At this point the playoffs appear to be a reach for the San Francisco Giants.
If history repeats itself, then 2016 should end with the San Francisco Giants claiming another World Series Title. The Giants have won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014 with all signs pointing towards more October baseball in San Francisco. The Giants currently find themselves with a record 38-26 which is good enough for first place in the National League West as they have a five-game lead over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers for the top spot in the division. But whereas the Giants came out nowhere in 2010 to win it all, or when they got hot in the postseason in both 2012 and 2014 to win the World Series, this year’s team already has the look of a team that could do some damage.
Since taking over as the general manager of the Giants in 1996, Brian Sabean has done things his way. Sabean made trades that weren’t popular when he sent veteran Giants players such as third baseman Matt Williams out of town. But Sabean’s moves paid off as the Giants had a 22-game improvement in 1997 to win the National League West for the first time since 1989. From 1997-2004, the Giants never had a losing record, and over that stretch they won the NL Pennant in 2002, along with winning 100 games in 2003. However from 2005-2008, the Giants never had a winning season, and Sabean took some flack for the team’s rebuilding plan.
During that time the Giants were developing a core of young pitchers that included starting pitchers Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum as the pair would be vital in San Francisco’s World Series Titles in 2010 and 2012. But while Lincecum’s and Cain’s stars began to fade, it opened the door for other players on the Giants to emerge as stars: those players being catcher Buster Posey and starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner who have kept the Giants winning ways going. Along with Posey and Bumgarner, the Giants also have core players in shortstop Brandon Crawford, first baseman Brandon Belt, and second baseman Joe Panik that have come together to make San Francisco one of the better teams in Major League Baseball. Unfortunately for the Giants these guys alone weren’t enough to get San Francisco to the postseason in 2015.
Sabean who is now the Giants president of baseball operations went to work during the winter to add spare parts that would once again get the San Francisco to the postseason. After helping the Kansas City Royals win the World Series last year, starting pitcher Johnny Cueto hit free agency where he and the Giants agreed on a six-year contract that is worth $130 million. The Giants would also sign starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija to a five-year deal that is worth $90 million, and he along with Cueto have not only provided depth in the Giants rotation behind Bumgarner as both pitchers have combined to win 16 games, but they also have the kind of veteran experience that can come in handy if San Francisco can make it to the playoffs. The Giants also signed veteran outfielder Denard Span who has provided them with a quality bat at the top of their lineup as he has an on-base percentage of .344, while also possessing tremendous range in center field which is crucial in a cavernous park such as AT&T Park in San Francisco.
As a pitching staff, the Giants team earned run average of 3.51 is currently fifth in the National League, and for manager Bruce Bochy, he has typically relied on a bullpen by committee during his time with the club which is once again the case in 2016. Relief pitchers Hunter Strickland, Santiago Casilla, Josh Osich, and Javier Lopez are all interchangeable players that each has the ability to save games, be middle relief, or setup men. Casilla has been the Giants primary closer as he has 13 saves this year, but you can never have enough arms in the chase for a pennant.
Offensively the Giants are primarily a middle of the pack team as far as most of the major statistical categories go in the National League, but that is all thrown out of the window when the Giants reach the postseason as they have a lineup of mentally tough players who always seem to find a way to get the big hit being that they hate to lose more than enjoy winning.
The Giants are more than capable of winning the National League West as they are clearly the best team in the division. The Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, and San Diego Padres all currently have losing records, while the Dodgers are a team that is limbo as they have one of the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball, but they are also attempting to develop some of their younger players. The Giants are the only team in the division that has their act together which should see them end up the postseason.
Sabean has his pulse on the Giants and it definitely isn’t a far fetched idea to see him make a move between now and trade deadline on July 31 to add more pitching depth, or another bat that could make the Giants that much more formidable. The Giants also have the luxury of knowing that they’ll get one of their leaders back in outfielder Hunter Pence back at some point as he is currently on the disabled list with an Achilles injury which only makes San Francisco that much more difficult to deal with when he does return. And whatever the case may be for the Giants each team that could potentially face them in the playoffs will have it in the back of their heads of how tough it is to eliminate this team.
X-San Francisco Giants 90-72 (3)
Since 2010, the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series in each even numbered year while failing to make the postseason in the odd numbered years. And if that trend continues, the Giants will once again be hoisting the World Series trophy this October.
