Tag Archives: Drew Smyly

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.

Tampa Bay Rays 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 Rays, who are ushering in the post-Joe Maddon era with first-year manager Kevin Cash. Maddon was great at a lot of things, but maybe it’ll be a welcome respite for the players to not have to deal with wild animals and Mariachi bands in the clubhouse every other day.

Projected Lineup: LF Desmond Jennings, DH John Jaso*, SS Asdrubal Cabrera*, 3B Evan Longoria, 1B James Loney, RF Steven Souza*, CF Kevin Kiermaier, C Rene Rivera*, 2B Nick Franklin

Projected Rotation: RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Chris Archer, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Drew Smyly, RHP Alex Colomé

* new additions

The Rays said goodbye to a lot of old faces this winter, and lost a bit of their soul in the process.

Joe Maddon, the fearless leader who brought this franchise out of the dark ages: gone. Ben Zobrist, consummate grinder and the most consistently productive Rays player for the past decade: gone.

Who are the Rays without those two guys?

The answer, at least for the immediate future, is not very good.

The offseason flowchart for any small market team starts with the question: Can we compete? If the answer is no, the mission is to get younger. The younger a team can get, the better chance they’ll have at competing a few years down the road.

The Rays’ window closed as soon as they traded David Price away last July. With that setting the rebuild in motion, it was time to clean house. A flurry of trades this winter added substantial depth, though it may not be apparent on the field immediately. Guys like shortstop Daniel Robertson, though you won’t see him in the big leagues this season, are expected to be a big part of the Rays’ future success.

But one guy you will see is Steven Souza, who is already famous for making the diving catch that clinched Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter for the Nationals last season. As a major part of the big three-team trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego, Souza is out to prove he does more than make amazing diving catches (not that the Rays are complaining).

The Rays would gladly take a season like the one Souza enjoyed in Triple-A last year. He won International League MVP as well as Rookie of the Year honors, slashing an outstanding .350/432/.590 with 18 homers and 26 stolen bases. Look for Souza to see a lot of playing time, as he’s one of the guys around whom the Rays will be building.

The Rays’ pitching is in shambles, but only temporarily. Starters Alex Cobb, Alex Colomé and Drew Smyly, as well as closer Jake McGee are all injured to start the season, so the rest of the staff will be stretched very thin.

The good news is that they’re all expected to be back by the end of April, so the Rays will only have to survive a month of digging into the depths of their organization for pitching help.

One guy who will get a few starts in the interim is Nate Karns, one of the organization’s top prospects who until now was expected to be a bullpen arm. But he’s been starting this spring, and has been lights out, posting a 2.03 ERA in four starts. If he can pitch that well in the regular season, I’m not sure if the organization will let him go back to bullpen.

The bullpen appears pretty solid, with Brad Boxberger and newcomer Kevin Jepsen headlining the late innings. Both are dominant right-handers who can keep runs off the board while racking up the K’s.

The righty-heavy corps will be missing injured lefty closer Jake McGee until late April or early May, when he is expected to return to his ninth inning role.

It will be a year of non-contention for the Rays as they take the opportunity to get a good look at their young talent. In a few years, it’ll be up to these guys to usher in a new era of successful Rays teams.

Projected Finish: 70-92, Fifth place in AL East