2018 Kentucky Derby: Cooper Family Live Draft

It’s Derby Week! And, as usual, the Cooper Family is gearing up for another live draft.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

The Tradition

Welp. Another favorite ended up wearing the roses again in 2017.

The favorite has won every year I’ve posted about it. Granted, I’ve only been documenting things here since 2014, so the streak isn’t long but it’s a streak nonetheless, and three out of the four years was with the 1st overall pick…

  • 2014: California Chrome (Karlie – 1st)
  • 2015: American Pharoah (APC – 3rd)
  • 2016: Nyquist (Mom – 1st)
  • 2017: Always Dreaming (Quinten – 1st)

One could argue that Always Dreaming wasn’t the obvious favorite last year – he didn’t even open with the best odds on race day (Classic Empire was 4-1, while McCraken and Always Dreaming were co-second favorite at 5-1), but by the time betting closed, Always Dreaming had dropped to 9/2, which was ultimately the best. Truth is, if I’d had the top pick last year, I would’ve looked elsewhere, just like both Karlie and Mom did in 2015 when they let American Pharoah fall to me with the 3rd pick.

So sure, the favorite keeps winning, but there’s no telling who the true favorite even is sometimes, and there’s no guarantee the person picking 1st will even take the horse with the best odds. To quote Ned Ryerson: It’s all one big crapshoot anyhoo.

Quinten did take Always Dreaming first overall, and the horse did break well beating everyone inside him to the rail and that’s all she wrote. Well done, Q.

I finished surprisingly well with long shot closer Lookin at Lee finishing 2nd. I added him with my final pick at #18 and got lucky. Dad made the mistake of selecting the #17 horse, Irish War Cry, who finished 10th, which earned Dad the top pick in this year’s draft.

We do this every year, and these annual posts are mostly for my own documentation at this point. Maybe some of you enjoy them. Who knows.

Ok let’s look at this year’s group.

The Horses

Yes, the favorite keeps winning, but this year looks dicier. This year we get to talk about a CURSE!!

The Curse of Apollo.

Every horse in the Kentucky Derby is a 3-year old. It’s a requirement for the race. This means each racehorse has only run handful of competitive races up to this point. Most began racing as 2-year olds, but occasionally there’s a horse or two who arrived late to the track and never ran before turning 3.

In 1882, a horse named Apollo won the Kentucky Derby after only running as a 3-year old. Since then, 61 horses have tried to do the same not a single one of them has won. In 136 years…not a single one.

There have honestly been just a few who even came close. Of those 61 horses, just 3 finished 2nd (most recently – Bodemeister, 2012) and only 1 finished 3rd (Curlin, 2007), and the rest didn’t even make the podium.

So, the Curse of Apollo…is it real? Do you believe in curses? Because it’s about to be seriously tested as two of the top contenders never raced as a 2-year old: Justify (opened as the favorite at 3-1) and Magnum Moon (third favorite at 6-1).

Justify is 3 for 3 in prep races though, most notably a wire-to-wire win in the Santa Anita Derby. Likewise, Magnum Moon is 2 for 2 including a win at the Arkansas Derby.

Other top options include Mendelssohn (5-1) who dominated the UAE Derby by like 19 lengths (!!!), Bolt D’Oro (8-1) who was the closest to taking over Justify down the stretch in the Santa Anita, and Audible (8-1) winner of the Florida Derby, the race that has produced the most Kentucky Derby winners in recent years (last two, and 3 of the last 5). Going back even further, 11 of the last 14 Kentucky Derby winners won either the Arkansas, Florida, or Santa Anita.

And truth is, if that’s as far as you cared to research this thing, I totally get it. Lots of correlation there to bet on already.

But humor me. I’ve got more to say.

When I went back and watched all the major prep races, there was one only one moment that truly blew me away.

It happened in the Louisiana Derby, a race won by Noble Indy, but it wasn’t the winner who impressed me. It was My Boy Jack.

This horse is the ultimate closer, and I admit I’m a sucker for closers. It’s just so much more dramatic, and I think more impressive.

Ok look at this screenshot…

This is the first turn, fresh out of the gate. My Boy Jack is the one in the back just doinking around. He practically trots out of the gate.

Fast forward another half a mile around the far turn and let’s see what’s changed…

Nothing! See that horse head barely peeking into the frame? That’s our boy. This is entering the final turn. The race is over in another quarter mile and he’s barely in the picture!!

But then…

…like a ROCKET. Fwoooosh! Out of nowhere it’s like he’s in fast forward. In one turn he goes from entirely out of the picture to almost neck-and-neck with the leaders. How does he have that much gas in the tank?! I could easily be convinced that Jack is the most fit horse in this race.

Here’s the finishline:

That’s My Boy Jack in the middle of the picture farthest from the rail. A photo finish to show. Just missed it. The rest of the horses are a dozen lengths behind them.

If he had just closed that last little length, managed to find a hole to slip through instead of having to bounce way outside, then My Boy Jack likely comes into this weekend as one of the favorites. Instead he’s opening at a 30-1 underdog.

But do I think he’ll win? Maybe? A lot would have to break his way, but…maybe?

Let’s look at the full gate lineup and see how things look. I liked how I did it last year listing the running-style too, so you’ll see that along with the opening Vegas odds following the position draw Tuesday morning.

  1. Firenze Fire – Closer (50-1)
  2. Free Drop Fire – Closer (30-1)
  3. Promises Fulfilled – Pacesetter (30-1)
  4. Flameaway – Pace/Press (30-1)
  5. Audible – Stalk/Close (8-1)
  6. Good Magic – Stalker (12-1)
  7. Justify – Pacesetter (3-1)
  8. Lone Sailor – Closer (50-1)
  9. Hofburg – Stalk/Close (20-1)
  10. My Boy Jack – Closer (30-1)
  11. Bolt D’Oro – Stalker (8-1)
  12. Enticed – Stalker (30-1)
  13. Bravazo – Presser (50-1)
  14. Mendelssohn – Pace/Press (5-1)
  15. Instilled Regard – Stalk/Close (50-1)
  16. Magnum Moon – Pace/Press (6-1)
  17. Solomini – Stalker (30-1)
  18. Vino Rosso – Stalk/Close (12-1)
  19. Noble Indy – Press/Stalk (30-1)
  20. Combatant – Closer (50-1)

I could make a case for about half of these horses, and if I looked at most of them long enough I could convince myself they’re definitely going to win (see above re: My Boy Jack), but here’s what I see…

First, let’s talk about the early pace.

