Ok, so this is a big question for diehard Jazz fans and I’ll do my best to break it down into three basic parts: Who the fans clamor for, what is the current rumor wheel from the GM’s office through reporters, and then my own wish list.
The Utah Jazz did not renew coach Ty Corbin’s contract after the season ended, where they landed the tiebreaker with the Celtics for a top lottery pick. With a career record of 112-146 (a winning percentage of 43.4%), Corbin was a dead man walking with a gutted, young roster. My previous take on Corbin is here. As I noted in that blog post:
“Corbin went 36-30 to make the playoffs and get knocked out in the first round the next season, then 43-49 to miss the playoffs and this year they’re 5-19 in full-out TANK MODE in a loaded NBA draft. That’s an overall record of 92-108, a 46% winning percentage. That can’t cut it in the Western Conference. Oh, and he got swept in the first round when he did make it in his second year (but first full year on the job).”
Who the Fans Want:
According to the fan board Jazz Fanz, it seems everyone jokes about John Stockton coming back, but I see a general consensus (meaning that at least a couple fans approved some names) about the following:
- Mike Longabardi
- Lionel Hollins
- Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg
- Anyone but Jim Boylen (currently a San Antonio Spurs assistant, but oversaw a bad run as the Utah Utes men’s basketball coach).
Mike Longabardi is a new name for me, but according to some research I did, he seems like a good potential hire. He is the current assistant to Phoenix Suns head coach (and former Jazz guard) Jeff Hornacek and has spent six years as an assistant in Boston and four in Houston. According to the Deseret News, Lindsey had this to say about Longabardi:
“He knows both sides of the game, but I think his defensive knowledge and what he did with Boston (is important). It’s very helpful to have a guy who kind of specializes.’’
If I were a Jazz fan, I’d be excited. To have a defensive-minded coach? We’ve seen what the likes of Tom Thibodeau and Lionel Hollins have done in the NBA playoffs. Speaking of which…
Hollins was another interesting name because he has a great coaching pedigree and a great nickname of “L-Train”, haha. He got the grinding Memphis Grizzlies past the high-flying Los Angeles Clippers in the 2013 playoffs and really bruised Western Conference teams. He had such an impact on the mindset and culture of the Grizzlies that their hometown arena now holds the nickname, “The Grindhouse.” With a coaching record of 214-201 in 5 seasons and 18-17 in the playoffs, I think he would be a great hire if given a chance compared to other options on the table. However, this current Jazz roster is not defensive-heavy and would not be a great situation for him. Also, one fan noted how Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey is an analytics guy, which Hollins detests (and was a reason why he was fired in Memphis, per Yahoo! Sports).
Hoiberg is a great college coach at his alma mater and hometown university Iowa State. He led his Cyclones to the Sweet Sixteen this past year in the NCAA March Madness tournament and his name will come up time and time again. His Iowa State bio says it all; this guy is a talented coach. If he were to leave his hometown gig, it would be anywhere but the Utah Jazz. He would want a big-market city and team with a lot of power, something that the Jazz are not.
Jim Boylen is a rumored hire, but fans have killed it long before it even got started. In a KSL.com poll, a whopping 87% said “No way” when asked about the Jazz potentially hiring him. Why? His coaching record at the college level for the Utah Utes was 69-60 in four years, but a so-so 32-32 in Mountain West conference play. Now, if GM Dennis Lindsey cared about the fan base, this wouldn’t even be a likely scenario. He is a friend of Lindsey, but if the fans don’t like it at the start, then Boylen will be in a big hole to start with. That is not the best situation for a new head coach.
Jim Boylen: He won’t be hired because of his disastrous stint at Utah, even if he is Dennis Lindsey’s friend. I think this is a non-issue and Lindsey has to be a fool to even interview him more than once. Maybe one time as a courtesy call, but more than that will get the rabid Jazz base riled up. Ty Corbin saw the effects of an upset and vocal Jazz fan base. But, as SI.Com’s FanSided blog reported, he’s a front-runner. Lindsey, what are you thinking?
Ettore Messina: He is the current head coach of the Russian team CSKA Moscow and is a legend among Italian basketball players and coaches. The Salt Lake Tribune asked former BYU standout and longtime Euro League baller Travis Hansen about Messina, who coached Hansen for a year at Real Madrid (and made it to the Copa del Rey finals). Hansen said that it was hard to play against Messina because you knew he would probably beat you.
