2020 National League East Wide Open

Might win the East, but a repeat is unlikely

The Washington Nationals won the World Series last year over the now-hated Houston Astros, but they are by no means a shoo-in even to win their division in 2020. It’s not that they are weaker; their opponents are stronger. This is a pitching-dominant division and it could boil down to which staff catches lightning in a jar. Everyone by Miami is a dark horse.

The Nationals don the favorites role by virtue of being the reigning champs and who would not want a bevy of pitchers such as Corbin, Strasburg, Sánchez, Strickland, (Daniel) Hudson, Ross, and Scherzer, the latter a perennial candidate for the best in baseball. Doolittle saves whatever is left unfinished. Nor is there anything shabby about infield talent like Castro, Thames, (Asdrùbal) Cabrera, (Trea) Turner, (Howie) Kendricks, and (Ryan) Zimmerman. Robles sure made people forget about Harper in a hurry and he mans the outfield with Eaton, and the wonderful Juan Soto. One potential pitfall lies with the historical fragility of Strasburg and the recent health woes of Scherzer. Another stumbling block is that Robles might regress.

The team that made the biggest stride forward is the Philadelphia Phillies, who jettisoned head-scratching manager Gabe Kapler and hired no-nonsense Joe Girardi. This is a team that plays in a tough town and needs a kick in the ass. The boo birds were out in force and the Phils have some disappointing guys who will be headed elsewhere unless they ratchet up: Elfin, (Adam) Morgan, Valasquez, Kingery, and Hoskins among them. The biggest bust of all is Harper; he had a decent season in ’19 but not one that justifies his astronomical contract. The good news is that Arrieta is the real deal, Nola seems to be coming into his own, (Tommy) Hunter is solid, as are everyday players such as Realmuto, Bruce, and Segura. The health of McCutcheon, Gregorious, and Wheeler is of great concern. This is a put-up or ship-out team, but somehow, I think Girardi will whip it into shape.

The Atlanta Braves always do well, though their pitching staff is not one that strikes fear: Foltynewicz, Soroka, (Cole)Hamels, and then open competition. (Freddie) Freeman is a gem, Acuña will be a monster, and Ozuna, Markakis, Albies, Swanson, Carmago, and Flowers are good players. All this said, I still don’t see how this team does as well as it does. I would not be surprised to see it take a dip in 2020.

The New York Mets are my dark horse. The pitching (if healthy) is awesome: Lugo, Porcello, Matz (if not traded), Wacha, Stroman, and then two of the best in the biz: deGrom and Syndergaard, either of whom could be this year’s Cy Young winner. Alonzo had an amazing year in ’19, Ramos was quite good, and McNeil, Lowrie, Nimmo, Rosario and Conforto are capable. Look for Céspedes to be his usual disappointing self. Betances and Wilson–Yankee cast-offs–will help the bullpen. If the deck falls right, the Mets might be holding a wild card. As it has been for the past few years, the question is whether the Mets will score enough runs.

Are the Miami Marlins ready to look like a major league team instead of a AAA interloper? No one in Miami knows, because no one there actually goes to a game.  The Fish should be better, but it’s going to take some time and they have to stop selling off their best assets. The final roster is anyone’s guess as most of the names are unfamiliar. Seriously. Google them and there are only a handful of names you’ll recognize: (Caleb) Smith, Steckenrider, Villar, Cervelli, Joyce, Dickerson, and Joyce. None of them will take you as far north as Jacksonville.    

Predicted Order of Finish:
1.    Washington
2.    New York
3.    Philadelphia
4.    Atlanta
5.    Miami


NL Central: Queen City Sings We are the Champions

Finally something to smile about?

The Central Division of both leagues is up for grabs. Mythical “small market” budgets (except for Chicago) discourage owners from spending–as if someone rich enough to own an MLB team can’t afford their toys. The good news is that the NL Central might be the most competitive league in baseball. On paper, any one of four teams could win it.

I am playing a hunch and picking the Cincinnati Reds to end years of frustration and bring some joy to the Queen City. The Reds have a talent for picking up small pieces and breathing new life into the disgruntled. On paper, this is a very good staff: Bauer, (Sonny) Gray, Miley, and (Luis) Castillo. The Achilles’ heel is relief pitching. Strop as the closer? Don’t be surprised if Lorenzen wrests that away in a Queen City minute. Votto, rejuvenated Freddy Galvis, and Moustakas anchor a strong infield. Castellanos was a great outfield addition. Winker is another OF lock and beyond those two, who knows? Casali is an underrated catcher.

