Welcome to the annual preseason baseball prediction podcast featuring Michael Schur and me. Only, it isn't a podcast. And it isn't the baseball preseason. I'll blame it on technical difficulties.
Every year, we make the most amazing preseason baseball predictions. Last year, for instance, we picked the Giants to sweep the Tigers in the World Series, for Miguel Cabrera to win the Triple Crown and for Washington to make the playoffs for the first time in a billion years. At least, we think we made those predictions. Even Michael and I have never made it to the end of one of our podcasts.
This year, it will be a bit more difficult to claim perfection on our predictions, since we're putting them into print - the first Schur-Posnanski-What's-The-Point-The-Season-Has-Already-Started Wordcast. It might remind some of the Gallimaufry once found in "Fire Joe Morgan".
Our Poscast will return, we think. We're working on the details.
I should say here that Michael is executive producer of the brilliant "Parks and Recreation," Cousin Mose from "The Office," one of the authors of the gone-but-never-forgotten "Fire Joe Morgan" Web site, and a fan of Robert Caro, David Foster Wallace, The Decemberists and, mostly, the Boston Red Sox:
* * *
American League East
Me: Well, obviously, with Boston off to a hot start, you are going to pick the Red Sox to win the East.
leftMichael: I'm actually not going to pick them to win the division. I think after last year's fiasco, the Red Sox going 5-2 in their first week was the baseball equivalent of a defibrillator. It almost doesn't matter what happens now, expectations for this team were so low. And now, they're so much more likable, so much more fan friendly, it seems they've shed that skin of 2012.
But I think if you're being objective, they're maybe the third-best team in the division. You know, they're not as young at Tampa Bay, don't have as many great veterans as the Yankees, not as exciting at Toronto. I predicted at the beginning of the year they'd win 85 games. I kind of still think that's true. .
But here's the bigger question. You seem to think the Yankees are finally dead, right?
Me: Yes. They're dead. I'm tired of equivocating. I'm just saying it. The last few years, as you know, I've been saying they COULD be dead - you know, if this went wrong, if that went wrong. This year, it's all going wrong. I just think time has run out. They're old. They're injured. Their pitching is a mess. This is the year it all stops.
Michael: Here's what I think you seem to be missing - they're the Yankees. And so it doesn't matter who the Yankees play. Do you know who the Yankees' Top 5 in OPS are at this exact moment in time? Take a guess.
Me: No idea. Cano?
Michael: No. 1 is Vernon Wells, you know, legendary superstar in the prime of his career. No. 2 is legendary Yankee Kevin Youkilis. No. 3: Francisco Cervelli, I mean, of course, who else would it be? No. 4 is Cano, who is the only guy you would expect to be on there. And No. 5, as predicted by everybody, is Travis Hafner.
It just doesn't matter with the Yankees. Every single player they ever pick up off the scrap heap plays like a Hall of Famer. It's been true forever. Remember when they needed emergency pitching and they picked up Aaron Small, and he won like 12 straight games? Andy Pettitte dominated his first two starts, and he's 49 years old. It doesn't matter with the Yankees. You say they're dead, I think they're dead, but they're never dead.
Me: You're probably right. They'll find a way to hover around .500 for a couple of months, then Curtis Granderson will come back and hit 15 homers in two weeks and Derek Jeter will hit .450 for a month. They're like a Coen Brothers movie. Some crazy thing will happen.
Michael: I've already predicted this on Twitter - Vernon Wells will hit 20 or 25 homers for the Yankees this year. Mark it down. And everyone will wonder why the Angels were stupid enough to give him away and pay all his salary. Of course, if he'd stayed with the Angels he would have hit, like, six home runs.
Me: What about the Blue Jays? I picked them before the year began, but I'm already having second thoughts. It's not just because they got off to a sluggish start. I don't think that matters. I'm just not getting the sense watching them play that the Blue Jays are not as good as they looked on paper (Editor's note: Since this discussion, Jose Reyes suffered his ugly ankle injury and will not return for a long time).
Michael: I think we all do fall for that dream-team scenario. It's a multi-sport phenomenon, right? Like the Eagles were a dream team, the Angels are a dream team, the Lakers are a dream team. I think one of the problems is that when you are talking about "Dream Teams" you are naturally talking about superstars. And superstars are old. It's like when the Lakers got Steve Nash. People were going crazy. Then Steve Nash gently brushes against someone and breaks his leg and everyone remembers, "Oh yeah, he's old."
Me: It is an easy trap to fall into. Remember when the Phillies put together Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, we were talking about them winning the next three World Series. They made the playoffs once, missed the playoffs once and probably won't make the playoffs this year . Halladay is old and struggling, Oswalt is gone, Hamels is even having some problems. And their offense is really old. It's easy to get distracted by shiny objects.
OK, so enough stalling. Who are you picking in the East?
Michael: OK, I'm going to add the caveat again that anybody could win this division. I really wouldn't be surprised if any team in the division went 92-70 and I wouldn't be surprised if anyone in the division went 72-90.
