Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XX: Aroldis Chapman Arrives and Chris Sale Destroys)

Written by :
Published on : July 29, 2016

 

 

Man, I thought that with the trade deadline still a few days away, this week would end up being a snooze. But Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were officially inducted into the Hall of Fame, Aroldis Chapman was traded to the Chicago Cubs and Chris Sale joined the fashion police and went all Mark Fuhrman on some throwbacks. So let’s get in to it.

 

The first major shoe to drop before this year’s trade deadline was Aroldis Chapman going to the Cubs for Gleyber Torres (the #26 prospect in the Majors), Adam Warren, Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. And it may be giving up a lot, but it looks like Theo Epstein believes this is the year and is going all in. And Addison Russell also exists, is only 22 and doesn’t leave a lot of room for any potential shortstops in the Cubs’ farm system.

 

Chapman does come with some baggage, to say the least. Last December, he allegedly choked his girlfriend and then shot up his garage, although no charges were filed and he already served a 30-game suspension earlier in the year. And those allegations are horrible. But honestly, the better he does in Chicago, the more the Cubs’ fan base will be willing to let them slide and give the flamethrower a second chance to be a better person.

 

 

All of that aside, Chapman was the biggest name in the deadline talks. The Cubs acquiring him also means that the Nationals and Giants didn’t. And they didn’t have to give up Kyle Schwarber in the process of addressing their most glaring weakness. Chapman debuted at Wrigley Field on Wednesday and threw 103 mph, so I’m guessing most of the critics on the North Side will be willing to move foreword. It’s not ideal for me either, but I know that sometimes shitty people are great at baseball.

 

As far as Chris Sale goes, wow. He didn’t want to wear the infamously hideous 1976 collared throwbacks because he said they were uncomfortable so he took a pair of scissors and destroyed them. Those are the same jerseys, mind you, that the White Sox wore with fucking SHORTS for the first game of a doubleheader that same year. I’d guess they’re on every short list for the ugliest jerseys in baseball history. Although it’s amazing that it happened, Sale’s antics earned him a five-game internal suspension and sparked a sea of trade rumors with the Dodgers, Red Sox, Rangers, Blue Jays and virtually every other potential playoff team. And I’ll go ahead and say that it’s probably not even the weirdest clubhouse incident to happen to the White Sox in 2016. But this is the type of awesome scumbag baseball lore that will stick around for a long time.

 

chicago-white-sox 1976

 

Over the weekend, Griffey and Piazza were formally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. And that led a lot of baseball pundits to ask the yearly question of, “Which current players could retire and make the Hall of Fame right now?” And I always shake my head when guys like Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and Buster Posey are even brought into the conversation. You have to play 10 years in the Majors to even be considered for the Hall of Fame, everybody. So that rules all of them out.

 

Then you have to assume that anybody with a PED suspension is also eliminated, which takes care of Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, whether or not they would have made it in otherwise. David Ortiz also tested positive in 2003. So unless views on steroid use softens in the next decade, those guys aren’t getting in either.

 

So, who would get in? Good question. Here are the 10 most-likely if everyone’s careers were over right now.

 

1. Albert Pujols

579 career Home Runs. 3 MVP Awards. I can just stop talking there. But I’ll also tell you that JAWS ranks him as the second-best first baseman of all-time. Definite.

 

2. Miguel Cabrera
2 MVP Awards. 2 HR titles. 4 batting titles. A triple crown. JAWS has him as the 11th best first-baseman of all time. Definite.

 

3. Ichiro Suzuki
He’s closing in on 3000 hits. An MVP Award. 2 batting titles. 10 Gold Gloves. Definite.

 

4. Adrian Beltre
427 HR. 2862 hits. JAWS ranks him as the 5th best third baseman of all time. Very Probable.

 

5. Carlos Beltran

I talked about him earlier this year. But 412 HR. 2554 hits. JAWS says he’s the 8th best center fielder of all time. Probable.

 

6. Joe Mauer
3 batting titles. An MVP award. JAWS ranks him as the 9th best catcher of all time. Maybe.

 

7. Robinson Cano
261 HR for a second-baseman. That’s 6th all-time. He’s also 20th in hits. And JAWS says he’s the 14th-best second baseman of all time. Probably Not.

