Tag Archives: Max Scherzer

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.

Washington Nationals 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 Nationals, who after a couple early October exits have left their fans itching for a deeper playoff run. And after signing the biggest free agency prize of the winter, there seems to be little that can stop them from achieving that goal.

Projected Lineup: CF Denard Span, 3B Anthony Rendon, RF Bryce Harper, LF Jayson Werth, 1B Ryan Zimmerman, SS Ian Desmond, C Wilson Ramos, 2B Yunel Escobar*

Projected Rotation: RHP Stephen Strasburg, RHP Jordan Zimmermann, RHP Max Scherzer*, LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Doug Fister

* new additions

September 28: Jordan Zimmermann throws no-hitter, Nats finish season with best record in the National League.

October 4: Manager Matt Williams pulls Zimmermann with two outs in the ninth inning of a 1-0 game. Regrets decision for the rest of his life.

That pretty much sums up last season for the Nats. They spent six long months proving themselves, only to have it all crumble away in an instant. Now the only thing for which they’ll be remembered is that unfortunate early exit in October.

It’s crazy, but that’s how this game works—you can be the best all year long, but if you can’t perform when it matters most, you lose any credibility you might have had.

And what do you do when you’re feeling insecure about your cred? Spend money on things you don’t need!

Like $210 million for new starter Max Scherzer, who will slot into the rotation right behind aces Stephen Strasburg and Zimmermann, and make hitters around the league feign all types of injuries this year when they see that upcoming three-game series in Washington.

Strasburg is finally blossoming into the superstar the Nats were hoping for when they drafted him first overall six years ago. He’s a more complete pitcher now—and the stat that supports this fact is his walk rate. Prior to 2014, he averaged 2.5 walks per nine innings. Not bad, and a few control problems are expected when you come into the big leagues throwing 99 miles per hour. But last season, his walk rate improved to just 1.8 per nine innings. A huge jump, and one that shows he’s hitting his spots better than ever.

But we shouldn’t dwell for so long on Strasburg without mentioning Zimmermann, who is probably the real ace of this staff.

Strasburg has the higher strikeout totals, but Zimmermann’s numbers are better in just about every other category. Think of Zim as the quiet assassin who sneaks up and kills you while you’re entranced by Strasburg’s flashy arsenal of pitches.

And Scherzer? He can be Mr. Pink, since he sort of looks like Steve Buscemi.

The lineup might be just about as deep as the rotation.

The big thing to remember when it comes to the Nats’ offense is Bryce Harper is still only 22 years old. He isn’t a great player yet, nor will he be the Nats’ best hitter this year. Give him time to mature, and he’ll get there.

The title of “best hitter on the team” actually belongs to Anthony Rendon. To say that the former top prospect figured out how to hit major league pitching last year would be an understatement. He figured out how to make major league pitching his bitch. Take a look at his spray chart and note that he can pretty much put the ball wherever he wants to on a baseball field. And that’s a scary proposition.

And let’s not forget about Jayson Werth, who in an added twist also spent some time in jail this offseason. If you’re wondering whether the prison time fazed him, I doubt it. Werth may be the only guy in baseball who could go to a prison and actually fit in.

What will happen is he’ll probably see his respect rise around the league. If I were a pitcher, I wouldn’t want to hit him with a pitch ever again, for fear that retaliation might involve an encounter with his “friends from the inside”.

Between a hardened Werth, a fast-rising Rendon and an elite pitching rotation, the Nats have a crew that can hang with any team in the National League.

The only question will be whether Williams can pull the right strings in October.

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

Detroit Tigers 2014 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 Tigers, who are looking to improve their luck in the postseason, after three straight unsuccessful Octobers. There are high hopes that a healthy Miguel Cabrera can lead the charge this year, and bring that long-awaited championship to Detroit.

Projected Lineup: 2B Ian Kinsler, RF Torii Hunter, 1B Miguel Cabrera, DH Victor Martinez, CF Austin Jackson, C Alex Avila, 3B Nick Castellanos, LF Don Kelly, SS Andrew Romine

Many well-respected baseball blogs out there have the Tigers as a shoo-in to win the AL Central.

Then there’s my blog, where respect went out the window a long time ago.

The Tigers are far from a sure thing. Let me remind you that they only won the division by one game last year. They’ll be hard-pressed to repeat that performance after losing Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante, Doug Fister and Joaquin Benoit. That’s a fifth of the team. That’s like asking Guns N’ Roses to play “Sweet Child O’ Mine” without Slash.

But it’s not all bad news. Just as Guns N’ Roses attempted to replace Slash with that Buckethead guy (who you can’t deny was pretty awesome for a while), the Tigers added some new guys too. Most notably, they brought Ian Kinsler over from the Rangers.

Kinsler has an important thing working for him: he’s angry. He recently went on record calling Texas GM Jon Daniels a “sleazeball” and basically a big poophead for trading away a franchise player who was an integral part of two pennant-winning squads. That anger will lead to a strong drive to outperform his former team, so look for Kinsler to push hard for a championship this year, something Texas never got to enjoy.

The Tigers also added Joe Nathan, who is now 39 years old, but seems to have plenty left in the tank: last year, his 1.39 ERA and 0.897 WHIP were among the best in baseball. And now he’s back in the AL Central, in the freezing cold of Detroit every night, conditions where he seems to thrive (If you’re curious, Nathan has a career 1.52 ERA at Comerica Park).

My main concern is the Tigers’ offense. With the departed Fielder no longer holding the lineup together, there is a sharp decline in production after the first four hitters. The five hole looks to be occupied by either Torii Hunter or Austin Jackson, neither of whom are viewed as especially intimidating power threats. And from there, it gets worse: Alex Avila put up career lows in nearly every offensive category last season, and then you’ve got rookie Nick Castellanos, a Rajai Davis/Don Kelly platoon, and fringe major leaguer Andrew Romine. Not quite Murderer’s Row.

With Victor Martinez and Max Scherzer each in contract years, the fuse is short for the Tigers as they are currently configured. We could easily see the Tigers’ front office making a big push around midseason, acquiring a few big names in an effort to help the cause. Because there’s no holding back this year in Detroit—after three straight years of postseason runs which were cut short, it’s championship or bust.

Projected Finish: 87-75, Second place in AL Central