Under executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy, the Giants formula has been simple as they rely on solid pitching, timely hitting, and crisp fielding.
Pitching wise the Giants have one of the top starting pitchers in Major League Baseball in the form of Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner is coming off of consecutive 18-win seasons and there is no doubt about him being the ace of the staff in San Francisco. But besides Bumgarner, the Giants only had one starting pitcher win at least 10 games last season which is a good indication as to way they failed to make the playoffs.
To remedy that Sabean, and new Giants general manager Bobby Evans dipped into free agency this off-season to sign starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. What the Giants are hopeful to get in Cueto is a pitcher that is much more suited to play in the National League. In nearly eight seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Cueto went 92-63 with an earned run average of 3.21. Cueto was traded last year to the Kansas City Royals where he helped them to win the World Series which fits right in to what the Giants want to accomplish. Like Cueto, Samrdzija has pitched better in the NL, and the Giants will need him to be effective in order to add depth to the end of their rotation.
The Giants and Bochy will one again rely on one of the better bullpens in Major League Baseball to finish games. Last season relief pitcher Santiago Casilla was tied for fifth in the National League in saves with 38, and if he is able to reach the 40-save mark this season, it should mark a solid campaign for San Francisco. The Giants also enjoy the luxury of having a solid bridge between their starters and closers with relief pitchers Hunter Strickland and Sergio Romo. Strickland has a power arm that could eventually close games while Romo can be very crafty with his off-speed pitches.
For the Giants, catcher Buster Posey is still one of the best in the game as far as his ability to call a game behind along with what he is able to do with a bat in his hand. Posey was named as the National League MVP in 2012, and his clutch bat is important in the middle of San Francisco’s lineup.
Aside from Posey, the presence of outfielder Hunter Pence provides the Giants will leadership in their lineup. Last year injuries limited Pence to just 52 games and his presence was missed. San Francisco is backing on Pence being healthy in 2016, and along with emerging stars such as infielders Kelby Tomlinson, Brandon Crawford, and Matt Duffy, this Giants lineup will be tough on opposing pitchers.
Brandon Belt provides another quality bat for the Giants at first base while signing former Washington Nationals outfielder Denard Span could fly under the radar at first, but with his speed at the top of the San Francisco lineup, they should be poised for another run at the World Series Title.
The Giants are clearly the class of the National League West, and with the veterans on their team, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Los Angeles Dodgers 85-77
The last three Major League Baseball seasons have seen the Los Angeles Dodgers win the National League West, but success in the postseason hasn’t followed them. In both 2013 and 2014, the Dodgers were eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals; while last October saw the Dodgers fall to the New York Mets in the National League Divisional Series. The Dodgers struggles in the postseason led to the departure of manager Don Mattingly who unfortunately had to shoulder the blame for their playoff woes. Mattingly has been replaced by former MLB outfielder Dave Roberts who is looking to inject some new energy into a Dodgers team that is good enough to win their division, but have come up short in October.
The Dodgers have been stung this off-season in free agency. It was a bit shocking when starting pitcher Zack Greinke decided to opt-out of his contract with the Dodgers, and it was even more startling when he signed a six-year, $206 million deal to join the Arizona Diamondbacks. What the Dodgers lost in Greinke was a pitcher that went 19-3 last year with an earned run average of 1.66 as his production won’t be that easy to replace. Aside from losing Greinke, the Dodgers have been quiet in free agency as their brain trust of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, and general manager Farhan Zaidi have played it close to the chest as they are looking to start fresh without a ton of spending on bloated contracts.
Los Angeles still has starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw at the top of their rotation. Kershaw is a three-time National League Cy Young Award winner that is coming off of leading the Senior Circuit last season in strikeouts win 301. Kershaw is indeed one of the best pitchers in the game right now, but he only pitches once every fifth game and there are a ton of question marks behind him in the Dodgers rotation.
Starting pitcher Scott Kazmir has been a journeyman throughout his Major League Baseball career while he has only reached the 200-inning plateau once. The same can be about starting pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson as far as being journeymen whom the Dodgers are rolling the dice on in 2016.
