Monthly Archives: April 2015

Chicago Cubs 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Cubs, whose many years of rebuilding are close to coming to fruition. The signing of free agent Jon Lester to a $155 million contract was their announcement to the world that this is the year they’ll be competing.


Projected Lineup: CF Dexter Fowler*, 2B Arismendy Alcantara, RF Jorge Soler, 1B Anthony Rizzo, SS Starlin Castro, 3B Kris Bryant, C Miguel Montero*, LF Matt Szczur

Projected Rotation: LHP Jon Lester*, RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP Jason Hammel*, RHP Kyle Hendricks, LHP Travis Wood

* new additions

There’s a different feeling in Chicago this year, even before any wins or losses are tallied.

All the stars seem to be aligned to indicate that a new era has begun: A new manager in Joe Maddon, a new ace starter in Jon Lester, and the ever-enduring prophecy on the back of everyone’s mind: The proclamation in Back to the Future, Part II that 2015 will be the year that the Cubs finally win the World Series.

Joe Maddon will be the most important factor in the prophecy being realized. He’s the type of manager the Cubs need right now. He likes to tinker. He won’t bat a struggling Javier Baez in the 2-hole every day. He won’t be afraid to bench Starlin Castro for his mental lapses on defense.

So why shouldn’t this be the Cubs’ year?

Let’s take a look at all the traditional attributes of a World Series-caliber team, and you tell me if the Cubs don’t fit the bill.

Young hitters on the cusp of breakout seasons: check.

If baseball crowned a champion based only on potential, the Cubs would be running away with the title. The Cubs are saturated with young talent, and if even one or two of these guys perform to the level at which they’re capable, that’ll go a long way towards igniting the offense.

Keep in mind that the Cubs have already enjoyed a breakout season from young Anthony Rizzo, who clubbed 32 home runs and finished third in the National League with a .913 OPS last season.

Rizzo is their star hitter, and the rest of the offense is structured around him. This is important, because it means they don’t need to put pressure on the other young guys to carry the offense, but rather to be Rizzo’s supporting cast. Much like the movie Grease, in which Frenchy, Jan and Marty Maraschino were all members of the “Pink Ladies”, but Rizzo was the ringleader who called all the shots.

So from whom can we expect to see a breakout year in 2015? Keep an eye on Jorge Soler, the 23-year-old outfielder from Cuba who enjoyed a short stint with the Cubs last year, but still has his rookie status intact. His power is well chronicled, and while home runs will be a big part of his game, he’s a more dynamic hitter than he gets credit for. He displays patience at the plate, which will be a huge weapon for him once he’s able to harness it fully. Soler reached base at a .383 clip throughout his minor league career, and if he could approach that mark in the majors, it would really help stabilize what has chronically been a very free-swinging lineup.

He also has a cannon for an arm, which has inspired comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero. So just take a second and imagine a 23-year-old Vladdy hitting in the middle of this Cubs lineup. Scared yet?

Kris Bryant is another young hitter who appears ready to terrorize big league pitching. After leading the minor leagues with 43 home runs a year ago, he reported to Major League Spring Training and picked up right where he left off, hitting for an otherworldly 1.652 OPS and easily leading the Cactus League with nine home runs. There is literally nothing else Bryant can do to prove he’s ready for the show.

Bryant will start the year in Triple-A, but the Cubs will likely call him up to the majors within the first month of the season. And once he’s up, he won’t be going back down.

Frontline starters: check.

We know about Jon Lester. But what went slightly under the radar last season was the emergence of Jake Arrieta. A once-prized pitching prospect with the Orioles, he finally figured something out last year, posting a 2.53 ERA with a 0.99 WHIP.

There are reasons to believe his breakout was not a fluke: most notably, he learned to pitch for the ground ball last season. A seemingly simple thing, but you have to realize that a few extra ground balls can drastically reduce the number of homers and extra base hits a pitcher gives up. Arrieta’s home run percentage was a mere 0.8% last year, down from his career rate of 2.5%. Extra base hits? Down to 4.7%, from a career mark of 7.3%.

Arrieta also recently decided he’s Mariano Rivera, and started using the cutter as his primary pitch. This enables him to pitch away from right-handed hitters, further reducing the amount of hard contact against him. The effect of this shows up in his splits: righties managed just a .520 OPS against him last season.

Shutdown bullpen: check.

Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon. None of these guys are household names, but soon this trio will be as well known as the legendary Royals’ troupe of Herrera/Davis/Holland. R-S-R will be the new H-D-H. And who knows—maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get to see the two trios go toe to toe with each other in this year’s World Series.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Cubs certainly could make the playoffs, but it’ll be a trek to get there. The trials of the season can get to a lot of young players, and these kids need to prove they can make it for the long haul.

