Fastest and Slowest Starts to the 2016 Season

It’s been said time and time again by myself and other people around baseball, but it’s worth repeating: You can’t always take a team’s or player’s hot or cold start to a season in stone as to how they will perform over the rest of the season.

While it’s easy to overreact and declare that a team predicted to finish last is now World Series bound because they got off to a good start (or the opposite, that your favorite team is doomed because they’re yet to win a game), it’s still very early, with extremely small sample sizes to look at. But despite that, I decided to take a look anyhow at the starts teams and players around baseball have had to kick off 2016:

Fastest Starts

Teams:

1 — Orioles (5-0)

2 — Cubs (5-1)

3 — Reds (5-1)

The Orioles are off to a surprisingly good start (their best since 1970). While their team has the ability to win often, I would never have guessed that they would be the only undefeated team remaining in baseball a week into the season. Chicago, on the other hand, is off to the great start that people around the baseball world predicted, and are well under way to their World Series destiny. Like Baltimore, the Reds are also over performing tremendously. Them kicking off their season 5-1 isn’t how I ever thought things would pan out for them.

Players:

1 — Tyler White (.556, 3 HR, 9 RBI)

2 — Eugenio Suarez (.435, 4 HR, 9 RBI)

3 — Trevor Story (.333, 7 HR, 12 RBI)

None of these three were household names before the season got underway, but they are each posting numbers that would qualify them as such towards the end of the season. Tyler While is absolutely on fire for the Astros, as is Eugenio Suarez for the Reds. Both will look to continue to lead their given teams. However, while they are each off to hot starts, the talk of the baseball world is Trevor Story. Although Story has numerous players ahead of him in the batting average department, I included him on this list because of his historic seven homers over the course of his first six career games.

Slowest Starts

Teams:

1 — Twins (0-6)

2 — Braves (0-5)

3 — Marlins (1-3)

It’s not all that surprising that these three teams are at the very bottom of the pack among the other 27 teams in the baseball standings. Despite an unbelievable season last year, in which the Twins proved many people wrong, they are off to the worst start in their franchises history. The Braves aren’t faring any better, having yet to win a ballgame, with the Marlins having notched one victory, but still not seemingly on the verge of postseason glory when October rolls around.

Players:

1 — Curtis Granderson (.050, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

2 — Logan Morrison (.056, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

3 — Brad Miller (.059, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

Having yet to record a home run isn’t all that rare this time of season, nor is it unheard of to have recorded hits that didn’t result in a single run batted in. But to be hitting below .100 at any point in the year is a clear sign that your bat has gone ice cold. That’s certainly the case for Curtis Granderson, who is hitting just .050 on the year to this point. Logan Morrison is not far behind, with a mere .056 average, with teammate Brad Miller hitting just .059. While they will each inevitably raise their averages as the season goes on, it’s certainly not the start they were hoping to get off to.

As you can see, there are tons of teams and players who are off to amazingly great starts, with others having yet to show up. Over the course of the 162-game season, the majority of teams and players will inevitably wind up close to where they were predicted to end up before the season began (given, there are always a few surprises). But even so, it’s always fun to take a look to see what kind of start players and teams get off to when any given season begins. How long it lasts is the part that will be intriguing to watch.

Trevor Story Wasting No Time Setting Records

Any time a baseball player makes their MLB debut, it’s bound to be a special day for them. When it happens on Opening Day, it makes it all that more thrilling. But Trevor Story has taken things a step further, not only doing both of the aforementioned things this season, but also exploding onto the scene with the Rockies.  Story

In his brief, three-game MLB career, Story has already accomplished something that no other player in baseball history has ever been able to do. Over the course of his first few games in the bigs, Story has proceeded to launch four home runs (one of which was off 2015 NL Cy Young winner, Zack Greinke), hitting at least one in every single game he’s played, and becoming the first player to ever do so in three straight games to lead off their career.

After a strong Spring Training showing, the Rockies felt confident that Story could be brought up to the majors to fill the void left by Jose Reyes during his absence from the team, but no one could have anticipated Story performing the way he has to this point.

Story is now batting .286 on the season (his only four hits have been home runs) with 4 home runs and 7 RBI’s over the course of three games, and has gone from an under the radar prospect in the Rockies farm system to a star overnight. While I’ll be the first to admit that Story inevitably won’t be able to keep up this historic pace, currently hitting a home run every 3.5 at-bats, it’s still amazing to watch while it lasts.

But while Story will ultimately not reach his on-pace number of 200+ home runs for the season, all signs point to him continuing to produce quality number for the Rockies, likely for years to come. While Corey Seager was the heavy favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year award after his terrific stint with the Dodgers towards the end of last season, it appears that Story is going to give Seager a run for his money.

Although this is baseball, where guys can go from being red hot to ice cold in the matter of a single game, Story is well on his way to breaking his career high of 20 home runs set last season in the minors between Double-A and Triple-A. After all, Story is yet to play a single game at home in Coors Field, where the ball is known to fly out of the park.

It’s crazy to think, but Trevor Story might be just getting started.

