Over the past week I’ve written about 20,000 words regarding how I think baseball’s regular season will play out. It was brought to my attention, however, that I hadn’t made any postseason or yearly awards picks over the course of my six divisional articles and, as I am an eternal glutton for punishment, I’ve decided to correct that oversight.
I’ve picked the following teams to make the playoffs:
AL East: Toronto Blue Jays (3)
AL Central: Detroit Tigers (2)
AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (1)
Wild Cards: Texas Rangers (4A), Tampa Bay Rays (4B)
* * *
NL East: Washington Nationals (1)
NL Central: Cincinnati Reds (3)
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers (2)
Wild Cards: Atlanta Braves (4A), St. Louis Cardinals (4B)
The teams are listed along with what I believe their playoff seed will be, assigned from the first seed with the best record of the three division winners to the third seed with the worst. The winner of the one game Wild Card Round becomes the fourth seed regardless of record and faces the first seed in their respective league in the Divisional Series, while the second and third seeded teams play each other. In previous years if the Wild Card was from the same division as the first playoff seed they would not face each other, but that rule is no longer in effect with the new format.
Wild Card Round:
Atlanta Braves defeat St. Louis Cardinals
Tampa Bay Rays defeat Texas Rangers
AL Division Series:
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim defeat Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays defeat Detroit Tigers
NL Division Series:
Washington Nationals defeat Atlanta Braves
Los Angeles Dodgers defeat Cincinnati Reds
AL Championship Series:
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim defeat Toronto Blue Jays
NL Championship Series:
Washington Nationals defeat Los Angeles Dodgers
Washington Nationals defeat Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Yes, I too am jumping on the Nationals World Series bandwagon before the season even begins. They’ve got the best rotation in baseball and one of the top lineups to compliment it; of the teams I’ve picked to make the postseason, my personal preference would be for the Toronto Blue Jays to win it all, but I think their bullpen and lack of hitting depth will hurt them in October (though a bullpen is easier to fix midseason than other areas). I don’t think the Reds have quite enough hitting to make it past any of the other division winners, and that the Dodgers still need another year before everything comes together for them. Both the Wild Card round games are essentially toss-ups; if the Cardinals make it past the Braves, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go very deep into the playoffs once again. Carlos Beltran is, after all, the best playoff hitter of all time.
Why am I so high on the Nationals in particular? Well, here are my predictions for the yearly award winners (first and second runners-up in parentheses where applicable). See if you can guess.
National League MVP: Bryce Harper (Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto)
American League MVP: Robinson Cano (Mike Trout, Evan Longoria)
National League Cy Young Award: Stephen Strasburg (Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey)
American League Cy Young Award: Josh Johnson (Justin Verlander, David Price)
National League Rookie of the Year: Hyun-Jin Ryu (Adam Eaton, Jedd Gyorko)
American League Rookie of the Year: Jackie Bradley, Jr. (Wil Myers, Kevin Gausman)
National League Comeback Player of the Year: Josh Beckett
American League Comeback Player of the Year: Victor Martinez
The most immediately notable thing about this list is who’s not on it. The BBWAA writers have a certain bias against picking back-to-back winners for the same award unless there’s really no one else close or the player took another big step forward from his previous award winning season. I think Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey will both be elite players next season, but I don’t think there’s anything Cabrera can do to top his Triple Crown, short of breaking the single season home run record, and I doubt Posey’s quite as good as his 2012 suggests. I think Mike Trout will have an excellent season too, but it’s hard to improve on one of the best seasons of all time—especially in only your second year in the league. Robinson Cano, on the other hand, has been quietly elite for a while without winning the award, has gotten a lot of great press this spring with the Dominican’s victory in the World Baseball Classic, and might not have to compete against the still-injured Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez for the attention of the New York media. It’s difficult for a player to win MVP when his team doesn’t make the playoffs, but if someone’s going to pull it off it’ll be a New York Yankee. And I wouldn’t discount Cano and the Yankees’ rotation dragging that lineup kicking and screaming into the playoffs just yet.