Messina coached current Spurs guard Manu Ginobli and has been a consultant with both the Los Angeles Lakers (update: technically, an assistant under Mike Brown) and the Atlanta Hawks. Hansen gushed about him, saying, “He’s demanding like…a Jerry Sloan type.” It would be a stretch to hire an “unproven” Euro League coach, but Messina seems to be a solid hire with four European championships under his belt and apparently was one of the last ones standing for the Atlanta Hawks job opening last year.
Update: Messina, upon the Los Angeles Lakers firing Mike D’Antoni, is one of the top candidates for the head coach vacancy. He is well-respected by Kobe Bryant, whose dad played professional basketball in Europe (particularly, in Italy). He had been Mike Brown’s assistant in Los Angeles before, but the final coaching decision will probably not be made until the Lakers know where they’ll pick in the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft on May 20th, per the Los Angeles Times.
Deseret News floated the idea of former Denver Nuggets coach and current ESPN NBA analyst George Karl, who has a lifetime record of 1131-756 (or a 59.9% winning percentage over 25 seasons), but never could get the talented Nuggets past the second round even with scorer Carmelo Anthony and couldn’t get the loaded Seattle SuperSonics past Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in 1996. He also was the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2012-2013 season. I like George Karl as an analyst in Bristol, but I’m very concerned about not being able to go deep in the playoffs with a lifetime 80-105 playoff record (a 43.2% winning percentage). However, sometimes a second gig helps coaches realize what they have to do better come playoff time.
There are others like Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak, who coached the Milwaukee Bucks from 2006-2008. He had a great year at Utah, with a 21-12 record (after 6-25 and 15-18 seasons) and finally beat archrival BYU. John Calipari was also a rumor, but I doubt he’ll even consider the Jazz job with his level of prestige in college and NBA circles.
My Wish List:
I am a big fan of Mike Woodson because he has to be one of the most underrated and underappreciated head coaches in the league. I would take him over my hometown Wizards’ Randy Wittman any day. Why? Even though he has a so-so 319-365 record in Atlanta and New York over 9 seasons, he still got the Hawks and Knicks to the playoffs when they didn’t have superb, top-end talent. This is what happens when you’re Mike Woodson coaching an undisciplined Knicks team (which I call the “Mike Woodson struggle face):
His playoff record isn’t impressive either, with a 18-28 record, but that’s with the likes of ballhog and iso superstar Joe Johnson dominating the ball, Marvin Williams in the post or who knows where and Al Horford and Josh Smith competing for touches. That doesn’t even include how Woodson got the Knicks to the playoffs last season with an aged Jason Kidd, the volatile J.R. Smith and shooter-rific Carmelo Anthony. After the team jettisoned some veterans and saw Kidd retire, the Knicks fell apart and Woodson was fired after this season ended. If he can get the Hawks and the Knicks to the playoffs with those characters, you bet he could get great offensive output from the young Jazz players.
Jeff Van Gundy
The NBA commentator, a lightning rod for criticizing the league and their officiating, is one of my favorite coaches and commentators. Everyone remembers him as the coach who couldn’t get an injured Yao Ming and overburdened Tracy “T-Mac” McGrady to the Western Conference Finals, but no one remembers him coaching the Knicks with Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley. It wasn’t his fault that he faced Michael Jordan the Chicago Bulls while he was coaching the Knicks. And, it wasn’t his Houston GM put all the eggs in the basket with a seven-footer who kept getting hurt and no one else. C’mon, who could win with the likes of T-Mac having a supporting cast of Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, and Rafer “Skip-To-My-Lou” Alston? For more on the struggles of T-Mac, read this Grantland piece. I still love this game, where T-Mac dropped 13 points in 33 seconds versus the Spurs:
Or how about his dunk on Shawn Bradley?
If I were Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey, I would go with an up-and-coming assistant coach like Mike Longabardi or a newbie like Ettore Messina. It allows Lindsey some free reign for the time being with the fan base and ensures that Lindsey is in charge of things for now. Plus, prestigious and well-respected head coaches want the big jobs like the New York Knicks, not the Utah Jazz (even with their great playoff history in the last 1990s).
If I were a betting man, I would say Mike Longabardi (the man in the beige suit), because of the success of Hornacek with the Suns, over Messina. The international factor is appealing, but I don’t know if Lindsey has the patience for an international coach needing time to adjust to the NBA game.
My hometown Washington Capitals have let go longtime general manager George McPhee and former Capital center and head coach Adam Oates after a trying regular season. The Caps finished one spot out of the playoff seedings to cap an up-and-down season.
