Posted by Steve
Everybody is spitting out their MLB predictions now that the season is just about underway. I might as well do the same, but I’ll mainly focus on the NL Central. Let’s do this in reverse order of projected standings.
6. Houston Astros
Oh, Astros. How incompetently run you’ve been for years now. Thinking about the ‘Stros and their ridiculous run, I wondered whether it could very well coincide with their horrendous overpayment of Carlos Lee. Sure enough, Baseball Reference tells us that Houston’s record since signing Lee is 365-444, good for a .451 winning percentage. Yeesh. Then I thought, ‘Has Carlos Lee ever played on a good team?’ Answer: Yes, barely. He has in fact played in the playoffs. As a 24 year-old, he played in one playoff series with the White Sox. Still, one playoff series in a 14-year career (and let’s be honest, that’s going to be 1-15 after this year) is pretty rough.
Anyway. Houston is likely on the way back up, now that their incompetent owner is gone. They’re leaving for the AL after this year, which in the long run is likely a good thing for the Brewers–they’ll only have to beat out four other teams to win a division instead of five–but short-term, we’ll miss those Astros. They’ve been good for a bunch of wins lately. Still, they’ll be generous to the rest of the NL Central in their farewell year.
5. Chicago Cubs
It was so much more enjoyable last year when the Cubs had a bad GM, a doofus one-and-done manager, and overpaid veterans who hated playing with each other. Now, it will still be enjoyable because they’ll still be bad, but they’re much less dysfunctional. Jim Hendry is gone. Big Z is gone. Mike “Baseball Etiquette Handbook Editor” Quade is gone. In their place is a much more competent team of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. They’re rebuilding the smart way. Enjoy the bad Cubs while you can, because they’re likely to be gone within a couple years.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
They’re no longer the laughingstock of the division, which says something, I guess. But it’s still been two decades (!) since they’ve had a winning season. With the Cubs and Astros, I suppose they could luck their way to a .500 record this season, but it isn’t likely. Still, they have some young talent down the line (as opposed to years past), so the the future is sure brighter for them than the past. Plus, the extension they gave Andrew McCutchen is starting to look like a bargain compared to some of these recent deals.
3. Cincinnati Reds
There is quite a bit of Reds love this season, and I don’t get it. I really don’t. Even before Ryan Madsen was lost for the season, I felt this way. They had 79 wins last year. Are the additions of Mat Latos and Sean Marshall supposed to add 11 wins? Because other than that, this is the same team that was below .500 last season. I’m sure they’ll be better, but I don’t see them making the playoffs. Plus, they still have Dusty Baker. Check out the latest Dusty Gem. This time he’s working his magic on Aroldis Chapman, the fireballing phenom who got a six-year contract from the Reds before 2010:
Chapman, entering his third season with Cincinnati, had hoped to get back into a starting role after spending most of the last two seasons pitching in relief. Manager Dusty Baker said injuries forced the change in plans on Monday.
“That was a very, very tough decision because Chapman could be one of our best starters or best relievers,” Baker said. “It is a situation where with the injuries that we have, starting out early in the season when the starters are lucky to go five or six innings, we had to shore up our bullpen.”
“This early in the year, the bullpen does a third to half the work,” Baker said. “It only takes one dude to have one bad inning. One dude can have a bad inning and ruin hours of work.”
“And if one dude has one bad inning, all the other cats have to pick up the slack. And that gives us some seriously stressed hombres in our pen. They’ll be all, ‘come at me bro!’”
Honestly, Baker is keeping Chapman out of the rotation but keeping Bronson Arroyo in it. Who knows how Chapman would be as a starter, but it really can’t be worse than Arroyo was last season. He was the only starting pitcher in baseball to be below replacement level. And it wasn’t just -0.2 or -0.3. He was 1.3 wins below replacement level. Poor Reds fans.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
I’ve been going back and forth between the Brewers and Cardinals as division winners, but I settled on the Brewers because I hate the Cardinals.
