"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" - - - - 4/11/15
Here we go--the toughest column I write each year. Why? Predictions are based solely on what one sees on paper in the springtime; trying to prognosticate what will happen (injuries, trades, etc.) over a seven month/162-game span is, well, SILLY. Then again, I've been known to include silliness in my work. Here's how they'll finish in 2015.......
Toronto Blue Jays
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
AL EAST- Reyes has a huge year as Jays finally get to the top again. Red Sox will have no trouble scoring, but the absence of an ace (Clay Buchholz--where ARE you?) and bullpen questions render them a runner-up. O's will hit a ton of HR's (will Machado finally make his mark?) but won't match the stellar pitching of 2014. Yankees have a deadly combination of over-the-hill players who make GAZILLIONS (and don't stay healthy); it's like a totally different FRANCHISE without Jeter. Tampa won't score enough (Longoria simply a "slightly-above-average" player at this juncture)--and no regular on this team will even SNIFF a .300 batting average.
AL CENTRAL- Tigers barely edge out Indians here due to a healthy Cabrera and better relief pitching. Indians will pitch well (Kluber the "real deal"), but the bottom of the lineup will underachieve. Royals will contend, but won't quite recapture the same "mojo" of 2014 due to the overall improvement of the division and a lack of power. White Sox could surprise, but the bottom of the rotation (Danks, Noesi?) may give manager Ventura ulcers before the All-Star break. I can see Minnesota being decent at home, but struggling BIG-TIME on the road--and I don't like their outfield (Torii Hunter turns 40 this summer).
AL WEST- If Fernando Rodney can duplicate his closing exploits from the past few years, there is joy in Seattle; the addition of Nelson Cruz helps with "punch." Trout will be Trout in L.A., but Pujols is no longer Pujols; they'll pitch well, but need consistency from the bottom of their lineup. A's have good pitching, as well (Sonny Gray blooms), but a lot of newcomers on offense; they just won't score enough. Rangers WILL score enough, but the starting pitching is shaky (Gallardo NOT the same pitcher that he was a few years back). Houston, we have a problem: despite Altuve's talent, they have too many .240 hitters along with being in a very competitive division.
St. Louis Cardinals
NL EAST- Nats pitching staff is what managers DREAM of; it all depends on if this "best team on paper" can get great years from Harper and closer Storen. Stanton may win MVP and Miami is full of hungry players (even if no one WATCHES them play in south Florida). Harvey bounces back from surgery, but Mets' 7-8-9 guys will cause sleepless nights for manager Collins. Braves basically gave up on the season when they traded closer Kimbrel, and Fredi Gonzalez may be the first manager fired this year. Phillies have too many guys whose best years have come and gone (Howard is SHOT); the city that boos Santa Claus will be booing more than it EVER has in 2015.
NL CENTRAL- Cards' pitching staff still very impressive (Rosenthal needs to stay healthy in 'pen), and run-scoring won't be a problem. Pirates are young and talented, but can closer Melancon continue his magical run in Pittsburgh? Too many innings over the past 7-8 years may catch up to Jon Lester in Chicago ($25 million PER??); more disappointment in the Windy City as they may be another year away from breaking the .500 mark. Brewers will score a lot, but give up MORE (Lohse and Garza--THEN what?). Reds don't hit for average and the second half of the rotation puts them in the cellar; the chances of them finishing above .500 are about the same as yours truly dating Christie Brinkley by the end of '15.
NL WEST- L.A. coasts to postseason due to a combo of good starting pitching (if you need a loan, call Kershaw) and a veteran lineup (Puig stays grounded). Giants need pitchers who were once great (Peavy, Hudson, Lincecum) to contribute; regardless, they'll still find a way to contend. Padres will be fun to watch with all the newcomers (i.e. Kimbrel, Kemp), but I just don't like the bottom of their everyday lineup. D'backs will round the bases, but Addison Reed as your closer? "Tulo" will once again put up big #'s at Coors, but Rockies won't pitch well enough (what else is new?) to make any noise in this division.
*Postseason: Indians and Red Sox capture AL wild cards; Pirates and Giants to emerge as wild card winners in NL (Washington disappoints in playoffs). World Series? The usual crapshoot: I'll say the Mariners vs. the Dodgers--with L.A. coming out on top. Hey--you gotta throw SOMETHING out there, right?
Enjoy the season, my friends.................