2016 Season Picks!!

It’s that time of year again!! Spring Training is almost over (thank God) and it is now the time when sports writers, pundits, and 23-year-old baseball bloggers are making their picks. Last year, I did really really really really bad with my picks. I’m still embarrassed by them (Red Sox winning the AL East?!? What was I thinking?!), so hopefully this year I will do better. Of course, none of these picks will matter because it’s an even year, which means the Giants are going to win the World Series no matter what. Hell, they will probably find some way to win the World Series even if they miss the postseason.

Okay, let’s so this!

AL East: Toronto Blue Jays

I’m going with the Jays because they have a lot of momentum from last year and their line-up is full of assassins who can launch a baseball. The trick will be their rotation, because it will certainly not be the best in the AL East. They lost David Price to free agency, but they have a great young pitcher in Marcus Stroman who is poised for a big year. A lot of people are picking the Red Sox to win the division, but there are too many questions in my mind: What will the rotation look like behind David Price? Will Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez produce like they are supposed to, and those two be sound defensively? The Sox have amazing young talent on their team, but I wonder if they can collectively win games. The Yankees will be good this year, but I don’t think they can out-slug the Jays for the division title. They will be great defensively and I am salivating just thinking about Luis Severino taking the mound every fifth day. Let’s just hope Masahiro Tanaka’s arm doesn’t fall off! And, we cannot forget about the three-headed monster of a shut-down bullpen the Yanks have… As far as the Tampa Bay Rays are concerned, I don’t see them as a huge threat, but this is a team that will absolutely play spoiler. Their ace, Chris Archer, is one of the coolest guys in MLB and definitely someone his team can rally behind. The Orioles are a team I just can’t figure out. Very few free agents went to Baltimore this off-season and they gave Chris Davis a massive contract to stay with the team (which was WAY too big if you ask me). They can hit and they can pitch, but I can’t see them prying the division title away from the Jays, Yankees, or even the Red Sox.

AL Central: Kansas City Royals

Shocker! Nah, not really. The Royals are still the darlings of the American League and that should not change going into 2016. They kept their core group of guys together and the only big losses they took were Even Longoria and Johnny Cueto, the latter of whom did not live up to expectations in KC anyway. They have an emerging ace in Yordano Ventura, and if he can just keep his temper, it will be awesome to watch him this year. The Tigers should be better than last year. Justin Verlander looked great during the last half of 2015 and I expect him to have a more Verlander-y season than he did last year. Their offense is good and they have one of the best players on the planet in Miguel Cabrera, but I don’t think they will be good enough to best the Royals and snatch the division. Another team that is interesting to me is the Cleveland Indians. They have silently built one of the best rotations in baseball, led by Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, and they have a decent line-up. The White Sox may have had the loudest Spring Training, but not for the reasons they would like. After the Adam LaRoche dispute, the Sox clubhouse is clearly not happy with the front office and probably not happy with each other. Will they fracture or unite? They have the talent and an ace pitcher in Chris Sale, so if they can come together, they might have something cooking. Lastly, we have the Twins who were a lot better last year than anyone was really expecting. Can they defy expectations again this year? Sure, why not? They have a bright future in the Twin Cities, but will this year kick start that? I don’t think so, but they proved me wrong last year.

AL West: Texas Rangers

This could really go either way –  the Rangers or the Houston Astros. In my mind, those are the only two teams who have a real shot at winning this division. The Rangers are going to get Yu Darvish back later this year (he was out last year because of the dreaded Tommy John surgery) and they have a stud pitcher in Cole Hammels. They also have the bats to carry them on the days when the pitching wavers. The Astros have so much young talent that it is almost mind-boggling. They made some productive moves in the off-season that will only improve upon everything they accomplished last year. The other three teams in the division just have no viable way to win the division. The Seattle Mariners were the sexy pick last year (for me included!), but they vastly under-whelmed. Yes they have Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, but that probably won’t be enough to win the division, even though they made a lot of positive moves in the off-season. The Angels are more or less hosed because Mike Trout can’t play all nine positions. They rotation is decent, but not great, and the offense is streaky. They seem to always be in contention until the end of the season, though, so I can’t rule them out 100%. Lastly, you have the Oakland A’s, who also under-performed lasted year. Billy Bean has a way of making things happen in Oakland, but I can’t see them doing as well as the Rangers or Astros. It’s not that these teams are all bad, it’s just that they are nowhere near as complete as the teams from Texas.

