New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2017 Major League Baseball season.
1. Boston Red Sox
2. Cleveland Indians
3. Texas Rangers
4. New York Yankees
5. Toronto Blue Jays
American League Wild Card Game: Toronto Blue Jays vs. New York Yankees
Unlike when the Yankees made the Wild Card Game in 2015, there is a different buzz around this team now.
American League Divisional Series
New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox (Red Sox wins series 3-2)
This is only the fourth time that the Yankees and Red Sox will meet in the postseason, and like the previous three, this one will be worth the price of admission.
Texas Rangers vs. Cleveland Indians (Indians win series 3-1)
The Rangers have been one of the best teams in this era, but they’ve simply been unable to get over the hump.
American League Championship Series
Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox (Red Sox win series 4-2)
In a rematch from last year’s divisional round, the Red Sox will be able to reverse the tide and get back to the Fall Classic.
2. Washington Nationals
3. San Francisco Giants
4. New York Mets
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
National League Wild Card Game: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets
There’s no love lost between the Dodgers and Mets which should make for a very interesting and intense contest.
National League Divisional Series
New York Mets vs. Chicago Cubs (Cubs win series 3-1)
The Cubs have exercised their demons from the past and the Mets won’t be able to stop them.
San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals (Giants win series 3-2)
As talented as the Nationals are, they still can’t get over the hump in the playoffs.
National League Championship Series San Francisco Giants (Cubs win series 4-2)
Just like last year in the playoffs, the superiority of the Cubs will take over and allow them to get past the Giants.
2017 World Series: Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago Cubs (Cubs win 4-3)
In the Theo Epstein Classic, his new team in the Cubs will get the best of his old team.
X-San Francisco Giants 90-72
2016 saw the San Francisco Giants be unable to kept their trend of winning the World Series in even-numbered years going. 2010, 2012, and 2014 each saw the Giants win the Fall Classic, and once last October rolled around you got the feeling once more that they could make a run. But after the Giants were able to get by the New York Mets in the National League’s Wild Card Game, they were over matched by the Chicago Cubs in the divisional series. The Cubs beat the Giants at their own game which was solid pitching and timely hitting.
But whereas the Giants were a playoff team in 2016, they were extremely flawed. At the All-Star break, San Francisco’s record of 57-33 was the best in Major League Baseball, however they would struggle mightily in the second half of the season as they went 30-42 the rest of the way. Now it will be interesting to see what version of the Giants that we’ll see here in 2017.
Last year the Giants team earned run average of 3.65 was fourth in the National League and they have the elements to once again be a solid unit. Starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner has emerged as one of the best in the business. Bumgarner has won 51 games over the last three years and it could be much more if the Giants either gave him run support, or if the bullpen preserved leads for him. But make no mistake about it that Bumgarner and his long pitching motion that comes from his 6’5″ frame will one again make life tough for hitters in the N.L.
2016 marked the third time in the Major League Baseball career of starting pitcher Johnny Cueto that he won at least 18 games as the native of the Dominican Republic can flat out pitch. Cueto is a wizard on the mound as he is a cross of Satchel Paige, Pedro Martinez, and Luis Tiant. Cueto is a showman, and when he’s on, good luck to any hitter that faces him.
Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija has periodically shown flashes of brilliance, but he’s been too inconsistent throughout his career to be considered an ace. However as Samardzija is set to begin his first full season in San Francisco, he can provide the Giants with depth in their starting rotation as he has the potential to win 15 games.
The Giants acquired starting pitcher Matt Moore from the Tampa Bay Rays just prior to Major League Baseball’s trade deadline last July. Moore got off to a slow start with the Giants as he lost his first three starts with the club before he rebounded to win three out of his last four. Moore got a no-decision in Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series against the Cubs, but if he’s able to put the elbow and shoulder issues that hindered him with the Rays on the back burner with the Giants, he could be a solid fourth starter for them.
However even if the Giants are able to get quality starting pitching here in 2017, they are going to need more production from their bullpen. Last year the Giants had 30 blown saves which led the National League, and it also became their undoing in the postseason. Giants manager Bruce Bochy was forced to go with a “closer-by-committee” as everyone in the bullpen took their turn in blowing games.
The Giants made it their business this off-season to sign relief pitcher Mark Melancon. Over the last two years Melancon has combined to save 98 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals as he was vital as far as each club making the postseason with him. But even with Melancon, San Francisco will need relief pitchers such as Hunter Strickland and Will Smith to be a bridge between the starting rotation and him.
