Tag Archives: Jeff Samardzija

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.

Chicago White Sox 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 White Sox, who with a barrage of offseason moves have risen from the basement of the AL Central into the thick of the playoff discussion. There are no secrets here: the Sox are going for it.

Projected Lineup: CF Adam Eaton, LF Melky Cabrera*, 1B Jose Abreu, DH Adam LaRoche*, RF Avisail Garcia, 3B Conor Gillaspie, SS Alexei Ramirez, C Tyler Flowers, 2B Micah Johnson

Projected Rotation: LHP Chris Sale, RHP Jeff Samardzija*, LHP Jose Quintana, LHP John Danks, RHP Hector Noesi

* new additions

The White Sox had an exciting offseason, having landed more free agents than you probably were aware of. Now they’re the answer for every time the casual fan in the cubicle next to you asks, “Oh yeah I heard that guy was a free agent, where did he end up?”

It started with a big splash, when the White Sox traded for Jeff Samardzija. This move alone vaulted them into the discussion as serious contenders, and with this newfound respectability, free agents started flocking to Chicago. In quick succession, the Sox signed journeyman reliever Zach Duke, designated hitter Adam LaRoche, outfielder Melky Cabrera, new closer David Robertson, and even old fan favorite Gordon Beckham.

The most intriguing signing out of that group might be Zach Duke. Playing last year in Milwaukee, he made a strong bid for Comeback Player of the Year as he posted a 2.45 ERA to go along with a ridiculous 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. The White Sox were so impressed with the reliever’s dominance that they inked him to a three-year deal, and he figures to be a major part of Chicago’s drastically revamped bullpen.

The new offensive pieces help fill a need that became apparent last season: finding protection in the lineup for Jose Abreu. Abreu was intentionally walked 15 times last season, the fifth-most in baseball. It may not seem like a lot, but that number is only expected to increase, especially now that the rest of the league knows that he’s the greatest hitter on the planet. This year, he’ll be sandwiched between Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche in the lineup, making it a lot riskier for opposing pitchers to hand out free bases.

And let’s not understate the offensive threat that is Melky Cabrera. Last season, the White Sox got almost no production from their 2-hole hitters, who hit for just a .237/.279/.355 slash line. This year, the Melk-man will change that. He’s generally always good for a .300 average, a fair amount of walks, and between 15-20 homers. If he performs up to expectations, it will mean many more opportunities for Abreu to bat with multiple runners on base, something that happened in only 79 plate appearances last season. If you’re keeping score at home, that will mean a lot more three-run dingers for Abreu, and therefore a lot more reasons to be excited if you’re a Sox fan.

Another guy the Sox are excited to have is Adam Eaton, whose picture shows up on Wikipedia when you look up “scrappy”.

Although Eaton hit .300 last season and became a fixture in the leadoff spot, he hasn’t fully broken out yet. Being a real stolen base threat was something that eluded him, because even though he did steal 15 bags on the year, he got caught or picked off far too often to be effective. Stealing came naturally for him in the minors, where he stole as many as 44 bases in a single season. Expect him to figure it out sometime this year and to add that trick to his arsenal.

In the rotation, Chris Sale is a straight up beast. He led the American League with a 178 ERA+ last season, and held opponents to just a .205 batting average. And guess what? Today is his 26th birthday. Twenty-six! Chris Sale is younger than last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, Jacob deGrom. That means there’s a very real chance that he’s still getting better, which is a scary proposition.

Sale is backed up by Samardzija and Jose Quintana, one of the most underrated pitchers in the league. Here’s how Quintana ranked among American League qualifying pitchers in the following stats: ERA, 13th. Opponents’ OPS: 12th. FIP, 8th. Forget the label of #3 starter, Quintana is a guy who could be an ace on most other teams.

The only concern in the rotation is with fifth starter Hector Noesi, the main problem being that he owns a career 5.16 ERA. If Noesi is allowed to start as many games as he did last year (27), and he performs to his usual level (poorly), that could be the difference between the Sox making or missing the playoffs. The Sox aren’t going to want to take that risk, especially when they have a killer arm waiting in the minors…

Carlos Rodon is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He’s had a great showing in spring training, in which he has shown that he can handle real big league hitters, with an ERA of 3.65 through four starts, and a ridiculous 19 strikeouts in 12.1 innings. If the Sox want to win this year, they’ll bring Rodon up sooner rather than later.

Yes, “win this year” seems to be the plan. With all the chips they pushed in for 2015, it’d be foolish for the team not to use every tool at their disposal. And watch out, because I wouldn’t put it past them to make a splash at the trade deadline too, as they continue to do whatever they can to make that playoff dream a reality.

Projected Finish: 88-74, First place in AL Central