Los Angeles will also have to smooth things over with relief pitcher Kenley Jansen after they flirted with acquiring relief pitcher Aroldis Champman from the Cincinnati Reds. The deal to get Chapman fell through as he ended up with the New York Yankees, and now the Dodgers must convince Chapman that they still have faith in him to close out games in the ninth inning.
Last year the Dodgers offense was a middle of the pack unit in the National League, but they have two youngsters that have tremendous potential. In 2015 as a rookie, outfielder Joc Pederson was on fire to begin the Major League Baseball season until word got around the league that he couldn’t lay off of the breaking pitches. Pederson did hit 26 home runs while driving in 54 runs, but he only batted .210 while striking out 170 times. Pederson must develop more plate discipline as he must learn to work the count. Corey Seager is the Dodgers shortstop of the future. Seager didn’t get as much playing time last year as Pederson did, but the Dodgers do view him as someone who could be a spark for them early in the batting order, and his name should be in consideration for the NL’s Rookie of the Year in 2016.
Last season Mattingly was attempting to get outfielder Enrique Hernandez more playing time due to the fact that he saw the potential in the youngster to be an everyday player. Hernandez is an infielder by trade, but if Roberts puts the same patience in him that Mattingly did, the Dodgers could have a solid player on their hands.
The Dodgers also do have a veteran presence in their lineup. 2015 saw infielder Justin Turner have a career year as he batted .294 with 16 home runs and 60 runs batted in. Turner also kept the Dodgers lineup afloat in the postseason as he batted .536 with 6 doubles. The Dodgers also have a pair of professional hitters in second baseman Howie Kendrick and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez while Gonzalez’s glove at first base is still one of the best in the business. But all is not a bed of roses for the Dodgers as they are stuck with a pair of injury prone outfielders in Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. And then there is the case of outfielder Yasiel Puig.
Puig was able to burst onto the scene for the Dodgers in 2013 with a .319 batting average to go along with 19 home runs and 42 runs batted in. Puig has a ton of potential, but I am not sure if anyone within the Dodgers organization will be able to get through to the enigmatic youngster in order to have him put it all together for a full season.
Although that the Dodgers play in a big market and they have one of the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball, they are an organization that is transition due to Friedman and Zaidi playing things a little closer to the chest while developing their young talent with an eye on sabermetrics. And since the Dodgers brain trust wasn’t on the same page with Mattingly, things could be different under Roberts as he fits more into their new system.
Arizona Diamondbacks 81-81
The Arizona Diamondbacks have become bottom feeders in the National League West, but they are hoping for a quick turnaround in what could be the weakest division in Major League Baseball in 2016. The Diamondbacks brain trust of president of baseball operations Tony La Russa, general manager Dave Stewart, and manager Chip Hale are all set to embark on their second year in the desert as they are attempting to build Arizona into a contender. In recent years the Diamondbacks have played it close to the chest, but they decided to make a splash this off-season when they signed starting pitcher Zack Greinke.
Greinke opted out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers to test free agency, but nobody expected him to join the Diamondbacks. It took six years and $206.5 million for Greinke to come to the desert, but the D’backs are hopeful that Greinke can provide them with a dominant ace at the front of their starting rotation that they have lacked since the days of Brandon Webb. In 12 years as a Major League Baseball pitcher, Greinke has complied a record of 142-93 with an earned run average of 3.35 while winning the Cy Young Award in both the American and National Leagues. Greinke’s presence automatically improves the Diamondbacks pitching staff as they were ninth in the team earned average in the NL last season at 4.04, and 11th in quality starts with just 69. But behind Greinke, the D’backs are lacking depth in their starting rotation and he will only take the mound once every fifth day.
The Diamondbacks had one the most prolific offenses in the National League last year and they will once again have first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in the middle of their lineup. Goldschmidt is a three-time National League All-Star while finishing second in the NL MVP voting in two of the last three years. Goldschmidt would be more of a household name, but being that Arizona has not been a good team while also getting lost in the shuffle in the West, there are some people that don’t know too much about him.
The National League West should be up for grabs this year with 85 wins possibly being enough to win it. And if the Diamondbacks can get on a roll at some point this year, they could be postseason bound for the first time since 2011.
San Diego Padres 67-95
Last year saw the San Diego Padres attempt to buy a contending team, but it simply blew up their faces. The Padres would acquire relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel, along with outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers via trades while spending big in free agency on starting pitcher James Shields. The Padres lacked cohesion all season long which reflected in their record as they suffered through their seventh losing campaign in the last eight years.