Justin Verlander Shines in First Start of 2016

A quick glance at the box score of Tuesday night’s Tigers game versus the Marlins wouldn’t necessarily leave you to believe it, but Justin Verlander was terrific on the evening. Yes, he gave up three earned runs; and no, he didn’t strike out a ton, or receive the win for that matter. But he showed flashes of the old Verlander that the baseball world has come to miss. Verlander

Following a 67 start stretch over the course of 2011 and 2012, in which Verlander went 41-13 with a combined 2.52 ERA, winning a Cy Young and MVP award, he has recorded a 3.84 ERA ever since. Heading into this season, you truly didn’t know what to expect from the six-time All-Star, but he hit the ground running right out of the gate in game one of the year for his 2016 campaign.

Verlander carried a no-hitter all the way into the sixth inning on Tuesday night. But, unfortunately, that’s when things began to fall apart. After surrendering hit number one, in the form of a double to Dee Gordon, Verlander proceeded to give up an RBI-single to Marcell Ozuna and a two-run homer to Giancarlo Stanton, which brought the score up to 5-3, Tigers. However, despite the poor inning, it was just that — one inning. Verlander had already proven in the previous five that he still has a ton of talent remaining.

It’s been quite some time since Justin Verlander performed anywhere near the caliber of pitcher he was just a few seasons ago. However, if his first start of the year is any indication, the old Verlander could be on the verge of breaking out once again. For the Tigers’ sake, they better hope so. Detroit’s lineup is more than good enough to produce a very special season, but their starting rotation has a few question mark; the biggest of which being Verlander heading into this season.

Even so, if Justin Verlander can continue to build upon his outing on Tuesday night, the Tigers could end up surprising quite a few people around the baseball world when all is said and done.

Baseball Returns With a Three-Game Slate

It’s been a little over five months since the last non-exhibition Major League Baseball game was played, but meaningful baseball is finally taking place again today (Opening Day, part one). After a month of Spring Training games, six of baseball’s thirty teams are scheduled to dual it out over the course of this afternoon and evening, with the remaining twenty-four squads playing their opening games on Monday.Opening Day

Game one of the regular season is set to kick off at 1:05, and sees the Cardinals taking on the Pirates in a National League Central battle. Francisco Liriano and Adam Wainwright are the scheduled starters for the contest, leaving little to doubt that it will be a great game. With the NL Central likely to be a very close race throughout the coming 162 games, it’s never been more important to get off to a good start against a division rival.

The second game on the docket for today is another divisional faceoff, as the Blue Jays are going up against their American League East counterpart Rays. While the Rays aren’t predicted to hold up against Toronto in the long run, anything can happen in the first game of the year. On the mound for Tampa is Chris Archer, with Marcus Stroman toeing the rubber for the Jays. It will likely be a fun one to watch, with this game beginning at 4:05 in the afternoon.

But while the previous two games are sure to be exciting and well worth watching, the one I’m going to be watching the closest and am looking forward to the most is the World Series rematch between the Mets and the Royals at 8:37. Game five of the Fall Classic way back on November 1st saw Matt Harvey starting for the Mets, with Edinson Volquez setting the tone for Kansas City, which just so happens to be the pitching matchup for tonight. For that reason, this should wind up being an unbelievable game.

As we all know, the Royals walked away World Series champions over the Mets in 2015, however, that was last season. It’s a new year, and with it comes new opportunities for each and every team around baseball. The road to the World Series starts with game one, and the first week always promises excitement from teams and individual players around baseball, as they all look to get off to hot starts.

Let the season begin.

Sandoval to Start Opening Day . . . On the Bench

When the Boston Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, 95 million dollar contract heading into the 2015 season, all signs pointed towards him continuing to add to his historically good career statistics that he had posted over the previous six seasons in San Francisco.Sandoval

With the Giants, Sandoval hit twelve or more homers, recorded at least 63 RBI’s and notched a batting average in the mid to upper .200’s from 2009 to 2014, before signing with the Red Sox in November of 2014. With that kind of track record, things were looking bright at third base in Boston.

But it all completely fell apart for ‘The Panda’ last season, when he really struggled offensively, hitting just .245 on the year, with career lows of just ten homers and 47 RBI’s. However, it was his poor defense at third, leading to fifteen errors, that really stood out; and that is ultimately going to keep him on the bench to begin 2016.

After two All-Star game selections and three World Series rings with the Giants, Sandoval will be on the outside looking in to begin his eighth full season in the bigs. Instead, it’s standout 2015 rookie, Travis Shaw, who received the nod from manager John Farrell to start Opening Day at the hot corner.

Following a debut season of thirteen home runs over the course of just 65 games, Shaw hit the ground running in Florida’s Grapefruit League this year, recording an average well above .300, and playing a great defense at third — much better Shawthan that of Sandoval.

However, Sandoval seems at peace with the decision for him to not start game one of the year, and fully believes he can turn things around, saying, “It was the right decision to help the team win. I’m going to be ready during the season to do my job out there.”

Nonetheless, there are many people around the baseball world who don’t hold the same level of hope for Sandoval. Showing up at Spring Training around a month ago extremely out of shape, and with rumors flying that Sandoval may wind up being traded in the near future, there is no guarantee that things will ever be the same for Sandoval, at least with the Red Sox.

Now that Shaw has been given the opportunity to play everyday at third base, I see him thriving there and keeping Sandoval from regaining his role there much at all. It will certainly be interesting to see how it all pans out.