NL East: New York Mets

The reason they will win the division is simple: they have Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard in their starting rotation. With those three, plus everyone’s favorite roley-poley pitcher Bartolo Colon, they are going to be hard to play against. If they can hit, they will win the division no problem. Their defense could be a little suspect, but it’s nothing I would worry about. After all, you don’t use the defense much if your pitchers are just striking everyone out. The Washington Nationals are an interesting team because they have more talent than you can shake a bat at, but it just never seems to click. Reining NL MVP Bryce Harper is bring the swagger into baseball and it’s amazing, but will swagger (and many many homeruns) win ballgames? The Marlins big splash this winter was hiring Barry Bonds as a hitting coach, which was f-ing brilliant if you ask me. Hopefully, this team will start to mash and hopefully Giancarlo Stanton can stay healthy all year. They also have Jose Fernandez leading their rotation, so they are sure to be better than last year. Good enough to win the division? No. The Atlanta Braves are still in rebuild-mode, so there is not a ton of reason to be optimistic this season, but we are starting to see their young talent coming to the big leagues and that is really exciting. Plus, the Braves have Nick Swisher, who is basically a one-man bro party. He’s not super helpful to the team most days, but I guess he’s entertaining…The Phillies are gonna Phillie, which in this case means they are playing for fun because they have no real reason to play for a spot in the postseason. I say this with love, though, because my dad lives less than hour from Philly and I have met a lot of sad Phillies fans during my visits. I get it. I can relate to their pain – remember, I’ve been a long-struggling D-Backs fan since I can remember. The struggle is real. It will get better! Just not this year. Sorry Phillies fans.

NL Central: Chicago Cubs

I AM NOT PICKING THE CARDINALS TO WIN THIS DIVISION SURELY THIS MEANS THE END OF TIMES IS NEAR. Nah, the Cubbies are just better this year. I am officially on the Cub Bus because I think they could go to the World Series in 2016. Up and down the roster, the Cubs just have a better team than the Cardinals. Both teams have extraordinary depth, but with the Cubs swiping Jason Heyward and John Lackey from the Cards, the scales tip in their favor. The Cardinals will still use their voodoo magic and find a way to make it to the postseason because that’s just what they do. It’s the Cardinal Way. The Pittsburg Pirates will probably be very good this year, and it’s really unfair that they are in the same division as the always good Cardinals and now the really good Cubs. The Pirates have a solid rotation, good defense, and good offense. They keep drawing the short straw with their division and it’s just not fair. The three aforementioned teams will be very good, but the other two teams in the division will not be good. Those poor Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds! Both teams are in full rebuild-mode and it’s going to be a rough season for the fans (might I recommend Bud Light Lime to sooth your souls?). Both teams have bright futures, but it will take a few years to get there.

