2016 MLB Postseason Predictions

For the fifth straight season, I made preseason predictions as to how I felt each division would play out, and for the fifth straight season I was extremely far off. For one reason or another, I’m not very good at making division predictions before a given season begins.

This year, though, I hope to finally correctly predict how the postseason will play out. While I’ll likely be off, either by a little or a lot, it’s always fun to make predictions. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a perfect prediction of how the postseason will unfold. You never can tell what may happen in October.

WILD CARD GAMES (AL October 4th & NL October 5th)

American League: Blue Jays Vs. Orioles

Winner: Orioles

This is sure to be a great game between two great teams, and although it will be played up in Toronto, with the Blue Jays having home-field advantage, I think the Orioles will be able to prevail. The key reason behind that logic lies with Zach Britton, who can almost guarantee a win, should the Orioles be holding the lead heading into the ninth. With the Orioles having hit the most homers in all of baseball this season, they should be able to put together enough runs to pull out the victory, despite having to face Toronto’s Marcus Stroman.

National League: Mets Vs. Giants

Winner: Mets

I realize it’s an even number year, and therefore the Giants should be all but guaranteed to win the entire World Series — they won in 2010, 2012 and 2014 — but I don’t even see them making it past the Wild Card game. Yes, the Giants’ starter, Madison Bumgarner, had a stupendously great year, but the Mets have a Cy Young candidate of their own on the bump, in the form of Noah Syndergaard. With this sure to be a pitcher’s duel, one run very well could be the difference, with the Mets’ lineup simply having more thump than that of the Giants.

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 6th)

Indians Vs. Red Sox

Winner: Red Sox

I’ve been betting against the Indians all season long, so I’m a bit hesitant to go against them after they had the season they did. But although I don’t think this will be an easy task by any means for the Red Sox, I see them overtaking the Indians, especially with the injuries Cleveland began experiencing towards the end of the regular season. Without the full health of their rotation, I don’t see the Indians overtaking Boston. For that reason, when all is said and done, the Red Sox should be the team moving on to the ALCS.

Rangers Vs. Orioles

Winner: Orioles

This is by far the most difficult decision I had to make to this point in the post, as both teams have very even rosters from top to bottom, and each have had rotations that have struggled at times. But despite all of that, the Orioles seem to be a bit better set up for a postseason push than the Rangers do. Having likely just won the Wild Card game in my mind against the Blue Jays, I feel that Texas won’t be able to withstand the momentum of the hard-hitting and hard-throwing Orioles for the full length of the series.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 7th)

Nationals Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Nationals

After several disappointing seasons in which many people envisioned great things for the Nationals only to watch them fall apart during or even before the playoffs, this is the year for the Nationals to finally win a few playoff games, in my opinion. Although they have a great deal of injuries, including those to several All-Star players, I don’t think the Dodgers will be able to compete with Washington when all is said and done, even with the best starting pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, leading their staff.

Cubs Vs. Mets

Winner: Cubs

2016 is finally the year of the Cubs — or at least that’s what ninety-nine percent of the baseball world is happily telling themselves. Following a century-long drought of a World Series title, the Cubs seemingly have no holes whatsoever in their entire roster. Even though there’s a long way to go before the end of the postseason (they need to win eleven games to take home the Championship), there are still a lot of reasons to like the Cubs. I really don’t think this will be that competitive of a series, with the Mets lacking the all-around talent that the Cubs have.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 14th)

Orioles Vs. Red Sox

Winner: Red Sox

This will wind up being the end of the line for the Orioles as far as I’m seeing things now. If in fact they are taking on the Red Sox in the ALCS, I don’t think the Orioles will be able to beat them in the end. Even so, this series could wind up going to a sixth or possibly even seventh deciding game. It would truly be one of the best postseason series we’ve seen in quite a while, especially with it being the final season for David Ortiz. What each team lacks in pitching dominance, they more than make up for in power hitting, which could make this a back-and-forth series.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 15th)

Nationals Vs. Cubs

Winner: Cubs

If the Nationals manage to make it this far into the playoffs, it will include a small amount of luck, and I simply don’t think they will be able to defeat the powerhouse Cubs. As I’ve already stated, the Cubbies are one of the best all-around teams we’ve seen in quite some time, and the Nationals don’t seem to have what it takes to take down a team such as Chicago. With that said, I still think it would end up being an exciting matchup, just not quite as good as the ALCS would be. But then again, it’s October baseball, where the impossible happens on a regular basis.

