As I look at the next 162 games, I see two great battles shaping up along the East Coast (or, at least, in the Eastern Divisions of MLB’s two leagues). In the NL, I foresee an epic battle between the Mets and the Nationals for first place. Given the quality of the NL across the board, this battle will share the MLB marquee with the NL Central slugfest among Pittsburgh, Chicago and St. Louis, and the West battle between the Dodgers and the Giants. The story in the West will end long before the other two division battle. But, regardless, it will be a great season of NL baseball.
In the AL East, well…it will be equally exciting because it is unclear if there is a consensus front-runner. I predict a battle between Boston and Toronto. But whereas I’d bet that one of the NL wildcards will come out of the East, I would not place that wager on the AL East. In the AL West, Houston and Texas will slug it out. I agree with my colleague Lou Landers that the west will go down to the wire with only a game or two separating the winner from the wild card. In the East, the race may also go down to the wire. But it will be a battle for first place only. The other wild card is coming out of the AL Central. Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City are all stacked and deep.
So, the NL East will be a battle between quality teams with few real flaws. In the AL East, the battle will be between good but flawed teams in Toronto and Boston.
The NL East.
Let’s start by comparing rotations. The Nationals are outstanding and the Mets are simply filthy.
The Mets’ rotation is clearly deeper. But, it’s young and you can expect Terry Collins to put an innings limit on his young starters. Nonetheless, this is a powerful, young rotation that can count on Bartolo Colon to take a hit of Geritol and spot start now and then to spell the rest of the rotation. The bullpen is solid. Familia has had a spotty Spring. Reed is solid but not the most dependable. Bastardo is a quality setup man. Overall, this is a formidable, deep rotation.
The Nationals’ rotation is not as deep, but it’s more experienced and solid. Strasburg needs to avoid injury, of course. No one wants to face him and Scherzer back to back. Jonathan Papelbon remains a quality closer. He is ageing, but he remains a lights out option in the ninth inning of any game.
In terms of lineups, both are sold. But, I think the edge goes to the Nationals
|Revere CF||Granderson CF|
|Rendon 3B||Wright 3B|
|Harper RF||Cespedes CF|
|Zimmerman 1B||Duda 1B|
|Murphy 2B||Walker 2B|
|Werth LF||Conforto LF|
|Ramos C||Cabrera SS|
|Espinosa SS||D’Arnaud C|
Revere could easily steal 50 bases in the leadoff spot. This lineup has no real holes and will give opposing pitchers a lot of trouble as it drives them deep in to pitch counts early. Granderson is an ageing, quality outfielder who is no longer the 5 tool threat he once was. Cespedes and Duda are a formidable 3-4 combination that compares equally to Harper and Zimmerman. The real question for the Mets is whether Cespedes keeps his head on straight and the solid version of Lucas Duda shows up for work. He is a legitimate 30 HR threat. Overall, both are quality lineups, but the Nationals are a little less old and a little less shaky.
The rest of the NL East will be watching these two teams battle for first place. Atlanta, Miami and Philadelphia simply do not have the pitching or hitting depth to compete. Philadelphia is clearly in a rebuilding year. They will be fun to watch as long as fans aren’t keeping score.
The Marlins have three of the most exciting players in baseball in Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez. It would be hard to find a similar combination of speed, power and pitching skill on other teams in MLB. The last time Fernandez and Stanton were in the lineup together was 9 May 2014. It will be great to see these three together on the field. But, alas, the rest of the Marlins’ lineup does not compare to that of the Mets or Nationals, and the pitching depth falls off pretty quickly after Fernandez. Amazingly, Miami could finish the season close to .500.
The Braves boast one of baseball’s premier young first basemen in Freddie Freeman, but he lacks any solid supporting cast. They are hoping for a rebound from SP Julio Teheran. But even if he pitches up to his potential, he lacks the supporting cast in the rotation and the quality bullpen that will carry other teams to the playoffs.
In September, the Nats and Mets will continue to battle. Miami will look to stay above .500 and the Braves will be happy to know that Philly is in the NL East.
If there is a reason to follow the AL East more closely than the NL East, it will be because one prefers a different epic. The Nats and Mets are quite powerful—akin to the sorts of young heroes one reads about in great epics. They are young, not really aware of their limits (because none are obvious) and their greatest threat is failing to live up to their potential.
In the AL East, we have our flawed heroes. Toronto has a formidable, powerful lineup. It will need it, because after Stroman pitches, the Blue Jays will need to win their other games by scores of 14-12 or so. If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. The Jays obviously did not pay attention to Boston’s demise last year.
Meanwhile, Boston has a younger, scrappier lineup that is not as powerful. Sure, I’d love to see a home run derby among Bautista, Encarnacion and Ortiz in their primes. But, beyond Big Papi, Boston has nothing to compare to the power of Bautista, Encarnacion and that guy who won the MVP last year, Donaldson.
But good pitching beats good hitting. This is the same Toronto lineup that lost to the Royals last year—Bautista’s bat tossing notwithstanding.