 

8. Chase Utley
242 HR at second. That’s good for 10th all time. JAWS says he’s 11th-best at second base. Probably Not.

 

9. Joe Nathan
He’s 8th all-time in saves. JAWS says he’s the 18th-best reliever of all time. No.

 

10. Dustin Pedroia

He’s got an MVP award and 2 rings. JAWS says he’s the 21st-best second baseman of all time. No.

 

Okay. As you can see it’s pretty bleak. So I’ll give you the next 10 guys on my list, based on Bill James’ Hall of Fame Standards Ranking. And just note that a 50 is the average for a Hall of Famer.

 

CC Sabathia (42), Matt Holliday (42), Jimmy Rollins (42), Victor Martinez (38), David Wright (36), Troy Tulowitzki (36), Hanley Ramirez (36), Joey Votto (34), Jose Reyes (34), Brian McCann (33). By the way, Yadier Molina has a 26. So everyone can shut up about him.

 

Okay. Let’s go around the league.

 

The American League

It looks like the Blue Jays and Red Sox are going to make some more moves. And that the Rays will be unloading some pitching. But even with Chapman gone, the Yankees are still in the best position to benefit before the deadline. You could still argue that they’re not dead yet (6.5 back in the division, 4 back in the Wild Card), but Andrew Miller’s trade value went up even higher. And he’s the new #1 on everyone’s list. Well, except for the Cubs.

 

Miller

 

I think it’s funny that on Tuesday, Chris Tillman, Steven Wright and Danny Salazar all had bad outings, so people started asking who the AL Cy Young should be and if anyone even wanted it. ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor has Zach Britton, Tillman, Sale, Cole Hamels and Salazar in their top 5. Here’s mine.

 

1. Masahiro Tanaka    3.3 WAR    3.25 FIP    3.00 ERA
2. Aaron Sanchez       3.0 WAR    3.36 FIP    2.72 ERA
3. Corey Kluber          3.7 WAR    2.91 FIP    3.44 ERA
4. Jose Quintana        3.1 WAR    3.46 FIP    2.97 ERA
5. Danny Salazar        2.7 WAR    3.31 FIP    2.89 ERA

 

Also, Prince Fielder is out for the year. But I’m sure we’ll know a lot more about the state of teams like the Rangers and Indians and whoever else after Monday’s deadline. Saying anything else would just be wild speculation. Let’s move on.

 

The National League

It looks like the Nationals are losing faith in Jonathan Papelbon, so if Andrew Miller lands anywhere, Washington is just as good of a guess as any. The other main names still on the market in the NL are Jeremy Hellickson, Jonathan Lucroy, Jay Bruce, Carlos Gonzalez, Will Smith and Andrew Cashner. The Cubs could still go after a veteran bat. And the Dodgers want the entire Rays’ pitching staff, since they don’t have one of their own. Who’s ready for Monday?

 

Okay. That does it for this week. If you need more baseball, check me out on Comedians Talking Sports with Joe Kilgallon on iTunes. And in the meantime, Ichiro needs 3 hits and the Cubs’ Magic Number is 56.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XIX: The Damn Yankees)

Written by :
Published on : July 22, 2016

 

 

Heard any good rumors lately? I don’t know about you, but this trade deadline can’t come soon enough for me. And it still won’t be here by the time I post next week. So I’m gonna have to be patient, even though it’s only so much fun to keep hearing, “The Indians need a catcher… something, something, Jonathan Lucroy.” The only fun part about the wait is that the Yankees have gone from an also-ran in the American League East to The Most Interesting Team in the World. Joe Girardi said their game on Sunday with the Red Sox was must-win. And not only did they win that game, they also took three in a row from the Orioles. So the “Will They?/Won’t They?” scenario for Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and whoever else they’d be unloading became even cloudier.

 

Sure, there’s a logjam of three teams (the Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays) ahead of them in their own division. But on Wednesday, the Yankees were two games over .500 for the first time since they were 4-2 on April 12th. And they’re still only 6.5 back in the division, and 5.5 in the Wild Card. If I’m being completely honest, as a Cubs fan, part of me hopes they do absolutely nothing. Just sit there and go down with the ship. I’d love it if the Cubs found a reasonable way to get either of those guys, but I also know how un-fun it’s going to be when I wake up some morning next week and see that Chapman was sent to the Nationals and Miller went to the Giants. So yeah, I kinda want Brian Cashman to be an idiot here. Pride of the Yankees, baby!