Opening Day for the Red Sox is now less than 100 hours away, set for Monday, April 4th, up in Cleveland against the Indians. But for Pablo Sandoval, the season will begin with him serving a role similar to the 38,000 fans expected to pack the ballpark: a mere spectator.

Q and A With Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly was drafted by the Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft, despite recording a 5.65 ERA his final year at the University of California-Riverside.

Joe KellyFollowing the draft, Kelly performed well in the minors and made a steady progression through the ranks from 2009 to 2012, earning a mid season call up in 2012 to the Cardinals, where he proceeded to post a 3.53 ERA over the course of 107 innings pitched.

Kelly had a terrific following year in 2013 with the Cardinals, recording a 2.69 ERA over 124 innings and looked to be on his way to becoming one of the Cardinals’ top pitching options in their rotation. But after a 4.37 ERA seven game start to the 2014 season, Kelly was traded to the Red Sox where he has remained ever since.

The 2015 season saw Kelly take the mound for the Red Sox 25 times, but his outings varied in consistency and his overall results were subpar. Following the up and down year, Kelly was shut down for the final portion of last season due to shoulder soreness, after a cumulative 4.82 ERA.

Despite the poor year for Kelly in 2015 and subsequent talks that he may be moved to the bullpen full time, many people still feel that he can turn things around to become an effective major league starting pitcher once again. After all, he still owns a decent career ERA of 3.82, and there have been plenty of signs in the past that he has the potential to still pan out.

Joe Kelly — pitcher for the Boston Red Sox — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I became most interested when I was about 5 years old. Growing up, my biggest influences were my parents. They were always so supportive and loving.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

My favorite baseball player was Ken Griffey Jr. He was the best player in the league. Everyone loves a winner.

3.) You were drafted by the Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was an awesome feeling. I was with my family and closest friends at a local pizza parlor. It was also my 21st birthday, and we had a great time celebrating all night.

4.) You made it to the World Series in 2013 with the Cardinals, and started game three. What was that overall experience like for you?

Being in the World Series is a great experience that I will never forget. I can’t wait to hopefully make it back and get a ring.

5.) For the Cardinals, you pitched in around 70 games before being traded to the Red Sox midseason in 2014. What were the biggest differences you noticed about switching to pitching in the American League? How difficult was it to make the transition during the season?

The biggest difference is that you don’t get to face the pitcher hitting. You actually have to focus on the number nine hitter and work for your out. It was hard in the middle of the season, because it was such short notice. I had to live in the hotel for two months in Boston.

6.) Throughout your career in the minors and majors, you’ve made the switch back and forth between the bullpen and starting rotation numerous times. How do you enable yourself to thrive in whatever role you are placed in?

I just try to keep pitching simple, whether it’s in the pen or being a starter.

7.) The Red Sox made the major additions of David Price and Craig Kimbrel this past offseason to bolster your rotation and bullpen. How do you feel their presence will impact the overall makeup of the Red Sox in 2016?

I think we have a really good team, and should compete for the top spot in the AL East. Adding those two guys is huge. They are great teammates and leaders. I can’t wait to play with them.

8.) After a somewhat poor start to 2015, you won eight consecutive starts from August through September before being shut down due to shoulder soreness. What do you feel you were doing differently that allowed you so much success?

I just started to locate my fastball with more consistency and mixed my off speed pitches well. I hope that I will pick up right where I left off at last season.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite show is ‘Breaking Bad’, and favorite food is ‘In-N-Out’.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

I would tell kids to just have fun, throw the ball as hard as you can and swing as hard as you can. You can always teach proper mechanics later on in life.

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Big thanks to Joe Kelly for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @JosephKellyJr

Takeaways as Spring Training Winds Down

As history has shown us, Spring Training virtually means nothing when it comes to projecting how any given team or player will fare when the regular season actually rolls around. Spring

In season’s past, teams that “won” their leagues in the Spring wound up finishing in last place when the games actually mattered, with the opposite holding true for other teams that had poor Spring Trainings. The same applies to players, some of which vastly underperform or overperform in the Spring but return to their expected selves when April begins. For that reason, looking at the standings and stats is useless.

But that doesn’t stop me from checking them out anyhow. With Spring Training nearly over, and regular season games set to begin on April 3rd, I figured I’d share some of the things I took away from a quick glimpse at the standings and stats of teams and players around the baseball world.

The Mets and Cardinals are expected to do big things in their given divisions in 2016, but you wouldn’t reach that conclusion from peering at their Spring record. Each is well below .500, despite individual players on both teams shining at times. But that will inevitably change when the year actually begins.

On the flip side of things, the Phillies have a great record in the Grapefruit League, with the Rockies and Brewers doing well in the Cactus League side of things. But although they are outplaying other teams to this point, none of them are expected to do much of anything this season, with a last place division finish possible for each of them when all is said and done.

Individually, player’s stats can also be somewhat misleading.

PeraltaDavid Peralta and Christian Yelich — each of which were terrific in 2015 and have the ability to hit for a very high average — are ice cold thus far in Spring Training. However, they should easily turn things around when the true games begin. Likewise, as far as pitchers are concerned, veterans Jake Peavy and Jeff Samardzija haven’t faired much better than Peralta or Yelich, as each is doing horrible this Spring. But fortunately for them, the likelihood that all of these players continue to perform at such a low level is extremely low.