Promises Fulfilled and Justify will lead the pack early. Flameaway may be there too, but that name is so dumb it’s hard to think he’ll be relevant. Promises Fulfilled is the fastest sprinter in this race, and with two closers on the inside there’s no reason why he shouldn’t bolt out the gate and establish himself out front. Justify has a little more work to do as does Flameaway, but both should be right there. Promises Fulfilled doesn’t have the stamina to last beyond about the 3/4 mile mark, but Justify will hang around. If Justify is going to win, it’ll have to be wire to wire, and he’s going to have to use a lot of speed early to establish position.

All that to say, Justify is in a great spot at #7. The 5-10 range is the most desirable gate position: close enough to shorten the run, but far enough out that you don’t get pinched on the rail. The big question for me when it comes to Justify is whether having Promises Fulfilled to the inside causes him to overdo it early and then fade late if he wears down? He didn’t have much trouble holding off Bolt D’Oro to go the distance in the Santa Anita, but the horses are stronger, the race is longer and the pace is likely faster. We shall see.

Audible has a really nice position on the inside nestled in among pacesetters and closers. The #5 spot has produced a ton of winners over the years, including Always Dreaming a year ago. Good Magic is another good horse in the same bunch. The Bluegrass Stakes winner has finished top 3 in all of his races, but let’s not pretend Bluegrass is on par with Florida, Arkansas or Santa Anita.

As a stalker, Bolt D’Oro wants to find a comfortable spot in the pack early and slowly creep up as the pace slows down late. I think this setup, with closers on the inside, lets him do exactly that. But he didn’t have the stamina to catch Justify in the Santa Anita, so I don’t expect him to somehow catch him in Kentucky where the race is even longer.

Mendelssohn is in a fine spot at #14, I suppose. This horse is like Bowser in Mario Kart – takes some time to work up to speed, but once he does there’s no stopping him. His cruising speed is a huge advantage in a long race.

I mean, just look at this margin of victory:

IMG_7921.PNG

And he was still pulling away. Crazy top speed.

The main issue with Mendelssohn is that the UAE Derby hasn’t really translated to success in Kentucky so he’s sort of a wildcard. Could go great, could totally bomb. Shoot, just last year Thunder Snow won the UAE, then went rogue out the gate and didn’t finish in KY. I like this horse a lot and could honestly see him making a joke out of it, but there’s also quite a bit of risk here.

Magnum Moon got stuck out in the appendage gate, which isn’t ideal for a horse that likes to be out front. Statistically speaking, if you’re going to be out wide, #16 is where you want to be as it’s resulted in the most wins out there, but with Mendelssohn trying to execute the same gameplan from the other side of the gap, it’s going to be a tough go to break the Curse. The biggest race Magnum Moon has won was a slow pace from start to finish, so he’ll have to run much faster and use a lot more energy to get it done here.

That said, if you want to listen to the best race call of the season, watch this starting at the 2:20 mark. Mercy.

Really tough draw for Vino Rosso, winner of the Wood Memorial, at #18. While the 17 gate (Solomini) has never had a winner, number 18 has only had 2. American Pharaoh just did it from there in 2015, but he turned out to be a freak. Vino’s just not a strong enough horse to make the longer trek from what I’ve seen.

Which brings me to the closers. A quarter of the horses in this race are closers and nearly half like to start slow and let the race develop. I’m a little concerned about that. When My Boy Jack finished so strong the Louisiana Derby, he only had to beat 9 other horses, and 7 of them were pacesetters or pressers. Basically the perfect formula for a closer.

Another closer, Lone Sailer was actually the 2nd place horse in that same race, but found a better line. Interesting to note: In the Louisiana Derby, Lone Sailer was #8 and My Boy Jack was #9 just outside him. On Saturday, they’ll be #8 and #10 respectively. We could be in for a similar result. It’s just so much harder to maneuver through 20 horses than it is 10. A long shot, but I won’t be disappointed if I end up with him as a late round pick.

Hofburg is worth mentioning here too. He finished second behind Audible and looked strong in the Florida Derby.  His positioning on the inner half flanked by a couple closers bodes well for finding space to maneuver early.

Beyond that, the rest aren’t worth talking about.

I like…Justify, Mendelssohn, Audible, My Boy Jack, Hofburg, Lone Sailor.

I don’t like…Bolt D’Oro, Magnum Moon, Vino Rosso, Good Magic, Solomini

As always, there’s the chance I’m just making crap up to throw off my family. Reverse psychology.

Works like a charm.

The Family Draft Order

Picks are based on the previous year’s finish. After the first round is over, we snake backwards to the start. With the remaining picks we circle back to the end again. (Additional picks in parentheses.)

  1. Dad (16)
  2. Holly (15)
  3. Karlie (14)
  4. Mom (13)
  5. Anna (12, 20)
  6. APC (11, 19)
  7. Quinten (10, 18)
  8. Jeff (9, 17)

And welcome to the draft, Jeff! My sister’s boyfriend finds himself in the mix this year which we all agree is a very big deal. We’ll honor Jeff’s presence among us by letting him pick dead last. Good luck.

Since my son’s name is Jackson, I really doubt 5 different family members pass up the opportunity to pick My Boy Jack, but If they do, the top 5 horses picked will likely be Justify, Mendelssohn, Magnum Moon, Audible and Bolt D’Oro. Maybe Good Magic. Anna will take Bolt because of her love for its endearing jockey, Victor Espinoza, and when someone inevitably takes Jack, that means I’ll have my pick of whomever is left between Justify, Magnum Moon, Audible or Mendelssohn. My get tells me Audible’s still there.

Hofburg would be a sweet add with #11, but I doubt he’ll make it back around – slim pickings with an 8 person draft! If he is gone, I’ll probably just spring for Lone Sailor and call it a day. If you can’t get the horse you want, at least pick a closer. That’s my new motto.

The Draft (May 5, 8:30AM CST)

Check back in at 8:30AM on Saturday to follow the draft. As always, I’ll be updating it live.

