MY ANNUAL ASSESSMENT OF THE STATE OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL (PART I)
Pontifications, Predictions, Jabs, Japes, and Unapologetically Blue-Biased Opinions on the Upcoming 2018 Baseball Season.
Here you go, the expert diagnosis on the state of the game and the teams that play it – in a format that you obviously haven’t been looking forward to reading. Yet, it appears here thusly …
Baseball is really the only sport I follow with any real interest these days, but I do so with a fervor that borders on “unhealthy.” So, you know, read the following tirade through a lens of skepticism, and maybe even occasional pity. After all, only real baseball fans will understand the suffering the next 162 games our teams play will inflict upon every one of us, with varying degrees of recompense when the whole thing is over in November. Such is baseball. Such is life.
2018 finds baseball in pretty good shape. Teams are making money, the ‘Big Market’ teams are loaded yet there are plenty of mid and small market clubs poised to make things interesting. Young, bankable “superstars” abound and marquee names to put on the cover of video games are plentiful. But, there’s a big, hairy elephant in the room. Words like “tanking” and “collusion” are being muttered under fan’s breath and they ain’t necessarily wrong in their accusations. More thoughts on this topic will appear in future posts.
“Pace of Play” is way, way, way up on Commissioner Rob Manfred’s “things to do” list and this is anathema to my personal core belief system. Adding “clocks” and artificial rules to a game that is just fine the way it is makes no sense to me. I’m sorry if the “casual fan” gets “bored” or that a baseball game messes with TV’s desire to air that Season Three episode of “Big Bang Theory” for the 1,247,843rd time. The baseball game is the “event” and TV is there to document and share that “event.” The medium conforms to the event, not the other way around. I know I’m on the losing side of this battle and that my wistful sentiments toward the game are not valued by the business side of things … but, I don’t like it and I reserve the right to be a curmudgeon. I actually think it’s a role that suits me well.
So, NO F@#$%! CLOCKS IN BASEBALL!!! And while we’re at it, DUMP THE DH!!! YOU HEAR ME????
OK, let’s get down to the “preview” portion of our show. After careful analysis, in-depth research and sitting through every Spring Training pitch on MLB Network I have comprised the following predictions on what to expect in 2018. I’m sure you’ve noticed that last year’s predictions were eerily accurate (I think, I don’t really remember much of it) except that I gave the San Francisco Giants too much credit (a mistake I will not repeat this year) and had them finishing ahead of the woeful Padres. I’ve never been so happy to be proven wrong. So, without further ado, here’s the way I think things shake out this season:
- D-Bags (Wild Card)
All right, it seems easy and rather lazy to duplicate last year’s final standings and portray them as the coming year’s results, but those who know me will confirm that I am accurately described as both “easy” and “lazy,” so these predictions should come as no surprise. But, hear me out, I think I can justify my, admittedly biased, assertions.
I am not alone in predicting the Dodgers will win their sixth straight NL West crown. In fact, it’s pretty much the general consensus among us “experts,” go ahead, look it up. Will they win 104 games again? Maybe not. Or, maybe they’ll win 117. Either way they will win enough to outpace the Diamondbacks and Rockies who, let’s face it, are the only real challengers in the division. But, this ain’t my first rodeo and I am fully aware of how quickly things can turn to fecal matter for a baseball team. Especially a baseball team wearing Dodger Blue.
WHY I’M NERVOUS (AND WHY I’M NOT): Is Kershaw healthy? Is he still Kershaw? Look, I’m here to say this publicly, out loud and without reservation; CLAYTON KERSHAW IS THE BEST PITCHER ON THE PLANET. Period. It’s not even a debate. This man has the lowest ERA of ANY PITCHER IN HISTORY with at least 1,500 innings pitched. He is the ONLY left-handed pitcher who can be compared to Sandy Koufax without chuckling. BUT … what’s with the home runs allowed last year? Is it the ball? Is it the hitter’s approach? Can Kershaw adjust? If he can adjust and if he is healthy, then screw it, Dodgers win 100 games. If he’s not? Well, Walker Buehler is waiting in the wings.
