1. Adam LaRoche will hit more home runs than Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez combined. Last season, the Tigers dynamic duo combined for 57 home runs. However Martinez will be 37 years old this year, Cabrera will be 32 and both are coming off serious injuries to the lower half of their bodies. Another MVP-type season from Martinez should not be expected and Cabrera may be losing much of his power as his ankles and feet slowly deteriorate under him. Although Cabrera and Martinez are supposedly set for Opening Day, full seasons for both are highly dubious. LaRoche, the new pickup for the White Sox, hit 26 home runs last season in the spacious Nationals Park and the move to the South Side should do wonders for the left handed hitter. Primarily used as a first baseman throughout his career, he will get much needed rest sharing first base and designated hitter duties with Jose Abreu. LaRoche won’t necessarily be the home run champion of the American League, but hitting clean-up in a revamped Sox lineup could see his numbers soar.
2. A Cub will win Rookie of the Year, but not Kris Bryant. With the drama surrounding Bryant and the timetable of his Major League appearance, a full year of right fielder Jorge Soler will be just what Cubs fans need. Soler flashed solid stats in his limited showing at the end of the 2014 season and he should have a monster rookie campaign, especially after adding 20 lbs of weight during the off season. Power should not be an issue, but neither should contact as Soler had an impressive 16.9% strikeout rate in 621 minor league plate appearances. This is awfully low compared to Bryant, whose strikeout rate jumped to 28.6% in AAA last season. Soler hitting over .300 is not out of the question. His hitting ability plus his defensive prowess and strong arm make him the top ROY candidate.
3. The Kansas City Royals will make the playoffs. The American League Champion Royals seem to have been completely written off by many this season, with last year being regarded as a fluke. Yet as one looks at the entire AL, there are no dominant teams nor is there anything the Royals have done to suggest much regression. With additions to the starting rotation such as Edinson Volquez, Chris Young and Kris Medlen, the loss of starter James Shields doesn’t seem too worrisome. And by the way, the Royals have maintained one of the best bullpens from last year. Given that no team in the AL Central (or the rest of the AL for that matter) has as much pitching depth, it should be no surprise that the Royals stay in contention for the division crown all season. With mediocrity running rampant throughout baseball, 87 wins and a Wild Card spot is not out of the question either.
4. The Miami Marlins and Chicago White Sox will lead their respective leagues in runs scored. Neither the Marlins nor the Sox may have the best offense on paper heading into the season (instead the Nationals, Dodgers, Blue Jays and Red Sox may come to mind). In fact, last season the Marlins were only 16th in the Majors in runs scored, and the Sox were not much better at 13th overall. Yet after major additions during the off season, both teams now offer two of the most dynamic offenses in all of baseball. The Marlins have added second baseman Dee Gordon, third baseman Martin Prado and first baseman Michael Morse. The Sox have added left fielder Melky Cabrera, first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche, second baseman and Rookie of the Year candidate Micah Johnson and will have a full season of right fielder Avisail Garcia. Both the Marlins and Sox have multiple ways they can score through any combination of speed, contact and power, and this can add up to a lot of runs over 162 games. Having a potential MVP candidate in the middle of the lineup (Giancarlo Stanton for the Marlins and Jose Abreu for the Sox) doesn’t hurt either.
5. Mike Trout will not be the best position player on the Los Angeles Angels. We all know that Mike Trout has had three MVP-type seasons in a row. But we all know that his stolen bases are going down, his strikeouts are going up, and his neck is getting bigger. Not only will regression be an issue for the bulking star, but also injury. Don’t be surprised if Trout makes multiple trips to the DL this season. Albert Pujols, the aging star, is on the wrong side of thirty and may be joining Trout on the DL quite as often. The player to watch out for is right fielder Kole Calhoun, leading off for the Angels. Last season he put up a modest .271 average with 17 home runs and 58 runs batted in. But he also scored 90 runs! Taking into account TBv, Calhoun was only second to Trout in the entire AL West. Calhoun will be turning 28 this year, so he’ll just be entering his prime and could be in for a very big year.
