Spring Training, where beer tastes like Axe body spray and clear acrylic stilettos. Where the Oakland A’s play in an actual baseball stadium. Where (El) Super Burritos in North Scottsdale flow like well tequila. Where the Pink Pony is a steakhouse not a strip club. Where the poolside bar at Hotel Valley Ho is manned by my favorite former Royal with a porn star baseball name to end all names, Pete LaCock. Where Julián Tavárez drives a rickshaw with his face.
Last year, our soothsayers called the Astros, Cubs and Mets making it deep into the postseason—unfortunately neither of them believed Ned Yost had a two-year lease on his special magic. This year the boys are back with some darkhorses who may become favorites by fall.
Check it out. Print it and take it to the book!
AJ: Forget it. As a general rule, I don’t bet the odds favorite, but when they’re the Cubs. Whoa. Not even Richard Pryor with bottomless coffers—and a Cubs jersey—in Brewster’s Millions could justify that kind of wager. That said, at 7 to 1 I won’t be mad if you take a flier on this one Kyle, for two reasons. 1) Voting for the NL All-Star team might as well be limited to pitchers only. To say the Cubs’ starting eight are a murderers’ row is an understatement…more like a murderer’s tract or a murderer’s mega-cinema complex with a murderer’s evil HOA. Ready? Zobrist, Heyward, Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, Soler, Montero, Russell. All jersey-movers. I’d say the only spot(s) lacking potency at the plate is in that 7-8 hole but you’ve got a pair of potential Gold Glovers to supplement any slumps at the dish. And 2) Though this Cubs franchise still schleps the Billy Goat’s Curse and the legend of Bartman around like a carry on with a broken wheel through McCarran, there’s something about this generation of Cubs player/fan that doesn’t quite, how should I say this, give a FUCK about curses or lore or nostalgia or being loveable because you lose. Blame sabermetrics and analytics and solipsism and #selfieculture or just whatever. The best way to shatter glass ceilings and to shed the past is to ignore, ignore, ignore. These Cubbies from opening day on will be hellbent and looking ahead to the time they get theirs. And maybe you can start wearing turtlenecks and headphones to the games again.
Kyle: Forget it. AJ, I wanted to take a flier so bad. I totally agree with you that this team is pretty well ignorant of the CURSE. It’s what happens when 80 percent of your roster had parent-enforced bedtimes for the Bartman game. I also think that strength feeds this roster’s biggest weakness: Youth. How does Jake Arrieta come off a season when he pitched 229 innings–92 more than he’s ever pitched previously? How do the Cubs’ pups handle that next step into the playoffs–a long NLCS or World Series run? Last year the bats went dead, Arrieta’s magic ran up and the fire was extinguished pretty convincingly by the Mets. I think the Cubs will have learned from that, but like the Bulls of the late 80s and 1990, the Cubs have a few more dragons to slay and lessons to learn about pacing and being ready for deep, deep runs. I’ve no doubt the core of this team will fly a W in a deciding game of a World Series on the North Side, I just don’t think we’re there yet.
AJ: Forget it. I have NO idea what’s going on here. Did I miss something in the offseason that will change this 78-win team (5th in their division) into a world champion besides the B on their hat and the incessant deep throating from The Network? Granted Dave Dombrowski shored up a nice bullpen with the addition of closer Craig Kimbrel and set-up man Carson Smith. as well as adding Chris Young to his outfield and paying more than $200 million to snare ace David Price. So it was a productive offseason. In the infield, Hanley Ramirez (at first?) will be trade bait till the deadline and Sandoval has about five months to gel before he’s shipped back to the West Coast (I can see him in a D-backs uniform if they start to contend and Jake Lamb doesn’t show much pop). Which all adds up to the Sox are very much still a team in transition. Hell, I wouldn’t take them at 40/1.
Kyle: Forget this with Notebook-level alzheimer’s. Ramirez is a trainwreck defensively and quite possibly a bad baseball player. What makes the Sox think he’ll pick up first base!? His sometimes-historic inability to play short? His titanic failings in left field? There’s nowhere lower on the defensive spectrum to hide this guy. I wouldn’t trust him to field balls in little league. Mookie Betts is a revelation, yes, and David Price will earn his 2020 money this year and next, so no worries there. But, a lot of assumptions about the Red Sox are based on wishful thinking. How far past 40 can David Ortiz make it? Dustin Pedroia has ground through 10 seasons and he just doesn’t have the extra base power (or batting eye) to pick up the middle of the order during the inevitable slumps they’ll go through. Paramount, where do you go for innings after Price and Porcello?