WORLD SERIES (Begins October 25th)

Red Sox Vs. Cubs

Winner: Cubs

What a World Series matchup this would be, between two great teams and taking place at two 100-year-old ballparks. With the Cubs looking to end their historical 108-year losing streak, and the Red Sox looking to send David Ortiz off into the sunset with style, neither team would want to give an inch in this series. I could easily see this matchup taking six or seven games to decide, with the Cubs ultimately just beating out the Red Sox. Thus, after nearly eleven decades without a World Title, I’m predicting this to finally be the year the Cubs win the World Series.

State of the Baseball World After the Trade Deadline

The days and weeks leading up to baseball’s annual trade deadline is always a hectic time around Major League Baseball. Virtually, no player is safe from the trade market if the right offer is presented, and there is guaranteed to always be some exciting moves. In the end, it’s the trades made now that can make or break any team’s season two months down the road.

Over the last week, or so, before Monday’s trade deadline, a number of big-time transactions (18 trades, involving 49 players, on Monday alone) took place. Although some where bigger than others, and will therefore have greater impacts, they all will have some impact on the landscape of Major League Baseball. Since it would be nearly impossible to discuss every single move, here’s a recap of some of the larger ones in my mind:

Arguably the biggest trade made of the entire week was the one that saw Aroldis Chapman heading to the Cubs for a Chapmanquad of prospects, in Adam Warren, Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. While giving up four future stars for a closer isn’t necessarily always a good move, it definitely is in this case. With Chapman possessing a fastball that can be cranked up to 105, Chapman is one of the most dominant at what he does and definitely makes the Cubs the World Series favorites again after they had fallen off a bit as of late.

Another move that made a team favorites once again was the one that saw Melvin Upton Jr. getting sent off to the Blue Jays for Hansel Rodriguez. Upton has truly been having a breakout season after a few down years, and he will be able to help make the Jays even better. Although he pales in comparison to Toronto’s power group of Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarancion, Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson, Upton Jr. is still a big pickup for the Jays.

The only true blockbuster trade of the past week involved a total of seven players. Andrew Cashner, Colin Rea (later returned due to injury concerns) and CashnerTayron Guerrero were sent to the Marlins for Jarred Cosart, Carter Capps, Luis Castillo (the prospect returned for Rea) and Josh Naylor. While Cashner hasn’t been having the greatest of seasons, he has shown signs in the past of being dominant at times. On the flip side, Cosart hasn’t really ever lived up to the hype and will be looking to breakout with San Diego.

Speaking of hype — while the Nationals have lived up to the preseason billings to this point in the season, their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, has not. For that reason, the Nats went out and secured what they view as the answer to the problem, getting Mark Melancon from the Pirates for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn. I like the move a lot, as Melancon can truly be a big impact player towards the end of any given game and should give them added security to lock up close games.

One of the oddest trades of the lot occurred when Matt Kemp was sent to the Braves for Hector Olivera. While Kemp is going to be a Brave for the foreseeable future due to his large contract, Olivera, on the other hand, was immediately released upon his arrival to San Diego. Overall, Olivera has been more trouble than he’s worth, not playing the way he had been expected and getting involved in a lot of off-the-field issues. For that reason, the move works out great for the Padres, as they finally were able to free up Kemp’s contract, despite losing him to the Braves, who are looking to rebuild.

Another team who made it apparent they were in the rebuilding stage are the New York Yankees. After sending off Chapman earlier in the week, the Yankees parted ways with another piece of the Yankees’ “three-headed monster” in the form of Andrew Miller, leaving just Dellin Betances in what was once seen as the best bullpen in baseball. Even so, the Yankees were able to acquire Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen to reload their subpar farm system.

But the Yankees weren’t yet done with their team reshaping. On the day of the deadline, the Yankees sent Carlos BeltranBeltran to the Rangers for Dillon Tate, Nick Green and Erik Swanson. While the Yankees felt confident heading into this season that they could make the postseason, things haven’t gone their way, and the Yankees are obviously planning for next year and beyond by adding a ton of great prospects to their farm system.

However, the Giants are seemingly planning for now, going out and picking up Matt Moore from the Rays for Matt Duffy, Lucius Fox and Michael Santos. This move gives the Giants yet another key piece to their rotation to attempt another run at the World Series. Whether or not they get there is yet to be seen, but Moore will assuredly give them good outings that improves their chances greatly.

But while the Giants are on top in the National League West, the Dodgers made a move to attempt to chase them down. On Monday, the Dodgers acquired Rich Hill and Josh Reddick from the Athletics for Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes ad Jharel Cotton. Although those three are some big time pieces to give up, the Dodgers received back a nice piece in Josh Reddick and a pitcher who (once healthy again) should help them make up a few innings with Kershaw on the DL.

