baltimore orioles

2015 Predictions

Despite my complete failure to predict anything correctly last year, I’ve decided to roll out another set of predictions this year, apparently because I am a depraved masochist.  While I referred to my 2014 predictions as “bold”, I make no assertion about the boldness of this year’s predictions.  I no longer care about my perceived boldness.  I just want to get one right.

1.  Each National League division winner from 2014 (Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers) will repeat.

While the 2015 American League looks like a complete crapshoot, with various upstarts on the rise and traditional powers on the decline, I don’t expect much to change at the top of the NL.  The Nationals started with three excellent starters in Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, and then over the past year have added 40% of what used to be the best rotation in baseball (Max Scherzer and Doug Fister from Detroit).  The Dodgers are still the best team in the West on paper and have the means to add whatever they need over the course of the season.  The Cardinals, on the other hand, do seem to be vulnerable in the Central after a rather underwhelming 2014, but I’m not sure their division rivals have made quite enough strides to overtake them this year.  Which leads me to my next prediction…

2.  The Cubs will be a massive disappointment.

Everyone seems to love what the Cubs have done over the offseason, from signing Jon Lester to poaching Joe Maddon.  Add that to the best group of prospects in baseball, and many are picking the Cubs to experience a huge turnaround.  In fact, fans and bettors are so excited that the Cubs are leading World Series odds in Vegas, now at 6 to 1.  I’m sorry, this is just insane.  This is still a team that finished in last place in 2014, and the success of the team is largely tied to the development of youngsters with little to no major league experience, such as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler.  I have no doubt that the Cubs are headed in the right direction, but those counting on big things for 2015 are going to end up being very, very sad.  I mean, we’re talking about the Cubs!  Have we learned nothing from the past 100+ years?

3.  Two of the three longest postseason droughts will come to an end.

Only three teams have failed to make the playoffs in the past ten years: the Blue Jays (21 year drought), the Mariners (13 years) and the Marlins (11 years).  All three are improved for 2015 and have major sleeper potential, and I expect at least two of these teams to finally break through and return to the playoffs.  Honestly, I hope it’s not the Marlins, because I despise this franchise and their scumbag ownership, but the bottom of the NL East (Atlanta and Philadelphia) looks terrible and the Fish should get fat playing those teams 19 times each.

4.  Baltimore will win the AL East.

The Orioles look mediocre on paper and are generally not highly regarded by the advanced stats community.  This has been true for the past three years, but the O’s have posted three straight winning seasons, averaging 91 wins a year.  And while they have lost some key contributors from last year, like Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller, one must remember that they dominated the AL for significant portions of 2014 without Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis.  Sure, the rotation is nothing special, but the same can be said for nearly all of their AL East rivals.

5.  The Yankees will have a losing record for the first time since 1992.

The post-Jeter era in New York has begun, and it does not look pretty.  Sure, Jeter’s statistics were in sharp decline over the past few years, and he was barely a shell of himself during his farewell tour in 2014.  But people tend to forget that statistics can only measure so much…and that Derek Jeter is magic.  Without magic, there is no life to the Frankenstein’s monster of the Yankees roster.  All you’re left with is a bunch of inanimate rotting body parts sewn together.

6.  The Giants will miss the playoffs.

Like clockwork.  It’s an odd year.  This will mean that this “dynasty” (I shudder at this word) will have made a total of three playoff appearances over a span of seven seasons.  What a joke.

7.  The Tigers will not win 90 games.

This is the same prediction I made as last year, but it’s significantly less bold this year, as many see the Tigers as on the verge of falling off a cliff.  I wanted to go out on a limb and say that the Tigers wouldn’t make the playoffs at all, but I can’t do it.  Or rather, I don’t want to.  With all the parity in the AL and two wild-cards, who knows.  Plus, unlike their emerging division rivals, the Tigers are clearly in all-in mode, and can go for broke at the trade deadline if they are anywhere close to contending.  But, even with some good breaks, I think 90 wins is the ceiling.

8.  The Nationals will be the best team in 2015…and it won’t matter.

I’ve lost all faith in the playoffs.  They are a complete crapshoot, and the more the playoffs are expanded, the more crappyshooty they will be.  I think the Nationals are the best team in the majors, but since when does the best team win the World Series?  Or even a good team?  Whatever.  I think I’ll just root for a Beltway Series, that will be fun.  May the best team win?  Not likely.

Playoff predictions:

NL East:  Nationals
NL Central:  Cardinals
NL West:  Dodgers
NL Wild Cards:  Pirates, Marlins

AL East:  Orioles
AL Central:  Indians
AL West:  Mariners
AL Wild Cards:  Angels, Tigers

NLCS:  Nationals over Dodgers
ALCS:  Orioles over Indians

World Series:  Orioles over Nationals

Worst Predictions Ever and World Series Possibilities

A few posts ago, I made my postseason picks, and they were perfect:

AL Wild Card:  Oakland over Kansas City
NL Wild Card:  Pittsburgh over San Francisco

ALCS:  Detroit vs Oakland
NLCS:  Los Angeles vs Washington

Yes, that’s an amazing 100% wrong.  Six out of six.  I mean, that takes some serious skill, right?

