the Twins are the story of the year in the AL.  Coming into the season we could see the Twins moving in the right direction but they looked to be a few years away.  I was sad when I saw that Torii Hunter had signed with the Twins.  Of course I loved that he was going back to where his career started and where he earned his reputation as a great Centerfielder and great person, but I really want to see Torii win a World Series before he retires and I didn't think this would give him a shot at the post season.  I am happy to say that the reason the Twins are in the playoff hunt is largely because Torii Hunter is there.  Along with Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe and Joe Mauer at First Base, the Twins have shocked a lot of people.  The pitching of Phil Hughes has been a big help but the rest of the staff is inconsistent.  Adding a strong starter to the mix for the playoff run would have been a big help but they failed to make much movement.  They may be able to make a Wild Card spot but they won't challenge Kansas City for the top.  Regardless, if only for the sake off Torii Hunter, I am rooting for this team.
First Half Grade:  A+

Terry Francona's first year in Cleveland produced a surprise playoff appearance.  The team dropped off last year and were sellers at the trade deadline. Some expected a big upsurge this year.  The first half was a disaster and there is little to suggest a miracle comeback in the second half.  Cy Young winner Corey Kluber has pitched inconsistently but better than his record.  Only Jason Kipnis is hitting.  It is going to be a long year in Cleveland and they were sellers again at the deadline.
First Half Grade: F

American League West
This division has had some major surprises and some major disappointments.  While the Mariners are hugely disappointing everyone, the Astros and Rangers have stunned everyone with their success.  Before the season I believed the division would look like this: Mariners, Angels, A's, Rangers, Astros.  Again, I'm an idiot.  Here's where we stand :

The off season additions of the Mariners combined with last years play was expected to give the Mariners a serious chance at contention.  I totally bought into the hype and when Nelson Cruz started off in powerful fashion I thought they would be on track for the playoffs.  King Felix is still king but Taiuan Walker is inconsistent and Iwakuma had disappeared for most of the season.  Iwakuma has had a tremendous month of August with two strong starts, including a no-hitter.  The bullpen, one of the keys to last year's success, has struggled and Fernando Rodney has an ERA above 5.00.  They started playing slightly better just before the All Star Break but are still not a playoff team.
First Half Grade: F

Mike Trout was a given.  You knew he was going to have an MVP type season.  Following that it was all up in the air.  How would Pujols do in the twilight of his career?  How would Josh Hamilton come back? Could Clayton Richards come back?  Could Houston Street still be effective?  Could Matt Schumacher duplicate the rookie success?  We seem to have our answers.  Richards is doing fine.  Pujols is playing like it's 2006.  Street can still close.  Josh Hamilton is gone (and so is the GM) and the Angels got hotter than hell in mid July.  The team is fighting Houston for the top of the division but a lack of pitching depth (and consistency) could be the death knell for October.
First Half Grade: B-

This team is almost unrecognizable when compared to last year's team that had the Bay so excited.  Sonny Gray is pitching well and Scott Kazmir is pitching better than his record but few others are succeding.  Stephen Vogt and Brett Lawrie are having decent seasons but the loss of Coco Crisp for an extended period has not helped.  This team does not have much of a post season chance.
First Half Grade: F

Last season was a nightmare for this team.  Anything that could go wrong did.  Darvish and Holland were hurt before the season started. Prince Fielder missed most of the season with a career threatening back surgery and Shin Soo Choo disappeared. All of that led to Ron Washington resigning.  This team has gotten great production from Mitch Moreland and Delino Deshields Jr.  Prince Fielder is playing like an MVP.  Adrian Beltre continues to be one of the best in the game (starting to put his name in serious consideration for the Hall of Fame) and Joey Gallo's first week in the Major Leagues was like a scene from the Natural.  Josh  Hamilton has returned to home and has been somewhat productive, although not nearly as good as his earlier seasons.  Just as great a story as Fielder's resurgence is that of Colby Lewis who is leading the team's staff.  Although this season is a big improvement over 2014 there is not a likelihood of reaching the post season.
First Half Grade:  B+

