Monday, October 5, 2015

MLB 2015: Year in Review & Postseason Picks

What a season of baseball!  This was one of the most unpredictable seasons I can remember.  Teams that were supposed to be irrelevant challenged for or made the postseason, and other teams floundered under high expectations.  This has led to something baseball has been looking for: parody.  More and more, every team has a shot at the postseason.  This made for an exciting month of September, as six or seven teams were still competing for some spots in the playoffs.  The best thing you can say about September baseball is it was able to stay relevant in the midst of the starts of college football and the NFL.  Now that it is October, who will become this year's Royals?  Who is best positioned to dominate like Madison Bumgarner did last year?  (Easy answer ... no one...)  Let's look at where everyone finished and how it compares with my preseason predictions.

AL East
My Preseason Predictions
1.  Toronto Blue Jays*
2.  Boston Red Sox*
3.  Baltimore Orioles
4.  New York Yankees
5.  Tampa Bay Rays

Final Standings
1.  Toronto Blue Jays*
2.  New York Yankees*
3.  Baltimore Orioles
4.  Tampa Bay Rays
5.  Boston Red Sox

This division saw the Blue Jays end up on top for the first time since 1993.  Mid-season trades for Troy Tulowitzki and David Price helped lead the stretch run and the best offense in the league.  The main question entering the season for the Yankees was if their age would catch up to them, especially with Alex Rodriguez returning from his year suspension.  They definitely answered that, sliding into the Wild Card slot in the most competitive race of the season.  The Orioles struggled down the stretch and will need to actually have an active offseason to change their fate in 2016.  Tampa Bay got off to a hot start and showed definite potential moving forward as the ultimate small market team.  The Red Sox were a big disappointment this year.  I predicted them as a Wild Card team before the season, but injuries as well as some free agent busts leaves one of the marquee franchises in the league in definite disarray moving forward.

AL Central
My Preseason Predictions
1.  Kansas City Royals*
2.  Detroit Tigers
3.  Chicago White Sox
4.  Cleveland Indians
5.  Minnesota Twins

Final Standings
1.  Kansas City Royals*
2.  Minnesota Twins
3.  Cleveland Indians
4.  Chicago White Sox
5.  Detroit Tigers

I was one of the few that saw the Royals finding a way to ride their postseason momentum from 2014 into a division championship in 2015.  However, that's about all I got right.  The Minnesota Twins were easily the biggest surprise in the league, as they went from consensus cellar-dwellers to almost winning a Wild Card berth.  The Cleveland Indians were exactly what I thought they would be.  They were good, but just not good enough to be much of a factor.  They hung around the Wild Card race for awhile, but no one really thought they could make it.  The bottom two teams were two of the biggest disappointments of the 2015 season.  The White Sox made some offseason moves that seemed to position them for a successful season.  It turned out to not be the case.  Then there is the Tigers, who had won the division the last 4 years, but a series of injuries and slumps saw them hit the cellar and put manager Brad Ausmus on the list of "could be fired" managers heading into the offseason.

AL West
My Preseason Predictions
1.  Los Angeles Angels
2.  Seattle Mariners
3.  Houston Astros
4.  Texas Rangers
5.  Oakland A's

Final Standings
1.  Texas Rangers*
2.  Houston Astros*
3.  Los Angeles Angels
4.  Seattle Mariners
5.  Oakland A's

I really messed this one up.  After finishing the 2014 season with the worst record in the AL, the Texas Rangers rebound and win the division which no one saw coming, especially after an early season injury to ace Yu Darvish.  I knew the Astros would be good this year, but I had no idea they would be this good.  After a series of trades, they eventually slowed down and squeaked into the playoffs, but after years at the bottom of the AL, the youth movement in Houston is finally paying off and is only looking to get better moving forward.  The Angels had a disappointing year.  With the resurgence of Albert Pujols and with the best player in the league in Mike Trout, anything less than the playoffs would be a disappointment.  Add to the a split in the organization that led to GM Jerry DiPoto walking away mid-season, and it was a bizarre year.  With all that said, they entered the last weekend still with a shot at a Wild Card.  The Mariners can go alongside the Tigers as the most disappointing teams in the league in 2015.  After missing the playoffs by a game a year ago, expectations were high entering the season, with some wondering if they could be a World Series favorite.  However, the M's proved to have the same struggles to score they always have which led to the Mariners finding a new GM by the end of the season.  The one thing I got right was what I was the least sure about in the division.  For the past few years, I always feel like, entering the season, the A's look sub-par.  This is the first year I was actually right.  Knowing them, they will be back to competitive soon.

