Tomorrow night is the beginning of yet another Major League Baseball campaign, and I couldn’t be happier. First pitch between the Cubs and Cardinals is scheduled for 8:05—which means that by 8:10 or so, the Cubs will be in “wait ’til next year” mode—and then the full slate of games on Monday. As is customary at this time of year, it’s time to make predictions for the coming season. I do so knowing full well that most of what I have to say here is grade-A bull plop, based on little more than a gut feeling and a personal desire to see certain outcomes. I encourage you to stop reading right now.
The National League
On paper, there isn’t a single division in the NL that should be even remotely competitive. The Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers are so much better than their divisional competitors, that by all rights they should win their divisions running away. Cliché No. 1: That’s why you play the games. The Nationals should win about 143 games this year. Clayton Kershaw should cruise to his fourth Cy Young Award, and then proclaim himself Emperor of Pitching. But just because those things should happen doesn’t mean that they will happen.
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers run away with their divisions. I’m also going to predict that the Mets, Marlins, Pirates, and Padres end up contending for the two wild card spots. I’m looking forward to the Giants and their self-righteous assholery sinking into their odd-year mediocrity. It’ll be fun to see what Kris Bryant does when the Cubs finally promote him to the majors. (And if you’re really a dedicated baseball fan—or just a compulsive gambler—you can create an office pool to predict which day that actually is.)
But how about some individuals of interest? For Rookie of the Year, I’m going with the obvious frontrunner, Kris Bryant—although Noah Syndergaard of the Mets might give him a run for his money. And we shouldn’t forget about the high-profile Joc Pedersen in LA. But service time-shortened season or no, Bryant’s going to hit a ton when he gets promoted. Cy Young? Well, Jose Fernandez isn’t due back until June, which should keep him out of the running. Kershaw’s the obvious choice, although Matt Harvey’s been throwing awesome this spring (and he’s also great at talking himself up). Andrew McCutchen’s always a good bet for MVP, but he’ll have stiff competition from Giancarlo Stanton and maybe Bryce Harper. (I almost typed Troy Tulowitzki’s name here, but my computer started laughing so hard…)
Some other intriguing players to watch: I think Ryan Braun is due for a bounce-back year. (Why? See my remark above about this all being “bull plop.”) I’m guessing Madison Bumgarner, despite all the hype and all the concern about his 2014 workload, ends up being just middle-of-the-pack this year. Phillies games should be great fun, what with Ryan Howard utter uselessness, Cole Hamels’s trade value dissipating with every pitch he throws, and the $37.5 million they owe to a pitcher who’s unlikely ever to throw another major league pitch. Here’s a marketing idea for the Philly club: Jonathan Papelbon wieners, delivered to your seat by the overpriced closer himself. Boo and shout abuse for some free “special sauce.”
As lopsided as the NL divisions are, so are the AL divisions wide open. In the East, it’s not totally ridiculous to think we’ll see all five teams hanging around (and that the eventual division winner will have won a sparkling 86 or so games). In the Central, the Tigers are still relatively strong, but Cleveland is on the upswing, as are the White Sox. (Personally, I don’t see the Royals as much more than a .500 team this year.) The Angels are probably the favorites to win the West, but the Mariners made a strong showing last year and, on the back of their terrific pitching staff, should do so again. And we can’t ever count out a Billy Beane team.
So here are my predictions: Red Sox, Indians, and Seattle win their divisions; Angels and Orioles take the wild cards, although with the White Sox and Rays barely missing out. I think the Tigers’ weaknesses are going to catch up to them: a rapidly declining Verlander (and no Sherzer), a bullpen that half the time would issue a free pass to my 90-year-old grandmother, an incompetent first baseman who’s going to make the team regret his massive contract extension before it even begins…
I’ve got Felix Hernandez down for the Cy Young, with David Price a close second in his walk year. For MVP, I’m picking Mike Trout again (in what will be his second—and should’ve been his fourth—award). I’ll be surprised if it’s even close. For ROY? I dunno. Pick one of the many youngsters who are going to debut for the Astros and maybe the Red Sox. Carlos Correia? Rusney Castillo (once he finally takes the right field job away from the Flyin’ Hawaiian)?
I’m also interested to follow (gratefully, from afar) the A-Rod saga, as well as the still-developing situation in California with Josh Hamilton. After an independent arbitrator ruled that Hamilton couldn’t be punished for his drug relapse this offseason—which means that he can go to rehab and that the Angels have to pay him his full salary—the Angels mucky-mucks dropped the charade of neutrality and flat out indicated that they were disappointed and that they had been hoping that Hamilton would have been suspended by the league. Which was taken rather amiss by at least one of Hamilton’s teammates. GM Jerry DiPoto had better hope that the team gets off to a fast start and this all disappears from view, because otherwise, the growing hostility between the team and the team’s management has the potential to turn real ugly real fast.
So that’s what I have to say. If you made it this far, I commend you. Take it for what it’s worth (nothing), and enjoy the season!by