But I would suspect that I’m not the only one who predicted zero LCS participants correctly.  Both wild card teams are still alive, and both teams that won the most games in their leagues (Angels and Nationals) are out.  Only one higher seed (Baltimore) won its Division Series.

In the National League, it’s more of the same.  Either the Giants or the Cardinals will end up representing the NL in the World Series for the fifth straight year.  It’s completely the opposite in the American League, where whichever team goes to the World Series will be breaking a LONG pennant drought (29 years for the Royals, 31 years for the Orioles).

So, the following are not predictions (since I am obviously terrible at that), but a ranking of the most watchable potential World Series matchups:

1.  Kansas City vs. St. Louis
This would be a rematch of the memorable 1985 World Series, which the Royals won in seven.  Yadier Molina against the Royals’ running game?  Yes please.  And most importantly, this is the only remaining potential matchup that would involve a legitimate geographic rivalry.

There are eight possible World Series matchups that would involve a geographic “pair”:
i. Kansas City vs. St. Louis — The Show-Me Series or the I-70 Series
ii. NY Yankees vs. NY Mets — The Subway Series
iii. LA Angels vs. LA Dodgers — The Freeway Series
iv. Oakland vs. San Francisco — The Bay Bridge Series
v. Chicago White Sox vs. Chicago Cubs — The Crosstown Series or the Red Line Series
vi.  Baltimore vs. Washington — The Beltway Series
vii.  Cleveland vs. Cincinnati — The Ohio Series
viii.  Tampa Bay vs. Miami — The Citrus Series

This year, we had four matched pairs of teams (LA, Bay Area, DC, MO) in the postseason, which I’m pretty sure is a record.  The last pair standing is the Battle for Missouri, but if that happens, I really hope that people don’t continue to refer to it as the I-70 Series.  I mean, Baltimore and Denver are also on I-70, so the term could also refer to a Rockies-Orioles World Series.  And the last thing I would want is for people to get carried away with the Interstate monikers.  Would a Tigers-Marlins World Series be called the I-75 Series?  Would Yankees-Giants be called the I-80 Series?  Let’s just nip this in the bud right now.

2.  Baltimore vs. San Francisco
An all black and orange World Series!  Normally, I don’t like it when teams with similar colors play each other (especially teams that wear red…there are too many teams in red.  Why don’t more teams wear interesting colors?) but since it’s Halloween soon, why not?  In a postseason where the gap between well-managed and poorly-managed teams seems bigger than ever, this matchup would pit the two best remaining managers (Bruce Bochy and Buck Showalter) against each other, hopefully ensuring high-quality baseball where the outcome is decided by the players on the field, not by managerial bungling.

3.  Baltimore vs. St. Louis
An all birds World Series!  Surprisingly, there has never been an all birds World Series before.  Who would win in a fight, a real oriole or a real cardinal?  I think cardinals are slightly larger, but I can’t really be sure.  Whatever.

4.  Kansas City vs. San Francisco
This is the least preferable World Series scenario because it would be guaranteed to produce a rather unpalatable World Series champion.  If the Royals won, it would be despite (a) one of the most incompetent managers in all of baseball in Ned Yost and (b) going 6-13 against my Tigers this year.   How would I feel about having such an undeserving World Series champion, one that was clearly inferior to the team I root for?   On the other hand, if the Giants won, it would be their third championship in five years and would establish the weakest dynasty in the history of sports.  As a Bay Area resident, can I live with a spoiled and obnoxious fan base becoming even more spoiled and obnoxious?  (Apparently, before the Giants game began yesterday, fans cheered enthusiastically when the scoreboard announced that the Dodgers had been eliminated.  I don’t understand this.  Wouldn’t you want to face and defeat your biggest rival, rather than have someone else knock them off?  Even the vilest villain in a movie won’t let his henchmen kill the superhero; he wants the satisfaction in doing it himself.  Whether they’re clueless bandwagoners or just petty, Giants fans lack sense.)

Requiem for a Season

Yesterday, 43,013 people filed into Comerica Park to observe the Tigers end their season in miserable fashion, losing 2-1 to the Baltimore Orioles.  As noted repeatedly by the TBS announcers (who were terrible all series…yes, Dennis Eckersley, we are aware that you used to be a pitcher, you don’t have to keep reminding us), the crowd was eerily quiet.  On a gray, blustery Michigan afternoon, those in attendance were, as Mitch Albom put it, bearing silent witness to the potential end of an era.  After meltdowns by the bullpen in the first two games of the series, Detroit fans showed up to the party, but came empty-handed.  Sometimes, as fans, you bring the energy with you, but sometimes you need to be fed.  And these fans came hungry for any reason to hope, for any sign of life.  And they starved.

