Yes, kiddos, the Braves began in Boston, then went to Milwaukee

The NL East should be baseball’s most competitive division.


The Braves won it last year and, on paper, they’re still the best team in the East. They feature fearsome hitters–Acuna, Albies, Freeman, Ozuna, Swanson–and the only relief is that thus far Pache and Riley have been low on-base-percentage players. Only a solid-but-not-spectacular pitching staff puts a brake on the Atlanta juggernaut. Morton has a lot of mileage on his arm, Smyly manages to avoid being what scouts think he should be, and Wright and (Ian) Anderson can be gotten to. (Will) Smith is not yet an elite closer.


The Marlins, as usual, are a bunch of youngsters who might or might not be good. None of their starting pitchers is older than 25, and the only hitters that are household names are Dickerson and Marte, the latter of whom has not been the star he was projected to be. There are players who can mash, but several of them–Duvall, Alfaro, Diaz–have low on-base percentages. It’s hard to imagine the Fish will be competitive in the NL East.


The Mets have been picked as a possible Cinderella team. Potentially, only the Dodgers and Nationals can rival their pitching staff, but beware the term “potentially.” DeGrom is an annual Cy Young candidate, but Stroman, Walker, Peterson, and Lucchesi are inconsistent. The Mets fleeced the Indians by picking up Carrasco in the trade for Lindor, but he’s on the DL. For once, the Mets lineup is more than one stud and 7 dwarves. Lindor, Conforto, (Dominic) Smith, and Alonso is a solid middle of the lineup. The Mets have the potential to be best team in New York this year, but again there’s that qualifier: potential.


The Nationals staff is better than that of the Mets, if everyone stays healthy. That too comes with an imaginary asterisk. Strasburg has battled injuries his entire career and the aging Lester had surgery several weeks ago. Scherzer, though, will give deGrom and Kershaw (Dodgers) a run for the Cy Young award. On paper, their lineup is a step behind the Mets. Robles needs to improve and 3B Kieboom needs to prove he belongs. They plucked Schwarber from the Cubs and we’ll see if his power numbers decline outside of Wrigley Field. They’d better not, as he’s never been a high OBP guy. But Soto, Turner, Bell, and Castro are very good players.


My # 4 I-don’t-believe-in-you team is the chronically underperforming Phillies. Harper was supposed to be the NL’s answer to Mike Trout. He has stretches of brilliance, but he’s been more like bottom round than prime rib. The Phils lacked high OBP guys last year and you need them to eke out runs against great pitching. Speaking of great pitching, that of the Phillies is merely okay. Nola, Eflin, and Velasquez were supposed to be can’t-miss hurlers but only Nola shows any signs of being poised for a breakout. Arieta is gone and they’ll need Moore–back from Japan–or the chronically injured Wheeler to step up. Don’t bet on it.


NL East Predictions:


1. Braves:                  They will be pushed, but I like their unflappable consistency.

2. Nationals:              If their staff is healthy, this is a Wild Card team.

3. Mets:                      I’m not as impressed by their pitching as most.

4. Phillies:                  Prove you’re a good team, or start over.

5.  Marlins:                Bunch of unknowns, but it won’t shock if they overtake the Phillies.


MLB Central: In the Cards and Twinsies?



National League Central:


Cards logo form 1950s

This should be a tight division, as each of the top three teams has weaknesses.


The Brewers would be the favorites if they had pitching. In Holder they have perhaps the best closer in the NL, but you have to get to him first. None of their projected starters has much experience, so it’s hard to know what will happen when they crack open the cans. They Brew Crew will hit, though 1B (Hiura or Vogelbach), SS (Arcia), and catcher (Narvaez) are question marks. If the Brewers falter, Holder might be a Yankee by midsummer.