NL East
My Preseason Predictions
1.  Washington Nationals*
2.  Miami Marlins
3.  Atlanta Braves
4.  New York Mets
5.  Philadelphia Phillies

Final Standings
1.  New York Mets*
2.  Washington Nationals
3.  Miami Marlins
4.  Atlanta Braves
5.  Philadelphia Phillies

Where did the Mets come from?!?  The young pitching in New York became breakout stars across the league as they carried their team to a surprising postseason berth.  Of all the disappointments across the league, the Nationals have to be the worst.  For a team that was set up before the season as "World Series or Bust," they didn't even make the playoffs.  Entering the season, they had the best pitching staff and the best lineup in the National League.  To not make the playoffs almost ensures that manager Matt Williams will not be leading the team in 2016.  The Miami Marlins followed up a strong 2014 season with a disappointing dumpster fire in 2015 that led to their manager (unfairly) being fired mid-season and replaced by their GM that had never managed at any level before.  Only the Marlins...  For the first time since the 1980's, the Braves are in full re-build mode as they dropped low in the rankings as they replenish the farm system and work their way back to prominence.  The biggest lock in all of baseball entering the season was that the Phillies would be the worst team in baseball.  You can definitely say they didn't disappoint.

NL Central
My Preseason Predictions
1.  Pittsburgh Pirates*
2.  St. Louis Cardinals*
3.  Chicago Cubs
4.  Milwaukee Brewers
5.  Cincinnati Reds

Final Standings
1.  St. Louis Cardinals*
2.  Pittsburgh Pirates*
3.  Chicago Cubs*
4.  Milwaukee Brewers
5.  Cincinnati Reds

I wanted to think that the time had come for the Cardinals to be dethroned atop the NL Central, but then I forgot that it's the Cardinals and their success always defies logic.  Their rotation became the best in baseball, and they once again show they never miss on a prospect.  That means the Pirates were once again the bridesmaid and will host their third straight Wild Card Game.  The surprise here is the Chicago Cubs.  I knew Joe Maddon would make them an improved team, but I didn't see them being playoff-bound in his first season.  The emergence of Jake Arrieta as a star, as well as young sluggers in Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, has the league buzzing with the idea that the Cubs might be a perennial contender to finally break their streak.  The Brewers may have been the blandest team in baseball, as they had nothing to make them stand out in any way throughout the season.  Then there is the Reds, who became the last team in the 4 major sports to finish in the cellar in their division since 1984.  They still have talent on that roster that simply aging and under-performing.  The biggest mystery might be why the Reds have already announce that Bryan Price will be back as their manager next season.

NL West
My Preseason Predictions
1.  Los Angeles Dodgers*
2.  San Diego Padres*
3.  San Francisco Giants
4.  Colorado Rockies
5.  Arizona Diamondbacks

Final Standings
1.  Los Angeles Dodgers*
2.  San Francisco Giants
3.  Arizona Diamondbacks
4.  San Diego Padres
5.  Colorado Rockies

The Dodgers needed to win this division for the same reason the Nationals needed to win theirs: they were just too good not to.  Now we will see if they can actually cause some damage in the postseason.  The Giants continue their streak of missing the playoffs on odd-numbered years, which means you are looking at the World Series favorite in 2016.  The Diamondbacks had a surprising season led by the best player no one has heard of (still) in Paul Goldschmidt.  Another great disappointment was the Padres.  History tells us that trying to buy a team in one offseason almost never works so we should have seen this rough Padres season coming.  Then there is the Rockies that had such a poor season, they were willing to part with their best player to try and build for the future.

My Postseason Awards

Manager of the Year
AL - Paul Molitor - MIN
NL - Joe Maddon - CHC
The Twins and the Cubs both went from the cellar to competing for a playoff spot, with very little changes made to their personnel outside of their manager.  That is the definition of a Manager of the Year.  Molitor and Maddon became game-changers for their teams and were able to completely change the culture of the teams in just one season.