So if your favorite team or player is having a terrible Spring Training, don’t panic — at least not just yet. Theses things always seem to find a way of working out. But all the same, don’t set your hopes too high on a player or team who is putting up stellar numbers but is expected to do poorly this year. It likely won’t be able to last over the long 162-game year.

But then again, that’s why the games are played. Anything is truly possible from one year to the next.

National League Predictions for 2016

For the fifth season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I picked the Mets to finish fourth in 2015 and they made it to the World Series), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.

I posted my predictions for the 2016 American League Season on Monday, and today I’m going to give my predictions for the National League (along with my reasoning), starting with the National League East:

EAST

1. Mets

2. Nationals

3. Marlins

4. Braves

5. Phillies

The Mets proved to the baseball world last season that they are a team that is finally ready to win. In the past, there had been a lot of talk surrounding the Mets that each season would finally be their year, but things inevitably fell through for them in the end. In 2015, however, they finally emerged, with Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom leading the charge and setting the tone each and every night. I expect them to have even better seasons individually this year, and with it will come more success as a whole. But although their pitching rivals that of any other squad in baseball, it’s their combination of good pitching and good offense that will seal the division title for them. Resigning Yoenis Cespedes was their biggest retention of the offseason, as he, along with veterans Curtis Granderson and David Wright, will assuredly be more than enough to push them past their rival Natinoals.

If the Nationals had signed Yoenis Cespedes as was reportedly attempted this offseason, I would have them in much better shape. Even so, I still feel a second place finish and possible Wild Card spot isn’t out of the question. Although their offense is likely going to be better this season, with a fully healthy Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman looking to slug along side of 2015 National League MVP Bryce Harper, I don’t see it as being good enough to hold off a good Mets’ pitching staff for first place. After all, the Nats seemingly had everything in place in 2015, as the signings of big time pitcher Max Scherzer made them immediate favorites. But a lot went wrong for Washington last season, making it hard to predict for sure how they will fare this time around. To me, Stephen Strasburg needs to finally have his superstar breakout season in order for the Nationals to have any shot at overthrowing the division favorite Mets.

A healthy Marlins team has proven in the past that they can compete with any team in baseball. However, I don’t feel confident that they have all the pieces it takes to place any higher than third in a division that has the Mets and Nationals fighting for the first place slot. What makes it so difficult is the fact that beyond Jose Fernandez, who looks ready to return back from missing most of 2015 due to Tommy John surgery, the Marlins don’t have any other pitchers who can absolutely dominate an opposing teams lineup. Furthermore, beyond Giancarlo Stanton, who really needs to have a fully healthy season in order to contribute monster numbers to his club, Miami isn’t all that loaded in the offensive side of things. Justin Bour had a nice breakout year for them in 2015, and Dee Gordon has emerged as one of the game’s best hitting second basemen, but I don’t see this Miami club as being capable of any sort of special year.

With sights set on 2017, when they will officially move from Turner Field to a brand new ballpark across town, the Braves are likely headed for another disappointing year. Getting rid of Shelby Miller (even though it brought back number one overall pick Dansby Swanson) was a huge mistake in my opinion, as it drastically weakens what was already a poor rotation. Beyond Julio Teheran at the top, and Matt Wisler, who is poised for a breakout year, the Braves don’t really have all that much to throw at opposing teams. Additionally, their lineup has a few key pieces to it, such as Freddie Freeman, Michael Bourn and Nick Markakis, but those guys likely won’t be able to carry the team on their own. In my mind, for a Braves team that hasn’t been the same offensively since losing Justin Upton to the Padres (he’s now with the Tigers), the best thing they can do is hope for better things when they relocate in 2017.

When you look at the talent the Phillies have coming fast in their minor league system, it would appear that this will be the final year of what has turned into a drastic rebuilding process for the Phillies. After winning division title after division title, Philadelphia has been a shell of its former power house club in recent years. Ryan Howard is entering the last year of his contract with the Phillies, but I’m not expect a tremendous amount from him, as he hasn’t been able to perform on the superstar level he once did. Beyond Howard, the only other player in the Phillies lineup who I could see having an above average year is Maikel Franco, who was great last season. Their rotation isn’t much better, as they have a few nice pieces, but nothing overly dominant. Even so, their farm system is loaded with impact players knocking on the door to Philadelphia. Therefore, as I’m viewing it, this could be the last disappointing year for quite awhile.

CENTRAL

1. Cubs

2. Cardinals

3. Pirates

4. Reds

5. Brewers

The National League Central division appears to have all the makings of a classic division rivalry between the top three finishers, but I have the Cubs really breaking through in 2016. They were able to make it into the playoffs last season, but were eliminated before they could make any major run towards breaking their World Series drought. But the offseason addition of John Lackey to go along with Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in a relatively strong rotation put them as frontrunners. Their lineup was good last season, but I think they’ll break through even further in the coming year. Adding Jason Heyward to their outfield will inevitably improve their club, and rookies from a year ago, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell should build upon their 2015 years to form what looks to be a division title club. If all goes as planned, this could be the year the Cubs make it deep into the postseason, and maybe even the World Series.