For about two years we have been hearing whispers of the young group Houston has in their system and how teams had better watch out when they reached the majors.  That appeared to be about two or three years away but guess what...They're Here!  This team has surprised a lot of people.  This is a strong lineup.  Strong defensively (No player has double digit errors).  Strong with power (Gattis, Carter, Valbuena and Correa are mashing).  Strong on the basepaths (Jose Altuve has more than 30 steals ).  Strong on the mound.  Dallas Kuechel is having a Cy Young year and is leading the pitching staff.  For most of the first half it seemed that Houston might challenge the Royals for the best team in the AL.  A slump in late June and early July coincided with a charge from the Angels leading to a surprising pennant race.  Adding Scott Kazmir at the trade deadline was not a bad deal and should help. A strong September could put this team in the post season for the first time as an AL team..
First Half Grade: A+

AL MVP:  Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
AL Cy Young:  Dallas Kuechel, Astros
AL Rookie of the Year: Stephen Souza, Rays

Updated postseason picks:
AL East:  Blue Jays
AL Central: Royals
AL West: Angels
Wild Cards: Astros, Yankees

Wild Card Round:  Astros over Yankees
ALDS: Royals over Red Sox
ALDS: Blue Jays over Angels
ALCS:  Royals over Blue Jays

World Series: Cardinals over Royals

If the predictions made today are correct, the Royals will be the first AL team since the 2010 and 2011 Rangers to win back to back AL Pennants but lose in the World Series both times.  Prior to the Rangers, what AL team was the last to do this?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Since 2002 the Giants and Cardinals have represented the National Leaugue 8 times in the Fall Classic.  
During that time only the Marlins (2003), Astros (2005), Rockies (2007) and Phillies (2008 and 2009) have broken the hold of those top two teams.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

National League Home Stretch 2015

With just under two months left in the season we can start to separate teams that are legitimate contenders from the teams that are playing out the string.  We can also start to see that some players we expected to be difference makers are having an average, below average or just horrible season.  Here is a review of where we stand so far this year in the National  League as well as a mid season report card on how my original predictions have helped prepare you for the season and how I have led you astray:

National League East:
This division has a bit of everything.  There is one team that has done about what we expected.  One team that has surprised us with their improvement.  One team lurking in the middle.  One team disappointing everyone and a final team hitting depths well beyond the worst fears of fans.

Max Scherzer has been all that was advertised.  At 9-7 his record is deceptive because he has had almost no-hit stuff several times.  Bryce Harper is the front runner for MVP and he is getting help from Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond.  The fear is the injury bug.  Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Craig Stammen and even Bryce Harper have suffered through injuries.  If this team gets healthy for the stretch run expect them to pull away.
First Half Grade: B

The Marlins came into the season believing they had made enough improvements to stay in this race. At the beginning of August they appear to have miscalculated.  Jose Fernandez has returned to the team and is showing signs of life but the rest of the staff, especially Mat Latos, had been disappointing before being dealt to the Dodgers. Stanton is again spectacular but injuries have been keeping him out of the lineup.  Dee Gordon is doing a great job of following up last year's break out season but there is little help for him.
First Half Grade: F

The Mets have been a very pleasant surprise.  The offense has very few break out stars.  Curtis Granderson was leading the team in Home Runs for a good part of the year (Lucas Duda has passed him) but his strikeouts are high and the average is low.  Lucas Duda is the same story.  David Wright is on the DL and so was Travis D'Arnaud who has been limited to just 24 games.  Still, the young pitching is showing signs of greatness.  Adding Cespedes to the lineup could be a big help. If they can get some power from Cespedes this team could make some noise in the post season.
First Half Grade: A

Coming into this year I had serious concerns about the Braves roster and when they further dumped players just before Opening Day I had more concerns.  Yet just like last year the Braves have found a way to hang around. The lineup is fairly balanced and they are getting great contributions from A.J. Pierszynski, Juan Uribe, Nick Markakis and especially Cameron Maybin.  Their pitching is not spectacular but it is consistent and winning.  The Braves entered the All Star Break just 5 games out of first but a slide out of the break has dropped them to 9 and a half out (11 out of the Wild Card).  The first half was a pleasant surprise.  The second half has started much less so.
First Half Grade:  C

