(Picture from MLB)
You know what? I don’t care that it’s mid-February. I don’t care that we’re still looking down the barrel of another two months of cold for most of the country. I don’t even care that all the free agents don’t have new teams yet. We’re less than 30 days away from the start of MLB Spring Training & it’s absolutely not too early to start to preview & predict the upcoming 2015 Major League Baseball season. We’re heading to the heartland of America to see if a long time loser can finally emerge into the light of the playoffs.
Milwaukee Brewers (5th in National League Central)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all convinced that the Brewers will be bad. The NL Central may be the most evenly matched division in baseball, and if the Brewers fire on all cylinders to make a playoff push, I wouldn’t be shocked at all. But someone has to finish last, and well, I’m picking Milwaukee. Oh? Reasons? Sure, I’ve got reasons. Questions at the back end of the rotation, severe regression from SS Jean Segura , uncertain production from new 1B Adam Lind & incumbent RF Khris Davis . Now, if LF Ryan Braun gets back to MVP form, & rookie SP Jimmy Nelson takes the league by storm, sneaking into a Wild Card spot is possible.
Best Case Scenario – All Star C Jonathan Lucroy & CF Carlos Gomez carry the offense. Lind manages to hit lefties even a little bit, and stays in the lineup every day. The underrated rotation headed by SP’s Matt Garza , Kyle Lohse , & Wily Peralta becomes much more properly rated as they each win 17+ games. Braun finds out he is not on any drug testing schedule and takes full advantage of the opportunity. The Brewers snag a Wild Card spot.
Worst Case Scenario – Everyone underachieves. They trade Garza & Lohse at the deadline to boost the worst farm system in the league. Braun gets tested every other day. Pork futures crater on Wall St, driving the cost of sausage through the roof. The Wisconsin state economy collapses.
Pittsburgh Pirates (4th in National League Central)
After two years of making the playoffs, I think it’s time that the Pirates take a small step backwards. But then again, the Pirates could also win the division. It’s just so wacky. I think losing C Russell Martin is going to hurt more than they think it will, I don’t like 3B Josh Harrison to repeat his 2014 performance, & the back end of the rotation doesn’t do much to inspire confidence. And at the end of the day, I just like other teams more.
Best Case Scenario – OF Andrew McCutchen is an MVP candidate again. SP Gerrit Cole emerges as an ace. SP A.J. Burnett still has some gas in the tank. Harrison proves 2014 wasn’t a fluke. OF Gregory Polanco seizes the RF job in spring training and doesn’t let go for the next eleven or twelve years. New C Francisco Cervelli does just enough of a Russell Martin impression to get by. The Pirates contend for the division and take the Wild Card.
Worst Case Scenario – Everyone plays well but it’s not enough to move up. Polanco & Cole don’t take the steps forward needed to contend. The farm system doesn’t provide any reinforcements. The Pirates get pushed off the front page by Steelers training camp & ice hockey, whatever that is.
Chicago Cubs (3rd in National League Central)
Okay, this could go really, REALLY badly. I can admit that. The rotation behind SP Jon Lester doesn’t look much like a contender. Aside from All Star 1B Anthony Rizzo & SS Starlin Castro , the lineup is filled with potential and league average players. The whole thing seems to ride on future star 3B Kris Bryant coming to the majors and being an immediate contributor and RF Jorge Soler taking his 24 game audition from last season and applying it to 140 games. I also think the Cubs have at least one trade to make for a starting pitcher, which would effect their 2015 outlook significantly.
Best Case Scenario – Bryant, Soler, Rizzo, & Castro form the foundation of an elite offense. Lester anchors the rotation while SP’s Jake Arrieta & Jason Hammel emerge as 15-game winners. The Cubs trade from their impressive stockpile of position player prospects to acquire one of the soon-to-be free agent aces that may be available come July. New manager Joe Maddon steers this collection of talent to a playoff spot a year earlier than expected.
Worst Case Scenario – They’re the Cubs. They’ve been living in the Worst Case Scenario for more than 100 years now.
Cincinnati Reds (2nd in National League Central, Wild Card)
Maybe I’m crazy, but I look at the Reds roster & I see All Star caliber players at C, 1B, 3B, & RF, along with viable starters at 2B, CF, & LF. The rotation is anchored by SP Johnny Cueto , who in any other year would of won the Cy Young. SP Homer Bailey has the stuff to be an ace. Closer Aroldis Chapman is basically unhittable. What am I missing here? Yes, 1B Joey Votto had an injury plagued season, but he’s arguably the best pure hitter in baseball when healthy. RF Jay Bruce had a down season, but he’s only 27 and 2014 is a clear outlier. He can be expected to back to career norms. Add those two to the breakout seasons C Devin Mesoraco & 3B Todd Frazier enjoyed and the Reds offense looks much improved.
Best Case Scenario – Votto & Bruce are healthy all season. Frazier & Mesoraco don’t regress at all. CF Billy Hamilton takes a big step forward in his 2nd season. SP Tony Cingrani is healthy and stabilizes the back of the rotation. The Reds get Cueto signed to an extension.
Worst Case Scenario – Votto has lost all power due to his knee injury. 2B Brandon Phillips is well & truly done as a viable major league regular. Cueto, refusing to agree to an extension, gets traded in July. The All Star game in Cincinnati is marred by Chapman stating at a press conference that Skyline Chili is the worst thing he’s ever tasted & he can’t understand why anyone would ever put cinnamon in chili in the first place.
St. Louis Cardinals (1st in National League Central)
The Cardinals are excellent. It feels like they have been for decades & it feels like they always will be. They’ve done such a great job of stocking the pipeline with talent & picking up players who fit what they are trying to do, it’s almost impossible to get ahead of them for any consistent length of time. And this year doesn’t look like it’ll be any different. After tragically losing rookie RF Oscar Taveras to a car accident, they used the depth they’ve built to acquire RF Jason Heyward . 2B Kolten Wong is ready for the regular starting 2B job after using the 2014 season to break in. It’s a vicious cycle for the rest of the National League.
Best Case Scenario – Everything goes as planned. SP Adam Wainwright is healthy & contends for the Cy Young. Heyward provides his standard excellent defense and gets back to the offensive production that tagged him as a future star as a rookie. SP’s Carlos Martinez and/or Marco Gonzalez emerge as the next wave of Cardinals excellent starting pitching. The rest of the NL despairs.
Worst Case Scenario – The Cubs trade for SP’s Jordan Zimmerman and David Price . The Reds & Pirates wildly exceed all expectations. Even the Brewers are good. All of which just means the Cardinals will be even better. I’m not sure there is a Worst Case Scenario for St. Louis, short of catastrophic injuries to all key players. We’ll be watching October baseball in St. Louis again. Get used to it.
We’re almost done folks. Only the National League East left to make fun of… I mean, preview. Join me, won’t you?