While I have the Cubs finishing in first place, the Cardinals are certainly not going to go down without a fight, and will give Chicago a true run for their money. With Yadier Molina returning from a season in which he missed most of due to injury, he should help both their offense and pitching staffs improve. Beyond him, Jhonny Peralta and Matt Holiday are looking to post solid numbers once again, with Stephen Piscotty, Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter figuring to have large contributions as well. Moreover, the Cardinals pitching staff should be tremendous, if Adam Wainwright can pitch the way he’s capable of, along with Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn. Also having a lock down closer in Trevor Rosenthal to come in for the ninth inning, if St. Louis can see their starters having good outings night after night, they could rack up a lot of wins when all is said and done this season.

The Pirates are going to finish in a close third place in my mind. While they have an All-Star closer in Mark Melancon, much as the Carinals do in Rosenthal, Pittsburgh simply doesn’t have the top notch pitching staff I feel they need to find themselves forcing the Carinals and Cubs to sweat. Beyond Gerrit Cole, who is sure to have another star season, the Pirates top options of Jeff Lock and Francisco Liriano are too inconsistent for me to feel they will have that big of an impact. Their lineup is fairly solid, with Jung Ho Kang and Josh Harrison, as well as an outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte, but the rest of their lineup isn’t all that dominant. But athough they likely won’t be able to hold off the powerful Cubs and Cardinals, the Pirates have a ton of talent in the high minors who should be helping very soon. With that in mind, they could see a big jump in wins starting as soon as 2017, if not late this year.

I originally had the Reds coming in last in the National League Central division, but upon closer inspection of their roster, I moved them up to fourth. Even so, it is looking like it will turn out to be another rough season in Cincinnati. Although their lineup isn’t exactly terrible, possessing guys such as Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, it isn’t great, either. The Reds will go on solid runs at time, as virtually every club winds up doing, but I have a hard time picturing them sustaining anything. On the pitching side of their club, the loss of Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees will no doubt hurt their bullpen, where they don’t have too much depth. Surprisingly, however, their strongest suit may turn out to be their rotation. If given a chance, I think Robert Stephenson could be a big impact pitcher for them, along with Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan and Michael Lorenzen giving a little spark to the Reds coming poor year.

Both the lineup and pitching staff of the Brewers can be summed up in four words: good, but not great. Their entire team is made up of guys who have been good (or even really good) at one point or another, but have also been very inconsistent. Ryan Braun in hands down their best and most impactful player, and with the exception of Scooter Gennett, Chris Carter and Jonathan Lucroy, Braun is really the only above average player on the squad. Wily Peralta, Matt Garza and Jimmy Nelson have each had great outings as part of the Brewers’ rotation, but they all also hold a lot of uncertainty heading into this season as to how they will actually fare. While there may be a few bright spots throughout the year in which certain players go on a hot streak that subsequently help propel Milwaukee forward, I don’t see anyway they make any major postseason push. There doesn’t appear to be much to be excited about for 2016.

WEST

1. Giants

2. Diamondbacks

3. Dodgers

4. Padres

5. Rockies

My predictions for the National League West nearly saw me placing the Diamondbacks in this slot, with the Giants finishing in second place. But I can’t ignore the fact that San Francisco’s lineup is better overall than that in Phoenix. Lead by the offense of Buster Posey, the Giants also have several more very impact bats such as that of Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, Matt Duffy and Brandon Crawford. But what really gives the Giants the slightest of edges over the D-backs is their pitching staff, which is truly solid. The pickups of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija should help them to perform well, as they already had star hurler Madinson Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Chris Heston. Though you never can fully predict where a team will fall at the end of any given season, I feel fairly confident that the Giants will be able to hold off the Diamondbacks and come out on top if they can perform the way that they are capable of.

I’m fully on board the Diamondbacks’ bandwagon, but it’s not just because a lot of people around the baseball world are believing in them heading into 2016. Picking up both Zack Greinke, who had a historic season last year, as well as Shelby Miller, will go along way in helping the D-back’s rotation that already included star Patrick Corbin, among others. Their bullpen is good as well, with guys such as Brad Ziegler and newcomer Tyler Clippard set to shut things down in the late innings. Offensively, the D-backs aren’t going to score tons of runs every night, but they still possess quite a bit of pop. Guys like Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and Yasmani Tomas should be able to lead this club to a lot of victories if everything holds up on the pitching side. All things considered, it should wind up being a far more successful year in the desert than what they saw just a year ago.

While the Dodgers still have the best pitcher in baseball in Clayton Keshaw, who you can more than count on to post Cy Young caliber numbers once again, the remainder of their rotation is somewhat questionable. Losing Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks this past off season will likely turn out to be a big blow to an already subpar Dodgers pitching staff, as Greinke was absolutely amazing in 2015. Los Angeles’s lineup is fairly decent, with sluggers Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez still ready to impact ballgames, as well as Rookie of the Year favorite Corey Seager also set to make his talents more widely known. However, I’m just not fully convinced that the Dodgers will be good enough to fare any better than the middle of the pack in the West. They have too many holes in their overall team for me to think that they have any shot of reaching the postseason in the coming year.

