Tag Archives: Zack Greinke

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.

Los Angeles Dodgers 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 Dodgers, who hired a bunch of trigger-happy GM’s last November, which led to a historic winter of wheeling and dealing. Such a major overhaul seems counter-intuitive for a team coming off a 94-win season, but some experts say that this year’s Dodgers team looks to be the strongest they’ve had in years.

Projected Lineup: SS Jimmy Rollins*, RF Yasiel Puig, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Howie Kendrick*, LF Carl Crawford, C Yasmani Grandal*, CF Joc Pederson, 3B Justin Turner

Projected Rotation: LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Zack Greinke, LHP Hyun-jin Ryu, RHP Brandon McCarthy*, LHP Brett Anderson*

* new additions

The Dodgers failed once again last year in their quest for the elusive pennant they’ve been seeking, a drought that is getting pretty impressive. It isn’t in Cubs territory yet, but for the highest-spending team in baseball, a drought like that can’t be ignored.

In fact, the Giants fan in me wants to just turn this post into a list of things that have happened since the Dodgers last won a pennant. Things like Taylor Swift being born, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, or Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” topping the Billboard Charts.

But alas, the objective sportswriter in me says I should at least attempt to honestly evaluate this team. I’ve got to get rid of that guy.

The Dodgers enter 2015 with the same core group, headlined by the consensus greatest pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers simply don’t lose when Kershaw is on the mound: the team’s record in his last 21 starts is an astonishing 20-1. Although, to be fair, it’s hard to lose when your pitcher literally gives up no runs. Anyone familiar with the basic rules of baseball will tell you that.

So that leaves it to numbers 2-5 in the rotation to try and cobble together enough wins to back Kershaw. Seems like an easy enough feat when you’ve got Zack Greinke around, the greatest human pitcher on the team, and Hyun-jin Ryu, one of the most unfairly overshadowed pitchers ever.

Yes, Hyun-jin Ryu. Calling this guy a #3 starter is akin to referring to “Human Nature” as the third-best song on Thriller. You wouldn’t be wrong, but at a certain point things transcend the notions of “better” or “worse” and you shouldn’t be ranking them.

Ryu could win the Cy Young this year, and none of you should be surprised when it happens. He had an up-and-down 2014, partly due to injuries, with a 3.38 ERA—decent, but worse than his career mark. But if you look between the numbers, last year was actually Ryu’s best season in the majors by a lot of measures. His strikeout rate and walk rate were career bests. His inflated ERA last season was due to a couple isolated blowups (which pretty closely corresponded to games in which he got hurt), but when healthy, he pitched at an elite level.

What does this mean for the coming season? I believe Ryu is the linchpin. We know that Kershaw and Greinke will be awesome, but it’s the 20+ quality starts the Dodgers could potentially get from Ryu that will be the difference between the playoffs or another disappointing end to the season.

Offensively, the Dodgers have lost some power, and look to be more of a station-to-station team this year. Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez are gone, so the Dodgers will need multiple people to step up if they want to come close to matching last year’s level of production.

Howie Kendrick should prove to be a valuable addition. He posted a career-high .347 OBP last year, and the Dodgers will rely on him as one of their middle-of-the-order hitters to help offset the losses of Kemp and Ramirez.

Also keep an eye on rookie Joc Pederson, who is coming off a 30-30 season in Triple-A for which he was named the Pacific Coast League MVP. If he hits well enough to stay in the lineup, he’ll be a 10-15 homer guy and a threat on the basepaths. And that’s not to mention the value he’ll provide on defense, where he’ll be the first actual center fielder the Dodgers have had since Steve Finley’s NL West farewell tour.

And don’t overlook Scott Van Slyke, who will split time at all three outfield spots. His slash line of .297/.386/.524 in 2014 made the decision easier for the Dodgers to trade Matt Kemp. Van Slyke has yet to perform to his full potential, and maybe what he needs is an everyday role in order to do that. The Dodgers should be willing to give him a shot.

Overall, if the pitching holds tight, the Dodgers will be worse than a year ago, but not much worse. I predict a first-place finish in this weak division, but they’ll need some real luck to advance in October.

Projected Finish: 91-71, First place in NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers 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 Dodgers, the NL West’s defending champions, and not by a small margin. But you’ve got to wonder if they’ll get complacent after such a successful year.

Projected Lineup: LF Carl Crawford, RF Yasiel Puig, SS Hanley Ramirez, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, CF Matt Kemp, 3B Juan Uribe, C A.J. Ellis, 2B Dee Gordon

The Dodgers had an almost uncharacteristically quiet offseason. Yasiel Puig’s shorts may have made more news this winter than the team did.

After missing out on any big-name targets such as Masahiro Tanaka, the Dodgers opted instead to focus internally and sign ace Clayton Kershaw to a record-setting new contract extension. They also re-inked a few guys who were critical down the stretch last year—third baseman Juan Uribe and set-up man Brian Wilson. But what you didn’t hear about were the guys they let go: Mark Ellis, Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston – four veterans who were strong clubhouse influences.

By now, faithful reader, you’re starting to see where I’m going with this. “Okay, Woods,” I’m sure you all are saying, “Surely you couldn’t be arguing that Dodgers will fall out of contention because they lost these four old guys, could you?”

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m arguing.

To get a good idea of the chemistry they’ve lost, you simply have to look at the players remaining in the clubhouse, consider all the raucous personalities and clashing egos, and tell me that it sounds like a suitable place to, say, settle down in a quiet room and watch video to try and work out a kink in your swing.

You’ve got Puig, who parties at the Playboy mansion with Snoop Dogg. Hanley Ramirez, the flamboyant superstar who wears more bling than 2 Chainz. Then you throw into the mix an Andre Ethier who’s frustrated with his lack of playing time, and you’ve got a slightly more dysfunctional environment than that of “The Real World: Ex-plosion,” which actually is as bad as it sounds.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t party. I’m saying that balance is key, and what the Dodgers have is a star-studded cast that’s simply too big to be cohesive.

Pitching-wise, the Dodgers should be solid, but the problem is that they were so good last year that they’re almost certainly due for a regression. Clayton Kershaw, fresh off his second Cy Young Award, has solidified his spot as the best pitcher in the game. But how do you improve on the video game-like numbers he posted last year? A 1.83 ERA isn’t even human. So unless a report surfaces that says Kershaw is actually an alien (entirely possible), I expect him to come slightly back down to Earth.

Zack Greinke will be hard-pressed to repeat a performance that most stat guys will tell you was aided by a fair amount of luck. All of Greinke’s peripheral numbers indicate that the baseball gods were simply on his side last year: a low home run/flyball rate (5.7%), a career low BABIP (.284) and a high strand rate (80.8%).

None of this is to say that these guys won’t still put up exceptional seasons. But you can’t deny the warning signs are there.

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