The Giants offense also went into a nose dive during the second half of 2016 as they finished the year ninth in the National League in runs scored with 715 and they were 13th in home runs with just 130. The Giants will once again have the same light hitting lineup in 2017 as they’ll once again have to manufacture runs.
Shortstop Brandon Crawford led the Giants in runs batted in for 2016 with 84. But even with Crawford, catcher Buster Posey, and first baseman Brandon Belt, the Giants don’t have a hitter in the middle of their lineup who can put fear into an opposing pitcher as a power threat. Outfielder Hunter Pence will be 34-years of age next month, and injuries are beginning to get the best of him as San Francisco should be thankful if they can get 125 games out of him this year.
The Giants are once again a flawed team here in 2017, but for Bochy and his team, they’ll benefit from the National League West being weak overall, and they should be able to take advantage of it.
Y-Los Angeles Dodgers 88-74
This decade has seen the Los Angeles Dodgers be one of the more consistent teams in Major League Baseball. The Dodgers last losing season came in 2010, while they’ve made the postseason in each of the last four years. But the one thing that continues to elude the Dodgers is that they still have not been able to reach the World Series since they won it all in 1988.
After squeaking past the Washington Nationals in the National League Divisional Series last October, the Dodgers found themselves possessing a 2-1 series lead in the NLCS against before the wheels fell apart. The Dodgers then had a front row seat to see the Chicago Cubs win their first N.L. Pennant since 1945. And since the Cubs were able to win their first World Series Championship since 1908, the Dodgers are hopeful that they’ll be able to end their long drought this October.
But for the Dodgers to become a legitimate World Series contender, they are going to need more depth in their starting rotation. The Dodgers team earned run average of 3.70 was fifth in the National League last season, but they were last in quality starts with just 60.
Starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball and he is the workhorse of the Dodgers rotation. Last year marked the first time since 2009 that he failed to throw at least 190 innings during the season as he only made 21 starts. Kershaw’s sloping curve ball can make the best hitters in baseball look foolish, and if he is able to remain healthy in 2017, a 20-win campaign, along with his fourth National League Cy Young Award are not out of the question. However Kershaw can only pitch once every fifth day as someone else in the Dodgers starting rotation will need to provide consistency behind him.
Last year as a rookie, starting pitcher Kenta Maeda went 16-11 with a 3.48 earned run average. Maeda seemed unfazed in his first Major League Baseball season after he left his native Japan. But what will Maeda be able to do for an encore after he received solid run support, while the rest of the league has a feel from what he can now do?
Behind Kershaw and Maeda, there’s nothing but question marks in the Dodgers starting rotation. Starting pitchers Scott Kazmir, Rich Hill, and Brandon McCarthy have spent nearly as much time on the disabled list during their respective careers as they have pitching. And for Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, if he’s able to get 150 innings in 2017 apiece out of this trio, it will be a blessing in disguise.
But if the Dodgers can get to the ninth inning with a lead, they can give the baseball to one of the best closers in Major League Baseball in relief pitcher Kenley Jansen. Last year Jansen saved 47 games for the Dodgers which was tied for second in the National League, and in the process he became the franchise’s all-time leader in the category.
Last year the Dodgers offense was a middle of the road group in the National League, but that could change here in 2017. It hasn’t taken shortstop Corey Seager that long to show that he is a future star for the Dodgers. Seager was a September call up for the for the Dodgers in 2015 and also appeared in the postseason for them. But last year Seager batted .308 with 26 home runs, 72 runs batted in, and 40 doubles as he became the 12th player in the illustrious franchise history of the Dodgers to be named as the National League’s Rookie of the Year. The Dodgers have been high on Seager since they made him a first-round pick in 2012. And this year Seager has the ability to hit 35 home runs, while also becoming the Dodgers cleanup hitter as long as he is able to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump”.
In 2014, the Dodgers picked up third baseman Justin Turner from the scrap heaps. Prior to joining the Dodgers, Turner has bounced around Major League Baseball with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets. But after the Mets decided to non-tender Turner, he got a spring training invite from the Dodgers. And as Turner was joining the team that he grew up watching as he’s from Long Beach, California, he received a new baseball life.
In each of Turner’s two seasons with the Dodgers, his offensive numbers have increased which included him leading the club in homers (27), and runs batted in (90) last season. This off-season Turner would receive a new four-year deal from the Dodgers that is worth $64 million. But it will be interesting to see if Turner’s production was just a lead up him getting a long-term deal, or that has he turned the corner in his Major League Baseball career.