 

 Miller

 

If I’m being completely objective, the Yankees totally need to sell. They’re only projected at 11% to make the postseason anyway, according to FanGraphs. And their upcoming schedule isn’t making it any easier on them. Plus, the amount of quality prospects that so many other teams would be willing to give up for Miller and/or Chapman and his 105.1-mph fastball should have them salivating. But this is the Yankees we’re talking about. They’re having a hard enough time admitting that a roid-free, 40-year-old A-Rod probably shouldn’t be their DH of the future.

 

To paraphrase Marsellus Wallace from Pulp Fiction, “The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts. It never helps. You fight through that shit. Cause a year from now, when you kicking it in the Caribbean, you’re gonna say to yourself, ‘Mike Bridenstine was right.'”

 

Okay, lets go around the league…

 

The AL East

 

The verdict still isn’t in on the Drew Pomeranz trade. Some people think his acquisition means the Red Sox are World Series-bound. Other people think they gave up too much in Anderson Espinoza just to get a back of the rotation guy who will probably suck in the division. If his first start in Boston is any indication, it’s actually a little bit of both. Pomeranz got chased in the 4th on Wednesday against the Giants, after allowing five runs. But then Hanley Ramirez hit three home runs and the Red Sox won the eighth game in their last nine chances. But hey, the Blue Jays are surging, the Orioles will get over their stomach bugs at some point and the Red Sox are just one more bad start from David Price away from thinking the sky is falling once again.

 

The AL Central

The Twins fired their GM this week and yeah, they’re probably going to be the first team in the American League to be mathematically eliminated. It’s only July, but that elimination number is 48 in the division and 51 in the Wild Card. Meanwhile, the Indians are running away with the Central. We know they’re gonna be buyers (they actually need relief pitching, a catcher and a bat), but I’m just as interested to see what the Tigers (4.5 out in the Wild Card) and White Sox (7 back) decide to do. Also, I’m probably going to have to say the same thing next week because this stretch of games between the All-Star break and the trade deadline is really just a bullshit holding pattern. Oh, but I guess Ned Yost has met five Presidents. So that’s cool. No word on if he’s met Trump yet.

 

The AL West

The Rangers are banged up, they have a 4-14 record since June 28th and they actually have lower playoff projections than the Astros do now. And the Astros just picked up Yulieski Gurriel from Cuba, even though they also have Alex Bregman and might not have anywhere to put him. And the Angels haven’t lost since the break, which is a terrible time to finally get hot. But at least Rich Hill and his blisters probably saved a lot of teams from dumping hotshot prospects to the A’s just to get a 36-year-old journeyman with a 4.23 career ERA.

 

The NL East

 

Well, Stephen Strasburg finally lost. Not that pitcher wins and losses matter to me. But at this point, it’s almost settled business that the Nationals are going to win the division. And the projection gods aren’t in love with the Marlins or Mets the rest of the way. Even though Giancarlo Stanton has to get better at some point (right?). And even though Jacob deGrom is quietly becoming a Cy Young candidate in New York once again. But mostly everyone wants to speculate on where Jeremy Hellickson of the Phillies is going to wind up. Like I keep saying, August 1st can’t come fast enough.

 

The NL Central

The Cubs finally have their swagger back. As well as the best record in baseball (thanks Giants!). And everybody seems to love this Mike Montgomery trade. And with Clayton Kershaw out for the foreseeable future, it frees up Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to win co-MVPs and Jake Arrieta to get hot and win his second Cy Young. Now we just have to wait for Dexter Fowler to come back, Jason Hammel to eat more potato chips, Kyle Hendricks to keep things up and the Cubs to land one of those Yankees closers without giving up the farm. Then we got it made! See, I can play best-case-scenario make believe too. I just don’t know what to make of the Cardinals, who the projections gods do love. I just have to hope that their hacker karma gets the best of them.