The Phillies are terrible.  It pains me to say that.  Ben Revere was the only player with any offensive output but unfortunately he was having a quietly good season on a loudly terrible team and was dealt at the trade deadline.  The pitching is terrible.  The hitting is terrible.  The record is terrible.  The organization is still looking three years down the road and the trade deadline is designed to stay on that pace.  One of the few bright spots have been Maikel Franco, although some mental lapses have left him in the dog house with the fans.  Also giving hope for the future is Aaron Nola, the hope for the future ace.
First Half Grade:  F

National League Central
Amazingly, this division actually looks about like we predicted back in February.  Although realistically the Cardinals are much better than anyone expected and the Brewers are significantly worse than expected.  If the Cubs can get some help this division could potentially send three teams to the post season.
The Cardinals always seem to surprise me.  I did pick St. Louis to win this division but the way this team started the season is nothing short of spectacular.  Matt Holliday has been reborn, although his injury could cause some problems.  Jason Heyward is quietly having a great season, although his power numbers are not what they were in Atlanta.  The pitching of Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha has amazed.  The lurking, sneaking fear is the injury bug.  Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Matt Adams, Jordan Walden and Matt Holliday have been bitten already.  Little help was added at the be at the trade deadline to sure up the holes but this team is on course to be the stuff of legends if they keep their first half pace.
First Half Grade:  A+

Andrew McCutcheon got off to a slow start but has since come on strong like he was expected to do the entire year.  Starling Marte, Neil Walker and Francisco Cervelli are contributing.  If they can get Josh Harrison back healthy and Gregory Polanco can get his hitting straightened out, this everyday lineup can be scary.  The addition of a veteran presence in Aramis Ramirez could be a big boost as well.  Gerrit Cole is having a spectacular season and should get some attention for the Cy Young (although Zack Grienke and Max Scherzer seem to be running away with that category).  Some small help at the trade deadline could put this team in a position to charge.  If the Cardinals weren't so damn good this team would be the top contender.
First Half Grade: A

There is a lot of excitement over this team and with good reason.  There is a lot of young talent here and it is starting to show that they are ready to compete.  There was fear last season, when Samardzjia was shipped off,  that the team had given up, but Jake Arrietta has shown that he is the ace of the staff.  If John Lester and Jason Hammell can get some more wins (Hammell has pitched strong but his record does not reflect that) this team could impact October.  A World Series this year is not likely but a wild card birth is and the next few years look bright.
First Half Grade: B+

This is not a bad team.  Todd Frazier is having a spectacular season.  Joey Votto is showing signs of his old self.  Marlon Byrd is contributing.  Billy Hamilton is running wild (although his average is too low and his strikeouts too high for a lead off hitter).  Johnny Cueto pitched better than his record but not like his Cy Young contender form of last year.  Losing Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani to injuries has not helped at all.  This team is suffering from being in the same division with the Cards, Bucs and Cubs.  They are not a playoff team but they certainly have nothing to be ashamed of this season.
First Half Grade: B-

A year ago we were talking about the Brewers as a surprise contender and wondering how far into October they might go.  This year we are looking at a team in disarray.  Jonathan Lucroy had a break out season last year.  This year is average.  The offense is disappointing, the pitching is terrible (it doesn't help to have Garza and Peralta on the DL) and the management fired Ron Roeneckie.  This team is lucky the Phillies and Marlins are as bad as they are.
First Half Grade:  F

National League West
This is a tough division to figure and looks little like I expected.  The Dodgers are honestly better than expected, as were the Diamondbacks for most of the season.  The Padres and Giants are worse than expected.  But just how good are the Dodgers really?:

If we pay attention to patterns we probably should have seen this coming but no one really did.  The real problem is injury.  Pence, Aoki, Cain, Lincecum, Affeldt and Tim Hudson have all been injured.  Losing the bat of Pablo Sandoval didn't help either.  Buster Posey is having another MVP type season and is getting a lot of help from Joe Panik and Brandon Belt.  The health of the pitching staff as the final months unfold will tell how this team finishes.
First Half Grade:  B-

