The countdown ends and excitement muffles as we welcome the new year. For many, 2016 comes with a fresh start and the purchase of a new calendar. However, for baseball fans, the thought of recent patterns come to mind, as the MLB embarks on another even year.
The San Francisco Giants have won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. With the start of Spring Training in 2016, the Giants have eyes fixed upon them, looking to see if the history will repeat. But with improvement of the other teams in this division, the reoccurrence of the pattern becomes questionable. What is not questionable is the competitiveness of the upcoming NL West race, which I see finishing as listed:
5th: Colorado Rockies
The dealing of All Star SS Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays last year quickly became one sided, as SS Jose Reyes appeared in 47 games with the Colorado Rockies after being acquired in late July. Reyes totaled an average of .259 in his first preview with the Rockies. Meanwhile, Tulowitzki was aiding in the Blue Jays’ postseason run, providing another powerful right handed bat to an already dangerous lineup.
After trading away their beloved shortstop of many years, the Rockies went 28-36 and eventually finished at the bottom of the NL West with a final record of 68-94. My best guess states they will remain at the bottom in the upcoming 2016 campaign.
Pitching became the reason for the Rockies’ inevitable finish in 2015. The staff combined for an ERA of 5.04, which ranked dead last in the National League. With this being said, the Rockies’ 2016 starting rotation will be almost identical to last year’s, leaving me to believe the ending will be identical as well.
Aside from their dreadful pitching, the Rockies look to their All Star third baseman when searching for hope. Nolan Arenado put up monster numbers in 2015, posting a .287 average with 43 HRs and 130 RBIs while finishing 8th in MVP voting. Even with his fellow power hitting infielder gone, Arenado continues to produce. However, an elite hitter like this does not live comfortably on a 5th place team. Come one year or maybe two, you will not see Nolan Arenado wearing a Rockies jersey.
4th: San Diego Padres
My 4th place prediction features another return team. The San Diego Padres finished 74-88, and many indications suggest a similar outcome in 2016.
The Padres said farewell to OF Justin Upton as he joined the Detroit Tigers in the offseason. Upton batted .251 with 26 HRs and 81 RBIs while being selected for his third All Star game.
Even with the departure of Upton, his brother Melvin Upton remains on the team and will take over in CF for the Padres. Melvin Upton managed to bat .260 in 87 games with the club in 2015, but it is well known that he is not the better of the two brothers.
The Padres also lost SP Ian Kennedy in the offseason, as the pitcher fattened his wallet by signing a 5-year deal worth $70 million. While I do not believe a pitcher of his stature is worth such a contract, Kennedy was an important piece in an already struggling Padres rotation. With him out of the picture, James Shields will have to take over and command this pitching staff.
The Padres lost too much and gained too little in the offseason, leaving them destined for another bottom dwelling finish.
3rd: Arizona Diamondbacks
Even with the addition of big name pitchers like Zach Greinke and Shelby Miller, I do not buy into the massive amount of hype that surrounds the 2016 Diamondbacks.
Some say Greinke deserved the Cy Young award for his incredible 2015 campaign, only to lose to Cubs ace, Jake Arrieta. Greinke only lost 3 games while submitting an impressive 1.66 ERA. It’s safe to say Greinke’s prime is far from over, but one pitcher does not simply turn around an entire organization over night.
On the other hand, Shelby Miller posted a meager record of 6-17 with a 3.02 ERA. The talent is evident in Miller, but the performance simply was not present in 2015, leaving clouds of doubt for the upcoming season.
Offensively, Arizona leans on former MVP 1B Paul Goldschmidt and up and coming OF AJ Pollock to produce runs. Aside from these two power hitters, the offense looks to be average at best. The addition of SS Jean Segura should improve the middle infield while providing a productive lead off threat.
Even beyond the two pitching additions, Arizona does not deserve all of the hype they are receiving. Big name players sell tickets instantly, but success on the diamond only comes gradually.
2nd: Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodgers’ fans weeped as they said goodbye to Zach Greinke in the offseason, but only briefly. They soon remembered a certain lefty pitcher will still wear the classic blue and white, a pitcher that through many eyes is just as good as Greinke.
Clayton Kershaw had what he would call an off year in 2015. For anyone else, going 16-7 with an ERA of 2.13 would be considered a great success. The former Cy Young will reclaim his place up top the Dodgers’ rotation, where he will return to Cy Young form.
This Dodgers’ roster is one that contains many veteran players, still hoping to remain productive in the Show. 1B Adrian Gonzalez has had at least 20 HRs and 90 RBIs in his past three years, and was selected for the All Star game for the fifth time in his 12 year career. Andre Either looks to hold a spot in the Dodger outfield while providing solid, top of the order offense. Yasiel Puig was not penalized by the MLB for a domestic violence accusation during the offseason, and will return to his spot in right field.
However, it is not veteran play that has my caught my attention in LA, but rather two young players who are playing at a level far beyond most others at their age.
OF Joc Pederson has proved that he belongs in the MLB. The rookie center fielder struggled with average and strike outs, as many rookies do, but showed crazy amounts of pop in his bat, hitting 26 HRs and 54 RBIs. Not only did Pederson provide another bat in the lineup, but the rookie also ignited the team with his energy and effort. Just like Puig in his first year, every game held an opportunity for Pederson to display his incredible talents.
The Dodgers are lucky to have one of the best prospects in the game today, SS Corey Seager. Yes, that last name does sound familiar and yes, he is related to Seattle Mariners’ 3B Kyle Seager. But it in just a sample of play in 2015, Corey has displayed talents beyond the level of his brother.
The rookie sensation only appeared in 27 games in 2015, but he proved his worth by batting .337 while living up to every high expectation. With his rookie status still in tact for 2016, we might have an early choice for Rookie of the Year.
1st: San Francisco Giants
Superstition plays a constant role in baseball, and while I don’t consider myself a superstitious person, I do believe in the inevitable success for the 2016 San Francisco Giants. Not because of the even year, but because of their roster.
The Giants added two significant free agents in the offseason, singing SP Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. Cueto was a late addition to the 2015 Kansas City Royals, helping them pitch and scrap their way to a World Series victory. Samardzija has failed to return to his All Star form that we witnessed in 2014, but that could be due to fact that he has been moved between three teams in the past two years, the Giants being the fourth.
Any starting rotation that features a leader in Madison Bumgarner followed by two solid pitchers like this is a rotation to be reckoned with. In all of the last three World Series Championships for the Giants, (2010, 2012, 2014) their pitching is what lead to success. History is repeating itself.
On the other side of the diamond, the Giants are more than capable of providing plenty run support for their pitching staff.
The Giants have considerably the best hitting infield in the MLB, with 3B Matt Duffy, SS Brandon Crawford, 2B Joe Panik and 1B Brandon Belt. These four players combined for an average of .285 and provided 266 of the teams total 641 RBIs.
Outside of the infield, the Giants added lead off, center fielder Denard Span. The outfielder supplied a line of .301/.365/.431 for the Nationals in 2015. Neighboring Span in the outfield, Hunter Pence will make his return back from an injury in 2015.
I hate to fuel the fire that is the mysterious pattern of even year success for the San Francisco Giants, but with a roster like this, it’s hard not to given in to the phenomenon.
Stats via baseball-reference.com