MLB season preview: 2016 bold predictions
Baseball is a crazy sport. Every pitch can change an outcome of events and can sway games, series, and seasons.
We are talking about a sport where the Kansas City Royals, a team who went on a streak of 28 years without making the playoffs got to the World Series in 2014, and won the title the following season.
The Royals' run was only to top the Pittsburgh Pirates breaking a 21-year run of missed playoffs only to rattle off three straight Wild Card appearances from 2013-15. You then look at those streaks and laugh when thinking that the Chicago Cubs are the favorites to win the World Series, yet the last time that happened was 1908.
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In fact, the odds-on World Series favorite has won the Fall Classic just once in the past 10 years. Since 2010, the World Series champion hasn't even had one of the eight best odds on the board before the season according to Las Vegas.
Here are five bold predictions that may come true:
Cleveland Indians will win the World Series
The City of Cleveland has yet to win any sports championship since 1964, and the Indians have not won a World Series since 1948. Brace yourselves Cleveland because it isn't Lebron James coming to break the curse, but Corey Kluber.
To start, there is a chance the Indians can have the best rotation in baseball. In 2014, the Indians dealt with some shuffling in their roster, specifically defensively and it got them out to a slow start. Yan Gomes, their emerging young catcher went down to injury, and he is one of the keys to the pitching staff.
It got some of their guys off to a slow start, namely Kluber, and while it wasn't his 2014 Cy Young season it was a respectable year. Kluber, Carlos Carassco, and Danny Salazar all pitched 180 innings this season, and all showed that in 2016 they could take a step forward and give the Indians a dominant rotation.
Carassco and Kluber ranked fifth and sixth respectively in strikeouts, and Salazar ranked 12th in K/9 for pitchers that threw 180 innings. Only Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer had a lower BB/9 than Carassco and Kluber, while having a higher K/9. In total, Kluber is 11th in the league in BB/9, Carassco is 23rd and Salazar ranked 30th. With major strikeout potential and control, it wouldn't be a surprise to see all three put in a strong season in 2016.
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They will start the year without Michael Brantley but with him back soon, their lineup should be solid. Jason Kipnis and Fransisco Lindor at the top provide a combo of speed and average with a bit of power out of Kipnis, and they have a hard hitter behind Brantley in Carlos Santana with 20 home run potential and a solid average.
They also went out and added this year to fill their core with the additions of Mike Napoli, Juan Uribe and Marlon Byrd. Between Uribe and Napoli you have three World Series rings, and all three made the playoffs last year, with Uribe going to the World Series.
The overall thought is that the rotation is deadly, especially in a playoff scenario. The lineup with a healthy Brantley can produce. They have a veteran core, but a 22-year old Lindor who is expected to have a strong year, and the thought is with a full season of Lindor, and a healthy Gomes for a strong pitching staff this team may have what it takes to make a run at not only the division, but the World Series.
The Royals will miss the playoffs
If the Indians are on the way up, someone has to come down in the AL Central.
The Royals pitching has not necessarily been a strength during their run of dominance, and last year it was what everybody pointed to when saying their 2014 run was a sham, but here we go again.
They don't have the pitching to hold up to make a run. They seem heavily reliant on Yordano Ventura to be a young emerging ace, but he is erratic with a high walk rate. You look at the rest of the rotation and see Edinson Volquez, who clearly pitched over his head last year, especially in the playoffs. Then you have Chris Young at 37 years old coming off of a year with only 18 starts, as he was relied on as a bullpen option last year. Kris Medlen is also in a rotation for the first time since 2013 after only pitching 58 innings last year.
The lineup was able to survive a down year from Alex Gordon as well as a midsummer DL stint. However, a lot of that had to do with Ben Zobrist and his acquisition at the trade deadline. He is now gone, leaving to join the Cubs.
They still have a strong lineup and should have a good defense, but they do have flaws. With the earlier prediction on the Indians, and the Detroit Tigers adding in the offseason it is safe to say the division rivals are coming. They seemed to have a chip on their shoulder last year, and if they have a bit of a hangover this year, it may catch them in a wide open American League.
Gerrit Cole will win the NL Cy Young
It shouldn't feel like too bold of a call considering that he finished in fourth in the voting in 2015, but a quick scan of the 2016 odds and he ranks in a tie for ninth-best in the National League at 20/1 odds.