Kyle: Bet it! Listen, the NL wildcard is probably coming out of the west this year. The Cubs signed away 12-plus wins from the Cardinals to claim ownership over the Central and I think the East will beat itself up too convincingly to get a second team in. That leaves Bruce Bochy & Co to navigate a brawl in a division where the upper tier (SF, LAD, ARI) is relatively even and the bottom probably can’t get worse wins-wise. Arizona sacrificed depth in order to sign Grienke. The Dodgers’ roster looks formidable until Dave Roberts actually has to send nine men out onto the field. Who do you trust to pace themselves through that slog, find enough wins to guarantee a playoff spot, then turn it on in October? I’m taking the team with MadBum, Samardzija and Cueto and Bochy pulling the strings. They’re the Bernard Hopkins of baseball right now, but they can still land a punch.
AJ: Forget it. Yes, it’s an even-numbered year. Yes, the additions of Samardzija and Cueto are key to keeping the once-best-rotation-in-the-league buoyant. Yes, Posey, Belt, Panik, Crawford and Duffy are the best homegrown infield this side of Wrigleyville…but it all still doesn’t add up to much in what portends to be a dogfight in the NL West. For starters, Matt Cain is a huge question mark and Jake Peavy is gassed. If Chris Heston can show a little better command of his slider during his sophomore campaign and MadBum continues to be MadBum, that’s a decent rotation, albeit one that is chasing with the aforementioned acquisitions. This mentions nothing of the unceremonious farewell to the dynastic heart and soul Tim Lincecum. The outfield with Pagan and Pence coming off injury-plagued years plus the acquisition of Denard Span from the Nationals and return of Mr. Dependable Gregor Blanco may get back to 30,000 feet this season, but the Giants have no pop, not even the Michael Morse variety, anywhere in that lineup. They may stay close to .600 at home, but good luck in AZ, LA, Colorado and beyond.
Houston Astros: 12/1
AJ: Forget it. Ah, to turn back the clock a year and have the Mets at 75/1. The Astros in 2016 are the Cubs in 2015. Formidable, scary and altogether not bland…but also not set up quite yet to go deep into the playoffs. Houstonians are fawning over the notion that Houston has a potential MVP in second baseman Jose Altuve and a potential Cy Young in Dallas Keuchel, but after a white-hot start in the AL West last year, they limped into the playoffs losing the majority of their series after June. Texas, Anaheim and Seattle all improved in the off-season and Oakland (marginally) did too. Houston will surprise nobody—except those with high expectations.
Kyle: Forget it. I like Dallas Keuchel. I like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. I don’t love the rest of the staff and I don’t think DH Evan Gattis is a guy you can keep giving 600 PAs to and expect better results. The Astros didn’t spend a lot in free agency and that’s telling–they’re going to see how far this group can take itself before adding on. At this point, they’re still a few moves away.
AJ: Forget it. understand the 2016 Mets will be drawing comparisons to the 2015 Royals all season, especially if they’re able to surge mid-summer. And I’m on that bandwagon too, but not under 20/1. They’re a year older (which in this case means better) and a year hungrier. The only real hiccup for the folically unchallenged I see is the gauntlet that the NLDS and LCS is shaping up to be. You’ve got the Nationals, Dodgers, Cubbies, Giants—plus the venerable Cardinals and the surprising D-Backs to contend with on the road to late-October. Suddenly, the path isn’t so clear for Mr. Met.
Kyle: Forget it. See above.
Texas Rangers: 15/1
Kyle: Bet it! This is a division winner that was short Yu Darvish and only got a half season out of Cole Hamels in 2015. Both are perennial Cy Young candidates who have a lineup behind them that was averaging five runs a day in September and October last year. Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor can both stretch singles into doubles and go first-third as well as anyone in the league. The table setters only need wait for Prince Fielder, who crushed in the later part of the season last year (6 HR, 25 RBI in September) to bring them around. Adrian Beltre will continue to play like a Hall of Famer and if Josh Hamilton can right the ship you can count on not talking Cowboys in Dallas until mid-October.