A.J. Preller has nearly two years under his belt as the Padres president of baseball operations/general manager and he is attempting to help the team shed their image of being a perennial loser. But to make the Padres a contender in 2016, Preller will have his work cut out for him.
After going through three different managers last year, the Padres have settled on Andy Green to be their skipper in 2016. Green doesn’t have any prior managerial experience in Major League Baseball on his resume, but he comes to the Padres after spending last year as the third base coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks. And now Green will look to infuse some life in the Padres.
Of the Padres big moves last year, only Kemp, Myers, and Shields are still in San Diego as Kimbrel was traded to the Boston Red Sox and Upton signed as a free agent with the Detroit Tigers. And it will be Myers and Kemp that must find a way to carry the Padres lineup.
As a team the Padres must find a way to get better at the plate as they were last in the National League in both team batting average (.243) and on-base percentage (.300) while striking out 1,327 times which was third. The Padres must learn to do the little things at the plate better such as getting more quality at-bats which is something that new hitting coach Mark McGwire will look to preach to them.
Behind Shields in the Padres rotation, there isn’t that much protection as this team will more than likely be fighting an uphill battle in the National League West.
The only highlight for the Padres in 2016 will be the fact that they are hosting the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Colorado Rockies 62-100
The Colorado Rockies are coming off of their fifth consecutive losing season which is their worst stretch in franchise history. And although that the National League West is expected to be down in 2016, the Rockies will still have a hard time keeping up. Walt Weiss is set to embark on his fourth season as manager of the Rockies. As always Colorado’s bats should keep them in contests, but one thing that this organization has consistently lacked since its inception has been pitching.
The Rockies were dead last in the National League last season in team earned average at 5.04 while also only managing to get 54 quality starts which was also last, and the bad news for Colorado is that it won’t get any better for them in 2016.
For the Rockies to have any chance this year in the National League West, their bats are going to have to keep them in games and ultimately win them. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez along with third baseman Nolan Arenado could each flirt with becoming the first player in Rockies franchise history to hit 50 home runs in a single season if each player is able to remain healthy. But with an eye towards the future, it will be interesting to see if this will be the year that Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich will make a move to trade Gonzalez or Arenado in the effort to obtain some starting pitching.
For the folks in the Rocky Mountains, they will spend the summer months looking ahead to training camp for the Denver Broncos as they won’t get that much out of their baseball team.
X-Los Angeles Dodgers 92-70
Don Mattingly has four years under his belt as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and in each season under him the team’s win total has increased. But unfortunately for Mattingly and the Dodgers, the team still has not claimed a World Series Championship since 1988. The Dodgers had a good team last season, but they ran into the ultra tough St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional Series. And because of the loss the Cards, the Dodgers had some wholesale changes this off-season.
Ned Collettti is no longer the general manager of the Dodgers as he has taken a position in the front office as a special adviser to the team president. Colletti was replaced as Dodgers general manager by Farhan Zaidi. Prior to joining the Dodgers, Zaidi was the president of baseball operations for the Oakland Athletics were he was a sabermetrics disciple of the A’s general manager Billy Beane. The Dodgers also added depth in their front office by making former Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman their new president of baseball operations. Friedman was the architect behind the Rays turnaround as he built one of the best minor-league systems in all of baseball. And with Friedman and Zaidi running the show now for the Dodgers, their Opening Day roster will look vastly different when they take the field this season.
In spite of the fact that he hit 25 homers last season for the Dodgers, outfielder Matt Kemp was traded this off-season to the San Diego Padres. 2012 and 2013 were two injury filled seasons for Kemp and the new regime in the Dodgers front office views him as a player with declining defensive skills. And once you factor in that Kemp is still owed nearly $110 million on his contract over the next five years along with the fact that the Dodgers have a crowded outfield, he was traded in spite of the fact that he will remain in the National League West as a member of the Padres. Kemp’s departure has paved the way for prospect Joc Pederson to make his presence known in the Dodgers outfield. Pederson only appeared in 18 games last season for the Dodgers, but they are high on his overall talent. Yasiel Puig is entering his third season with the Dodgers and he has cemented himself at their everyday right fielder. Puig has tremendous potential and he should be in the running for the NL MVP this year. Outfielders Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier are extremely injury prone at this point of their careers which makes the presence of Scott Van Slyke that much more important on the Dodgers roster as he can play all three outfield positions.