McPhee was a mainstay in D.C., where he oversaw several successful runs as GM since 1997 (when owner Ted Leonsis brought him in after he bought the team). According to NBCSports.com, the Caps under McPhee won the old Southeast Division seven times, were the no.1 Eastern Conference team twice, had the best record once and went to the playoffs in 10 out of 17 years. Oates (pictured on the right), who had one year left on a three-year deal, was 64-38-7 overall.
But, what did them in was how the Capitals underachieved each and every year. With a great team in the late 1990s, they lost the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals to the Detroit Red Wings. They got bounced by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals and in the second round by the New York Rangers in 2012 (where they beat the defending champion Boston Bruins in the first round). In 2010, the Capitals won the President’s Trophy, which signifies that the team had the league’s best regular season record, but that year they lost in the first round as the one-seed to the eighth-seed Montreal Canadians. That wasn’t Oates’ team at the time, but current-Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau.
A lot of blame goes around, but it was right to let both McPhee and Oates go. Oates was great coaching up the power play, but even-man strength was awful. Defending had too many lapses and the goaltending was a roller coaster ride.
Now to the big question, what happens with captain and goal-scoring machine Alex “The Great One” or “Ovi” Ovechkin. The Russian superstar is an offensive juggernaut, with scoring goals as his trademark. In a down year for the Caps, he scored 51 goals. He’s won the Hart Trophy three times, signifying the best player in the league, and this past season he won the Richard Trophy (which he has won three times overall) to highlight his offensive prowess. I mean, look at some of his top goals:
But, his critics note that his plus/minus (or how many goals are scored for you and against you on your shift) is an atrocious -35. That is inexcusable for a star player to be on the ice for negative 35 goals, even if you score 51 in a single season. It is not right for a lazy defensive player being the face of the franchise. Ovi’s top-three single-season scoring totals were 65, 56 and 51 goals. He has 422 goals in 9 NHL seasons. Yet, you have to play defense to win championships and the Caps’ failed playoff runs have displayed that lack of defensive hustle, efficiency and intensity.
Do you strip him of his captaincy? Do you trade him? Or do you keep him on the team and then rebuild with a defensive-minded team, like the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and others have done?
I would say that you either keep him and build a defensive team while keeping him for his offensive firepower. He is paid a ton of money ($124 million for 12 years to be exact), so he’s not easy to move.
Yes, McPhee did move Jaromir Jagr back in the day (pictured above and who had a $55 million, seven-year contract), but Jagr wasn’t a prolific goal-scorer with the Caps. Plus, you have an automatic power-play goal machine at your disposal. Ovi will be responsible for defensive lapses here and there, but if he is able to score goals you have to keep him.
But, I would strip him of his captaincy and pass it to a two-way player that will no doubt be acquired in the offseason. If he becomes disgruntled, let him deal with it and demand to be traded. If he really wants to win the Stanley Cup, he will have to make sacrifices in order to do so.
The big question can only be answered on who Leonsis brings in as the new general manager, who will make his coaching hire. We saw with Oates and McPhee that McPhee’s guys never saw the ice with Oates putting them in the doghouse for no apparent reason (see Martin Erat, Dustin Penner). Leonsis has to bring in a GM who will hire his coach and where the coach will put implement his system based on the GM’s players.
Let’s #RockTheRed this next season as the Caps rebuild!
As interim coaching season seems to be upon us, spanning from the NFL and college football season to post-March Madness and pre-NBA playoffs, we should take a look at whether interim coaching actually does anyone any good.
Do interim coaches last, if hired permanently? Or are interim coaches just auditioning for a head coaching job elsewhere? Maybe interim coaches are loyal supporters of their school, players or front office? These are some of the questions I’ll tackle today, spanning most of the pro leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL) as well as college football.
The Houston Texans were an absolute mess last season. So much so, the Texans’ ownership decided to let their head coach Gary Kubiak go and put the interim tag on former Cowboys head coach and then-defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He went 0-3 and the Texans finished 2-14 overall and guaranteed the top slot in this year’s NFL draft. Adding more salt to the wound, he was fired as the Texans’ defensive coordinator as former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien was hired as the head coach.
Phillips was not a really good coach in Dallas from 2007-2010, his previous spot, as the Jerry Jones-run Cowboys went 34-22, but went 1-7 in 2010 before Jones fired him. He wouldn’t have been a good hire, in my opinion, in Houston. Phillips is currently not coaching this year.
