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Bitter Mike’s Baseball Bites – MLB Preview Edition

Hello, Everyone!  I hope you enjoyed Monday’s update!  Send me an email with questions or comments.  Remember to keep them civil and clean!

Today’s episode will be the obligatory and (most likely) way-off base predictions for each division and thru the playoffs, with a quick hit on each team.  Teams will be listed in order of predicted finish.  LET’S DO THIS!

AL EAST

  1. NY YANKEES – No team is more prepared for this shortened season and no team benefited more from the delayed start.  RF Aaron Judge, LF Giancarlo Stanton, CF Aaron Hicks and SS Gleyber Torres were supposed to start the season on the DL but all are healthy and mashing the ball.  SP Masahiro Tenaka (mild concussion) and CL Aroldis Chapman (COVID) are set to return soon after the season starts.  Zach Britton slides in as the Closer. Picking up the best pitcher in the game in Gerrit Cole will be the difference in getting to the Fall Classic
  2. TAMPA BAY RAYS – Losses to the pitching staff by injury (CYA Blake Snell), COVID (Tyler Glasnow) and trade (Emilio Pagan) leave this team pretty thin but they’ve got a jump on the rest of MLB by employing the “Opener” strategy two years before everyone else.
  3. TORONTO BLUE JAYS – Everyone raves about the SD Padre prospects but the Blue Jays IMO are even better.  The future is bright with legacy players in 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr, SS Bo Bichette, 2B Cavan Biggio and RHP Nate Pearson.  FA SP Hyun-Jin Rhu is the odds-on favorite for AL CYA.  Denied permission to play in their home park Rogers Center, they are close to securing a deal with the Pittsburg Pirates to play at PNC.
  4. BOSTON RED SOX – No Mookie Betts, No David Justice, No Aaron Sele, No Colin McHugh.  Yes, they got three great prospects from LAD for Betts and Justice but only Verdugo is Major league ready, so this team is re-building even though the Bosox fans won’t tolerate it.
  5. BALTIMORE ORIOLES – Tragically their best player, 1B/DH Trey Mancini, was diagnosed in March with Stage 3 Colon Cancer.  Prayers to him and his family.  Pale by comparison, it will be at least three years before Baltimore will contend for the postseason

AL CENTRAL

  1. MINNESOTA TWINS – It’s hard to not pick this team, considering their solid rotation, their record HR hitting lineup and the fact they added an MVP in waiting Josh Donaldson.
  2. CHICAGO WHITE SOX – most experts pick this team to scare the defending AL Central champ Twins because of their rotation (Giolito, Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez) and with good reason; but I’m excited to see what damage SS Tim Anderson and OFs Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert will do; C Yasmani Grandal is underrated, probably the best backstop in the AL not named Salvador Perez.
  3. KANSAS CITY ROYALS – Yes, call me crazy, but this team will be “a tough out”!  All Star C Salvy Perez is back in the lineup, they have some exciting hitters in the lineup in Merrifield, Soler, and Mondesi and some exciting arms (Singer, Keller) waiting in the wings.  Unfortunately, the young arms will have to wait their turn, pushing this team’s time frame back a couple of years.  2019 first round pick SS Bobby Witt Jr is easily the most exciting player in camp.
  4. CLEVELAND INDIANS – We’ll find out really quick if predicting the Indians to finish fourth is nuts: they start the season at home for three against KC and three against the White Sox before heading to Minneapolis for four against the Twins.  They lose SP Trevor Bauer and RP Tyler Clippard, but their real concern is 3B Jose Ramirez; his first half last year was horrible (.218/.308/.344, 7HR, 35 RBI in 85 games) because this year affords no time to recover.
  5. DETROIT TIGERS – The only things worthy of watching this team is whether they will trade SP Matt Boyd, the development of highly touted SP Casey Mize and DH Miguel Cabrera reaching one (500 HRs) and maybe another (3K hits) milestone.