Nah, just kidding. Not about hating them, but about that being my reason. Obviously the loss of Pujols is huge, but they did a solid job in adding Carlos Beltran. And Pujols leaving is likely good for the team long term. I just still come back to other things that seem likely to hurt them:
1. As much as I hate to admit it, the loss of Tony La Russa hurts the Cardinals. Even though he out-thought himself quite often, he was still the best in-game manager at least in the division.
2. The Cardinals are old. The odds of Berkman, Beltran, Furcal, and Carpenter all staying healthy are very unlikely. It’s actually probably more likely that all four miss time than all four stay healthy all year (even aside from Carpenter, who will already miss at least a month). Other players, like Freese and Holliday, have been injury prone. I expect Wainwright to bounce back after missing 2011, but who knows exactly how good he’ll be?
3. They’re still the Cardinals, and they find ways to squeeze career years out of people all the time. I fully expect Lance Lynn to have the season of a number 2/3 starter. Half joking here, but Braden Looper, Todd Wellemeyer, Jeff Suppan, etc. all did it.
Still, that offense is great, even without Pujols. Whether it’s by winning the division or by winning one of the wildcards, I expect the Cardinals to reach the playoffs.
1. Milwaukee Brewers
Call me a homer if you’d like, but I’ll happily explain this pick.
The same pitching staff is returning, and it’s healthy. They were a top rotation by secondary numbers, but bad defense hurt their ERA. They’ve replaced terrible defenders Yuni Betancourt and Prince Fielder. Even though Mat Gamel is a question mark, it’s clear Alex Gonzalez will provide a huge defensive upgrade.
Even though I despise the Aramis Ramirez signing, it should go a long way toward replacing the offense of Prince Fielder for this season, anyway. Casey McGehee was so bad last season that I don’t see why 2012′s Gamel+Ramirez can’t equal 2011′s Fielder+McGehee. This should still be a good offense.
Another reason is health. The Brewers had a remarkably healthy Spring Training, particularly compared to the Reds and Cards. Basically the only injury carrying into the season is Brandon Kintzler, and he was unlikely to make the opening day roster anyway. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are hoping Carpenter is back by May, and the Reds have lost Ryan Madsen for the season. That’s not to say the Brewers couldn’t catch up quickly, but at least they’re off to a healthy start.
Even though I’m picking the Brewers, my guess is they finish with about 89 wins. I’ve been over why I think the Brewers have successfully replaced Prince Fielder, so then why wouldn’t I expect the same win total as last season? Basically, because even though they won 96 games, they weren’t a 96-win team. Their expected win total based on runs scored and allowed (pythagorean record) was 90-72 last season. They definitely had some good luck last season. 90 wins or so is is a better gauge for their talent level, and it’s the level I expect them to play at in 2012.
For what it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus has the Cards as the division favorite and a 76.3 percent chance to reach the playoffs. They like the Brewers too, giving them a 61.4 percent chance. Reds? Not as much–45.9 percent. By the way, congrats to the Houston Astros on being the only team with a 0.0 percent chance of reaching the playoffs! Slogan: We won’t be good. It’s a mathematical guarantee.
Elsewhere, ESPN has their “experts’” predictions, and man alive, do they have a lot of them–49 to be exact. Out of those 49 predictions, the NL Central victor was split fairly evenly between the three main teams. 18 picked the Reds, 20 chose the Cardinals, and 11 chose the Brewers to win the division. Five more have the Brewers winning one of (ugh) the wildcard spots. And two bold predictors, David Schoenfield and John Kruk, have the Brewers in the World Series, although both have them losing.
Aside from the relative parity of the NL Central, the thing that jumped out at me about their predictions were the fact that 18 have the Anahem Angels winning the World Series. Gun to my head, I wouldn’t even pick the Angels to make the playoffs.
Another interesting thing is that all of one person did not pick the Detroit Tigers to win the AL Central. A bad sign may be that said person is David Schoenfield, he of the Brewers-to-the-World Series prediction.
Anyway, I’ll make my picks for the rest of baseball, just because I feel like doing it.
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Rangers
AL Wildcard: Rays, Red Sox
NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Brewers
NL West: Diamondbacks
NL Wildcard: Cardinals, Nationals