Even though it might not feel like it when you walk outside, we are indeed approaching the month of April. Believe it or not, the boys of summer are about to return. Yes, that’s the game of baseball I’m talking about, where on April 5 the 2015 season will open up in Wrigley Field, Major League Baseball’s second oldest park (built in 1914), when the Chicago Cubs host the St. Louis Cardinals.
It’s almost the beginning of the time where each MLB team will compete in 162 regular season games from Apr. to early Oct. to see if they’ve done enough to qualify for the playoffs as well as a chance at the World Series.
Last year, it was the Cinderella story of the Kansas City Royals. The Royals clinched a wild card playoff berth on the final week of the regular season. They went on to beat the Oakland Athletics in one of the most classic games in post-season history to get into the divisional playoff round. The Royals would go all the way to the World Series before they were shut down by Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants.
2015 is a brand new year, as Bob Feller used to say, “Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”
This year, it’s time for the Boston Red Sox to stand up once again on top of the baseball world. The Red Sox have been a roller-coaster over the past few years. After winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years back in 2004, the Red Sox won it again in 2007. In 2012, the Red Sox were amongst the worst teams in baseball, finishing last in the American League East division. General Manager Ben Cherington dumped former all-stars Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez all to the Los Angeles Dodgers for future prospects. That took $262.5 million off the Red Sox payroll. This was a move that would pan out to be genius, by Cherington, as the Red Sox went on to capture the 2013 World Series championship. 2014 was another disaster of a year for Boston. Again, the Red Sox finished last in the AL East division, and again Cherington dumped some salary. This time, he traded pitcher Jake Peavy to the Giants (who won the World Series), Johnny Gomes, and Jon Lester to the Oakland Athletics (now a member of the Chicago Cubs) and John Lackey to the Cardinals.
Once again, the Red Sox had removed lots of money off the books, and they elected to spend it on some hot commodities on the free agent block. Hanley Ramirez will be the everyday left fielder as the Red Sox signed him to a 4-year $88 million contract. Ramirez was signed by the Red Sox as a 17-year-old back in 2000, but only ever played two games for them before being traded to Miami in 2005. Pablo Sandoval will be the starting third-baseman who came over to the Red Sox for five-year $95 million after winning the World Series with the Giants last year. Two undrafted Cubans were also picked up by the Red Sox’s in bidding wars; Centre fielder Rusney Castillo was signed for seven-years at $72.5 million, while 19-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada also signed, but will start the season in the minor leagues. Also, four of the Red Sox’s five starting pitchers were acquired in the off-season (Rick Porcello, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson). Lastly, the reason this team may be the toughest to beat is because of their depth. Between Brock Holt, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Mookie Betts, Ryan Hannigan and Garin Cecchini (who are all MLB-ready players), only a maximum of four will make the team. If there is any weakness to the team right now, it’s in their bullpen, which lacked consistency last year. The Red Sox are still not even sure if their closer Koji Uehara will be ready to start the season. Other then that, the Red Sox are solid from top to bottom; as long as they stay healthy, this will be the team to beat in the MLB this year.
In the National League, the NL West got the most interesting over the off-season, in particular in Los Angeles, and San Diego. The Dodgers are the favourite to come out of the NL, but the Padres have been the most active team since the end of 2014. For the most part, the Dodgers lineup will be the same as last year with star outfielder Yasiel Puig leading the way. Jimmy Rollins was their big name acquisition, who will start at shortstop, but the Dodgers will only go as far as their all-star starting rotation. If the Dodgers’ five starters perform as advertised, then they’re going to be almost impossible to beat.
The Padres have a brand new out-field, to go along with a new Ace on the mound. Justin Upton, Will Myers, and Matt Kemp will man the outfield from left to right, and “Big Game” James Shields came over in the off-season from the Royals. Like the Red Sox, the Padres have a ton of depth, but their infield is weak and the bullpen may not be able to matchup with the “wild wild west.” For me, the Padres went for a Home Run ball this off-season, and really spent the money, but I think this might result in a swing and a miss.
As for the Toronto Blue Jays, everyone is always wondering if this is finally going to be the year. They’re certainly going to be competitive, but I don’t think they have enough to compete with the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. Blue Jays are already starting behind the 8-ball, as electrifying sophomore Marcus Stroman who very well could have been the opening day starting pitcher, has been lost for the entire season with a torn MCL. As for the lineup, Melky Cabrera, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, Dioneer Navarro and Brett Lawrie, have all been replaced in the starting lineup by Russell Martin, Michael Saunders, Josh Donaldson, Dalton Pompey/Kevin Pillar, and Justin Smoak/Danny Valencia.
The Blue Jays offense should be competitive once again, but it’s going to come down to pitching. Three starters with an average age of 22.3 will start the season in the rotation (Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Drew Hutchinson), and a bullpen that has question marks all over the place. The closer has been announced as Brett Cecil, who has yet to pitch this spring, as he continues to nurse elbow pain. Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro have never thrown an MLB pitch and might both make the team, while Jeff Francis and Ricky Romero are trying to resurrect their careers that have been a disaster over the last 3+ seasons.
Below is a full list of my 2015 MLB predictions. So trim the grass, chalk up the lines, and let’s “play ball.”