Pick 1: Dad – Audible

Dad picks the Florida Derby winner with the top pick. I think this is a great pick. Takes guts to pick against the favorite.

Pick 2: Holly – Justify

Who cares about the Curse? No brainer. Great horse. Great position.

Pick 3: Karlie – My Boy Jack

My wife gets her son’s namesake. I still think MBJ may win this race, and clearly everyone else does as his odds have moved from 30-1 to 5-1 in 48 hours.

Pick 4: Mom – Good Magic

A good horse in a nice gate position. He hasn’t really been tested like the other contenders, but not a bad option.

Pick 5: Anna – Bolt D’Oro

Anna gets Victor for the 39th straight year, but this year he’s on a good horse. We all saw this coming.

Pick 6: APC – Mendelssohn

Which means I get Mendelssohn. I was hoping either he or Audible would fall here and he did. After rewatching the UAE I’ve convinced myself Mendelssohn is going to dominate.

Pick 7: Quinten – Lone Sailor

Quinten’s rolling the dice! Wins once and thinks he can just pick any random horse and it’ll all work out. Kidding – we all know I like this horse.

Pick 8: Jeff – Magnum Moon

The Curse and gate position causes the top Road to the Derby point receiver to fall all the way to 8th. You’re welcome, Jeff.

Pick 9: Jeff – Hofburg

Okay, but you didn’t have to go and pick the target of my next pick here!

Pick 10: Quinten – Vino Rosso

The only good horse left.

Pick 11: APC – Free Drop Billy

And, as expected, there’s nobody else I really want available here so I’ll take a closer and hope for the best. Same position I was in last year with Looking at Lee last year, so expect some second place fireworks. I also took a Buzzfeed quiz earlier asking “Which Derby Horse Are You?” and I got FDB.

Pick 12: Anna – Promises Fulfilled

Anna’s going to have a really fun opening minute, but this horse could end up finishing dead last.

Pick 13: Mom – Noble Indy

The last 7 Kentucky Derby winners won their final prep race. Horses that fit that description here: Justify, My Boy Jack, Audible, Magnum Moon, Good Magic, Mendelssohn, Vino Rosso…and Noble Indy.

Pick 14: Karlie – Flameaway

Good luck keeping anything in the tank in the end. A bad horse surrounded by pacesetters.

Pick 15: Holly – Solomini

Gate 17. Good luck, kapeesh?

Pick 16: Dad – Enticed

Better win with Audible, cause…no.

Pick 17: Jeff – Firenze Fire

A closer on the rail? I could see it.

Pick 18: Quinten – Bravazo

I know nothing about this horse and won’t act like I do here.

Pick 19: APC – Combatant

Late pick closer out of Gate 20! Let’s have some fuuuuun!

Pick 20: Anna – Instilled Regard

Currently 99-1. This horse is just happy to be here.

The complete draft results courtesy of self-declared draft emcee, Holly:

54722108355__AD462262-2ECE-4C1C-BB09-464D95FF1BE7.JPG

Picks by family member…

  • Dad: Audible, Enticed
  • Holly: Justify, Solomini
  • Karlie: My Boy Jack, Flameaway
  • Mom: Good Magic, Noble Indy
  • Anna: Bolt D’Oro, Promises Fulfilled, Instilled Regard
  • APC: Mendelssohn, Free Drop Billy, Combatant
  • Quinten: Lone Sailor, Vino Rosso, Bravazo
  • Jeff: Magnum Moon, Hofburg, Firenze Fire

The Results (May 5, 5:50PM CST)

Holly wins with Justify! Dad really blew it.

Speaking of blew it Mendlessohn finished 73 1/4 lengths behind Justify, which was good enough for dead last. Followed that up with Free Drop Billy (16th) and Combatant (18th), so I’ll be picking first next year.

Finish:

  1. Holly (Justify)
  2. Mom (Good Magic)
  3. Dad (Audible)
  4. Anna (Instilled Regard)
  5. Karlie (My Boy Jack)
  6. Quinten (Bravazo)
  7. Jeff (Hofburg)
  8. APC (Woof)

Way to go, Hol! Pressures already on for next year’s first pick.

Image source: @BreedersCup on Twitter, accessed at Racing.com.

2017 MLB Predictions

Take a deep breath as you gaze upon the glorious striped stirrups of Francisco Lindor and calmly repeat to yourself, “Baseball is back. Baseball is back. Baseball is back.” Repeat it as many times as you need to until college basketball, the NBA and NFL Draft buzz completely dissolve into the peripheries of your brain. 

“Baseball is back.” 

Now exhale and remember: the darkness is behind us. Winter’s time is over. This is our time. Baseball – along with those two-toned beauties – is back.

Phew. Repeat as many times as necessary. It’s going to be okay, you guys.

It feels like an eternity has passed since we had some meaningful baseball to enjoy. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have October baseball in Kansas City last season. Or maybe winter just always feels this long. Winter is just the worst.

We’ve had a fortnight of rain in KCMO, which means spring has sprung, and somewhere some kids are really enjoying sliding practice. We made it, you guys. Opening Day is here! Which means it’s time to post another set of predictions for a new MLB season.

But first, I gotta hold myself accountable for last season’s performance. Let’s talk a bit about my 2016 picks…

<Stands up. Opens window. Jumps out window.>

Not great.

As always, the National League was much easier to predict – I got the Nationals and Cubs winning their divisions, and I’ll give myself a pat on the back for knowing either the Cardinals or Pirates would miss he playoffs…turns out they both did. I had the Giants making it, and they did, but as a Wild Card. Didn’t have the Mets as a Wild Card either.

My biggest gaffe was excluding the Dodgers. I took a gamble on the Diamondbacks and goodness gracious everything that could possibly go wrong did. AJ Pollock was injured before the season starts. Zack Greinke had a horrendous year, and Shelby Miller was comically worse. How did I ever pick them over Los Angeles? Woof. That’s what I get for over thinking these things.

The AL was just atrocious. I was all-in on the Astros, but they never recovered from an 8-18 start, and going 15-4 against their inter-state rival didn’t help. The Rangers ran away with it. I at least had them as a Wild Card team.