The dark horse, as usual, is the St. Louis Cardinals. Flaherty, (Dakota) Hudson, and the ageless Adam Wainwright are foundations of a good staff, especially if Mikolas rebounds. (Carlos) Martinez is the closer and the Cards hope (Andrew) Miller has something left. (Yadier) Molina might be the best catcher in baseball and an infield of Goldschmidt and Wong is a good foundation. DeJong had better pick it up, though, or Edman will be the shortstop. The only outfield household name is Fowler and he’s not as good as advertised.

Where, you might wonder, are the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers? Each is good enough to win, but both will have to overcome hurdles. The Cubs pitching is a combination of old (Lester), under-performing (Quintana, Kyle Hendricks), or damaged (Darvish, Kimbrel). There is youth on the way, but that can blow hot or cold. The roster is fearsome–Rizzo, (Javy) Baez, (Willson) Contreas, Schwarber, and Bryant–but the latter two are disgruntled. Would anyone be surprised if Souza takes Heyward’s job? Perhaps new manager David Ross can settle things down; if not, the trade van will be parked outside Wrigley Field.

The Brewers have one of the best outfields in baseball: Cain, Braun, Yelich. There’s a reason why so many teams wanted to pluck closer Hader from the Brew Crew. (Brett) Anderson and Woodruff are decent hurlers and Narvaez a decent receiver. Everything else is up in the air. Milwaukee picked up a bunch of replacements–Holt, Gyorko, Lauer, Lindblom, Smoak–and none scream out “slam dunk.” Smoak is now the NL’s answer to Chris KKKK Davis.

No use talking about the Pirates. I’d say they are rebuilding, but they would have had to have been built once before for that term to apply.

Predicted Order of Finish:
1.    Cincinnati
2.    St. Louis
3.    Chicago
4.    Milwaukee
5.    Pittsburgh


2020 AL Central: Joy in Chi-Town?

Is this the year the ChiSox rule the Windy City?

This is the worst division in baseball, which makes for an anything-can-happen scenario–sort of.

The Minnesota Twins won over 100 games last year and logic says they should win the Central again in 2020. Maybe, but their pitching is thin after Berrios and Odorizzi. Maeda came over from the Dodgers and NL pitchers often fare badly in the AL. Hill has had injury woes and Bailey just isn’t very good. It’s nice to have Cruz as your DH and on paper an infield of Donaldson, (Marwin) Gonzaléz, Polanco, and Sanó is really good. The same can’t be said of the outfield. They need much more consistency from low OBP Kepler and “Swings at Anything” Rosario. And there’s Buxton, the Jackie Bradley of the AL Central who catches up to anything except a pitched baseball.

I’m going out on a limb and predict the Chicago White Sox will sneak past the Twins in the 2020 truncated season. (My second guess is that they’ll slink to the bottom again!) Kopech is a stud in the making who can carry a pitching staff and Keuchel wins, though no one can figure out why. Colomé is serviceable. Grandal is a very good catcher and the infield is terrific: Abreu, (Tim) Anderson, Moncada (another giveaway from Boston). Encarnacion is also a productive DH. The outfield is unsettled beyond Jiménez and could an Achille’s heel.

Alas, the poor Cleveland Indians. Terry Francona will get the best from what he’s got, and make them a dark horse, but there comes a time in which subtraction is just that: subtraction. Carrasco and Clevinger are good pitchers, but the rest of the staff is a bunch of guys in camp with high numbers on their backs and big dreams under their caps. Brad Hand might be traded simply because there aren’t enough games for him to save. There’s Lindor and loads of questions about the lineup, including the strange retrogression of (José) Ramirez. Even Francona will be hard-pressed to get these guys into the money.

The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are works in progress and regress. The Royals should be marginally better than Detroit because of a sprinkling of good players–Montgomery, Soler, (Salvador) Perez, Gordon, and Whitfield. They might even be mediocre if Duffy’s sore arm is healed. The Tabby Cats are waiting and praying that some young guys show them something. He’s had a great spring, but does (Miggy) Cabrera have much left? (Jordan) Zimmerman certainly doesn’t and it’s almost impossible to believe that just a year ago other teams thought it would be a good idea to trade for Boyd. Every tick over .380 will be a moral victory. Mostly, though, there’s not much reason to catch a game in KC or Motown if you’ve got better things to do, like clip your nails or paint the garage.

