Churchill: My 2016 Predictions

 We unveiled on the Sandmeyer and Churchill Podcast our 2016 predictions, but I thought I’d post them for future reference… you know, so you can make fun of even me when none of these come to fruition.

As for the Seattle Mariners, I think given the most likely outcomes in regression, rebounding, decline, incline and everything else, the club is an 83-win team.

Of course, things can happen beyond what’s reasonable to expect, such as some luck, unexpected health and perhaps a player or two performing above what seemed reasonable before the season. It can go the other way, too, though, but trades cannot be ruled out, either.

I don’t buy The Los Angeles Angels or the Mariners as year-long division contenders — maybe Wild Card — and the A’s may not be a 95-loss club but the roster isn’t very good with too few exceptions.

American League

West: Texas Rangers
While Yu Darvish will not be ready for the start of the season, I like what the Rangers’ starting rotation looks like from the get-go this year. Cole Hamels leads the staff with fellow lefty Martin Perez perhaps the starter most likely to take a large step forward.

Since Jeff Bannister was hired the Rangers’ focus has been balancing the offense with enough pitching and more defense. It worked in 2015 and it should work again in 2016. The most significant question may be the offense, with an aging, yet still good when he’s on the field Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus coming off two bad years at the plate and a Delino DeShields, Jr. with a book out on him now. Rougned Odor and Ian Desmond could render Andrus’ and DeShields’ potential struggles fairly meaningless, however.
Bannister proved very good tactically last year and without an inordinate number of injuries to key arms the Rangers’ floor might be 83-86 wins. I like them for 90-92 and the division crown.

Houston is the chic pick and could very well pick up where they left off a year ago, but it doesn’t always work out that way and the club already is seeing some injury issues pop up with DH/OF Evan Gattis, starting pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr. and catcher Max Stassi. If both Carlos Correa and George Springer explode offensively, though, they may blow the roof off the division.

I don’t buy The Los Angeles Angels or the Mariners as year-long division contenders — maybe Wild Card — and the A’s may not be a 95-loss club but the roster isn’t very good with too few exceptions.

Central: Detroit Tigers
I wanted to pick Cleveland like I did last year, but despite the loss of Dave Dombrowski to the Boston Red Sox the Tigers were able to spend more of their owner’s money to fill some gaps. Miguel Cabrera appears healthy to start the year after missing 43 games in 2015, as does right-hander Anibal Sanchez. Jordan Zimmermann gives Detroit a third strong starter in the rotation and there’s some upside on the back end with Daniel Norris.

Nick Castellanos is poised to take a step forward at the plate and in combination with the addition of Justin Upton in left field, the Tigers’ offense should soar once again.

The Kansas City Royals will again be tough to hurdle and in the end this may end up the most competitive division in baseball — not the best, necessarily — and if three teams are within a game or two of the lead with a few weeks to go it will be tough to bet against the defending champs.

East: Boston Red Sox
I could see any of three clubs winning the east — Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees included — but I like the Red Sox, who have the best blend of talent on the mound, ace through closer, and within their regular lineup. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts continue their push toward the league’s better performers, David Ortiz remains highly productive in the DH role and the Sox boast two outfielders in Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Rusney Castillo that could surprise some offensively as Bradley did the second half of 2015. The outfield defense is second to none.

What could derail the Red Sox? Injuries, of course, and they’ve had a lot of problems keeping their key players on the active roster the past few years, including Dustin Pedroia, who played just 93 games a year ago and he’s now 32 years of age.

I’m not sure the Blue Jays have the starting pitching some seem to believe they do; R.A. Dickey is not the Cy Young version of a few years ago, David Price‘s two-month stint is now in Boston and J.A. Happ is what he is — a No. 4 starter. Aaron Sanchez is moving from the bullpen to the rotation and if his transition is anything but a raging success from the get-go, the Blue Jays’ staff may only be fourth best in the division, ahead of only Baltimore. I love Marcus Stroman, but it’s probably a bit much to expect him to be the 230-inning ace that could propel the rotation into more rarefied air.

The Jays will again hit and now have Troy Tulowitzki to start the season, but he’s not a safe bet for 150 or more games and it’s reasonable to expect Josh Donaldson to take a small step backward, and the same goes for the 35-year-old Jose Bautista and the 33-year-old Edwin Encarnacion.

The Yankees need more luck with health than either Toronto or Boston and are older at key spots. I wouldn’t be shocked if they won the division, but it’ll take some undoing of their fiercest competition.

Wild Card 1: Kansas City Royals
Wild Card 2: Toronto Blue Jays

American League Champion: Texas Rangers

Most Valuable Player: Xander Bogaerts, SS — Boston Red Sox
It would be too easy to take Mike Trout or even Miguel Cabrera here, and the popular picks include Donaldson repeating or Baltimore’s Manny Machado, but Bogaerts is coming off a .320/.355/.421 season and there’s more power in the swing than the 20 homers he’s managed in nearly 1,300 big-league plate appearances to date. I could see 20-24 home runs, a few more doubles and the same above-average defense at shortstop. To win MVP with a .320/.370/.480 line, the defense, baserunning and overall value to a winning team have to be apparent, but since I also have the Red Sox winning their division the club’s most valuable player may be the MVP of the league, too.

Cy Young: Chris Sale, LHP — Chicago White Sox
Sale has been the game’s second-best starting pitcher since the 2013 season ended but this may be the year he stays off the disabled list and garners enough big-game opportunities to catch the eye of the voter. Sale is every bit as good as Price and Chris Archer, who’d be my next two choices in reverse order.

Rookie of the Year: Joey Gallo, 1B/3B — Texas Rangers
Most are picking Twins’ first baseman Byung-ho Park, who is 29 years old, but I’ll stick with a player that fits what I believe the nature of the ROY award should be and that’s young.

