Tag Archives: Cole Hamels

2016 Season Preview: Division Winners

Ah, Spring. There’s something special in the air this time of year. It’s that deceivingly warm April sunshine—pleasant for now, but you know better than to not pack a jacket. It’s the freshly-mowed grass that just smells like hope. Hope for a new baseball season, a fresh start, and for the 29 teams that aren’t defending World Series champions, hope that maybe, just maybe, this could be the year.

But the most beautiful thing about this time of year are the picks. It’s preseason prediction week, and this is when the claws come out. Everyone’s got an opinion about which teams will over- or under-perform this year, and thanks to the wonder of the internet, we get to read every last one of them.

As you read about the teams which I expect to excel in 2016, please note that my picks are probably wrong—just like yours, as well as the rest of the predictions out there. Let’s face it: no one can ever predict this sport. An unexpected contender will emerge from obscurity and make the playoffs. Expected 100-win teams will plummet, and start eyeing next year’s early draft picks. The real beauty is in the unknown, and that’s why we watch.

National League Wildcard: Diamondbacks over Cardinals

The Diamondbacks are the tailgating drivers in the rearview mirrors of the usual NL West contenders—obnoxious, and closer than they appear.

A somewhat under-the-radar breakout season by A.J. Pollock last year should’ve removed any doubts about these guys being for real, as he and perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt look to terrorize the league all the way to a playoff spot. New additions Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller give them a very formidable rotation—don’t be surprised if the D’backs hang around for a while this Postseason.

The Cardinals find a way every year. They’ll withstand the departures of Jason Heyward and John Lackey with the help of a new infusion of youth—Kolten Wong, Carlos Martínez and Randal Grichuk are now the core of this team, and will be for several years to come.

With the veteran guidance of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, count on the Redbirds to be around come October, but they’ll need some luck if they want to advance.

American League Wildcard: Rays over Royals

The Rays finished a distant fourth in the AL East last year, but in a division that is pretty much up for grabs, they have a good shot.

They’re built on the defensive wizardry of Kevin Kiermaier, and a very strong pitching staff whose 3.74 ERA ranked fourth in the AL last year. Keep an eye out for the long-awaited return of pitcher Matt Moore, and a potential breakout season for fellow lefty Drew “seriously, that’s all we got for David Price?” Smyly, who since joining the Rays in Mid-2014 has quietly posted a sub-1.00 WHIP in 114.1 innings.

The defending champion Royals will be tough to oust in the Postseason, but I’ll take Rays ace Chris Archer any day in a winner-take-all Wildcard match.

National League Division Series: Nationals over Diamondbacks

There’s no reason to think the Nationals, who were NL East favorites across the board a year ago, should be any less so in 2016.

When ace Max Scherzer is on his game, he’s the most unhittable pitcher in baseball. Anthony Rendon will be looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2015, and his .412 spring batting average is an indication that he’s planning on starting the new season strong.

New manager Dusty Baker is a proven winner in October, and he should be able to guide his new club to a first-round Postseason series victory.

National League Division Series: Giants over Cubs

The Giants’ mix of established veterans, boosted by the signing of free agent pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, will make them a very well-balanced team.

People know about Buster Posey, but the real MVP of this ball club might be Joe Panik. With only 42 strikeouts last season, his ability to put the ball in play is the key to the Giants’ offense.

The Cubs put the nation on notice last year that these kids are truly ready for the big stage, with an NLCS appearance that capped a very successful season. Despite the playoff run being cut short, that experience will only make them more of a force.

Expect Kris Bryant to build on his Rookie of the Year campaign, and for Jake Arrieta to silence the critics by showing that last year’s Cy Young season was no fluke.

The Giants are the favorites in this series, because the Cubs’ youth has been shown to be volatile in the Postseason. But a Bumgarner/Arrieta matchup in Game 1 will be one for the ages.

American League Division Series: Indians over Rays

The Indians finished 2015 just a game above .500, but that doesn’t tell the whole story: they ended the season on a 32-21 run, much of which was keyed by the performance of rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor, who was called up midseason. Now, with Lindor leading the charge, the Indians are one of the strongest teams in the league, both offensively and defensively. Jason Kipnis, who also started to find his groove in the middle of last season, will also be a major contributor, along with Michael Brantley, who will be on the Disabled List to start the season, but should return in early May.