Outfielder Joc Pederson is another power bat for the Dodgers, and he is a player that is learning better plate discipline while improving as an overall hitter. Including Pederson, the Dodgers have a plethora of young talent in their outfield, but it all comes with question marks. Like Pederson, outfielder Trayce Thompson has the ability to hit 25 homers, but he has yet to show that he can remain healthy as in two seasons in Major League Baseball, he has only appeared in 124 games. Outfielder Yasiel Puig has never been able to live up to his full potential, and if somebody within the Dodgers organization is able to get through to him, he could be a diamond in the rough for manager Dave Roberts.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez will be 35-years of age in May. And although that Gonzalez doesn’t appear to be power hitter that he was earlier in his career, he is still one of the better contact hitters on the Dodgers, while also possessing of the best gloves in the game at first base.
This off-season the Dodgers acquired infielder Logan Forsythe from the Tampa Bay Rays. Forsythe is a career .255 hitter, but his main contributions in Los Angeles will come on defense as he’ll spend the majority of his time at second base where he should form a solid double play tandem with Seager. Forsythe should split time at second base with veteran Chase Utley. Utley appeared to be finished during the end of his tenure with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015, but when he was traded to the Dodgers, it gave him a new lease on his baseball life as he’s originally from nearby Pasadena.
It didn’t take catcher Yasmani Grandal that long to get settled in with the Dodgers as in his first year in Los Angeles, he hit a career high 27 home runs. But Grandal’s main contributions with this Dodgers team will come behind the plate as far as calling games for the team’s pitching staff. And with catcher A.J. Ellis having been traded to the Phillies this off-season, more will be on the plate of Grandal as he must now develop a rapport with Kershaw who no longer has his personal catcher.
You can expect 2017 to feature another dose of the West Coast’s version of the Hatfields and the McCoys as the Dodgers and Giants are once again expected to stage another fierce battle in order to determine who’ll win the National League West.
Colorado Rockies 75-87
The past six Major League Baseball seasons have been a struggle to say the least for the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies have not had a winning season since 2010, while they have not reached the postseason since 2009. The Rockies have never won the National League West in their 24 years of existence and 2017 is expected to once again be a struggle in the Rocky Mountains.
After four seasons as the manager of the Rockies, Walt Weiss decided not to return in 2017. Weiss has been replaced in Denver by former San Diego Padres manager Bud Black. Black will look to have more success in Denver than he had during his nine years with the Padres as he was never able to lead them to the playoffs.
Hitting has never been the issue for the Rockies as the thin air in Denver allows them to consistently put up quality numbers on offense. The Rockies led the National League last season in runs scored (845), hits (1,544), and team batting average (.275), but their team earned run average of 4.91 was 13th.
Starting pitcher Chad Bettis led the Rockies in wins last season with 14, but he also had an earned run average of 4.79. Bettis’ road earned run average was also higher as it was 5.06 in games that were started away from Coors Field. And with a pitching staff that is once again expected to give up its fair share or runs, it will once again be on Colorado’s offense to give this team any chance.
The Rockies belted 204 home runs in 2016 which was third in the National League and they have a bevy of hitters that have the potential to each pound out at least 30 homers. Third baseman Nolan Arenado is looking to lead the N.L. in home runs and runs batted in for the third consecutive season. Arenado blasted 41 homers last year while driving in 133 runs and he has put his name into the conversation along with Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs as far as being the best young third baseman in the game. In nine Major League Baseball seasons, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is averaging 31 home runs per season, and even at the age of 31, his bat doesn’t appear to be slowing down at the plate. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon is coming off of a career year as he batted .324, while belting 29 home runs and 82 runs batted and he should be in line for more of the same this year. Last season shortstop Trevor Story appeared to be in line to win the N.L’s Rookie of the Year Award until an injury limited hm to just 97 games. But in those 97 contests, Story showed that he is ready to be the next big power hitter for the Rockies as he blasted 27 home runs and 72 runs batted in. In six MLB seasons, infielder DJ LeMahieu is a career .300 hitter and he’s fresh off leading the N.L. in batting last season at .348. LeMahieu also had an on-base percentage of .416 as this lineup doesn’t have too many soft spots.
But the rich got richer over the winter when the Rockies signed Ian Desmond. Desmond is an infielder by trade, but he was able to reinvent himself last year with the Texas Rangers as he batted .285 with 22 home runs and 86 runs batted in. And now Desmond will join another deep lineup that he should benefit immensely from being in, while the thin Rocky Mountain air won’t hurt either. But after suffering a broken hand in spring training, Desmond’s Rockies debut will be put on hold for a few weeks.