I texted a good friend back in April, just around Opening Day and told him I had a wierd feeling about the Dodgers.  Like there was something just not right, something missing with the roster.  My friend is a very positive person and was surprisingly on the same page.  But the Dodgers kicked off the season in style with a Jimmy Rollins dramatic Home Run on opening day.  They are not running away with the division.  They are not a potentially great team like the Cardinals.  Although they are playing ahead of their immediate competition.  Joc Pederson is making it easier to accept the loss of Matt Kemp and Zack Grienke is having a Sandy Koufax like season.  Now they need Clayton Kershaw to start having a Kershaw like season (a post All Star scoreless inning streak was a great step in the right direction but last year he was dominant).  Brett Anderson is quietly having a strong year and if they can get Hyung Jin Riyu back this team can do some damage in the post season.  Mat Latos is a nice addition to the staff but Cole Hamels certainly would have been more intimidating after Kershaw and Greinke.
First Half Grade: B

People were excited for the Padres this year.  They made big big changes in the offseason adding both Uptons, Matt Kemp, Derrick Norris, Wil Middlebrooks, Wil Myers, Craig Kimbrel and James Shields.  But realistically the team already had a talented and crowded outfield with Max Venable, Seth Smith, Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin.  Add four more outfielders to a competition for three spots and you get the 2015 San Diego Padres.  Making things worse is a very poor season for Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy and an extended disabled list stay for Brandon Morrow.  This team is a huge disappointment.
First Half Grade:  F

Last year the Diamondbacks were the popular pick to surprise.  Two years ago they were predicted to flop but contended to the end.  This year they were expected to fall farther away.  For the third straight year this team is confusing everyone.  Paul Goldschmidt is proving that he is one of the best First Basemen and one of the best young hitters in the game.  The team is still  looking for a true ace and they may not have one on this roster but they are found ways to stay in the race into the second half despite low expectations.  Could this be one of those years that tricks a team into thinking they are closer than they are?  Apparently not.  Just hours before the publication of this article the D'Backs dealt Chad Pennington and Oliver Perez in separate waiver wire trades.
First Half Grade:  B

This team started the year with some great bats in their lineup.  Unfortunately some of them now look great in different uniforms after the trade deadline.  It seems that every year we expect Colorado to break the team up and every year they keep their players.  Tulowitzski is great but his injuries may have driven down the price the team could demand for a fair trade.  The pitching staff is flat out awful.  It is likely only Jorge De La Rosa would be kept on another team.
First Half Grade: F

Post Season Predictions updated for Second Half:
NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Cards:  Pirates, Mets

Updated Playoff Predictions:
Wild Card: Pirates over Mets
NLDS: Pirates over Nationals
NLDS: Cardinals over Dodgers
NLCS: Cardinals over Pirates
(This could be a great NLCS.  As of this posting the teams have split their head to head meetings at 5 each.  The Pirates' loss of A.J. Burnett could be the difference maker as the Pirates have a definite lack of pitching depth).

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals
NL Rookie of the Year: Joc Pederson, Dodgers
NL Cy Young: Zack Grienke, Dodgers

Going back to 2002 the Giants and Cardinals have represented the National League 8 times in the World Series (2002, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014).  During that time period four other National League teams have reached the World Series.  Who are they?

Between 1915 and 2015 the Yankees won 27 World Series titles (1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009)

Second on that list is the St, Louis Cardinals with 11 (1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1982, 2006, 2011)

Following the Cardinals is the New York/San Francisco Giants with 7 despite a gap of over 50 years
 (1921,1922, 1933, 1954, 2010, 2012 and 2014)

Coming in 4th on the list is a three way tie between:
 Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland Athletics (1929, 1930, 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1989),
Boston Red Sox despite a gap of 80 years (1915, 1916, 1918, 2004, 2007 and 2013) and the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1955, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981 and 1988)