On the pitching side, don’t count out Carlos Carrasco for Cy Young consideration, whose 10.6 K/9 last year ranked third in the American League.

This will be an excellent series if you like good defense, but the Indians are just a bit more of a well-rounded ball club.

American League Division Series: Rangers over Yankees

The Rangers won the AL West last year thanks in part to the midseason acquisition of Cole Hamels, who solidified the rotation, the main weak spot of the team. Now he’s back for another year, and Yu Darvish, who should still be considered one of the best strikeout pitchers in the game, will rejoin the rotation this summer.

If their offense, which was never a problem, can hold up, the Rangers will have a very formidable Postseason squad.

The Yankees squeezed a lot of value out of aging veterans last year, and you have to wonder how much they realistically have left.

But what they’re expected to lose from the old guys, they’ll make up for with young talent. 22-year-old Luis Severino will be one of the kids on whom the Yankees pin their playoff hopes. 27-year-old Michael Pineda should be hitting his prime years, and, one would hope, his full potential. And maybe, just maybe, a change of scenery is all Starlin Castro (still just 26!) needed to regain his All-Star form.

National League Championship Series: Giants over Nationals

The Giants get to face their old manager, and the Nats get to face their old center fielder. I foresee a well-fought series in a rematch of the 2014 NLDS, but the Giants have been here before, and will prevail.

American League Championship Series: Indians over Rangers

The Indians have the edge in terms of pitching and defense, which is what wins in October.

World Series: Indians over Giants

A rematch of the 1954 Series, which the Indians are probably still sore about losing?

Juan Uribe trying to win his third ring with as many different teams?

Carlos Santana playing the National Anthem AND playing in the game? (Okay, it’s two different guys, but still)

This series will have it all, and will probably go the full seven games. I’m giving it to the Indians, who deserve to see an end to that nagging championship drought.

My only question is whether they’ll bring back Coach Lou Brown for an on-field ceremony—or hell, even let him manage the series. It’s what the world needs.

Philadelphia Phillies 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 Phillies, who are suffering from the worst of playoff hangovers—the kind that you still feel seven years after winning, as a result of overpaying all the aging stars that got you there.

Projected Lineup: CF Ben Revere, C Carlos Ruiz, 2B Chase Utley, 1B Ryan Howard, LF Domonic Brown, RF Grady Sizemore, 3B Cody Asche, SS Freddy Galvis

Projected Rotation: LHP Cole Hamels, LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Aaron Harang*, RHP David Buchanan, RHP Jerome Williams

* new additions

The Phillies are stuck in the past, like that one guy we all went to college with, who never put away his record player and forced us to listen to that James Gang album every time we came over, claiming it to be “the best thing you’ve ever heard, man”.

The Phillies are convinced it is still 2008, which is why in addition to fielding the same aging team every year, they’ve also added Grady Sizemore, whom they think they got for a huge bargain because he’s still the player he was seven years ago. It’s this blatant disregard for the human aging process that continues to be the club’s downfall.

This is no more apparent than in the starting lineup, where Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are still penciled in as the heavy hitters. In reality, they each posted career lows in OPS last year, with Howard in particular dropping to below replacement level. Howard’s WAR last season was a negative 1.1, meaning that a hypothetical minor league player playing in Howard’s spot for the entire year could’ve won the Phillies about 1.1 more games.

Another thing costing the Phillies is their strange penchant for left-handed hitters. Almost literally their entire starting lineup bats left-handed. It’s so extreme that it’s more of a disadvantage than anything, because all opposing teams need to do is to schedule their big lefty starters to pitch when the Phils come to town. It’s almost too easy.

Darin Ruf might be the one saving grace the Phillies have, because although he’ll never hit well enough overall to be an everyday player, he did manage a .916 OPS against lefties last season.

For more right-handed help, the team might look to Maikel Franco, one of the club’s top prospects. A third baseman with power, he is ultimately in line to replace the utterly disappointing Cody Asche, who I’m sure is a great guy, but never does much in the way of offense at a position where offense is expected.

