Red Sox Claim Last Remaining Division Title Spot

Despite losing to the Yankees on Wednesday night via a Mark Teixeira walk-off grand slam, the Red Sox still managed to pick up a major victory. With the Orioles defeating the Blue Jays, Boston has now officially snatched up the final division title slot remaining in baseball, leaving just the Wild Card spots to be decided.MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox

Joining the Indians, Rangers, Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers as the other divisional winners from around baseball, the Red Sox have had a somewhat unpredicted fantastic season. Following a last-place finish in the American League East just a year ago, the Red Sox stormed back to take the division crown once again in 2016, picking up a whopping 14 more wins thus far than last year.

One of the most remarkable things about Boston’s ability to take the division title is their doing so within a division that has once again emerged as one of the best in all of baseball — every team except the Rays have been in the postseason race all season long — in addition to having a multitude of injuries and underperformances (namely, David Price) throughout the year.

With all of the top spots in all six divisions out of reach for the other twenty-four teams in baseball, there now remains just six teams still mathematically in contention for one of the two Wild Card spots in the American League, with three doing the same in the National League. Having four games remaining in the season (the days until the postseason can now be counted on one hand), it should be fun to watch how things unfold.

As great as the regular season has been, the best is inevitably yet to come.

2016 Final MLB Standings Predictions

It’s finally March 1st, which means Spring Training games are officially here.

Over the course of the next few days, each and every team around Major League Baseball will put their club on display in live games for the first time in 2016. With some teams being completely different than they were last season — some have improved, some have gotten worse — it gives fans the chance to see glimpses of what to expect and look forward to when the regular season begins next month, even though Spring games have proven to not provide much standing as to how the regular season will go.

As has been the case over the course of this blog, March also brings my predictions and overall thoughts leading up to the new year in baseball. This year will prove to be no different.

But to kick things off, I’m going to allow you, the reader, to let your opinions be known by giving you the opportunity to vote for which team you think has the best shot at winning each division. (Be sure to vote for all six, and not just the top few.) I’m going to be doing a separate couple of blog posts (one for the American League and one for the National League) on my predictions for how I feel each team will fare this season sometime in the last week of the month, but for now, I want to hear what you all think.

Cast your vote below for which team you feel is most likely to win each division in 2016:

Time to Panic In D.C. for the Nats

There is now less than a month remaining in the 2015 MLB regular season, and things aren’t looking too good for the Nationals.

StrugglingCurrently sitting six games back of first in the National League East division, it will take a major run for the Nationals to catch the somewhat surprisingly good first place Mets.

Their best shot at making a dent into the Mets’ lead began on Monday, when a three game series between the Mets and Nats kicked off. However, instead of capitalizing on the major opportunity, the Nats have dropped the first two games of the series.

Tuesday night’s game was a bigger loss than most, though. Up 7-1 at one point, the Mets proceeded to battle back in the sixth via good at-bats and wild relief pitching. The result was a comeback that saw the game tied by the end of the inning, and had the Mets take the lead on a Kirk Nieuwenhuis homer in the eighth.

The comeback in the seventh came on 54 pitches, with only 19 of them being strikes, and is the largest lead lost by the Nationals this season. For a team that was supposed to completely blow away the competition with all of the offseason additions they made, the Nationals aren’t exactly producing the way many people think — and know — they should.

With the Mets’ young star pitcher Jacob deGrom taking the mound on Wednesday night, the Mets have to like their chances. Not only of winning the game, but of putting the division out of reach for the Nationals as the weeks go on.

Excitement Building With First Place Races

From one year to the next, you never truly know what to expect in any given division race around baseball. Sometimes one team will completely blow away the rest of the teams in their division and run away with the first place spot, while other cases see multiple teams within a few games of each other down to the last game of the season. This year is more of the latter.

Of the six divisions, four of them have the second place team within three games of the first place squad (the Royals and Cardinals lead their divisions by a good margin). Furthermore, some of the teams closing in on first — or in some cases leading the division — haven’t been doing so well in quite a long time. Astros

The biggest example of that being the Astros and Mets. Each are leading their given divisions at the current moment, and each are making their push towards the playoffs years earlier than many people thought they would.

With the Angels a mere one game back of the Astros and the Nationals a game and a half removed from the Mets, the remaining games of the season should be exciting as we find out which teams can hold on to their hot seasons.

Although not in first place (at least not yet), the Blue Jays are another team that is making things very interesting in the race for first place. The Yankees, somewhat surprisingly, lead the American League East at the moment, but the surging Jays are right on their tail, at just one and a half games back. With the lineup they have, Toronto has the ability to overthrow the Yankees as the season progresses.

The Dodgers are also in the mix as far as exciting division races are concerned, despite still holding a two and a half game lead over the Giants for first. Even so, the Dodgers have been in somewhat of a slump lately (as have the Giants) and things could quickly switch around in the NL West.

