MLB 2016 Preview

April 9, 2016, 3:34 p.m. | By Benjamin Yokoyama | 6 years, 4 months ago

The baseball season is back, heaters and homers, breaking balls and bat flips come back to bring in the summer. A surprising World Series matchup of the New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals ended the 2015 season, and they'll both be back to defend their respective league pennants. Can Bryce Harper improve on his incredible breakout 2015 season? Will Jake Arrieta continue his second half dominance of the National League? Will the addition of David Price get the Red Sox back to the World Series hunt? All of these questions will be answered this year as we go division by division to see how the teams stack up.

Playoff Predictions
AL Wild Card: Astros over Red Sox
NL Wild Card: Pirates over Giants
AL Division Series: Royals over Astros, Blue Jays over Rangers
NL Division Series Pirates over Dodgers, Nationals over Cardinals
ALCS Royals over Blue Jays
NLCS Pirates over Nationals
World Series: Pirates over Royals

Photo: Superstar Andrew McCutchen looks to finally lead the Pirates past the Wild Card game.  Photo courtesy of InningsEater.

AL East
1. Toronto Blue Jays
They've got all the power in the world on their team. If they keep shortstop Troy Tulowitzki healthy then no one stops them. Their pitching staff will get back Marcus Stroman, a star in the making. Their pitching is not excellent, but the depth they have will get them through the season. They are a near guarantee to make the playoffs, even if it's as a wild-card.
2. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have depth at every position. Adding star pitcher David Price will give them a consistent arm in their weak starting rotation, while a year of development for their young outfield of Jackie Bradley, Brock Holt and breakout speedster Mookie Betts will do them well. With Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia on the right side of the infield, hitting will be easy for the Sox. Craig Kimbrel will solidify an already decent bullpen.
3. New York Yankees
A three team race in the AL East will be decided by injuries, and the Yankees are the most susceptible, their entire starting lineup is over 30 discounting their middle infield. They have little depth to give their elderly lineup off days. The suspension of closer Aroldis Chapman for 30 games and an injury to replacement closer Andrew Miller will leave them behind the top two in the East.
4. Baltimore Orioles
A good team that's just not strong enough for the strong division they're in, they'll still finish above .500 due to their hitting. Led by Adam Jones, Chris 'Crush' Davis and JJ Hardy, power will be easy to come by. Star in the making Manny Machado will have to wait for the playoffs. Even with a consistent pitching staff all-around, they'll need those arms to shut down the strong offenses in the division.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
Rebuilding is okay, and they've got the pieces to do it in the next few years. But for this year it would take a lot to keep up with the division leaders. Pitcher Matt Moore and outfielder Desmond Jennings are coming back from major injuries, and pitcher Chris Archer will compete for the Cy Young again.

AL Central
1. Kansas City Royals
The reigning World Series champs lost almost no one from their championship team, and added some pitching depth with Kris Medlen and Ian Kennedy. Their main goal was to retain outfielder Alex Gordon and closer Wade Davis, which they did. Otherwise, it's not easy to improve a winning team.

Photo: Formal National Jordan Zimmermann and the Detroit Tigers are going to have to be nearly perfect to beat Kansas City in the AL Central.  Photo courtesy of USA Today.

2. Detroit Tigers
Another team with pitching issues, they fixed up the rotation with the signing of Jordan Zimmermann, but their bullpen is still iffy. Their outfield will get Cameron Maybin back from injury soon to go along with Justin Upton and power-surging JD Martinez. Another lineup stacked with power, the Tigers should have no trouble scoring with perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera at first.
3. Chicago White Sox
A whole new team after this offseason, the White Sox have moved Brett Lawrie to second base to make room for Todd Frazier and picked up veteran Jimmy Rollins to man shortstop. Power hitter Jose Abreu and consistent hitter Adam Eaton will complement a young pitching staff led by Chris Sale and young arm Carlos Rodon. Their bullpen is led by another offseason pickup in David Robertson
4. Cleveland Indians
The Indians should be a better hitting team than expected, getting back outfielder Michael Brantley from injury, acquiring Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe at the corner infield spots and with the development of young star Francisco Lindor. Their staff will be led once again by 2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, and their bullpen is deep with pickups like Ross Detwiler and Joba Chamberlain.
5. Minnesota Twins
The Twins have arguably the best young lineup, with former top outfield prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton leading the way, coupled with Joe Mauer and signee from Korea Byung Ho Park. But their pitching staff is abysmal, with a weak bullpen outside of Glen Perkins, which will drag them down in the standings for the Central division.