In the rotation, Cole Hamels is the one holdover from the ’08 team still worth watching. Partly because he’s still only 31 years old, but also because he still seems to be maturing as a pitcher. Last season he posted a career-low 2.46 ERA and surprisingly, a career high fastball velocity of 92.3 MPH. It’s strange, but it’s almost as if he’s getting stronger, maybe due to the lack of wear from not pitching in October.

Cliff Lee is the biggest question mark on the team. The main question is whether he’ll be able to pitch at all, after the torn tendon in his elbow refused to heal over the winter. If he pitches, it’ll be through pain, so if you’re wondering how effective he’ll be this season, you can bet there aren’t many optimistic projections out there.

The rest of the rotation is made up of stopgap guys like Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams, the type of pitchers you sign when you know you’re going to be bad, but you still need to field a team, so you offer up one-year contracts to whomever bites. This group also includes Chad Billingsley, fresh off of Tommy John surgery and a dark horse candidate to have a good comeback season.

If I had to pinpoint one bright spot on the team, it would be the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon remains one of the premier closers in the game, and holds down the ninth inning. But the real rising star is a guy you’ve never heard of: Ken Giles. He’s coming off a rookie campaign in which he posted some otherworldly numbers, including a 1.18 ERA and 0.79 WHIP. He now owns the set-up role for the Phillies, effectively shortening the game while allowing the Phils to mix and match more with spot relievers in the earlier innings.

Two things are certain in life: taxes, and great ballplayers eventually succumbing to old age. The Phillies have fallen victim to the latter, and actually the former as well, with the exorbitant amounts of money they’re paying to their over-the-hill stars. Eventually the cycle starts over, and the Phillies will be on the winning side again, infused with young talent. But that’s a story for another day.

Projected Finish: 65-97, Fifth place in NL East

Philadelphia Phillies 2014 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in the National League. 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 Phillies, a team full of championship holdovers on whom aging has begun to take its toll.

Projected Lineup: CF Ben Revere, SS Jimmy Rollins, 2B Chase Utley, 1B Ryan Howard, RF Marlon Byrd, LF Domonic Brown, C Carlos Ruiz, 3B Cody Asche

The Phillies’ front office are some shrewd businessmen.

Last year, where other teams might have spent a lot of money on organizing a five-year World Series team reunion, the Phillies didn’t need one because EVERYONE IS STILL ON THE TEAM.

“You guys just hang out with each other in the clubhouse,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. probably said. “I’ll put on my Chris Brown CD, it’ll feel just like 2008.”

In all seriousness though, it’s time for some new faces in Phillie land. Ryan Howard is coming off of two disappointing, injury-plagued seasons, and if he doesn’t turn things around soon, the Phillies will have to do something drastic. Something like relegating MLB’s highest-paid player* to a platoon role.

Forcing the issue is the young Darin Ruf, who posted an .806 OPS last year (Howard’s was .784 in roughly the same number of plate appearances). He wields a big-time power bat that could be deadly if he learns a little more patience.

The rotation has potential to be pretty good, but that word—”potential”—is usually indicative that a lot of things need to go right. For instance, A.J. Burnett needs to be as good as he was for the Pirates last year. Cole Hamels needs to bounce back strong from his tendinitis. Roberto Hernandez needs to pitch a little less like Roberto Hernandez, and a little more like Fausto Carmona. Everything coming together in such a way seems like a long shot.

There is one pitcher I’m excited about, but he isn’t a starter—it’s young reliever Ethan Martin. The Phils moved him into the bullpen after one too many blowouts in games he started last season—and he was lights out, with opponents batting just .185 against him as a reliever. He also struck out more than a batter an inning, and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t made the closer by midseason.

And that’s not necessarily to say that Jonathan Papelbon’s days are numbered. But let’s be honest, his “death stare” just isn’t intimidating anymore. It’s like watching a scary movie that you’ve seen a hundred times already.

It will be a tough road if manager Ryne Sandberg wants to avoid a disappointing season. The poor guy—if he wanted to lose, he could have stayed with the Cubs.

*Howard is actually tied for highest MLB salary in 2014 with teammate Cliff Lee. Chalk up another victory for the Phillies’ front office.

Projected Finish: 70-92, Fourth place in NL East