This is supposed to be an era of parity in baseball, and there’s some evidence that’s true. Since the end of the New York Yankees’ dynasty – four titles in five years, concluding in 2000 – nine different franchises have won the World Series, six more have won pennants, 14 more have reached the postseason. (That’s right: The only non-playoff organization since 2000: Toronto.)
So predicting things with Easter upon us? Nearly impossible. Yet we’re here to serve, so we’ll try. These are all based on – something. A lot of reading. A lot of watching. A lot of talking to people. But even those people worth talking to – and there are plenty of them – are seeing things through their own personal prism, whether that prism is aided by a radar gun or a slide ruler.
With that, our 2015 Major League Baseball predictions. Why even play the season?
Wild Card: Marlins over Padres
This might be a bit early for the Marlins to make this kind of push, but think of the infusion they’ll get when and if Jose Fernandez returns to the rotation. That’s a better improvement than any trade they could make. Unlike the Cubs, their young core has already reached the majors, and they’re centered around Giancarlo Stanton – a good, safe, early pick for NL MVP. The Padres get the nod for the second wild card over the Cubs and Pirates, but this could be a fun wild-card race.
Division series: Nationals over Marlins, Dodgers over Cardinals
Though the Nationals’ farm system is deep and their organization solid, this is the year they must advance in the playoffs given the impending free agency of shortstop Ian Desmond, center fielder Denard Span and starting pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister. Even with their two division titles – two more than the Marlins have won in their history – they haven’t yet won a playoff series. This year, that changes.
The Dodgers and Cardinals meet again in a reprise of last year’s division series, won by St. Louis in four games. Can the Cardinals really count on beating Clayton Kershaw twice again in the postseason, and on Yasiel Puig being benched? Seems unlikely. Dodgers advance.
NLCS: Nationals over Dodgers
It’s impossible to say in April how the rotations would line up in the playoffs, but Kershaw vs. Scherzer, Greinke vs. Zimmermann and Ryu vs. Strasburg is about as good as it gets. There’s also no telling what either bullpen will look like in October given that Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen begins the year on the disabled list and the roles for Washington haven’t been sorted out with setup man Casey Janssen battling an injury. We’ll give the edge to Washington, though, based on Doug Fister over Brandon McCarthy and the belief that Bryce Harper is about to be a postseason star.
Wild Card: Royals over Angels
Given that some models have the Royals reverting from 89 wins to that many losses, it could seem like a stretch to put last October’s darlings back in the playoffs. This, then, is something of a statement: It’s hard to find American League teams in which to believe.
People like Cleveland, but that offense seems decidedly unsexy and the rotation isn’t deep. There’s old standby Detroit, but the Tigers feel like they’re in for a long rebuild. Oakland, minus Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester? Baltimore, minus Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis? The Royals lost James Shields, but they know their style and themselves. The Angels? If they regress by 10 wins, they’ll take 88 games – and that should be enough to get them in, even if we don’t like them enough to advance.
ALDS: Mariners over Royals, White Sox over Red Sox
There were plenty of critics of Nelson Cruz’s four-year, $57-million contract in Seattle, particularly because of the out years. But for 2015, this is exactly what a too-frequently impotent Mariners’ lineup needed – a legitimate power threat to hit between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. The Mariners have Felix Hernandez, probably the league’s best pitcher, and promising Taijuan Walker as a star on the rise.
The choice of Chicago’s Sox over Boston’s here is based largely on the fact that the White version has both Samardzija and Chris Sale – better options to start Games 1 and 2 of a five-game series than Boston can boast. The wild card, of course, is the Red Sox, with a deep farm system, could come up with a frontline pitcher (Cole Hamels?) at the deadline, completely tipping the entire American League.
ALCS: Mariners over White Sox
Seattle hasn’t made the playoffs since it lost back-to-back ALCSs in 2000 and ’01. The White Sox have made the postseason once since winning the 2005 World Series, a brief four-game appearance in 2008. So there are a lot of ways to question such choices. If Walker develops into a dynamic force for the Mariners, then the front three in the rotation could be Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Walker – with James Paxton and J.A. Happ as very solid insurance. The Mariners aren’t likely to repeat their best-in-baseball bullpen ERA of 2.60 from a year ago, but even a slight regression would make that spot a strength.
The White Sox added to that area, too, with closer David Robertson and lefty Zach Duke as free agents, but that shored up a decided weakness. From top to bottom, Seattle’s lineup looks more dynamic. The franchises here might not light up the marquee, but it’s not too difficult to figure out how this could be a compelling series – Cano, Jose Abreu, Hernandez, Sale, etc.
Mariners over Nationals
In the cool winds of spring, even venturing a guess – and that’s what this is, a guess – feels unwise. How’s that for conviction?
What we know: A team that’s built to win 95 or 100 games in the regular season isn’t necessarily built to win in the playoffs. The Royals and Giants, last year’s pennant winners, both played in the Wild Card game and won 89 and 88 games, respectively. But each was able to shorten playoff games with a solid (and, in the Royals’ case, utterly dominant) bullpen, and the Giants came up with a transcendent performance from Madison Bumgarner.
Each of these teams has characters who could play Bumgarner’s role – Hernandez and Zimmermann come to mind. Such a series would pit two franchises that would be making their first World Series appearances – what would be the first such occurrence in more than a century. So why choose the team that hasn’t been to the postseason in 14 years rather than the one that’s been built for this moment over the past five? Baseball, over 162 games, yields what is deserved. October, over 31 days, yields something utterly unpredictable. Check back in seven months to see if this was worth anything.