Or underlined, that seems to read a little easier.
1. The Braves will score less than 500 runs
The Braves scored 573 runs last season, only the Padres were worse in the NL. They had 4 ML-quality hitters in their lineup and 4 black holes, essentially. The black holes are all still there, but 3 of the 4 ML-quality hitters were traded away. In their places are Christian Bethancourt, who looks like a disaster-in-waiting as an everyday player, Nick Markakis, who’s average-ish but in decline and coming off neck surgery and a three-headed monster of Jonny Gomes, Zoilo Almonte, and Eric Young Jr. That’s not to mention the fact that Alberto Callaspo figures to get significant at-bats in the infield. Now I like Kevin Seitzer, but I don’t envy him.
2. Mike Trout hits the DL, has a career-low batting average
My concerns about Trout are two-fold: 1) his body type, and 2) strikeouts. Physically, he’s just a huge guy, very stocky, and I think it portends a quick decline in athleticism (ie speed and defense) and potentially an increasing tendency towards injuries, especially of the lower body variety. As a hitter, he traded K’s for power last season and made it work for him, but in a league where power numbers are in decline, that tradeoff has become more and more precarious. If he can’t keep his ballooning K’s under control, we could see a drop in overall production.
3. Clayton Kershaw has a 3rd straight year with an ERA under 2.00
Since Zac P. has an irrational need to undermine the greatest pitcher of his generation with no substantive basis whatsoever, I’ll take the opposite tack just to bring some balance into the proceedings. I don’t totally expect him to finish with under a 2.00 ERA again, but the fact that I think there’s about a 50-50 chance he could is pretty incredible in itself. He’d be the first pitcher to finish with a sub-2 ERA three years in a row since the heydays of Walter Johnson and Pete Alexander.
4. Adrian Gonzalez has his best year since 2011
Just something that occurred to me while watching him during Spring Training. I don’t expect his power to fully come back to the level of his San Diego days, but he’s been exhibiting a degree of control of the strike zone that he seemed to have lost over the last three years. He’s looked confident and in command of every at bat. If he can have a big year, it’ll help offset the losses of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez in that Dodgers’ lineup
5. The Pujols Line stays intact for a 5th straight year
The Pujols Line refers to hitting 40 homeruns without the aid of HGH in the National League. It is a barrier that has not been reached since Albert Pujols did it back in 2010. The most likely candidates to reach it, guys like Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt, are either injury prone, play in huge parks, or both. I think Bryce Harper will flash his 40 homer power at some point, but it might not be this year.
6. Brett Lawrie makes everyone forget about Josh Donaldson by June
I almost put Lawrie on my breakout players list, it was just a few years ago that scouts and fans were hyping him up as the next great 3rd baseman after he demolished Triple-A and had a stellar big league debut. Since then, the issue has been injuries, which have limited his playing time and production. At 25, he’s significantly younger than Donaldson, and he brings an excellent defensive reputation and a high-upside bat with him to Oakland, not to mention the two starting pitchers and the young shortstop prospect who made the trip with him. Some of Billy Beane’s moves this offseason didn’t make a lot of sense, the Donaldson trade isn’t one of them.
7. Javier Baez starts in Triple-A, struggles, sees very little big league action
I think he’ll be lucky to ever hit .200 in the major leagues. Even with his power and good glove, I don’t know if he’ll ever be playable as a regular. But Cubs fans, I think you’ll like Tommy La Stella.
8. Adrian Beltre is traded at the deadline, the Rangers get a big haul
Beltre is an extremely desirable player on the trade market. He’ll be 36, but he has only one year on his contract with an option year. Besides, he’s been as good as ever both with the bat and the glove. In fact, for third baseman in their age 30 to 35 seasons, only Mike Schmidt has managed a higher WAR total than Beltre has. And there’s lots of would-be contenders out there who’d love to add a third baseman. A Beltre trade could be the biggest deal of July.
9. We’ll have a 100-game winner, finally
It’s the Nationals, but I could see the Cards getting there too.
10. Billy Hamilton figures out how to steal at the major league level, gets at least 80
One of the few players out there with game-changing speed, his 71% success rate on stolen base attempts was one of the major disappointments of his rookie season. He had a career 82% rate in the minors, so let’s chalk it up to growing pains for now. With more experience and maybe some better coaching, he should be able to get back to doing what he does best, terrorizing defenses on the basepaths.