Revisionist history: Baseball

Looking back at predictions from this year in baseball, and musing on where I went wrong. Because I’m self-indulgent that way. Mostly written before the playoffs. One sentence predictions from the previously linked post in italics, new analysis is not.

American League

East

1. Yankees – Probably see some slippage in the offense, but that pitching staff looks excellent.

Actual finish: First, best overall in the AL. Can’t really take much credit for what was one of the easiest calls on the board, though the pitching surprisingly struggled, mostly because of injuries. And they are starting to show some of that age, though Robinson Cano’s still got several great years left.

2. Rays* – Incredible pitching depth, will figure out how to tape together a lineup and bullpen AGAIN.

Actual finish: Third, missed the playoffs. The Rays were close, and did all of those things they always do- great pitching, good enough hitting and defense, and whiffing on free agent acquisitions (Scott, Pena). There’s talk they may trade some of their pitching depth for offensive help, which isn’t new. Same story, different year. They’ll be back again.

3. Red Sox – Best team in baseball for a stretch last year before an historic collapse, but a very curious offseason.

Actual finish: Last in the AL East. I expected some fallback after a sideways offseason, but not nearly as bad as we saw. And to think: If the Red Sox win two more games last year, then-manager Terry Francona and former GM Theo Epstein are probably still there, and they probably don’t trade away $250 million worth of contracts to the Dodgers this year in one of the most incredible trades anyone has ever seen. Bobby Valentine was as much of a disaster as a manager as anyone with a pulse figured he would be, and was fired after this one tumultuous season. They might need a year or two before getting back into the mix.

4. Blue Jays – Lurking, but not there yet, barring a Sawx collapse.

Actual finish: Fourth. Another one I got right, though I was picturing a more competitive fourth place, instead of the 73-win disaster of a season we saw. After humming along at close to .500 for the majority of the year, the Jays got shelled by injuries, losing three starters in a week, and then having lineup centrepieces Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, and J.P. Arencibia all miss time due to injury as well. Depending on how you look at it, either this is the season where everything went wrong for the Jays, or one that showed cracks in the foundation. I’m leaning towards the latter- it’ll be an interesting offseason for a team that was supposed to be on the rise.

5. Orioles – Doomed to perpetual basement dwelling for the next several years.

Actual finish: Second, won wild card game. After a first half where the Orioles were lucky to be in contention with a run differential well below even, they came on strong down the stretch, turning that luck into something a little more tangible. The angles on their success have mostly been played out: they have a strong bullpen, an incredible record in one-run and extra inning games, and every scrap head acquisition they made has turned into gold.  In many ways, they’re the opposite of the Blue Jays. Gripe all you want (and I have), but the games have been played, and the Orioles have their shot at winning it all. As much as their fans could have asked for. Hard to know where they’ll be going forward.

Central

1. Tigers – Might slip a little, but still the class of the division.

Actual finish: First. Overtook the White Sox late in the year to win the division. Prince Fielder did Prince Fielder things, Miguel Cabrera won the triple crown, but there was regression in other spots in the lineup, and the pitching outside of Verlander wasn’t reliable. Victor Martinez’s return next year should help them.

2. White Sox – A sleeper I like, with a lot of rebound candidates in that lineup.

Actual finish: Second. This is a division I’ve historically had trouble picking, so it was fun to see I actually got this right so far. The White Sox were actually leading the division most of the year. They picked up Kevin Youkillis on the cheap from the Red Sox, and Kenny Williams tried some other moves that didn’t quite do as well. Jake Peavy had a great season as well, and is primed to make some money as a free agent. Will be interesting to see where this team goes from here, with a lot of veterans.

3. Indians – Had a hot stretch early last year, but seem to be primed for a backslide.

Actual finish: Fourth. Right on the thinking, though they managed to drop more than I anticipated, leading to the firing of stathead-favourite manager Manny Acta. Their pitching wasn’t as good as they’d hoped, and a weaker lineup was unable to carry the burden. The Ubaldo Jimenez trade has not worked out (though it should be noted that none of the players they send to Colorado are setting the world on fire yet), and they’ll have to retool again for a run in the AL’s weakest division.

4. Royals – On an upward trajectory, which ain’t nothing.

Actual finish: Third. There’s still a lot of youth here,  so the trajectory is still upward, but some of the talent disappointed this season. Still reason for optimism, but they didn’t suffer any injuries, and were only one win better than the injury-thrashed Toronto Blue Jays, playing in a much weaker division. Still need pitching, same as every year for the last ten.