AL West
1. Texas Rangers
The Rangers came on very strong at the end of the season without starter Yu Darvish. Now he's coming back in a month, along with Josh Hamilton, who is currently replaced by Ian Desmond in left field. Otherwise not much change, but solid all around, from the rotation led by Cole Hamels to third baseman and future hall of famer Adrian Beltre to speed demon Delino DeShields.

Photo: Adrian Beltre and the Texas Rangers are going to rely on a group of established veterans to make a playoff run.  Photo courtesy of G42 Sports.

2. Houston Astros
Houston surprised everyone last season by advancing to the ALDS, losing to the Royals. They bring back almost the same team, but added starter Doug Fister. Their outfield is athletic, as is their middle infield, with Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve making the best double play duo in the pros. Dallas Keuchel hoping to repeat on his Cy Young campaign and they have depth in the rotation. Adding flamethrower Ken Giles to the bullpen will help them late in games.
3. Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout is the best all-around player in the AL, but it takes a team to make the playoffs. The return of Albert Pujols and a trade for Yunel Escobar will provide bats behind Trout. Defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons will be a staple at shortstop. Their pitching staff is deep from 1-5, led by Garrett Richards returning from an injury. They will be fighting for a wild card spot by season's end.
4. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have a great rotation led by 'King' Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, but their bullpen is not exactly jaw dropping. Nori Aoki will add another solid contact hitter with Robinson Cano to the lineup to couple with power hitters Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. Again the Mariners won't be much of a fear for AL West teams.
5. Oakland Athletics
The A's lost a lot when they recently went back to rebuild their core. Young outfielders Khris Young and Billy Burns will be one of the few bright spots on the field. Their rotation was decimated by injury. Sonny Gray will pitch without Jarrod Parker and signee Henderson Alvarez for a few months, while the infielders seem to be holding places for the future of the A's team.

NL East
1. Washington Nationals
With a lineup revamped by left-handed hitting from the pickups of centerfielder Ben Revere and second baseman Daniel Murphy, the Nats will hope to stay healthy this season. Per usual, a strong starting staff led by Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and a bullpen that added a lot of arms this winter complement the batting order. A two team race atop the NL East, and the memories of last year's disappointing finish will push the Nats forward.
2. New York Mets
The reigning NL champs will look to return to the World Series, led by their fireballers on the mound: Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. From top to bottom, the Mets have the best rotation in the league. The addition of Neil Walker at second base and Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop filled two holes in the Mets' batting order. The Mets will be back in the playoffs again, in the two team race atop the East.

Photo: New Marlins Manager Don Mattingly will have to take charge of a young group of players to challenge Washington and New York in the NL East.  Photo courtesy of

3. Miami Marlins
The Marlins have stars at a few positions, including Giancarlo Stanton in right, batting champ Dee Gordon at second base and pitcher Jose Fernandez back from an injury, but the rest of their team is still in rebuilding mode. The addition of starter Wei-Yin Chen takes a lot off of Fernandez. Their young outfield of Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich will get another year of seasoning and guidance from veteran Ichiro Suzuki.
4. Atlanta Braves
The Braves are yet another team in the rebuilding process, although they have key pieces in place at nearly every position, led by number one pitcher Julio Teheran, first baseman Freddie Freeman and closer Arodys Vizcaino. They traded away a young arm this offseason in return for starting centerfielder Ender Inciarte and top prospect Dansby Swanson, who will be a threat at shortstop in the coming years.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
Don't expect too much from the Phillies this year. An aging Ryan Howard still has to be paid, but the Phillies have infused their team with young talent, from Odubel Herrera in center to Maikel Franco at third base to top pitching prospect Aaron Nola. As for this year, the Phillies will be at the bottom of the NL East.