I picked the Royals, hoping with all my heart, but injuries derailed their chance at a third straight AL pennant. The Indians were my first team out. They ended 1 run away from winning the World Series.

The AL East is the hardest to pick every year, and this year will be no different. How hard is it? Well, I picked the Yankees and Rays in 2016 and the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles all made the playoffs. Goodnight.

So what’s that…4 of 10 postseason teams?! Yuck. I shouldn’t even be allowed to make predictions after that nonsense. (But hey – I knew Corey Seager would win the AL Rookie of the Year, so that’s a consolation prize or something, yeah? Please. Candy from a baby.)

In retrospect, I either overthought it or picked with my heart. But not this year. This year is all brain (but not too much!), and zero emotion (okay maybe a little?). Trust me – we’ll be dissecting a perfectly predicted postseason bracket here come October.

Believe me. Nobody picks winners like I do. I make the best picks. I’m going to bat 100% on picks this year. Believe me.

(Postseason teams in italics.)

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Atlanta Braves
  4. Miami Marlins
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

Washington boasts arguably the best rotation in baseball, and Bryce Harper is going to bounce back in a monster way. The Mets re-signed Yoenis Cespedes and return essentially the same roster as last year featuring their strong rotation. The Braves are young (including newly-acquired and forever-young Bartolo Colon). They may surprise us and be decent. The Marlins lost a step with the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez. The Phillies are still bad.

NL Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

The reigning World Series champs are going to be tough to beat, and for a long time. We all know this. The Cardinals pulled a Reverse Jason Heyward signing Dexter Fowler away from Chicago. He’ll replace Matt Holliday in the outfield which is an all around improvement. Their starting rotation will improve as well – Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright are both All-Stars and the drop off to Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Mike Leake isn’t drastic. But make no mistake – nobody’s dethroning the Cubs.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Francisco Giants
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. Colorado Rockies
  5. San Diego Padres

This division is a two team race. Both LA and SF are playoff teams, it’s a matter of which avoids the Wild Card game and, in turn, the Cubs in the NLDS (not that meeting the Nationals in the NLDS would be a cakewalk, but you get it). I’m going with the Dodgers. They re-signed Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Rich Hill. They added Sergio Romo (double whammy since the Giants lost him), and the Darkhorse Move of the Offseason is LA acquiring Logan Forsythe from the Rays.

The Diamondbacks could bounce back behind Greinke, but I’m not counting on anything from them after last season, and the Rockies will score about 80 runs/game but they’ll give up 100. The Padres are young and won’t contend, but keep an eye on them in 2019 and beyond.

AL East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. New York Yankees
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. Toronto Blue Jays

The Red Sox were already good before they traded for Chris Sale. The Yankees are getting better – Greg Bird is back from injury and hit more HRs in Spring Training than anybody. They also brought back Aroldis Chapman, and signed Matt Holliday. The Orioles re-signed Mark Trumbo who can’t possibly have another boomstick season like 2016, but I’ve been wrong about the Orioles before – Manny Machado and Adam Jones have the clout to get it done.

I just don’t like the Blue Jays. They probably won’t finish last, but they sure look good there.

AL Central

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Minnesota Twins
  4. Detroit Tigers
  5. Chicago White Sox

The Indians added Edwin Encarnacion, so they’re immediately better than last year. Their starting pitching is strong despite Trevor Bauer‘s personality. Andrew Miller should maintain his recent dominance (although, he seemed very human in the World Baseball Classic, but that doesn’t count for much). If I could pick any one position player to build a team around, it’d be Francisco Lindor. The Indians are the team to beat here.

The Royals and Tigers are the other two notables here. The Tigers are getting older, so health is going to be their greatest concern. Justin Verlander seems to have figured out how to pitch as an old man, but the margin for error on this team is thin.

The loss of Yordano Ventura hurts in so many ways – even still, the addition of Jason Hammel, Nathan Karns and Travis Wood makes this Royals rotation actually better than it was last year. Danny Duffy has arrived and could win the Cy Young (I heard he’s going at 33-1 right now). The additions of Brandon Moss and Jorge Soler beefs up their lineup. This isn’t your 2014 high contact, low strikeout team anymore. They’re going to hit homeruns, and I, for one, am disappointed.

But…Alex Gordon will improve on a bad bad bad 2016 campaign. Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Alcedis Escobar and Mike Moustakas are all in contract years, so you know they’ll “Come to Play.” Raul Mondesi Jr. won the 2B job and will bring speed and excitement to the bottom of the lineup. I think #Ace30 becomes a catalyst for this already-motivated group. They’ll be in it down the stretch, but I think they miss again this year. Hope I’m wrong. If they’re out early, a fire sale starting with Eric Hosmer wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Dang. I told myself I wouldn’t get carried away talking about the Royals, but alas, here I am. Onward.

AL West

  1. Texas Rangers
  2. Houston Astros
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland Athletics

The Astros are going to be fun. They added Carlos Beltran to DH and Brian McCann to catch. Their rotation is…fine, but they’ll win because of their young offense. But the Rangers seem to have their number and I see no reason to pick against them again this year.

The intriguing team in the mix here is, as always, the Mariners, who, thanks to their never-satisfied, always-ready-to-make-another-move GM, Jerry Dipoto, have kept their core but flipped the rest. There are 18 new faces on their 40-man roster. Typically I’d be skeptical of any team with that much instability, but these are all supplementary guys. Jarrod Dyson finally gets his shot as an everyday center fielder. This team will be knocking at the door come September again this year. I think they make some deadline moves and sneak in as the second Wild Card.

Angels and Athletics are meat. It’s unfortunate the best player in the game plays on one of the least interesting teams in baseball. Mike Trout deserves better.

***

Not risking much this year, but outside of the last AL Wild Card spot, I don’t see a lot of surprises. Every division appears to be clear or a two team race. The NL Wild Card is really only between 4 teams (STL, PIT, and 2nd place in the East and West). So here are my postseason predictions:

National League: Dodgers over Cubs

American League: Red Sox over Indians

World Series: Dodgers over Red Sox

It’s baseball season, you guys. Go hug somebody and spread the good news.

-apc.