AJ: Forget it. Fuck man, I’m WAAAY more comfortable with the Rangers being in the 50:1 odds range preseason. I get it. Texas got Hamilton back during crunch time last season and all of a sudden they’re more rootable (root-worthy?) than Dennis Quaid in a Disney movie. But let’s be real here for a minute: The Rangers 2016 pitching staff is relying on Yu Darvish’s off-season elbow surgery to make him a miracle workhorse and though Adrian Beltre in a contract year and Prince Fielder in any year can mash, I just don’t think the staff is where it needs to be to repeat last year’s late run. Their 2014 ERA was 4.49, expect them to revert and hover somewhere around there by August.
AJ: Forget it. EVERYONE’s sexy pick this year is still a franchise in flux. Dusty Baker is a players’ manager and some of his mojo will re-unite whatever shambles of a clubhouse he walks into. But beyond Harper and a bevvy of young talent that may make its way up by August—especially if this is a transition season—Washington’s biggest regret in five years may be how they squandered both Strasburg and Scherzer in their prime.
Kyle: Forget it. Dusty Baker will sweep up whatever toxic bullshit Matt Williams dumped into the Nationals’ dugout last year, but that doesn’t solve the problems of Jayson Werth logging just 330 ABs in an(other) injury-shortened season, Ryan Zimmerman’s continued slide toward ‘that guy is still playing?’ status and the loss of SS Ian Desmond, who, while miserable last year, provided a little bit of pop from a position that traditionally brings none of that. This team, sort of like Boston, is trying to spend itself beyond some really systemic issues.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 16:1
AJ: Bet it! I’m a big believer in new skipper Dave Roberts as a clubhouse “glue guy.” During his short tenure with the Giants he acted as a human shield for Barry Bonds and kept the scribes in stitches while The GOAT* chased down Ruth and Aaron. It worked, at least insofar that Barry got his. Now that the hapless Friar front office have let one of their best baseball minds go in Roberts without as much as an ice cream cake (see: Bruce Bochy part II: On the Move). Roberts rides into LA with a similarly poisonous clubhouse personae to contend with in Yasiel Puig. I don’t think the oft-reported rumors of the likes of Kershaw and Grienke thinking that the fine Cuban’s constant antics are polarizing are exaggerated. And LA’s failure to keep the latter along with GM Farhan Zaidi’s—the Canadian-born Pakastani who is a MIT- and Berkeley-educated philosophy PhD—inability to make much of a splash in the free agent market seems proof of this. Although signing Scott Kazmir to a three-year, $48 million contract seems like the steal of the winter talks. The Dodgers played “small ball” in the offseason and that may finally be a sign of a team, and front-office, coming into its own.
Kyle: Forget it. Most of this lineup fell off a cliff at the end of last season, from the old standbys (Adrian Gonzalez, .233 in September; Howie Kendrick, .235) to the kids (Joc Pederson, .197, Puig, DNP). The only guys pitching in were Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford–not exactly war horses you can count on when the chips are down. Losing Zach Grienke doesn’t make your organization better, especially when those wins are disappearing within the division.
New York Yankees: 16:1
AJ: Bet it! I have ulteriors here, I must admit. I’m Jonesing for a Dodgers/Yankees World Series. It may sound like heresy. It may be the two franchises I was bred to hate most in real life, but what about a true fall classic with two classic teams on the upswing (not to mention, two very classic cities to celebrate such a thing) doesn’t sound delicious? The small-market squads have broken into the mainframe and dissected the code: It’s about scouting and pitching and…well, more foreign scouting, stupid. The Dodgers and the Yankees, still one-two respectively in payroll, have quietly remained stagnant with their spending over the last three seasons and lots of the monies they’ve committed to the 2016 roster is for players who are no longer with the organization or taking the field. You’ve also seen the top 10 payrolls creep nose-to-nose what used to be the lead horses who led by lengths. So as the league and its best players have gotten richer, the rich have pulled back a bit. If you look at the actual projected Yankee lineup, you’ve got a few lions in winter now loveable again in their old age (A-Rod, Beltran), a few very cheerable veterans (Teixeira and Headley) and some young guns plugging the middle infield like Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorious that are Webgem eligible mostly every night. What’s not to like about a good-mix ballclub helmed by the unflappable Joe Girardi?