Rookie of the Year
1.  Carlos Correa - HOU
2.  Miguel Sano - MIN
3.  Billy Burns - OAK
4.  Devon Travis - TOR
5.  Mark Canha - OAK

Carlos Correa was able to successfully transfer his "phenom prospect" status into "emerging superstar."  He quickly became one of the leaders on an Astros team heading to the playoffs.  Devon Travis had an opportunity to be much higher on this list if he had been healthy all season.  Miguel Sano quietly had a stellar season (quietly only because it happened in Minnesota).  Burns and Canha, who are the epitome of "Moneyball" players, only reinforce my suspicions that the A's will be back sooner rather than later.
1.  Kris Bryant - CHC
2.  Joc Pederson - LAD
3.  Jung Ho Kang - PIT
4.  Noah Syndergaard - NYM
5.  Matt Duffy - SF

This is one of the deepest rookie field I have ever seen.  From Spring Training till now, Kris Bryant and his immense talent has been one of the best stories of 2015.  He met all expectations and exceeded (which was thought to be impossible) them as he helped lead his team to the playoffs.  Pederson had a dream first half, and although he struggled down the stretch, his numbers are undeniable.  Jung Ho Kang entered the season as an unknown, and now he has single-handedly allowed the Pirates to once again use Josh Harrison as a super utility player.  Noah Syndergaard joined Harvey and deGrom at the top of the best young pitching staff in baseball.  Matt Duffy came out of nowhere to make the Giants quickly forget about fan favorite Pablo Sandoval.

Cy Young Award
1.  Dallas Keuchel - HOU
2.  David Price - DET / TOR
3.  Felix Hernandez - SEA
4.  Sonny Gray - OAK
5.  Chris Sale - CWS

I said at the beginning of the season that Dallas Keuchel was the most important pitcher to the Astros' success.  After putting up the numbers he did, no wonder the Astros are going to the playoffs.  For the second time in a year, David Price changed teams.  It isn't that he isn't wanted, but that other teams want him so much.  He took a solid season for the Tigers and became the leader of the Blue Jays on this playoff push.  King Felix did not have the numbers he usually does, but with that said, he came close to his career high in wins.  This goes to prove that an average Felix is better than most pitchers' best seasons.  Sonny Gray proved to be a budding ace in the A's rotation.  Lastly, Chris Sale once again put up outstanding numbers on a bad team.  The White Sox need to get good soon or else Sale will be taking his talents elsewhere much like Price has.
1.  Jake Arrieta - CHC
2.  Zack Greinke - LAD
3.  Clayton Kershaw - LAD
4.  Gerrit Cole - PIT
5.  Max Scherzer - WAS

Last year was all about Kershaw.  Although his numbers are not what they were last year, he was still incredibly good.  The first half of 2015 was all about Greinke.  He put up ridiculous numbers and had an opportunity to set records.  However, the second half of the season was all about Jake Arrieta.  Everyone wanted to talk about Jon Lester to start the season for the Cubs, but Arrieta became the ace and is the best pitcher in baseball going into the postseason.  Gerrit Cole emerged as the ace the Pirates needed.  One of the few things on the Nationals that didn't disappoint this season was Max Scherzer.  Two no hitters automatically puts you in the top five of this list in my book.

1.  Josh Donaldson - TOR
2.  Mike Trout - LAA
3.  Nelson Cruz - SEA
4.  Prince Fielder - TEX
5.  Lorenzo Cain - KC

Even though Josh Donaldson changed teams this offseason, his impact on his team did not.  In an offense that already had Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and now also boasts Troy Tulowitzki, Donaldson has been their best player and one of the main reasons they find themselves in the playoffs.  Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and even though his team will not be in the playoffs, it isn't because of Trout.  Nelson Cruz was one of the few bright spots for a struggling Mariner offense.  For some time, Cruz was flirting with a Triple Crown.  Prince Fielder came back from the injury that cost him most of his season in 2014 and became the main cog that led the Rangers back to the playoffs.  Lorenzo Cain emerged as this year as the brightest star on the AL's best team.  That alone garners a spot on this list.
1.  Paul Goldschmidt - ARZ
2.  Bryce Harper - WAS
3.  Nolan Arenado - COL
4.  Kris Bryant - CHC
5.  Andrew McCutchen - PIT

The Diamondbacks exceeded expectations this season, and Paul Goldschmidt is one of the main reasons why.  He is possibly the best pure all-around hitter in all of baseball.  Bryce Harper put up ridiculous numbers, but where Goldschmidt led his team to over-achieving, Harper's team vastly under-achieved.  Although his numbers were great, he needed to lead his team to the playoffs to win MVP for me.  Nolan Arenado was on one of the worst teams in baseball, but when it comes to the Rockies, it is never because they can't hit.  Arenado will continue to develop into one of the best players in all of baseball.  Kris Bryant went from top prospect to MVP candidate.  Andrew McCutchen, along with Trout, is one of the best all-around players in baseball.  By the way, it shows just how much success in the NL is determined by pitching when the top three MVP candidates are not on playoff teams.