Photo Cred: Sports Illustrated, accessed here: http://www.si.com/nfl/2016/06/28/fantasy-baseball-francisco-lindor-cleveland-indians

 

2016 MLB Predictions

I was going to wait until Alex Rios signed with a team before doing these predictions, but it seems he may not sign until after Opening Day. Which means the balance of power could still shift significantly. This is sarcasm.

Opening Day is just 6 short days away. The calendar is nearing April, which means the NCAA tournament has lost it’s intrigue and Spring Training games somehow feel even more pointless every day. I’m itching to get back to baseball, and what better way than to make some 2016 season predictions?

AL East

  1. New York Yankees
  2. Tampa Bay Rays
  3. Boston Red Sox
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. Baltimore Orioles

I can tell you who won’t win this division: the Orioles. What in the world are they doing in Baltimore? Going into the offseason they had a gap at 1B with the free agency of Chris Davis. Not only did they re-sign him to a stupid expensive contract, they tripled down on the position by also adding Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez. Will they hit home runs? Absolutely. But they’ll also have to play Trumbo in right field where he is atrocious defensively, and their pitching is neither impressive nor deep. This team will lose a lot of 10-8 games.

Beyond that, this division appears wide open. Take your pick.

Toronto will score an insane amount of runs, but I refuse to pick a team with two stars (Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista) involved in contract disputes. The Red Sox are projected to be the strongest team with the addition of David Price and a maturing outfield. David Ortiz‘s final season could be memorable. The Yankees added Aroldis Chapman and now have the best 7-8-9 trio in baseball. The Rays have quietly built a deep (albeit unexciting) roster of talent. Kevin Keirmaier is the best defensive outfielder in the game and Chris Archer is soon going to find himself among the best.

I’ll take New York and Tampa with Boston just missing the cut.

AL Central

  1. Kansas City Royals
  2. Cleveland Indians
  3. Minnesota Twins
  4. Detroit Tigers
  5. Chicago White Sox

People say this division is the most wide open in baseball, but I just don’t see it. Perhaps what they really mean is “every team in this division is a regression candidate” which is the more accurate statement. You can assume consistency as much as you can assume regression, and the Royals have proven they are for real and they have a formula that works. And the next person who says, “Yeah, but they lost Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist!” can shove it. Neither of those guys were on the team until the end of July in 2015 – KC was 61-38 and up 9 games in the Central before their arrival – and the team they have right now is better than the one they began 2015.

The questions surround their challengers. Can Detroit bounce back or are they as washed up as they appeared in 2015? Will the Twins build on their surprising 2015 season or will their young talent backslide this season? And can the Indians – who have one of the strongest starting pitching arsenals in the league with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar – do anything else well enough to succeed, or will their defense bite them again this season?

The White Sox will be bad despite what a handful of national experts will tell you. I’m almost as perplexed by their offseason as I am with Baltimore’s. Why do they need both Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier? How many third basemen does one team need? Doesn’t make sense. This team will underachieve as they always do.

AL West

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Los Angeles Angels
  4. Seattle Mariners
  5. Oakland Athletics

Everyone is picking the Astros in 2016, and for good reason. This Houston team is going to be really really good. The only question mark in their lineup is whether Jon Singleton and rookie A.J. Reed can lock down first base. Otherwise they’re strong up and down their lineup: Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Colby Rasmus, Carlos Gomez, Luis Valbuena, George Springer, Evan Gattis, Jason Castro. They even have solid outfield depth in Preston Tucker and Jake Marisnick.

The other two teams to watch in this division are the Angels and Rangers. The Halos still has Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, and they added Andrelton Simmons‘s gold glove defense this offseason. The question is whether their pitching can show up like it did in 2014, or whether they’ll continue to struggle. I don’t understand why they didn’t do more this offseason – they appear to be

The Rangers are the more likely team to beat out the Astros for the division. Prince Fielder appears to be his old self. Their rotation is deep with Cole Hamels, Yu DarvishDerek Holland, Colby Lewis and Martin Perez. Otherwise this is pretty much the same team that won 88 games in 2015 plus Josh Hamilton. It’s going to come down to Texas, Cleveland and Boston for the final wild card spot, and my money is on the veteran Rangers.

In recent years, the American League has been harder to predict because the competition is more level across the league. This year, there are scenarios in which nearly every AL team (besides Oakland, really) could make the postseason.

In the National League, I only count 8 possible postseason teams…

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

In the East, there are only two options: Washington and New York.

The Mets strength is their rotation of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. They brought back Yoenis Cespedes. They added Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker to play middle infield. Dusty Baker‘s Nationals also feature strong starters in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and they have a guy named Bryce Harper who seems decent. They added Daniel Murphy from New York. Twenty-two year old Trea Turner sounds a lot like Jose Altuve to me, but he was optioned to AAA last week, but it sounds like he’ll eventually get the job at shortstop later this season. If he clicks, watch out for the Nats.

This race will likely come down to two things: who can stay healthiest and who can beat the other three teams in the division the most. When you get to play 1/3 of your games against Miami, Atlanta and Philadelphia, you’ve got a chance to win a lot of games. I’ll take Washington to bounce back this year while New York inexplicably can’t put it together to defend their NL pennant.

One additional note about the Marlins: I can’t wait to watch this team improve under new skipper, Don Mattingly, and rookie hitting coach, Barry Bonds. I guarantee you this team will rake in 2016. Bonds is going to be dynamite. There’s not enough pitching talent to take them to the postseason, but they’ll be fun to watch in 2016.

NL Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

In the Central, it’s a three team race yet again. This division entered a new phase when the Cubs took down the Cardinals in the NLDS in 2015. They’re young, they’re deep, they’re loose and already have postseason success. It’s easy to understand why the Cubs are the favorites to win it all in 2016. Bringing back Dexter Fowler, signing Ben Zobrist and swiping Jason Heyward and John Lackey from the Cardinals this offseason only helps their case. They’ve got the reigning Cy Young in Jake Arrieta and the best manager in baseball in Joe Maddon. Postseason? Absolutely. World Series? Who knows.

The Cardinals did nothing this offseason. They just sat there and watched while the Cubs spent gobs of cash on the guys mentioned above. They’re all in on their “next guy up” philosophy in 2016. Their team fell apart in 2015 – Adam Wainwright missed the season with an Achilles injury, Matt Holliday only played 73 games, Matt Adams only played 60 games and Yadier Molina missed a month with a thumb injury…and they still won 100 games.