Other issues for Dodger fans to be concerned with? Will the bullpen be as good? Losing Brandon Morrow to the Cubs will hurt, but did Zaidi and Friedman find another gem in Scott Alexander? I mean, it’s what they do, build bullpens with under-the-radar arms. Unfortunately, losing under-the-radar off-season pickup, Tom Koehler to a shoulder strain early this Spring leaves a hole that may need to be addressed early on. But, at the back-end, there’s a fella named Kenley Jansen. I feel good about that.
Is Seager healthy? He says he is, but Dodgers need him and need him to perform, so … he better be. It’s obvious that if Corey can maintain his performance over the next few years, we’re looking at a Hall of Famer. That’s not hyperbole, he’s that good.
Can Cody Bellinger repeat his rookie season performance? With A-Gone in New York, he better. There’s good reason to believe his inaugural campaign wasn’t a fluke and there’s no doubt that his play pushed the Dodgers from “good team” to “World Series team” last year. He’s a guy to watch.
Is Chris Taylor for real? Bet he is. If not, Joc Pederson (or Trayce Thompson or Alex Verdugo) can be recalled from OKC to help out (well, maybe not Trayce, he’s out of options, but André Ethier is still looking for a job). The beauty of Taylor is that, Gawd Forbid, if Corey Seager goes down, he can play short. If Forsythe under-performs, CT3 can play second. Dodgers have LOTS of OF options, so Taylor is an invaluable piece for Dave Roberts.
Can a platoon of Andrew Toles and Matt Kemp succeed in LF? Judging on Spring Training results, noooooo problemo! What a story! As this is written, Matt Kemp is hitting .438 and looking svelt! The Dodgers are re-thinking their plan to trade him for a case of baseballs and a six-pack of Gatorade to anybody who would take him. And along with his .400 hitting compadre, Mr. Toles, is forcing Joc Pederson to OKC. What a problem to have!
Will Yasiel Puig pick up where he left off last season? Not only did Puig perform offensively, he should have won the Gold Glove. He was a human highlight reel and made throws that actually caused me to pee a little bit in my pants when I witnessed them. He was AMAZING!!! He’s probably the most interesting, colorful and exciting player in baseball today and is someone I would gladly pay money to watch play. The question is, will he even be a Dodger by the end of the season? Puig is an enigma wrapped in a mystery, BUT I LOVE HIM!!!
Logan Forsythe looks like he’s healthy and could return to the form he showed in Tampa Bay in 2015-16 and if that’s the case, Dear Ghost of Pee-Wee, what an infield! Remember, there’s a guy named Justin Turner holding down third base!
What about behind the plate? Well, according to Brian Kenney and MLB Network’s “The Shredder,” the Dodgers have TWO Top Ten catchers in Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes. If that’s not enough there’s Kyle Farmer who has impressed Dave Roberts plenty, both last season at the major league level and this Spring. Plus, in true Dodger fashion, he’s versatile, he can play the infield (as can Barnes). Also, kids named Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith down on the farm that look like SERIOUS backstops and could be a factor either on the roster or as trade bait. We’re good at Catcher.
Pitching? There’s only The GOAT (Clayton Kershaw), Rich Hill, Alex (All-Star) Wood, Kenta Maeda and Hyun Jin Ryu. That’s not bad, but expect youngsters like fireballer Walker Buehler and Julio Urias to make a play to push Maeda and/or Ryu to the bullpen at some point this season.
Finally, Dave Roberts and the Front Office have proven they’re on the same page and are ready to address any problems that may arise. Nobody gets through 162 games unscathed, so the ability to make moves and maximize a roster is key … nobody handles a 40-man roster better than the Dodgers. Depth is now a proven commodity and the Dodgers have it … in spades. Plus, they’re in fine position payroll-wise to make a deadline deal or two to shore up any holes. It’s really hard to pick against the Dodgers … they should be back in the World Series in 2018. But, it’s baseball, so, you know.