 

The NL West

The Giants haven’t won since the All-Star break, which has to be frustrating. The last team to go in to the break with the best record in baseball and then lose five in a row after were the ’91 Dodgers, who didn’t end up making the playoffs that year. Uh oh. The Giants’ starters haven’t been good. They almost got no-hit by Drew Pomeranz’ replacement in San Diego. They had that balk-off the night before. And don’t forget Yangervis Solarte’s nacho cheese ball during the three-game sweep. By a team that’s aggressively selling, mind you. It has to be equally frustrating for them that the Dodgers are somehow 13-7 since Kershaw went down with his back injury. They were seven games under .500 without him, prior to actually losing him. So I guess that means the Dodgers’ offense has to keep them afloat until they decide whether or not Kershaw needs season-ending surgery. And remember: Kershaw can’t blow it for them in the playoffs if he’s not there. Watch them win the whole thing now.

 

 

Okay. That does it for this week. If you need more baseball, you can listen to me on Comedians Talking Baseball with Joe Kilgallon, available on iTunes. Until then, Ichiro needs 6 hits and the Cubs’ magic number is 62.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode II)

Written by :
Published on : March 8, 2016

 

 

Yoenis Cespedes is almost single-handedly making me want to root for the Washington Nationals in the NL East this year. After the Mets gave Cespedes a $27.5 million salary ($22.5 million more than the hated-but-much-better Bryce Harper makes in Washington), he’s turned their Spring Training camp into a a daily episode of MTV Cribs, with multiple custom cars, two tricked-out Polaris Slingshots and a fire-breathing Lamborghini Aventador. All custom-designed by some guy in Miami who is probably not a total douchebag of the worst kind or anything. Now Cespedes is buying $7,000 grand champion hogs at county fairs, slaughtering them and riding horses to work. We get it, you’re MC Hammer.

 

The thing is, for all the love that Cespedes, the Mets and their pitching staff is getting right now, it was the Nationals who were in their same position this time last season. Now the Nats have Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman back for full seasons. And while Max Scherzer and a healthy Stephen Strasburg may not be deGrom-Harvey-Syndergaard, they’re still pretty fucking formidable. Especially since Scherzer is the best pitcher in the National League not named Clayton Kershaw. And despite all the fanfare, Steven Matz’ projections are pretty pedestrian, Bartolo Colon will be 43-years-old in May and Zack Wheeler’s stats don’t really inspire awe right now either.

 

Hate you.

 

There’s a bit of a drop-off in the rotation after the Mets’ Big Three. So I could see an argument why Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross actually round out a better overall rotation than the pitching Murderer’s Row/Greatest Staff Ever in Queens. And I haven’t even talked about Lucas Giolito yet. Call me crazy, but with identical Vegas odds (89.5 wins) and my growing hatred of the 22nd-best hitter in baseball (Cespedes), I am thinking the Nats’ luck can’t be nearly as bad as it was last year. Now somebody just needs to call Dusty Baker and remind not to do to Strasburg what he did to Mark Prior back in Chicago.

 

Around the League

Last week, I named Carlos Correa as my pick for AL MVP. This week, I’ve also made up my mind on my AL Cy Young choice and it’s Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. If you ask me, he should have won the award last year since he had the best FIP and second-highest WAR in the league. But as of now, he’s the best pitcher of the past 2-3 years who still hasn’t brought home the hardware. I think he’s due. And it’d be nice if his teammates scored some runs for him to help in his cause. I’m sure Sox teammate Jose Quintana feels the same way since it’s probably not fun for someone with a 3.18 FIP to go 9-10 on the year. That’s approaching 2015 Corey Kluber-level ridiculousness.

 

In the National Leauge, the Cy Young is always Clayton Kershaw’s to lose. I know that. You know that. Everybody knows that. But what do you want me to do – actually pick Clayton Kershaw? That’s no fun. That’s like picking Mike Trout to win AL MVP. It’s actually probably even easier than that. You gotta go bolder sometimes. And so I’m going to chose somebody else who’s never won it, and that’s Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants. His projections are among the league leaders (with Kershaw, Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Strasburg and Jose Fernandez), but MadBum is also looking at a league-topping 17-18 wins for the Giants. And that’s how Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel put the award away last year. I’d love to think another very-good-but-never-won-it player, Jon Lester of the Cubs, could have been my choice. But I already got my miracle pitching season out of Arrieta last year, so I can’t be too greedy. Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija may be bust risks in San Fran this year, but Bumgarner never is.

 

Death, taxes and MadBum.