Bryce Harper put up an .819 OPS as a 19 year old, and now that he’s the same age as Trout was last year I think he’ll really come into his own. Seasons like Trout had in 2012 just happen — you don’t predict them, certainly not with any degree of certainty — but it’s not unreasonable to think that Harper will be the complete package at the plate with excellent defense in left field on a top contender in a major media market, and that’s a recipe for MVP if I’ve ever heard one.
Meanwhile, the leash is off Stephen Strasburg and I think he’ll go wild. The only problem with his game so far has been an inability to go deep into games, but that’s been as much careful handling by the Nationals as it has been burning through pitches while striking guys out. I think this season the National League will see a Strasburg that routinely goes deep into games and is just as lethal as everyone remembers, and that should terrify the National League.
There’s a reigning Cy Young Award winner in Toronto now, but I don’t think that RA Dickey has another one of those in him; I do, however, think that a Blue Jays pitcher will win the Cy. Josh Johnson, the new #2 in Toronto, was well on his way there as a Marlin in 2010 before his shoulder went on him; his 2011 was shortened by surgery to take care of the issue, and his 2012 was healthy if underwhelming by his personal standards. However, the underlying peripherals that made him a successful pitcher — combined with a preternaturally low HR/9 rate that he’s sustained across eight major league seasons — are all still there. Durability is the question with him, as with Brandon Morrow and every other Jays pitching prospect. I think he’ll pull it off, and a healthy Josh Johnson somewhere other than Miami will be a lot of fun to watch.
Rookie of the Year is always a crapshoot; Arizona’s outfielder Adam Eaton is unfortunately out for a time with a UCL injury, which will keep him from a contributing role with the Diamondbacks for a significant part of the early season and allow the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu to slip in and take the prize. Ryu, whose most notable pro achievement is earning the pitching Triple Crown (led his league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA) his rookie year in the Korean Baseball Organization, was posted out of South Korea last season and signed for $36 million over six years with the Dodgers. He had an easy route to the rotation, the ability and the platform to make a big impact with the Rookie of the Year voters.
Jackie Bradley, Jr., will actually start the season in Boston, which is quaint and almost completely bonkers considering that if the Sox had sent him down for just 11 days, they’d have secured another year of team control over the polished college hitter. That they declined that option indicates that they want to see if Bradley sinks or swims at the major league level, and if he swims the way that they and I think he will, well, a year of team control isn’t going to matter to much — he’ll never sniff free agency. Or his bat could not develop properly, he could continue to be pigeonholed in left field (he can play the other two outfield positions better than Ellsbury or Victorino), and he could eventually end up in some other organization. I don’t think that happens, though; Bradley’s likely to be a star.
Which brings us to Comeback Player of the Year, the half-guessing, half-hoping preseason award. I’d love nothing more than for Josh Beckett to have one more year left in him, because I’m personally convinced it wasn’t his beer-and-chicken lifestyle that led to the Sox’s improbable collapse in 2011 and their public embarrassment the season after. Beckett’s one of the better right-handers to come into the league in the past two decades and while he may not be a Hall of Famer, teasing it isn’t the worst thing in the world. There’s a reason breathless analysts are quick to describe any promising right-hander drafted out of high school as the next Josh Beckett, and it’s not because of the soul patch.
Victor Martinez, of course, missed all of last season with the knee injury he sustained working out in the 2011-2012 offseason. There’s no part of last year’s playoffs a Detroit Tigers fan can point to and says, “Victor Martinez! I’m sure he would’ve hit the ball there and saved us from ruin,” (except, perhaps, for every Delmon Young plate appearance) but there are enough disappointing offensive moments for the team that regardless of specifics he was still missed. Upon the former Indian and Red Sock’s return, the Tigers would have three credible DHs; they’d continue to play two at the infield corners and let Martinez, a former catcher, hit in the DH spot. The Tigers will make the playoffs, yes, and they’ll be fun to watch doing so; I don’t think they’ll breathe anymore rarified air. Victor Martinez helps, but he’s not a cheat code.
That, obviously, is Bryce Harper.