Postseason Predictions

Wild Card Round
Astros def. Yankees
Pirates def. Cubs
The AL Wild Card Game features two surprises for two different reasons.  The Astros weren't supposed to be this good this soon, and the Yankees weren't supposed to be this good this old.  So which Cinderella will make it to the next round?  I think Dallas Keuchel has been too good, and the Yankees have really limped their way into the playoffs.  I expect the Astros to walk out of the Big Apple with a big win.

The Pirates have gotten used to being here.  This is their third straight Wild Card Game they have hosted.  They won the first one, then got MadBum'ed (along with the rest of the league) last year.  They are ready to take the next step.  The Cubs are the team everyone is talking about as they try to reverse history.  Arrieta has never faced the bright lights of the postseason before, along with most of the Cubs' key players.  The Cubs might possibly get there with this current core, but not this year.  It's the Pirates who are ready for the next level.

Divisional Round
Blue Jays def. Rangers
Royals def. Astros
Dodgers def. Mets
Pirates def. Cardinals
The Rangers might be the biggest surprise of this postseason.  Not only were they not supposed to be this good, but they were nowhere close to this level halfway through the season.  They traded for Cole Hamels telling him, "Don't worry, we'll be good next year."  Then they won the division.  As good of a story as it is, the Blue Jays are a better team and a better story.  They will have the fire and momentum that the Royals had last year on their unlikely run through the playoffs.

As for the actual Royals, many predicted a World Series hangover after their miracle run last year.  but instead they worked their way to the best record in the AL.  They sputtered their way through September, but I think this was mainly because they saw the postseason coming.  If they showed anything last year, they know what it takes to win in the playoffs.  Again, they were a MadBum away from a World Series ring.  They also have one of the best home field advantages in all of baseball.  They will take care of the Astros.

The Dodgers and Mets is an intriguing series.  The Dodgers are trying once again to take the next step and show they can be a serious contender in the playoffs.  On the other hand, the Mets are loaded with young talent that has jump started a fan base.  As good as the Mets' young pitchers are, I think they are too concerned with keeping them healthy to win this year (sounds a little like the Nationals a few years ago ... we all saw how that went...).  The Dodgers are hungry for a win.  Kershaw and Greinke have been two of the best pitchers in the league, but they have yet to show it in the postseason.  They are also more than just the veteran core they have featured recently.  Rookies like Joc Pederson and Corey Seager will bring a spark and enthusiasm.  Something about this team feels different than past years.

This next series is the toughest to pick.  The Cardinals are really hard to beat in the postseason.  Their pitching is some of the best in the league, and their lineup seems to constantly get the job done no matter who is in it.  With all that said, if any team is built to beat them, it's the Pirates.  They are already division rivals so they know each other well.  The Pirates can hit, they can pitch, and they are not intimidated by the Cards.  The X factor in this series will be the health of Yadier Molina.  If he is healthy enough to play his game at the elite level only Yadier can, then the Cardinals will probably win.  I don't think he will.

Championship Series
Royals def. Blue Jays
Dodgers def. Pirates
If this is the ALCS, it might be the loudest and most exciting playoff series of all time.  These are two of the most passionate fan bases in the league, and they are both starving for greatness from their teams.  They are very similar teams with strong offenses and possible weaknesses in the starting rotation.  Last year, the Royals showed they can hit against anyone in the playoffs (not named Madison Bumgarner), and they gained invaluable experience almost no one on the Blue Jays roster has.  Their experience, along with home field advantage and the best bullpen in baseball (even without Greg Holland) will lead the Royals back the World Series.

If the Dodgers break through and win one series, they should ride that confidence to the World Series.  They don't get here without Kershaw and Greinke being on top of their games, and if they are, they can handle the Pirates lineup.  I love the Pirates and would love to see them take another step, but I just don't see that happening.

World Series
Royals def. Dodgers
I ended up with the same World Series matchup that I had before the season, so I might as well go with the same prediction for the result.  No one thought the Royals could make the playoffs last year.  Then they were a batter away from winning it all.  No one thought they could bounce back and make the playoffs again this year.  They ended up with the best record in the AL.  No one thinks their team is playing well enough to make any noise in the playoffs now.  So I am picking them to win it all.  There is something about this team that never gives up.  They will ride this to the title they probably should have won last year.  Royals in 6, with Alex Gordon winning World Series MVP.
Bring on the Fall Classic!!!

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