 

Also, since the Red Sox-loving media has spent about as much time as it could the past two weeks gushing over David Price and Craig Kimbrel and then crying about Pablo Sandoval’s tummy, this week they seem to have moved on to gushing over Mookie Betts. Next week I assume they’ll move on to Xander Bogaerts. But for now, did you know that Mookie Betts is also the greatest bowler of all time? You didn’t? Well he is. I don’t know how that will help the Red Sox to not finish in last place for the third straight year, but anyway, Mookie Betts, Mookie Betts, Mookie Betts. If you’re a Yankees fun, your current Mookie Betts is Andrew Miller. He’s the reason you can rest assured that the same Aroldis Chapman you were super excited to have signed in the offseason is also the guy you can now be like, “30 game suspension? Pffffff. We have Andrew Miller!” My own personal Mookie Betts this week is Addison Russell of the Cubs. I love my Barry Larkin Starter Kit. And did you see the monster bomb he hit in Arizona in the second game? It went so far that it totally didn’t make me give a shit if he could bowl at all.

 

Alright. We’ve got four weeks to go before the season starts. And I need all of this to distract me from whatever insane shit happened in the 2016 Presidential race this week. I might even suggest Yoenis Cespedes as a third party write-in candidate. A Cuban-born New York billionaire who loves publicity? He’s like all the GOP candidates wrapped into one. Which gives John Kasich another reason to drop out since he doesn’t fit into this equation either. I’d actually be hard-pressed to think of many things inside the Yoenis Cespedes/John Kasich venn diagram. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. Four more weeks of Spring Training, baby! And I’ll be heading to Arizona to see the Cubs in three. If you see a Polaris Slingshot in the parking lot, it’s totally mine.

 

 

Angelino in the Outfield (Episode 1)

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode I)

Written by :
Published on : February 27, 2016

 

 

Last week on Monday Night Raw, Shane McMahon made a shocking return to the WWE after a six year absence. And it was soon announced that he’d be facing the Undertaker inside ‘Hell in a Cell’ at WrestleMania 32. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, Theo Epstein happened to be watching. Because just three days later, Dexter Fowler’s surprise return to the Cubs was as close to a WWE-style swerve as an actual non-scripted sport can get. The only thing it was missing was cued-up entrance music (“My Way” by Fetty Wap, would have been perf) and his Cubs teammates chanting ‘holy shit’ and ‘this is awesome’ (clap clap clap clap clap) after the big reveal.

 

Until that very moment, the consensus foregone conclusion was that Fowler had signed with the Baltimore Orioles. It was speculated and anticipated for weeks by baseball’s talking head community until it evolved into a full-blown fact. Right up until the moment it wasn’t. And after receiving a text that just said “Fowler!” from my ‘Go Cubs’ iPhone message group, I was so confused and skeptical that I didn’t believe the news until I actually saw the video of a 6’5″ dude in street clothes who looked a lot like Dexter Fowler walking onto the field with a guy who looked a lot like Theo Epstein and being greeted by a group of guys in Cubs uniforms who looked exactly like the rest of the Chicago Cubs. It wouldn’t take long for a meme to go out on social media with Steve Harvey holding the Miss Universe card and saying, “DEXTER FOWLER HAS SIGNED WITH THE ORIOLES.”

 

 Fowler will be back with the Cubs.

 

And while I could talk about what the Fowler signing means for the 2016 Cubs (the best team in baseball on paper just got better, Jason Heyward can now move back to right field where he’s won three Gold Gloves and it creates an insanely flexible lineup depth with Fowler, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber in the other outfield slots, etc.), it’s probably best to use this as further proof that conventional wisdom at the start of Spring Training doesn’t necessarily equate to actual regular season results. And everything we think we know about the 2016 season before it starts is probably just as true as the fact that Dexter Fowler is the new leadoff hitter for the Baltimore Orioles.

 

All that being said, I still can’t think of a reason why it won’t be the Cubs’ year in 2016. Yes, I’m still worried about the Cardinals. And I still think the Pirates are probably vastly underrated. And I know that saying, “Anything less than the World Series would be a huge disappointment” is a statement that is probably held equally true for the Mets and the Dodgers. And I know that the Nationals were the team that looked like the hands-down best-on-paper team last year. That is, of course, until they weren’t. But it’s still February as I type this. And hope still springs eternal. So as of right now, I’m a believer.

