Tag Archives: Shelby Miller

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.

Atlanta Braves 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 Braves, a team that appears much different since new general manager John Hart took control and started chipping away at the roster. Fans are up in arms about the rebuilding, but come on guys. It’s not like you were on the verge of winning the World Series.

Projected Lineup: RF Nick Markakis*, CF Melvin Upton, 1B Freddie Freeman, LF Jonny Gomes*, 3B Chris Johnson, SS Andrelton Simmons, 2B Jace Peterson*, C Christian Bethancourt

Projected Rotation: RHP Julio Teheran, LHP Mike Minor, RHP Shelby Miller*, LHP Alex Wood, RHP Mike Foltynewicz*

* new additions

It’s obvious the Braves have done some dismantling.

Let’s just quickly list all the players the Braves lost from last year’s team, so we can establish the quite sizable hole into which they’ve dug themselves: Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Aaron Harang, Ervin Santana, Jordan Walden, Anthony Varvaro, Gavin Floyd, David Hale, Chasen Shreve, Cory Gearrin, David Carpenter, Tommy La Stella, Emilio Bonifacio, Gerald Laird, Ryan Doumit and Gus Schlosser. And that’s not to mention Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, who didn’t play last year, but are both also now very much gone.

Now let’s turn our attention to the batch of players the Braves added this winter, which can best be described as “pretty much just Shelby Miller”.

Are you starting to see the problem?

OK, truth be told, the Braves added a few decent players. It’s just that a lot of them are under-the-radar, most are rookies, and a few of them are probably made up (I still refuse to believe there’s actually a pitcher named Josh Outman).

In right field, they replaced one Gold Glove winner for another, bringing in Nick Markakis to cover the area Jason Heyward once roamed. Markakis doesn’t have Hayward’s range, but has the arm to make up for it. He’ll be good for 10-15 homers and a solid on-base presence atop the batting order.

Zoilo Almonte will start the season as the centerfielder with Melvin Upton hurt, but I expect Almonte to see regular playing time at all three outfield spots throughout the season. He’s got some power, and spent the winter playing in the Dominican League, where he really seemed to find his stroke.

By the way, he’s only the second-greatest Zoilo to ever step on a baseball field, behind the best MVP winner you’ve never heard of.

Manny Bañuelos is another name to keep an eye on. A once-top prospect with the Yankees who returned from Tommy John surgery last year, he suffered from a slow start upon his return. The Braves bought low on him, and are hoping for the 23-year-old to reclaim his old glory. His good strikeout numbers indicate that his potential is still there, and he should be able to contribute out of the bullpen for the big league club.

And if we’re talking about new additions, we have to mention new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. While his efforts only happen behind the scenes, the acclaimed hitting coach has successfully helped to jump-start offenses like those of the Blue Jays and Royals. The Braves, ranked 29th in MLB in runs scored last season, are badly in need of a boost, and Seitzer could be the answer.

Julio Teheran anchors the pitching staff, who at age 24 has become one of the premier pitchers in the National League. Shelby Miller, also just 24 years old, is viewed by some as a prospect who didn’t quite pan out as people had hoped. I believe his breakout year is still ahead of him. Maybe it’ll happen this season, maybe not. But at the very least, Miller should consider it a success if he reaches the 200 inning benchmark, something he has yet to achieve in the majors.

The bullpen is an interesting bunch of over-the-hill ex-closers. In fact, current members of the Braves bullpen combined for 154 saves just two years ago. The problem: it is no longer two years ago.

Jim Johnson has since completely imploded, and he’ll serve as the big reclamation project for Atlanta this year. Jose Veras isn’t much better. Jason Grilli, now 38, is slated for a set-up role, but it remains to be seen whether he can hold up for another year. Grilli does have ties to the Braves, however—his agent is Gary Sheffield.

People are writing off the Braves this year, and rightfully so, since they very much resemble a disaster waiting to happen. But if you look a little deeper, there’s actually reason for hope in a lot of different areas. The playoffs might be a long shot, but a .500 season is within reach, and coupled with a few optimistic stints from some of their young prospects, the Braves will take that any day.

Projected Finish: 83-79, Second place in NL East

St. Louis Cardinals 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 Cardinals, who want to go all the way this year; no other result will be satisfactory. After breakout performances by youngsters Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal in last year’s playoffs, the Cards have the young core in place to make another run at winning the whole thing.

Projected Lineup: 3B Matt Carpenter, RF Jon Jay, LF Matt Holliday, 1B Allen Craig, C Yadier Molina, SS Jhonny Peralta, 2B Kolten Wong, CF Peter Bourjos

By now, St. Louis fans are ecstatic whenever the Cardinals lose a key player to free agency. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Albert Pujols, Kyle Lohse, or Carlos Beltran; you can bet that a couple kids will come out of the woodwork, fill the vacancy, and lead the redbirds to another division title. It’s standard procedure at this point.

So let’s take a look at this year’s candidate to be the next guy who makes us all say, “Hey, this guy is leading the league in hitting, why have I never heard of him before?”

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing outfielder Oscar Taveras. He is starting the season in Triple-A, but he won’t be there for long. The man is a hitting machine, and able to handle big league pitching without question. The only real concern is that he swings at too many bad pitches—and hits home runs off them. A terrible habit that they’ll need to coach out of him. But once they do, he’ll be a more than capable replacement for the departed Beltran in right field.

Peter Bourjos also joins the starting outfield, who along with Taveras gives a brand new dimension to the defense. Last year, with Beltran and Matt Holliday manning the corner outfield spots, a lot of base hits split the gaps in the outfield. Now, Bourjos will provide the range in center to cover those gaps, Taveras brings good speed and a good glove, and Jon Jay can sub in for Holliday late in games to provide an airtight outfield defense.

What an advantage that’ll be in crucial late-inning situations, for the Cards’ young relievers to know that any ball hit to the outfield will be sucked into the vacuum of the Bourjos Patrol.

“Bourjos Patrol”—Isn’t that clever? I just made that up. I’m counting on my loyal readers as witnesses for when ESPN coins that nickname and refuses to send me my royalty checks. You heard it here first.

The Cardinals also have a surplus in their starting rotation. I mean, unless the rumors from last October are true, and Shelby Miller actually has been kidnapped by the mafia, the Cardinals enter 2014 with at least six viable starters. Seven, if you count Carlos Martinez, who absolutely deserves a spot in the rotation, but will start the year in the bullpen because there’s simply no room.

There’s the indefatigable Adam Wainwright, about whom nothing remains to be said. Michael Wacha and the presumably-still-alive Shelby Miller are each entering their crucial sophomore campaigns with high expectations.

And I mean very high expectations. If Wacha doesn’t throw a no-hitter in April, it’ll be a disappointment.

Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn should round out the rotation. And it should be mentioned, lest we forget, that Jaime Garcia is back from injury. If any of these guys falter, the Cardinals have the depth to fill the void.

The Cardinals have all the pieces of a winning team. Only a colossal setback would hold them back at this point—and we’re talking something like, say, the Gateway Arch falling down.

And to be honest, if that happened, they’d still probably win the Wildcard.

Projected Finish: 99-63, First place in NL Central