Tag Archives: Johnny Cueto

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.

Cincinnati Reds 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 Reds, who aside from a few bright spots, are coming off an injury-plagued, forgettable year. Second-year manager Bryan Price has quite a task on his hands to get these guys back into contention, but if they can stay healthy, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to do it.

Projected Lineup: CF Billy Hamilton, 3B Todd Frazier, 1B Joey Votto, C Devin Mesoraco, RF Jay Bruce, 2B Brandon Phillips, LF Marlon Byrd*, SS Eugenio Suarez*

Projected Rotation: RHP Johnny Cueto, RHP Homer Bailey, RHP Mike Leake, RHP Anthony DeSclafani*, RHP Jason Marquis*

* new additions

The Reds are not a bad team.

Repeat that with me. The Reds are not a bad team. Write it on the chalkboard over and over like Bart Simpson until the message sinks in.

So much went wrong for the Reds last season that you can hardly blame them for the poor finish: Aroldis Chapman took a liner to the face. Joey Votto missed more than half the season. Ryan Ludwick played in Major League Baseball games. All these things normally spell doom for a team, but the Reds actually managed quite well despite their unfortunate circumstances.

In fact, their pitching was nothing short of phenomenal.

Let’s start with Johnny Cueto, who had a pitching season for the ages last year.

First of all, he won 20 games for a sub-.500 team, the first guy to do that since R.A. Dickey in 2012. He also led the National League in hits per nine innings as well as total innings pitched, the first guy to do that since Greg Maddux in 1994. And he did all that while pitching in Cincinnati, in one of the biggest bandbox ballparks in the league!

With Johnny Cueto anchoring the staff, the rest of the guys should fill the 2-5 slots with quality.

Keep an eye on Mike Leake in particular, because I think he’s on the cusp of an All-Star season. He’s been pitching a lot deeper into games, and finished sixth in the NL in total innings pitched last season. If he can continue to improve, he’ll be a solid #2 starter.

Having the best closer in the game doesn’t hurt, either—Aroldis Chapman struck out more than half the batters he faced last year. With him closing out games, and a halfway-decent group of starters, the pitching will always keep the Reds in ball games.

The offense is where they need some work.

Billy Hamilton is kind of a crap shoot. He’s deadly when he gets on base, but more often than not he either strikes out or hits a weak fly ball to the outfield.

And therein lies my big question for Billy Hamilton: If you’re the fastest guy in baseball, why are you hitting fly balls?

Anybody who’s seen Major League will tell you that for fast guys, be they Hamilton or Willie Mays Hayes, it’s better to drop down a grounder and leg out the infield single. But Hamilton must not have seen that movie. His ground ball to fly ball ratio is just 0.73:1, which is well below the Major League average. That means he’s hitting a higher percentage of fly balls than most players in baseball, a pool which includes all the big home run guys—i.e., the players who actually should be hitting fly balls.

If Hamilton makes that slight adjustment at the plate, that alone could get the team’s offense back on track. Todd Frazier, coming off of a breakout year, will benefit by seeing better pitches to hit. Joey Votto and Devin Mesoraco will have more RBI opportunities, and just like that, one cog activates the entire big red machine.

You’ll notice an absence of Zack Cozart in my projected starting lineup. Generally, when a guy is bad enough to be the worst qualifying hitter in baseball by OPS+, management should ask themselves why he’s a qualifying hitter. I expect Cozart to receive much less playing time this year, especially with newcomer Eugenio Suarez in the fold.

The Reds are built to win now. Cueto is an impending free agent, and I don’t see the Reds putting together any type of playoff run unless he’s involved. Depending on how they stand at the trade deadline, look for the Reds to either go all-in and add help, or to cut their losses and trade Cueto.

Projected Finish: 83-79, Third place in NL Central

Cincinnati Reds 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 Reds, who after a quick exit from last year’s playoffs are looking to their “secret weapon” Billy Hamilton to help them go further this year.

Projected Lineup: CF Billy Hamilton, 2B Brandon Phillips, 1B Joey Votto, RF Jay Bruce, LF Ryan Ludwick, SS Zack Cozart, 3B Todd Frazier, C Devin Mesoraco

The only story that will get any media attention in Cincinnati this year is Billy Hamilton, even when Joey Votto embarks on his typical MVP-caliber season that, as usual, will go completely unheralded. To that end, this will be the last mention of Votto in this article.

Touted as the fastest man to step on a baseball field since the great Billy Hamilton, Hamilton didn’t miss a beat when he was called up last September, swiping nearly as many bases (13) as he had at-bats (19).

The only knock on him is his hitting, but let’s be honest—if he were a good hitter, that just wouldn’t be fair.

The question is whether his mediocre hitting clip will be enough to keep him in the lineup. His numbers aren’t projected to be great: last year in Triple-A, he put up only a .308 on-base percentage in 547 plate appearances, and his production may dip further as he faces tougher big league pitching. Competition for the starting center field job exists in the form of Skip Schumaker and Chris Heisey, who will be ready to step in if Hamilton isn’t getting on base enough to make his steals worthwhile.

The Reds could end up facing a major problem atop their batting order if Hamilton struggles. Missing the departed Shin-Soo Choo, they lack a real on-base threat to set the table. The best option to hit second looks to be Brandon Phillips, and we’re all aware of his well-documented issues with on-base percentage.

Pitching-wise, the Reds added no one new this winter, and lost the ever-reliable Bronson Arroyo to free agency. The rotation looks okay to start the season, but with Johnny Cueto, the question never seems to be, “if he gets hurt,” but rather, “when he gets hurt”. And when that happens, the Reds have no real big-league ready prospects to take his place. There’s a thing called a “contingency plan” that the Reds are lacking.

The Reds are starting the season with their bullpen in rough shape as well, with Aroldis Chapman having taken a nasty comebacker to the face, and potential fill-in closers Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall dealing with their own respective injuries. Sure they’ll all be back before too long, but in the early stages of the season, the Reds will be stretched pretty thin.

Rookie manager Bryan Price has quite a task ahead of him if he’s going to lead the Reds to the playoffs. With the cast of characters he’s been handed, a playoff run seems like a long shot.

Projected Finish: 78-84, Third place in NL Central