DIAMONDBACKS and ROCKIES
I’m lumping these two teams together because they’re the only real threats to make the playoffs or even, possibly, dethrone the Dodgers in the division. The only thing that gives the D-Bags an edge in the race is their starting pitching. BUT, that said, the Rockies did an excellent job over the offseason in strengthening their bullpen, so, in a way, it’s a wash. I’ll say this though, these two teams will RAKE. But, let’s be honest, how do they stack up to the Dodgers?
FIRST BASE: Paul Goldschmidt is a MONSTER. Perennial MVP candidate and, unquestionably, one of the game’s top players. The Rockies will probably start the season with Ian Desmond at first, but rookie Ryan McMahon looks like he could be a factor for the Rox. Either way, expect decent production at first. Over in L.A., there’s ROY, Cody Bellinger. EDGE: Arizona. Goldschmidt is in a class by himself.
SECOND BASE: DJ LeMahieu is a .300 hitter and a former batting champion for the Rockies. Ketel Marte is the D-Bags probable every day 2B, he can hit but he’s not in LeMahieu’s class. Logan Forsythe is solid for Dodgers. EDGE: Colorado
SHORTSTOP: Corey Seager is the top SS in the league. The Rockies’ Trevor Story has the potential to bounce back from some nagging injuries and, if healthy, has the pop to do some real damage. Like the rest of the team, he’s an offensive force and he’s looking fit in Spring Training so far, though strikeouts will still be a concern. Nick Ahmed looks like he’s got the job in Phoenix … solid player, if not spectacular. EDGE: Los Angeles
THIRD BASE: Nolan Arenado might just be the best player in the league. Justin Turner might be the Dodgers’ MVP. Jake Lamb has carried the Diamondbacks at times and is a dangerous hitter. But, as strong as all three teams are at the position, Nolan Arenado is far and away the best 3B, with JT next. EDGE: Colorado
LEFT FIELD: Here’s where it gets interesting. For the Rockies will it be Parra? Desmond? Tapia? Probably a platoon? For the D-Bags, will it be Peralta? Tomas? Newly acquired Jerrod Dyson? Or, again, a platoon? Over in Chavez Ravine who’s it gonna be? Joc Pederson? Andrew Toles? Trayce Thompson? Or the here-he-is-again new and improved Matt Kemp? Right now it looks like a Toles/Kemp platoon. Nobody knows, but given the options EDGE: Los Angeles.
CENTER FIELD: Charlie Blackmon is the NL batting champion and leads off for the Rockies. He’s awesome. Chris Taylor won the job in L.A. and sparked a 100+ win team from the lead-off spot. He’s awesome. A.J. Pollock is a consistent .280 hitter and is a key in a solid D-Backs offense. He’s awesome. But, you can’t argue with a batting champ with a beard like that. EDGE: Colorado
RIGHT FIELD: CarGo is back patrolling RF at Coors Field, that’s a good thing for Rox. Steven Souza was a BRILLIANT addition by the D-Bags to replace J.D. Martinez. Souza won’t put up J.D.’s numbers but the drop off won’t be a death blow either, in fact, hitting at Chase Field may enable him to come pretty close to matching what Martinez did in the long ball department. Sneaky good pickup for Arizona. Yasiel Puig is, as always, a wild card. If he plays like he did last year the EDGE goes to L.A., if not … you could call it a PUSH.
CATCHER: Alex Avila will bring more consistent offense to the D-Bags and will fit in nicely. Chris Iannetta is back with the Rockies and is a clutch hitter who KILLS the Dodgers, so good move by Denver. The tandem of Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes will be more than adequate in L.A., add Kyle Farmer to the mix and it’s a no-brainer … behind the plate EDGE goes to Dodgers.
STARTING PITCHING: Arizona has Greinke and Ray … Dodgers have Kershaw, Hill and Wood … Rockies have Gray. EDGE: Dodgers, with Arizona nipping at their heels and both teams way ahead of Colorado.
