By Trevor Utley
Yesterday wasn't fun for me. Waking up in the middle of winter with no heat and a non-starting car is a chilly slap to the face that nobody really deserves. Except maybe Hitler. But nevertheless, I didn't get to fire up any quizzes because I was much too busy attempting to fire up my Honda and my house's oil burner. By the grace of Youtube videos I was successful on both accounts which is why I can poke a little fun at myself with today's quiz of the day: Most "starts" for a pitcher in the All-Star Game. I swear that did sound wittier in my head. I hit 10 out of 13 (77%) with my fourth attempt at the quiz this morning, my first try since 2012. I missed an easy one in my mind but snared one I am almost 100% sure I never got in my previous three attempts over the years. Here's the quiz and make sure to go over to Sporcle and add TrevorsSoSmart and challenge me to trivial honor duels.
By Trevor Utley featuring Josh Souza, Colin Hecht, Matt Sieczkiewicz, Andrew daSilva, & Andrew Sanford
Before each baseball season myself and my friends would make our picks for the upcoming baseball season. This year we actually documented our selections on the site so that at the end of it all we could not only mock each other for such horrible prognosticating skills, but you the reader could do the same. So take a trip down memory lane with us and let's recap the sheer stupidity we exuded during Spring Training.
ALL STAR SELECTIONS
We'll get this one out of the way early because this was entirely a solo mission on my part. We may expand it to include everybody next year just so I don't feel like an even bigger idiot than I already do. If you went through any of the 30 Teams in Under 30 Days articles ahead of the 2015 season, you would have seen my picks for All-Stars from each team at the bottom of each article. I was looking to improve from my performance from last year in which I hit on 45% on the American League All-Stars and 37% on the National League All-Stars. I know that isn't setting the bar very high, but even that low leap was too much for me to handle.
I regressed significantly to 36% for the AL and 33% for the NL. While there was plenty of pats on the back for nailing sneaky selections like Tampa Bay closer Brad Boxberger and Yankees set-up man Dellin Betances, there were ten times as many "What the fuck were you thinking?" picks made. Here are some of the best gems from the NL:
Somehow the American League was so much worse...
Now that my individual shaming has been completed, let's go on to the group humiliation portion of the article! Between the six of us we were able to only get three awards picked correctly. It was a parade of failure as you scrolled down to each successive block of embarrassing forecasts. Well, here's the first float now!
I'm just going to say now that Sanford picked Joe Kelly for every award. So when you see me completely ignoring his input over the next several paragraphs, that is why. American League MVP was an award that we all went all in on. It was Mike Trout or bust for the BYC boys and Josh Donaldson made sure we all suffered the bust half of that equation.
On the National League side, Josh was the only person with the vision to see Bryce Harper morph from a floppy haired doofus to a floppy haired doofus with an MVP trophy on his mantle. Colin had a big swing and a miss with Yasiel Puig. A freak injury wiped out what would have been a solid pick for Matt and Andrew in Giancarlo Stanton. My pick of Andrew McCutchen placed fifth in the voting. Light golf clap for myself.
In all the years we have been making picks as friends, we've never learned not to trust the Seattle Mariners. Again King Felix did the majority of us in. The other non-Joe Kelly selection made was Corey Kluber by Andrew. Kluber couldn't quite recapture the magic of his 2014 Cy Young win, but was better than his 9-16 record suggested. Our two guys finished with 13 combined Cy Young vote points, which would have been good enough for fifth.
Me and Colin got burned by Johnny Cueto's trade in the NL Cy Young, but that is shame on us for not thinking that a guy who had been on the trade block for five years wasn't finally going to get shipped in his contract year. The other three actual pickers made respectable misses in Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. I don't think Jake Arrieta or even Zack Greinke came up in any of our preseason conversations. Boo us.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Rookie of the Year is always one of the hardest awards to project and in the AL this year it was no different. There was such an influx of rookies that not one of us picked the same guy to take home the prize. Not one of us picked the right guy, Houston's Carlos Correa, either. Well at least the majority of us had that puncher's chance. Josh's pick of Francisco Lindor even finished second to Correa. Colin though...oh Colin, Colin, Colin...he picked Mookie Betts, a player ineligible to win the award. Yup that about wraps that up.
The National League ROY was much easier. Just pick a Cub. The majority of us for once actually picked the right one as Kris Bryant took the league by storm, made the All-Star Team and won the award unanimously. Point at laugh at Andrew! Not the one that picked Joe Kelly, the one who went against the grain and picked the wrong Cub Jorge Soler. MUAHAHHAHAHA! It's nice to laugh at someone else's terrible picks for once.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR
We continued the time honored preseason picks tradition of picking a Manager of the Year that ends up being fired. Just a week after the season ended, Mariners' manager Lloyd McClendon (whom three of us picked to win Manager of the Year) got the axe. Can't trust the Mariners...blah blah blah...we never learn...yada yada yada. Colin actually came the closest for once with his pick of Toronto manager John Gibbons. He finished fourth in the voting and even got a first place vote! Way to go Colin! We strive for mediocrity!
The NL Manager of the Year picks showed that the two NL fans in the lot didn't know as much about the NL as we thought we did. While the three AL fans all picked correctly with Joe Maddon, the two NL fans watched their pick Matt Williams get a pink slip after Washington failed to make the postseason. Oh Washington, you and your miserable 2015 is going to feature very heavily in this next segment.
LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP AND WORLD SERIES SELECTIONS
The Royals proved 2014 was no fluke as they returned to the World Series and won the whole damned thing. None of us picked Kansas City to even LOSE in the ALCS. The Indians, Orioles, Angels, Red Sox, and those pesky Mariners all factored into our choices coming out of the AL, but the champs didn't even get a sniff. The only thing you are sniffing right now is the putrid stench coming from said choices.
The Mets came out of left field this year to take the National League, besting the Cubs and Dodgers on their way to the Fall Classic. So of course the kid who picked Joe Kelly to win every award was the only one to choose the Mets to win the National League. We'll ignore that he had them beating the Marlins in the NLCS and give credit where it is due. Colin and Matt both at least had playoff teams in those Cubs and Dodgers, although they each picked them to win it all. Myself, Josh, and Andrew though fell victim to the Nationals hype machine. Not only did we pick the Nats to take the NL, we picked them to win the whole shebang. I can't even make fun of Sanford's Red Sox pick right now I feel so downtrodden.
I miss baseball. I am already looking forward to making horrendous picks next spring. At least I have our EPL picks to hang on to in the mean time. Oh wait, I picked Manchester City to finish outside the Top 4? FUCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!
By Trevor Utley
Since yesterday's technological mishap, I've become incredibly paranoid about writing this piece again. In fact, this is being typed in a word document and also being transferred onto a NotePad. The computer NotePad not pen and paper, yet some of you know my affinity for writing every inane detail down. To avoid the near psychological break I underwent yesterday, I am just going to combine all five articles into little blurbs and be done with it. Opening Day's already come and gone so you already know who's down what and where with the four teams left. I've already been proven way off base with some of my other 26 previews. Without further adieu, or catastrophic mental meltdown, the top four of 30 Teams In Under 30 Days as well as our picks for the 2015 MLB awards, pennants, and World Series champions.
#4- Los Angeles Dodgers: My beloved boys in blue are the class of the NL West. They'll win the division going away and showed yesterday that they have a pretty damn resilient team even with that pesky Matt Kemp going all ghost of Christmas past on them. I swear to you I had Jimmy Rollins listed as an All-Star before that three run home run gave me a chub in the middle of my weeping. In the end, how far the Dodgers will advance will depend on whether or not old #22 can stop being #2 come postseason.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #3 (DOWN 1)
PREDICTED RECORD: 94-68
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Clayton Kershaw (starting pitcher), Zack Greinke (starting pitcher), Adrian Gonzalez (first baseman), Jimmy Rollins (shortstop), Yasiel Puig (outfielder)
#3- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: They may have lost on Opening Day, but it was to King Felix so don't read too much into it. The Angels flipped the switch in the middle of last year and I think it will have a carry-over effect into 2015. Mike Trout will probably finish Top 3 on the AL MVP ballot for the next ten years barring a contraction of Ebola or a fling with a Kardashian. Garrett Richards will be even better than last year when he recovers from surgery. It is World Series or bust this year. Scroll down to see if I busted them or not.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #9 (UP 6)
PREDICTED RECORD: 95-77
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Mike Trout (outfielder), Garrett Richards (starting pitcher), Albert Pujols (first baseman), Huston Street (relief pitcher)
#2- Baltimore Orioles: We all slept on the Orioles last year and all ended up looking like fools. If I am going to look like a fool, I'd rather it be because I overrated a team rather than underestimating them. The Orioles have already started their baseball bashing ways and none of yesterday's three homers even came from Chris Davis or Adam Jones. There is a good chance when you drafted your fantasy baseball team, you bypassed every Oriole outside of the aforementioned duo or Manny Machado. The Orioles will be living the real life fantasy though as they cruise to the division title once again.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #19 (UP 17)
PREDICTED RECORD: 95-77
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Adam Jones (outfielder), Travis Snider (outfielder), Zach Britton (relief pitcher)
#1- Washington Nationals: By process of elimination you knew this was going to be Washington. Everybody picked Washington. Why should my dumb ass be any different? They have an All-Star team for a starting rotation. They have a dynamic lineup. They also trotted out Dan Uggla as their Opening Day second baseman. The Giants had Dan Uggla on their team last season. The Nationals are winning the World Series.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #6 (UP 5)
PREDICTED RECORD: 98-64
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Max Scherzer & Stephen Strasburg & Jordan ZImmermann & Doug Fister (starting pitchers), Bryce Harper (outfielder), Ian Desmond (shortstop)
2015 BLEEDING YOUR COLORS AWARD WINNERS AND PENNANT SELECTIONS
Thanks to all that came along for another journey through the 30 Major League teams in under 30 days time. Special thanks to Josh Souza, Colin Hecht (even though he picked an ineligible ROY in Mookie Betts), Matt Sieczkiewicz, Andrew daSilva, and Andrew Sanford (who picked Joe Kelly for all he could) for making picks. Give those fine gentlemen a follow on Twitter. Check back throughout the 2015 Major League Baseball season for more from me, and hopefully others, here on Bleeding Your Colors. PLAY BALL!
Image Credits: All team logos (sportslogos.net); Trout, Kelly, Hernandez, Kershaw, Cueto, Puig, Stanton, McCutchen, Kluber, Soler, Bryant, Lindor, Betts, Sanchez, Harper, Scherzer (espn.com); Souza Jr. (statliners.com); Rodon (southsideshowdown.com); Francona (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com); Gibbons (jaysjournal.com); McClendon (seattlepi.com); Maddon (thebiglead.com); Williams (pixshark.com)
By Trevor Utley
The Tigers were my number one team in 30 Teams In Under 30 Days last year. They may no longer rule these rankings but they will still rule the American League Central division. As I've said in the four previous AL Central previews, this division is the most contentious in the sport. Being the most competitive division by no means makes it the most talented. The Tigers are holding it together by a thread and if that fabric breaks, the Central could be even more wide open. The Tigers have had a good run at the top. For four years they've been the class of the division and of the American League. Last year the cracks started to show as they were easily dispatched by Baltimore in the ALDS. I think Motown will fire off one final salvo before it all comes crumbling down.
Miguel Cabrera showed what type of player he was in 2014. The two-time MVP has received criticism for a lack of dedication and laziness over the course of his career. What he did last year on basically one leg should put all of that to bed. Hampered by foot and ankle woes, for which he received offseason surgery for both, Cabrera still led the American League with 52 doubles and hit .313 with 25 home runs and 109 RBI. It was his 11th straight season driving in triple digits in runs. He's missed all of Spring Training but the slugger is good to go for Detroit's Opening Day. Ian Kinsler will once again man second base. Arriving last year in the Prince Fielder trade, Kinsler led the American League in plate appearances and at-bats. He hit .272/.307/.420 with 17 HR and 92 RBI in his first season at Comerica Park. He also provided the infield with one competent defender with the loss of shortstop Jose Iglesias for the entire season. Speaking of the slick fielding Cuban, he looks to return to form after shin issues put the kibosh on his first full year in Detroit. Iglesias has the defensive potential to be a Gold Glover each year. It remains to be seen though if at the plate he is more like his 2013 (.303/.349/.386) or his minor league career (.257/.307/.314). At third base, Nick Castellanos is looking to build off a solid rookie season. He hit .259 in 2014 with 31 doubles, 11 home runs, and 66 RBI. The knock on Castellanos is that he has frying pan hands at third base, which isn't exactly the place where you want that moniker. Normally I'd say that if Castellanos couldn't work it out, he'd be destined for DH-hood or the outfield. The thing is Detroit is pretty set in both areas. He's going to have to make due for the time being. At catcher, Alex Avila looks to regain his All-Star form after being plagued by concussions. Head injuries are nothing to rush back from, especially in a place like catcher where the potential to get rocked happens frequently. Coming off a career year at age 35 (MLB best .974 OPS, 2nd place in AL MVP voting), the Tigers would like to keep designated hitter Victor Martinez away from the catcher position as much as humanly possible. If Avila's head gets cloudy at any point in 2015, look for top catching prospect James McCann to step in.
The outfield got some new pieces for this season, but each came at a cost. Yoenis Cespedes will be the everyday left fielder after arriving from Boston. The Cuban basher adds more punch and depth to an already dangerous lineup. However, his addition cost Detroit Rick Porcello, their second best pitcher last year behind the departed Max Scherzer. GM Dave Dombrowski is banking on Yoenis Cespedes' impending free agency to provide an impetus to produce his best season yet. In center field, Anthony Gose arrives with substantially less fanfare than Cespedes. Acquired from the Blue Jays for Devon Travis, Gose will most likely platoon in center with speedster Rajai Davis. Gose is no slow poke himself (15 SB in 2014) but Davis can steal 30 bases (which he's done six years running) even in part time duty. Right field is where 2014 breakout star JD Martinez roams. Cut loose from the Astros at the end of last year's Spring Training, Martinez latched on in Detroit and flourished. Martinez hit .315/.358/.553 with 23 home runs and 76 RBI in 123 games. He also was one of the few Tigers with a pulse in their sweep loss to Baltimore in the playoffs, hitting two home runs and driving in five of the ten runs they scored in the three games. There was a reason Martinez was released by the lowly Astros though. Was 2014 an outlier or is he for real? If it was an anomaly, expect a knee jerk promotion of Steven Moya to the Majors.
The starting rotation took a massive hit when Max Scherzer departed for a 7 year deal with the Washington Nationals. Mad Max was the ace of aces on the 2014 Tigers and it won't be easy to replace the former Cy Young winner overnight. The first thing that could help ease the pain sooner would be a resurrection of Justin Verlander's career. My ill-advised pick to win last year's AL Cy Young, Verlander put not only some of the worst numbers of his career, but some of the worst in the American League. His 104 earned runs allowed led the circuit. His 1.40 WHIP was fourth worst among qualified starters. He'll need a massive turn around after he returns from the DL, plus some velocity back on a now very hittable fastball, or Detroit could be in trouble. While Verlander's away, David Price will start Opening Day. Price is in the last year of his current contract and will surely test free agency in the fall. Until then, the Tigers have at their disposal one of the American League's premier left handed pitchers. He led the Major Leagues last year in innings (248 1/3), starts (34), and strikeouts (271) between Tampa Bay and Detroit. Being younger than both Scherzer and Lester were this winter when they got their big deals, Price is going to get PAID when he hits the market. Truth be told, I don't think that money is going to come from Detroit. With Porcello gone, Anibal Sanchez slides up a spot to #3 in the rotation. Nobody has ever questioned the 31 year old's ability to pitch. What is constantly questioned about him is his ability to stay healthy for a full 162 games. Sanchez has never pitched 200 innings in his Major League career and could only get through 126 last year. That was his lowest total since 2009 when he was still a Marlin. He doesn't need to reach the 200 inning plateau this year to be useful to manager Brad Ausmus, but he'll need more than 21 starts to do so. Rounding out the rotation are two right handed winter pick-ups, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene. Detroit is hoping Simon is more the All-Star starter of last year (15-10 w/ the Reds) than the on again, off again reliever he was the rest of his career. Greene comes over in a three way trade with Arizona and New York after a ho-hum rookie year. He could move to the pen when top pitching prospect Buck Farmer is ready.
The bullpen is a mess. Joe Nathan is still the closer at 40 despite blowing seven saves last year and rocking a grotesque 1.53 WHIP. This is primarily the case because every person tapped to take the job from him has been just as pitiful. Joakim Soria was really good as closer on a bad Texas team. Once he touched down in Detroit, it all fell apart and he recorded just one save before injuries and ineffectiveness struck. Joba Chamberlain, Al Alburquerque and Ian Krol looked ill-equipped to take the mantle either. They only have one left hander to speak of, Tom Gorzelanny. It is going to take some first class tinkering for this unit to get through 2015. I expect at least one or two pieces to be added to it before or on the trade deadline.
This is the Tigers' division to lose. When they finally forfeit the crown, it may be for a long time. They have burdened themselves with some meaty contracts guaranteed to players that will be collecting pensions by the end of them. Their farm system has very little depth and even less Major League ready talent. 2015 could be the end of an era in Detroit. How they end it will be entirely up to their pitching.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #1 (DOWN 4)
PREDICTED RECORD: 92-70
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Miguel Cabrera (first baseman), Ian Kinsler (second baseman), Victor Martinez (designated hitter), David Price (starting pitcher)
Trevor Utley is looking forward to the Dodgers eating the majority of that Miguel Cabrera albatross in three or so years.
Image Credit: Tigers logo (sportslogos.net)
By Trevor Utley
The first of our division winners here on 30 Teams In Under 30 Days emerges from the hyper competitive NL Central. The Pirates waited a long time, 20 years to be exact, for postseason baseball to return to the Steel City. Since they've been back, they don't look like they'll be out of it for quite a while. For the second straight year, they could only muster a Wild Card spot in the National League. There they fell to the cyborg who's programming identifies himself as Madison Bumgarner and the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants. I think this is the year the Bucs skip the Wild Card round all together and seize their division. They'll be one hell of a team to watch in the process.
The only big defection this winter was catcher Russell Martin, who signed in his native Canada with the Blue Jays. It was a foreseeable loss for Pittsburgh as they were not going to give a 32 year old catcher the money he got north of the border. The Pirates brought in another former Yankee to replace him in Francisco Cervelli. Most famous in my neck of the woods for the John Sterling flub "Cervelli will not be stealing here, there he goes!", the 29 year old is still a serviceable Major League catcher. He won't embarrass himself at the plate and has worked out his early career woes defensively. He isn't going to conjure up images of Johnny Bench any time soon, but he won't be an instant out at the bottom of the order. Pedro Alvarez will move across the diamond from third base to first base. He missed all but one day of September and was unable to get to the 30 home run mark for a third year in a row, hitting just 18 in 122 games. The move to first was going to happen anyway as he became too much of a defensive liability at the hot corner. He should see the bulk of the time at first this season but will lose at-bats to Corey Hart when a tough left hander takes the hill. Neil Walker is at second base. Walker is a model of consistency providing solid offense (.271 BA, 23 HR, 76 RBI last year) and good defense on an infield that can be tough to watch some times. Jordy Mercer will be the Opening Day shortstop but it will be fun to see how long he can hold off flashy Korean signing Jung Ho Kang. Kang has yet to show the defensive chops to be an everyday Major League shortstop but if any of the power he showed in the Korean League translates to America, he'll be quite the coup for Pittsburgh. He hit .365/.459/.739 with 40 home runs and 117 RBI in 117 games last season. Josh Harrison will settle in at third base for 2015. Harrison played five different positions last year. That didn't hinder him from breaking out with a .315/.347/.490 plus 13 home runs and 18 stolen bases. Harrison's move to third makes the infield defense better. It also gives him a chance to improve on his already blossoming offense by not having to worry about where on the field he is going to play.
The outfield is as talented as they come led by 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. Cutch has been a workhorse for the Pirates and that didn't change in 2014. He led the Majors in OBP at .410 and the National League with a .952 OPS. He is still one of the better defensive center fielders in the National League and still has speed to burn. He is a surefire MVP candidate every year. He will be flanked by Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, two young outfielders looking to be McCutchen 2.0. Marte is an exceptional left fielder who has 20/20 potential. He hit 13 homers last year to go with 30 stolen bases. Marte, he turns 27 in October, is on the upswing of his career so look for upticks to both those figures in 2015. Polanco will man right field. The 23 year old Dominican hit some roadblocks during a frustrating 2014, but showed glimpses of why he was the Pirates' top hitting prospect for several years running. He is too good of a player to not fix the mistakes he made last year and become a important player at the top of the Pittsburgh lineup. Harrison, Hart, and former Ray Sean Rodriguez provide depth from the bench that most National League teams cannot boast.
The starting rotation remains together for the most part with an old face returning to the fold. Francisco Liriano took a home town discount to stay in Pittsburgh, signing a 3 year, $39 million contract in December. Liriano didn't quite rekindle the magic he put together in his first year at PNC Park, but still pitched to a 3.38 ERA. He fragility is always a worry but the Pirates have new found depth in their staff. Gerrit Cole slots in as the #2 and like Liriano has never touched the vaunted 200 inning mark in his career. Hell, Cole still needs to hit the 150 inning mark. The former #1 overall pick has been solid in his two seasons (21-12, 3.45 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) in black and yellow but not the force of nature he was coming out of UCLA. To take that next step, he needs to both stay healthy and get more aggressive with his fastball that can top out in the high 90's. One person that has never had a problem unleashing the hounds is the returning AJ Burnett. After a dismal campaign across the state with the Phillies (MLB worst 18 losses, 4.59 ERA, 1.41 WHIP), he returns to the place that saved a career on life support. Burnett was nasty in his two seasons in Pittsburgh and should get back to that in the #3 spot in the rotation. The back of the rotation looks shaky in Jeff Locke and Vance Worley but rest assured that help is on the way. The All-Star break could mark the time to introduce top prospects Tyler Glasnow, Jason Taillon, and Nick Kingham to the world. Glasnow is still in the low minors but looks to be on the fast track to the big club. Taillon, the second overall pick in 2010, is recovering from Tommy John surgery that delayed his debut from happening prior to 2015. Kingham is probably the least impressive of the three, but the most likely to get to the Majors sooner rather than later.
Mark Melancon will return for his second full season as Pirates closer. After taking the role from the soon to be ousted Jason Grilli, Melancon has been one of the more polished relievers in the National League. He's appeared in 72 games in each of the past two seasons and recorded 49 saves total. He has a 1.65 ERA and 0.92 WHIP as a Pirate. He has one more year of arbitration left but being as consistently effective as he's been, GM Neal Huntington would be smart to buy that out with a multi-year deal. Like Melancon, his two set-up men, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes, had sub-2.00 ERAs in 2014. They combined to go 17-7 out of the pen with different strategies. Watson is a strikeout pitcher while Hughes likes to induce ground balls. Any work they don't get in the late innings will go to left hander Antonio Bastardo and righty Radhames Liz.
The Pirates are done being the bridesmaids of the National League Central. I have faith that manager Clint Hurdle will help his team clear the hurdle (couldn't help myself) of finishing second place in the division. Andrew McCutchen will finish in the Top 3 of the MVP voting (check our picks later today for my winner) and Josh Harrison will once again contend for the National League batting crown. It isn't quite the "We Are Family" days of the late 70's just yet, but it is a real good time to be a fan of the Pirates.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #13 (UP 7)
PREDICTED RECORD: 92-70
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Andrew McCutchen (outfielder), Josh Harrison (third baseman), Gregory Polanco (outfielder), Mark Melancon (relief pitcher)
Trevor Utley still needs to make it to PNC Park, which has been ranted and raved about by those I know who have gone.
Image Credit: Pirates logo (sportslogos.net)
By Trevor Utley
The reigning and defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants are the last Wild Card team here on 30 Teams In Under 30 Days. Though recent results should make me think otherwise, I could not rank the Giants as the division winner above my beloved Dodgers in the NL West. It shouldn't be taken as a slight. The Dodgers win the division every year. The Dodgers are a better regular season team and are better constructed this year than the Giants. The Dodgers will also probably find some way to blow it and send me to an early grave. Enough about the Dodgers though, this is the Giants preview! San Francisco lost some key pieces this winter but to write off this team is just ignorant. They may look overmatched at various points of 2015 but in the end they'll be in the thick of it all. Just don't get your hopes up for a repeat Giants fans. Your boys only win the World Series in even number years!
The infield took a big hit with the departure of third baseman Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox. Much speculation surrounded who would replace the Kung Fu Panda at the hot corner for the champs. Chase Headley was a rumor for a while. Will Middlebrooks in a trading places but not for each other scenario also was bantered about. Even moving All-Star catcher Buster Posey was rumored to move to third, although that one was quickly shot down by GM Brian Sabean. San Fran eventually settled on Miami's Casey McGehee, whom they sent two minor leaguers to South Beach to acquire. McGehee's power is all but gone and his lack of quickness will make even the departed Sandoval look like Usain Bolt. The thing that McGehee still does very well is drive in runs. He was able to knock in 76 runs last year in Miami with just 4 home runs to speak of. That is three more RBI than Sandoval with 12 less dingers. Brandon Belt returns at first base. Belt's job was safe even after an injury riddled 2014 because his potential replacement, Travis Ishikawa, was just as hurt in 2014 and will start 2015 on the disabled list. Belt may still develop a bit more power than he's shown in his four years in the Bay Area, but he'll probably max out as a .270, 20 HR guy. Joe Panik will start his first full season at second base. He hit .305/.343/.368 in 73 games last year and finished sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting. He may not be much but he's light years better than the cavalcade of uselessness the Giants trotted out at second before his call-up last season. That list includes the corpse of Marco Scutaro, Brandon Hicks, Ehire Adrianza, and the baseball player formerly known as Dan Uggla. Joining Panik up the middle is shortstop Brandon Crawford. Crawford tied for second in the NL in triples last year. In terms of regular season statistics, that is pretty much all I got for you. In the playoffs though, he hit the grand slam that opened the floodgates in the NL Wild Card game. He also knocked in three runs in Game 5 of the World Series. 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey will catch. Aside from his catching responsibilities, Posey has been able to stay in the lineup more these past few years by platooning at first. The Giants would rather have him behind the plates most nights because backup Hector Sanchez is quite lousy. It'll be interesting to see if Posey makes a permanent move to first when top hitting prospect Andrew Susac is ready to rock.
The outfield wasn't that great to begin with but takes a substantial blow with the injury to Hunter Pence. Pence broke his forearm and will start the season on the disabled list. Taking his place in right field is Gregor Blanco. Blanco saw the majority of his time last year in center filling in for Angel Pagan and in left for Michael Morse. The Venezuelan should be adequate until Pence's return. He'll steal bases (an average of 19 a year in SF) but not much else. Center field will see the full time (hopefully) return of Angel Pagan. Pagan has been hampered by injuries the past two years. Management and fans alike are hoping that supposed 100% health will produce the results of his first season in sunny NorCal when he hit 38 doubles, an MLB-best 15 triples, and stole 29 bases. You know what, after two basically lost seasons, they'd probably take even half of that. Left field sees a new face in Nori Aoki from Kansas City, the team San Francisco bested in last year's World Series. Aoki just adds to the speed potential in the outfield but At&T Park is only going to further expedite his decline in power, which wasn't much to begin with.
The starting rotation, which was once an overwhelming strength, has now become Madison Bumgarner and his travelling band. Bumgarner positioned himself firmly as the team's ace going 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 1.09 WHIP (including 4 home runs as a hitter) in 217 innings. He cemented himself in playoff lore with a remarkable postseason, capping it off with a shutout in Game 5 of the World Series and a five inning save in Game 7 on just three days rest. Manager Bruce Bochy will have to get creative to limit his workload this year so that his money maker can potentially replicate that magic in 2015. Bochy need only look to #2 starter Matt Cain for proof of what can happen if he doesn't. Cain was limited to just 15 starts last year and was grossly ineffective in most of them. He seemed to have lost confidence in his fastball and he posted his second consecutive 4.00+ ERA season. He'll be hoping that his mid-season shutdown and September ankle surgery will help right the wrongs and return him to the upper crust of National League pitchers. While Cain is looking to bounce back, Tim Hudson is looking for a nice ride off into the sunset. The 39 year old Hudson has made it known that he's pretty sure he'll retire after this upcoming season. Huddy has had quite the career with 2014 marking the eighth straight year he's been under 4.00 in ERA. He ran out of gas in Game 7 of the World Series, but as stated before, that Bumgarner guy bailed him out. If nothing else, Hudson will provide the younger pitchers who could come up this year such as Kyle Crick or Adalberto Mejia an example of how to do things right. The rest of the rotation will probably be on a rotation for most parts of 2015. Jake Peavy, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, and Yusmeiro Petit are all interchangeable at this stage of their careers. The depth will allow Bochy to use the hot hands and have reliable long relief with the others.
The bullpen is unheralded but once again very deep. Santiago Casilla will return as the team's closer after unseating Sergio Romo from the role in 2014. Casilla isn't a flamethrower in the ninth but he record 19 saves last year and keeps the ball down. It is much harder to score when a closer doesn't walk people often (15 in 58 1/3 innings) or give up home runs (3 allowed). Romo walks even fewer (12 in 58 innings) but was susceptible to the long ball (9 allowed). Jean Machi will reprise his role in the seventh and eighth innings. Machi spent several months with an ERA under 1.00 but still ended at a respectable 2.58. Like Casilla, he is another guy that lets his defense do a lot of the work for him. From the left side, crafty veterans Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez are still around. If things go well, they'll have Steven Okert and his 97 MPH fastball join them as soon as May.
If you gave a non-baseball fan the Giants roster, they may be able to pick out one or two players. A casual baseball fan would tell you they should more than likely stink with their current roster construction. As a Dodgers fan, I would hope that one of these years they finally will. It just isn't the case. Since their recent run began, Bruce Bochy has done great at putting together the puzzle with even the most oblong of pieces. The Giants needed a Brewers' meltdown last year to sneak in and then Madison Bumgarner did the rest. They'll somehow run into some fortune of that ilk again this year and make the playoffs. There they will meet a Cardinals team looking for some retribution. The Cardinals will get that because well the Giants don't win World Series in odd years.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #14 (UP 7)
PREDICTED RECORD: 89-73
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Madison Bumgarner (starting pitcher), Buster Posey (catcher)
Trevor Utley has hated writing this preview both years so far. Having to be impartial when it comes to San Francisco is very difficult.
Image Credit: Giants logo (sportslogos.net)
By Trevor Utley
When I was in college, each year me and my friends would go to Papa Gino's and make our baseball picks on the back of a coloring sheet placemat. It was a sign that baseball was nearly upon us which made it a day I looked forward to. Since then we've all gone our separate ways for the most part but one relic from those good times still remains. I can't shake my foolish obsession with picking the Seattle Mariners to do well. Outside of my placing the M's at 16th in last year's 30 Teams In Under 30 Days, I've irrationally thought that each year the Mariners would somehow usurp the Angels, Athletics, and Rangers into the American League playoffs. Each year I've been horribly wrong. So after taking a year off to be sane, let us get back to a tradition like none other. The Seattle Mariners will make the postseason in 2015!
Unlike my past prognostications involving the Mariners, this team is actually pretty good. The infield is the stronger unit of the offense. Like Felix Hernandez is to the rotation, Robinson Cano is the cornerstone to the Mariners' lineup. After a rocky start to his Mariners' career, Cano eventually turned it on and put forth a solid season. He hit .314 and had a .382 OBP. His power numbers came down understandably moving from Yankee Stadium to Safeco Field but I think those will rebound somewhat in 2015 now that he is fully acclimated to his new park's dimensions. To his left at first base will be Logan Morrison. LoMo has never been a bastion of good health, but can drive the ball when he's ambulatory. Willie Bloomquist may be platooned with Morrison if he falls ill, as he usually does, or struggles against left handers. The weak link in the infield is shortstop Brad Miller. He's a better player than the departed Nick Franklin but that isn't saying very much. Miller may have the entire 2015 to himself but not much past that as top middle infield prospect Ketel Marte is raking in the minors. However, Marte is still probably at least a year away. Third base belongs to the freshly minted $100 million man Kyle Seager. Seager had a career year in 2014 hitting 25 HR, 96 RBI, and a .268/.334/.454 batting line. Seager added a Gold Glove for good measure to his offensive accomplishments. He's really come into his own since his everyday introduction in 2012 and I still think the best is yet to come. The catching will be handled once again by the third pick in the 2012 Draft, Mike Zunino. The former Florida Gator didn't make much contact last year (.199 BA) but when he did it went far as over half of his 87 hits went for extra bases (22 HR, 20 doubles, 2 triples). He strikes out an absurd amount and walks almost never. He one of the more blatant feast or famine guys in the American League but with no real replacement anywhere near ready, it is Zunino's job until further notice.
Nelson Cruz was GM Jack Zduriencik's big pickup this winter. Cruz had to settle for a one year contract with Baltimore last offseason but responded with an MLB best 40 home runs in helping the Orioles win the AL East and advance to the ALCS. Cruz's 4 year, $57 million contract to return to the AL West is reasonable but expecting a repeat of last year's numbers isn't. Safeco Field hasn't exactly been kind to Nelson over his career. He owns lifetime averages of .234/.309/.440 with more strikeouts (52) than any other road venue he's played in. He could see some time in the outfield but will most likely be the team's DH. Dustin Ackley begins his second year transitioning from second base to left field. The M's are still waiting for that breakout season from the former number two overall pick. The good thing is that he already looks more comfortable in the outfield than he ever did at his more natural position of second base. Center field is manned by Austin Jackson, a player that the Mariners absolutely stole in last year's three way deal with Detroit and Tampa Bay. Jackson was easily the second most valuable player in that trade, behind David Price, and Seattle only had to part with the routinely disappointing Franklin to facilitate the leadoff man's coming to Seattle. Jackson didn't set the world on fire in his 54 games in the Emerald City last season (.229 BA, 0 HR, 14 RBI) but similarly to Cano, I think he now knows what he is dealing with in Safeco Field and will adjust his game accordingly. He still also provides exceptional defense in center field, something he'll need to continue to do in his new spacious confines. Right field has a new face as well in Seth Smith. Smith knows all too well about playing in a pitcher friendly park having spent last year in San Diego. He's a doubles hitter who will fit in well to the top of the Mariners' lineup with his new found patience at the dish (career high 69 walks in 2014).
The main attraction in Seattle is still their starting pitching. King Felix Hernandez still sits atop his throne after another dominant season. He finished second to Corey Kluber in the AL Cy Young voting but many believed he should have taken home the award after posting a 15-9 record, and AL bests of a 2.14 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. The King will get his but his court is what really makes the Mariners realistic contenders. Hisashi Iwakuma gives Seattle perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the American League. He battled a finger injury throughout 2014 but was still able to match Hernandez's 15-9 record and post a dazzling 154/21 K/BB ratio. With Iwakuma ready to go for the start of 2015, Seattle is going to be dangerous from the word go. The emergence of Canadian lefty James Paxton makes the Seattle rotation that much more potent. A shoulder injury sidelined Paxton for the majority of last year but outside of a 9 run blip against Toronto, Paxton had full control of his opposition. The final two spots are Taijuan Walker and J.A. Happ's. The 22 year old Walker is a dynamic right hander but still needs to reign in his control to stick in the Majors. He walked 18 in just 38 innings last year in Seattle. Happ is a left hander who was acquired from Toronto for Michael Saunders. He is a free agent at season's end so barring a hell of a 2015, Happ is no more than a bridge to former number two pick Danny Hultzen or even Roenis Elias in the shorter term.
The bullpen is experienced but a train wreck waiting to happen. Fernando Rodney will once again close for the Mariners. He did save a Major League best 48 games last year but walked the tight rope on more than one occasion. He gave up two or more hits 18 times in 2014. You can only tempt fate for so long. Setting up for Rodney is two former Mariners closers, Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen. Both have pitched much better in the 7th and 8th innings than they did as closers. The lone lefty in the Mariners pen is Charlie Furbush. It'll probably stay that way unless they choose Elias out of the bullpen as well.
For once, my selection of the Mariners as a playoff team is based more on the team than spurious conjecture. I don't think anyone is catching the Angels any time soon with the way that Oakland and Texas are attempting to rebuild. This gives Seattle a couple of prime years to take a stab at the playoffs and see if they can muster some magic. A run as a Wild Card may do them some good because they sure as hell couldn't accomplish anything in their dominant hey day of the late 90's and early 2000's. Kansas City laid out the blueprint last year. Let's see if manager Lloyd McClendon and Seattle can build a contender off those plans.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #16 (UP 8)
PREDICTED RECORD: 89-73
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Felix Hernandez (starting pitcher), James Paxton (starting pitcher), Robinson Cano (second baseman), Austin Jackson (outfielder)
Trevor Utley feels like a person again after recommitting to this whole picking Seattle to do good thing.
Image Credit: Mariners logo (sportslogos.net)
By Trevor Utley
Doesn't it seem like the Cardinals make the playoffs every year? It is pretty much true these days. Since the turn of the millennium, the Redbirds have missed the postseason just four times. Their lowest finish in the division? 4th in 2008. The messed up thing about that is they finished third the year before at 78-84 but finished a spot lower a year later at 86-76. The Cardinals are in my opinion the baseball equivalent of the San Antonio Spurs. They win every year without much flash or panache. Nobody, outside of their division, can really say a bad thing about the way the play or the way their organization is run. They've dealt with tragedy (The deaths of Oscar Taveras, Josh Hancock, Darryl Kile) almost as much as they've dealt with triumph (4 World Series appearances, 2 wins). From this point forward, me picking the Cardinals in the top ten in 30 Teams In Under 30 Days is a virtual lock. I feel a bit dirty though having them be the second Wild Card. It just gives them one more chance to send an opposing fan base home distraught.
The Cardinals infield remains entirely intact from last season, when they lost to the eventual World Champion Giants in the NLCS. Matt Adams has cemented himself as the team's everyday first baseman. He hits for a respectable average (.288), extra bases (34 doubles, 15 home runs in 2014), and is a much more nimble defender than any man his size should be. The one knock on Adams is his inability to draw a walk. He isn't a free swinger by any means, but 49 walks from your burly first baseman in two years is not going to cut it. Second base is once again property of Kolten Wong. Wong had his rough patches during his rookie season, but showed the flashes of speed and power that had Cardinals' scouts projecting him as a perennial 20/20 guy. He had 12 homers and 20 steals in 112 games last year. Similarly to Adams though, developing patience at the plate is still a work in progress. He is still just 24 though, so he has plenty of time to work these things out and get everyday reps. Jhonny Peralta, who was putting the H in front of the O before it was cool, will reprise his role at shortstop after a solid St. Louis debut. Peralta played in a career best 157 games for the Cardinals and hit 20 home runs for the fifth time in his career. The media recognized his importance to St. Louis as he made his first ever appearance in MVP voting, finishing 14th. Were you expecting somebody other than Matt Carpenter at third base? The numbers predictably came down after his breakout 2013, but Carpenter was still an All-Star and a premier lead off man in the National League. He may not be long for third however as his errors nearly doubled to 16 in 2014. Yadier Molina will be behind the plate for his 12th season in red. Molina dealt with a serious thumb injury that put a damper on his offense. Even with that, he was able to garner his seventh consecutive Gold Glove at catcher. That is the second longest streak in MLB history for a catcher behind future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez. The bench has versatility with former starting shortstop Pete Kozma and winter signing Mark Reynolds.
The outfield would have remained the same if not for the tragic drunk driving accident in which Oscar Taveras killed both himself and his girlfriend Edilia Arvelo in the Dominican Republic. GM John Mozeliak couldn't afford to grieve very long and he went and acquired Jason Heyward from Atlanta. It cost him a young arm in Shelby Miller but I think a change of scenery, and organizational philosophy, will do Heyward a great service. Manager Mike Matheny will do his best to break the career pattern on good year, bad year with Heyward. He certainly won't run the 25 year old into the ground like they did in Atlanta. Jon Jay and Matt Holliday comprise the rest of the Cardinals' outfield. Jay isn't a star, but he is well deserved of his chance to play every day in center for the Cardinals. He gets on base at a fairly impressive clip (.372 OBP in 2014), a trait usually unseen at the bottom of National League lineups. His ability to play every position in the outfield competently is also valuable, especially when bringing in a guy like Heyward who is going to need scheduled days off. Even at 35, Holliday is still one of the best three hole hitters in the game. His defense in left field has never been stellar but you can pencil him in for 20 home runs and 90 RBI and not think twice about it. A bench of Randal Grichuk and Peter Bourjos gives them power and speed in a pinch. Top prospect Stephen Piscotty also looms.
The starting rotation on paper looks really good. It is very determinant on the health of its top two though. Those two are of course Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha. Wainwright is still one of the elite pitchers in the National League but the toll of 200 innings a year plus four consecutive deep playoff runs is beginning to show. His 2014 may have been his best yet with a 20-9 record, 2.38 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP. Even with that stat line, it doesn't change the fact that his elbow is still creaky and he already hurt himself in offseason workouts. Wacha missed a big chunk of 2014 and was Jekyll and Hyde on either side of his injury. He looked the part of a solid #2 in the early goings but did not thrive on an innings limit when he returned in September. I won't even get to his NLCS cameo. That has been harped on enough. While Wacha was down, Lance Lynn asserted himself as a viable Robin to Wainwright's Batman. While keeping both his 15-10 and 33 starts stagnant over the last two years, Lynn shaved 1.20 points off his ERA and 0.05 off his WHIP in 2014. His consistency got him a three year deal this winter to keep him in St. Louis until 2017. The Cardinals have quite the bargain with their #4 starter, John Lackey. After accumulating over $80 million in his time with the Red Sox, Lackey, who came over at the deadline last year, will make just $500,000 in 2015. If Lackey starts off strong, there is a good chance the Cardinals will do right by him with an extension to balance out his puny 2015 figure. If not, he becomes an incredibly value trade chip with his minuscule price tag. After some back and forth, Carlos Martinez was finally named the Cardinals' official fifth starter. Martinez wasn't dominant as a reliever last year, but struggled even more in 7 summer starts. Pitch counts and wildness doomed him. He seems to have adjusted to the role better in the spring, but it remains to be seen what he can do over more than a month's sample.
Trevor Rosenthal will once again close for the Cardinals. Rosenthal made the ninth inning very interesting most nights but was still able to rack up 45 saves, second best in the National League. He needs to cut down on his walks (42 in 70 1/3 innings) or his job may be in jeopardy. First cracks at closing in event of a Rosenthal implosion will most likely go to new addition Jordan Walden. He's been used primarily as a set-up man since his 2011 All-Star season, but Walden still possesses closer stuff. He can sometimes run into the same walk issues as Rosenthal but has learned to get more savvy outs instead of trying to blow each subsequent batter away. Pat Neshek's departure leaves the middle inning righty work all for Seth Maness. Maness has been a steady 7th inning hand in the Majors. Matheny showed confidence in him as a stand in closer though letting him finish 17 games and register 3 saves. The left handed batters will have to deal with Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist. Choate is an old dog who doesn't need new tricks. Siegrist could use some new tricks because after an impressive 2013 debut (0.45 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 50 K/18 BB) he got blasted in 2014 to the tune of a 6.82 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, and 37 K/16 BB.
The Cardinals will make the Playoffs. There is a good chance they'll get to the NLCS. A lot of it rides on the health of the pitching staff and the necessity for Heyward to provide some pop in the middle of the order. The Cardinals don't have much down on the farm so what you see now is what you are probably going to get until at least the trade deadline. If they stay healthy, what you see is one of the more dangerous teams in the National League. If they don't, what you'll get won't be pretty.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #5 (DOWN 4)
PREDICTED RECORD: 89-73
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Yadier Molina (catcher), Matt Carpenter (third baseman), Jason Heyward (outfielder), Adam Wainwright (starting pitcher)
Trevor Utley lauds the Cardinals organization but can say with complete honesty that St. Louis may be one of the worst cities he's ever stepped foot in.
Image Credit: Cardinals logo (sportslogos.net)
By Trevor Utley
Congratulations Boston, you are the first team to make the 30 Teams In Under 30 Days playoffs. Coming off your second crap year in three, with that little thing called a World Series sprinkled in between, you will be gracing the ever so popular Wild Card game for the first time. You may be sans-Lester, but there is a lot to be excited about when you discuss the 2015 Red Sox. There are some new faces, and old ones returning. Will the Red Sox continue their pattern of stinking and then winning the World Series? Whoa whoa whoa. Reel it back in.
The big addition, no pun intended, to the BoSox infield this offseason was third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Fresh off a World Series win of his own, his third in five years, Sandoval brings a swing made for Fenway and a strong postseason pedigree. The Kung Fu Panda owns a .344 lifetime postseason average with 6 home runs and 20 RBI, mostly in big spots. He may seem like he is in cruise control for the majority of the regular season. When the playoffs start though, he's one of the toughest outs there is. Speaking of tough outs in the postseason, David Ortiz returns for his 13th year as Red Sox DH. After several offseasons of contract hubbub, Big Papi goes into 2015 with an incentive and option laden extension in tow. He can still rake at 39 and passed 100 RBIs for the eighth time in his career a season ago. He should probably hit third for the Red Sox until they put his jersey number along the outfield mezzanine. Mike Napoli will man first base again after a sub-par year by his standards. Napoli has the added incentive of 2015 being a contract year so he'll have to better his .248, 17 HR, 55 RBI line from a year ago to improve both the team and his chances of getting one final big contract. A way for that to happen will be having a healthy Dustin Pedroia ahead of him again. The diminutive former MVP fought hard through injuries but in the end predictably put up full season career lows in most offensive categories. He was able to snag his fourth Gold Glove at second base but it seemed hollow as the Red Sox season ended in shambles. A bounce back from Pedroia should be expected. Even with the addition of Hanley Ramirez, who we'll get to shortly, Xander Bogaerts remains the Boston shortstop. The highly touted 22 year old Aruban hasn't quite lived up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon him just yet but I still he feel he has the makings of a future All-Star. Of course nothing statistically backs up this notion as of now, but I feel I've seen enough baseball in my life to know when a guy either has it or he doesn't. The lone negative that has come from the infield this Spring Training is the unfortunate loss of catcher Christian Vazquez to Tommy John surgery. Tommy John gettin' errbody! He's takin' pitchaz, yo catchaz, errbody! I needed that quick aside so I didn't have to try to write a sentence about Ryan Hanigan. For those looking for any mention of top catching prospect Blake Swihart, wait until the 2016 30 Teams In Under 30 Days.
The outfield brings back an old face in a new position in the aforementioned Hanley Ramirez. El Nino will give left field a go for the first time in his career with the ever imposing Green Monster at his back. While said Monster will be a perfect target for him to launch double after double off with his sweet right handed swing, it may be tricky for him on defense. We've seen even the staunchest of defenders in the past look like Little Leaguers dealing with caroms off of Fenway's trademark wall. Red Sox fans, be patient. It'll be worth it. Mookie Betts looks to have fully secured the center field gig. He played all over the outfield and second base last year but a torrid Spring Training (2 HR, 7 RBI, 1.295 OPS) has Daniel Nava on the bench and Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket. Shane Victorino is looking to be ready for Opening Day in right field. He has struggled for fitness this spring after a disappointing season in which he just made 30 appearances. If injury woes befall Victorino again, the Red Sox outfield bench is rock solid with Allen Craig, Nava, and last year's breakout star Brock Holt. Castillo and Bradley are also just a phone call away.
The starting pitching presents the greatest cause for worry to Red Sox Nation. Fragile Clay Buchholz will lead they way as he looks to put one of his worst seasons behind him. Buchholz has never made 30 starts in a season and has been a regular on the Boston disabled list for a high percentage of his career. Those aren't two characteristics you want from your ace. Rick Porcello comes over from Detroit in the Yoenis Cespedes trade on the heels of his best year as a pro. It is easy to forget that Porcello is still only 26 and entering his prime as a pitcher. He may take the reigns of the number one spot in the rotation, either by performance or the latest Buchholz injury. Justin Masterson returns to Boston but with far less shine on him than his last stint with Beantown. His combined 2014 between Cleveland and St. Louis was a nightmare. It is tough to tell if last year's 5.88 ERA and 1.63 WHIP were him battling through injuries or a total loss of stuff. From what Spring Training has shown, the Red Sox are willing to bank on it being the former. Wade Miley is slated to be the team's fourth starter. Miley was the Opening Day starter for Arizona last year but he'll face less pressure lower in the Red Sox rotation. He does what you want most from the bottom of your starting five, get deep into games and pitch every fifth day. The fifth starter is still to be determined. Joe Kelly seemed primed for the spot before he got put onto the disabled list recently. Knuckleballer Steven Wright has the inside track on the job but at 30 has just two Major League starts to his name. How long will it be before Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Brian Johnson stake their claim to a Major League roster spot?
The bullpen is in flux with closer Koji Uehara starting the season on the DL. Uehara was visibly fatigued in the latter stages of 2014. He was still able to power through, save a 5 run beating at the hands of Seattle, but didn't look fully recovered in Spring Training. While Koji is sidelined, Edward Mujica will serve as Boston's interim closer. Mujica did admirably during Uehara's September swoon going 5-for-5 in his save opportunities that last month. A pair of former Rangers will help out an overworked Junichi Tazawa in the seventh and eighth innings. Tazawa, who has pitched in 71 games in each of the past two years, won't need to work as hard with Alexi Ogando and Robbie Ross Jr. to help from the right side. The southpaw contingent wasn't able to reacquire Andrew Miller this winter, but Craig Breslow and Tommy Layne remain. Layne is the better of the two (0.95 ERA) but is less proven than Breslow. Manager John Farrell is going to have to weave some magic to make all these oblong pieces fit.
GM Ben Cherington had to make changes after another season in the cellar. The contracts handed to Sandoval and Ramirez have the potential to become cumbersome over the next few seasons. That doesn't matter because the goal for the 2015 Red Sox is to get back to the dance. As the 10th team here on 30 Teams In Under 30 Days, I believe they'll do just that. As Kansas City showed last year, as well as many teams before, a Wild Card team can cause a lot of chaos in the postseason. The Red Sox, whether it be good or bad, are sure going to be chaotic in 2015.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #2 (DOWN 8)
PREDICTED RECORD: 88-74
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Dustin Pedroia (second baseman), Mookie Betts (outfielder), Hanley Ramirez (outfielder), Rick Porcello (starting pitcher)
Trevor Utley is looking forward to seeing a lot of these young players on the Dodgers, with inflated contracts of course, within 3 to 5 years.
Image Credit: Red Sox logo (sportslogos.net)
By Trevor Utley
We've come so far here on 30 Teams In Under 30 Days. This is the final profile of a non-playoff team, in my humble opinion of course. This team is the third straight double digit spot riser from last year's rankings: the Toronto Blue Jays. Remember three spots ago when I said the Mets were my biggest reach? I definitely forgot where I put Canada's favorite team. They have already been dealt a huge blow with the season ending ACL tear to star pitcher Marcus Stroman. They have had a good yet not remarkable Spring Training. I can tell you one thing though--Torontonians are going to see a lot of runs scored this year.
The first big free agent move of this winter was Russell Martin returning to his native Ontario, Canada on a 5 year, $82 million deal. Martin was a key part in a Pirates' team who made the playoffs two consecutive years. At 32, a five year contract is a very risky proposition for the Blue Jays. They are hoping that his leadership and offensive repertoire don't fail them until at the worst the tail end of the deal. Edwin Encarnacion is looking to "recover" after his first season in three in which he didn't drive in 100 runs. He only got to 98 RBIs in 128 games in 2014 but still cleared the 30 home run mark for the third straight campaign. He'll be able to focus more on hitting as he'll serve as the primary designated hitter in Toronto. He'll have that defensive burden taken off him most days because of the arrival of Justin Smoak. Smoak will never hit for average, but when healthy he can hit some home runs. A move to a more hitter friendly Rogers Centre after half a decade at Seattle's Safeco Field can't hurt. After a eye opening Spring Training, Devon Travis will be the starting second baseman on Opening Day. Acquired from Detroit in November, Travis has shown a hint of power as well as above average speed in each Minor League stop. Jose Reyes remains at shortstop and at the top of the Jays' batting order. Various leg maladies threatened to derail Reyes' running game in 2013. He made sure to qualm supporter's fears with 30 swiped bags last year. The return of the speed is nice, but the Blue Jays will be asking for a little more for the $66 million guaranteed he's owed over the next three years. Third base features the biggest addition that Toronto made over the offseason, Josh Donaldson. Donaldson was the engine that made the Athletics' lineup go the past two years. He racked up 53 HR, 189 RBI, and finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting the past two seasons. Expect even more offense in this improved lineup.
While the infield is quite well rounded, the outfield is Jose Bautista and a gaggle of question marks. Joey Bats won his third Silver Slugger award in 2014 after a return to form of 35 HR, 103 RBI, 104 BB/96 K, and a .924 OPS. Even when he's not 100%, you can still count on Bautista to put the ball over the fence. The two other members of the Toronto outfield aren't sure things by any means. Center fielder Dalton Pompey had a meteoric rise in 2014, starting in Class A Advanced Dunedin and ending on the big club. He stole 44 bases along the way and showed great plate discipline. He'll be a great table setter in a few years. For now, he strengthens the bottom of the Blue Jays batting order. Left field is the biggest question mark. I don't think Kevin Pillar or uber-utility man Steve Tolleson will provide anything more than an instant out while Toronto waits for Michael Saunders to recover from an MCL injury. Even Saunders himself is no sure thing as he has a past littered with different injuries. GM Alex Anthopolous may use want away catcher Dioner Navarro as a trade chip to solidify this position.
The starting staff is significantly less imposing than the lineup. Outside of the aging R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, the 2015 Blue Jays rotation is also going to be very young and volatile. Marcus Stroman's injury thrusts a much heavier workload into the lap of Opening Day starter Drew Hutchison. In my opinion, Hutchison does not have an ace mentality. He is a high volume strikeout guy, one per inning in 2014, but struggles with his command. Hutchison also gave up 23 home runs in 2014, a number that needs to come down when he's getting the opposition's best starter. Hutchison wasn't even the worst offender on his team in terms of giving up taters. That distinction belongs to R.A. Dickey. Dickey gave up 26 bombs in 2014 although that was an improvement from the hideous 35 he served up in his first year in Toronto. Dickey is basically a lock to pitch 200 innings a year as a knuckleballer but don't expect the 2012 NL Cy Young Dickey to ever return. It'll be more likely that he once again finishes the season at 14-13, his record in each of the past two years. Mark Buehrle defied time with his 2014 campaign. He made his first All-Star team since 2009 and finished 13-10 with a 3.39 ERA, his best mark since 2005. He is making $20 million in the final year of his contract so he will want to impress to get a final multi-year deal, whether it be in Toronto or elsewhere. The final two rotation spots will be held by Toronto's top two pitching prospects, Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez. Norris is more known as the pitcher who lives in a van but he'll soon be known as a front line MLB starter. He whiffed 163 batters in 124 2/3 minor league innings last year making the same eventual leap as Dalton Pompey from Dunedin to Toronto. Aaron Sanchez got a longer look from the big club in 2014 and did not disappoint. He was used exclusively out of the bullpen and was utterly dominant. He finished with a 1.09 ERA, 0.697 WHIP, and 3 saves. He may struggle at first but I see Sanchez as a key cog in this rotation for a good long time.
The bullpen differs from your standard idea of a bullpen because the two most important pitchers are left handed. The closer, Brett Cecil, and primary set-up man, Aaron Loup, both attack hitters from the left side. Cecil actually works better against right handers (.213 BAA) than lefties (.247 BAA). He'll get to face more right handed hitters in his first full season as Toronto closer. Loup on the other hand, owned lefties to the tune of a .159 BAA. He'll get his share of save opportunities as well. The Jays are very young from the right side in the late innings with the demotion of 2013 All-Star Steve Delabar. This was to make room for 21 year old Miguel Castro and 20 year old Roberto Osuna. Manager John Gibbons is taking a big risk with these two young fireballers. With that being said, Gibbons has plenty of experienced reinforcements in former starters Todd Redmond, Liam Hendricks, and Marco Estrada if his two young arms can't hang.
The Stroman injury takes a big bite out of the excitement I had for the 2015 Blue Jays. They improved enough to not drop in the American League East standings but until their youngsters show me something, I can't bump them up. The Jays will finish third again and miss the final AL Wild Card by the slimmest of margins. Like a lot of these teams just outside the playoffs, the future looks bright. It is just whether or not impatient Blue Jays fans can wait for said future that remains to be seen.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #23 (UP 12)
PREDICTED RECORD: 87-75
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Jose Bautista (outfielder), Edwin Encarnacion (designated hitter), Josh Donaldson (third baseman), Russell Martin (catcher), Aaron Loup (relief pitcher)
Trevor Utley wants to go to Canada but nowhere near the Frennnnnnnch.
Image Credit: Blue Jays logo (sportslogos.net)