I’m a believer though.

Projected Finish: 94-68, First place in NL Central, World Series Champions

St. Louis Cardinals 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Cardinals, whose championship drought has now reached critical levels for St. Louis fans, with no new hardware since 2011. With the core of the team still intact, is it time for the Cards to reclaim their spot at the top?


Projected Lineup: 3B Matt Carpenter, RF Jason Heyward*, LF Matt Holliday, 1B Matt Adams, SS Jhonny Peralta, C Yadier Molina, 2B Kolten Wong, CF Jon Jay

Projected Rotation: RHP Adam Wainwright, RHP Lance Lynn, RHP John Lackey, RHP Michael Wacha, RHP Carlos Martinez

* new additions

A lot of people take it for granted that the Cardinals will make the playoffs every year, just because that’s the way the world works. But when you try to take a step back and explain why, it’s harder to pinpoint. It’s sort of like gravity—we all just take for granted that it works, but even some of the most highly-regarded scientists couldn’t for the life of them tell you why or how.

Most people will tell you it has a lot to do with that dude putting down the signs. But here’s the thing about Yadier Molina: while he continues to be the same unstoppable force on defense, his bat is slipping. Last season, he posted his lowest OPS since 2010, showing a significant decline in power. The now 32-year-old Molina will be valuable no matter what, but if the offensive half of his game is gone, the Cards will be hurting for runs.

To remedy their lack of offense, the Cards traded for Jason Heyward, who is more known for his great defense, but can be a source of power as well as an on-base machine. He’ll likely hit in the 2-hole, which was a black hole for the club last season, with hitters posting an anemic .680 OPS from the spot last year.

But the guy to watch in terms of a potential breakout year is Kolten Wong. Initially thought to be a top-of-the-order bat with decent speed, he added another element to his game by finding some power halfway through last season—of the twelve homers he hit, eleven came after July 1. And let’s not forget about the three additional bombs he hit in the playoffs, including the walk-off in the NLCS that showed he’s not the least bit fazed by high-pressure situations.

The bench is pretty stacked, with the most notable aspect being all the outfielders who will be fighting for playing time. The Cards have always been inexplicably insistent on starting Jon Jay, which means worthy candidate Randal Grichuk will be relegated to bench duty. Grichuk is a legit prospect who just finished tearing up the Grapefruit League with a .911 OPS. And yet, thanks to Mike Matheny’s love affair with Jay, Grichuk will probably only see starts against lefties or if someone gets hurt.

And don’t even get me started on Peter Bourjos, who at this rate will only see playing time if a lunar eclipse coincides with a Led Zeppelin reunion concert.

Adam Wainwright is the anchor of the pitching staff, but you wonder when his workload will catch up to him—in the last two seasons, including the playoffs, Wainwright has thrown 519.2 innings! For a 33-year-old in today’s game, that amount of work is not normal. And as great as Waino has been, it’s the workload that will almost certainly be blamed when he inevitably hits that decline.

Michael Wacha appears healthy, but his innings will be closely monitored this year after last season’s shoulder injury. Lance Lynn and John Lackey round out a very consistent top four.

Carlos Martinez will continue to grow as a starter after winning a spot in the rotation with a very good spring. Prior to this year, the organization had kept him in the bullpen due to having too much rotation depth. Now they’re set on letting him develop as a starter, which means he’ll have to be a different pitcher, having to rely on his secondary pitches to get outs rather than his velocity. There may be an adjustment period, but don’t freak out if he has a rough start to the season—the kid’s talent is real.

The bullpen is solid, and the one thing all the relievers have in common is that they all should have been pitching instead of Michael Wacha in Game 5 of last year’s NLCS.

(Sorry. Too soon?)

24-year-old closer Trevor Rosenthal could very well reach “elite” status this year with his electric stuff. He had a slight problem with free passes last year, with a rate of 5.4 walks per nine innings. But he appears to have fixed that issue going into this year, having only walked one batter all spring.

The Cardinals have some extra depth in rookie Marco Gonzales, who will start the year in Triple-A despite a very good spring in which he posted a 1.04 ERA working mostly as a starter. He’ll appear in some capacity on the big league club this year, either as an extra left-handed arm in the bullpen, or as a backup starter in case someone in the rotation goes down.

With an aging core, it’s anyone’s guess as to when the Cardinals will make the jump from baseball royalty to over-the-hill. And with the competition in the NL Central only getting stronger, the fall could come soon for the redbirds.