5. Twins – Need Mauer and Morneau to turn back the clock to avoid the basement.

Actual finish: Last. Mauer had a quietly solid season, but not nearly enough on a team that has very little upper echelon talent outside of him and the perpetually-injured Justin Morneau. Francisco Lirano is gone, and it’s hard to see much good on the pitching staff. Without a lot of great prospects on the horizon, it could be a long few years in Minnesota.

West

1. Rangers – Scary good on both sides of the ball.

Actual finish: Second, lost wild card game. The Rangers gave the wild card it’s legitimacy right away- after having a seemingly insurmountable lead for the majority of the year, they lost the division on the last day, and then dropped the wild card game with barely a whimper. Much as with the last two years, a tremendously talented team didn’t come through at the end. It’s easy to poke holes at the tactical weakness of manager Ron Washington, but the playoffs have always been more random, and the Rangers made the mistake of not winning the division, despite having a great chance to do so. A few important pieces are free agents, so the Rangers have some work to do in the offseason.

2. Angels* – Should be right there with the Rangers, but the aging lineup keeps them from first place.

Actual finish: Third. My thinking was close, but the Angels didn’t quite make second, as a horrible start doomed their chances. Albert Pujols finished good after an awful first two months, and C.J. Wilson disappointed, but Mike Trout was the best player in baseball after his call-up, and should be an MVP candidate for several years. With a few rotation pieces leaving, and an older lineup, they have a few tweaks to make, but not as many as most third-place teams.

3. Mariners – Pineda trade a headscratcher, even with the young pitching they have.

Actual finish: Last. Well, Pineda blew out his arm promptly, but the guy they got for him (Montero) didn’t exactly set the world on fire either. The Mariners continue to be sunk (teehee) by a poor offense. Felix Hernandez continues to be incredible without a lot of help. With how strong this division looks, it might be a few years before Seattle sees contention again.

4. Athletics – Not quite sure what the roadmap is for them right now.

Actual finish: First. No one saw this Athletics team coming. After trading 40% of their starting rotation last offseason, and not doing too much to patch a weak lineup, everyone figured they’d be jockeying with the Mariners for last. After being a little better than we expected for a lot of the season, a strong August and September catapulted them into the division race, and a sweep of the Rangers gave them the AL West pennant. Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes exceeded expectations, as did a very young rotation. With all that young pitching, the A’s should be in the mix for a few years.

National League

East

1. Braves – Had a worse collapse than the Sawx last year- difference is, their team is much younger.

Actual finish: Second, lost wild card game. Atlanta’s worse choke job escaped the media scrutiny of baseball crazy Boston, and it seemed to do them some good- they had another great year, though it was undone by a loss in the wild card game. A balanced offence and solid pitching depth mean they’ll probably be in the running again next year.  It’ll be strange to not see Chipper Jones in the lineup.

2. Phillies* – Pitching amazing, lineup starting to crack, a lot of bad contracts.

Actual finish: Third. Not quite aggressive enough in downgrading the aging Phillies, who struggled with injuries across the board this year. The pitching staff will remain excellent with Hamels, Lee and Halladay- even if the latter two are starting their decline phase- but the offence has to be a huge concern going forward, and the cupboard is bare in the minors. That Ryan Howard contract looks worse every day.

3. Nationals – Still in the middle unless Strasburg decides to be an all-everything hitter too, but a team on the rise.

Actual finish: First. Steven Strasburg was as amazing as advertised (and he DID hit, as it turns out), but he had a lot of help around him, as the Nationals ran out to an early lead and didn’t look back. With a deep rotation locked up for a few years, and Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup, they’re well positioned going forward.

4. Marlins – Big FA signings seem to have worked for them in the past, but I don’t see them hitting the postseason just yet.

Actual finish: Fourth. Though the caveat here is that I didn’t anticipate the Marlins going into sell mode halfway through their first year of indulgence. Even with their history, that’s jumping the gun. Ozzie Guillen has already provided more headlines than results, and with Hanley Ramirez now in Los Angeles, it’s hard to see where the improvement is going to come from, save for Giancarlo Stanton. They might be in the basement for a bit.

5. Mets – Setting up for a dreary season in Queens.

Actual finish: Last. Though not as dreary as I thought, with a Cy Young-caliber season from late career knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and a mild renaissance from David Wright after a couple years in the wilderness. They’ve got some young pitching starting to establish themselves, but there will be a couple more painful years before they’re relevant.

Central

1. Cardinals – Positioned well for Pujols leaving, solid all around. Interesting to see how Matheny follows TLR managing.

