Thoughts From the Throne 4: MLB 2016

It is time for baseball season and time to put together our season previews. On this version of Thoughts from the Throne, we will each tell you who will win each division, the Wild Card participants, and the major awards, so here we go. 

Who will be the AL division winners?

Shaun: Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros. The Blue Jays just have too much power and play in a division with a number of hitter’s parks. There are some injury concerns with Edwin Encarnacion coming into the season, and I would not project them to win a postseason series with the current rotation, but I think they have enough to win the division. The Royals have never not made the World Series when I have attended their camp, coincidence, I think not. They have a great clubhouse chemistry and a lights out bullpen (I am not worried about Wade Davis’ velocity right now). Raul Mondessi has looked fantastic this spring and will likely take the second base job from Omar Infante at some point. The Astros only real weakness right now is at first base, but they have one of the best power hitters in the minor leagues knocking on the door. Carlos Correa will compete for the MVP this year and they only have more special players on the way.

Torsten: Blue Jays, Tigers, Rangers. Hey, did you hear about that team where Troy Tulowitzki was their fourth best hitter? There’s some question marks with Toronto’s pitching, but with the rest of the AL East a jumble of mediocrity, the Jays should coast home comfortably. I also really like what the Tigers did. Need some more starting pitching? Heck, let’s get Jordan Zimmerman. Little light on right handed pop? With Miggy and JD Martinez, not really, but what the hell? Let’s sign the criminally underrated Justin Upton anyway. The bullpen is a worry, but they should be able to address that at the deadline. Did you happen to notice how Texas finished the season last year? In case you didn’t, they were very strong down the stretch. And they will get Yu Darvish back soon to pair with Cole Hamels. That ain’t bad. 

Who will be the NL division winners?

Shaun: Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants. Yes, I am going a bit contrarian here, but I believe in it. The Mets rotation is scary, but their defense is ugly. David Wright is hurt too often, Asdrubal Cabrera has never been great with the glove, Neil Walker is no Gold Glover, and Lucas Duda literally threw away a World Series game. Then in the outfield you have an aging Curtis Granderson, an ailing Michael Conforto, and Yoenis Cespedes in center who seems to give away inside the park home runs for every Matt Harvey start. It will likely be a frustrating year for the Mets given current expectations. The Cubs are great, but the Pirates have a chip on their shoulder. Everyone is talking about the Cubs taking the reigns from the Cardinals, but they have to leapfrog the NL Central 3-time runners up. They have arguably the best outfield in all of baseball, an underrated infield (other than first, they are just bad there) and a pitching staff that does not get enough credit. Add Taillon and Glasnow both knocking on the door and the powerful Josh Bell a first base option late in the year, and the Pirates will make a late push to take the Division. For the Giants, it is an even numbered year, so that should say it all, right? Need more, fine…the Giants have the best infield in baseball that you don’t know. Duffy-Crawford-Panik-Belt are all completely underrated and the argument could be made for each as top ten at their position in all of baseball. Add the speedy Denard Span and a big money rotation, and they should take the division.

Torsten: Mets, Pirates, Dodgers. Once Zach Wheeler comes back around June, the Mets will essentially be trotting out five aces in their rotation. You wonder if they can catch the ball well enough, which is why I don’t think they’ll go far in the post season, but it won’t be easy to score on them. In the Steel City, I don’t see a whole lot wrong with that Pirate’s roster, aside from John Jaso’s do. The Dodgers have a lot of injuries at the moment, but they are deep, and people are making way too much out of Arizona and San Francisco’s pitching acquisitions. By the trade deadline, they Dodgers will be “acquiring” two good pitchers (Ryu and McCarthy) with a third (Anderson) soon after. It’s hard to compete with that.

Who will face off in the AL Wild Card Game?  

Shaun: The Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers. The Red Sox have added an ace and a closer and still have one of the best farm systems in baseball to make moves for more (and Dave Dombrowski isn’t afraid to do just that). Hanley Ramirez is actually poised for a resurgent year and should play an above-average first base. Pablo Sandoval has looked poor, but Travis Shaw has looked great, so they will get solid production there. The outfield looks to be a pair of platoons, but it doesn’t matter how you get the production, so long as you get the production. The Rangers (again a team I spend a lot of time around) are just fun and Brian Bannister is the perfect coach for that team. Darvish will be returning this year and they get a full season of Cole Hamels. Ian Desmond is a really interesting addition in the outfield while Rougned Odor (not to be confused with his brother Rougned Odor) is going to be a breakout star this season at second  base. 

Torsten:  Astros and Royals. It really just now occurred to me how many teams could possibly be here. The AL (outside of the East where pretty much everyone but the Jays is critically flawed) has some great depth. But the Astros are legit (like someone predicted last year…not going to mention any names but it was me) and haven’t lost anything important, and the Royals are the defending champs, and have lost pretty much only Cueto of consequence. 

