Ryan L. Fox
It has finally arrived. After a grueling winter of waiting and toiling, the most wonderful time on the baseball calendar is just a few days away: Opening Day. As we grab our baseball caps and team jerseys, there are a few things to consider going into this upcoming 2016 season.
Red Sox Pitching Perils
In each of the Red Sox's championship runs, what was one of their biggest strengths? It was their starting rotation. In 2004, you had Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield, and Derek Lowe. In 2007, you had Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzka, Wakefield, and Schilling. In 2013, you had Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz (the good Clay). Since their last championship, they’ve finished two straight years in last place of the AL East. Each time, their starting rotation was littered with pitchers who vastly underperformed and underachieved (*cough* Buchholz *cough*). Now going into 2016, there are a concerns surrounding the Red Sox starting rotation. Here’s how the 2016 projected starting rotation is going to look:
#1 David Price
#2 Clay Buchholz
#3 Joe Kelly
#4 Rick Porcello
#5 Steven Wright
It’s a no brainer that David Price is your “ace” (more like ace by default) that you needed at the front of the rotation to set the tone. But then you have the following: Clay Buchholz, a pitcher who always finds a way to injure himself and miss significant time (plus he has yet to try to pitch over 200 innings). After him is Joe Kelly, a man who is trying to salvage himself after a not-so-hot 2015 (10-6, 4.82, 110 K in 134.1 IP) and alternating between the majors and Triple-A Pawtucket almost on a bi-weekly basis. After Kelly is the $82.5-million man Rick Porcello, who pitched like a 82 cent man (9-15, 4.92, 149 K in 172.0 IP) followed by Steven Wright, who at best is a serviceable long relief pitcher and/or a sixth starter. To add injury to insult, the Red Sox will be without their more dependable start, Eduardo Rodriguez, for the first month of the season (went down with knee injury during the beginning of Spring Training).
Now the one of the purposes of Spring Training are for players to warm-up and prepare for the regular season. Outside of Price, the remaining 4 pitchers (especially Buchholz, Kelly, and Porcello) have looked shaky in each of their spring training starts (especially Porcello's 4 HR allowed and 9.77 ERA). Normally spring training is not a measurement of how a team will do in the regular season but based off the fact that four of the five pitchers were on the same Red Sox rotation that struggled mightily, one could only hope that the addition of Price could at least alleviated the team’s pitching woes or at least mask it at best.
I thought I would never live to see the day where the Kansas City Royals were named the team to beat in the American League going into a season. But here we are. However it is no fluke that going into this season that the Royals are the team to beat. After all this team has been to two World Series, winning one (2015), and did very little to change their roster (essentially keeping the same squad from both World Series trips).
That being said, the question that many will pose is that who in the American League can challenge the Royals? Currently as it stands, there are perhaps two teams that could give the Royals a challenge. First are the Toronto Blue Jays, who can excel at the plate (lead in HRs & RBIs with 232 and 832 respectively). The other team are the Houston Astros, who exceeded anybody’s expectations last season (88-74), and had two pitchers with 15+ wins (Dallas Keuchel 20-8 & Collin McHugh 19-7).
Yet each of those teams brings uncertainty with one area: pitching. With the Blue Jays, it revolves around their starting rotation and how will they fare without the services of David Price. With the Houston Astros pitching woes, it revolves around the back end of their rotation (Doug Fister 5-7, Mike Fiers 7-10, Scott Fieldman 5-5).
But currently as it stands, those two teams are the only two teams in the AL that can challenge the Royals for the AL Championship crown. Or rather, they are the only two AL teams that have the least amount of question marks surrounding them.
NL Central is 3-Pony Race
Calling it right now, the division that everybody needs to pay attention to is not the overrated AL East or the snoozefest that is the NL West. Rather, it is the NL Central. Why you may ask? Because you got 3 of the top 10 MLB teams of 2015 competing in that division between the St. Louis Cardinals, those young Cubbies, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Though many Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds fans will try to argue to prove that their teams are competitive, the division always comes down to a two-horse race involving the Cardinals and Cubs/Pirates.
Last year, the Cardinals took the divisional crown with a 100-62 record, the only team in the majors with 100 wins. Two games behind them were the Pirates at 98-64 and three games behind the Cardinals were the Cubs at 97-65. Respectively, those were the three best records in all of baseball that season. Also, the run differential totals that each team had were just as eye-opening as their records (+122 with Cardinals, +101 with Pirates, +81 with Cubs). Interestingly enough, those run differential totals were the first, second, and third best in the entire National League.
Going into the 2016 offseason, each team shored up their roster to fit a specific need. With the Cubs shored up their roster by adding veteran John Lackey to their young rotation as well as veteran utility man Ben Zobrist and poaching OF Jason Heyward to go along with their young talent (i.e. 3B Kris Bryant, P Jake Arrieta). With the Cardinals, they shored up their pitching rotation with the arrival of Mike Leake, who joins the Wainwright-Wacha-Lynn combo, as well as shore up their bullpen with former Dodgers RP Johnathan Broxton. The Pirates, they brought in proven 3B David Freese as insurance for third while Jung-Ho Kang recovers from his 2015 knee injury. But the similarity with all three teams was that they didn’t change their foundations drastically with giant free agent signings (looking at you Boston).
Now as the regular season is just a few games away, you can expect these three teams to yet again do battle with each other for the NL Central Divisional crown. It's a long 162-game season and it is certain that the divisional led will get passed around. But by the end of September, only one pony will cross the finish line.
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