Kyle: Forget it. To answer your last question there, AJ: a lot. The problems are, again, structural. You’re going to get 150-plus innings out of a 35-year old CC Sabathia who’s coming off of rehab? If you do, what quality will they be? You’re going to get 400-500 ABs out of A-Rod, Tex and Beltran? They all have pop, true enough, but they aren’t going to work counts (315 Ks between them) or anything else to extend innings if some key pieces go down. It’s not a roster built to head into battle. Last year was the perfect storm of good health, a weak league and lots of games against the Rays and late-season Orioles. I do like the young talent on this team, but when you’re depending on the old guys to hit the lotto twice in a row, you’re taking a bet that I wouldn’t.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 18:1
AJ: Forget it. As much as it pains me to say, I think the Pirates missed their window. Four consecutive playoff appearances and subsequent bow-outs have me thinking the 2016 Pirates are very reminiscent of the 1995 Bills. They’ve tasted success. They know what it takes to get there. But they can’t quite close the deal.
Kyle: Forget it. How do you catch the Cubs now? Certainly not by spending the way the Pirates have to, which is wisely but budget-conscious. They let Pedro Alvarez walk during the offseason, which is absolutely the right move because the man couldn’t defend a killer cop in front of an all-white jury. But, Alvarez hit 30, 36, 18 and 27 homeruns in the last four seasons. He’s the kind of guy you’d keep around if you could afford to give up the runs he’ll cost you at a corner infield spot. But the Pirates can’t, and like AJ says above, the window is closed.
St Louis Cardinals: 18:1
AJ: Bet it! Here’s what I wrote about the Cards last year at 12:1: Ordinarily, I’d like to see this more at 20/1 but Matheny’s Cards are like clockwork; guaranteed LCS appearance, what happens from there, nobody knows. This year at 18:1 they’re a little closer odds-wise to my liking. Folks are also insta-forgetting the injury-plagued Cardinals finished first in the NL Central before being quickly dispatched by the Cubs (3-1) in the LDS. At some point last season pretty much all of the Cards’ opening day starters were on the DL: Jason Heyward, Adam Wainwright (out for the season with an achilles) Jaime Garcia, Randal Grichuk, Jon Jay, and Matt Holliday all missed significant time—and in crunch time. Heyward took off for division rival Chicago, but the redbirds still seem formidable even in the shadow of the Windy City behemoth with Adam Wainwright, Holliday, Jay and co. returning at full speed along with Yadier Molina, Jhonny Peralta, Lance Lynn, Matt Carpenter, Jorden Walden and Aledmys Diaz. Injuries are infectious and St. Louis had more than their share to truncate the campaign that saw them not advancing to the LCS for the first time since ‘09. Don’t be surprised to see them back on a championship track in 2016.
Kyle: Forget it. AJ, injuries aren’t a disease in STL, they’re a symptom. This is an aging team with key pieces like Wainright (two of his last five seasons have ended in less than 28 innings), Matt Holliday (missed 88 games last year) and 33-year old catcher Yadier Molina (late season neck injury) missing significant time with bumps and bruises. The next-gen guys like Michael Wacha and Randal Grichuk haven’t quite dialed in the consistency yet. It all comes back to closing a gap on the Cubs, and I can’t see St. Louis doing it.
AJ: Bet it! Oddsmakers seem to have gotten the Blue Jays and the Red Sox reversed. With a resurgent fanbase in Toronto and a team that can mash with the best of any in the last half-decade, I like the Jays’ chances of a repeat postseason performance. The offseason focus has been on the loss of David Price to the Red Sox and that intra-division transfer hurts almost as much as when Jason Heyward traded Cardinal red for Cubbies blue. Remember though how much scribes like to trump up these deals and these rivalries in the ugly sweater party months and none of it ever amounts to much by May. The reality is Price doesn’t make the Sox rotation better beyond him and the Jays are mostly not worse off without him, even if there is no clear All Star-caliber starter beyond Marcus Stroman. The architect of last year’s team Alex Anthropolous (think the Donaldson trade) may be the more regrettable exit from the organization especially if they’re looking for a few sneaky deals for arms come deadline. But with the aforementioned AL MVP back at third along with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and a full season of Troy Tulowitzki…the
Sky Dome’s Rogers Centre the limit.