No matter what happens over the coming several weeks as teams push towards October, the fact that so many teams that weren’t expected to make the playoffs in 2015 are currently on their way to doing just that is exciting. If the season ended today, the Yankees, Royals, Astros, Blue Jays, Angels, Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates and Cubs would all be headed to the postseason.

With the Astros not having made the playoffs since 2005, the Mets since 2006, Cubs since 2008 and the Blue Jays since way back in 1993, this could turn out to be the season a lot of droughts could be broken for a lot of teams. That’s worth looking forward to.

Cubs Could Be Better Than Many People Think

It’s been quite awhile since people have whole heartedly believed in the Cubs.

CubsBut let’s face it. They haven’t had a reason to believe for the past several years. With the Cubs having failed to even make the postseason since 2008, not having made a World Series appearance since 1945, and currently holding a 107-year World Championship drought, the Cubs’ fan base has been nothing but disappointed for a long time.

The Cubs, however, have finally put together what could prove to be a formidable team that fans could actually get behind. In fact, many Cubs fans are getting so behind this year’s roster that they have visions of a World Series title to round out the coming season. While I like their optimism, and wouldn’t be too stunned if it happened, I don’t think it will necessarily occur in 2015. I think it will be 2016 at the earliest before the World Series becomes a possibility.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think the Cubs will have an amazing team this year. Although a lot of people are saying that the Cubs are extremely overhyped and stand little chance of doing much of anything this season, I actually believe in the club they have.

First off, their new manager, Joe Maddon, has proven to be one of the best in baseball — not necessarily for his winning records but for his ability to get the most out of each and every one of his players. His addition to the club house will have an immeasurable impact on the Cubs in my mind.

As far as the players themselves are concerned, it’s a talented group of characters the Cubs are going to be putting on the field throughout the season.

The one weakness a lot of people foresee, however, is their pitching staff, consisting of guys like Travis Wood, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks. While those players aren’t the worst pitchers in baseball, they aren’t Cy Young candidates either. But the Cubs do in fact have a Cy Young caliber pitcher they snatched up this offseason, set CubsRizzoto lead the staff every fifth day. Jon Lester, who came over to the Cubs on a 155 million dollar contract, is sure to instantly make the Cubs pitching staff relevant (with their bullpen being decent enough).

Beyond that, the Cubs’ lineup is fairly good as well. Admittedly, it consists of a lot of young, unproven talent, but it’s a good group, nonetheless. Having Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and newly added catcher, Miguel Montero, slotted in the Cubs’ lineup is sure to lead to runs being scored. But it’s the youth of the Cubs that could ultimately lead to a lot of wins in 2015.

With Jorge Soler, Tommy La Stella, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez looking to have breakout seasons — along with uber prospect Kris Bryant, who should be called up shortly into the year — the Cubs’ team is going to be one to reckon with.

However, it’s that very youth and inexperience in a great number of the players that has a lot of people remaining cautious from hopping aboard the Cubs’ bandwagon. After getting their hopes up in the past only to see things come crashing down, many people from around the baseball world refuse to believe that the Cubs stand a chance at making much ground in a division that includes the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates and Brewers.

But it’s not stopping me from predicting the Cubs to have success in 2015.

Maybe the 2015 Cubs aren’t the team that will break the “Curse of the Billy Goat”. Maybe they aren’t even the team that will dominate their division for the better part of the season. But I feel that the Cubs are in fact the team that will surprise the most people this season as they make a run toward the second wild card spot in the National League.

Padres Going All In for Next Season

When the dust settles a couple months from now, and spring training begins to kick off, the Padres could turn out to be the winners of the entire offseason. While the Red Sox are arguably the most improved team, with their pickups of both offensive presence and starting pitching, it’s the Padres that have done the most to improve their club in a very short amount of time.

Finishing with a record under .500 for the fourth straight season in 2014, not a lot of people likely had the Padres doing much of anything impactful this offseason that would give them any chance against the division dominant Dodgers and Giants moving forward. However, the Padres are seemingly putting together a competitive ball club, and are losing very little in the process, all thanks to their new general manager, A.J. Preller, who was given the daunting task of turning around one of the worst offenses from the previous year.Kemp-Myers

News of the Padres’ team revamp first arose during the Winter Meetings, when a trade for Matt Kemp was first reported. Although it took them over a week to finalize the deal due to a concerning physical of Kemp that showed arthritis in his hips, the Padres landed their man, getting Matt Kemp (along with 32 million dollars) and Tim Federowicz from the Dodgers, in exchange for Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.

Following that initial announcement of the Kemp deal, the Padres proceeded to further improve their outfield for next season, acquiring Wil Myers as part of a three team, 11-player deal with the Rays and Nationals.

In the large swap, the Padres received Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes from the Rays, and sent Rene Rivera, Joe Ross, Burch Smith, Trea Turner, and Jake Bauers back to Tampa. The Rays then flipped Turner and Ross to the Nationals for Steven Souza and Travis Ott. (Follow all that?) In short, the Padres acquired promising young outfielder Wil Myers without giving up too much in return — just as they did with the Matt Kemp trade.

