30 in 30ish: MLB Preview — Seattle Mariners

Over the course of 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. This post is previewing the Seattle Mariners.

It’s been a while since the Mariners have had much success; the last time they made the playoffs was 2001. They did, however, have a marked improvement last season, going 87-75 — their first winning record since 2009 — but that was good for just third place in the American League West. Looking to gain ground on the Angels and A’s, the Mariners signed DH Nelson Cruz in the offseason, looking to add a power bat to the middle of the lineup.

The Mariners didn’t have a good offense lat season. Their .244 batting average was tied for second-worst in the AL, the .676 OPS was worst in the league and 3.91 runs per game was tied for third-worst in the league. The team’s 136 home runs ranked a little higher, sixth-worst in the AL. Led by SP Felix Hernandez, pitching is where the team excelled in 2014. The team ranked No. 1 in the AL in both in both ERA and runs allowed per game, at 3.17 and 3.42, respectively.

Adding Cruz — who hit 40 home runs last season and has averaged 29 homers since 2009 — to the lineup should help the team rise up the offensive rankings. C Mike Zunino hit 22 home runs last season, his first full season in the majors, but hit just .199 in 438 at-bats. He is hitting about .300 this spring and, even though spring stats don’t mean much, if he can get his regular season average up closer to even .240 or .250, that would be a big improvement to potentially help the team score more runs. On the pitching side, SP Hishashi Iwakuma had the worst season of his three-year career in an injury-shortened season that saw him post a 3.52 ERA in 28 starts, up sharply from his 2.66 ERA in 2013. If he can stay healthy and get back to his 2013 form, that would be an added bonus to an already-impressive pitching staff. If young hurlers like SPs James Paxton and Taijuan Walker can step up and have impressive years in their first full seasons in the majors, the staff could be even tougher for opposing teams to face.

Although 87 wins is a good total, it wasn’t enough for the Mariners to end their lengthy playoff drought last season. With an offense that should be better than last season and a couple young starters looking to step up to the next level in the rotation, the team should add a few wins to its total, getting closer to — if not reaching — 90 wins. That should be enough to at least get Seattle a wild card spot in the playoffs in 2015.

Source: http://www.mariners.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com

30 in 30ish: MLB Preview — Oakland Athletics

Over the course of 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. This post is previewing the Oakland Athletics.

The A’s are coming off three straight playoff appearances and an offseason in which they made several moves to acquire big-name players in an attempt to again make the postseason. Among the new players wearing Oakland uniforms this season are 2B Ben Zobrist, 3B Brett Lawrie, DH Billy Butler and RP Tyler Clippard, who’s going to start the season as closer while RP Sean Dolittle is on the DL.

Focusing on adding to the offense is probably a good idea because the team’s .244 batting average last season was tied for the second-worst in the American League. They were right around the league average with a .700 OPS and 146 home runs. The team’s pitching was more impressive; the staff’s 3.22 ERA and 3.53 runs allowed per game were both second-best in the AL in their respective categories.

Zobrist and Butler each hit over .270 last season, and Butler’s career average is .295, so they should help boost the team’s batting average this season. And Zobrist, who has hit double-digit home runs every season since 2008, should help add to the offense’s home run total, replacing last season’s main 2B Eric Sogard, now No. 2 on the depth chart, who hit just a single home run in 2014. While the team didn’t make many changes to the pitching staff, the addition of Clippard — who can give a team quality innings late in a game — should help out a bullpen that had the fewest saves in the AL last season with just 31 (tied with the Astros, who had 18 fewer wins).

After finishing in second place in the AL West last season, 10 games behind the Angels, the A’s have some ground to make up if they want to win the division, but the offense they added in the offseason should help bridge the gap a little. With teams in other divisions also improving this winter, another second-place finish in the division might not be good enough for to get one of the wild card spots like it was last year, so the A’s may need to win the division — I’m just not sure if they have enough to do that.

Source: http://www.oaklandas.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com

30 in 30ish: MLB Preview — Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Over the course of 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. This post is previewing the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Angels are looking to win their second straight American League West title, and they have the reigning AL MVP, OF Mike Trout, to help them do it. There are some changes to the roster, with longtime 2B Howie Kendrick traded to the Dodgers and replaced by 2B Johnny Giavotella, acquired this offseason from the Royals. And there is some question about when OF Josh Hamilton will be able to play. He’s currently rehabbing a shoulder injury and faces a potential drug-related suspension from MLB.