 

Around the League

 

The more I think about the 2016 Boston Red Sox and their high win projections, the more I have a problem with them. Pablo Sandoval showed up to Fort Myers looking like me after a cake bender. And if you combine that with Hanley Ramirez at first base, I don’t see why every team they face wouldn’t just put on a dead-ball-era bunt clinic until the Red Sox can figure their own shit out? But the good news for the Red Sox is that every team in their division has a really good reason why they won’t win either. The best one is that 5’8″ Marcus Stroman is going to become the the ace of the Blue Jays like he’s pitching’s Jose Altuve. And Jose Bautista’s contract looks like it’s already a distraction. As are the whispers that Troy Tulowitzki can’t hit outside of the thin air of Coors Field. And those two teams are the favorites in the division. If you add to that, the uncertainty of the rotation and age of the position players in New York, a possible 30-40 game suspension of Aroldis Chapman, a Tampa Bay Rays team that doesn’t score runs and an Orioles team that doesn’t prevent runs, it leaves me throwing up my hands and saying, “Let them eat cake.”

 

I’m increasingly curious to see Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios in Minnesota. Not to mention Miguel Sano and Byung-ho Park. That’s too much young talent to not pan out in a division where I’m totally ready to see something new and exciting happen. That could also occur if the White Sox can score runs and if the Indians can play defense. I just don’t want to see a scenario where these Kansas City Royals, who have the 13th-highest payroll in baseball and who will not be sneaking up on anyone this time around, can become the 1998-2001 Yankees or the 1988-1990 Bash Brother A’s. I can only take so many cuts to Happy George Brett in the owner’s box before I get sick of this double-tapered shit.

 

 Can the Royals really do it again?

 

My way-too-early AL MVP pick is going to be Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros. Especially now that they created the Chase Utley Slide Rule to protect him. Mike Trout is still probably going to be the best player in the league. But he’s going to get ‘LeBron Ruled’ out of the award until the Angels can put a decent lineup around him. The same probably goes for Josh Donaldson and even a returning Miguel Cabrera because nobody likes repeats. So that probably leaves us with Manny Machado, who probably won’t be in playoff contention and Correa who probably will. And my backup choice is obviously Dexter Fowler, the definite new right fielder for the Baltimore Orioles.

 

And while I haven’t decided on my pre-season NL MVP pick quite yet, I will say that if the Diamondbacks are really going to be in contention, then there’s no reason it won’t be Paul Goldschmidt. But you can’t rule out never-been-picked guys like Giancarlo Stanton (with his zero facial hair and his Barry Bonds) or whichever Cubs player hogs up the most attention in their historic season. Or it could even be whoever this Royce Harper guy is Dusty Baker keeps talking about. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

 

Well, we have actual Spring Training games next week. We’ll get to see Lucas Giolito and Julio Urias and Corey Seager and Byron Buxton and Joey Gallo and start forming actual thoughts about these teams as they move towards the regular season. I’ve given you my picks for World Series champion and AL MVP. And with just a little bit more information, I can form enough of an opinion to the wrong about the rest. Stay tuned.

 

 


Great Expectations: A Spring Training Preview

Written by :
Published on : February 23, 2016

 

Oh no. This is a really weird feeling for a Cubs fan to have. For the first time that I can ever remember, the Lovable Losers on the North Side of Chicago seem to be both the unanimous pick to win their division and also a trendy choice for the 2016 World Series. And on paper it even makes sense. Last year, they proved that their young squad was ahead of their projected timeline, won 97 games and then went deep into the playoffs until they ran into a freakishly overachieving Daniel Murphy and a young Mets pitching staff that seems to remind everyone of the nineties Atlanta Braves. And then they went out in the offseason and got the best healthy pitcher and the best position player from their hated Cardinal rivals, and also added a guy who led the majors in WAR in 2009. Oh, and the rest of their seemingly-all-rookie lineup from last year is back and probably better than ever and still way too young and dumb to comprehend how a jaded, cynical asshole like me can still hesitate to be bullish on the prospects of a Thousand Year Cubs Dynasty.