The Padres were the story of the 2014 offseason, as their general manager, A.J. Preller, made some amazing moves that brought a ton of talent to San Diego and made a lot of people believe in the Padres for 2015. But things simply didn’t go as planned. This season, expectations aren’t nearly as high, with a fourth place finish predicted from me. They lost dominant closer, Craig Kimbrel, to the Red Sox this offseason, and that will inevitably hurt in the long run. In their actual rotation, they still have a solid three of James Shields, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner, but they won’t be enough to maintain a season long winning streak. Other than Matt Kemp and an injury-plagued Wil Myers, the Padres don’t really have a lot of thump in their lineup that will be able to offset their lack of pitching, either. For that reason, the ultimate highlight of the year in San Diego will likely be them hosting the All-Star game in July.

Finishing under .500 every season since 2011, the Rockies aren’t looking to fare much better in the coming year. Although they play 81 games in a ballpark where offense is given a definitive edge, as the ball really flies in the mile high city of Denver, the Rockies truly don’t have a lot of big power bats to tap into the thin air. Beyond Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado, who should both put up monster numbers yet again, Denver merely has some solid players in the form of guys like DJ LeMahieu, Ben Paulsen and Charlie Blackmon. Although they are each good players, I don’t see it doing a whole lot of good, especially without a dominant pitching staff. Other than recently high-ranked prospects Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, who have been hit and miss to this point in their careers, the Rockies don’t have any true power hurlers who they can count on to post big outings each night. Thus, I don’t see Denver going much of anywhere in 2016.

American League Predictions for 2016

For the fifth season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I had the Red Sox placing first in 2015 and they finished last), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.

I’ll be posting my predictions for the National League in the next few days, but for now, I’m going to give my predictions for the American League (along with my reasoning), starting with the American League East:

EAST

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Blue Jays

4. Orioles

5. Rays

For a team that has finished dead last each of the past two seasons, it’s hard to wrap my head around placing the Red Sox to win the Americna League East division in 2016, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Not everyone has them faring quite as well, but there are a number of factors that have me seeing great things from them this season. First of all, the addition of Craig Kimbrel to their bullpen — along with Carson Smith from the Mariners — to close out games for them will wind up being huge, in my mind. As far as their starters are concerned, placing David Price in the rotation automatically improves their chances of winning every fifth day, even though the rest of their rotation isn’t on Price’s level. The Red Sox don’t have an overly dominant pitching staff, but with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez looking to have bounceback seasons offensively in this being David Ortiz’s last season, I feel big things are ahead for Boston.

What the Yankees lack in offensive thump (besides Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez) they make up for in pitching. Their rotation and bullpen aren’t overwhelming at first glance, but they are a group of solid pitching workhorses who will post a ton of innings of good baseball all season long. With that in mind, I have the Yankees finishing second to the Red Sox, as they will likely be very competitive, but I can’t see them winning the whole division. Even so, with Masahiro Tanaka looking to have a fully healthy season, along with Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda, combined with a bullpen of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and newly acquired Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees pitching will inevitably carry them when their offense isn’t clicking. They’re basically the opposite of the Red Sox. Bottom line: The Yankees are a team that shouldn’t be overlooked, as they look to make it back to the postseason this year.

The Blue Jays have a true dream-lineup, with Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista all providing major power threats at any point in the game. But they’re missing one thing that would lead me to placing them atop the division: a strong pitching staff. Yes, they have guys like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez who look to have big futures ahead, along with veteran R.A. Dickey, but I’m not fully on board with them placing any better than third in the division. If they can find a way to pitch well day in and day out, then there is no stopping the Blue Jays from dominating the division, but there are a lot of “what ifs” with their team. After making it to the postseason for the first time in over twenty years last season, it wouldn’t shock me at all if they make it back again in 2016. But on the flip side, it wouldn’t fully shock me if they don’t make it either.

If history has taught us anything it’s that predicting how any given season will pan out is impossible. However, history has also shown that it takes a good pitching staff to make it much of anywhere in the divisional races, and I don’t see a very deep rotation or bullpen for the Orioles. They have several solid starters, from Chris Tillman to Brian Matusz, as well as newcomer Yovani Gallardo who will help them out tremendously, and their bullpen has a couple of the best relievers in baseball, with Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. But I simply don’t see them as having enough to outplay the Blue Jays, Yankees or Red Sox. Their pitchers would have to be atop their game all season long, and their lineup would also have to perform on an equally high level. But with all of that said, with guys like Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Adam Jones, it’s not entirely impossible for them to have special year, I just don’t predict it.

Someone unfortunately has to finish last in every division around baseball no matter how good their team is, and I’m placing the Rays in that slot for 2016. Putting them last was extremely hard. I could make a strong case for them outplaying the Orioles, with even somewhat long shot cases of them placing in the top three. They have a team that makes anything possible. Their rotation is better than that of the Orioles and Blue Jays, in my opinion, with guys like Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb (once he returns) and Matt Moore, but I’m not convinced that their offense, other than Evan Longoria and a few others, will be consistent enough to take on the top teams in the division. If they can score runs, they can compete with anyone. It all comes down to execution. That’s what makes them just like the other four teams in the division who I could see coming in first or dead last. It’s truly going to be that close of a race in the division.