Kyle: Bet it! Marcus Stroman should be back for a whole season this year. The 24 y/o righty missed most of last season with an injury, but in 2014 was striking out 7.6 per nine and last year went 4-0 in his four late-season, high-pressure starts. Don’t think the Jays will miss David Price as much as pundits say they will. Plus, they’ll have a whole season of Troy Tulowitzki holding things down on that new dirt infield. Jose Bautista seemed as locked-in as any player in baseball late last year and Josh Donaldson is, hands-down, Canada’s favorite Alabamian. I’d guess another boisterous October at SkyDome.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 25:1
AJ: Forget it. Sexy pick no. 2, everyone’s loving the D-backs…with the exception, perhaps, of most Arizonans. Arizona drew 23rd out of 30 MLB franchises last season (approx. 25k/game) not terrible but considering the Giants would probably draw that to Scottsdale Stadium if they put bleachers on top of Camelback. Concession lines or no, the Dbacks are pushing all-in this season to give Goldschmidt and co. some support on the mound. Arizona overpaid for Grienke, who at 32 probably doesn’t have six good years left on that right arm of his, but who cares? It was a statement signing for a team whose farm is starting to bear fruit (similar to Zito’s $127 million contract in 2007 with the Giants—remember when that number was insane btw?) If you look at the Zito administration including a trio of World Series rings, it seemed to have worked out pretty OK to have a perennial All-Star-caliber pitcher show some of the young guns the way. I’d like a year or two for these snakes to marinate before I can place a Jackson on them winning it all, but they definitely will be in the hunt for the division (or wild card) and in the unusual position of being buyers come mid-July.
Kyle: Forget it. OK, so Grienke is there, and Paul Goldschmidt can mash, but look at the rest of this roster. Nick Ahmed (.226) and Chris Owings (.227) are your middle infield. Rubby de la Rosa, your probable #2 pitcher, gave up 32 homers last year, one of the highest totals in the league. He is also a grown man called Rubby. Tyler Clippard struck out 64 batters over 71 innings last year, down from 82 over 70 in 2014 and 73 over 71 in 2013. The D-Backs obviously looked for efficiencies after betting the farm on Grienke, and I’m just not sure a roster constructed this way–without at least one more big bat or a secondary arm–is what is going to get you to the promised land.
AJ: Bet it! It’s important to remember the Tribe are slow starters and hot finishers so don’t get too down on the indigenous peoples if they come limping out of the gate. If Michael Brantley (Shoulder surgery) can return to form, the AL’s possible best battery (14-game-winner Carlos Carraso, Corey Kluber who K’d 245 and Danny Salazar whose ERA was under 3.5…in Cleveland) and, well, this might be the Tribe’s closest near-miss season since ‘98.
Kyle: Forget it. There are still far too many ABs to go around for far too few good batters.
Detroit Tigers: 25:1
Kyle: Bet it! While the rest of the division stood pat, the Tigers went out and got Jordan Zimmerman and Justin Upton (the Upton who still strikes out a ton but also mashes friggin taters). And, in a locally-kept secret, Justin Verlander learned the difference between pitching and throwing during the second half of last year. Through June, he was striking out just 3.57 batters per nine and walking 4. In August and September, he was punching out 8.5 batters per nine and walking just 2.1. His late starts last season were vintage Verlander in the late innings–he was dialing it up above 95 after the sixth–but also a JV most Tigers fans hadn’t seen before. He painted the corners, buried pitches low and away for his infield to clean up and generally looked like he cared about his craft beyond blowing people away. This may be a lot of cornbread and Kool-Aid, but I think Verlander may be on his way to a late-career resurgence.