Last year’s roster was stabilized by consistent play from Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta and Jason Heyward. But Heyward is gone and Peralta is already going to be out for a while with a thumb injury. Suddenly names like Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty are everyday players, and yet they’re almost certain to step in and fill in without causing the team to decline at all. They have a machine in St. Louis that churns out successful big leaguers and they’re all in on their system this year. And you know what? It feels foolish to bet against it. I’m betting they sneak into the Wild Card game this season.

And poor poor Pittsburgh. This team has been bitten by the Wild Card Game two consecutive years, and it’s not inconceivable to think that they could be where the Royals are had one of those games gone differently. Last year they had the second best record in baseball behind STL, and they have nothing to show for it. They need Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano to be nails this season and shore up their rotation, and they need Jung Ho Kang to return to health and stay hot this year. Josh Harrison becomes the everyday second baseman with the departure of Neil Walker, and John Jaso steps in for Pedro Alvarez at first. This team seems like they’re going to regress a bit, and I’m afraid Pittsburgh misses the playoffs this season. They deserve better.

NL West

  1. San Francisco Giants
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies

And this is where it gets brutal. I see three playoff teams in this division too, but only two of them can make it. Which one misses the cut in 2016?

Giants: They added Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija (who I think is grossly overrated) to an already strong rotation with Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. They added Denard Span in the outfield who I think is going to have a very strong campaign this year. Buster Posey is healthy, Hunter Pence is healthy, and 2016 is an even year.

Dodgers: They lost Zack Greinke, but they still have the best pitcher on Earth in Clayton Kershaw. They’ve got a new manager in Dave Roberts. Corey Seager is the man at SS this season which should be an improvement. They added Scott Kazmir to replace Greinke, but they’re also putting a lot of their hope in Kenta Maeda at SP. The Dodgers already has a string of injuries concerns (Andre Ethier, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthey, Mike Bolsinger will all start the season on the DL), but they’ve brought in enough talent that this team ought to be able to survive it. If Second Half Joc Pederson shows up along with an unhealthy Yasiel Puig, this team might be in trouble. There are a lot of “if’s” on this team, but they should have plenty of money to solve them, right?

Diamondbacks: They gained Zack Greinke who, along with Shelby Miller, shore up a starting pitching unit that ought to be significantly improved upon from last season. Paul Goldschmidt is a perennial MVP candidate and A.J. Pollock emerged last season as a star in the league. Projections expect this team to hover around or just below .500, but I feel like that’s underestimating this squad. The offense was there last season and ought to be potent again this year, throw in a powerful rotation, and I really like what I see in this team. They went 79-83 in 2015, and got much better this offseason.

But I can’t pick all three to make the playoffs which means I have to pick against one of them, so I’m leaving out the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016. It’s a bold prediction, but these things aren’t any fun if you don’t take some chances.

So here you go, my 2016 MLB predictions…

American League: Yankees, Royals, Astros, Rays, Rangers
National League: Nationals, Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, Cardinals

ALCS: Astros over Yankees
NLCS: Cubs over Giants

World Series: Cubs over Astros

AL MVP: Carlos Correa
NL MVP: Bryce Harper

AL CY: Chris Archer
NL CY: Zack Greinke

AL ROY: A.J. Reed
NL ROY: Corey Seager

-apc.

Image cred: The Washington Times accessed here.

2015 MLB Predictions

Congratulations, baseball fans. You did it. You successfully navigated the miserable winter months. Spring has arrived. And, save for a flurry of offseason moves and meaningless spring training games, you’ve been deprived of the game you love. But the wait is over.

Thankfully, for those of us in Kansas City, the offseason went by much faster this year due to it being one month shorter than it has been the previous 29 years. Still, it’s good to have baseball back.

Before I make my predictions for the 2015 season, let me quickly point out how wildly successful my 2014 predictions were. I, along with everyone else who predicted these things, whiffed on the AL East. I missed on the Pirates too, and made the mistake of picking against the A’s. But 7/10 ain’t bad.

So here we go. Let’s look into the future together. Postseason picks in italics. I’ve added ALCS/NLCS/WS/MVP/Cy Young winners this year too.

AL East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Baltimore Orioles
  3. Toronto Blue Jays
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Tampa Bay Rays

Another year of uncertainty in the AL East. The Red Sox reloaded adding Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The Yankees did nothing and appear fragile. The Blue Jays added Josh Donaldson but are young and lack a rotation. The Orioles were predicted to stink it up last year but ran away with the division and are likely under projected in 2015. The Rays are a dark horse as always.

Typically I refuse to buy into teams that spend tons of money to restock their teams. I think it takes a year to gel as a unit and establish an identity. However, the Red Sox rotation is already strong and on paper this is the best team in the division. Look for Mookie Betts to break out this year too.

AL Central

  1. Kansas City Royals
  2. Cleveland Indians
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins

Another wide open division, and one where I am obviously biased. The Indians return basically the same team but their defense is terrible. The Tigers added Yoenis Cespedes but lost Max Scherzer, and now Verlander is injured. The Royals are defending AL Champs and have lots of swagger, lost Billy Butler, James Shields and Nori Aoki but added Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen. The White Sox had perhaps the best offseason of any AL team. The Twins will not contend.

But I’m picking my hometown boys. People keep saying the Royals got worse in the offseason but I just don’t see it. Morales and Rios are both upgrades. Shields is gone, but Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura both have the potential to match his production. Plus they have three of the most sustainable strengths to their advantage: bullpen, defense and speed. I believe in this team, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Indians and Royals swap spots. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers absolutely tank and finish 4th.

AL West

  1. Seattle Mariners
  2. Oakland Athletics
  3. Los Angeles Angels
  4. Houston Astros
  5. Texas Rangers

I’m not going to make the mistake of picking against Oakland two years in a row. The A’s blew up their entire team and look like they’re probably going to win the Cactus League this year too, whatever that’s good for (absolutely nothing). The Angels and Mariners are both really good though and it’s hard to pick one of the three to miss. The Mariners just missed the playoffs last year. If they can stay healthy, I think they’ll run away with this division in 2015. The Angels will likely regress slightly and should still contend, but I think they’ll end up on the outside looking in. Houston will continue to improve – they appear to be trying out the Royals model of success in bolstering up their bullpen. The Rangers are going to be bad.