CENTRAL

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

This is another very difficult division to decide where to place each team, but I have the Royals winning the division once again. They aren’t a very flashy team, but they do a lot extremely well. In 2015, the Royals were the king of the comeback, constantly coming back from big deficits to win games that ultimately lead to them becoming World Series champions. I feel they will be able to do that again this season. One of the biggest stories of the offseason was Alex Gordon deciding to stay with the Royals, and I feel that him sticking around will help them exponentially. Combined with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, the Royals have a good enough lineup to post a nice amount of runs. What will help the Royals win their way to the division title, however, is their bullpen, with Wade Davis helping to lead the charge. If all goes right, winning the division should be fairly easy.

Not a lot of people believe in the Tigers for 2016, but upon looking at their roster, I don’t see a spot where they are weak. Over the past few seasons, their bullpen has been one of their worst spots, but they addressed that nicely with the pickup of Francisco Rodriguez who is a proven closer that can shut down games for them. Beyond that, their rotation got a bit better, as the pickup of under the radar starter Jordan Zimmermann, to go along with Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris, should help them win a lot of games. But while their pitching staff is strong, their roster is even stronger. Miguel Cabrera will put up Cabrera-like numbers, and if Victor Martinez can have a healthy year, along with J.D. Martinez and offseason pickup Justin Upton, Detroit appears to be in good shape. If absolutely everything goes right, the Tigers could win the division. But I’m leaving them finishing in a close second.

With Chris Sale leading the way as the Ace of the staff, along with Carlos Rodon and Jose Quintana likely to have solid seasons, the White Sox appear to have a decent enough pitching rotation to win ball games in 2016. However, I don’t see it as being strong enough to overtake either the Tigers or Royals. Furthermore, I’m not fully convinced that their lineup is going to be all that spectacular either. They had one of the worst lineups in baseball last season, and while they picked up Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason, they can only help so much. Guys such as Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera and Adam Eaton will do their parts throughout the season, but I simply don’t see a way for the White Sox to finish any better than third place in the division. That’s a sharp contrast from some people around the baseball world who actually have the Sox winning the division this coming season, but I can’t place them that high in my mind.

If the Indians can get the fullest potential out of Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar this coming season, the sky is truly the limit for them. However, with that said, I’m not sure what to expect out of the Indians’ starters as a whole. Over the past few seasons, each of the aforementioned names have been dominant, but they have failed to be dominant at the same time, with a lot of inconsistency coming from them all. Additionally, although their lineup contains some big names, I simply don’t think that it will be enough to stack up against the other three teams above them on my list. Yes, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley, among others, are capable of carrying the Indians far in the season, but their overall makeup isn’t going to be consistent enough, in my opinion, to make the coming season that special of a year for the Indians.

The Minnesota Twins shocked the baseball world last season when they finished in second place in the division. But I see a drastic fall back for them in the coming year. If their rotation was stronger, I could see another good year. However, with Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes being historically inconsistent over their careers, their pitching isn’t exactly their strong suit. Where the Twins thrive is their lineup, which contains a ton of power. Miguel Sano burst onto the scene last year and was absolutely tremendous right out of the gate, with fellow sluggers Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia likely to be the key power sources of their roster. If they can get those guys going, along with Byron Buxton, who was somewhat of a disappointment upon his debut last season, then the Twins very well may prove me wrong and climb their way up the rankings. I just have a hard time seeing a scenario where that happens.

WEST

1. Astros

2. Angels

3. Rangers

4. Mariners

5. Athletics

After several years in a row of finishing the season with greater than 100 losses on the year, the Astros have finally been heading in the right direction in recent history, with them actually making the playoffs in 2015. With a starting rotation that includes 2015 Cy Young award winner, Dallas Keuchel, along with youngster Lance McCullers and newcomer Doug Fister, I really like Houston’s starters heading into the year. And their bullpen is even better. Picking up Ken Giles from the Phillies in a trade to join Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson in the bullpen, the Astros look ready to mow down opposing teams all season long. On the flip side, they also appear loaded in their lineup. While they lost slugger Chris Carter, they still have reigning Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa who looks headed for superstardom, along with Jose Altuve, Carlos Gomez and George Springer. All things together, the division title is the Astros’ to lose.

The Angels’ lineup is certainly a great mix of both veterans and young, talented players, and I think they will all come together to truly shock some people in 2016. Despite that, I don’t see them taking out the Astros for top spot in the division. Albert Pujols had a solid year last season, and Mike Trout is seemingly getting better and better as each year passes. Look for both of them to power the team towards a lot of wins, along with some help from guys such as Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron and offseason pickup Andrelton Simmons. But while I feel their offense will be okay at best, I predict their pitching to be superb in 2016. Getting a healthy Garrett Richards for this season, with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Andrew Heaney all looking to have a bounce back or breakout season, I don’t feel that any of the other three teams below the Angels on my list will be able to challenge them for the full 162-game season.

Third in my divisional standings predictions for the American League West are the Rangers, however, they could easily overtake the Angels if they don’t perform the way I’m expecting them to. For that reason alone, the Rangers are a team to watch very carefully in 2016. Although their lineup is going to be fairly good, with Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder all ready to mash in the coming year, there are too many questions with the remainder of their roster for me to extremely believe in them. Furthermore, the question marks extend beyond their lineup. They lost Yovani Gallardo to the Orioles this offseason, and although they have proven themselves in the past, Derek Holland and Yu Darvish performing at the top of their game after injuries is yet to be seen. Even so, the Rangers should be a very good ball club that may wind up just short when all is said and done.

