After making picks for individual awards yesterday, the focus of today’s MLB Predictions column is picking division winners, wild card entrants and ultimately, who will win the World Series.
American League East: Boston Red Sox
The homer pick would be selecting the Toronto Blue Jays, but they’re banking on solid production from six rookies and while it’s not out of the question, it’s asking a lot. Baltimore won the division handily last season, but lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and Chris Davis’ late-season suspension last year brings questions about the first baseman’s insane drop-off in production last season.
Though Boston finished in the basement last year and lost ultra-talented backstop Christian Vasquez this spring, the Red Sox are so talented on offense and good enough on the bump to make a worst-to-first move this season. They could also part with a player or two to add a mercenary arm mid-season if necessary as well.
American League Central: Cleveland Indians
Detroit lost Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander is starting the year on the disabled list and they’re key contributors on offense are another year older. Kansas City had a terrific year in 2014 and added Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios, but the loss of James Shields is greater than those additions.
Cleveland, on the other hand, add Brandon Moss to a lineup that won 85 games last season and can bring up rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor at some point to bolster the infield defense. Corey Kluber is coming off a Cy Young season, Carlos Carrasco just inked a new extension and Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana form a solid young nucleus in the field and at the dish.
American League West: Seattle Mariners
This is as much a function of what the Mariners have working in their favour as it is what the Angels and Athletics have working against them. Houston and Texas just don’t have a chance.
Los Angeles has the best player in baseball (Mike Trout), but a combination of aging and somewhat unproven players in other key spots and a pitching staff that could be solid, but could also fall apart. Oakland has plenty of arms, but are short on depth in the outfield and are counting on Brett Lawrie to stay healthy and put together the breakout season everyone has been waiting for for three years.
That leaves Seattle, who added Nelson Cruz, Rickie Weeks and J.A. Happ to a team that won 87 games last season and will get a full season out of young starter Taijuan Walker in 2015. With a little better offense and a deep rotation, Seattle could be the best team in the American League to start the season.
American League Wild Card: Toronto Blue Jays
The Central is going to be better overall than it was last season and Los Angeles and Oakland could take a step back in the West, which leaves the East to produce the Wild Card entrant.
It should come down to a battle between Toronto and Baltimore and the Jays simply have fewer question marks in the field than the Orioles. If one of their two rookie starters – Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris – deliver a strong performance this season, Toronto should be able to win enough games to end their extended playoff drought in 2015.
National League East: Washington Nationals
No one is coming close to beating the Nationals in this division – they won it by 17 games last year and got better in the offseason, adding Max Scherzer to an already impressive rotation.
Keeping everyone healthy all season will be the key to their playoff success, but they should be able to win the East even if key pieces miss big chunks to time; that’s how good they are in comparison to everyone else in the division.
National League Central: St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis might be the best franchise in all of baseball – the team every other team should model themselves after. They draft well, replenish their roster when superstars depart and still keep on winning, year after year.
With a deep rotation and the addition of Jason Heyward in right, the Red Birds should be able to out-pace everyone else in the Central this season. Pittsburgh will be in the Wild Card hunt, but a little better health and consistency should lead to the Cardinals claiming the division title with a little more ease this year.
National League West: San Francisco Giants
Go ahead, pick the Dodgers and bank on the defending champs taking a step back after losing “Kung Fu Panda” and Michael Morse. Feel free to doubt them, just don’t be surprised when they end up winning the division.
The Giants have a deep and proven rotation, a great bullpen and an uncanny ability to just win games despite looking like a team that won’t be able to score enough runs to consistently win games. Hunter Pence starting the season on the DL hurts, but unless the Dodgers start out like gangbusters, the Giants will be able to stay close enough to still win the division in the end.
National League Wild Card: Los Angeles Dodgers
They’re too good (on paper) to miss the playoffs entirely.
Banking on productive seasons from Juan Uribe, Jimmy Rollins and injury-prone catcher Yasmani Grandal is risky, but rookie Joc Pederson, rightfielder Yasiel Puig and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez should produce at the plate and the with a little bit of good fortune in the health department, the pitching staff could be tops in the league.
American League Champs: Boston Red Sox
They’ll spend to fill any holes that open up during the season and if their youngsters produce as expected, they’ll be a dangerous group at the dish.
National League Champs: San Francisco Giants
Washington’s pitching is great, but they’re banking on healthy seasons from a lot of injury-prone offensive parts. The Dodgers never seem to play up to their potential (or price tag), so why not go with the defending champs?
World Series Champions: San Francisco Giants
Seriously – this team finds ways to win down the stretch and into the playoffs. They’re experienced and understand what it takes to win it all. Major League Baseball hasn’t had back-to-back champs since the 1999 and 2000 Yankees, but San Francisco has the make-up to do it this year.
And really, they’ve won three of the last five, so why would them winning four of six be all that unreasonable?