Thursday, March 28, 2013

Baseball Preview Thursday

So we gave you the over-unders. Now it's time to actually tell you how this season's gonna play out. One of us will give you a preview for each division, and then we'll tell you how we each think the playoffs are going to go down. It'll be super fun. Join us.



DIVISION PREVIEWS

AL East
The AL East has the most potential of any division. The Orioles have the lowest over-under for wins at 78.5, and as you can see, two of us think they're going to go over. Each and every team in this division, however, could end up having a bust season.



The Yankees are old and extremely injury-prone. I think it's fair to say that we'd be more surprised if they ended up with 90 wins than if they finished below .500. The same goes for the Red Sox and Orioles. The Rays are still solid, but they lost James Shields, their second starter, as well as B.J. Upton. They again have very little margin for error, but they are still a solid team up and down. The Rays are my pick to win the division.

The Blue Jays are perhaps the most interesting team. They might have the most talent of any team in this division (WEIRD), but almost all of their talented players are injury-prone. They have to deal with Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Brandon Morrow, and Josh Johnson, all of whom are injured all the time. They added a couple of talented workhorses to the rotation in Buehrle and Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, and that should improve a rotation that was absolutely ravaged by injuries last year. If the Blue Jays can stay healthy, and that's perhaps the biggest if of the season, they can absolutely win this division. Long gone are the days when the Red Sox and Yankees dominated and everyone else was at .500 or below. I think this is the division to watch this year.

--Brown Bear

AL Central
I see that I got the AL Central because I wasn't around this morning. Fucking great. Jeff Francoeur starts for a team in this division. This is seriously the worst division in baseball and it isn't even close. The Twins have no plan and the Royals and Indians are so desperate for anything that they are spending big money and trading awesome prospects like Wil Myers to reach 85 wins. The White Sox will always be better than expected. Seriously, they outperform their projections every season and their pitchers never get hurt, but they aren't winning more than 85 games.

The real story in this division is the Tigers. They've added Torii Hunter and return Victor Martinez to an already impressive lineup. That coupled with full seasons from Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, and a return to health for Alex Avila makes this the team with the best chance of making the World Series in the American League (note this doesn't mean they are the "best"). Also, I didn't even mention Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, and Miguel Cabrera. Jesus Christ. Their owner is open and honest about wanting more than anything to win a World Series before he dies. Of course this is Detroit so only terrible things will happen.

--Sean

AL West
The Angels went all-in last year with a top heavy lineup and dream rotation of four "aces" (once they dealt for Zack Greinke midseason), and despite winning more games in the regular season than the AL Pennant-winning Tigers did not make the playoffs. This year, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, USA seem to have changed strategy and just plan to win with dynamite offense. With just a few more years of elite Pujols left (and 9 more years of paying him for it), the Angels went out and got another player at the tail end of a hugely productive career, signing Josh Hamilton for 5 seasons (to be fair, replacing an even more likely washed-up Torii Hunter). With Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo also in the mix, this Angels lineup will be one of the strongest and top-heaviest lineups in baseball. The rotation is equally top-heavy with 1a aces Jered Weaver and (possibly) C.J. Wilson followed by replacement-level Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas and the Tommy Hanson rehab jamboree.

The Rangers, on the other hand, have likely gotten worse. They lost Hamilton and Mike Napoli, and players like Michael Young and Adrian BeltrRAY (as Jon Miller would put it) are on the wrong side of 30. However, I think the Rangers rotation is the class of the division, with ace Yu Darvish ready to assume his place among the top 5 starters in the AL. It's a bit cognitively dissonant for a team in Arlington, but I expect the Rangers to top the division with strong starting pitching and just enough hitting.

The AL West is also adding the AAA Houston Astros which can only serve to bolster the win totals of the other division teams. The Athletics actually won last year with the mid-2000s Twins method of a couple power hitters, good defense and a bunch of B+ starters, and I expect them to be in the mid-80s this year. Seattle is still a couple years away, and I'd feel sorry for Felix Hernandez if he weren't making $175 million over the next 6 years.

--Jon

NL East
The NL East is suddenly an impressive division in the National League.  Forbes recently said the Mets had the 6th-highest value of any team. However, the Wilpons are Frank McCourt East except, you know, they haven't sold the team. Instead they run out Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, and try and get fans excited about them having actual prospects for the first time since Reyes and Wright. David Wright is the seventh-best third baseman in the game (in no particular order: Longoria, Cabrera, Zimmerman, Beltre, Chase Headley, and Chipper), but no big deal, let's give him $140 million to play out his thirties.

The Phillies remind me a lot of the mid-2000s Yankees, albeit without the success. They sign older players, commit stubbornly to an aging core, and have freaking Michael Young hitting third. However, their pitching always makes them dangerous. Hamels, Lee, and Halladay (if he's actually healthy) is terrifying in a playoff series, but I doubt the Phillies will make it that far.

The Braves....well you're going to hear about them all season from me. Suffice to say, they are going to win 90-95 games and either play another Wild Card home game (infield fly gate part two) or win the division.

The Nationals are really really freaking good. They don't have any holes, they have some regression candidates, but they also have two emerging superstars in Harper and Strasburg who could make up for any losses the Nationals face with Gio Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche, and their middle infield. They also picked up Denard Span and Rafael Soriano for bubkes because why not.

--Sean

NL Central
For the past few years this has been a dichotomous division, with the Cubs, Pirates and Astros clogging up the bottom of the NL while the Brewers, Reds, and Cardinals jockey for division supremacy (and adding to their win totals for wild card contention). This season, the Brewers and Cardinals have gotten worse, the Astros jumped to the AL, and the Pirates and Cubs have probably gotten incrementally better. Which leads me to my conclusion that the Reds are just about locks to win the division. They have the NL's best hitter in Joey Votto fronting a lineup featuring (once underrated, now overrated) Shin Soo Choo, (once underrated, now overrated) Brandon Phillips and (properly rated) Jay Bruce and a strong starting rotation with Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos (who pitched like an ace after a terrible April last season).

The Cardinals will get better with a full season of full-strength Adam Wainwright who struggled initially upon return from Tommy John surgery last season. Lance Lynn may also be able to sustain his first half form for the entire season, which would be another boost. However, I wouldn't bet on Jaime Garcia or Jake Westbrook producing at last year's level and this is an offense featuring older stars and some tantalizing, but incomplete, younger hitters.

The Brewers lost Greinke and Shaun Marcum and are relying on a bunch of unproven starters behind Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo. They also did basically nothing to fix an historically atrocious bullpen (relievers are notoriously variant from year to year, due mainly to small sample size, so this may not be a huge problem but is still worth noting). The Cubs are clearly building for 2015 and beyond (or 2020 or something) but have enough pieces to maybe win 70 games. The Pirates are still the Pirates.

--Jon

NL West
The team with the highest expectations this year is the Dodgers, despite the defending World Series champion Giants being in this division. The Dodgers pulled off that huge deal with the Red Sox last year that brought them Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford. They also added Zack Greinke. The problem with these additions is that the only total non-question mark is Adrian Gonzalez. Beckett and Crawford are huge injury/performance questions, and Greinke is in official "who knows?" level. That Cy Young award is getting to be a distant memory.

The Padres and Rockies might be a little better, but neither are likely to be contenders. The D-Backs, despite losing Justin Upton, might be an improved team this year, adding the criminally underrated Martin Prado and the very solid Brandon McCarthy. Ian Kennedy is due for a bounce back year, going more towards his stellar 2011 than his ehh 2012.

But the pick in this division is still the Giants. Even though MVP Buster Posey is bound to come back down to earth, and they lost the steroid production of Melky Cabrera, they've filled all their holes pretty nicely, and their rotation is still among the best in baseball. Lincecum will bounce back a little bit, and they just have quality guys (though few stellar players) at every position. Good team up and down, best team in the division.

--Brown Bear

PLAYOFFS

Jon: In the AL, I'm picking the Rays, Tigers and Rangers as my division winners, with the Angels and (ah fuck it) Blue Jays as the Wild Card winners. Baseball is pretty unpredictable, which is why the season is 162 games, so anything I say now about hypothetical play-in games or even 5- or 7-game series is pointless, but I'll take the Rays to come out of the AL.

In the NL, I'm picking the Nationals, Reds and Giants to win their respective divisions, and the Braves to beat the Diamondbacks in the Wild Card play-in game. I'll take the Strasburg and the Nats to come out of the NL.

Steve: I got the Rays, Tigers, and Angels winning their divisions. The Wild Cards will be the Blue Jays and Ath-a-letics. The Angels, if healthy, have all the pieces in place to do it. The Angels will win the pennant, just like in Angels in the Outfield.

The NL division winners will be the Nationals, Reds, and Giants. Wild Cards will include some Braves and some Diamondbacks. Pretty standard picks overall. Sorry. The best team out of these, that I can tell, is the Reds. Let's say that this is the year they break through. Fine. It's so hard to predict playoff series results, even right before they happen. Small sample size. But fine.

Sean: In the AL, I'm picking the Blue Jays, Tigers, and Angels as my division winners, with the Rangers beating the Rays in the Wild Card game. I think Jon's right that there's just no fucking rhyme or reason to the baseball postseason but I'm going Tigers.

In the NL, I'm picking the Braves (so I can respect myself in the morning), the Reds, and the Giants to win the divisions and the Nationals to beat the Cardinals in the Wild Card play-in game. These predictions are kind of pointless for me because I'm always going to pick the Braves.

World Series

Jon: Rays over Nationals in 6 games. I think I trust Joe Maddon just because he has good taste in glasses.

Sean: Braves over Tigers in 7. Swag swag swag.

Steve: Reds over Angels in 100. Or like 6. Idk. 7? 4? Y'know what? Reds in 4. Bold.

STAY TUNED! TOMORROW'S THE FUN PREVIEW!

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