Tag Archives: Yu Darvish

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.

Texas Rangers 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 Rangers, a team that looks like they’ll be at the mercy of the injury bug for the second straight season. Will they ever catch a break?

Projected Lineup: CF Leonys Martin, SS Elvis Andrus, RF Shin-Soo Choo, 3B Adrian Beltre, 1B Prince Fielder, DH Mitch Moreland, LF Jake Smolinski, 2B Rougned Odor, C Robinson Chirinos

Projected Rotation: RHP Yovani Gallardo*, LHP Derek Holland, RHP Colby Lewis, LHP Ross Detwiler*, RHP Nick Tepesch

* new additions

The Rangers received news of the worst kind this spring.

Their ace pitcher, Yu Darvish, couldn’t shake the inflammation that occurred in his elbow late last season, and went under the knife. Tommy John surgery.

Recovery time: 12-18 months.

Recovery time for the Rangers’ fan base: indeterminate. Could be years.

What a blow this is to an ailing group of loyal fans who have suffered far more hardships than they deserve. 2014 saw the Prince Fielder season-ending neck injury, a Derek Holland knee injury, and questions about whether Jurickson Profar is still alive. Now there is nothing left but for Rangers fans everywhere to shout, “WHY CAN’T WE HAVE NICE THINGS?!”

But I suppose you could call this good news: the Rangers would’ve been a long shot to make the playoffs this season anyway, regardless of whether Darvish was healthy. It’s not like this broke up a contending team.

The core of Texas’ lineup is strong, but aging. Adrian Beltre, who will turn 36 in April, is starting to see a dip in his power, with just 19 long balls last season. Granted, he’s still an exceptional offensive force, who even without his standard amount of homers last year managed to finish eighth in the league in OPS. Trends are powerful things, though—what was 19 homers last season may be just 12 this season, and before long he’ll just be a well-paid singles hitter in the middle of Texas’ lineup.

Prince Fielder is back in action, and he’ll be looking to have a comeback year after missing nearly all of 2014. I wouldn’t put too much stock into Fielder’s .247 average or the mere three homers he hit in 42 games last year. His neck problems had apparently been bothering him since back in his Tigers days, and if that’s the case, I’d be scared about what he can do now that he’s pain-free.

Outside of those two, there are a lot of unfamiliar names on the team, but a guy whose name you should learn is Carlos Peguero. As a non-roster invitee this Spring, he has had a strong showing thus far with a 1.300 OPS through nine games. He also tore up the Dominican Winter League a couple months ago, leading the league in homers while posting a .970 OPS. He’ll have a good chance to win an outfield spot for the big league team, possibly as the starting left fielder.

We all know the pitching staff is broken without Darvish, but new addition Yovani Gallardo helps mitigate the loss. Acquired from the Brewers in a trade in January, Gallardo is a consistent mid-rotation type starter who is the portrait of good health—he has started at least 30 games in every season since 2009. He should rack up plenty of innings for the Rangers and help save the bullpen from complete annihilation.

Derek Holland could also be a guy who steps up and takes on more of the load. His 2014 was mostly lost due to injury, but in six appearances towards the end of the year, and when absolutely no one was watching because the team was way out of contention, he posted a 1.46 ERA and averaged seven innings per start.

But the Rangers might have a hard time finding consistency in the rest of the rotation. Colby Lewis probably shouldn’t be in a major league rotation any more, but the Rangers will take his 5-plus ERA just to eat the innings. And Ross Detwiler hasn’t started a game since July of 2013.

In the bullpen, Tanner Scheppers will be reprising his role as set-up man in which he performed so well two seasons ago. The Rangers briefly tried to make him a starter, an experiment which failed miserably. The experiment is now over, say the Rangers, which is good news because it gives the bullpen back that eighth inning guy they were missing for all of last year.

Scheppers will be setting up for Neftali Feliz, one of the more underrated closers in the game who is still just 26 years old. The duo gives the Rangers a strong end game, as any lead making it into the eighth inning will now be in very good hands.

The Rangers won’t win a lot of games, but I’d like to at least be able to give them an “A” for participation this year. If they can stay healthy and play out the string, the fan base will be grateful they gave it an honest effort.

The playoffs? We’ll talk about that once Darvish is back.

Projected Finish: 72-90, Fourth place in AL West

Texas Rangers 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 Rangers, the perennial powerhouse team in the AL West. They say everything’s bigger in Texas—and that includes opposing pitchers’ earned run averages.

Projected Lineup: LF Shin-Soo Choo, SS Elvis Andrus, 1B Prince Fielder, 3B Adrian Beltre, RF Alex Rios, DH Mitch Moreland, 2B Jurickson ProfarC J.P. Arencibia, CF Leonys Martin

The Rangers have the best pitcher on the planet, and even though Yu Darvish only pitches every fifth day, he’ll take the team pretty far. The question is, will it be far enough?

The rest of the rotation is filled with question marks. Tanner Scheppers will be in the starting rotation for the first time this year, after a great 2013 in which he was lights-out in the setup role. But he has never pitched more than 80 innings in any professional season. It remains to be seen how Scheppers will handle the workload of a full season, but the Rangers don’t have many other options—Derek Holland is out until at least midseason with a knee injury, and Matt Harrison is dealing with some injuries of his own.

And speaking of the injury bug, the Rangers are also now faced with a quandary at second base, with Jurickson Profar now on the shelf for 2-3 months. With Ian Kinsler now in Detroit, they don’t really have a major league second baseman to speak of.

Ah—but wait! There’s a prospect on the horizon.

A guy who General Manager Jon Daniels picked up on a whim in the Rule 5 Draft, because he saw a certain level of discipline rare in players these days. That’s right, I’m talking about Russell Wilson, a middle infielder in the organization who is currently on the inactive list because of what he calls “other obligations”. But once he’s finished screwing around with those extracurricular activities, he’s a lock for the second base job.

And man, I’m excited. He’s the type of guy who just screams “champion”. You know?

Even if Wilson doesn’t show up, the Rangers have a great new-look offense which should carry the team. The Rangers’ addressed their need for left-handed bats, and added Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder to an already potent lineup. Choo is one of the best on-base threats in the game, and will be crucial to the Rangers’ success. But even more crucial will be the guy hitting between Choo and Fielder, Elvis Andrus. Andrus is a career .306 hitter with a runner on first and less than two outs—which, hitting behind Choo, is a situation he’ll be facing a lot.

What do you get when you add all that up? You get Fielder and Adrian Beltre hitting with a lot of ducks on the pond. Cha-ching.

My only real concern with the team is the questionable closer situation. Neftali Feliz is back in the fold after his recovery from Tommy John surgery, but he hasn’t pitched in a high-stakes situation in almost two years. Joakim Soria, likewise. No one has been further from the ninth inning than these two guys, outside of that family of four who leaves the ballpark in the sixth to beat the traffic.

So here’s a dark horse to win the closer role: Alexi Ogando. The Rangers have moved him to the bullpen, a decision which may have had something to do with his career numbers in relief: 7-1, 110 strikeouts in 113.1 innings, and a 2.46 ERA. And that’s not even counting his postseason numbers, which are even better.

The Rangers definitely have the pieces to contend in this stacked division. And if they’re really lucky—they’ll put together another unsuccessful championship run.

Projected Finish: 94-68, First place in AL West