Heading into this season the Dodgers will have a veteran presence on their infield. The Dodgers gave up on speedster Dee Gordon at second base as he was traded to the Miami Marlins this off-season. The Dodgers were able to replace Gordon with a quality veteran at second base as they acquired Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Angels. Kendrick is a professional hitter which is evident by his career .292 batting average along with his good glove work. Aside from Kendrick, the Dodgers acquired shortstop Jimmy Rollins from the Philadelphia Phillies. In the past Rollins has been a thorn in the side of the Dodgers when he helped the Phillies knock off Los Angeles in consecutive National League Championship Series’ in 2008 and 2009. Now at the age of 36, Rollins is out to show the baseball world that he can still get it done along with providing some veteran leadership in the Dodgers clubhouse. If Juan Uribe is unable to go every day at third base, Mattingly can rely on veteran utility man Justin Turner to fill the void while first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has one of the best gloves at first base in Major League Baseball along with still providing a power bat from the left side of the plate.
Led by starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers starting rotation is top heavy and they will need to find some more depth. Kershaw went 21-3 last season with a 1.77 earned run average while striking out 239 batters. In the process Kershaw was named the NL MVP and he became the first pitcher to win the award since Bob Gibson in 1968. It will be tough for Kershaw to follow up his stellar season with another year of amazement, but if anybody could do it, he’s the guy. Behind Kershaw, the Dodgers have starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu who are both capable of winning at least 15 games, but the question marks will surround Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy behind them.
Relief pitcher Kenley Jansen can give you butterflies from time to time, but Mattingly will trust him in the ninth inning as he should once again be one of the top closers in the National League. Jansen could be a slow starter this season as he missed spring training this season after undergoing foot surgery.
Even if the Dodgers get off to another slow start it would not hinder them that much as they will once again be the team to beat in the NL West.
Y-San Francisco Giants 85-77
If the recent trend of the San Francisco Giants continues then they won’t be a playoff team in 2015. Since 2010, the Giants have gone to the postseason in even numbered years with each trip to October resulting in a World Series Championship. But unlike the past few years this season will be tougher than the others for the Giants to repeat as World Series Champions.
The Giants lost their starting third baseman Pablo Sandoval in free agency as he joined the Boston Red Sox. Sandoval was a part of the Giants core that won the World Series Titles and he was always a big contributor come October. San Francisco will definitely miss Sandoval at the hot corner as Giants general manager Brian Sabean had to do some patchwork there as he signed journeyman infielder Casey McGehee. But without Sandoval, the Giants still have catcher Buster Posey and outfielder Hunter Pence to carry the offense. Last season Posey led the Giants in batting average (.311), home runs (22), runs batted in (89), and on-base percentage (.364). Posey will be 28-years old when the season begins and Giants manager Bruce Bochy has already begun the process of monitoring the amount of games that Posey catches and you can expect to see him more at first base this season. Pence is entering his fourth season with the Giants and he has emerged as the guy that sets the tone for this team in the clubhouse and on the field. But the Giants will begin this season with Pence on the disabled list after he suffered a broken arm as the result of being hit by a pitch during spring training.
The only knock on Giants outfielder Angel Pagan throughout his Major League Baseball career is his ability to stay healthy. In the last two seasons Pagan has combined to miss 157 games and the Giants will need him to be available for at least 120 games this season as he is a threat to steal bases along with having tremendous range in the deep center field at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
But make no mistake about it that the Giants bread is buttered with their pitching. The Giants pitching wasn’t as dominant in 2014 as it has been in past years as their team earned run average of 3.50 was seventh in the National League. But last October, the Giants rode the left arm of starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner to a World Series triumph. Bumgarner went 18-10 last season with an earned run average of 2.98 as he finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. But last October, Bumgarner was unhittable. Last fall, Bumgarner would go 4-1 while surrendering just six runs in 52.2 innings pitched in the playoffs and he would be named World Series MVP. Bumgarner is only 25-years old and he is the undisputed ace of this pitching staff.