AJ: Forget it. Detroit’s a curious ballclub. I thought last year the Tigers were going to be dusting off grandma’s recipe cards and rolling pin and starting from scratch in 2016. At least that’s what the disappointing 2015 season which led to a mini fire sale at the deadline that sent David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria and the dismissal of GM Dave Dombrowski told me. Fear not, a couple of big under-30 off-season acquisitions (see: above) and Verlander fresh off the plane from Jamaica with
Taye Diggs Kate Upton in his carry-on and the Tigs’ kids well contend. The only problem is Detroit still features too many non-key holdovers from their 2012 pennant-winning ballclub and not enough depth in the rotation.
Kansas City Royals: 25:1
AJ: Bet it! They lost the services of Ben Zobrist and all the magic he keeps in his carpetbagging shaving kit, but this ballclub as a whole is still the defending champs and still has made it to the show two years in a row. The AL Central is suddenly the toughest division in baseball (Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit…even Chicago will contend) and that makes this the year where KC either shows all things must pass…or maybe Ned Yost knows something you don’t.
Kyle: Bet it! I love a staff caught by Sal Perez. A lot of these guys have been through the fire, too, Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura in last year’s World Series and grinders like Joakim Soria and Luke Hochevar each have more than a decade of service time in the pen. The lineup has the same holes Ned Yost was able to paper over last year, so why question what works?
AJ: Forget it. The Angels can’t get on base and when they do it’s usually temporary—for a round-tripper. This feast or famine runs-in-bunches mentality has always been a hallmark of sorts for Sciosia baseball in the shadow of the Matterhorn. The only problem with the Angels this year is they’re still so heavily reliant on Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson to be the Jared Weaver and CJ Wilson they were supposed to be, not the ones the rest of the league wants them to be. Mike Trout won’t be this good forever and I hate to see this phase in his career squandered.
Kyle: Forget it. After Weaver and Wilson, you have Garrett Richards, who pitched 40 more innings (107) than he ever has before, the untested Andrew Heaney and his skyrocketing ERA in the second half of the season, and Matt Shoemaker, who backslid last year. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for Weaver, 33, and Wilson, 35, to drop off with age. The window has closed in Disneyland.
Seattle Mariners: 35: 1
AJ: Forget it. Seattle was all kinds of disappointing last season with Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez moving into their prime. Granted, Jerry Dipoto’s front office was the busiest in the bigs this summer grabbing Adam Lind, Nori Aoki, Wade Miley, Joaquin Benoit, Steve Cishek, Leonys Martin, Chris Iannetta and Nate Karns off the bargain heap. This is the kind of re-tooling that can get you to the playoffs, maybe, if it takes. It also, more likely, can get you into a tie for last in the AL West with the A’s and the aforementioned superstars pushing for a trade at the deadline.
Kyle: Forget it. Today’s AL probably isn’t a place where you’ll find air in the playoff race with a cobbled-together roster. Starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma has passed his sell-by date (2013, when he pitched 219 innings, a figure he hasn’t come close to since) and Miley’s ERA has ballooned by a run over the past four years. That can’t be your plan after King Felix when you’re playing for a wild card spot against Anaheim, Detroit, Cleveland, Minnesota, New York and Boston.
Baltimore Orioles: 50:1
AJ: Forget it. Officially getting into longshot territory here, the Orioles, who haven’t had a losing season in a half-decade, may be heading that way. For starters, the ballclub has never been known spendthrifts around MLB circles and yet they commit more than $200 million to shore up the services of Darren Day, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis? Huh. That’s like saying, “We like being a .500 club and will pay a premium to keep it that way.” <–Possible Orioles slogan for 2016.
Kyle: Forget it. As AJ points out above, there were so many other holes to spend on with the $12 million Baltimore gave Chris Davis, starting with rotational help.
AJ: Forget it. I was on the verge of saying put a 20 spot down on this just to keep it interesting and to have a shot at a cool G courtesy the South Siders come November, but, again, the Central’s just too stacked for the White Sox not to be dining off table scraps this season. Which is really too bad, because even though the North Siders will be grabbing the headlines, the ChiSox have some interesting bats in Alex Avila and Brett Lawrie. Unfortunately, that’s about all they’ve got.
Kyle: Forget it. The braintrust on the South Side muffed a shot at competing this year when they decided to let it ride with Chris Sale, Jose Abreu and the same roster that netted them a fourth place finish last year. To not try to buy more talent to put around Sale–an ace cut from the purest cloth–is absurd. Don’t bet on the Sox when their own management won’t.