Last season saw the Angels tied for the third-best batting average in the AL at .259, fourth-best OPS (.728), and tied for the fourth-most home runs with 155. They also led the league with 4.77 runs per game. The pitching wasn’t as good, though, as the team’s 3.58 ERA was the seventh-best in the league, and the staff allowed more runs per game than the league average, at 3.89.

Hendrick’s departure could lead to a reduction in the team’s offensive production this season, as he led the team in batting average and was near the top of the team in other offensive categories, including RBIs and runs. Giavotella’s career batting average is only .238, but that is in limited major league experience; he has just 437 career at-bats in 125 games in the majors. Even though it’s a small sample size, it doesn’t bode well for what kind of production he can be expected to put up over the course of a full season. The pitching staff remains largely intact from last season.

The Angels won the division last year with a 10-game lead over the A’s and 11 over the Mariners. The Mariners made some moves to improve their team during the offseason, but the Angels had such a big lead in 2014 that I don’t think any other team in the division would be able to overcome it to win the AL West. So I think it’s going to be a second-straight division title for the Angels.

Source: http://www.laangels.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com

30 in 30ish: MLB Preview — Houston Astros

Over the course of 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. This post is previewing the Houston Astros.

The Astros showed signs of improvement in 2014 with a 70-92 record following three straight seasons of at least 106 losses and moved out of last place in the American League West. Looking to improve the team and potentially add to the win total even more, the Astros traded for OF Evan Gattis to add to a young offensive core that includes 2B Jose Altuve and OF George Springer.

Last season, the Astros were one of those teams that has trouble getting on base, but when they hit the ball they hit it far. They ranked last in the American League with a .242 average — and had the most strikeouts with 1,442, including 182 from DH Chris Carter — but had the third-highest home run total in the league with 163 long balls. All those home runs didn’t do muc to help their run totals, though, as they had the second-lowest runs per game average in the league at 3.88. The team’s pitching didn’t help matters much; the staff’s 4.11 ERA was the fourth-worst in the league, though SPs Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh had good seasons, each having an ERA under 3.00..

Going into 2015, it looks like it’s going to be another home run-or-bust type of offense for the Astros. Gattis brings with him to Houston 43 home runs in his first two seasons in the majors, but he has also struck out 178 home runs over that time. Keuchel and McHugh are a solid foundation for the rotation, but if the other starters don’t have good seasons, just those two won’t be enough. And the bullpen is a question mark for the team. There is no definitive closer and the options aren’t the best around with the likes of Luke Gregerson and Chad Qualls competing for the position.

The Astros had a 19-win improvement from 2013 to 2014, going from 51 wins to 70. I expect them to add a few more wins this season, ending up with around 75 or 76 wins. Obviously that’s not enough to make the playoffs, but it’s a continued advancement in that direction as the rebuilding effort continues for the team that last made the postseason in 2005.

Source: http://www.astros.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com

30 in 30ish: MLB Preview — Minnesota Twins

Over the course of 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. This post is previewing the Minnesota Twins.

The Twins haven’t won more than 70 games since 2010, and that sub-.500 streak is probably going to continue this season. The team doesn’t have many stars other than 1B Joe Mauer — a former American League MVP who has spent his entire career with the team — but former Twin OF Torii Hunter, who spent the first several years of his career in Minnesota before leaving following the 2007 season, has returned to the team through free agency.

The Twins’ offense wasn’t as bad as you might expect last year considering their 70-92 record. They were middle-of-the-pack in the AL with a .254 batting average, but their .713 OPS and 4.41 runs per game were each fifth-best in the league, The team was lacking in power, though; 128 home runs were the fifth-fewest in the AL. Pitching is what really hurt the team last year. The staff’s 4.57 ERA and 1031 strikeouts were both worst in the AL.