But behind Bumgarner there are plenty of question marks in the Giants starting rotation heading into this season. The velocity of Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum has dipped over the past few years as he is no longer a power pitcher, but more of a junk pitcher. Starting pitcher Matt Cain is looking to rebound after missing the second half of last season after undergoing elbow surgery and he’ll be approached with the kid gloves to begin this campaign. The Giants acquired starting pitcher Jake Peavy just prior to last season’s trade deadline and he had a revival in coming back to the National League. In 2007, Peavy won the National League Cy Young Award a member of the San Diego Padres. The Padres traded Peavy to the Chicago White Sox in 2009 before becoming a member of the Boston Red Sox World Series Championship team in 2013. Last season with the Giants, Peavy went 6-4 in 12 starts with a 2.17 earned run average. The Giants would re-sign Peavy this off-season and it will be either penthouse or outhouse with him.
Santiago Casilla will more than likely begin the season as the Giants closer, but it would not surprise me to see Bochy use a closer by committee until he figures out the right formula for his bullpen.
The Giants first seven games of the season will be played on the road as they will look to avoid the World Series hangover.
San Diego Padres 83-79
The San Diego Padres are coming off of four consecutive losing seasons, but that did not stop them from turning heads this off-season. Padres general manager A.J. Preller has been on the job for less than a year and he made some headlines for himself when he began wheeling and dealing. At Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, the Padres acquired outfielder Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kemp is coming off of his best season since he finished second in the National League MVP voting in 2011. Kemp will be in the middle of the Padres lineup, but injuries have cut down his defensive range which could be a concern. The Padres would also acquire outfielder Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves and outfielder Wil Myers from the Tampa Bay Rays. Myers will be the Padres everyday center fielder with Upton in left and Kemp in right. None of these players have tremendous range and in a big outfield like the one at Petco Park this will be an interesting experiment.
The Padres did also acquire catcher Derek Norris from the Oakland Athletics who will be charged with working with a pitching staff in San Diego that had the second lowest earned run average in the National League last season at 3.27. The Padres are expecting James Shields to be the guy at the top of their starting rotation. The Padres recently signed Shields to a four-year deal worth $75 million after he went 14-8 last season with an earned run average of 3.21 in helping the Kansas City Royals win the American League Pennant. Now at the age of 33, Shields will be asked to be a leader on the mound as well as in the clubhouse for the Padres. Behind Shields, the Padres are hopeful that starting pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross will put together complete seasons while veteran Ian Kennedy could provide some stability as well in the back end of the starting rotation.
Relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit only saved 11 games for the Padres, but he’ll be a little bit busier in 2015 if San Diego is to stay in contention for a postseason spot.
The Padres came away as one of the big winners in the off-season. But for Padres skipper Bud Black he must find a way to make his new talent gel while living up to higher expectations.
Colorado Rockies 75-87
The Colorado Rockies are coming off of their fourth consecutive losing season and in an improved National League West, they will be fighting an uphill battle in 2015. Walt Weiss is set to begin his third season as Rockies manager and he has a lineup that can contend, but it just comes down to his key players remaining healthy. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, third baseman Nolan Arenado, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez are expected to be key contributors in the Rockies lineup, but last season they combined to miss 234 games. When healthy Tulowitzki is one of the best hitting shortstops in Major League Baseball, but there is a big if around his ability to be available for the Rockies and the same can be said for Arenado and Gonzalez. There are also trade rumors that are swirling around Tulowitzki and Gonzalez and if neither player wants to be in Denver, then Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich needs to ship them out of town in order to prevent any distractions to his club.
In his first season with the Rockies, first baseman Justin Morneau was able to revive his career. Morneau had spent his entire career in the American League as a member of the Minnesota Twins until he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013. Last season with the Rockies, Morneau led the National League in batting average at .317 and his veteran presence will once again be important in Colorado’s lineup.
Historically hitting hasn’t been the Rockies problem; rather pitching. The Rockies 4.84 team earned run average was by far the worst in the National League last season. Rockies starting pitcher Jorge De La Rosa was the only pitcher for Colorado to win at least 10 games last season and without that much improvement coming down the pike in 2015, it will be another long season in Denver.
The Rockies have the bats to contend in the NL West, but without solid pitching it will be a mute point.