BruceOne of the moves that I liked the most is the pickup of Jay Bruce by the Mets for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell. Anticipated to be slotted behind Yoenis Cespedes in the Mets’ lineup, the addition of Bruce makes the Mets a very formidable bunch. If the Mets didn’t have a any sort of chance before at chasing down the first place Nationals, they certainly have a decent shot now.

But while the Mets are looking to chase down the Nationals, the Rangers are looking to extend their lead in the American League Central. After Jonathan Lucroy was reportedly traded away to the Indians for a few prospects, that deal turned out to fall through, as Lucroy vetoed the trade. In the end, however, Lucroy found himself heading to the Rangers, in addition to Jeremy Jeffress, in exchange for Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz. Although I really liked those two prospects, Lucroy and Jeffress should help the Rangers in their push towards the postseason, especially with Beltran being added as well.

Finally, the Blue Jays made another splash just before the deadline arrived, getting Francisco Liriano, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez from the Pirates for Drew Hutchinson. With the Jays’ rotation needing a bit of a boost, I feel that Liriano will give them just that. It remains to be seen how much of an impact he will have, but Liriano could be a major difference maker for Toronto in the weeks to come.

While not all of these trades will wind up paying off, it will certainly be interesting to follow them all as the season progresses. Sometimes it’s the simplest of moves that can cause a team to take off. You never can tell from one year to the next what will be the key to taking teams to the ultimate high of a World Series title.

What Impact Will Lincecum Signing Actually Have?

It’s been nearly a year since we last saw Tim Lincecum pitch in a Major League Baseball game, but that will soon change. After being rumored to have made Lincecum an offer earlier this week, the Angels finally made a deal with him official on Friday, signing Lincecum to a one-year contract for the 2016 season worth around two million dollars (plus incentives).

LincecumAs a Lincecum fan, I’m certainly happy to see him on his way back to pitching in the majors (it’s believed that he will need a few starts in the minors to get ready), but I also find myself questioning just which Tim Lincecum the Angels are getting. After all, he’s been extremely inconsistent over the past several years.

Following a stellar start to his career, in which Lincecum recorded back-to-back Cy Young award seasons in 2008 and 2009, the former first-round pick has gone down hill ever since around the 2012 season.

After posting his final sub-three ERA year in 2011, Lincecum proceeded to see that number rocket up to 5.18 over the course of 33 starts made in 2012 (given, the Giants still went on to win the second of Lincecum’s three career World Series rings that season).

Over the past four seasons, the soon-to-be 32-year-old Lincecum has notched a collective 4.68 ERA over 106 games started, all before being shut down mid-season in 2015 due to a degenerative condition in both hips. It took Lincecum all of the offseason as well as Spring Training and the first two months of this season to get healthy, but he appears to be fully recovered from his injury, impressing many with a pitching showcase two weeks ago in Arizona.

The Angels certainly could use a fully healthy starter in their injury-plagued rotation. After the loss of Garrett Richards for the remainder of the 2016 season, who had a 2.34 ERA so far on the year, as well as Andrew Heaney (and C.J. Wilson until June), the Angels needed someone to replace some of those lost innings. They appear to have found their guy in the form of Tim Lincecum.

Sitting 4.5 games back in the American League West, the Angels have a bit of work to do but aren’t completely out of things, with it still being very early in the season. The Mariners are performing better than most people believed they would, and the Astros have been a major disappointment so far, so anything can truly happen in that division.

Although Lincecum’s old team, the Giants, are riding an eight-game winning streak, the Angels are more than capable of going on a big run and getting back into the mix. Signing Tim Lincecum goes a long way in making that a possibility.

Lincecum AZWith decent production coming from Nick Tropeano and Hector Santiago to this point, Lincecum will likely slide into the middle to back end of the Angels rotation, but that’s a step in the right direction for a guy who was predicted to inevitably have to begin his journey back into being a big leaguer as a bullpen piece. The Angels have given Lincecum a big opportunity to begin as a starter right out of the gate.

With that in mind, however, I don’t think Lincecum will let them down. In fact, I think he may turn out to be a bit better than anticipated.

Throughout his poor outings over the last several seasons, Lincecum has thrown sporadic quality games, recording a no-hitter in both the 2013 and the 2014 seasons. He’s still a major league caliber pitcher, especially now that he’s reportedly fully healthy and ready to go.