BULLPEN: Arizona is solid with Archie Bradley and new addition, Brian Boxberger. Rockies upgraded the most by picking up Wade Davis, Dunn and Shaw. Dodgers have the best closer in the NL (nay, in MLB) in Jansen. Rockies improved the most in an area that is critical to their success but Dodgers are still tops while ‘Zona isn’t exactly a slouch. Let’s say health will make the difference, but with Rockies offense, their bullpen has a chance to get some saves, maybe enough to put them in the playoffs again. EDGE: Dodgers But, what about dem Rockies? We’ll see.
Now, I think I’ve been pretty even-handed in my assessment of the NL West so far. I’ve been complimentary to a couple of teams that, in actuality, I despise. I’m trying to be polite and give the devils their due, but that all changes now with my evaluation of the San Francisco #@%&@! Giants, the only team in professional sports that can make the New England Patriots appear to be likable.
I’ve been accused by some of allowing my distaste and outright hatred of this vile franchise to cloud my objectivity in accurately detecting the plusses and minuses of the team on the field. I would answer such criticism with a haughty shrug and a “yeah, so?” Everything about that wretched organization reeks. Every player that’s ever put on that dingy colored, seemingly washed using an inferior detergent, uniform with the Halloween trim is forever tainted and branded as “unclean” in the eyes of civilized baseball fans. In other words, I don’t like them and nobody can make me, so there.
Despite my uncharitable opinion of Satan’s Nine, I’m telling you this … they ain’t goin’ to no playoffs this year. If the Baseball Gods actually care about fairness and a good and just universe the Jints will continue to be what they’ve been for the last year and a half, the WORST team in baseball! And don’t give me that pathetically dim “it’s an even year” baloney, either! I’ll rip your freaking lungs out! I’M NOT KIDDING!!!
(Note: The author is taking a moment to do his breathing exercises and apply the tools developed in the Anger Management Workshop he attended. Even though he failed the class, he is sometimes able to reduce the shaking enough to manipulate the keyboard in a slow, but steady, hunt and peck style that is effective enough to get by with a less than discerning audience … that’s you.)
What has Giants fans CONVINCED (and somehow, they are convinced) that the 98 losses last year mean nothing and that due to the acquisition of a pair of former All-Stars on the downside of their careers they are suddenly World Series bound? Even if McCutchen and Longoria hit their .270 and get their 15 dingers (AT&T ain’t PNC or The Trop) will that add the 20-25 wins over last year’s record they need to even be mentioned among the contenders? Really? Will Cutch help Jonny (Look, I Think I’m Luis Tiant Only Fatter) Cueto get his ERA under 6??? Will Longo also come out of the bullpen in the fourth inning to bail out Smegmajar again? WTF??? Will Bumhumper pitch like Bumhumper in his pre-BMX flyboy incarnation? No guarantees, are there?
OK, OK, I suppose it’s reasonable to assume they will be better than last year. After all, being worse would be a challenge as well. They may catch the ball better, sure, but Posey better not get hurt. In fact, NOBODY better get hurt because this team is about as deep as an Eric Trump bedtime story. Oh, and by the way, this juggernaut is second only to the Boston Red Sox in payroll for 2018. So, what do get for your $193M??? Gleeful “neener neeners” from Dodger fans, that’s what!
Maybe if the Jints were in another division, but they’re in the NL West, a division that sent three teams to the postseason and one to the World Series last year. Even the Padres have a ton of young talent and a couple of veterans in Hosmer and Myers that will make them a tough out. Can the Giants ride roughshod over the Dodgers, Diamondbacks AND Rockies? I think not.
As a final word, should the Giants get lucky and overachieve, as they are wont to do, all I can say is that I will be a candidate to enter a convent in the deepest mountains of Peru and spend my remaining days whittling likenesses of Bruce Bochy into flutes from bitter trees.
The rest of Blue’s predictions will be published before Opening Day, whether anyone cares or not.