Who will face off in the NL Wild Card Game?

Shaun:  Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. Yes, Torsten, this means the Dodgers miss out on the playoffs. The Cubs finished with 97 wins last season and placed third in their division. They are even better this year with the addition of Jason Heyward (from the Cardinals), Ben Zobrist, and natural progression of their incredible young talent. Their rotation could use an addition or two down the stretch though. Ruben Tejada being cut by the Mets is the best thing that could have happened for the Cardinals, who will be starting the year without Jhonny Peralta. They may also start the season without Yadier Molina, but he seems to be making great progress. The names to remember are Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty. Both are fantastic ballplayers and will be key players for the club. 

Torsten: Nationals and Cubs. I really don’t love either team’s bullpen, and I think Jake Arrieta regresses big time in the wake of his questionably deserved Cy Young award. But that line up is deep. The Nats appear stacked on paper, but I don’t buy Dusty Baker as a manager anymore. And you heard it here first, Bryce Harper will still be good, but a regression to mere mortal status is in order. (editor’s note: When this section was first being written, the Diamondbacks were in serious consideration. However, you can’t overcome the loss of AJ Pollock. He was quietly 9th in MLB in WAR for 2015, including 3rd among all outfielders – with harper nearly two full wins above the rest of the pack. Shame for the D Backs, and for Pollock, but that’s how it goes sometimes.) 

Who will win the AL MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year?

Shaun: The MVP will be Mookie Betts. Call me a homer, but the kid can flat out play. He has more power than you would expect, he can steal bags, and plays great defense in the outfield for a converted second baseman. I think he will narrowly edge out Carlos Correa. Cole Hamels will walk away with the Cy Young. His home ballpark won’t help, but division foes like the Angels (terrible outside of Trout and Pujols), Mariners (overrated yet again this year), and A’s (huge ballpark and a weak lineup) will help. The Astros are a quality lineup in the division, but they have a ton of swing and miss potential. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hamels average 12 K/9 against Houston this year. The Rookie of the Year will be Byron Buxton. He will finally get the chance to shine in the big leagues and will show everyone why he has long been the top prospect in baseball. This would be the Twins second ROY in a row, setting them up for a strong run in the near future and may be a sneaky team that competes in the division.

Torsten: Robinson Cano, Sonny Gray, Byron Buxton. The MVP should just be called Best Player, since players from non-playoff teams frequently win. This is kind of a gut call, though he passes the eye test from Spring Training, but Cano is a man on a mission. And Seattle could be sneaky competitive. For my money, Sonny Gray is as good a right handed pitcher as there is in the game. David Ortiz, who knows a little about hitting, says Gray is one of the toughest pitchers he has ever faced. Good enough for me. Shaun and I agree on Buxton. He’s got Mike Trout-like potential. If the injury bug doesn’t bite him, who will compete with him?

Who will win the NL MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year?

Shaun: Bryce Harper will repeat as MVP. He is one of the best players in all of baseball, he showed it last year, and he will show it again this year. His teammate, Max Scherzer, will win the Cy Young. It seemed like Scherzer was a threat to throw a no hitter every time out last year, and this year should be no different. Zimmerman is no longer committing errors at third, Rendon can play a solid third base, but may move to second to move Daniel Murphy to the outfield when the Rookie of the Year gets called up. Yes, I am calling a trifecta of Nationals award winners. The only thing holding Trea Turner back from winning ROY is his manager, Dusty Baker. Baker has long been cautious with young position players, but Turner is special. I have seen him play, he can fly, he can hit, and he can play very good defense. I spoke with the San Antonio Missions broadcaster early in the season last year to find out how Turner was doing playing for a team he knew he was not a part of (he had been traded to the Nationals as a player to be named later but had to wait until June to move, a rule that has since been changed) and he raved about how well he handled the situation. Turner is the best player in the Wil Myers-Steven Souza deal, and the Nationals also got Joe Ross who will be better than his brother Tyson, not bad by the Nats.

Torsten: Andrew McCutcheon, Clayton Kershaw, and Kenta Maeda. Cutch pretty much does everything for Pittsburgh. He’s the National League’s Mike Trout. It’s going to be a close race with Harper, but as I stated earlier, I think he takes a small step back. There isn’t a better pitcher on the planet than Kershaw. Metrically, he’s on a pace to become one of the best in history. If not for stupidly biased voting (Arrieta) and an otherworldly season from Zack Greinke, he’d have won last year. Lots of people are picking Cory Seager, but while I like him, Maeda makes more sense to me. I don’t like it, because the Japanese top league has become good enough to produce MLB regulars pretty consistently, so those guys shouldn’t have the same eligibility as a kid coming up from the minors. Alas, they do. And historically, it takes a year for hitters to adjust to a new pitcher coming over from Japan. Maeda could have a big year (15+ wins, sub 3 ERA).

Agree? Don’t? Let us know on Twitter @thestainsports. Thank you for reading. 

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