Lingering questions, predictions for every team on eve of Opening Day
The best way to describe a baseball season is that it is 30 different reality shows, unfolding over six months.
The 2015 plots should be particularly fascinating, considering that so many teams are employing new casts. Come July, many of those clubs will turn over again, seeking new stars who will deliver better ratings — er, results.
As always, my predicted orders of finish are not to be taken seriously. For one thing, I’m always wrong. For another, no one can accurately predict anything about baseball without knowing which players will get hurt, which will get traded, suspended, etc.
I’ve got questions for each club. I’ve tried to provide answers. And once the season ends, I will deny ever writing this column, and claim that it was authored by a hacker.
1. Nationals: Is the bullpen good enough?
Yes, the Nats need one, because not even their starters will pitch many complete games. Relievers are always available at the deadline, and the Nats might not bank on Drew Storen to close in the postseason again.
2. Mets: Are they for real?
A strong rotation might get even better if the Mets promote some of their youngsters, but the bullpen is a question, as is the offense and middle-infield defense. Let’s see how they handle higher expectations.
3. Marlins: Will the pitching hold together?
The talent is good, particularly in the rotation, but everything will look better once Jose Fernandez returns from Tommy John surgery. Love the new position players — Martin Prado, Mike Morse, Dee Gordon.
4. Braves: How bad will it get?
Bad. All that talk of a new vibe will diminish once the losing begins. The pitching might be OK, but the offense is so thin, Freddie Freeman could draw 100 walks.
5. Phillies: When will they trade Cole Hamels?
And Ryan Howard. And Jonathan Papelbon. And maybe Chase Utley. Nothing else is of interest with this team.
1. Pirates: How big a loss is Russell Martin?
The Pirates do not think they will sacrifice much with Francisco Cervelli defensively, and team-wide improvement — specifically from Gregory Polanco — could compensate for the loss of Martin offensively.
2. Cardinals: What kind of hitter is Jason Heyward?
The Cardinals’ power-starved offense probably won’t improve much if Heyward fails to take a step forward. But if Heyward proves a force, Yadier Molina bounces back and Matt Adams and Kolten Wong progress, look out.
3. Reds: Can they actually compete?
I’m more encouraged than I was at the start of the spring, given the improved health of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Many expect the Reds to sell in July, but the team should be competitive enough to avoid a dismantling.
4. Cubs: What day does Kris Bryant arrive?
The blessed moment will mark a second Opening Day of sorts for the Cubs, the true start of their much-anticipated revival. The team is so young, any range of outcomes is possible.
5. Brewers: Will the pitching hold together?
Yes, last place seems low to me, too; I actually would not be surprised if the Brewers emerged as a surprise team. Just don’t love the rotation.
1. Dodgers: Do they have enough rotation depth?
Hyun-Jin Ryu already is down; heaven forbid the rotation sustains further injuries. The Dodgers are prohibitive favorites in the division mostly due to the perceived lack of competition. Their bullpen is a question, too.
2. Padres: Are they actually good?
My guess is yes, but more because of the strength of their pitching staff than their big offensive additions, who likely give something back on defense. Can’t wait to see whether the pieces fit — or not.
3. Giants: Did the spring foreshadow odd-year doom?
Spring training means nothing, but the Giants’ performance was so putrid that it upset even manager Bruce Bochy. My bigger concerns: An anemic offense and the rotation behind Madison Bumgarner, even if Matt Cain makes a successful comeback.
4. Rockies: Can Tulo and CarGo stay healthy?
Same question, new year. If the answer is yes, the Rockies could A) boast a fearsome offense and B) hold two of the best trading chips in July.
5. Diamondbacks: Might they be better than expected?
The rotation is a problem, but switching out Trevor Cahill for Archie Bradley was a positive step and the eventual returns of Patrick Corbin and Bronson Arroyo should help. Also like the commitments to Nick Ahmed at short and Chris Owings at second.
1. Blue Jays: Are six rookies too many?
The answer seemingly is yes, but the Jays’ kids are extremely talented, and the additions of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson alone make this a better team.
2. Red Sox: Which starting pitcher will they acquire?
Yes, they need one. And they have the prospects to get one — whether it’s Cole Hamels or someone else — even if they hold on to Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart.
3. Orioles: How good is Manny Machado?
The Orioles, after losing Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, might need Machado to be MVP good. Matt Wieters still isn’t back and Chris Davis cannot be expected to duplicate 2013.
4. Yankees: How bad will the injuries get?
The Yankees could be OK if they stay reasonably upright. But with so much age and injury risk on this roster, depletion is not a matter of "if," but "when."
5. Rays: How quickly will their pitchers get healthy?
Both Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly are expected back before the end of April, and the Rays desperately need them. Their offense again figures to be a yawner.
1. White Sox: Can Carlos Rodon be a difference-maker?
The Indians are deeper and probably better, so the White Sox will need breakouts from some of their younger players — Rodon, Micah Johnson, Avisail Garcia. Don’t rule it out.
2. Indians: Will Danny Salazar get it together?
Similar theme to the White Sox. A poor spring led to Salazar’s demotion. His re-emergence could give the Indians a powerhouse rotation, particularly if Trevor Bauer progresses.
3. Tigers: What will they get out of Justin Verlander?
The Tigers were my pick before Verlander and Bruce Rondon were injured, and still would be a logical choice if Verlander misses minimal time. I’m just not as confident now.
4. Royals: How do they avoid taking a step back?
Yes, the defending AL champions probably deserve more respect, but I didn’t love their off-season additions — Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios. If I’m wrong, the team obviously will be good.
5. Twins: How will they endure Ervin Santana’s suspension?
My guess is, "Not well." The Twins are getting there, but they signed Santana to help stabilize their rotation, which last season was the worst in the AL. Now what?
1. Mariners: Will their rotation stay healthy?
Love this team if the answer is yes. But I worry about Felix Hernandez, who has thrown the most innings in the majors since 2006, and James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, each of whom spent time on the DL last season.
2. Angels: Can Garrett Richards do it again?
Richards, coming off left-knee surgery, should be back by the end of April. One rival executive says he might be the most important player in baseball, viewing him as a difference-maker for an otherwise ordinary rotation.
3. Athletics: Where is the power?
No one should be surprised if the Athletics are better than expected, particularly on the pitching end. But none of their players hit more than 12 home runs last season.
4. Astros: Are there too many strikeouts in the lineup?
The offense will be rather potent when hot, but there is heavy strikeout potential with this group. Not sold on the rotation, either.
5. Rangers: Is a bounce-back possible?
A healthy Yu Darvish would have made it a lot more possible, but the Rangers are banking on the recoveries of Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Derek Holland, plus a revival by Elvis Andrus. Lot to ask.
Cardinals over Padres
Angels over Indians
Mariners over Angels
White Sox over Blue Jays
Dodgers over Pirates
Nationals over Cardinals
White Sox over Mariners
Nationals over Dodgers
Nationals over White Sox