AL WEST

  1. OAKLAND A’S – A mild surprise here picking them over the Houston Astros, but the A’s are more talented than the defending AL Champs.  They have more power in their younger lineup and I’m excited to see hot shot ROY candidate LH Jesus Lozardo.  His return to the team this Summer was delayed due to a bout of COVID and the recent loss of fellow rookie AJ Puk is a blow, but they have depth in their rotation with Manaea, Mike Fiers and Daniel Mengden.  Yusmeiro Petit is an underrated swing man who puts out fires and eats innings.  The only issue for this team will be whether they finally win a playoff series.
  2. HOUSTON ASTROS – This may be un-PC, but the Astros were relieved the COVID took center stage; now they can focus on defending their AL crown instead of answering questions ad nauseum about the 2017 Cheating Scandal.  They’re still looking for a replacement for Charlie Morton two years later, now they’ve lost McHugh and Gerrit Cole (see above) to free agency; Opening Day starter Verlander is now 37 and had nothing left in October, so he should benefit from the short season.  But if Correa and Altuve go down like they have the last two years, that will sink this team.
  3. TEXAS RANGERS – The Rangers benefit from not facing their in-state rival Astros until September.  They also bolstered their rotation with the additions of Korey Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles.  But the two teams they are chasing simply have too much to overcome.
  4. LAA ANGELS – They have the best player in the game, CF Mike Trout; they have an exciting two-way player in Shohei Ohtani; they signed 2019 WS MVP Anthony Rendon; and they signed future HOF Joe Maddon as their skipper. But Trout has voiced concerns about playing (his wife is pregnant) during the COVID, Ohtani hasn’t played since 2018 due to arm issues and Rendon will not answer the opening bell as he deals with an oblique injury; the rest of this team is either past his prime (Pujols, Simmons, Castro) or stuck waiting their turn.  Maddon may wonder if the beautiful beaches of SoCal are worth the losing.
  5. SEATTLE MARINERS – Their best position player (Mitch Hanniger) is on the 60-day DL and their best prospect, OF Jarred Kelenic, is at least a year away.  Manager Scott Servais may be the first in the big leagues to lose his job.

NL EAST

  1. WASHINGTON NATIONALS – Yes, they lost Anthony Rendon, but rookie Carter Kieboom is ready to step in.  Everyone gushes over the young talent in Atlanta, but Juan Soto and Victor Robles are right up there.  Trea Turner is arguably the team’s MVP, but the difference is their rotation.  No other team in the division can match the likes of Strassburg, Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.
  2. ATLANTA BRAVES – Getting 1B and MVP candidate Freddie Freeman back from COVID was big, but losing Markakis and former CYA Feliz Hernandez (both opt outs) will hurt in the clubhouse.  The future is now with youngsters Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna Jr, and Dansby Swanson, but with #1 SP Cole Hamels out with shoulder and elbow issues, it’s left up to third year starter Mike Soroka and veteran Mike Foltynewicz to pick up the slack.
  3. NY METS – deGrom says he’s healthy, but for how long?  Backs are iffy and with Noah Syndergaard already lost for the season, losing him again would kill this team.  Closer Edwin Diaz must improve from last year’s debacle and no one should expect ROY Pete Alonso to repeat last year’s performance.  And how much can they expect from Yoenis Cespedes after being limited to 38 games in the last two years? Maybe A-Rod can take advantage of the DH in the NL this year and come out of retirement after he and J-Lo buy the team.
  4. PHILLIES – They pushed their chips into the center of the table to sign Bryce Harper (13 yrs./$330M) and trade for JT Realmuto for three minor leaguers, only to finish fourth.  Now they’ve added Vince Velasquez and Zach Wheeler to the rotation and signed SS Didi Gregorius and could be the surprise winner here if everything goes right and ATL and WASH stumble.  But aside from Harper, who’s too inconsistent, their OF is one of the worst in Baseball.
  5. FLORIDA MARLINS – Will this team EVER emerge from the “Re-building phase”?  Will they ever recover from the death of local hero Jose Fernandez?  Does Derek Jeter know what he’s doing?

NL CENTRAL – By far, the hardest division to pick.  I might as well use a Magic 8-ball!

  1. CHICAGO CUBS – This is the year Yu Darvish shakes off that disastrous performance in the 2017 World Series and becomes the Ace he’s destined to be.  No team in the NL is best suited for the DH than the North-siders, where new manager David Ross can mix and match with Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ian Happ – well, you get the idea.  Plus, they get a full year out of Closer Craig Kimbrel.
  2. MILWAUKEE BREWERS – I really like what this team did last year, especially after NL MVP Christian Yelich went down with a leg injury.  Now Ryan Braun will not be ready for Opening Day due to discomfort on his left side.  Opening Day starter Brandon Woodruff is as good as advertised and Closer Josh Hader can light it up, but he gave up way too many HRs last year for me (15). This team is close, but I think their lineup falls a little bit short.

