12. Los Angeles Angels – The team with a once in a generation talent doesn’t really have too many supporting players around him to make a dominant team. They have the worst farm system in the MLB and I can’t see them making anymore trades; so no reinforcements are coming, this is the team they’ll have all season. After Trout the two best hitters on this team are Albert Pujols, a first ballot hall of fame career but with his best years behind him, and Kole Calhoun, only an above average hitter and a name spelling nightmare. This team doesn’t have any depth and I have trouble seeing anyone on the current lineup breaking out or improving too much on their previous year, but the rotation is where I see the most room for growth. Garrett Richards wasn’t 100% percent last year and he was worth double the WAR just the year prior, I still see ace potential in him. Andrew Heaney has the pedigree and showed enough promise last year that it wouldn’t surprise me to see him as a top of the rotation starter soon. Jumble together the rest of the potential starters the Angels have available and I see something resembling a strong rotation. It should help that they have one of the best defensive shortstops now in Simmons. Mike Trout hasn’t been talented enough to carry this team to the playoffs every year, but he should be good enough to carry them within shooting distance, again. If he ever got injured this team would be in hell.
As a Mets fan I’ll be rooting for them to clinch in game, well, 4-5-6-7, it doesn’t matter, just win! The Royals will be a tough matchup though, a team that came so close to winning it all last year. Teams that have swept in the LCS have had little success afterwards, going 1-6 in the World Series. Included in that statistic are the Royals, most likely this fluke statistic results from a small sample size, but it’s still unsettling for Mets fan. Despite having home field advantage Vegas lists both team’s chances at even. Let’s go over the series matchup.
The Royals hitters struck out the fewest times (975) in the MLB and they were the only club to whiff under 1000 times. In contrast to the last team the Mets beat, the Cubs led the majors with over 1500 Ks. The Mets young power pitchers thrive on strikeouts, and while the infield has performed admirably so far in the postseason, the hit to contact Royals will put that defense to the test. On the flip side, the Royals were nearly last in the MLB in walks (380) while the Mets were nearly last in walks (383) issued. So I feel like the Royals will usually have to hit to get on base. Looking at the 2015 Postseason numbers, and I know it’s only a small sample size, but the Royals are beating the Mets across the board in every offensive category. Royals have played 2 more games than the Mets and the Mets played 5 of their 9 games against the top 3 NL Cy Young pitchers, so it makes sense the Royals would have better hitting stats in the postseason. To their credit the Royals played 3 games against the top 2 AL Cy Young pitchers, so it’s not like they’v been feasting on easy pitching matchups. The Royals hitters, especially you Salvador Perez, like to chase balls out of the zone, but it’s been working for them so far.
The Mets have been carried by Daniel Murphy so far, if he continues to hit like he has been then this might not even be a contest. Duda and Wright were showing signs of life in the last Cubs game too, so hopefully that carries over. The Mets haven’t really played from behind the entire postseason, whereas the Royals seem to thrive on making a comeback late. As for the DH, I assume it will be Kelly Johnson, but perhaps the Mets might go with Lagares on the field for better OF defense and let Conforto DH in some of the games. Either way, not sure we will be seeing much from Cuddyer, Nieuwenhuis, or Uribe other than the occasional PH.
Playoffs Teams of the MLB Rankings (Ranking at Half) (Preseason Ranking)
1. St. Louis Cardinals (1) (3) – I don’t know how they keep doing it – they just win. Their best pitcher went down for the year after a handful of starts, but will somehow miraculously return to the team in a relief role for playoffs! As a Mets fan having Wainwright in the bullpen is scarier than seeing him as a starter. Their star veteran OF didn’t play for most of the year and when he did play he was subpar. They gave up winless wonder Shelby Miller for a RF that never broke out offensively, but his defense remained among the best in the game. They keep pulling these random OF prospects out of nowhere who produce! Piscotty was their #1 ranked prospect heading into the season, but who the heck are Pham and Gruchck? They’re doing just as well! Jon Lackey, really?!! He’s never been this good ever and now he’s their Game 1 starter. A winning season, sure, playoffs, a stretch, but to win 100 games in the toughest division amid a sea of crucial injuries! Black devil magic is the only explanation! They lost Yadier Molina and Carlos Martinez right before the playoffs, and every baseball fan outside of St. Louis should be rooting for the Cubs, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them go deep into the playoffs, again. Somehow. I can’t think of a single candidate for MVP, Cy Young, or ROY on the MLB leading 100 win team…how is this even possible.