But I'll pick Tampa Bay. I guess I like the storyline that the Rays are really, really good at baseball and nobody goes to see them.
Me: Well, have you been in that Dome? It's so depressing. I think there are plenty of good baseball fans in the Tampa area, but you'd have to be a huge baseball fan to go see the team play in that place.
Michael: Well, here's the problem - they need a dome there because there's no real natural beauty in Florida, right? There's no water, no palm trees, no beautiful blue skies.
Me: And the weather is terrible.
Michael: Exactly, you can't ask fans to sit outside in that Florida weather to watch a game. I think it probably tells you all you need to say about America that there's an open-air stadium in Minnesota and a dome in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Me: OK, let's move to the American League Central .
Michael: Wait a minute. You didn't make your pick.
Me: Ugh, I was hoping you wouldn't notice. Well, I chose the Blue Jays before the season began, and I probably should just stick with them. You know who could win it? The Orioles. Everybody's writing off that team, including me, because they had such a fluky run last year with the one-run games and extra-inning games. But they're actually a well-rounded team.
Michael: If Chris Davis hits like this, you're right. They've got some good hitting with Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, who is like one of the most underrated players of the last six or seven years. Maybe the Orioles will win it. Who knows?
Me: Not us.
Michael: Definitely not us.
American League Central
Michael: So I assume you are picking the Royals?
Me: Well, preseason I picked the Tigers to win the division and the Royals to make the wild card. I'll stick with that.
I admit the Royals are more a hope pick than anything else, but at least this time there's something reasonable behind it. The Royals for the first time in maybe 20 years are sending out a legitimate major league starting pitcher every night. And their offense is young and talented. I've said before that Alex Gordon is the most underrated player in baseball - him or Chase Headley in San Diego - and he's off to an MVP season kind of start. Billy Butler can hit. Eric Hosmer .
leftMichael: Last I looked, they are still hitting Jeff Francoeur in that lineup.
Me: Yeah. Well . yeah.
Michael: Part of me wishes that we would have like a 30-year-ago season, you know, with Baltimore winning the East and the Royals winning the Central and Oakland winning the West. That would be so cool. Of course, the ratings for the Kansas City-Cincinnati World Series would be the lowest ever, but it would be fun.
Me: So are you picking the Royals?
Michael: No. I'm picking the Tigers. I think it's an easy call. I don't really buy the White Sox. I don't buy the Indians or Twins. I'm optimistic about the Royals - I'm picking them for the wildcard too - but to me Detroit runs away with it. That lineup is so good.
Me: Here's a fun question, who would you rather face: Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera? With Fielder you have this big, imposing guy who jumps out of his shoes when he swings the bat, every thing about him is intimidation. And Cabrera is placid, calm, hardly any movement at all, his face shows no emotion, he swings so easy and just crushes the ball.
I once compared Gary Sheffield and Jeff Bagwell this way. Sheffield would wave the bat like crazy, have that crazed look that said he wanted nothing more than to hit a ball through your left eyeball. Bagwell would stand with those legs ridiculously wide apart and he'd be perfectly still, just the slightest flutter of the bat. I said that if they were in gangster movies, Sheffield would have been like the Samuel L. Jackson character in "Pulp Fiction," you know, he rushes in, quoting verse, making your blood run cold. And Bagwell was like one of those silent killers who you never see because you're already dead.
Michael: When you put it that way, yeah, I'd be more scared to face Cabrera.
* * *
American League West
Michael: Typically, I pick Oakland because I want Oakland to win the World Series, so people will stop saying that Oakland can't win the World Series. This is not a rational choice, but you know, after a week, Oakland leads the league in runs scored. When was the last time you could say that? I mean that's with Jed Lowrie hitting like crazy, which won't last because Jed Lowrie is made of fine china. But still .
Me: Oakland is a really good team, that's for real. But I'm picking Texas. I thought Texas was the best team in baseball until the last week of the season last year, and I think they're still great. They lost Josh Hamilton, but think he perfectly represents what you were talking about in the Dream Team scenarios. I don't think losing Josh Hamilton hurts the Rangers as much as many think, just like I don't think it helps the Angels as much as many people think. He's one player. He's an amazing player when he's right. But he's just one player.
Michael: I really am not buying the Angels. I think especially with Jered Weaver getting hurt, they really don't have anybody pitching who you would want out there to win a game. I'm not really buying C.J. Wilson.
Final Predictions in American League
Michael: Tampa Bay
Michael: Kansas City and Texas
Joe: Kansas City and Oakland
National League East
Me: I like the Braves, too, and they're off to this crazy good start, but I think over a long season the Nationals are just incredible. You know a team is really, really good when the big question in training camp is whether or not they should carry a second lefty in the bullpen.I will say this, though. I don't like overkill moves. Those are moves a team makes that they don't really need to make, but they do it anyway. I think the Josh Hamilton move was a classic overkill move. The Angels had a few issues last year, but not having Josh Hamilton wasn't one of them. Those kinds of moves often end up hurting you more than they help you.