6. The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers again will lose in the first round of the playoffs. So much of this year’s Nationals team reminds one of the Philadelphia Phillies from 2011: a great offense with one of the best starting rotations ever to go into a season. At the beginning of the 2011 season, the Phillies were a no-doubt about it World Series contender. Yet the rotation, which consisted of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, ended up losing in the NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals. It seems the Nationals are being set up in a very similar fashion: preseason World Series hype, postseason afterthought. The Dodgers, who won 94 games last season and 92 the season before, are set to win even more this year after shoring up their middle infield and catcher position. However over the last two seasons, the Dodgers have been ejected from the playoffs by none other than the Cardinals. Both the Nationals and Dodgers are the two top choices to win the most games in 2015, but only four teams since the beginning of the Wild Card era that had the best record in baseball went on to win a World Series. And the Cardinals are primed and ready to bounce either team this postseason.
7. Both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval will not reach 500 plate appearances. Ramirez and Sandoval were the big ticket items for the Red Sox this off season. Unfortunately the big contracts handed out may end up being very big blunders. For Ramirez, he moves from shortstop to left field. Defensively this is definitely a good thing, as the longtime shortstop committed 16 errors last season in only 115 games at the position. Ramirez’ defense was so bad he cost Clayton Kershaw a perfect game with a throwing error during the no-hit performance. Yet allowing Ramirez to roam around the outfield could be a precarious call for a player that has a history of injuries. In the last five season, Ramirez has topped 400 plate appearances only once. As for Sandoval, the hulking third baseman has been rather durable for the San Francisco Giants, only falling below the 500 plate appearance threshold twice in six full seasons. Yet as the overweight player inches closer to thirty and after appearing at Spring Training even more overweight than usual, staying healthy may not be in the cards for Panda.
8. Zack Greinke will receive more Cy Young votes than Clayton Kershaw. Let’s face it, Kershaw is due for regression. His stats have been godly, especially considering that we are now in a pitching era. Yet the St. Louis Cardinals showed in the postseason last year and the year before that the NL MVP and Cy Young is only human, catching up to his fastballs and crushing his hanging curves. Other teams will take notice and adjust their game plans accordingly against the southpaw. As for Greinke, he has been ever so consistent for the Dodgers over the last two years, mixing up his off speed offerings and keeping hitters off balance. Yes, he gives up a run here and a run there, but his consistency coupled with this possibly being his last year in Los Angeles could make for a special season.
9. The Atlanta Braves will win more than 75 games. Most people, including our own Zac T., have written off the season for the Braves following their trades of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Evan Gattis. What was an anemic offense last year only figures to get much worse. That being said, the Braves pitching remains solid. In fact last season the staff had the fifth lowest ERA in all of baseball. With some minor bullpen tweaks with the additions of Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson and Josh Outman plus the addition of Shelby Miller in the rotation, the Braves have offset the loss of some bullpen arms and starter Ervin Santana. A year of a healthy Alex Wood will also help. It was only last season that the Padres, the team with by far the worst offense in all of baseball, finished with 77 wins.
10. Five players will hit 40 or more home runs. If you didn’t realize it, Major League Baseball has an offense problem. Specifically a lack of one. More specifically, a lack of power. Last year only one player hit 40 home runs. The year before, only two. However, as Commissioner Rob Manfred has come out and said resolving this problem is a priority, plus with some tweaks to speed up the play of baseball, something’s got to give. Last year’s home run champion, Nelson Cruz, moves to cavernous Safeco in Seattle so his power numbers will definitely take a hit. However, the Blue Jays have two legitimate home run threats with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The White Sox have added protection for the powerful Jose Abreu in the form of Adam LaRoche. Giancarlo Stanton should thrive with the new-look Marlins offense. Mike Trout’s power numbers are going up (as well as his strikeouts) and Chris Carter is getting bigger and better in Houston. And don’t forget the big boy on the North Side of Chicago, Anthony Rizzo. What offense problem?
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