 

This has to be too good to be true, right? There’s too much pressure. The Cubs never follow up a good season with another good season. Look at 1985, 1990 and every other year since The Year That Shall Not Be Named. And Jake Arrieta has to regress. Because he just has to. And John Lackey is 137 years old. And their bullpen isn’t quite there. And Jason Heyward isn’t a natural center fielder. And because they’re the fucking Cubs. Right? Like, why should I get my hopes up just to have them crushed again and again like I have my whole life? Why? Well… Because of Theo Epstein. And because of Joe Maddon. And because of that offense. Oh, that offense. And Kris Bryant. And Addison Russell. And Kyle Schwarber. And Anthony Rizzo. And the fact that Heyward is actually younger than Anthony Rizzo. And the fact that Heyward could win a Gold Glove in center. And because Arrieta may have pitched an assload of innings last year, but he famously stays in excellent shape. And because of how great of a story it would be if they actually did do it. And because, on paper, the Cubs just so happen to have the best team in baseball by a decent margin. Oh no, indeed.

 

 

The Rest of the NL Central

The Cubs may have kicked their ass and stolen their girlfriend, but the Cardinals are still the Cardinals. You just kind of assume they’ll be playing in October, no matter what. But even with Adam Wainwright back, the mystique feels like it’s gone, with a bad offseason and Yadier Molina needing to grow another thumb. Maybe their insane luck will finally run out. I also thought that about the Alabama football team back in September. Not that I should talk about football in the same breath I talk about St. Louis. Anyway… Then there’s the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not like they sucked last year either. But nobody likes to talk about them because they’ll probably just get to the Wild Card and lose again, if they do anything at all. And the only fun thing about that is if Sean Rodriguez goes HAM on another water cooler. This division will inevitably be drowned out by the tidal wave of Cubs expectations. And the Reds and Brewers have probably already
drowned in it.

 

The NL East

According to EVERYONE, the Mets have the greatest pitching staff of all time, ever. And, yes, it’s horrifying. Matt Harvey is another year removed from Tommy John surgery. Jacob deGrom is a floppy-haired pitching monster. Noah Syndergaard actually is Thor. Big fat Bartolo Colon doesn’t age. Steven Matz would be a #1 starter on every other non-Mets team. And Zack Wheeler will be back in July to seal the already-done deal. Plus, all of them except Colon are 19 years old or something. The only problem is that nobody knows what type of hangover these guys will have from all those innings they ate up against Kansas City in the World Series. Or if they’ll even stay healthy. But if they do all bounce back, holy shit. Plus, they re-signed Yoenis Cespedes, which all makes for an excellent case for them to go back to the World Series. No matter how much I hate that.

 

 

Overall this division is horrible. But Bryce Harper and the dysfunctional Nationals should contend. Even though Dusty Baker is their new manager. And nobody knows what to make of the Miami Marlins quite yet. Don Mattingly is their new manager. Barry Bonds is their new hitting coach. Giancarlo Stanton will be healthy. So will Jose Fernandez. But we’ll have to see what all that means, if anything. Or if those guys can even stay healthy in the first place. And anyone looking to make a bold prediction on the division a la the 2015 Cubs and Astros might want to keep their eye on the Atlanta Braves, who are building a monster farm team, even though they’ll most likely be just slightly less shitty than the Phillies in 2016.

 

The NL West

I hate to say it, but 2016 is an even year. So we can probably throw all the analytics out the window and just hand the San Francisco Giants their fourth world title seven years. Their pitching staff picked up two possibly-great/possibly-hugely-disappointing acquisitions in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. And that could give them an edge in what everybody seems to think will be a three team race with the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks.

 

The Dodgers lost Zack Greinke. To the Diamondbacks. They also have a rookie manager in Dave Roberts. In a market that wore out Mattingly and sent him to Miami. They also didn’t do anything with their gigantic payroll in the offseason. And any time you need to rely on Yasiel Puig for anything other than drama, it’s a pretty scary predicament. But this is a deep team with a crazy-good farm system. And they’ll probably be in enough contention by the time the trade deadline rolls around to throw money at whatever problems they have (that don’t involve lack of team chemistry). Plus they still have Clayton Kershaw. At the end of the day, as a resident Angelino, I just want to see Vin Scully go out in style. And if that means the Dodgers have to be good for that to happen, I can accept that.

 

 

Yes, Arizona got Greinke. And Shelby Miller. And they still have unrecognizable superstar, Paul Goldschmidt and equally unrecognizable AJ Pollock. But their projections aren’t too high as of now because of a lack of offensive depth (sup, Yasmany Tomas?). And it seems more likely they could be this year’s Padres and/or White Sox. As for the 2016 Padres and Rockies, I’m not wasting my time. It is an even year, after all.

 

The AL East

Every team in the division not named the Baltimore Orioles seem to have a chance this year. But the overall consensus comes down to the rebounding Boston Red Sox and the reigning division champion Toronto Blue Jays. Personally, I don’t know how acquiring David Price and Craig Kimbrel turns a 78-win last place team into a division favorite, but that’s just how the east coast media bias works. But it will be fun to see how fat Pablo Sandoval is. And if Hanley Ramirez can play first base. And it’s also the swan song for Big Papi. Plus, David Price is actually really fucking good. So I don’t know.

 

 

The Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball. And reigning MVP, Josh Donaldson. And their offense might be even better than last year since Troy Tulowitzki never got comfortable in Toronto in 2015. They’ll just have to stay healthy. And hope somebody on their team can pitch. As for the Yankees, they’re really old. And look how that worked out for them last season. Plus, you never know about that staff. And as good as their bullpen looks right now, we still don’t know what’s going to happen with Aroldis Chapman’s domestic abuse suspension. And the Rays have Chris Archer and the rest of their great starting five, but they’ll basically need everybody else on the lineup to be awesome to compete. Oh, and also the Orioles are in this division too, I guess.

 

The AL Central

The Royals won the World Series last year, no big deal. And they were one Madison Bumgarner away from being back-to-back World Series champions. Yet for some reason, Baseball Prospectus has them projected to be in last place in the Central in 2016. What gives? Maybe you can’t project things like ‘putting the ball in play and its positive consequences’ or ‘playing with a chip on their shoulder’, but whatever they did the past two seasons worked, so I don’t know why it wouldn’t work again. They have the defense. They have the bullpen. It’s just so hard to make a good enough argument for or against a team with relatively zero stars, that’s this mediocre on paper, going to three straight Fall Classics.

 

 

The hot pick in the AL Central continues to be the Cleveland Indians because of an extremely good pitching staff. Add Francisco Lindor’s defense behind them and they could be a powerhouse. Or Michael Brantley could be hurt and their offense could struggle and they won’t have the money to make acquisitions at the trade deadline to compete. And while I have a soft spot for the Detroit Tigers, they’re also getting a little long in the tooth. They got Justin Upton to aid a pretty good, but aging offense. And they picked up Jordan Zimmermann and K-Rod to help out a healthy, but aging Justin Verlander-led group of arms. Health is the key here. And if they have it, they might compete. The White Sox might also compete, even though nobody outside of Bridgeport is talking about them. They got Todd Frazier. They have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and a full season from Carlos Rodon. It’s just that everybody is distracted by the heat of a thousand suns ™ on the North Side. And the Twins have Miguel Sano, who is going to hit 40 dongs this year. Even though they were so terrible last year, that even when they were in first place for a while nobody bought it. If that makes any sense. Not that it should. Why would anything in this division make sense? I mean, Royals went to the World Series the past two years.

 

The AL West

Even though the Astros are the unanimous choice to win the division, everybody would rather talk about the Texas Rangers. Their 2015 playoff run was nothing short of a miracle. And now they’ll have full seasons from Cole Hamels and a healthy Yu Darvish. It’s just that nobody really expected the Astros to be where they were last season either. And now nobody expects them to regress. And the former hot choices in the division seem like yesterday’s newspaper. Mike Trout has no talent around him in Anaheim. Nobody wants to get fooled by the Mariners ever again. And the A’s need too much to get anything done.

 

 

So there you have it. Now you’re ready for the baseball season. And now you know why your team probably sucks and why you should switch allegiances to the Chicago Cubs. Or at least that’s how everything looks right now. Spring training, when nothing counts. And before the actual season comes with all its shitty reality to break hearts, launch new stars into the stratosphere and ruin every expectation, rendering long-winded predictions like the one I just spent way too long typing on a nice afternoon completely worthless. But hey, that’s baseball.

 

What else were we gonna talk about, Donald Trump?

 

 

 


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