Projected Finish: 80-82, Fourth place in NL Central

New York Yankees 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Yankees, whose tradition of excellence has fallen short in recent years, the team not having made the playoffs since 2012. With Derek Jeter, the last remnant from their dynastic run of championships, now gone, it’s time for new faces to usher in the next era of Yankee greatness.


Projected Lineup: CF Jacoby Ellsbury, LF Brett Gardner, RF Carlos Beltran, 1B Mark Teixeira, C Brian McCann, 3B Chase Headley, DH Alex Rodriguez, SS Didi Gregorius*, 2B Stephen Drew

Projected Rotation: RHP Masahiro Tanaka, RHP Michael Pineda, LHP CC Sabathia, LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Nathan Eovaldi*

* new additions

The only storyline anyone will be focused on this season for the Yankees is the A-Rod parade, which is a shame.

No matter your stance on his alleged wrongdoings, the one fact upon which everybody can agree is that his impact on this year’s Yankees will be essentially “meh”. If the Yankees contend this year, it won’t be because of him.

So, shouldn’t we shift our focus to some of the brighter spots on the team?

Here’s the thing about the Yankees: They were actually quite good last season. They finished just five games out of a playoff spot. They’ll be even better now that they’re not running Derek Jeter out at shortstop every day. That fact alone makes them a 90-win team.

But let’s go deeper.

Masahiro Tanaka may be a ticking time bomb. There isn’t a Yankees fan in the world who won’t be on edge every time he as much as blinks in a weird way. But the Yankees believe that he is the key to contending this season. Otherwise, they would’ve gone through with the surgery and been done with it.

This spring, Tanaka has appeared nothing short of excellent, making the Yankees’ gamble look like the right move. In four starts, Tanaka put up a 0.96 WHIP, with 13 strikeouts to just one walk allowed. It’s unclear as to whether manager Joe Girardi will restrict Tanaka’s innings at all this season, but he is reported to be on a pitch count for the season opener.

Don’t read too much into that, though—Girardi is likely just building Tanaka’s strength up slowly, so that within a few weeks or so, he can be unleashed at full force.

The Yankees are also looking forward to seeing a full season from Michael Pineda. Pineda is reportedly healthy and keeping the pine tar under his hat these days, so there should be nothing of concern this season that would keep him from the baseball field.

Another guy in the rotation who may be on the cusp of a breakout year is newcomer Nate Eovaldi. Don’t underestimate him just because he’s never had a season ERA under 4, or a WHIP under 1.30. A big thing that came around for Eovaldi last year were his walks. He allowed a career-low 1.9 walks per nine innings, down from a previous career mark of 3.7.

Both Pineda and Eovaldi have also had very good spring showings, and appear primed to hit the ground strong in April.

In the bullpen, the Yankees plan to continue using the giant they keep chained in the basement to pitch in games, but this season, it’ll be in the ninth inning. Yes, the 6’8” Dellin Betances will be taking over the closer role left vacant by the departed David Robertson.

What makes Betances scary isn’t his imposing frame, nor his video game numbers that last year included a 1.40 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP. No, what makes his scary is how many innings he can pitch. The 90 innings he logged in 2014 led all full-time relievers, and the fact that he only did it in 70 games means that he frequently threw more than one inning. Which makes sense, really—a man who is 30% larger than most humans should be able to throw about 30% more. But what a weapon he’ll be for the Yankees and Joe Girardi, who will have the freedom to call for his closer in the eighth inning if he so chooses.

The rest of the rebuilt bullpen includes new set-up man Andrew Miller, who probably won’t be quite as good as his numbers from last year, but only because he doesn’t get to face the Yankees any more, whom he absolutely owned. Rumor has it they only signed him so they wouldn’t have to face him.

The position players will still make the team look like an Old-Timers’ Game, with Didi Gregorius the only starter under 30. However, a few of the old guys still know how to ball.

Brett Gardner had a transitional year in 2014, in which he came to terms with his game not being based entirely on speed any more. But that’s okay—Gardner put on some muscle and started hitting for power, which became more apparent in the second half of the season. After July 1, Gardner hit 10 of his 17 homers on the year, and stole only six bases. Expect his power surge to continue into this season.

Third baseman Chase Headley has also looked like a new player ever since he put on pinstripes. His power has awoken, and his on-base percentage of .371 is in line with his career best. Maybe it’s the hitter-friendly ballpark, or just the change of scenery, but Headley should once again be considered one of the better switch-hitters in the game. And if a guy like Carlos Beltran can’t pull his weight, Headley could be moved up into the heart of the Yankees’ batting order.