Minnesota Twins 50:1
AJ: Bet it! …On the other hand, there’s those resurgent Twins. Nobody seemed to notice the twinkies were playing .600 or better ball down the stretch until they came into the AL Wild Card conversation in mid-September like an ex employee who shows up drunk at the company Christmas party. The Twins were easy to root for late last season as Torii gave Target Field something to cheer about for the first time in nearly a decade during his farewell tour. Don’t let Hunter and Joe Mauer’s 2015 resurgence fool you, the young nucleus of pitcher Jose Berrios and CF Byron Buxton could elicit comparisons to (ready?) Frank Viola and Kirby Puckett in a couple year’s time. Yes, take that flier at 50:1—because they do grow up fast these days.
Kyle: Forget it. Many of the pieces are there and will be better than last season, when they pushed the rest of the central for a wild card spot. What’s missing is pop in the bats–power outlets in 1B Joe Mauer, DH Byung-Ho Park and RF Miguel Sano hit just 28 big league homers between them last season (Park was in the KBO where he plugged the last two seasons with 52 and 53 dingers, respectively. Still, how does that translate?) In a division featuring Miguel Cabrera, JD Martinez, Jose Abreu, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, you need to find more than that.
Tampa Bay rays 60:1
AJ: Forget it! History shows Tampa can be totally just OK and totally sneaky at the same time. But the Rays didn’t do much in the offseason to shore up any guarantees that they’re going to match their win total (80) of 2015. The team that perennially seems like it’s cleaning house of youngish talent (the A’s of the East) never gives us a chance to see what they can really do—except for profit share. Huge holes in the rotation after Chris Archer and no bats raise, once more, the discussion as to whether MLB might be right to start their contraction talks in the strip club capital of West Coast Florida.
Kyle: Forget it. The top of the staff is nice between Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly and there’s a little pop around the infield but the outfield is a witness protection program and the bullpen doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence for guys who are going to have to eat 3-plus innings night three nights a week.
AJ: Forget it. A few of 2015-’16’s moribund franchises, Cincinnati being one of them—Atlanta and Philly are the other two that come to mind—are historically too good to be kept down for long. Unfortunately, this isn’t the Reds’ year to rise up. Losers of more than 100 games last year, the re-tooled Reds should show signs of life in 2016, the start of the rebuild campaign. Patience. For as Cubs and Astros fans well know, it can take a half-decade plus a few lucky pick-ups to get there. In the meantime, Joey Votto is still around to take two-pitch at-bats.
Kyle: Forget it. Starter Homer Bailey is coming off of Tommy John, Anthony DeSclafani is coming off a season where he pitched 150 more innings than he did in 2014 and Raisel Iglesias gives up a little more than a dinger a game. The lineup can’t possibly put enough runs on the board to let the rotation settle in.
Miami Marlins: 120:1
Kyle: Bet it! While the rotation isn’t really close, the lineup has intriguing pieces scattered throughout the infield. Adeiny Hechavarria and Dee Gordon might be the best middle infield in the sport and both can use their legs to power their averages. Gordon can be a one-man wrecking crew on the basepaths, swiping 58 bags last year, and he sets a mean table for Stanton to clear. Martin Prado exhausts pitchers with a good eye at the plate and if CF Marcel Ozuna can regain his 2014 form, there aren’t many easy patches in this lineup for opposing pitchers. The NL is replete with bad teams, so somebody has to make it, yes? Take a flier.
AJ: Forget it. Unless hitting coach Barry Bonds can introduce Giancarlo Stanton to The Clear (or at least show him how to eat a Kit Kat) well, there really are no good side stories coming out of Miami, except, you know, this is where most visiting players will check on the status of their custom whips.
AJ: Forget it. What have oddsmakers suddenly gotten lazy at the bottom of the board and decided to go in alphabetical order? GM David Stearns is still smarting from Ryan Braun’s back surgery…and the fact that the hammer is just now getting into the nine-figure portion of his 2011 contract extension. Yikes. I take no joy in this hapless bunch, other than the fact that Bud Selig still owns part of this dire outfit. Oh yeah, and sausage races.
