Time has officially run out for MLB’s 32 teams to make one last Spring Training impression, and rosters are gradually taking shape. Before the weekend is out, Adam Wainwright and Francisco Liriano will toe the rubber on the afternoon of April 3, and the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates will officially kick off the 2016 regular season. Before the real action begins though, we have to play the prediction game.
In that spirit: we are going to preview both high-profile teams and players as well as under-the-radar ones. Since Opening Day is just days away, we feel pretty confident in knowing how each 25-man roster will play out and therefore we can make some early estimations concerning how the season may go. Here are five bold predictions for the 2016 season.
1. The Blue Jays will be out of the AL East race by September
Probably more so than any other division in baseball, the American League East will be anybody’s to win in the upcoming season. As we approach April, one squad that we are not feeling is the defending-champion Toronto Blue Jays. Led by a nearly unstoppable offense, Manager John Gibbons’ squad had a solid first half before taking off after the All-Star break and holding off the New York Yankees for the crown.
It has been pointed out tons of times already, but the man who led the charge last summer — lefty ace David Price — is no longer with the club and will be missed sorely. Simply put, the Jays will have to rely heavily on the young, unproven arm of Marcus Stroman to replace Price. Even if he is magically able to duplicate that success, there is not enough strong depth in the starting rotation.
The bullpen has question marks and the offense, while lethal, will not be able to carry the club for an entire season. If we had to put money on it, we would pick Price’s new team, the Boston Red Sox, and the underrated Baltimore Orioles as the co-frontrunners for the division title. Pin the Jays for a battle with the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays to avoid the AL East cellar.
2. The Marlins will be an NL East contender
In 2016, the Miami Marlins will be an NL East contender. The keyword there is contender. It would be ballsy — to say the least — to predict a team other than the New York Mets or Washington Nationals to capture the division, but we could definitely see Miami being in the running for the postseason come mid-September. Looking at the experience and talent on each of the group’s five teams, it is obvious that the bunch is extremely top-heavy.
We fully expect Don Mattingly’s new team to feast on the underwhelming pitching staffs of the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies all year long, and with the way that baseball schedules work out, they will play almost a quarter of their 162 regular-season games against this pair. Even when they square off against the Mets and Nats, given the front half of their starting five and a lineup that oozes with potential, we give Miami a fighting chance to be competitive with the top dogs.
New York’s young guns and Washington’s trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez garner most of the headlines, but the top two of Wei-Yin Chen and Jose Fernandez could rival those groups for the strongest front lines in the quintet. The bullpen could be shaky, but with a lineup catapulted by spark plug Dee Gordon and filled with sluggers like Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, and Justin Bour, this team should be able to provide ample run support.
3. Clayton Kershaw will finish outside the top three in NL Cy Young voting
Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. Sure, Jake Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel are the reigning Cy Young award winners, and Zack Greinke arguably had a better 2015 season than his former teammate, but carrying the most consistent dominance of the decade still makes Kershaw the man to beat.
With that being said, we feel that there is a decent shot that the 28-year-old not only fails take home the NL hardware this year, but that he finishes outside of the top three vote-getters. This is not to say that Kershaw will struggle in 2016 — in fact we could see one of his best season’s yet — but the competition will be fierce in the senior circuit for the pitcher’s top prize.
Among the challengers, who should be up to the task of matching Kershaw start for start, are Scherzer, Fernandez, any one of the Mets’ gauntlet of starters, Arrieta, Gerrit Cole, Greinke, and Madison Bumgarner. That is an absolutely stacked field of contenders and despite the lefty’s historic career, we predict that the odds will not be forever in his favor.
4. The Astros will have the best record in the American League
Considering the fact that the Houston Astros were a playoff team in 2015 and nearly won the AL West, this prediction may not come as a huge shock. However, with the reloaded Red Sox and defending World Series-champion Kansas City Royals expected to be strong contenders for the AL pennant, some baseball pundits may overlook Houston.
Not only do they have a young MVP candidate in Carlos Correa, but the projected starting lineup should be strong from top to bottom. The success of the starting pitching will hinge largely on the ability of Keuchel to show that 2015 was no fluke, but even behind the reigning AL Cy Young award winner, this unit has quality arms in 19-game winner Collin McHugh, veteran Doug Fister, and innings-eater Scott Feldman.
The Astros’ bullpen may be the team’s greatest asset heading into the spring, as new stud closer Ken Giles will be joined by a potentially elite group consisting of Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, Tony Sipp, and Pat Neshek among others. The balance of Houston’s roster could easily propel them to the top of the AL in 2016.
5. The Cardinals will miss the playoffs
It is always tough to predict the field of postseason teams before a season even begins, as underachievers and surprises are bound to happen every year. For the past five campaigns (and 12 out of 16 times since 2000), we have been able to pencil the St. Louis Cardinals into the tournament thanks to consistent greatness. Though they only have a pair of World Series titles to show for their year-in and year-out dominance since the turn of the millennium, it would be hard to argue that St. Louis has not been the NL team of the century thus far.
Here is arguably our most bold prediction on this list: The Cards will miss the playoffs in 2016. Simply put, the NL Central is stacked (at least at the top of the division). The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates are expected to be real championship contenders this season, and mathematically the division cannot produce more than three playoff teams in the field. True, it just happened in 2015, but we fully expect the NL to be stronger as a whole this time around.
The Marlins, Mets, and Nationals should be strong teams in the East, while the fight between the Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and Arizona Diamondbacks could definitely produce two postseason teams. Though we expect St. Louis to be in the mix, we feel that their offense could falter and the seemingly strong starting rotation on paper just has too many injury concerns.
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