The Cardinals are the Oakland A’s of the NL in that they get a lot mileage out lesser known players. They will fill in around Arenado and Goldschmidt, the latter of whom needs to be a stud for the offense to work. DeJong needs to hit, which he hasn’t done so far. Ditto Bader and (Tyler) O’Neill. Concerns: 38-year-old Molina has to break down at some point, yes? It’s a miracle Wainwright is still pitching given his injury history, but he too is 38 and this is probably the last time his pony goes around the carousel. Mikolas is on the DL. 24-year-old Hicks is expected to close. In other words, pitching could ground the Cardinals.


Nobody will admit it, but the Cubs are shedding payroll and are doing a quiet makeover. Their top three pitchers and the middle of the lineup will keep them in the midst of things, but at some point, they need to part ways with Heyward, who simply never justified his big contract. Pederson might help, but he’s the supposed-to-be stud who hasn’t been. At 2B, Hoerner might be the future but he’s probably not the now.


The Reds went all in last year and it didn’t work. They have some good hitters, but unless (Sonny) Gray continues his resurrection and Miley steps up, Luis Castillo is another guy who might be a Yankee.


The Pirates have been rebuilding longer than Pompeii. Both are ruins.


American League Central:


Logo from when Twins were an expansion team

The Indians are like the city of Cleveland; there’s never enough money for what is needed. Francona is among the best managers in baseball and he has the core of a good staff in Bieber, Civale, and Plesac but beyond them, who? Nobody knows who will play first, though Bradley has the inside track. He’s been in the majors for 6 years, but has been in just 53 games. Projected closer Karinchak has saved exactly one game in his career. It’s like this throughout the roster, once one gets passed proven players such as (Eddie) Rosario, (Cesar) Hernandez, Perez, and (Jose) Ramirez.


The Royals should be much better. Something tells me the Red Sox will wish a do-over in trading Benintendi. he will fit into a lineup that can do some damage, though SS Mondesi and (Nicky) Lopez need to break out. The rotation is thin past Minor and Duffy.


The Tigers are improving, but they took a hit when Mize, their top pitching prospect, lost the ability to find the strike zone. There is a lot of work to do. Miggy Cabrera will probably retire after the season and other than Schoop, there lineup looks like a snooze fest. Boyd, Norris, and Fulmer are guys who stand a 50/50 chance of pitching better or being candidates for catch-and-release.


The Twins are, as usual, good enough to win the Central but nada in the post season. It’s a team that looks better on paper than it actually is. They hit a lot of homeruns, but can they thump their way over the hump? I doubt it, as beyond Maeda the pitching is suspect. Happ is 38, Berrios is a middle reliever converted to a starter, Shoemaker has been awful the last two years, and you never, ever want to depend to Pineda to miss a bat in a key situation.


Most analysts say the division will go to the White Sox. Maybe, but it’s also theirs for the losing. The everyday lineup, with the exception of 24-year-old 2B Madrigal looks awesome. Pitching could be the Achilles’ heel, though, especially since Kopech can’t stay healthy. Keuchel and Lynn need to be really good, not just veteran presences.


NL Central Predictions;


1. Cardinals:             They won’t overwhelm, but smart management helps plug gaps.

2. Cubs:                     Enough pitching, some fine hitters, and bandbox Wrigley help.

3. Brewers:                They need pitchers. Period.

4. Reds:                     I doubt Votto finishes his career in Cincy.

5. Pirates:                  They might finish 3rd in the International League.


AL Central Predictions:


1. Twins:                    Good enough to win a tight division.

2.  Royals:                 They are my dark horse hunch.

3.  White Sox:           They have swagger, but they lack the arms to back it up.

4.  Indians:                Cleveland is a dead city. Move the Tribe.

5.  Tigers:                  More holes than a New England backroad in March. 


Dodgers and Athletics to Win the West?



National League:


Brooklyn or LA--Stay Outta the Way



The Dodgers are so far above everyone else that the only hope anyone has is that an earthquake wipes out their roster. They should waltz to the NL crown. There are simply no glaring weaknesses.


No one knows that the Diamondbacks management is up to. The lineup is okay, but not inspiring. There’s not much to say about the pitching, because there isn’t any. They are counting on Bumgarner to be an ace, but (sadly) he probably will never be what he was before the injury bug bit him like a hungry teenager attacking a Dagwood sandwich.