It seems odd that this would be the case for a former No. 1 overall pick that pitched 200 innings for the first time in his career at age 25, with a 2.60 ERA and peripherals to match. Cole has a career 3.07 ERA and has improved his walk rate every year. It seems like a no-brainer that as he is entering his prime at age 26 that you can get 200 innings out of him again with strikeout ability and control.
He isn't getting the buzz because the Pirates as a team are not getting publicity. They were somewhat quiet this offseason while division rivals like the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals were further established as contenders. The Pirates are still a team with a great pitching coach in Ray Searage, and a team that uses analytics and defensive shifting to help their pitchers.
Cole plays right to that style with his command, and if he can get better than last season, than what are we expecting? The Pirates don't have a deep staff, but if they are contending this summer it is because Cole is putting in work, and is more than likely in discussion to start the All-Star Game. If the Pirates are in playoff contention, this year it will be Cole carrying the staff and getting recognition with a Cy Young.
Mookie Betts will win the AL MVP
This season could be known as the year of Mookie. Betts created a buzz about himself with strong minor league play in 2014. He then compounded that into an eye-popping rookie season that had the whole league buzzing about the 23-year-old star in the making. Now as he enters year two the only way to keep the hype increasing is to take his game even further and to bring home the MVP.
Betts is going to be in tough company though. There is this guy Mike Trout, who for the last four years has either finished in first or second for the award. Then there are previous winners, Miguel Cabrera and the reigning champion Josh Donaldson who will have something to say this year. Lastly, there is the sensation that is Carlos Correa, who essentially has more buzz than Betts as he enters his first full season in MLB.
They all bring a strong argument to the table, but the argument for Betts is that he is basically a combination of all of their skills. Betts last year hit .291 with 18 home runs and 21 steals. He posted a .340 OBP, and struck out just 12 percent of the time. He also happened to flash a strong glove in the field last year, and was a SportsCenter Top 10 nominee often in 2015. At 22 and as a rookie these numbers and plays may all be the low point of his career.
While he will not post the big time power numbers of the Trout, Donaldson or Cabrera, he can hit at least 20 home runs and be in respectable range. Add in his glove and speed, and Betts has an argument.
The Red Sox are a team a lot of people like to bounce back and potentially win the AL East. If they are back in that prominent light, Betts will be the one leading the way. If he can improve across the board you are thinking about an average over .300 with at least 20 home runs, and 25 steals all in play to go with strong defense. All that said, it could be hard to keep Mookie out of the conversation, and he could find himself as the surprise award winner.
Tyson Ross and Joey Votto will get traded
As we head to the trade deadline we always have our buyers and sellers. In the National League, there seems to be a decent gap between most of the contenders and the other teams who will more than likely be selling.
Two teams in the NL that will look to be selling this year are the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds. It would be somewhat shocking to see either of them in contention this July, and really for the next season or so moving forward either. With that said it would be in their best interests to load up on youth and hope that those players can held rebuild the franchise.
Tyson Ross is a guy who will generate a ton of interest and will be looked at as a piece to put a lot of teams over the top. Ross has made 64 starts in the past two years, and last year posted a 3.00 ERA in that time. He is 28 years old and is currently still in his arbitration years, although it is only until 2017. Without having him locked up, and with an age of a prime veteran putting up great numbers, how can the Padres not trade him?
Teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels and more would all be interested if they were in contention this summer. A lot of teams could view him as the piece to get them over the top.
Votto is locked down until 2023 which makes him a bit harder to move. That said, he is a veteran with playoff experience. He is also one of the better pure-hitting first basmean, and last year posted 29 home runs with a .459 OBP.
The Reds may not want to let him go for a price that isn't heavy, but it may have to happen. They have to look at the 32-year-old and see that he is tied down until he is about 40, and wonder if it is worth it to try to build a team around that for the next few years.
Teams in the AL however, see that he is a guy that can always hit for average and take walks, and could be a DH into his late 30's. Injury could force some teams into overspending to fill a hole, and a team like the Rays or Astros may just see him putting their roster over the top for a post season run. Either way it would be especially smart for the Reds to move on from him, so who will be interested and if they can send enough to acquire him will be interesting.
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