Kyle: There’s no way the Brewers find oxygen in the Central. Chicago and St. Louis alone went 27-11 against the Brew Crew last year, and Pittsburgh may have taken a step back but the Brewers aren’t going to find enough wins to even think about the playoffs in 2016.
Oakland Athletics 120:1
AJ: Forget it. Even a hundred dollar bet yielding $12k doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort in Oakland this year. Granted, they leapfrogged the Brewers this week with the acquisition of their potential All Star outfielder Khris Davis for a pair of prospects…if Oakland has deep pockets in anything, it’s prospects. And there’s some credence to the notion that Billy Beane is going to keep Cy Young candidate Sonny Gray in yellow stirrups for another few years, but don’t let any of that window dressing distract from the total product on the field: 2015’s fire sale has yet to produce any everyday players of note and the likes of Yonder Alonso, Henderson Alvarez and Jed Lowrie as stand-ins till the heirs to O.co ripen on the farm doesn’t make times too interesting this summer at the place next door to where the Warriors play. At least Bay Area hipsters still have a place to go watch artisanal baseball.
Kyle: Forget it. Oakland may not be terrible because there are wins to be had against Seattle and Anaheim but this is still largely a 4A squad. The outfield is competent with the revelatory Billy Burns playing center and Coco Crisp still hanging in there in left while Josh Reddick continues to improve from one-trick pony status in right. The infield is largely a collection of Ks in waiting.
AJ: Forget it. However, bet the churro change that San Diego will be back on top with cap and jersey sales by mid-summer. That’s right, the Friars are bringing back the brown and yellow-piped unis (starting with Fridays only but you watch that merch move like Garbage Pail Kids out of the MLB shop) …hell, who doesn’t want in on one of these?
Kyle: Forget it. One year removed from a failed spending/signing spree that set the squad back a decade, look for the Pads to find some sort of happy medium playing mediocre baseball in the league’s toughest division.
AJ: Forget it. If only Colorado could play all its home games in a humidor with the rest of their gear. The offense will probably have the biggest run total in the MLB this year but there are, yet again, no arms in the starting rotation and with the notable exception of Jason Motte coming out of the pen, nothing there either. Believe me, I want so badly to take a flier on a NL West team at odds that are worse than a plus-size model ever gracing the cover of the Swimsuit Issue…whoops! See there, dreams do come true, just not twice in one year for the Mile-High city.
Kyle: Forget it. Starting to think it’ll never happen in Coors. How badly do you think they’d like the mid-’00s back?
Atlanta Braves: 350:1
AJ: Bet it! Here we go. First off, this is the last season at Turner Field and I remember not-so-long ago, when Turner Field opened. Am I getting old or is the half-life of a MLB stadium the same as my beige ‘96 Nissan Pathfinder? The Braves have done the right thing and are trying to have a new-look ballclub ready for the new stadium opening next year. The only problem is some of these kids look ready to go before the gates swing wide at SunTrust. As long as AJ Pierzynski doesn’t get in the way, the Braves could make a move in the saggy NL East.
Kyle: Forget it. The Braves are still parting out the remnants of the Frank Wren era–Freddie Freeman may be the next to head for the door via trade. The Braves are building toward having a competitive club in Cobb County next year. Don’t waste your money on ‘16.
Philadelphia Phillies: 350:1
AJ: Bet it! Officially the third potentially terrible team (Miami, Atlanta) in this division. Hell, throw Washington in there too. This pretty much means anyone can contend. Philly could be the worst of the worst in all of baseball and if the 6’ers weren’t falling all over one another in the paint across town, maybe all of sport. How do you trade away or cut virtually all of your 2010 LCS-attending team and get virtually nothing in return? You’re Philly, that’s how. Even so, put a sawbuck on this and gloat like the guy who bet his kid’s college fund on the ‘99 Rams pre-season when some odd Fanatic magic happens midseason to push them toward .500.
Kyle: Forget it. The Phils are finally looking like a team that is moving past 2008–Ryan Howard is the last man standing from that era with the club. The right people are reportedly in place in the front office and some of the kids are starting to surface after years of good draft positioning. Keep an eye on Philly in the future, but turn it off for this year.
…At any rate, enjoy the season. And especially enjoy Vin’s final year: