It’s almost Opening Day! Well technically it already happened, in Japan, but that is one of the stupidest things MLB have done recently and that’s saying a lot. The real, proper, season starts this week when the Cardinals visit the
Florida Miami Marlins on the fourth (as part of a one game ‘series’, further evidence that the schedule setters were high as a kite this off-season) and by the time the Royals play the Angels on Friday evening the season will be under way for everyone. I’m not going to do a team-by-team preview for all thirty clubs the way I did for the LV=CC, but instead go over each division and give my predictions:
The division boils down to Rangers, Angels = good; Mariners, A’s = poor. At the bottom of the division will be the Mariners and A’s. They split the pretend opening series in Japan, but it looks on paper that the Mariners are the better team. Their offence doesn’t look much better than last year, though Ichiro could reasonably be expected to improve and their pitching should still be passable. The A’s have brought in Manny Ramirez, which reeks of desperation. At the top, the Rangers lost CJ Wilson, but gained Yu Darvish. The Angels very publicly gained Albert Pujols and… CJ Wilson. That might hurt Texas. The notion for them is that Darvish will be enough to both fill in for CJ Wilson and negate the fact that the Angels acquired him. We don’t know if the very large sum the Rangers paid out to Darvish will be worth it, but the Rangers have to worry that he will be to them what Fenando Torres is for Chelsea and there seems little chance that he will fully justify the nine digit figure that the Rangers had to pay out. Ultimately if the Rangers win some sort of title it will, rather frustratingly, be deemed enough. My prediction for the final standings:
The Tigers are favourites to win by a distance; they have Justin Verlander and have acquired Prince Fielder in the off-season. There really is no team in the division that look like they can challenge them. The Indians have a good looking lineup, but the pitching looks dodgy and they never made their success last year look like anything but a fluke. The Twins were desperately unlucky to finish as low as they did last year, but they have lost a few players in the off-season. It’s hard to ever write them off, but they seem less likely than usual to make the division close. The White Sox have lost their manager and best pitcher in the off-season. Last year was not good for them, they finished below .500, and I expect this one will be worse. I will go into more detail on the Royals later, but I think we will play well without pushing for the division title. Standings (and note that the Tigers will have a large lead):
A division that contains one sixth of the teams in the major leagues and yet gets at least half of the media attention. The Yankees and Red Sox will play each other 19 times again this year and every one of them will be treated as the most important game of the year. They will all be impossibly dull five hour affairs. As part of my effort to offset this, I will simply skip straight to my prediction:
Of the five teams in the NL West, the Padres are the only ones who have not made the playoffs at least once in the past five years and they were a hairsbreadth from doing so in 2007 and only a game away in 2010. A different team has won the division in each of the last three years and last year Arizona went from being terrible in 2010 to winning outright. This is all a roundabout way of saying that it’s hard to predict what will happen. Arizona look like they can carry last year’s form into this one though, and the Giants always look pretty good. The Rockies would need some luck, but they could compete too. The only teams that really look out are the Dodgers and Padres. Prediction:
Last year the Cardinals won the wild card on the last day of the season, partially by winning their last game against the 56-106 Astros. They, and the other teams in the NL Central, will have one more year in which to make the most of that advantage before the Astros leave for the AL West. The composition of the teams is rather different from last year, but a lot of the dynamics seem the same. The Brewers should be good with the Cardinals and Reds both competing. The Pirates will hope to continue toward a winning season whilst the Cubs would be last in any other division, but this time are saved by the Astros, who look like they’ll do well to avoid another hundred loss season. More specifically:
(In other words, exactly the same as last year.)
The Florida Marlins are no more. Now they’re the Miami Marlins with a new stadium a new (terrible) logo and new (terrible) uniforms. They’ve also spent some money to bring in some big name free agents and look like they will be competitive. The Phillies still have the best rotation in baseball, but now their best hitters are all injured and they look unlikely to recreate their 102 win season from last year. The Braves finished last year by choking hilariously and missing the playoffs by a game to St Louis. They seem to have written it off as a fluke and made very few changes in the offseason. I think that will backfire, however, and that they’ll be a lot more than a game off the mark. The Nats probably will not compete for the top spot, but they are well placed to reap the rewards of their young talent and should be above .500. The Mets look like a team in disarray and will be hoping everything goes disastrously wrong for one of their opponents. Prediction:
The playoffs now have the one game ‘play-in’ for the wild card. Even if I could be really confident of the teams even contesting the match, there is no way to accurately predict the results of those matches this far in advance. But it’s pretty unlikely that any of the other predictions will be accurate either so I’ll go ahead and have the Rangers beat the Rays and the Diamondbacks beat the Phillies. Division series: Tigers v Rangers, Yankees v Angels, Brewers v Diamondbacks, Giants v Marlins. Championship series: Tigers v Angels, Brewers v Giants. World Series Tigers v Giants, Tigers to win in five games.
My specific prediction for the Royals is an 85-77 finish. It won’t be near enough to compete and as mentioned above I think it will only be enough for third, though some fortune might see us in second. The offence still looks good. Even if Hosmer falls off a bit there is a lot of talent there as evidenced by the fact that the .250 hitting Alcides Escobar is amongst the worst hitters in the lineup. The question is still the starting pitching. Chen will take Opening Day, with Hochevar going on the seventh. That was a surprise when announced, but regardless of the order in which they pitch a rotation of Chen, Hochevar, Sanchez, Mendoza and Duffy does not look all that intimidating. The hope will be that Mendoza and Duffy have breakout seasons and Lancashire have shown that young talent can come through quickly. There’s a reason it was so surprising when Lancs won the title last year though. Off the field, Rex Hudler promises to reach Tony Greig levels of annoyance in the commentary box. I don’t think he’s quite at the level of Ravi Shastri, but he has 140 games in which to try. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on him later in the year.
This post also appears on The Armchair Selector.
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