By: Russ Taliaferro
Headline Graphic Credit: Darrell Owens-LMS Network
Good day Ladies & Gentlemen. Are you ready for some baseball? I sure am, especially after getting a year of MLB.TV for free (thank you T-Mobile Tuesdays). As you’ve seen before from my colleagues, we’ve given you a little preview of some teams. Well now, it’s Statman’s turn for the last little bit of previews!!
San Diego Padres
I know, it’s a shortened season, so why are we talking about what could be? Because it’s hard to ignore how good this kid will be, or already is. He’s 21 going into his second season after making the opening day roster last year for his rookie campaign. He hit 22 HR with 53 RBI’s & a .317 AVG in only 84 games. He was on pace for 40+ HR & 100+ RBI while still maintaining a batting average above .300. Put all that together with the threat of at least 25 stolen bases & a cannon of an arm at shortstop, & you’ve got some real magic in a shortened season. Almost reminds of another Dominican shortstop who now plays third base next to him. As good as that sounds, we can’t forget about the pitching, but let’s be real here. The starting pitching in San Diego is nothing to marvel at. It’s pretty bad. They only had 1 starter with double digit wins, 3 with double digit losses, & only one with a sub-4 ERA. Not much else to say except that they just have to do better. Outside of Tatis Jr, Machado, & maybe Paddack, I’m not expecting much noise out of this team
The Brewers made the playoffs for the second time in a row last year, the first time they’ve made it in consecutive seasons in franchise history. Christian Yelich has been amazing since coming over from Miami. He was second in MVP voting last year after winning in 2018. He’s won the Silver Slugger, Hank Aaron award, & batting championship in both seasons in Milwaukee while also being voted an All-Star each season. He’s not alone in the outfield though. Playing to his left is possibly the best defensive Center Fielder in baseball, Lorenzo Cain, & I say that being fully aware of a certain Angel in LA. Cain may not have the biggest arm, but his movement & his command in the field is second to none. They did however lose most of the starting rotation from last year, which was a little underperforming anyway. The big one that did stay though, Brandon Woodruff, could be one of the most underestimated pitchers in the league. Even with an underwhelming rotation, they were helped out by a top 5, maybe even top 3 bullpen in the league anchored by their star closer, Josh Hader. Hader himself is the reigning two-time NL Reliever of the Year, the only Brewers pitcher to win any pitching award in franchise history. Yelich & co should give them the lead in a few games with a bullpen able to close it out. In a short season, I’d definitely watch out for the Brewers.
The Minnesota Twins are coming in hot, looking to repeat as AL Central champs for the first time in a decade. Former Major League outfielder & second year manager Rocco Baldelli has clearly brought some new juice to the Twin Cities. Their 2019 campaign was nothing short of excellence. They finished 101-61, their second highest record since moving to Minnesota (1965, 102-60). Even with those 101 wins, they were still the 3rd seed in the AL, which is also the most wins for a 3rd seed. The 307 HR they hit was a new record set by any team in one complete season. The team’s pitching was in the top half, even the top 10 in some, of most major stat categories in the league including ERA, Saves, & K/9. Baldelli was voted manager of the year. Like I said, their 2019 campaign was excellent, until they got to the playoffs, when they were swept by the Yankees in 3 games in the ALDS. Nobody likes having that much success with nothing to show for it. The absence of Joe Mauer for the first time since 2003 didn’t bother them last year & I don’t expect it to bother them now. They have most, if not all, of the same core returning from last year, so I’d look to see them repeat as Central champs, as long the Indians don’t make too much noise.
The Pirates are coming hoping that a shortened season will help them make the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Derek Shelton takes over as manager after Clint Hurdle was fired before the last game of the season. He doesn’t inherit the scariest of teams. On offense, we must give props where props are due. Josh Bell is poised to become one of the best first baseman in the league after having his best year so far in 2019. 37 HR, 116 RBI, with a .279 AVG will definitely signal that he’s arrived. The problem is, he’s the only player on the roster with those types of numbers. His running mate, Starling Marte, was traded in the off-season to Arizona for a pitching prospect & cash. Bryan Reynolds & Adam Frazier have shown some progress, but they are going to need to step it up big time to help out Bell in a 60 game season. And their pitching, oy vey. Their pitching needs some major help. It’s in worse shape than the Padres I mentioned before. Their best starter had an 11-12 record with 157 K & a 4.44 ERA. He was the only starter that had double digit wins, at least 150 K, & a sub-5 ERA. They are going to need a miracle just to not come in last place again.
Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals are under new management for only the second time since the teams inception in 1969. Fun fact though; New owner John is not only a local boy, founding his 2 energy companies in Kansas City, but he also is a former minority owner of division rival Cleveland Indians. With that said, I think the team is in good hands with Sherman. I truly believe that this team is 1 or 2 good bats away from being a top offensive team in their division. The have the reigning 2x league leading hits champion in Whit Merrifield. The 4 year pro is 31yrs old & played a full 162 game season last year, one of 5 players to do so, including his teammate Jorge Soler. Soler himself with that full schedule was also able to slug 48 HR & bring in 117 runs while batting .265. Adalberto Mondessi is also a promising young shortstop with 43 stolen bases last year. Now if you’ve noticed a pattern with any of the teams I’ve talked about already, it’s that they all struggle with pitching & that pattern doesn’t break here. They had one starter with more than 7 wins, but none in double digits, while also having 3 at least 11 losses. Don’t think it’s an understatement to say this is one of the worst rotations in the league. I still believe They have a puncher’s chance to make some noise, but this division is either Minnesota’s or Cleveland’s to lose.
New York Mets
Thanks to a certain “entanglement” in Houston, the Mets are on their 3rd manager since October & they haven’t even played a single game yet. Their first choice to replace Mickey Callaway was former Major Leaguer & World Series champion Carlos Beltran, but after he was outed in the sign stealing scandal by the Astros, both parties agreed to part ways. In steps Luis Rojas, the son of former MLB All-Star Felipe Alou. He inherits a team that seems ready to contend sooner rather than later. They finished 3rd in the division last year, but a shortened season could help them contend for a wild card this year. We all are aware of the monster that is Pete Alonso. With other bats like McNeil, Rosario, & Ramos around him, this team could certainly be dangerous. With the shortened season though, they will have to face the reigning champs a good amount of times, but we’ll go more into that later. We cannot visit Queens without talking about who has to be the unquestioned top pitcher in the National League, if not the whole league, Jacob deGrom. He is the reigning 2x Cy Young award winner. No, he isn’t the first to win 2 in a row, but when other names like Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, & Sandy Koufax have done it, you should know he’s in special company. I could name more that have done it, but I figured I’d let y’all Google the other Hall of Famers yourself. Don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say he’s got a good chance to be the first to three-peat as Cy Young. As good as all that sounds though, deGrom is going to need someone else to step up in the absence of Syndergaard as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in March. Maybe perhaps Zack Wheeler?
New York Yankees
Since we’re in Queens, let’s take a trip north to the Bronx. The New York Yankees had a New York Yankees type of offseason. They were in contention for eachPhoto courtesy of bleachers report of the 3 big free agents & signed one of them to the largest ever contract at that position. Welcome to New York Gerrit Cole!! Now while Cole barely lost the Cy Young to Verlander, he is still respected as a top 5 pitcher in the league, especially considering his pitching repertoire. A fastball that could top out over 100 mph, a deadly offsetting slider & changeup combo, & a knuckle curve that was unhittable last postseason. What more could you ask for? He joins a rotation backed by JA Happ & James Paxton. If that wasn’t enough, once they’re cleared & healthy, Domingo Germán & Masahiro Tanaka will join him too. They will be backed by what is considered a top 3 bullpen in the league, especially when Aroldis Chapman is cleared. The offense though, not to be completely outdone by the Twins, slugged 306 HR last year. They set their own record though by having 14 players with at least 10 HR, a major league record. Crazy thing about that record is that the team leader wasn’t named Judge or Stanton. But speaking of those two, the biggest key as with any Yankees season, is health. Can they stay healthy enough, even in a shortened season, to make it to the Ship?
How do you win the first World Series in franchise history? You let Bryce Harper walk for free & trust the players & staff you got. That’s what worked for the Nationals as they got over Harper leaving real quick with the emergence of Juan Soto. They got into the playoffs as a wild card, but didn’t let that stop them from going all the way. Soto is clearly the new superstar in the Nation’s capital, although they’ll have to start the season without him as the news broke he tested positive for COVID-19 on opening day. Even with that, they still have another amazing outfield prospect in Victor Robles to make up some slack while Soto is resting up. They’re pitching, who’s worried about that? They have a three-headed monster at the top of their rotation in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, & Patrick Corbin. They are also supported by a top 10 bullpen, anchored by closer Sean Doolittle. They did lose their All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon, so it will be interesting to see who fills that whole in the hot corner. Depending on how much the Braves have improved, the Nationals look primed to at least actually win the division this year. I’m excited for some baseball!! Aren’t you?