Final Record: 100-62
So the first month of baseball is technically over, but because the season started so late the first month hasn’t really finished yet. I looked into some players off to great starts to the season and I used fangraphs for all the stats mentioned in my post.
Nelson Cruz – Well it’s official, I was dead wrong on Cruz. Seattle is where hitters go to die! Cano couldn’t even get to 15 HRs last year and Cruz moving from the hitter friendly Camden Yards to Safeco was supposed to reduce his power, not increase it! He’s hitting fly balls 14% more than last year and his ground ball rate is down by 8%, so the spike in HRs makes sense. Those rates usually don’t stabilize until ~170 PAs and he’s only half way to that mark. His HR/FB is high, but if he can keep generating this many FBs then he might even eclipse last years 40 HRs…he only needs 30 more to go. His walk and strikeout rates look right around career average and he’s swinging a little less outside the strike zone while increasing his contact rate. His age, injury history, and home park gave me concern going into the season, but the stats show there’s little to dislike.
23. Oakland Athletics
I have no idea how to rank this team. They had the highest run differential in 2014 but only went 29-38 after the half and stumbled into a wildcard game with the miraculous Royals. They probably should have won that game and could very well have went to the World Series, but they didn’t. And now we’re having this conversation. Cespedes, Donaldson, Moss, Norris, Lowrie (the duo of Lawrie and Lowrie were name buddies destined to play together!) and others are gone. The Lester, Samardzija, and Hammel rentals are over, so I doubt their pitching will be as strong this year. I thought the whole point of giving up your best prospects for Samardzija (and Hammel I guess) was because they could keep him for an additional year, but they shipped him to the White Sox for Semien and prospects. The A’s are hoping Kazmir can remain healthy enough to pitch a full season again and Jesse Chavez to not break down like he did last year. Sonny Gray looks like a budding star, but he had some horrendous months and his K/9 regressed. Despite losing a ton of key players, the A’s went out and signed Billy Butler…not even the Royals wanted to resign him. They also acquired Ben Zobrist, and who knows maybe Brett Lawrie breaks out this year, I know I’m rooting for an Ike Davis revival. Ben Zobrist always has a high WAR, but somehow Coco Crisp is their most familiar player…because whenever I think of Coco Crisp I think of franchise center piece and not breakfast cereal. They traded Yunel Escobar for Tyler Clippard and he should work out better in the bullpen than last years Jim Johnson signing. I couldn’t explain how they were doing so well the past few years, but this year seems different. It feels like Billy Beane has been restocking the farm system while still trying to remain fairly competitive, but I don’t think they will be. I can’t begin to understand how Beane thinks, but if the A’s are competitive again this year, I swear he must be cheating somehow.
On the left a handsome baseball GM. On the right Brad Pitt. I can’t tell the difference anymore.
17. Kansas City Royals
And they’ll never be royal (royal). It only runs in their blood…and is their actual team name. Apparently the Royals inspired Lorde to write her hit song Royals. I guess we’ve just witnessed Billy Butler’s peak performance over the past two years, it doesn’t look like he’s going to overcome his personal mountain of 2 stolen bases a season. We’re all rooting for ya Billy…I’m still in disbelief he managed any. It must be bittersweet for Royals fans to see Wil Myers play so well for the Rays when they only got a short-term rental on James Shields…and I guess Wade Davis too. Honestly if the Rays were interested in any of my teams prospects, that prospect would become a whole lot more interesting for me. I’d just have the Rays come look at my organization and see who they wanted, then that’s how I’ll figure out whose good on my team. I have a lot of respect for Royals fans, this team has been bad for longer than I can remember. And as much as ESPN and Cardinals fans want you to believe that they have the best fans, a notion that’s ridiculous to begin with, but if I’m going to believe this facade I would nominate Royal fans being the best. There are no bandwagon fans here…and I don’t think there ever will be. Like it’s really tough to be a Cardinals fan when they always make the right decision. Royals fans just saw a future star traded away and attendance went way up because the organization was desperately trying to get wins. And it worked. This is the true underdog and I hope they do their best.