The Yankees’ pitching is their main strength, but don’t count out their offense. If a few hitters can get on a roll, it’ll go a long way towards propelling the Yankees into October.

Projected Finish: 91-71, First place in AL East

Baltimore Orioles 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Orioles, whose 2014 playoff run was cut short by a four-game sweep at the hands of the Royals. You know they’re itching to get back and right the ship. But with the pieces they’ve lost, do they have the firepower to do it?


Projected Lineup: LF Alejandro De Aza, 3B Manny Machado, CF Adam Jones, 1B Chris Davis, DH Steve Pearce, RF Travis Snider*, SS J.J. Hardy, C Matt Wieters, 2B Jonathan Schoop

Projected Rotation: RHP Chris Tillman, LHP Wei-Yin Chen, RHP Kevin Gausman, RHP Bud Norris, RHP Miguel Gonzalez

* new additions

There aren’t many believers in the Orioles this year, mostly because their offense has lost considerable thump. You’re probably proclaiming that with the hole left by the departed Nelson Cruz, last year’s MLB home run leader, there’s no way the team can make up that lost production.

I’ve got some news for you: home runs don’t win ballgames.

Especially when they come from a guy who strikes out 140 times a year and gives back half the runs he drives in when he plays the outfield.

Yes, home runs are sexy, but Cruz was not that valuable. In terms of overall WAR, teammate Steve Pearce (6.0) was more than a full win more valuable than Cruz (4.7), despite playing in 57 fewer games.

In fact, Pearce is the guy who will benefit most from Cruz not lumbering around in left field any more, because now Pearce will be guaranteed a spot in the lineup every day.

Not that the amazing year he had last season shouldn’t have already warranted the playing time. When Pearce became an everyday player on May 1, the Orioles were 12-12. From that point on, they went 84-54 and coasted into the playoffs. Tell me he’s not the team MVP.

It may look like the O’s didn’t engage in any major signings this offseason, which is true. But that’s only because they’re getting Matt Wieters and Manny Machado back from season-long injuries, and that alone is like a winter of splurging in free agency.

Wieters is critical to the team’s success. He was in the midst of a breakout season last year before his elbow blew out. He’s a guy who can mash 25 homers a year on offense while gunning down 25 runners a year on defense. There’s no way the Orioles can even dream of contending without him behind the dish.

You may worry about Machado’s newfound label as being “injury prone”, but he may be stronger than ever this season. Just remember that he’s now got two brand new knees to play on, which basically makes him an android. He’ll be fielding grounders and hitting gap shot doubles with robotic agility and grace. So don’t be surprised when he becomes one of the more consistent hitters in baseball this year, because if there’s one thing robots are good at, it’s being consistent.

The Orioles’ starting rotation is the same group who led the team into last year’s playoffs with a 2.88 ERA after the All-Star Break. The fact that they don’t have a true ace isn’t a crutch, and has become more of a calling card for the staff. That any of the five starters can go out and win a ball game at any time is something these guys thrive on.

Chris Tillman is the workhorse, and with over 200 innings in each of the past two seasons, he’s a guy they count on to go deep into games. His numbers may not be the flashiest, but he does his job. The Orioles won 24 of Tillman’s 34 starts in 2014, which shows his proficiency in keeping the score close and the damage to a minimum.

They’ll also be excited to see what Kevin Gausman can give them for a full season, and there’s even the chance that 22-year-old phenom Dylan Bundy gets called up to the majors at some point this year.

What remains to be seen is the role Ubaldo Jimenez will play this season. The Orioles have him under contract for three more years, so they have to do something with him, but there doesn’t seem to be an available spot in the rotation.

The main reason Jimenez has been so terrible in recent years is his velocity. His fastball has dropped from an average of 96.1 mph five years ago to just 90.5 mph last year. That drop makes me wonder whether the best spot for him might actually be the bullpen.

And to be honest, the bullpen could use his help. With Andrew Miller gone, the O’s have lost one of their major late-inning arms. This means that guys like Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter will be counted on more late in games, which opens up a spot in middle relief for my boy Ubaldo! And call me crazy, but I think if he threw as hard as he could for just one inning, he could get some people out.

There’s even a precedent right in the O’s bullpen: Matusz was a failed starter who averaged 88 mph on his fastball in 2011. The O’s moved him to the ‘pen, and his velocity jumped to 91 the next year, resurrecting his career. It’s not crazy to think the same thing could happen with Jimenez.

You can never count out the Orioles. Their defense, timely hitting, and Buck Showalter’s managing pretty much guarantee that they’ll be in the hunt. But I think regression back to the mean will stop them short of a playoff run this year.

Projected Finish: 85-77, Third place in AL East