And so, with Washington, I think Rafael Soriano move seemed like overkill. The Nationals really didn't need him, they have plenty of great arms in the pen. I mean, Drew Storen has closed for them. They didn't need Soriano, but they got him, and they paid him a lot, and that just seems like an overkill move they'll regret.
Michael: The good news is that the Angels don't have many years left on that Hamilton contract.
Me: Or the Pujols deal.
Michael: Should we talk about what a nightmare that Marlins team is?
Me: Nah, what's the point?
* * *
National League Central
Michael: I think the Reds are the easy call in the Central. If not for the Nationals, they would be the best team in the National League. They just have so many good hitters. Joey Votto is so good. Brandon Phillips is good. Remember a couple of years ago, Shin-Soo Choo was like the best player nobody ever talked about, and then he had some kind of problem and fell off the face of the earth. And now he's in Cincinnati, and he's crushing the ball again.
And they have great pitching too with Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos and Homer Bailey, they're really, really good. I think they'll run away with it.
Me: I think the Reds are really good, but I think you're underestimating St. Louis. I think all those things you said about the Braves organization are even more true for the Cardinals. Every year, they pick up three pitchers off the scrap heap, call up two relievers who can throw 102 mph and find two hitters nobody's ever heard of who promptly hits like crazy.
Michael: Yeah, that's right. Their farm system is ridiculous. It does seem like they always call up four guys in the middle of the year who play out of their minds.
Me: Here's the real question - is this the year the Pirates finally break .500.
Michael: That's right, they have the longest streak don't they?
Me: Yeah, they have not finished .500 or better since 1992, when Barry Bonds was young and thin.
Michael: Well, I wish I could say I believed that this is the year. I don't know. I don't think they hit enough. . I mean Andrew McCutchen is a great player. Their pitching isn't bad, it kind of depends on A.J. Burnett .
Me: And yet, aren't those the words of doom - saying that it kind of depends on A.J. Burnett?
Michael: Fair point.
Me: I always root for it to be the year. The last two years have been kind of horrifying. The Pirates were playing well into late July, and then they faded badly. Last year, they seemed to have .500 all but wrapped up - they had to play abysmal baseball to drop below .500. And they played abysmal baseball.
I fear this year, Pittsburgh fans won't even get that tease. I really, really didn't like it when they picked up Russell Martin. To me when you pick up 30-year-old veteran catchers who are on the downhill - I have seen the Royals make this kind of move a thousand times - you are not about to take a step forward.
* * *
National League West
Michael: I have no idea who is going to win this division. I mean, I guess that's an overriding principle of this whole conversation, I have no idea who is going to win any division. But I really have no idea in the National League West. I'm going to pick the Dodgers. They really do have a pretty complete team. They have a lot of guys who have something prove, which is a good thing. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the National League. I'm picking the Dodgers.
Me: So you're picking them even with the Zack Greinke injury.
Michael: Yeah. How long is he out again? Four weeks?
Me: They're saying six to eight, probably eight.
Michael: Well, no, that's not good.
Me: I'm picking the Giants because I'm now convinced that the Giants could trade players with a local softball team and they would still win the division. That team seems to somehow win no matter what happens. Look at the first week. Tim Lincecum continues to struggle, Matt Cain has a couple of bad outings and what happens? Barry Zito suddenly thinks it's 2001 again. That team just has the sort of depth that you never see coming. And the scene in San Francisco is just electric - best homefield atmosphere in baseball right now. I think they'll win the division.
It's funny, I thought for you were going to pick the Arizona Diamondbacks because I know how much you admire gritty baseball players.
Michael: I'm sticking with the Dodgers. I know it's just a week, but Carl Crawford is killing it. He's hitting .400. If he hits like he did his last year in Tampa Bay, and Adrian Gonzalez is hitting, and they have Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier - they're the most talented team.
Me: Talent over grit.
Michael: Every time.
Final Predictions in National League
Me: San Francisco
Michael: Atlanta and San Francisco
Me: St. Louis and Atlanta
Me: And who is in the World Series?
Michael: I really thought I would pick Detroit, but now that it's time I'm going to pick Oakland out of pure hope. If it works, I'll look like a genius. And in the National League, I'm taking the Nationals.
Me: I'll pick the Tigers and Nationals. Or the Rangers and the Nationals. I don't know. Nationals are the only team I feel confident about.
Michael: One thing we do know is that it will be the lowest rated World Series ever.
Me: What would be THE lowest possible rated World Series?
Michael: It's got to be like Kansas City and Atlanta, right?
Me: What about Tampa Bay and Atlanta?
Michael: Here's a question: What if Tampa Bay played Miami in the World Series? Would it even sell out?
Me: It's a question for the ages. Probably won't get answer this year.