Make no mistake about it that the Rockies will score runs in 2017. But as always will Colorado be able have enough pitching in order to remain in contention this year?
Arizona Diamondbacks 70-92
The Arizona Diamondbacks will enter the 2017 Major League Baseball season seeking their first winning season since 2011 which was subsequently their last trip to the playoffs. Since that time the Diamondbacks have been an organization without a plan as they haven’t been sure whether or not that they want to rebuild or become a contender. The Diamondbacks front office hasn’t been on the same page and thus the team has suffered as they’ve been far from a contender in the National League West. After the Diamondbacks lost 93 games last year, general manager Dave Stewart was fired, and all signs pointed to the team’s president of baseball operations in Tony La Russa getting his walking papers as well. But La Russa was able to hold on, while the D’Backs have welcomed a new general manager in Mike Hazen, along with a new manager in Torey Lovullo. But even with the Diamondbacks having new front office personnel, they’ll still be facing an uphill battle in the N.L. West.
Like the Colorado Rockies, the Diamondbacks are going to have to rely heavily on their lineup to carry them this season. In 2016, the D’Backs pitching staff was dead last in the National League in earned run average at 5.09. Arizona believed that starting pitcher Zack Greinke would be the solution to their starting pitching issues as they gave him a six-year deal for $206.5 million. But Greinke was unable to consistently resemble the player who won 19 games in 2015 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, while leading the N.L. in earned run average at 1.66. However Greinke was only able to win 13 games while posting an earned run average of 4.37.
Some people feel that Greinke might have been “pressing” in his first year in Arizona as he wanted to show why he deserved get the big contract, but either way he will need to bounce back in a big way in order for the Diamondbacks to have a legitimate chance to make the postseason here in 2017.
This off-season the Diamondbacks did acquire starting pitcher Taijuan Walker from the Seattle Mariners in the hopes of strengthening their rotation. Walker is only 24-years of age, but he has never been able to live up to the expectations that were placed on him. However a change of scenery could be just what Walker needs.
The Diamondbacks lineup will miss the contributions of infielder Jean Segura who led the club in batting last year at .319, but was traded to the Mariners for Walker. However, Arizona will need outfielder A.J. Pollock to bounce back after his 2016 Major League Baseball campaign was derailed. An elbow injury limited Pollock to just 12 games last season and the D’Backs will need him to resemble to player who earned his first All-Star Game nod in 2015 when he batted .315 to go along with 20 homers and 76 runs batted in.
After defecting from Cuba in 2014, it hasn’t taken outfielder Yasmany Tomas that long to get adjusted to Major League Baseball. Last year was Tomas’ second MLB season and he led Arizona in home runs with 31. Tomas will team with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to give the Diamondbacks one of the best three-four combos in the National League West. For Goldschmidt’s six-year Major League Baseball career he has averaged 29 homers per year, and like I said before, the only thing that is preventing him from being a household name is the fact that he plays on a losing team. However the hitting prowess of Goldschmidt and Tomas more than likely won’t be enough for the Diamondbacks.
Arizona’s first 14 games in 2017 will be against teams that made the playoffs last season with 11 of those coming against the Dodgers and Giants as it will more than likely be tough sledding early on in the desert.
San Diego Padres 61-101
Two of the few good things that the San Diego Padres currently have going for them is that they play in one of the prettiest cities in the United States, while they also have one of the best stadiums in Major League Baseball. The Padres have not had a winning season since 2010, and they have failed to make the postseason since 2006. The one good thing about the 2016 MLB season for the Padres was that they were able to show off Petco Park to the baseball world by hosting the All-Star Game. But as the Padres lost 94 games, they also finished in last place in the National League West. And as the 2017 MLB season is set to begin, there isn’t that much optimism as far as the Padres being a contender.
A.J. Preller is set to begin his second full season as the general manager of the Padres, and after spending 2015 attempting to buy a contender, he spent 2016 waving the white flag. The Padres have traded nearly all of their valuable players which has left manager Andy Green in a bind in order to make San Diego contend.
The Padres can hang their hats on the fact that they have first baseman Wil Myers in the middle of their lineup. After Myers won the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award in 2013 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, he found himself traded to the Padres following the 2014 Major League Baseball season. After Myers missed time during his first three Major League Baseball seasons, he appeared in 157 games last year for the Padres as he hit a career-high 28 home runs. The Padres see Myers as a center piece for the future which led to both sides agreeing on a six-year extension that is worth $83 million which will keep him in San Diego through 2023.