As the fans well know, the Tigers are not a team that comes back from the dead.  This is a team reliant on dominant starting pitching, building an early lead and holding on for dear life.  During the Tigers’ current run of four consecutive division championships, they have never come back to win a postseason game they were losing going into the eighth inning.  Not once.  Since 2011, they’ve been trailing after seven innings 14 times and lost all 14 games.  For that matter, the Tigers haven’t even won a single game where they were tied entering the eighth; they’re 0-4 in such games.  At the same time, the bullpen has registered five blown saves in the eighth inning or later.  Opposing bullpens have incurred a blown save against the Tigers in the 8th inning or later only once, in Game 2 of the 2012 ALDS, but even in that game, it was only after the Tigers’ bullpen had already blown a save.  The Tigers have only won a single game that went into extra innings in four opportunities, Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, but again, that was only after the Tigers bullpen had already blown a save in the 9th.

Overall, the Tigers have played 38 postseason games since 2011, with a record of 17-21.  In those games, they were leading after seven innings 20 times, trailing 14 times and tied 4 times.  If they simply won the games they were winning, lost the games they were losing, and won half of the games that were tied, that would be 22 wins and 16 losses.  The difference between 22-16 and 17-21 is the difference between genuine hope and utter despair.

This isn’t all about the bullpen or performance in the late innings.  This is about knowing that crazy things happen in baseball, and sometimes, when the chips are down, all you can do is hope for a miracle.  And while Detroit fans still clung to that hope, they understandably felt like those miracles only happen in other places for other fans for other teams.  When you hope for the best but expect the worst, you’re never wrong.  And the Tigers never fail to disappoint.

Ausmus Not Awesome

The Orioles now hold a 2-0 lead in the ALDS over the Tigers.  It’s not over, but it feels over.  For the third straight year, the Tigers have been handicapped by severe bullpen management and managerial incompetence.  In 2012 and 2013, it was Jim Leyland bungling things from the helm.  There was some hope that changing to a younger manager in Brad Ausmus would help to alleviate these issues, but that hope has already been smashed to smithereens.

In Game 2, Ausmus made three decisions regarding pitching changes, and they ranged between questionable and outright terrible:

– Left in Justin Verlander to start the 6th inning, then brought in Anibal Sanchez after Verlander gave up a hit.  Verlander looked absolutely done in the 5th, but Ausmus sent him back out to the mound in the 6th since he had only thrown 95 pitches.  Having Sanchez as the first guy out of the pen was clearly the correct decision, but given his lack of experience as a reliever, it would have been optimal to have him start an inning or come in with no one on base.  There was no reason to bring Verlander back out with the heart of the O’s order due up.  Luckily, Sanchez escaped the 6th without any further damage and pitched a perfect 7th, so no harm was done.  But as much as Verlander was battling all game, he was clearly toast, and I don’t understand the hesitance to switch to a pitcher in Sanchez who had been better than JV all year long.
Decision rating:  1 out of 5

– Removed Sanchez for Joba Chamberlain to begin the 8th.  This is the decision that will haunt the Tigers and their fans all winter.  Sanchez is a starting pitcher by trade, and he was looking stronger the longer he pitched.  Sure, he’d only had a single one inning appearance since he’d returned from the DL, but if Ausmus was thinking he couldn’t handle three innings, whose fault was it that Sanchez hadn’t been handed more work to get a bit more stretched out before the season ended?  This was slavish obedience to Ausmus’ set bullpen hierarchy, plain and simple.  Joba pitches the 8th and Joe Nathan pitches the 9th, never mind that both have been terrible lately and that there were superior options available.  Joba proceeded to give up two hits and hit a batter while getting a single lonely out.  His postseason ERA actually went down from infinity to 108.00.  Even if Ausmus was resolved to remove Sanchez after he had pitched two innings, I would have preferred to see Soria get a chance to start the inning.
Decision rating:  0 out of 5

– Removing Joba for Joakim Soria with two on, one out in the 8th.  This decision is probably the most defensible of the three, simply because Soria was having a great season before he was acquired by the Tigers.  He proceeded to walk J.J. Hardy and give up a game-winning bases-clearing double to former Tiger Delmon Young of all people.  Soria hasn’t looked sharp as a Tiger at all, but his usage since acquisition has been extremely inconsistent.  It appeared he finally shook off some of the rust to retire the side after the damage was already done, but a less rusty option might have been Al Alburquerque, who has yet to appear in the series.  As I’ve written before, Alburquerque has had the best and most consistent season of any Tiger reliever this year, and is a good option with runners on base due to his strikeout ability.  Given the lack of the options in the Tigers bullpen, Soria was an acceptable choice, but it appears that Ausmus doesn’t view Alburquerque as an option in the 8th or 9th inning regardless of matchup or situation.  It’s that kind of closed-minded thinking that is killing the Tigers right now.
Decision rating:  3 out of 5

Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that the Tigers bullpen has completely imploded and that’s even without the negative contributions of the highly flammable Joe Nathan (who of course is being reserved exclusively for save situations and hasn’t yet appeared in the postseason).  Sure, a postseason series is a small sample size, and there’s no need to deviate from a sound plan if things go wrong, but that’s only if the initial plan was any good.  Ausmus entered the postseason with a rigid and moronic plan for his already struggling bullpen.  Going forward, he’ll either overreact in the worst way possible (perhaps asking Phil Coke to get through a full inning or calling Jim Leyland for advice) or do nothing at all.  Either way, there is very little hope in Tigertown.