Arizona Diamondbacks 63-99
2011 seems like a distant memory in the world of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks won 94 games that year en route to winning the National League West. And after consecutive 81-win seasons, the Diamondbacks bottomed out last year as they lost 98 games. Late last season Tony La Russa took over as the Diamondbacks president of baseball operations. As a Major League Baseball manager, La Russa won 2,728 games which is third all-time to go along with three World Series Championships. Now he is out to show what he can do in the front office. One of La Russa’s World Series Titles came as the skipper of the Oakland Athletics and the D’Backs front office will definitely have an Oakland feel to it this season. La Russa hired former A’s pitcher Dave Stewart as the Diamondbacks general manager and he’ll look to bring the same toughness to the front office that he brought to the mound every fifth day that he pitched. After three seasons as the Athletics bench coach, Chip Hale will get his first shot as being an MLB manager with the Diamondbacks.
La Russa’s championship teams were always defined by pitching which is something that the Diamondbacks must improve on as their team earned run average of 4.26 along with their 75 quality starts were 14th in the NL. La Russa and Hale will have their work cut out for them as only one starting pitcher (Josh Collmenter) won at least 10 games for the Diamondbacks last season. It isn’t that much better for the Diamondbacks starting lineup as after first baseman Paul Goldschmidt the talent is scarce at best.
It will take La Russa some time to turn this around for the Diamondbacks, but for 2015 the parade will simply pass them by,
May 25, 2011 is a day that will go down in Major League Baseball infamy. That night San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey suffered a fractured fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle which ended his year. Posey sustained this injury as he was attempting to block the plate against Florida Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins. The Giants and the fans in San Francisco alike were outraged as they had lost their best player. Since then MLB has thrown around the idea of possibly changing the rules involving catchers and their ability to block the plate. That came to fruition this past winter when MLB implemented rules in regards to blocking the plate.
The current rule allows for a collision if the catcher has the ball and is blocking the runner’s direct path to the plate or if the catcher goes into the base path to field a throw to the plate. The rule has been implemented as a one-year experiment by Major League Baseball and being that is has caused more problems that anything else it should be scrapped altogether.
Too often this season we have seen instances where managers have challenged plays at the plate not to determine whether or not that a runner was safe or out. But to determine whether or not that a catcher blocked the plate and impeded a runner from scoring or that the base runner himself interfered with the catcher. Last month the Giants were hosting the Chicago White Sox. In the bottom of seventh inning, Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco was called out at the plate. Giants manager Bruce Bochy challenged the play and the umpires overturned the call. An incensed White Sox manager Robin Ventura immediately charged out of dugout to argue the call and he was ejected as managers cannot dispute the call. What made matters worse was that the night before Ventura challenged a similar call against the Giants and the umps ruled in favor of San Francisco.
This is just one example of a rule that has produced a huge gray area for managers, players, umpires, broadcasters, and fans alike as these people are simply confused. Recently MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre attempted to clarify the rule by sending a memo to the umpires on the matter. But the best thing for MLB to do in regards to Rule 7:13 is to send it packing for 2015.
Earlier this season New York Mets broadcaster and former MLB player Keith Hernandez made a tremendous point on the matter when he let it be known that if it had been a backup catcher for the Giants and not Posey who was the 2012 National League MVP that had gotten hurt, then no one would have said anything about protecting catchers. Catchers blocking the plate has been around Major League Baseball for the longest time just like injuries. Baseball Hall of Fame catchers such as Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Yogi Berra made a living blocking the plate and they also took a beating behind the plate. Major League Baseball like other professional sports leagues is attempting to take new steps in preventing head injuries in sports. But baseball isn’t like the National Football League where players are being hit on every play. As a catcher the chance of being hit by a foul ball or the follow through by a hitter’s bat are still there and MLB is not attempting to change that.
MLB did what too many other institutions are doing which is that they pushed the panic button in regards to Posey’s injury from a few years ago. If a respective MLB team does not want their catcher to block the plate, then that should fall on them. In the case of the Giants and Posey, Bochy was a former MLB catcher who should be able to school his All-Star catcher on the necessary defensive skills behind the plate. We are a few months away from MLB’s winter meeting where this matter of blocking the plate will be a hot topic and it is a topic that should be sent on its way just like to old “cookie cutter” ballparks.