But unfortunately for the Padres, there is not that much talent on this team aside from Myers which means that it will be a very long summer in San Diego; especially since the folks there can no longer look forward to watching the Chargers pay football.
Y-Wild Card Berth
In 2013, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig became an overnight sensation. Puig batted .319 with 19 home runs and 42 home runs in during 104 games that year. Puig would take second place in the National League Rookie of the Year while helping the Dodgers win the N.L. West. The future appeared to be super bright for Puig as he was on track to be Major League Baseball’s next phenomenal five-tool star. But the only person who has yet to receive that message is Puig.
Since 2013, Puig has been enigmatic to say the least as he has clashed with teammates and coaches alike. Puig’s numbers have dipped in each year since then while he is no stranger to taking plays off. This year in 81 games with the Dodgers, Puig is batting .260 with 7 homers and 34 runs batted in. And being that Puig has become more troublesome than helpful to the Dodgers, he was demoted last week by the club to their Triple-A affiliate in the Oklahoma City Dodgers. This move was made after the Dodgers were unable to find a trade partner to take on Puig as no team in Major League Baseball wants to deal with him and the headaches that he can cause. And because of that you have ask yourself where have things gone wrong for Puig?
Puig has all of the talent in the world, but his real issue is between his ears, as nobody has been able to get through to him. Since being demoted, Puig posted a video on social media of himself partying after a loss as the time in the minors has yet to humble him. Puig is under contract with the Dodgers through 2018, but being that his contract is very manageable as he is only scheduled to earn a combined $14 million through 2018, I would not be surprised to see the organization simply release him in the off-season and eat the remainder of the money that is owed to him.
I don’t know what it is going to take to get through to Puig as even if it isn’t working out for him with the Dodgers, he is still hurting his chances to latch on to another team as front office executives around Major League Baseball view him as a locker room cancer. Puig is only 25-years of age, and there is time for him to still figure it out. But it is truly a shame that someone as talented as him is merely wasting a golden opportunity that some people would be willing to die for.
2015 marked the third consecutive year in which the Los Angeles Dodgers made the postseason, but they’ve still been unable to reach the World Series since they won it all in 1988. Last October, the Dodgers lost to the New York Mets in the National League Divisional Series and it set the tone for some wholesale changes. After five years as the manager of the Dodgers, Don Mattingly was fired. Mattingly’s departure would give Dave Roberts the opportunity to become the Dodgers skipper as he is on the same page with the team’s president of baseball operations in Andrew Friedman, along with general manager Farhan Zaidi as far as sabremetrics go. Roberts has given the Dodgers a new voice in their clubhouse, but it is an old formula that is time tested for this organization which is why they are once again in playoff contention.
In Major League Baseball, the Dodgers have always been at the forefront as far as developing young talent. The Dodgers organization has been home to some of the greatest baseball players of all-time who have come through their system which includes the likes of Sandy Koufax and Duke Snider. In the 1990’s, the Dodgers had five players win the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award in consecutive years with one of those in Mike Piazza set for enshrinement into Baseball’s Hall of Fame this Sunday. Even around MLB, there are quality players that got their start with the Dodgers which includes Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre and Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin. The current Dodgers team has a good mixture of rookies and veterans that has them in first place for the N.L.’s Wild Card, and just 4.5 games behind the San Francisco Giants for the top spot in the N.L. West.
In 2012, the Dodgers made shortstop Corey Seager the 18th overall pick of the Major League Baseball Draft. Seager spent nearly four years tearing it up in the minor leagues until he was called up by the Dodgers last September. In 27 games with the Dodgers last year, Seager hit .337 and he is showing that his brief stint wasn’t a fluke as he is batting .301 with 17 home runs and 43 runs batted in here in 2016. Seager was selected to the All-Star team earlier this month and he is the front runner to be the National League’s Rookie of the Year.
This time last year saw Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson as Major League Baseball’s flavor of the month. Pederson burst onto the scene in 2015 as a rookie which saw him make the All-Star team after he hit 20 home runs during the first three months of the season. Pederson hit 26 homers as a rookie, but he only batted .210 as word got around the league as far as his inability to lay off of breaking pitches in the dirt. This season Pederson is batting .231, but he has an on-base percentage of .321 with 13 homers as the future is still bright for him.