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Miami Marlins
  3. New York Mets
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

While the American League has all sorts of intrigue, the National League is a joke. Washington is going to run away with this division. They were already the best, and then they added Max Scherzer. The Marlins and Mets are both no slouch, but the Nats could win 100 games this year. The Marlins added Dee Gordon, Michael Morse and Mat Latos. They extended Giancarlos Stanton and get Jose Fernandez back from injury. The Mets get their ace back too in Matt Harvey. Plus both teams get 18 games against the Phillies and the Braves which ought to inflate their records a bit. They’ll be in the mix come September.

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Chicago Cubs
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

As has become the norm, this division race will be good, but the Cardinals will eventually pull away and the Pirates will separate themselves form the rest. The Cubs obviously got much better with the acquisition of Jon Lester, and if they can get their prospect trio – Kris Bryant, Jorge Solar and Javier Baez – into the majors sooner than later, they could manage to make a push in the second half. But I do think 2016 is their year to return to the playoffs.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Diego Padres
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. Colorado Rockies

The Dodgers are only going to be better from last year. They added Jimmy Rollins and dropped Matt Kemp. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher and best player in baseball, in my opinion. You can talk about Trout all you want, but Kershaw has the power to completely dominate a game. The Padres added Justin Upton, Kemp, and former Royal and Ray, Wil Myers. Their biggest addition is James Shields. Their bullpen is dominant too. They could do some damage, but I see them finishing as the first team out. The Giants got much worse this offseason with the loss of Panda, and with the injury to Pence. Plus, Madison Bumgarner is super overrated. The Rockies and D-Backs are…not great.

So my postseason looks like this:

AL: Red Sox, Royals, Mariners, Indians, Athletics
NL: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates, Marlins

ALCS: Mariners over Athletics
NLDS: Dodgers over Nationals

WS: Dodgers over Mariners

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Yasiel Puig

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

Here’s to a great 2015 MLB season! As always, I’ll be rooting for a 1985 rematch. (Which nearly happened last year. So close.)

-apc.

A Few Wacky ALCS Predictions

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The ALCS is upon us, and judging by the image above, I think we’ve all had way too long to prepare for this series.

Personally, I’ve been prepared since Sunday night. I refused to leave the Kauffman Stadium parking lot following our sweep of the Angels. The crowd erupted and so did the sky as it poured down rain and flashed lightning. It was like the whole universe was celebrating with us in the parking lot. There was no where to go (not that the traffic would’ve allowed it anyway) because there was no where else anyone would rather be.

At one point, in my raucous celebrating, I high fived a stranger and we accidentally hit elbows before we hit hands. I owe some poor guy out there an apology: Sir, if your forearm aches as badly as mine has over the last four days, I’m truly sorry. Although, gotta ask yourself, was it worth it?

We’ve gone four days now without Royals baseball, and the coverage both locally and nationally has been exhaustive. The national media has latched on to the Royals’ speed and how the Orioles are going to keep them from running wild. They’ve compared our lineups, our bullpens, our starters and our benches. They’ve started discussing whether the Royals will make a run at resigning James Shields for 2015 and beyond.

They’ve also finally noticed that Lorenzo Cain exists, which is a little disappointing to me because I loved him first. Sigh. This is probably how people who listen to Alt Nation on SiriusXM feel about music all the time.

Also, Lorenzo: congrats on Baby Cameron. I don’t even care that you gave him a nod-to-self middle name in “Loe.” I hope he and Nash Holland grow up to be best buds someday.

At this point, all the deep analysis that can be done has been done. We’ve exhausted our story lines. Now it’s time to play the games and laugh when a fielding error or wild pitch or swinging bunt determines the outcome of the game instead of an Orioles home run or a Royals stolen base. At a certain point, baseball is unpredictable. (Don’t believe me? Just check my postseason predictions. Triple woof.)

So how about some not-really-grounded-on-anything ALCS predictions that are probably a little bit wacky, but that could happen nonetheless, to get us revved up for Game 1 tonight in Baltimore? Some are wackier than others. Here we go.

Prediction 1: Steve Pearce has a miserable series at the plate for the O’s.

First of all, who is this guy? Pearce has gone from a nobody to arguably the Orioles MVP in 2014. Before this year, Pearce had never posted a WAR higher than 0.5 in his 7 year career. In fact, in three of those years he posted a negative WAR.

This year? He leads the team with a 6.0 WAR.

Which is just goofy, because again, who is this guy? And it’s fair that we don’t know who he is in KC because the Royals have never faced him this year. He played in 102 games, and none of them were against Kansas City. Lifetime against the Royals pitching staff: 6 plate appearances against Vargas (1-5, 1B, BB), 0-1 vs Wade Davis and 0-1 vs Jason Frasor. Frasor is the only one who faced him this year and that was back on July 1 when Frasor was with the Rangers.

From what I can tell, Pearce waits for his pitch, and if he doesn’t get it he either walks or strikes out. He likes the ball up in the zone. So as long as we can keep the ball down and get ahead in the count, Pearce is going to have a long series.

Prediction 2: Adam Jones homers off of Kelvin Herrera tonight.

Seems preposterous to think that anyone from the Royals bullpen would give up a home run at this point. They’ve been locked in all year. But here’s how I think it will go down.

Jones has great numbers against Shields: .304/.319/.522. He’s seen him a lot too since they used to be AL East rivals when James was with the Rays. My prediction: Ned Yost pulls Shields in the 7th and brings in Herrera to pitch the righty Jones. It’s the right move too: Jones is 1-6 with 2 Ks against Herrera and the 7th belongs to him anyway.

But Yost has to get yelled at for something, and this will be it. Hope I’m wrong.

Prediction 3: Eric Hosmer comes back to Earth while Alex Gordon leaves it.

Hosmer can’t sustain this kind of postseason success at the plate. Just no way. Alex Gordon got a giddy up off his huge triple in Game 3 of the Division Series. I’m predicting Hosmer regresses significantly while Gordon blasts off. Just feels right.

They both have terrific numbers against the entire pitching staff. Especially Wei-Yin Chen. This isn’t based on anything at all. Just a hunch. Feels like Gordon’s time.