Other than Hunter, the team didn’t have any big acquisitions in the offseason. The biggest hope the Twins have for improvement is for the team’s young players, like OFs Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks, to get better as they gain more experience at the major league level and boost the team’s performance. On the pitching side, SP Phil Hughes continues to be the team’s No. 1 starter coming off one of the best seasons of his career last year, his first season with the Twins.

While the Twins may improve their record a little this season as the young players mature and get better, I think any improvement would be minimal and 75 wins would be a best-case scenario for them, which is likely going to keep them in last place in the AL Central. It’s a tough division and I feel like the Twins are still a couple years away from being competitive with the likes of the Tigers and the Royals.

Source: http://www.minnesotatwins.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com

30 in 30ish: MLB Preview — Kansas City Royals

Over the course of 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. This post is previewing the Kansas City Royals.

In 2014, the Royals made the playoffs for the first time since 1985 and even made it all the way to the World Series. Much of the offense returns from last season, with DH Kendrys Morales replacing Billy Butler at the position, as the team looks to make a second-straight postseason appearance. In the starting rotation, though, SP James Shields is gone with SP Edinson Volquez taking his spot on the staff. That is a downgrade, but the question is how big of a downgrade will it be.

 Looking at last year’s offensive numbers, the Royals had a high batting average — at .263, the second-highest in the American League — but not a lot of power to go along with it. The team ranked in the bottom half of the league with a .690 OPS and was worst with 95 home runs, the only team in the AL with fewer than 100 homers. In terms of pitching, In terms of pitching, the staff ranked fourth in the AL with a 3.51 ERA, helped in part by Shields’ 3.21 ERA.

Coming up this season, it’s hard to say what kind of production Morales will give his new team. His career average is .271, but he hit just .234 in 2013 and .218 last season. If that downward trend continues, that’ll obviously hurt the team’s average. With the lack of power hitters, the team needs all the base runners it can get. The pitching also has question marks due to the loss of Shields and addition of Volquez, who has a 4.44 career ERA, although last season’s 3.04 ERA was the best of his career.

With some of the changes the Tigers have made to their roster this winter, the door may be open for another team to get to the top of the AL Central. The Royals could be the team to take advantage of that opening if things go in their favor. It should be a tough battle for the top spot in the AL Central this season.

Source: http://www.royals.com, http://www.baseball-refernce.com

30 in 30ish: MLB Preview — Detroit Tigers

Over the course of 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. This post is previewing the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers are looking for a fifth straight first-place finish in the American League Central.in 2015. One major obstacle in their way will be the loss of SP Max Scherzer, who signed a seven-year contract with the Nationals in January. That major loss, and the trade of SP Rick Porcello, forced the Tigers to remake their rotation, trading for SPs Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene, While trading Porcello hurts the rotation, it should help the offense as the team got OF Yoenis Cespedes, who has averaged nearly 24 home runs in his first three seasons, back in the deal.

The Tigers led the American League in both batting average and OPS last season, while ranking second in runs per game and tied for fourth in home runs. With OF Torii Hunter leaving the Tigers this winter, replaced by young OF Anthony Gose, the team loses one of its highest batting averages — Hunter hit .286 last season. The pitching staff had a 4.01 ERA last season, below the AL average of 3.81, but Scherzer and Porcello led the rotation in that category.

The team will likely see a drop in offensive production in the outfield with Gose — who has a .234 average in limited time in the majors — replacing Hunter, but Cespedes should help make up for some of that loss. The pitching, however, is a bigger question mark with the major losses the team had there. Simon had a good year last year, but it was his first season as a full-time starter so it’s hard to know if he was a one-year wonder or if he can have similar success again this year. Greene is an even bigger question mark — he started only 14 games last season, his first in the majors, and only threw 78.2 innings with the Yankees. He’ll have to be productive over the entire season to help the team. Then there’s the seemingly-past-his-prime SP Justin Verlander, whose ERA has dropped from 2.64 in 2012 to 4.54 last season. Will that downturn continue in 2015?

With all the changes on the Tigers this season — particularly in the starting rotation — it’s questionable whether or not they’ll stay atop the division. The door is definitely open for a team like the Royals or Indians to take over the top spot in the Central. How the pitching goes is likely how the team will go and I don’t think it’ll be good enough to make it five straight division titles.

Source: http://www.tigers.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com