Perhaps Lincecum won’t ever be an All-Star again — as he was in four straight seasons from 2008-2011 — but the Angels don’t need him to be. They’re getting a fan-favorite, and, more importantly, a guy who knows how to win, and has proven his value over and over again throughout his career.

In the end, no matter what happens, the Angels lose nothing (besides a couple million dollars) by signing Tim Lincecum. On one hand, if Lincecum flops, they’re no worse off than if they had passed on signing him in the first place. But on the other hand, if Lincecum returns to even a portion of his former self, the Angels may have just helped their team out in a big way. It’s the definition of a low-risk, high-reward type of deal.

When it comes to a guy like Tim Lincecum, I’d take that deal every time.

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.

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.

Q and A With Ray Black

Ray Black was drafted by the Giants in the 7th round of the 2011 draft, but the journey to draft day wasn’t exactly a smooth one. Black underwent Tommy John surgery his senior year of high school after suffering an arm injury — the first of what would turn out to be many bad luck injuries. Thankfully, although the Tommy John surgery meant Black would have to be redshirted his freshman season, the University of Pittsburgh still honored their baseball scholarship offer to him, allowing Black to head there to play ball in 2009.Black

But the poor luck continued for Black in college when he tore his right meniscus during a workout before his sophomore season. Following a broken hand later on, Black then suffered a torn labrum after being officially drafted in 2011, which postponed him making his professional debut until all the way to April of 2014, despite being drafted almost three years prior. However, even after all the setbacks, when Black finally made his debut two years ago, he showed off every bit of the talent he possesses.

After posting a terrible 11.05 ERA over just 36.2 innings pitched in college, Black took off in 2014, and has done nothing but impress in his professional career, striking out 122 batters over his 60.1 career innings and holding opposing batters to a .146 average. In 2015 season alone, Black recorded a 2.88 ERA and struck out 51 over just 25 innings pitched.

Black spent all of 2015 at High-A, which isn’t where you’d necessarily expect to see a 25-year-old pitcher — one with a shot at making it all the way to the big leagues, that is. But Ray Black isn’t your average prospect, and there’s certainly nothing average about his fastball. Black can crank it up to triple digits consistently, and has been up around 103-104 at times. It’s that fastball that’s keeping Black as a standout in the Giants’ farm system despite numerous setbacks, and that will ultimately be the key to taking him all the way to the major leagues.

Ray Black — top prospect in the Giants’ organization — 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 started playing when I was around 4-5 with my father in the backyard. He was probably my biggest influence. He always told me, and still does to today, “Whatever you decided to do, do with 100 percent conviction”. I joke with him that he’s the most knowledgable farmer on the topic of pitching mechanics.

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

My favorite player was Nomar Garciaparra. I was a shortstop growing up, and Derek jeter was the most popular choice amongst kids my age. To be honest, he [Garciaparra] was really good. Boston was my team growing up, and he played with hustle.

3.) You were drafted by the Giants in the 7th round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

The draft is a crazy time for a lot of guys. Most people will tell you the draft process didn’t go as expected for them. A lot of scouts had told me they didn’t see me going after the 5th round. So on draft day, I got a call in the 4th round and 6th round by the Phillies and White Sox. After brief negotiations, it was likely we wouldn’t come to an agreement, so they passed on me. I was frustrated at this time, so I started to walk out the door to meet with some friends, and my dad yelled out to me, “You just got drafted by the Giants”. I was excited. They had won the World Series in 2010, and I knew they were a good pitching organization. Shortly after, I was relieved the process was over.

4.) With you going through several surgeries before you ever even began your baseball career, what kind of effect did that have on your overall mentality? Did you ever have doubts about being able to pitch while staying healthy?

Injuries have taught me not to take the game for granted. My career could have — and probably should have — ended with my shoulder surgery. The process was difficult; I would ask “why me?”. But I kept my faith and worked through the process, knowing that light was at the end of the tunnel. There are times I overreact even to this day when I have arm tenderness, because I always assume the worst. But mentally and physically, I feel healthy and believe those injuries are in the past now.

5.) Once you were finally 100 percent healthy following the first month of the 2014 season, you were lighting up the radar gun in a way that you never had before. Hitting 100 consistently with your fastball, what do you attribute to you being able to throw faster than ever after being given a low chance of ever reaching high velocity again?

I think a lot of it had to do with the rehab process. My trainers put a program together to strengthen my arm. I’ve continued doing those exercises daily, and I take pride in my work ethic. There are always places to improve an individual’s game. For me, I strengthened my lower half, increased core exercises and continued shoulder rehab.

6.) You were selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League this past year. What did you work on most over your time spent out there? What did you take away from pitching against some of baseball’s best hitting prospects?

I really worked on my secondary pitches out there. When a good hitter is sitting fastball they’ll be able to hit it regardless of velocity. So with throwing my slider more often and showing it for strikes it takes people off my heater. I was humbled out there giving up some hits, and I held my own as well. But playing against some of the games best prospects is a privilege.

7.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Life on the road is difficult at times. I enjoy hunting, so it’s hard missing archery, but being around guys your own age with similar interests is enjoyable. We’ll play cards, usually watch almost every sporting event when it’s on TV, and play video games. Sometimes I feel like I’m still a kid, blessed to be able to continue playing the same game I’ve been since I was a kid.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

This past season was a tough year for me. I got hurt early, tried my hand as a starting pitcher (which didn’t go well) and by the time I was back in the pen and throwing again I questioned my own abilities. I got to the point of being afraid of contact. I tried throwing my best pitch, every pitch, and it would make my mechanics difficult to repeat. I ended the year with a better ERA than 2014, but my WHIP was higher. So I was able to improve on stranding runners in situations I had to, and I was able to get strikeouts in key situations, like runners in scoring position with less than two outs.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I like ‘Gotham’ right now. My favorite TV series was ‘Sons of Anarchy’, and I enjoyed ‘Band of Brothers’. I have a very deep appreciation for our military. It amazes me what they can do. And there’s nothing like deer back straps. I think everyone should experience venison.

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

I think the best advice I can give is what my father told me: Work for what you want. You can’t just wish for something to happen. If you want to be successful in anything, it starts with a strong work ethic; commit to something and do it with 100 percent conviction. Also, believe in yourself. I wasn’t always a starter; I sat at times in little league; I didn’t make every team I tried out for; I didn’t always throw the hardest. Just keep your goals in mind and work towards them daily.

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Big thanks to Ray Black for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @rayblack37

Cubs Make Playoffs for First Time in Seven Years

Heading into Friday, the Cubs were a mere one game from clinching a playoff berth. Either a win by the Cubs or a Giants loss would mean October baseball for the Cubs for the first time since back in 2008. However, it appeared that things may have to wait for another day after the Cubs lost to the Pirates 3-2 in the afternoon’s game.MLB: Chicago Cubs at Chicago White Sox

With the loss, attention swung to Oakland, where the Giants were playing that night. If the A’s could pick up the win, the Giants would be eliminated from Wild Card contention, and the Cubs would become the fifth team to clinch a playoff spot. The Giants would end up come through for the Cubs, losing to Oakland, and being knocked out of the running.

Now that the Cubs have officially made the playoffs, it allows baseball fans from all over to set their sights on perhaps bigger things in Chicago. It’s common knowledge for any follower of the game that the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908, having not even reached the Fall Classic since all the way back in 1945. To say fans in Chicago have been waiting for a World Series appearance for awhile would be a vast understatement.

But with the Cubs making the postseason, there officially begins to arise a bit of hope. Perhaps — maybe, just maybe — this is finally the year the Cubs break the longest World Series drought in baseball history and finally go the distance. However, they face a tough road to even reach the final seven game series.

Friday’s game against the Pirates was likely a preview of the Wild Card game set to take place on October 7th, assuming the Cardinals can hold onto their three game lead over the Pirates. But if Friday’s game was any indication, the Cubs will have to be on top of their game to advance to the Divisional Series.

One of the upsides for the Cubs is that they will likely have Jake Arrieta on the mound against Gerrit Cole, instead of Jon Lester as they had on Friday. While Lester is a terrific pitcher, Arrieta has had an unbelievable season and will YoungCubslikely give the Cubs their best shot at advancing.

The Cubs certainly have a good enough lineup to compete with any team they may encounter. With Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo, among many other young stars and veteran players, run scoring shouldn’t be a problem for the most part. On the flip side, while their pitching isn’t terrible by any means, it’s also not that dominant either.

Past Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, their rotation falls off a little bit, but they are each more than capable of picking up a win, especially with the lineup they have to score runs. In the long run, the Cubs may find they can’t compete with other teams’ pitching staffs, but I feel they will at least make it past the win or go home Wild Card game.

As history has shown, once a team reaches the first five game playoff series, pretty much anything can happen. While on paper the other teams around baseball would appear to have an advantage, October baseball has a way of throwing stats out the window. After all, the Cubs were supposed to still be “a few years away” from contention. They’ve already proved a lot of people wrong by breaking those odds.

This may turn out to be a historical year when all is said and done.