21.Minnesota Twins – Well this team came out of nowhere last year and I think we can thank skipper Paul Molitor for that, but with the improvements that the Tigers and White Sox made I think this team got pushed back to the bottom of a tough division. Phil Hughes actually matched his record setting low walks issued with 16, but his K rate fell off in a Hughe way… hopefully he can rekindle some of his 2014 efficiency again. Joe Mauer hasn’t been good since he lost his bromantic partner Justin Morneau, but clearly it’s all his fault the Twins suck now because of his big contract and it has nothing to do with his concussion like symptoms. In the year of the rookie Twin fans have to be a little disappointed and cautiously optimistic about Byron Buxton, who couldn’t figure out major league pitching at all and struck out in almost a 3rd of his at bats. I know Mike Trout struggled initially, but Buxton struggled with a 31% K rate and his stats look much worse than Trouts ever did. Maybe I’m setting the bar too high, but I expect great things from Buxton. Speaking of rookie studs, Miguel Sano smashed 18 HRs during his rookie year yet still somehow managed a K rate worse than Buxton’s at a whopping 35%. Those HRs though, real sexy, and he had some of the best hard contact in the majors. The Twins still have a ton of talent waiting to be called up, but for now they’re in an awkward phase of having veteran players fading out of their prime and young guys not quite ready to pick up that mantle. And they’ve lost ace Mike Pelfry, they have no chance this year.
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.
17. San Diego Padres
I can’t remember the last time the Padres were relevant, they’ve sort of always just been there. Anchorman 2 brought back the original cast, added a bunch other funny actors, and featured an even bigger brawl scene, but it still was just okay. This is what the Padres are doing, except they were never as good as Anchorman and they’re hoping that bringing in quality ingredients to their mediocre stew will make them better. Have I made enough arbitrary analogies? What the Padres are doing feels different than when Miami and Toronto failed to buy better teams, but maybe that’s because those two franchises pretty much bought the same cast of players. James Shields in Petco should help a team that relies on glass ace Andrew Cashner, remember when the Cashner for Rizzo trade felt like the Padres won? A year makes a ton of difference. Tyson Ross broke out, but he throws sliders over 40%, has over a 3 BB/9, and I feel like Petco hides his mistakes. Maybe the overuse of sliders doesn’t wreck his arm, but I like Ian Kennedy more than him this year. Justin Upton and Matt Kemp are good enough players to have elite numbers in expansive Petco Park, but their defense won’t exactly be good. I still think Wil Myers is going to be a star, but I’m uneasy about him in CF. The Padres infield is not good. Jedd Gyorko is the most interesting name in the infield and he needs to bounce back from last year to justify playing time. New acquisition Will Middlebrooks couldn’t do much in Fenway, Petco won’t do him any favors. This team wasn’t good last year, sporting the last place in almost every hitting category, yet still managed to win 77 games! They’re definitely better than last year and their division still has 2 very weak teams, I expect better than mediocre this year.
I came across this photo and I really liked it. The black and white contrasts, the pitcher and catcher warming up, the ball in the air, how the light seems to be act like a spot light, and the batter waiting, observing it all. It was also fun tracking down what game this was – Ted Williams is the batter, and it’s Boston vs. Sox in old Comiskey Park – but when? Its 2-1 top of the 6th but I couldn’t quite make out the right side of the score board until an eagle-eyed friend pointed out that the last two columns were the #s of the battery mates of each team – Billy Pierce and Sherm Lollar for the White Sox, and Frank Sullivan and Pete Daley for the Red Sox. Then it was easy to find via the Baseball Reference website.
I’m worried. 2015 is supposed to be our year. David Wright thinks we’ll be in the playoffs, Sandy Alderson thinks we’ll improve by 10 wins, and people on ESPN are saying the Mets are better than the Yankees. For the past couples seasons this was the year people have been saying the Mets will rise from mediocrity and head to the playoffs, but I’m worried.
Special thanks to contributing writer James Boyce.
World Series Preview
So it comes down to the Giants vs the Royals – the masters of the even year vs an 8-game win streak – both have the “team of destiny” thing about them – and both are teams I like. On the one hand, the Royals haven’t won in 29 years, so it would be nice to see them win. On the other, the Giants got this even year thing going and it would be neat to see them continue it. The Royals have been playing some exciting baseball, at the plate and on the field – hitting, stealing, bunting, and catching everything. Their pitching has been solid, their starters just OK, but their bullpen has been lights out. The Giants, well, they just keep finding unusual ways to score runs and win – in 18 innings without hits, by errors, by wild pitches, etc. My favorite player in the World Series is Madison Bumgarner (who reminds me a little of Sid the Sloth from Ice Age). A distant second is probably Buster Posey. My favorite player on the Royals is probably Wade Davis, fantasy beast. I’d rather have him than Wil Myers right now.
Special thanks to contributing writer James Boyce.
In the playoffs I’ll be rooting for the Pirates and the Royals.
Teams Rankings (previous month)
1. Angels (1) – Best overall record.
2. Nationals (4) – Best record in the NL and best record in September at 19-8.
3. Orioles (3) – Top spot in AL East.
4. Dodgers (5) – Top spot in NL West, plus they have Kershaw, though as wonderful as he’s been in the regular season, his post season ERA is 4.23.
5. Cardinals (10) – Top spot in NL Central and fended off…
6. Pirates (14) – an equally hot Pirates team on the last day. Hosting WC game.
7. Tigers (9) – Top spot in AL Central and fended off…
8. Kansas City (6) – an equally hot Royals team on the last day, but back in the playoffs for the first time in 29 years. Hosting WC game.
9. Giants (11) – Visiting the Pirates in WC battle.
10. Athletics (2) – Visiting the Royals in WC battle. Had awful September. Limped into playoffs, holding off Mariners on last day.
Who I want to win the AL
1. Kansas City Royals
2. Oakland Athletics
3. LA Angels
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Detroit Tigers
20 years, that’s how long the city of Pittsburgh had to pretend they only had a hockey and football team. That was the longest losing streak by any sports team in the United States, but at least they aren’t the Cubs right? Last year that streak ended with the Pirates finishing with a 94-68 record and winning the 1st wildcard spot. The streak was mercifully over, the young core of Pirate players looked primed and young enough to keep their success and maybe start a new 20 year streak, this time in the opposite direction. This year the Pirates head into the All-Star break with a 49-46 record and sit 4th in their division with a -2 run differential. Probably not were they hoped they would be going into the season, but it’s not all bad. The Pirates are only 2.5 games behind the 2nd wildcard race, actually there’s still a handful of teams competing for the wildcard spots in the NL, anything is possible.