NL West: San Francisco Giants

This was the hardest division to pick. Ultimately, I have to go with Giants (UUUGGGHHH) because it’s an even-numbered year and they made some good improvements this past offseason. However, their rotation behind Madison Bumgardner is looking a bit suspect coming out of Spring Training – Jeff Samardjiza is having a horrible spring and coming off a down year with the White Sox, and Johnny Cueto is having some injury concerns. The good news for the Giants is their defense is superb and they have the offense needed to carry them into the postseason. Most people will pick the Dodgers to win the division, which is fair, but I have too many questions about them. Injuries are decimating their rotation and the pitchers they do have, aside from Clayton Kershaw, are iffy. They have amazing talent coming up from the farm, but will it be enough to win the division? The Arizona Diamondbacks are going to be really good this year. Really, really good. Last year, they had one of the best offenses and one of the best defenses, and now this year, they have one of the best rotations. Stealing Zack Greinke from the Dodgers was huge, as was the trade for Shelby Miller. However, I am most excited to watch Patrick Corbin, whose 2014 and half of 2015 was lost to Tommy John. He’s such a dynamic Southpaw who is due for a huge season. The D-Backs also have sweet new uniforms – I like their “home” pants the best because it looks like they’ve been walking through the blood of their enemies. The San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies will probably be awful again. The Padres grand experiment from last year failed miserably and they will still be picking up the pieces from the fallout this year. Colorado is always predictably bad, but fans can always take comfort in their consistency. And they can take comfort in Colorado’s pot, you know, ’cause that’s legal there.

AL Wild Cards: Houston Astros and New York Yankees

I think both of these teams are going to be good this year. The Astros are going to have another great year, no doubt about it. The Yankees are also going to have a good year, so long as their offense isn’t as streaky as it was last year and their rotation stays healthy.

NL Wild Cards: St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks

I am picking the D-Backs over the Dodgers for this spot because I think the D-Backs are going to defy the odds and have a better season, and I am picking the Cardinals because if I don’t, they will probably use their voodoo on me and something bad will happen. But for real, can you just imagine how great of Wild Card game this would be? Greinke vs. Adam Wainwright…oh yeah. That’s the stuff.

 

So there you have it! My picks for the 2016 season are in and I regret them already.

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MLB in Cuba

Sometimes, a baseball game comes along that reminds you of why you love the game so much.

Today, watching the exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban baseball team, reminded me of not just why I love baseball, but why I love sports.

Yes, the baseball game was almost like a prop in a larger political scheme, but let’s not undermine the magnitude of this game. For the first time since 1998, Major League Baseball played a game in Cuba, a country with whom the USA has not had a great relationship (to put it lightly). After the travel ban to Cuba was lifted, MLB made the decision to play a spring training against the Cuban National team.

Sitting side-by-side for the first part of the game was President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. Seeing these two leaders laugh and cheer on their country’s respective teams was a sight for sore eyes. Slowly but surely barriers are being broken down and relationships are being mended (and two presidents actually did The Wave). Regardless of your political affiliations, you have to admit that it is pretty cool that Obama got to watch a baseball game in Cuba. Yes, the Cuban government needs to change, and there is understandable trepidation over reaching out to Cuba. I don’t want to get political with this post, because that will just piss people off, but it was encouraging to see these two countries building bridges, even if it was over something as simple as a game of baseball.

Sports are wonderful because they are one of the best ways to unite people. During the Olympics, athletes from all over world are united and the entire world watches. We don’t look at athletes from different countries and think about how much America is supposed to hate them – we marvel at how fast they can run, swim, ski, or skate. In a way, sports bring out the best in humanity because it allows us to bridge the divides in our everyday life. It can be a small gesture, like talking about the Yankees with the man sitting next to you with whom you would never normally speak, or it can be as important as playing a baseball game in Cuba.

No matter what horrific things are happening in the world, no matter what stresses we are facing, no matter how hard life can get, we have sports to momentarily take all of that away. For three hours, fans are united in cheering for their teams, their favorite players, and coming together for a wonderfully unique experience unlike any other.

Man, thank God for sports.

You’re Kid-ing me

Adam LaRoche walked away from baseball yesterday because his 14 year-old kid was no longer allowed to hang out in the White Sox clubhouse everyday.

Wait, what?

At first, when I read this story, I had a hard time believing that this was really true. I mean, who forfeits $13 Million/year because you can’t find a babysitter? Then I remembered it’s Spring Training and who gives a crap about someone’s kid hanging out in the clubhouse? The more I thought about it, the more I understood why LaRoche was upset. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the White Sox higher-ups are making a mountain out of a 14 year-old mole hill.