What the Red Sox lack in power, they make up for in youth and nuisance. This lineup reminds me of the one they put on the field in 2013. The Sox had power in Ortiz and 8 other batters who were happy to spend the day fouling off pitches. (In this respect, the 2013 team was and the 2016 team is reminiscent of the 2004 team except that there is no Manny Ramirez to protect Ortiz).
|Red Sox||Blue Jays|
|Betts CF||Pillar OF|
|Pedroia 2B||Donaldson 3B|
|Bogaerts SS||Bautista OF|
|Ortiz DH||Encarnacion DH|
|Shaw 3B||Colabello 1B|
|Holt LF||Saunders OF|
|Swihart C||Martin C|
|Bradley, Jr. RF||Goins 2B|
Both lineups have holes. No one doubts that the middle of these orders are solid. The bottom three hitters will strike fear in no pitcher’s heart. For Boston, Shaw has 25 HR power if he can stay in the lineup. He saved the Sox from having to let pitchers bat for the third baseman. Holt is solid. But he’s clearly keeping a spot warm for Rusney Castillo (if he ever gets out of AAAA). Bradley needs to show that the end of 2015 was real.
For Toronto, Pillar, Colabello and Goins really are unproven. Saunders has resumed baseball activities, but he has a way to go. So, Toronto has some awesome power and Boston has more OBP. Take your pick.
The rotations for both teams are equally flawed.
|Red Sox||Blue Jays|
The Sox have a clear advantage here. They took Price from Toronto. When Buchholz is good he is very, very good; when he is bad, he is horrid. The Sox need Porcello, Kelly and Rodriguez to pitch the way they did in August and September last year. If they do, this becomes a solid starting 5 (with Stephen Wright waiting to step in). Dickey and Happ are past their primes and Sanchez is a growth prospect. This is not a strong pitching staff.
The Sox beefed up their bullpen and, if it stays healthy, it compares to the best in baseball. Kimbrel is first rate, Uehara can close in a pinch or two, Smith is a closer in waiting, and Tazawa is a solid setup man. Toronto’s pen is in disarray. Osuna has electric stuff, but is very young. Storen is solid, but had a rough spring. In short, Boston starters need to go 7 innings tops. Toronto opponents won’t mind sending starters to the showers.
So, good pitching beats good hitting. Boston will win by a nose.
The rest of the AL East shares the same symptoms and characteristics. The Yankees show the signs of age and huge contracts. As my colleague Joe Iannone demonstrated, the Yankees’ fortunes hang on a series of “ifs,” all of which boil down in many ways to staying healthy and beating father time. They have youth at SS and 2B with the combination of Gregorius and Marte. But Yankee fans have seen names such as Gardner, Rodriguez, and Teixeira for some time. Beltran is old. McCann and Ellsbury are 32. It’s going to take a lot of Geritol and Ben-Gay to keep these guys off of the gurney.
The Masahiro Tanaka-led staff is not bad, but it’s rough when you know your starter is on an innings count. When Chapman rejoins Betances and Miller, this will be a bullpen with a legitimate claim to being the best in baseball. But this young staff may give that bullpen more work and fewer save opportunities than it wants.
I discussed Baltimore in my earlier column. They compare to Toronto in that they have a very powerful lineup but middling pitching. You can’t plan to win every game 14-12.
Tampa Bay is an enigma. They always manage to put together a quality rotation. This year is no exception. Archer is a potential Cy Young winner. Smyly is only 27, but he has top-shelf stats, along with a history of injuries. If he is healthy, he is a quality #2. Jake Odorizzi is a 200 IP/200 K threat if he is steady. He’s only 26, but has the skills and history to deliver a breakout season. The lineup will keep him (and the rest of the staff) from getting 20 W, but he will deliver quality starts.
Matt Moore is another young pitcher who suffered injury and is looking to return to the hype level he once had (I won’t rant here, but why is no one doing anything about this? Pitchers should not have TJ surgery or torn labrums until they get their braces off and their voices change. WHAT IS GOING ON??? But I digress). Ramirez is also only 26. He walks few and strikes out many (though his K/BB ratio does not compare to the top of the staff).
Overall, this is a young, solid staff that, top to bottom, may be the best in the AL East. Problem is, they won’t pitch a complete game with every start. Without Boxberger, this is a dicey bullpen at best. From a fantasy perspective, stay away. In real terms, you don’t need to get much closer. This is a bullpen in disarray as long as Boxberger is on the shelf. Still, if you believe Moneyball, you know that you can manufacture a closer. If the Tampa Bay bullpen can consolidate, this will be a nasty pitching staff.
Alas, you can’t win every game 2-1. The batting order simply is not top shelf. Longoria no longer lives up to his past hype. Corey Dickerson is an intriguing pickup in the OF. But, overall, it’s not a frightening lineup.
So, there’s an early season prediction: Red Sox and Blue Jays; Nationals and Mets. See you next week.
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Our guests this week are Joe Iannone, Lou Landers, and Kyle Amore. Joe, Lou, and Kyle are all writers with www.majorleaguefantasysports.com. Lou and Kyle are also the hosts of our Thursday night show called Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly which airs live from 8-10pm EST every week.
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday March 31st, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #7 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. We will discuss player positions and help prepare you for the coming draft season. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss everything fantasy and MLB related in the N.L. Central.
Our guest this week is Calvin Martin, Jr. Calvin is the commissioner of Major League Fantasy Baseball 3 and solid contender in our leagues.
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