Predicted Order of Finish:
1.    Chicago
2.    Minnesota
3.    Cleveland
4.    Kansas City
5.    Detroit

Rob Weir 


Bad News for Haters: The Astros Still Cream of AL West

Pinocchio better watch his back instead of his nose

Should Win: Conventional wisdom holds that the Houston Astros will be a mess in the wake of the sign-stealing controversy. To be sure, so many teams will be gunning for the Astros that their hitters might want to wear body armor. Yeah, yeah, yeah. For all of that they are still the class of the AL West. They lost Cole to the Yankees, but no other team in their division has three hurlers who can match Verlander, Grienke, and McCullers. If Peacock finds his groove, fuggetaboutit.

In Brantley, Reddick, and Springer the Astros also have the division’s top outfield. Altuve will probably regress now he doesn’t know what pitches are coming, but Bregman remains unfazed and Correa is a superb player.

More conventional wisdom BS says the Los Angeles Angels will challenge the Astros now that they’ve added Rendon’s bat to pack the middle of the order around Trout and Simmons. Nonsense! They still have one of the worst pitching staffs in all of MLB. When you rely on guys like Teheran (10-11), Heaney (4-6), Saurez (2-6), and Bundy (7-14), those dogs won’t hunt.

The Oakland A’s are my dark horse, especially if Manea recovers from his injuries. Fiers was a good pickup. Oakland has a way of manufacturing good pitchers that fly under the radar. Plus, a lineup with Chapman, Siemen, Olson, Kris Davis, and Canha will be productive.

Keep your eyes peeled for the Texas Rangers, who are methodically sending dead wood to the chipper. They picked up Kluber, and are just a few pieces short of making some noise.

The Seattle Mariners, as usual, are a mess. I’ve given up trying to figure out what plan, if any, is at work in the minds of a management staff whose heads are pointier than the Space Needle.  

Predicted Order of Finish:
1.    Houston
2.    Oakland
3.    Los Angeles
4.    Texas
5.    Seattle


Dodgers Rule NL West

The next five days will feature an MLB preview. No one knows, of course, when the season will actually begin but let's be optimistic and think May. So here we go in a special five-day preview.
Who's going to argue with Betty Boop?

Barring a collapse of unprecedented levels, the Los Angeles Dodgers will waltz away from their National League West rivals. Sheesh, when you add Mookie Betts to an outfield that already has Bellinger and Pollock, that’s a good start.  Then there’s an infield with Muncy, (Corey) Seager, and (Justin) Turner. We’re talking serious mash. Adding David Price to a pitching staff that has Kershaw, Buehler, and Wood will make it more than competitive. Jansen closes.

If you’re looking for weak spots, the # 5 pitcher is up in the air, and I’m not sure that new signing Blake Treinen is that hurler. The catching is okay, but not earth-shattering. But the Dodgers have excess they can trade, especially Pederson and Stripling. I’ll be surprised if either is still with the team by mid-season, as they’d be more than enough to secure whatever help is needed.  This looks like a runaway division winner and an odds-on favorite to win the World Series.

Dark Horse: The Arizona Diamondbacks have quietly buried some dead snakes and added useful pieces. If Bumgarner can return to 75% of what he was, he’s worth the money the D-backs shelled out. Leake is intriguing and I like Robbie Roy, as do a lot of other teams who unsuccessfully tried to get him. (Luke) Weaver has great potential. Vogt is one of the better catchers in the NL. Calhoun will help solidify the outfield, especially if Marte lives up to his potential.

On the flip side, the infield is young and unproven, other than (Christian) Walker. One never knows if the young guys will bloom or need more watering in the minors. The pitching will be thin if injuries strike or if MadBum has his best days behind him.

The sexy dark horse pick is the San Diego Padres. I feel about the Padres what I feel about the Seattle Mariners: Meh! They add pieces that add up to nothing in the long run–(Garrett) Richards, Profar, and Pomeranz, for instance. Yeah, they have Machado and Hosmer. Sure, Pham was a good pickup and Tatis, Jr. looks like he will (eventually) be a star. But look at the rest–including the overrated Wil Myers. Name one pitcher on this team you’d trade promising prospects to secure.

If I had to pick another team as a dark horse, it wouldn’t be the Padres. The Colorado Rockies have better pitching and they still have Arenado, Blackmon and others: Story, Desmond, Murphy…. It wouldn’t surprise me if they finished second.

The San Francisco Giants have just enough to be thoroughly mediocre. That might make them just good enough to pass the Padres for fourth, but they really need a tear-down/restart. There are guys on this team that simply aren’t worth their salaries: Cueto, Peralta, Gausman, Samardzija, Smyly, Posey, Belt …. These guys need to pick it up or the Giants will rot in the cellar. At its best, this team would be considered an overachiever if it finishes even for the season.  

Predicted Order of Finish:
1.    Los Angeles
2.    Arizona
3.    Colorado
4.    San Diego
5.    San Francisco

Rob Weir