NL Central
1. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are suffering severely from injury: starter Lance Lynn will miss this season, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and reliever Jordan Walden will be out at least a month, and starting outfielder Tommy Pham just went on the disabled list after the first game of the season. The Cardinals are still drowning in pitching depth, and have an outfielder to spare. At shortstop Jedd Gyorko will man the fort until Peralta's return. The Cardinals can compete with ease in a tough division despite the injuries.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
With the best outfield in the league of Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte, the Pirates are always tough in the Central. A strong infield that will only get stronger once Jung Ho Kang returns will make strong lineup top to bottom. Their pitching staff will be able to support themselves again with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, and the bullpen is led by 2015 saves leader Mark Melancon.
3. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs have built a super-team this year after picking up outfielder Jason Heyward, second baseman Ben Zobrist and pitcher John Lackey from free agency. They got rid of Starlin Castro in favor of Zobrist and young Addison Russell. The corner infield is stuffed with power hitters Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, who will hit in the middle of the lineup, and a rotation anchored by Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta is much improved by the pickup of Lackey.
4. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds kept second baseman Brandon Phillips this offseason, keeping him with first baseman Joey Votto and right fielder Jay Bruce. Their rotation is already down Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani, so young arms Raisel Iglesias and Brandon Finnegan will have to step up if the Reds want to compete. Speedster Billy Hamilton will be manning center field again this year, but as for the team, don't expect too much with a weak pitching staff.
5. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers lineup is looking very shaky. Other than catcher Jonathan Lucroy, starter Wily Peralta and left fielder Ryan Braun, the team has question marks at many positions. Second baseman Scooter Gennett is starting to look like a solid everyday option, and power hitter Chris Carter signed on to play first base. The pitchers are not too strong behind Peralta nor in the bullpen, and being in the toughest division in baseball won't help their case.

Photo: The Giants revamped rotation will be a strong contender with the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw.  Photo courtesy of SF Examiner.

NL West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers lost Cy Young runner up Zack Greinke in the offseason, but picked up pitchers Japanese-born Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir. The Dodgers are crippled by injury, from their middle infield to their starting pitchers. With the emergence of Corey Seager, the Dodgers have a great young shortstop. They hope outfielders Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig can bounce back from subpar seasons to help them win the West.
2. San Francisco Giants
The Giants have almost the same team as last year in the field excluding the addition of centerfielder Denard Span, but their pitching rotation is revamped after picking up Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. Their bullpen is always strong, and allowing catcher Buster Posey to mentor his younger teammates will have the Giants competing with the Dodgers atop the West.
3. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have the same problems they always do: a weak starting corps. Their lineup is stacked from top to bottom, led by third baseman Nolan Arenado and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. The acquisition of Gerardo Parra as a third outfielder with Charlie Blackmon gives the Rockies a swift outfield in spacious Coors Field. But, a starting rotation led by Jorge de la Rosa for what seems like the hundredth year in a row is obviously not working out, and will keep the Rockies out of the playoffs despite their excellent hitting.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-Backs made a lot of upgrades this offseason, most notably signing star pitcher Zack Greinke, reliever Tyler Clippard and trading for another arm in Shelby Miller. The return of young lefty Patrick Corbin will give Arizona a solid rotation. Before the season, center fielder AJ Pollock was placed on the 60-day disabled list with an elbow injury, a big blow to the top of Diamondbacks' lineup. They'll need to rely heavily on MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt if they was to compete with the top teams in the division.
5. San Diego Padres
San Diego is known for not being a great team, and this year they should meet that low expectation yet again. Average pickups such as Jon Jay, Alexei Ramirez and Fernando Rodney won't boost the team's standing. The development of outfielder-turned first baseman Wil Myers and newly acquired catcher Christian Bethancourt will be two of few bright spots this season.

Tags: Washington Nationals MLB Preview Andrew McCutchen Pittsburgh Pirates

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