Baseball players play 162 games every year, which means 81 of those games are on the road. About two-thirds of their home games are played at night and they don’t get home until well after 10pm. If you’re doing the math (which I’m not, because math sucks), you can see how little baseball players get to see their families. In fact, many players live in AZ or FL during the off-season so they can spend more time with their families during Spring Training. Many families don’t even live in the same city of the player’s team. Long story short, baseballers don’t get to see their kids that often, so it makes sense that their kids would hang out during Spring Training.

If your kid is well-behaved, I don’t see a huge issue with them in the clubhouse during Spring Training. If they stay out of the way and don’t cause a ruckus, who cares? The argument the White Sox front office used is “what other job allows for your kid to be there?”. My responses to that is: what other job forces you to hardly see your family for half the year?

Most of the other players in the clubhouse had no issue with LaRoche’s son being there, but I could understand why you might. You can’t say bad words in front of him, and you can’t tell your gross hook up stories in front of him, but that’s not the end of the world! At no other job do you get to swear freely or divulge the weird things you do when you’re not on the clock.

I guess what I am getting at is that it really isn’t a big deal to have kids in the clubhouse during Spring Training. If your kid is acting like the Tasmanian Devil, then yeah, find a daycare, but if your kid is well-behaved and stays out of the way, then enjoy the bonding time! Goodness knows you don’t get to watch your kids grow up while you’re on the road. You don’t get to tuck your kid in every night during the season. So go ahead, let your kid hang out in the clubhouse, all these stuffy writers and front office people be damned!

The White Sox have a valid argument, sure. You want to set a precedent and create a professional environment. Adam LaRoche was, in my opinion, dumb for walking away from the $13 million he was set to make this year. The whole situation is dumb if you ask me, but hey, I don’t make the rules.

However, if Adam’s kid every even looks at his dad wrong, Adam can be all like “I quit baseball for you”. Boom. Mic drop.

 

30 Games

A few quick thoughts on Yankees’ relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman’s 30-game suspension…

  1. 30 games seems a bit low.
  2. It seems like it was a negotiated amount, but that’s just me.
  3. I have a lot of respect for Rob Manfred, even though I don’t agree with his punishment.

To expand on my first point, I was expecting him to be suspended for about forty-five games. Given the harrowing details of his alleged crime (gun shooting and choking are the headliners), I was surprised the he will only have to sit out a little over a month. However, I will admit, as a huge Yankees fan, I am a little pleased I get to watch him pitch as soon as May…

I feel like his suspension was negotiated because he has elected not to appeal. He just wants to get it over with and there is no way MLB wants to start the 2016 season with a lawsuit. Not only that, but a suspension of 45 days would delay his free agency by a year. This means that after the 2016 season, he is eligible to be a free agent (and he will get PAID this off-season). I think had he been suspended for longer than 30 games, he would have absolutely appealed the decision. People also are saying that if his free agency was postponed for a year, that is a win for the Yankees, who many felt made a grave mistake pursuing a man who was accused of DV. I don’t care if it would be a “win” for the Yanks – a longer suspension still sends a message that DV is not okay.

Though I don’t agree with the length of the suspension, I have nothing but respect for Commissioner Manfred’s reasoning. In the statement he released, he made it abundantly clear how important the victim was in his consideration. He said the use of a firearm impacted the severity of the suspension, as it should. It is so so so so so important that we do not forget the victims of these domestic disputes.

Chapman is going to be suspended without pay for 30 games. Fine. I have no tolerance for a man who puts his hands on a woman (or visa-versa), but this is a good start. The NFL looked ridiculous for it’s handling of Ray Rice and Greg Hardy, and I don’t think MLB will be viewed the same way. In a way, this is a big win for baseball.

Final quick thought: The Yankees should donate Chapman’s salary for the games he will miss to Joe Torre’s Safe At Home domestic violence foundation.