This past off-season saw the Dodgers engage in a three-team trade with the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox which resulted in Los Angeles receiving outfielder Trayce Thompson. In 44 games last year with the White Sox, Thompson batted .295 with 5 home runs and 16 runs batted in. This year with the Dodgers, Thompson is batting .225 with 13 homers and 32 runs batted in as he has appeared in 80 games. Thompson has also provided the Dodgers with quality defense in the outfield as he has the ability to play all three outfield positions. But unfortunately for Thompson, he is currently on the disabled list as he is dealing with a back injury.
Overall this year the Dodgers have overachieved a bit, but they are right in the mix to make the postseason for a fourth consecutive year. Aside from the youngsters, the Dodgers are enjoying contributions from veteran players such as infielders Howie Kendrick, Chase Utley, Justin Turner, and Adrian Gonzalez. Catcher Yasmani Grandal has been solid in his ability to call games for the Dodgers pitching staff behind the plate, while Los Angeles still has the enigmatic one in Yasiel Puig roaming right field.
The Dodgers have been hit with the injury bug as there are currently 11 players on the disabled list with the most noticeable one being starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. But the Dodgers have made it this far with their blend of vets and youngsters. And as far as the young Dodgers go, Seager has shown that he is a star in the making as he will one day put this lineup on his back, while Pederson and Thompson aren’t bad options to shoulder the load with him.
There is no doubt that Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw is one of Major League Baseball’s brightest stars. Kershaw was the seventh overall pick of the 2006 MLB Draft by the Dodgers, and by 2008, he was ready for his debut. As a rookie, Kershaw would go 5-5 with an earned run average of 4.26. And by 2011, Kershaw would make his first All-Star Game appearance as he struck out 212 batters that year. The following year Kershaw would take his game to another level as he went 21-5 with a 2.28 earned run average en route to winning his first National League Cy Young Award. Overall Kershaw has won four NL Cy Young Awards while he has also led the Senior Circuit in earned run average four times. Aside from Kershaw’s rookie year, he has never had an earned run average above 2.91. Kershaw is one of the true aces in baseball, which includes him putting fear into batters via the strikeout.
Whereas the 300-game winner might be a lost art in Major League Baseball, Kershaw is reviving the notion of the 3,000-strikeout pitcher. In each of the last six seasons, Kershaw has struck out at least 212 batters, while last year he became the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2001 to strike out at least 300 batters in a season as he fanned 301. For Kershaw’s career he has struck out 1,841 batters which is already fifth on the Dodgers all-time list with 95 of those coming here in 2016. Of Kershaw’s 95 strikeouts this year, he has struck out at least 10 batters in a game on six occasions with a season-high 14 coming on May 1 against the San Diego Padres. Kershaw is 28-years of age, and barring any potential setbacks from elbow or shoulder issues, he is a guy that could become MLB’s first pitcher to record 3,000 career strikeouts since John Smoltz in 2008.
At 6’4″, 225 lbs., Kershaw is a menacing figure on the mound. Kershaw’s delivery to home plate is a quirky one as he moves both of his arms while the baseball is still in his glove. Kershaw then waits to the very last moment before he unleashes the baseball towards the plate. And all of the torque that has been generated from his big body results in most hitters being unable to catch up to his powerful fastball. But if Kershaw’s fastball isn’t tough enough to deal with, he has a 12-6 curve ball, along with a change-up that can keep batters off balance as he has them eating out of the palm of his hand.
For Kershaw’s career, opponents have a .205 batting average against him with the number dipping in each of the last five years with hitters only managing a .171 average against him this year as they are privileged just to make contact with the baseball.
But Kershaw isn’t just another pretty face and a smile as he is living up to his massive contract. Two years ago the Dodgers and Kershaw agreed on a seven-year contract extension that is worth $215 and just like any Hollywood box office sensation, he is truly worth the price of admission and then some. Right now the Dodgers don’t have that much protection behind Kershaw in the starting rotation; however he is holding his own with three complete games, and he has given Los Angeles at least 7 innings in each of his outings this year. Every fifth day that Kershaw takes the mound he gives his team a chance to win while doing what as ace is expected to do which is to dominate, save the bullpen, and put an end to a potential losing streak, or start a winning streak.
The National League Cy Young Award race this year should be a dandy between Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, and Kershaw. And throughout the history of the Dodgers organization, there have been legendary pitchers such as Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Orel Hershiser, with Kershaw stacking up right with them. But only time will tell how great that Kershaw will truly be.
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.