The Giants have a lineup filled with guys over 30, and several of them have spent a lot of time on the DL. Crawford, Belt, Posey, and even Yaztremski could be trade bait if the Giants decide to rebuild. If they can dump Cueto for three fungos and a traveling bag, they should. The only pitcher on the staff worth keeping is Wood.


The Padres are the dark horse of those who like to gamble on long odds. There are four teams in MLB who always look good on paper and never are; the Padres are one of them. Is 2021 the year they break the streak? I don’t think so. If Myers ever becomes the player he’s supposed to–he won’t–and if Pham is more than a nice spare part, that will help. They stole Snell from the Rays, but the pitching is more than suspect. Even if Darvish’s 2020 wasn’t a fluke, they still need Musgrove, Lamet, and Paddack to have career years. Doubtful. Pomeranz and Pagan as dual closers? Meh!


Speaking of not knowing what management is up to, I offer the Rockies. Still, if the Padres implode (quite possible), they have a shot at 2nd place in the NL West. Blackmon and Story are fine players (if not traded), Freeland and (Jon) Gray are decent starters, and if Bard is truly resurrected as a closer, things might shift their way.



American League West


Logo used when the A's were in Philly and KC

This will not be a good division. Period.


Lots of people want the Angels to win, just so MLB’s best player, Mike Trout, sees a postseason. A lot needs to go right for that to happen. Ohtani needs to stay off the DL. Ditto Fowler. Upton needs to be the player he was projected to be but never has been. At age 34, that’s unlikely. First, second, and catcher are manned by Abbot and Costello’s who? But it starts and ends with pitching and when you try to build a staff with Orioles’ castoffs, you are counting on a miracle. Basically, it’s a bunch of guys who perpetually disappoint: Bundy, Cobb, Heaney, Quintana. This is the second team I refuse to get excited about until proven wrong.


The Astros–the team everyone outside of Texas despises–lost several good players over the offseason, but they still might win the division. It probably won’t be easy if they do. Maldonado has to emerge as a decent hitter and catcher, Straw has to prove he’s an everyday player, and Pressly is an unproven closer. Verlander won’t be back until midseason and even then, he might not be an ace again. That means they need major production from hurlers such as Javier, Urquidy, and Valdez. You probably don’t know those names and therein lies a big challenge.


The Athletics always manage to stick around with rosters that make them the Rays of the West. Their starting lineup is gloriously old-fashioned; they are tortoises that manage to finish above the hares. The pitching is questionable, though, especially if Manaea isn’t entirely healthy. Diekman a closer? There’s no indication thus far that he can be.


The Mariners should move to Nebraska, as they are MLB’s number one “show me” team. Some say they can win the AL West and I say it could rain rubies from the sky, but it probably won’t. Their everyday lineup is middle of the road at best and depends too much on (Kyle) Seager for production. Paxton returns to the pitching staff, but his mojo basically happens every third or fourth start. Is Sheffield ready? He’s only 24, so it could go either way. Even if the aforementioned duo shines, there’s nothing but question marks behind them.


The Rangers rightly decided they needed a rebuild. There are a few proven talents on the roster (Gallo, Odor, Foltynewicz, Gibson) but it’s going to take some time. The closer job is up for grabs, but it might not matter that much.



NL West Predictions:


1. Dodgers:               Has anyone ever clinched by the All-Star break?

2. Rockies:                Call it a hunch because…

3. Padres:                  Sorry, but I just don’t believe in them

4. Giants:                   You could flip flop 4 & 5, but on paper San Fran is better than…

5. Diamondbacks:    A defanged snake.


AL West Predictions:


1. Athletics:               Roster built from top to bottom generally win.

2. Astros:                   Solid lineup and if the pitching holds up, it’s…

3. Angels:                  Better than one built around stars hiding poseurs.

4. Mariners:               Someday they’ll put it together. Like the next century.

5. Rangers:               Patience is a virtue.