Romeo Crennel, a former Bill Belichick assistant, is another example. He went from the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots to the Cleveland Browns from 2005-2008. With the Browns, he went 24-40 and was fired. He popped up in Kansas City and was the interim coach when Todd Haley was fired. But, like Cleveland, Crennel was not a good interim head coach nor a good semi-permanent head coach with a 4-15 record in two seasons at the helm. Crennel, after a year out of the league, is back as the defensive coordinator in Houston, replacing Phillips.
When the Phoenix Suns fired Alvin Gentry, who had an underperforming Suns team and roster after the Mike D’Antoni years were long gone, they hired their president of player development and former NBA guard Lindsey Hunter. Don’t mind that Hunter had never coached in the league, but the general manager Lance Blanks said:
“I think the simple answer is that the organization needed a jolt…We needed something that would shock the system of us, the players, and risk trumps safety in this business. We felt this was the right person to take the risk on.”
How’d that work out for the Suns for the remaining 41 games of the 2012-2013 season? The Suns went 12-29, a winning percentage of 0.293. He was not retained and the Suns hired former Jazz and Suns guard Jeff Hornacek for the job. You can’t blame Hunter for an awful Suns team, whose offensive rating was next-to-last in the league and had players that did not mesh with each other. The Morris twins were not developing, Goran Dragic did not have a breakout season in a wasted race to the finish that year, and you had defensively-challenged Luis Scola and the troubled Michael Beasley on the roster, too.
Since his hiring, Hornacek has led the Suns close to a playoff berth, depending on how the Western Conference race ends in a few games. Not hiring Hunter was the best decision for the Suns.
When the Washington Capitals were doing well and were in their prime, Bruce Boudreau lost his players and was fired after they struggled to make it through the grueling Eastern Conference postseason. Boudreau had a 201-88 record with the Caps for over 4 and a half seasons. He ended up being hired at Anaheim and has done well there. But, his replacement was Dale Hunter, a former Washington Capital player. Hunter led the Caps into the playoffs, where they lost to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals and he left the NHL to coach his junior hockey team in Canada. He was a Caps coach for six months and this was an odd arrangement. However, Hunter finished with a 30-23-7 record overall in his short NHL stint. The Capitals have struggled with another former Capitals player as their coach, Adam Oates, as they have missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
When USC football unceremoniously dumped its head coach, the controversial offensive mastermind Lane Kiffin, they put the interim tag on their offensive line coach Ed Orgeron (who had been a head coach at Ole Miss, a SEC school that is Eli Manning’s alma mater). He played out the rest of the season and went 6-2 (with USC finishing 9-4), but was not given the head coaching gig before bowl season. However, his record at Ole Miss could have played a part as he was 10-26 overall in the SEC.
The USC athletic director, Pat Haden (a USC alum) even promised him that he has a spot on the staff as a highly-paid assistant. Upset, he quit the team and left. He said (as Sports Illustrated reported):
“I want to be the head coach at USC…I love being a head coach. I think that it’s something I’m able to do, and do well. And I want to be the head coach at USC when I get the chance. I think I can perform on a very high basis to do what the Trojan family wants me to do.”
That was the most recent example. But, CBS Sports did a fantastic, in-depth look at how interim coaches fared when hired or when they were not retained by their school. Most coaches finished the year with losing records and weren’t retained. Colorado fired Dan Hawkins and let assistant Brian Cabral coach, and went 2-1. Minnesota in 2010 fired Tim Brewster, let assistant coach Jim Horton go to work and he went 2-3 but got them to a bowl game. In their case, Colorado let Cabral go and hired Jon Embree, who was a disaster of a coach at 4-21 after two seasons. Minnesota hired Northern Illinois’ Jerry Kill and he has done a fantastic job there with two straight bowl games.
One of the outliers was Dabo Swinney of Clemson, who replaced Terry Bowden and has gone 30-7 since with an ACC title.
Then there’s that weird thing in college football where coaches leave for jobs before the bowl game and teams use their current assistant coaches as stop-gaps or hire the new guy outright.
So where do you stand? Do you hire your interim coach, or do you let him walk?
With several games in the books for all major league teams, here is a ‘better-late-than-never’ prediction for the already-underway 2014 MLB regular season, followed by my postseason picks!
Each will have a reason why they will finish where I picked them, so enjoy!