Actual finish: Second, won wild card game. The Cardinals did have the offensive depth to withstand the loss of Pujols (signing Carlos Beltran to a sweetheart deal helped that a lot, as well as more ABs for Allen Craig and David Freese), but the pitching took a bit of a step back.  The jury is still out on Matheny as a manager, but the Cardinals can’t really be disappointed to make the postseason again.

2. Brewers* – A Braun suspension would have probably knocked them from a wild card, I figure, with Prince already out the door.

Actual finish: Third. Didn’t quite nail the drop for the Brewers, who were actually lower in the standings for a lot of the season until the Pirates did a Pirates thing and collapsed down the stretch. Trading Zack Greinke means they’ll struggle to do much better next year- with Shawn Marcum possibly out the door as a free agent as well, this will be a telling offseason for the Brewers.

3. Reds – Should be breaking down Milwaukee’s neck, even with Madson out for the year.

Actual finish: First. I had Madson on my fantasy team, and thought it sucked when he got hurt. As it turns out, it didn’t. An excellent lineup and a loaded bullpen made the Reds the class of the division, and the relative youth of their sluggers and the makeup of their pitching staff means they should be in contention for some time.

4. Pirates – A flicker of hope early last year was extinguished. Need some more youngsters around McCutchen.

Actual finish: Fourth. Rinse and repeat. Always repeat. The Pirates held on a little longer this year, but finished just the same. After a promising first half from their pitching staff- especially Yankees castoff A.J. Burnett- James McDonald and others fell apart down the stretch, and they whimpered their way to another below .500 season. There’s a lot of young pitching on the way, but outside of the aforementioned McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez (and former Blue Jay Travis Snider, if you’re me), there’s not a lot to like in the current lineup.

5. Cubs – Theo takes the Cubs job after winning two titles with the Red Sox. Be something if he could win it here, too.

Actual finish: Fifth. Year 1 of a long building project in Chicago, but Epstein might be the guy to figure it out. Didn’t do the wholesale housecleaning we expected (unlike the next team), but there was going to be a long way to go here anyway.

6. Astros – Worst team in baseball, easy. American League teams salivating for their upcoming move to the AL West.

Actual finish: Last. Even with the upcoming move to the cutthroat AL West, the Astros were smart this year. They made a lot of trades for prospects, stocking a minor-league cupboard that was mostly barren under the prior administration. They weren’t going to be good this year anyway, so their work to ensure a better chance later showed patience and foresight, traits that will help this team down the road.

West

1. Giants – Crazy good pitching has propelled them the last few years, why mess with what works?

Actual finish: First. Despite the bizarre ineffectiveness of Tim Lincecum and a season ending injury to Brian Wilson, the Giants did what the Giants do best, and won the division again. Midseason deals for Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro might have positioned them better for a playoff run- it’ll be interesting to see how they do.

2. Diamondbacks – Seem to be collecting Blue Jays castoffs, which makes me angry that the NL West sucks.

Actual finish: Third. After an overachieving year last year, the Diamondbacks took a step back, and actually underachieved this time relative to their run differential. Blue Jays castoff Aaron Hill had an all-star year, but Justin Upton disappointed, and journeyman Ryan Roberts regressed, leaving the pitching staff to try and pick up the slack (which they didn’t quite). The rumors surrounding Upton don’t seem to go away, but he’s unlikely to be moved unless Arizona gets overwhelmed.

3. Dodgers – Great stars, no filler.

Actual finish: Second. No filler? Solution: Get more stars. Holy moly, did they ever. A midseason ownership change led the Dodgers to flex their financial muscle, picking up Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto in one of the most one-sided trades ever in terms of talent. And that was after they had gotten Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez, and inquired about Cliff Lee when the Phillies put him on waivers (settling for Joe Blanton). A full year with the new crew will help immensely, but with all that cash, the Dodgers will prooooooobably be trying to spend it. No one is too expensive.

4. Rockies – Another team whose direction confuses me. Big contracts, and got older this offseason.

Actual finish: Last. The confusing direction led to a bad year. Outside of lineup cornerstones Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki (and maybe Wilin Rosario), there’s not really a lot here to get excited about. An attempt at a four-man rotation was entertaining for a while, but the struggle for the Rockies continues to be securing adequate pitching for the mile-high altitude. Hard to see where the direction is going forward for them.

5. Padres – Some promising pitching, but still short on bats.

Actual finish: Fourth. The last successful Padres team had good pitching, and given that cavernous ballpark they play in, the next one will too. Outside of lineup cornerstone Chase Headley and young catcher Yasmini Grandal, not a lot to be excited about offensively. Seems like they’ll be jockeying in the back end of the division until some help arrives.

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