  3. ST LOUIS CARDINALS – Yadier Molina is a first ballot HOFer; Carlos Martinez returns to the rotation after two years in the pen, Adam Wainwright is the ageless vet mentoring Martinez and Jack Flaherty, the ace of the staff. Their chances rest on 1B Paul Goldschmidt finding those 30 points off his career BA he lost last year, Matt Carpenter rebounding from the worst year of his career and their defense playing more like they did in the second half than they did in the first half.
  4. CINCINNATI REDS – Yes, I know.  The Reds finally opened up their wallet, spending more $$ on long term contracts ($170 million) than they did in the last ten years combined.  But it normally takes a full year for free agents to gel on a new team, and this year is anything but normal.  Plus, all this talk about Sonny Gray reverting back to the pitcher he was in Oakland now that he is out of the NY spotlight playing for the Yankees ignores the fact that he started losing it BEFORE he was traded from Oakland to NY.  Yes, he shaved two runs off his ERA last year, but there’s a reason why they call the Reds’ home the Great American SMALL Park!
  5. PITTSBURG PIRATES – This team’s long-term fate was sealed when they went all in and traded SP Tyler Glasnow and CF Austin Meadows to Tampa Bay for the playoff push in 2018 to acquire former AL CYA Chris Archer; it didn’t pan out and now he’s hurt, along with promising righty Jameson Taillon (Tommy John surgery) and neither will pitch this season.  They traded their starting CF and leadoff hitter Starling Marte to AZ before the Spring and if this was a normal season, 1B Josh Bell would be gone too.  Pirates fans are used to this, unfortunately.

NL WEST – By far, the EASIEST division to pick

  1. LOS ANGELES DODGERS – As if this roster wasn’t loaded enough, they get former AL MVP LF Mookie Betts from BOS for RF Alex Verdugo and two highly touted prospects (one of them named Jeter!).  He’ll team up with defending NL MVP Cody Bellinger.  The one Achilles heel on this team was their bullpen but with the addition of flamethrower Brusdar Graterol from the Twins, the FA signing of Blake Trienen (38 Saves in 43 chances in 2018) and a healthy Kenley Jansen, the relief corps is now the strength of their staff.  Yes, losing SP Kenta Maeda to get Graterol and Hyn-Jin Ryu to free agency (see TORONTO) hurts their rotation, but this allows top prospect Dustin May or Tony Gonsolin to step in.  SPOILER ALERT (and this PAINS ME to say it being the lifelong Giants fan I am) The Dodgers break their 32-year drought and take home the Commissioner’s trophy (for what it’s worth this year.
  2. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS – They acquired SP Madison Bumgarner to bring his no-nonsense attitude and teach youngsters Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver and ace in the making Robbie Ray how to pitch with a healthy dose of NASTY.  SS Nick Ahmed and 1B Christian Walker lead the offense and the acquisition of Starling Marte from the Pirates should make up for the loss of RF Adam Jones (Japan) and Wilmer Flores (SFG); this team will contend for a WC, but the 800-pound gorilla is in the way.
  3. SAN DIEGO PADRES – The only reason I put them ahead of the Colorado Rockies is because of their respective bull pens. (SD’s is the best of the division with Closer Kirby Yates and setup man Emilio Pagan who they got in trade from Tampa Bay)  Other than that, I’m not buying into all the hype of the Padres one bit!  1B Eric Hosmer was overpaid as soon as he signed that deal (8yrs/$144million), and the mega deal for 3B Manny Machado (10yrs/$300million) further hamstrings this team’s ability to sign any of their young stars in the future.  Plus, all this talent and they flamed out last year, losing 14 of their final 17 games.  They haven’t had a winning season in TEN years; get above .500, then I might take notice!
  4. COLORADO ROCKIES – Coors Field, where pitching careers go to die.  The latest victim, Wade Davis, late of the World Champion KC Royals and Chicago Cubs.  His ERA has ballooned since signing with the Rockies, going from sub 3.00 to over 5.92 in the Mile High City!  The left side of the infield is anchored by SS Trevor Story and 3B Nolan Arenado, but now Arenado and the GM aren’t on speaking terms just one year removed from signing an 8 year/$260million deal just last year.  The rest of the roster is nothing to write home about.
  5. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS – That’s right, I picked my favorite team to finish DEAD LAST in its division.  Why, you ask? Where do I begin?  How about losing the ace and leader of your pitching staff, Madison Bumgarner, to a division rival; or losing your closer Will Smith to free agency; how about losing the leader on the field and heart and soul of your team in C Buster Posey, who admirably opted out to care for his adopted twin daughters born prematurely (I can’t wait for 2021 Home opener when he steps up to the plate for the first time!) Now your starting corner infielders, 1B Brandon Belt (sore right heel) and 3B Evan Longoria (oblique strain) will start the season on the IL, not that they were productive when they were on the field!  Their best hitter last year, 1B Pablo Sandoval, reported to Summer camp at least thirty pounds overweight (check out Twitter if you don’t believe me) and their #1 starter by default Johnny Cueto is coming off Tommy John surgery.  Yes, they have some exciting prospects in C Joey Bart and utility man Mauricio Dubon, but this roster is devoid of front line talent; what major league talent they have (Belt, SS Brandon Crawford, Posey, OF Hunter Pence, Longoria) hasn’t been productive for at least three years.  They are years away from competing with the Dodgers.  No wonder my extra season tickets go unsold!

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