Gallo will strike out a lot, perhaps too much to have a 12-year career as a regular, but in Arlington 600 plate appearances may produce 35-40 home runs, too. Obviously, Gallo will start the season in the minors, but even 450 plate appearances may be enough to put up 25 homers or more.

Twins top prospect center fielder Byron Buxton, Tampa Bay lefty Blake Snell and Astros first baseman A.J. Reed are potential breakthrough rookies.

National League

West: San Francisco Giants
The popular pick here is the Los Angeles Dodgers but I like the Giants here after adding Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to a rotation that already boasts Madison Bumgarner and gets Matt Cain back. The club also added Denard Span in center, moving Angel Pagan to left field where he’s likely to be a plus glove. The weak spot may be the middle relief and setup crew where Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo will handle the late innings. Skipper Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti have been masterful finding answers here, though, so I like the Giants to win 92-plus and take the NL West.

The Dodgers have as much upside as any team in baseball but it’s tough to pick them with injuries to Scott Kazmir, Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu already biting the club. They will have Corey Seager from the opener, upgrading one spot on the left side. My questions include Yasiel Puig‘s response to a poorer-than-expected 2015 and some clubhouse/off-field stuff surrounding his presence in L.A., and how will new manager Dave Roberts manage the bullpen up to closer Kenley Jansen?

Arizona added right-handers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to their rotation, but news broke Friday night that star center fielder A.J. Pollock was to have surgery on a fractured elbow, sending expectations anywhere from nowhere to somewhere outside the top two in the west. I expect Arizona to pitch well for six or seven innings and even without Pollock should score enough runs, but can the bullpen step up?

Central: Chicago Cubs
I love the Cubs here, despite the presence of the still-dangerous Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. The roster is loaded, they’re deep on the 40-man roster and have ample ammo to make impact deals if need be.

It’s the best starting eight in the league and they’ll hit for power, get on base, play enough defense and they will get very good starting pitching. I don’t like the bullpen much on the surface, but I suspect this is an area Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer address during the season.

The Cubs have three legit MVP candidates in Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo — although I don’t believe any will win it and only one of them likely finishes Top 5 — but it’s the secondary players that make the difference. Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist aren’t among the top three players on the roster. Neither is Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber. Neither is Miguel Montero.

I can’t say with confidence the Cubs will go to and/or win the World Series for the first time in four trillion years but I’d bet the farm they win this division by 8-10 games over two playoff-contending rivals.

The Pirates are a year away from challenging the Cubs, in my opinion, as some of their prospects get closer — such as right-hander Tyler Glasnow, shortstop Kevin Newman and first baseman Josh Bell.

East: New York Mets
I like the Mets here not because I believe their offense is magically what it was for two-plus months last summer but because the pitching is likely to be even better and offense won’t likely be as bad as it was prior to the all-star break last season.

Steven Matz is healthy and the Mets could get right-hander Zack Wheeler back at some point, perhaps combining with Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom to make up the best rotation in baseball, bar none. I did not like the Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera additions at second and short and the more Yoenis Cespedes plays center the better for the rest of the league, but Terry Collins has options and Juan Lagares still is available to clean up in the outfield if he can rebound at the plate some.

The Nationals are the most well-rounded team in the division but I’m not sold Dusty Baker will do anything in D.C. but accidentally try to purposely redrum the right arm of Stephen Strasburg, among others. Baker’s best skill, however, is building a cohesive clubhouse, which may very well be among the crucial missing links for the Nationals of late. Well, that and having a clue how to manage a game once it starts.

The rest of the east isn’t very good with Philly and Atlanta in full rebuild mode and the Marlins stuck in ‘let’s hope we’re good’ mode. Sigh. Please trade Giancarlo Stanton, Miami.

Wild Card 1: Pittsburgh Pirates
Wild Card 2: Washington Nationals

National League Champion: Chicago Cubs

Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper, OF — Washington Nationals
This is chalk, but he may be the best player in baseball (even better than Trout, perhaps) by season’s end and he’s coming off one of the better years in recent memory when he posted a 9.5 fWAR and a .461 wOBA to lead all of MLB.

Paul Goldschmidt is a legitimate candidate, too, as is Bryant, who may hit 40 homers in 2016, and Andrew McCutchen.

Cy Young: Matt Harvey, RHP — New York Mets
Clayton Kershaw is the obvious pick but Harvey is building on a second half from 2015 (after missing 2014 with Tommy John surgery) where he posted the third-best FIP in the NL behind only Kershaw and eventual Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. If his blood clots prove to be a temporary distraction and he makes 33 starts, I like Harvey to sneak in and win the Cy Young this season.

Gerrit Cole, Greinke, deGrom and Bumgarner also deserve consideration.

Rookie of the Year: Steven Matz, RHP — New York Mets
Most will tab Seager here, but I like Matz to put up a strong 28-start season and take home the hardware. Kenta Maeda likely will garner some votes, too, and if Lucas Giolito gets enough innings he’ll win some people over in a hurry.

Nationals shortstop Trea Turner may be an ideal darkhorse, but a lot of his value is wrapped up in defense and baserunning (though he has a chance to post a league-average or better OBP).

World Series Champions: Chicago Cubs
It’s chalk, but they’re so good, deep, have assets and resources sitting around in their proverbial couch cushions… I don’t know what else to say. The Cubs are the best team on paper, have the makeup (front office, field staff, youth, veterans, speed, power, defense) to take full advantage of all the talent and are the best bet to win the World Series.

If it happens, Epstein will have carte blanche in two of the country’s greatest cities for having ended their respective curses.

Care for a _________ on the house, Mr. Epstein?

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Jason A. Churchill

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