2015 MLB Preview

Jack Murphy and Jake Vogt

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It is almost that time of year; April is right around the corner which means Opening Day is almost here, baseball is back. With a very busy offseason for many teams, several rosters look completely different than they did last season. Big names like Hanley Ramirez, Nelson Cruz, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Donaldson have found new homes while former Cy Young Winner Max Scherzer made his way to D.C. to further bolster the Nationals rotation. With that in mind, here’s a look at what to expect this summer.

American League

AL East

1.Boston Red Sox- The Red Sox just about have the East division locked up with the busy offseason they have had. Acquiring 3B Pablo Sandoval and SS/OF Hanley Ramirez, along with the acquisition of power hitter Allen Craig at the trade deadline last July, the Sox have the potential to be the most explosive offense in the league this year. This team has virtually no holes in their line up, which should help counteract their potentially troubling pitching staff. Starting pitcher Rick Porcello is coming off an up year and if he can replicate last season, it will take a lot of pressure off of streaky number 1 Clay Buchholz. Regardless of how the pitching turns out, this team has enough offense to reach the postseason and make some noise.

2.Baltimore Orioles- The Orioles are another team with a high-powered offense but lack pitching. If they could add pitching before the trade deadline in July, it could give the O’s a very legitimate ability to topple the heavily-favored Red Sox. With multiple players coming off injury/suspension, there are some question marks in the lineup. 1B Chris Davis has one game remaining on his 25-game suspension for banned substances, while 3B Manny Machado and C Matt Wieters are coming off a torn meniscus and Tommy John surgery, respectively. Perennial MVP candidate Adam Jones will provide consistency in the middle of the lineup. Unless they figure out how to fill some holes in the pitching staff, the O’s will sit at #2 in a down AL East this season.

3.Tampa Bay Rays- What the Rays lack in offensive ability they make up for in their rotation. With an aging lineup headed by a declining Evan Longoria, their young pitching staff will have to hold opponents to very low numbers, which is something they have the potential to do. The Rays won’t be putting up eight runs a game but they definitely won’t be giving up eight. With starting pitcher Matt Moore returning around the All-Star break, they could make a push for the postseason if they figure out their offensive situation.

4.New York Yankees- The Yankees are coming into the year with a lot of question marks. With pitchers C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Masahiro Tanaka all coming off significant injuries, the rotation is a big question mark. Michael Pineda is also slotted into the top of the rotation but lacks consistency to be a top pitcher. The rotation could be one of the best in the league if all goes well, but things will most likely not go well. The rest of the lineup is aging, with veterans like Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, Brian McCann, and Alex Rodriguez all on the back half of their careers. Unless the rotation is lights out, this team is going to struggle to compete.

5.Toronto Blue Jays- Nobody really knows what the Jays are trying to do. Once they finally look like they’re going to do the right thing and rebuild, they go out and sign big-name, washed up, overpaid players to try and bring in fans. They have no pitching besides top prospect Daniel Norris who is looking to make a splash in his first full big league season. The acquisition of Josh Donaldson gets them no closer to the playoffs. The Jays need to bite the bullet and ship Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and anyone else with any value, at the trade deadline to contenders who will give up top prospects to win now.

AL Central

1.Detroit Tigers- The Tigers have built themselves into a perennial powerhouse with their high-powered offense and dominant pitching staff. They have one of the best rotations in the game, behind only the Nationals, arguably. 1B Miguel Cabrera and DH Victor Martinez put up monster numbers every year and will continue into this year. An aging Ian Kinsler at 2B and a young SS in Jose Iglesias will be a solid combination up the middle. The addition of OF Yoenis Cespedes adds to an already explosive lineup. All reports from Spring Training have Justin Verlander back on track after a rocky 2014 season. The acquisition of David Price at the trade deadline last July balances out the loss of All-Star Max Scherzer. The bullpen is a question mark this year, but come July, they will look to bolster their pen at the trade deadline.

2.Chicago White Sox- Behind the Red Sox, the Sox from the South Side had the loudest offseason. With several additions, including pitchers Zach Duke, David Robertson, and Jeff Samardzija along with 1B Adam LaRoche and OF Melky Cabrera, the Sox are preparing to win now. Ace Chris Sale suffered an injury early in spring training, but should be ready to go mid-April. The top three in the Sox rotation should be dominant with the potential of top prospect Carlos Rodon working his way into the mix. The additions of LaRoche and Cabrera should take some pressure off reigning ROY Jose Abreu offensively. The Sox struggled with injuries last year, primarily in the outfield, losing Avisail Garcia early in the year to a torn labrum and Adam Eaton multiple times throughout the season with different injuries. If the two young stars can stay healthy, along with the team in general, this team has some serious potential to make a huge splash in the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

3.Kansas City Royals- The Royals are coming off an incredibly overachieving year, where they pitched their way into a World Series appearance. After losing their top pitcher in James Shields to free agency, several young pitchers must step up to replicate last year’s season. The bullpen is still lights out, but taking a lead into the seventh will be a challenge for this offensively-limited team. This team is still young and has the potential to jump up to the top of the division, but with a less-talented pitching staff and an offense that still hasn’t proven to be consistent, it is a stretch for the Royals to make it back to the playoffs in such a talented division.

4.Cleveland Indians- The Indians are an average team in one of the best divisions in baseball. In any other division, they could scare some teams come playoff time, but in the Central they will be background noise. Reigning Cy Young Winner Corey Kluber has no help behind him in the rotation and is unlikely to put up another season like the previous year. Once-promising young pitcher Trevor Bauer has yet to live up to his potential and after multiple full seasons with horrid stats, it is about time to write him off. There are some bright spots in the lineup, with former Oakland A Brandon Moss in right field along with All-Star Michael Brantley in left. If Carlos Santana can bump his average up now that it seems he has settled into his role at 1B, it will take some pressure off of the other middle of the lineup guys. Unless the Indians seriously invest in some pitching, they will sit toward the bottom of the division all year.

5.Minnesota Twins- It happens to just about every team; multiple years of success with a World Series appearance or two and then several years of terrible baseball. This team is rebuilding, heavily at that, with multiple top 100 prospects working their way through the farm system. They are all still a few years from breaking into the Big Leagues and until then, the Twins will be competing for the worst team in baseball. #1 overall prospect Byron Buxton is starting to worry people after having a few injury plagued seasons in a row; he was expected to have progressed much faster than he currently is, which could be a problem for a team that was looking to build around him. Former All-Star Joe Mauer is aging but will still put up decent numbers and give Twins fans something to watch. Torii Hunter came back home for what is most likely his final season, which is another way the Twins will get fans into the ballpark. Give the Twins a few years to develop some of their prospects and they will jump back to the top of the division, right at the time the Tigers are declining.

AL West

1.Seattle Mariners- The Mariners have been working to assemble a very solid roster over the past few seasons. With the addition of 2B Robinson Cano last year and DH Nelson Cruz this year, the high-powered offense has the ability to put up big numbers. 3B Kyle Seager is coming off a solid year, rewarded with a substantial contract that could be troublesome in the future. This team is built to win now, especially with the massive payroll that is most likely unsustainable over the next several seasons. With one of the best pitchers in the game in right hander Felix Hernandez heading up the staff, the rotation won’t have to do much more than hold their own to win games.

2.Los Angeles Angels- This team has a lot of max contracts on their payroll, with the ability to make a playoff push every year. Besides OF Mike Trout, the offense lacks a consistent ability to produce, and with a solid rotation that should keep them in games, the Angels could be streaky all year. With a more-than-likely hefty suspension looming over Josh Hamilton, the Angels could be missing a key piece in their lineup. Competing in a talented division, it’s hard to guarantee a pennant but the Angels have pretty good odds at making a playoff push

3.Oakland A’s- If there is one thing we’ve learned from the A’s, it’s that you can never count them out. Although there are no real bright spots in either the lineup or rotation, outside of #1 pitcher Sonny Gray, the A’s will compete in this division. With a completely new infield, including former Blue Jays 3B Brett Lawrie and former Rays 2B Ben Zobrist, it will be interesting to see how this team adjusts. Losses of Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson hurt the offensive production, but the A’s also added DH Billy Butler from the Royals. Although a lot of these moves seem on the surface like downgrades, nobody is inside the mind of Billy Beane and know what intentions he has with this lineup. He sees what no one else sees and has most likely built a team to win. This division is too talented (and has too big of a payroll) to predict the A’s to make a playoff run. But it is still very possible that the A’s jump to the top of the division.

4.Texas Rangers- The AL West falls off after the top three teams. The Rangers have holes, and a lot of them, especially in the rotation. With ace Yu Darvish most likely out for the year due to a looming Tommy John surgery, there is really no one to fill his spot. The rest of the Rangers rotation is incredibly mediocre. Corner infielders Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre will provide some power in the lineup, but with no one else around them to get on base, they won’t drive in enough runs to do any damage. Aging OF Shin Soo Choo has seen his production decline in recent years along with unproven youngsters rounding out the outfield. Top prospect 2B Jurickson Profar is out for the year again, without having played in a Major League game in over two years due to injury. It’s about time to write off this once promising middle infielder. If the Rangers come within 15 games of .500, count it as a good year.

5.Houston Astros- Nobody can figure out what the Astros are trying to do. They have a surplus of bright young stars but they continue signing overrated and overpaid players to take time away from their prospects. The team has made some questionable moves, including not signing the #1 overall pick Brady Aiken this past year. The two sides did not come close in talks, having a $3 million gap in signing bonus negotiations according to NBC Sports. By failing to sign Aiken, the Astros will receive the #2 overall pick next year’s draft in addition to whatever pick they would normally have. There were underlying injury issues with Aiken, specifically his elbow, which gave the Astros cold feet, leading to them trying to cut his bonus in half. Whether this was a good move or not is yet to be seen, but given the struggling beginning to former top pick Mark Appel’s career, the Astros need all the help they can get. The Astros are, and have been, rebuilding so do not expect them to compete in the West this year. George Springer is a bright young outfielder with 30-30 (30 steals and 30 home runs) potential, and is really the only reason to come to the ballpark this year.

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals
– Another solid Cardinals team this season will only go as far as their injury-prone pitching will take them. Adam Wainwright, if healthy, is a proven ace, and has won the big game for the Cards, with a pair of World Series rings. Lance Lynn has won 48 games the last 3 seasons, and John Lackey has won at least 10 games in every season he has pitched in going back to 2012, but both are injury risks. Behind the dish is Yadier Molina, the best defensive catcher in the game, with offensive numbers well above the norm for the position. New RF Jason Heyward hopes to rediscover the tools that made him one of the game’s top prospects just five years ago. Slugger Matt Holliday hopes to keep driving in runs from the middle of the lineup, despite turning 35 this year. If flame-throwing closer Trevor Rosenthal can find the strike zone this season, and the pitching holds up a consistently strong offense, the Cardinals, like always, could be a dangerous team come October.

2) Milwaukee Brewers
Last year’s surprise team hopes to repeat their performance, but with a better run down the stretch. They have a potentially potent lineup with CF Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun back in the outfield. C Jonathan Lucroy is becoming one of the best hitting catchers in the game. They lost SP Yovani Gallardo, which puts more pressure on veterans Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza to eat up more innings. If the pitching holds up and the bullpen closes out games, this potentially high-octane offense could carry them back into the postseason.

3) CHICAGO CUBS
Theo Epstein is building a franchise that has a lot of Cubs fans very excited for the near future. He hired Joe Maddon to manage the club; Maddon was very sought after, and had a ton of success in Tampa, a small-market club in a powerhouse division. Newly acquired southpaw Jon Lester was the top pitcher on the market and wants to bring the Cubs their first World Series in over 100 years. Clubhouse leader Anthony Rizzo at first base provides a ton of power in the middle of the lineup, and at 25 years old, he is only getting better. They added Miguel Montero and David Ross behind the plate; Lester loves pitching to Ross, as they spent many years together in Boston, and Montero has a solid left-handed bat. Up the middle, SS Starlin Castro is continuing to mature. Speedy switch-hitter Dexter Fowler was added to man centerfield and could provide a spark at the top of the order. RF Jorge Soler played well in his 24 games with the club last season, and arrived at camp bigger and stronger, hoping to stay healthy and develop into the slugging threat that he has the potential to be. Top prospect Kris Bryant tore up the spring, but will begin the season in AAA along with 2B Javier Baez. He would most likely play third, but could may find time in the outfield in the future. Right now there are a lot of outfielders battling for playing time.. SP Jake Arrieta had a great season last year and fellow starters Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks have the make-up to be successful this season. The bullpen looks improved, adding Jason Motte, and Hector Rodon is the guy in the ninth. With more prospects coming up next season, they will be even more dangerous next season..

4) Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are another team that could find themselves in the postseason, led by do-it-all CF Andrew McCutchen, a potential MVP candidate every season. Starling Marte is a table-setter at the top of the lineup and can also steal bases. Josh Harrison and Pedro Alvarez at the corner infield positions are both strong hitters but Alvarez needs to bounce back to his 2012-2013 form. Mark Melancon is a proven closer, but they need the rotation to get him the ball with the lead. Veterans Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett need strong years on the mound to keep the Pirates relevant in September and October. SP Gerrit Cole has the stuff and the makeup to be an ace in the league, as he is continuing to develop. This is a team that could very well outplay the expectations and once again make a run at the postseason, if the pitching performs.

5) Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are looking at a possibly dreadful year. There has been no new talent coming through the organization and the roster has not been upgraded since last season. Other than ace Johnny Cueto – who happens to be injury prone – the rotation is shaky at best, with Homer Bailey and Mike Leake holding respectable numbers and eating up innings. In the outfield, aging veteran Marlon Byrd is coming off back-to-back strong seasons, and Billy Hamilton in center has all the speed in the world but needs to greatly improve a .292 OBP if he wants to steal bases. Jay Bruce’s power numbers and average both declined last season, as well as Joey Votto’s, which could prove fatal for the Reds if their two biggest bats cannot perform. 3B Todd Frazier could have another good season, but 2B Brandon Phillips is slowly on the decline. If the Reds do have a lead, though, flamethrowing closer Aroldis Chapman is one of the most electric in the game and will seal the victories in the ninth.

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers
With a new-look lineup, the Dodgers are desperate to find some success in the postseason. Their rotation is headed by the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, and an excellent complement in Zack Greinke. Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez are sluggers in the lineup and new additions Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins provide veteran leadership in the middle infield. The only question marks are in the bullpen, but if that is figured out, the Dodgers definitely have the rotation and lineup to be a dangerous team down the stretch.

2) San Francisco Giants
Under Bruce Bochy, you can never count out the Giants, winners of 3 of the last 5 World Series titles. Southpaw Madison Bumgarner took the postseason by storm and is looking to get right back at it this season; watch out for his name in the Cy Young talks. Former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum is not what he used to be and Matt Cain is coming off of injury but if they bounce back, they could have a strong rotation with Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy as well. Losing Pablo Sandoval’s bat could be painful to the middle of the lineup and Michael Morse will be missed against left-handed pitchers. They have a very strong back end of the bullpen and Buster Posey has the ability to carry a lineup. If the role players step up and the offense stays afloat, do not be surprised to see the Giants in October.

3) San Diego Padres
The Padres went on a spending spree this offseason, defying the “pitching and defense” trend, getting Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and Justin Upton to play and have a presence in the outfield. They also signed innings-eater James Shields to head the rotation, and Andrew Cashner has the potential to be a great number 2 pitcher if he can stay healthy. Derek Norris is the new catcher after a strong campaign in Oakland. They have a proven closer in Joaquin Benoit, so if they can get him the ball with the lead, the Padres could win a lot of games this year. Their infield is developing, and it could be strong, but it could bust as well. The Padres have the lineup to appear in October, but they need their new acquisitions and their rotation to perform to their potential.

4) Colorado Rockies
The Rockies again find themselves in a predicament all too familiar — having a respectable lineup but no pitching to keep them in contention. It is too hard to attract pitchers to the mile-high city where the ball seems to fly forever. Troy Tulowitzki was on an absurd pace last season before succumbing to injury; he’s an MVP candidate when healthy. Carlos Gonzalez is another potent bat but he has been struck by the injury bug. Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado are a pair of solid hitters in the lineup that can definitely perform. The rotation is just atrocious and if it weren’t for the Diamondbacks, they would certainly find themselves in the cellar of what could be an exciting NL West.

5) Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-Backs appear to be almost directionless at this juncture. 1B Paul Goldschmidt is a total slugger at the plate, an MVP-type talent, but he can’t carry this team on his own. RF Mark Trumbo has a ton of raw power but cannot stay healthy and is not the strongest defensive option in the outfield. They took a gamble on 3B Yosmany Tomas but his dangerously low OBP in spring training could be cause for concern. With Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson as the top two pitchers in the rotation, this team could struggle mightily this season with an unimpressive pitching staff and a less-than-potent offense.

NL East

Washington Nationals
The Nationals, on paper, are the most balanced team in the bigs, from top to bottom. They have an All-Star pitching rotation with 5 guys that could all be number 1’s or 2’s on most teams. Max Scherzer was brought in on a massive contract, making over 200 million dollars over seven years, and can continue his success in his transition to the NL. Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasburg are a dream for any manager to have in his rotation. They also have a solid lineup top to bottom with no true stars — yet, Bryce Harper has a ton of potential if he can remain healthy — and a bullpen that is strong enough to close out games. With this rotation, lineup, and a less-than-scary division, the Nationals should have command of this division all season long.

2) Miami Marlins
The Marlins made a multitude of moves to try to fill their expensive stadium. They resigned RF slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a monster 13-year contract, and Stanton wants to win now. He is an MVP candidate and can hit the ball a mile. Utilityman Martin Prado and 1B Michael Morse are both good additions at the corner infield spots. Dee Gordon was acquired from the Dodgers to play 2B and could steal 50 bases. They have a lot of talent in the field that is poised for breakout seasons. Jose Fernandez is an ace at 22 and has remarkable stuff if he comes back strong from Tommy John surgery. They added SP’s Mat Latos and Dan Haren, two veterans that are solid at the back end of the rotation. Side-arm slinger Steve Cishek can close out games, and rest of the bullpen can pull their own weight. This is a team to keep your eye on.

3) Atlanta Braves
The Braves missed their prime opportunities to be contenders the last few years. Craig Kimbrel has electric stuff at the back end of the bullpen, and is the best in the game if they can just get him the ball with the lead. Melvin Upton Jr. hopes that changing his name can change his numbers from the last few years. Freddie Freeman at first base is the only dangerous bat in the lineup, but SS Andrelton Simmons is developing and 3B Chris Johnson can hit the ball as well. Newly acquired RF Nick Markakis is a well-rounded player who can play well in a division full of weak pitching. The Braves are past their glory days, but can still stay afloat in the NL East.

4) New York Mets
New York’s other team is looking at another down year this season, with their only real bright spot being the return of ace Matt Harvey. Longtime face of the franchise David Wright at 3B isn’t getting any younger and Curtis Granderson is no longer the 30-30 threat that he was with the Tigers and Yankees. They are fighting a lot of injuries in Spring Training and losing SP Zack Wheeler for the year is definitely going to hurt. This is a team that you cannot count out quite yet but it’d be surprising if they make a splash this season.

5) Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are a team that is not built to win now, and it is not built for future success, either. Their already depleted pitching staff took another hit with Cliff Lee most likely out for the season; Cole Hamels is the only proven arm left (if he isn’t traded to a contender). Ryan Howard and Chase Utley used to be the best right side of the infield in the game but both are long past their primes and very injury prone. Ben Revere swipes a ton of bags at the top of the order and Carlos Ruiz calls a good game behind the plate and is a respectable hitter, but this is not a scary lineup. Another potential trade candidate is closer Jonathan Papelbon, who closes a ton of games, but also holds a hefty contact that is hard to move. This Phillies team is 5 seasons past contention and is not looking up in the near future.

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