Prediction 4: Christian Colon plays the hero at some point this series.

I’m not high on Omar Infante. He feels like a peripheral character on this team. While everyone else is having the time of their lives, Infante seems to just be…around. He has a weak arm at second base and will probably need shoulder surgery in the offseason.

Mike Moustakas, while swinging a hot bat, is slower than everyone not named Billy Butler. His defense is solid, his arm is good, but when we need speed on the bases late in a game, I don’t want him representing the tying run on first or second base.

Enter Christian Colon as a defensive, offensive or speed replacement. If a game goes long – which Royals postseason games tend to do, apparently – then Colon will end up taking one of those two spots in the field. He gives this team flexibility in all aspects of the game. I think he’ll find his way up to the plate or on the base paths in a key situation late in a game. Again, just feels right.

Prediction 5: Kansas City wins the ALCS in 5 games.

I trust James Shields and Yordano Ventura on the road. I trust Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie at home. And I obviously trust Shields at home too in Game 5.

Chris Tillman and Bud Norris are both quality pitchers who already have good starts this postseason. Chen is fine, but gave up 5 runs on 7 hits in 3.2 innings in his start last week. This game is going to get to Game 5 with the Royals up 3-1. Big Game James takes us the rest of the way and our boys get to celebrate in front of their own fans again on Wednesday.

What’s the word on champagne sales in Kansas City these days? Has to be through the roof, right?

-apc.

I should note: that glorious image at the top popped up on my twitter feed this morning here. Jeremy, hope you don’t mind I borrowed your pic. Also, if that image is any indication of your character, let’s be friends, okay?

2014 MLB Predictions

Opening Day is just five days away, and I figure now is probably the perfect time to go ahead and make my preseason predictions for the 2014 MLB season. I’ll look at each division for the regular season, and include who I think will take the Wild Card spots, but I’m not going to make any postseason/World Series predictions here. I’ll reserve that for later.

So here we go. This is how I think the MLB will shake out in 2014. Postseason teams are in italics.

AL East

1. Tampa Bay Rays
2. Boston Red Sox
3. New York Yankees
4. Baltimore Orioles

5. Toronto Blue Jays

The Red Sox starting pitching is still dominant, but they lost major pieces from last year’s championship team. The Rays resigned David Price and added closer Grant Balfour to their pen. They are young, and are the safest bet of any of the teams from the East. Yankees, as usual, spent insane money (Tanaka, Beltran, Ellsbury), but money spent doesn’t guarantee wins. And as poetic as it would be for Jeter to go out on top, it’s just not going to happen. Distractions galore = missed playoffs. The Orioles offense can only take them so far, and Ubaldo Jimenez doesn’t really solve their poor pitching in my opinion. As usual, this division will be a fight to the end, but I think the Rays come out on top and the Sox take a Wild Card Spot.

AL Central

1. Detroit Tigers
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Chicago White Sox

The Tigers rotation is arguably the best in the majors with the 5 starters projected to combine for 19.5 WAR according to ZiPS. Miguel Cabrera is one of the top two players in baseball (along with Mike Trout). Assuming they don’t have any more serious injuries beyond Jose Iglesias, they should be able to take the AL Central again in 2014. The Royals, however, will run away with 2nd place, and I think this is the year they end their postseason draught by snatching up the other Wild Card spot (Eeeeeek!! I have such high hopes, I know.) The Indians won’t match their 30 wins in 1-run games from last year and are bound to regress. Twins will improve. White Sox are the worst.

AL West

1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Texas Rangers
3. Oakland A’s
4. Seattle Mariners
5. Houston Astros

The Mariners were poised to make a move in this league at one point during the offseason. Signing Robinson Cano was huge, and King Felix will be as good as advertised, but losing starters Taijuan Walker and Hirashi Iwakuma for the first chunk of the season hurts badly. The Angels have a healthy Albert Pujols, tons of potential in Josh Hamilton, and the other best player in the game in Mike Trout. If their offense heats up, look out. The Rangers are overhyped in my opinion. This feels like the 2013 Blue Jays and 2012 Red Sox: awesome on paper, but can they make it click? Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder make this team better, but I’m not buying until next year. Also, after Yu Darvish, their starters are very average. (Although, this is probably just my inner Royals fan hoping the other WC comes out of the Central and not the West.)

NL East

1. Washington Nationals
2. Atlanta Braves
3. New York Mets
4. Miami Marlins
5. Philadelphia Phillies

The Nationals, if healthy, are going to be nasty in 2014. What’s interesting is that I wouldn’t be picking them #1 if the Braves hadn’t just lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy for the season. And even though they panicked and picked up Ervin Santana, he’s not enough to make up for the damages. The Braves locked up their entire young core of players to long term deals and they’ll be very good for a long time, but without their ace, Medlen, and Beachy, they’ll finish behind the bounce-back Nationals in 2014. Marlins, by the way, are going to be much improved this year I think.

NL Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Chicago Cubs

The Cardinals are the best overall team in baseball. They have no holes. They have the bench depth they lacked in the playoffs last year. The Wacha/Wainwright combo will be deadly and as long as Yadier Molina is behind the plate, they’re the favorites in this division. The Reds and Pirates are both playoff contenders, and it wouldn’t shock me if they both ended up with Wild Card spots like last year (but I think the Giants will take one of them away). I’m hoping Aroldis Chapman makes it back soon because the Reds need him closing very very badly. It’ll be another “maybe next year” season for the Cubbies, but they’ll start climbing the standings over the next couple seasons.

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres

Simply put, when Kershaw and Grienke start a third of your games, you’re going to win your division. Throw in a stacked lineup and a chip on their shoulder after missing out on the World Series last year, and I think they’re primed to win this division big. Plus they’re already 2-0 after that Australia fiasco. However, the Giants have been sleeping on basically the same roster as their 2012 championship team. With Buster Posey back, a 40 lb lighter Pablo Sandoval, and a short-haired Tim Lincecum, they’ll get back to winning in 2014. But this division is the Dodgers to lose.

So my projected 2014 playoff teams are:

AL: Rays, Tigers, Angels, Red Sox, Royals
NL: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants, Reds

And, as always, I’ll be rooting hard for a 1985 rematch.

-apc.