But the little loss, big return trade pattern didn’t stop there for the Padres. Shortly after announcing the Wil Myers acquisition, the Padres made yet another trade, once again for an impactful outfielder, bringing over Justin Upton and Upton1a low level prospect to be named later from the Braves. In return for Upton, San Diego didn’t have to part with too much, sending away just Max Fried, Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson and Mallex Smith. Although three of those four players were in the Padres top twenty prospects list, the Padres were still able to maintain their top two prospects in Austin Hedges and Matt Wisler, which is truly remarkable when you think about it.

Not all of the moves the Padres have made have been large, though. Some of the smaller changes the Padres have completed that could turn out to have major impacts have also taken place over the past day or so.

As replacement for the slot lost when they traded away Yasmani Grandal, the Padres traded Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez to acquire former All-Star catcher, Derek Norris, along with Seth Streich and an international signing slot from the Athletics. In addition, the Padres made a smart small move on Friday, flipping Ryan Hanigan, who they just acquired in the Wil Myers trade, to the Red Sox in return for Will Middlebrooks, who will now man the hot corner in 2015.

All of these moves for a brand new outfield, as well as an improved infield, will go a long way in improving the Padres next season. Their lineup is undeniably better, and one that will be a force to reckon with for sure. But what about their pitching? As has been proven time and time again, you don’t win games with just hitting, you have to have pitching as well. But surprisingly, despite the Padres’ dismal win-loss record from 2014, they did in fact have a good, under the radar pitching staff made up of solid players.

Due to the bad offensive production, which saw the Padres finish the season last in batting average, last in RBI’s and 28th in home runs, it was overlooked that the Padres had the fourth best team ERA in all of baseball on the season, coming out to a mere 3.27. With their big name pitchers from 2014 — Tyson Ross (2.81 ERA), Andrew Cashner (2.55 ERA), and Ian Kennedy (3.63 ERA) — still on the roster, to go along with newly acquired Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson, who is reportedly close to returning, the Padres truly have a solid team for 2015.

But they still aren’t likely done.Winnings

After obtaining Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton via trades, San Diego now has a surplus of outfielders — Seth Smith, Will Venable, Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin — whose spots have been filled. That assuredly means that at least one of them will be on the move, and that could end up bringing the Padres yet another piece of the puzzle.

But while the Padres are no doubt headed in the right direction and will show drastic improvement as soon as next season, I don’t think it will be enough to win the National League West division. The Dodgers and Giants are still too good, and will likely make moves of their own to get a little better before April. After finishing 17 games back of the division winning Dodgers last season, that’s too far of a jump for the Padres to make in a single season, in my mind.

However, despite that, I applaud the San Diego Padres. Following a season in which they were at the bottom of the pack in nearly every offensive category, the Padres look to have solved that in a matter of a couple weeks. If the new additions of Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, etc., can play to their full potential, and if the down seasons by former standouts Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso can be turned around, things look to be bright for the Friars.

Even if they don’t make a run at the division title, the Padres are in line to compete for at least the second Wild Card spot in 2015. Having not made the postseason since 2006, fans in San Diego have been waiting for quite awhile to see a team with this talent level be presented on the field, long wishing that some major changes would be made.

It would appear Padres fans have finally received their wish.

Several Teams On the Outside Looking In

Inevitably each and every Major League Baseball season a handful of teams fail to live up to expectations placed on them at the start of the year. Whether a team simply doesn’t play to the best of their ability, or if it’s injuries that keeps them from performing well, a few teams always end up short of where they were projected to finish the year.

The Diamondback’s, Rangers, Red Sox and Rays are all examples of that from the 2014 season. People from all over the baseball world selected theRangers majority of those teams to make solid pushes at the postseason, but all of them but the Rays are going to finish dead last in their division (the Rays will finish fourth in the American League east). Truly disappointing endings for what were supposed to be promising teams.

On the flip side, a few teams that no one saw coming always go on a major run in any given year, passing big time teams, and leaving many people scratching their heads as to how they’re doing it.

But while the winning streaks of underdog teams are always exciting, a lot of those type of teams can’t keep up their torrid runs for an extended period of time, subsequently falling back down to their normal levels, and missing the playoffs.

For the Marlins, Brewers and Yankees, they were those type of teams this season. No one saw them doing much of anything with the rosters they had going into the season, but they each went on runs at one point or another this season, proving a bunch of people wrong. None more so than the Brewers, who ended up being one of the biggest rise and fall team in years.

After leading the National League central division for 150 days of the season, the Brewers went into a major, major slump. A slump that caused them to plummet through the standings, currently sitting five games back of the second Wild Card spot. With under a one percent chance of making the postseason according to MLB.com, the Brewers’ year is all but over, despite their great efforts.

The Indians and Mariners are a couple of teams that are still in the race for the second Wild Card but are likely going to miss out, even after great runs this year gave their fans something to get excited about. Given under an eight percent chance of the postseason, it’s going to take an unprecedented string of events for either of them to make it in. But as has been proven time and time again with baseball, anything can happen.