Today, we wake up. Baseball begins again in Kansas City, which means we stop dreaming about the unbelievable run of last October, wondering if Alex Gordon could have scored or waking from nightmares about Madison Bumgarner.
Now, all of that is truly part of the past. We have new games to watch!
Which is kind of a shame. Because I just don’t think last year was the beginning of some great run for the Royals.
Maybe Eric Hosmer is ready to play MVP-caliber ball for six months.
Maybe Mike Moustakas figured something out last fall and can finally turn into a guy who can hit 25–30 home runs a year and get on base about 30 percent of the time.
Perhaps last year was not an aberration at the plate for both Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar and they can both repeat their ’14 numbers. Maybe Yordano Ventura is ready to be a big league #1 for 200+ innings.
Maybe Danny Duffy is ready to be a big league #2 for 200+ innings.
Maybe Edinson Volquez, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie can continue to fool batters.
Maybe Herrera-Davis-Holland will repeat as the most deadly bullpen trio in MLB history. Maybe Salvador Perez can stay healthy.
Maybe every string that Ned Yost pulls will continue to be the right string. Or when he pulls the wrong string, it somehow works out like it did in October.
Here’s the problem, though. It will take all of that to happen, and probably more, to compete in what should be a much tougher AL Central this year, or fight what should be a deeper pool of teams for a Wild Card slot this year. I can see two, three, maybe four of those things happening. But not all of them.
Still, I’m picking with my heart rather than my brain. I say the Royals win 83, 84 games and finish just on the fringe of both the division and Wild Card races.
My brain says a third-straight season with 81+ wins is going to be tough, though.
But it’s Opening Day! The grass is greening up. There will be baseball on the TV, radio, and our i-devices for the next seven months. And the Royals, for today at least, are no longer a laughingstock and we can dream that all the magic of last October will continue into this season.
Worth noting, I’ll be celebrating Opening Day by covering a high school softball game the begins at roughly the same time the Royals game starts. Would it be wrong for me to show up about three hours early with a grill and a cooler and look for someone to play catch with?
The two leagues have very different feels. In the American League, there does not seem to be a dominant team, and in each division there are at least two completely reasonable choices for a champ. Then, when the playoffs roll around, there will be a bunch of evenly matched, but flawed teams, battling for the pennant.
In the National League, however, there seem to be clear leaders in each division, with two of those poised to put up monster years if they can stay healthy.
So, here come the patented, half-assed, likely totally wrong predictions.
AL East: Red Sox
Every preview I read throws out the theory that the Red Sox roster will look very different in August. Cole Hamels, come on down? I suppose I’ll but into that idea as well. Toronto will hold the lead at the All-Star Break, but the Sox get hot late to nudge out the Blue Jays.
AL Central: White Sox
I could talk myself into any of three teams here. The White Sox seem too young, and too recently put together. But I love most of the moves they made in the off season. I think the Indians have a real shot to win, but I also think they have the least room for error, and will likely slip up or suffer a major injury or two that wrecks their chances. The Tigers will look great on the nights when everything clicks, but are too old and fragile to continue their dominance of the division.
AL West: Athletics
Say what you want about Billy Beane, but he always keeps it interesting. He made some huge moves last year to build a team that would finally win him a pennant, only to cough up a huge division lead and then blow two late leads in the Wild Card game. So he completely blew the team up again. And, somehow, they’re going to be really, really good again.
Wildcards: Blue Jays, Mariners
Not sure I buy all the Mariners hype, and it was hard for me to pick them over Cleveland. But I bet they stay healthier than the Indians. And they have the luxury of playing the Rangers and Astros often.
Mariners over Blue Jays. King Felix is dominant.
Mariners over Athletics. Starting pitching is the difference. And Billy Beane’s shit still doesn’t work in the playoffs.
Red Sox over White Sox. One last hurrah for Papi and Pedroia.
Red Sox over Mariners. Hamels out-duels Felix in an epic game seven.
NL East: Nationals
Potential juggernaut No. 1.
NL Central: Cardinals
Will survive the toughest division in the majors.
NL West: Dodgers
Potential juggernaut No. 2.
Wildcards: Pirates, Mets
Mets over Pirates. Matt Harvey breaks Pittsburgh’s heart again.
Nationals over Mets. Harvey not enough.
Dodgers over Cardinals. Kershaw’s shit works this year.
Nationals over Dodgers. Bryce Harper in the MVP in an epic series.
World Series: Nationals over Red Sox
The team of the ‘00s falls to the team poised to become the team of the next decade.