When I look at the Mariners’ rotation heading into this season, I see a ton of talent but also a ton of question marks, much as I did with the Rangers’ lineup. Beyond Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, who will both be great all year long, Seattle’s rotation isn’t really proven enough for me to think without a doubt that they are headed for big things this year. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker have a ton of potential, and have shown flashes of greatness before, but they have been too inconsistent to have an idea of what to expect from them in 2016. Beyond their pitching, the Mariners also leave a lot to be desired in their overall lineup, as other than players such as Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, I don’t see a lot of pop in their everyday 1-9. For all of those reasons, I feel that it is going to turn out to be another disappointing season in Seattle.

Finally on my list of picks in the American League divisional races in 2016, I have the Athletics finishing at a dismal last place in the west. While the pickup of Fernando Rodney will go a long way in further improving their already decent bullpen, their starting rotation begins and ends with Sonny Gray, who I see as having another Cy Young conversation season. With the unfortunate loss of Jarrod Parker due to another arm injury, I don’t see a lot of options for their rotation that will be overpowering. More of the same holds true for the offensive side of their roster. To me, although they have a few impact bats such as Billy Butler and Josh Reddick, along with 2015 breakouts Stephen Vogt and Billy Burns, they simply don’t have good enough pitching or hitting for them to perform at a competitive level in the division they are in. Ever since losing Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the A’s just haven’t been the same.

Home Run Milestones that Should Occur in 2016

Below you’ll find a list of the home run milestones that should occur in 2016. I say should because there’s no guarantee that any given player on the list will actually reach the listed milestone. They could get injured, have a bad season, or whatever. I’ve made the same type of list the past four seasons, and they have been well-received, so I figured I’d post another one for this year.

A few of the players on the list are a tad of a stretch, as the number of homers they are away from a milestone is more than they’ve ever hit or have hit in quite some time. But overall, the players listed are a rough idea of which players to watch closely this season. In order to make the list a player has to meet the following criteria:

  1. You can’t be a pitcher. Although there are some pitchers who can hit home runs, you won’t find any on my list. Reason being is that they’re not everyday players.
  2. You have to have hit at least one home run in the major leagues. There are several dozen players going into 2016 that haven’t hit an MLB home run, but adding them to the below list just didn’t make sense.
  3. You have to be closing in on an even milestone, like 100, 200, 300, etc. I didn’t include anyone that’s a few homers away from number 50, 75, 125, etc. It just didn’t seem necessary.

With that said, the list is organized by player name, team, milestone they’re going for, and how many home runs they are from that particular milestone:

2016 Home Run Milestones

James Loney, Rays — Home Run Number 100 (1 home run away)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Tigers — Home Run Number 100 (2 home runs away)

Bryce Harper, Nationals — Home Run Number 100 (3 home runs away)

Jason Heyward, Cubs — Home Run Number 100 (3 home runs away)

Seth Smith, Mariners — Home Run Number 100 (3 home runs away)

David Ross, Cubs — Home Run Number 100 (4 home runs away)

Kyle Seager, Mariners — Home Run Number 100 (4 home runs away)

Matt Joyce, Pirates — Home Run Number 100 (7 home runs away)

Neil Walker, Mets — Home Run Number 100 (7 home runs away)

Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees — Home Run Number 100 (12 home runs away)

Mitch Moreland, Rangers — Home Run Number 100 (12 home runs away)

Josh Reddick, Athletics — Home Run Number 100 (14 home runs away)

J.D. Martinez, Tigers — Home Run Number 100 (15 home runs away)

Eric Hosmer, Royals — Home Run Number 100 (23 home runs away)

Nolan Arenado, Rockies — Home Run Number 100 (30 home runs away)

Manny Machado, Orioles — Home Run Number 100 (32 home runs away)

Jose Abreu, White Sox — Home Run Number 100 (34 home runs away)

Jayson Werth, Nationals — Home Run Number 200 (2 home runs away)

Adam Jones, Orioles — Home Run Number 200 (4 home runs away)

Hunter Pence, Giants — Home Run Number 200 (6 home runs away)

Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals — Home Run Number 200 (6 home runs away)

Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays — Home Run Number 200 (7 home runs away)

Juan Uribe, Indians — Home Run Number 200 (8 home runs away)

Joey Votto, Reds — Home Run Number 200 (8 home runs away)

Justin Upton, Tigers — Home Run Number 200 (10 home runs away)

Brandon Phillips, Reds — Home Run Number 200 (14 home runs away)

Ian Kinsler, Tigers — Home Run Number 200 (16 home runs away)

Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins — Home Run Number 200 (19 home runs away)

Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies — Home Run Number 200 (24 home runs away)

Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers — Home Run Number 300 (10 home runs away)

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays — Home Run Number 300 (16 home runs away)

Matt Holliday, Cardinals — Home Run Number 300 (25 home runs away)

Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays — Home Run Number 300 (32 home runs away)

Mark Teixeira, Yankees — Home Run Number 400 (6 home runs away)

Carlos Beltran, Yankees — Home Run Number 400 (8 home runs away)

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees — Home Run Number 700 (13 home runs away)

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