1. Tampa Bay Rays
Why? The Rays, like the Cardinals, are a symbol of consistency in the major leagues. They always have good pitchers coming up through the farm system and have both a strong lineup with the likes of Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers and Desmond Jennings. Plus, they’ll get some value for the soon-to-be-free-agent David Price, who signed a one-year, $14 million contract to stay in Tampa.
2. Boston Red Sox
Red Sox postseason repeat? They’ll make it because they have David Ortiz and brought back last year’s great team with a couple additions (here’s their roster). Starting pitching is solid and had the fourth-lowest ERA in the AL last season, but will they survive a tough AL East? I think it comes down to whether Clay Buchholz is healthy. I don’t trust the likes of Grady Sizemore and A.J. Pierzynski, but it’s not like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury were irreplaceable either.
3. Baltimore Orioles
Let’s Go O’s! My hometown team (before management unceremoniously treated O’s fans with disrespect for a decade and led to my defection to the Nationals) made some late splashes in free agency. They signed Ubaldo Jimenez, who is a solid but not spectacular starter, will help a struggling starting rotation. But for four years for $50 million? I’ll pass on Ubaldo. Nelson Cruz brings a big bat to their lineup as many expect Chris “Crush” Davis to not repeat his jaw-dropping 2013 numbers.
4. New York Yankees
The Yankees did spent A TON of money ($155 million over seven years) on Japanese pitching phenom Tanaka and brought in former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, but they are too old and have no replacement for the now-retired Mariano “Mo” Rivera (arguably the BEST closer in the history of the game). I can’t see them build a lead, even in the small Yankee Stadium (compare the new to the old stadium here), and keep those leads with their bullpen without Mo.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Bautista should get out of town. Yeah, he’s getting paid (got a $65 million, five-year deal in 2011), but his team is going nowhere with a lot of power hitters and the early injury to Jose Reyes. R.A. Dickey will be a good pitcher, even with his struggles last year, but the power-reliant lineup doesn’t strike fear in the powerful AL East.
1. Detroit Tigers
Miguel “Miggy” Cabrera will make good on his $292 million, 10-year contract. Starting pitcher and ace Justin Verlander has seen some velocity go down on his fastball with the wear-and-tear on his arm over the years, but they have one of the best rosters with pitchers like Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello and some great hitters like Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez. Their only drawback? They lost Jose Iglesias, the dynamic shortstop, for at least half of the season even before it officially started.
2. Cleveland Indians
They will be in contention this year, but will fall short. They lost Ubaldo Jimenez, but he is an aging veteran pitcher. They have the fun veteran and locker room guy in Nick Swisher and some great, young talent with Asdrubal Cabrera. They’ll make the Central sweat with this gritty platoon-type roster, with the great manager Terry Francona managing things. I don’t see anyone on this roster that can help put the team past the first round of playoff baseball.
3. Kansas City Royals
They were the laughingstock of the league for years, which was too bad after their glorious run back in the day. But, the Houston Astros have set a new low bar for awful baseball. The Royals look great on paper, just not good enough in this division. They traded for James Shields, the best pitcher they’ve had in years, and have great talent in Mike Moustakas. This should be a fun year to watch the Royals, for once.
4. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox may not have lit up the headlines, but they’re trying to build a team. Robin Ventura, their manager, has his hands full. Their roster consists of an aging Paul Konerko, the star Cuban defector Jose Abreu, but now have starters Gordon Beckham and Adam Dunn on the DL. This is not their year.
5. Minnesota Twins
Joe Mauer is transitioning to first base to save his knees and preserve his career, but that’s about the only noteworthy thing about the Twins. Who is on their roster? Starting pitchers are the likes of Ricky Nolasco, washed-up Yankee Phil Hughes, and Mike Pelfrey (just unimpressive). Josh Willingham, the 35-year-old outfielder, is earning $7 million this year. Aging but veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki will be behind the plate for some games, and Trevor Plouffe will be manning the hot corner at third base. Sorry Minnesota, you better turn your attention to Adrian Peterson and the Vikings.
1. Oakland Athletics
Somehow Moneyball still works. The Dodgers may have Yasiel Puig, but Yoenis Cespedes is the real deal and is a solid hitter. They did lose two starting pitchers before the season began, but they always find the right combination of young pitching and great situational hitting to score runs. I can’t count them out even if they don’t look great on paper.
2. Seattle Mariners
The Rangers and Angels just don’t look good enough to fight for a wild-card spot or even second place in this division. The Mariners have King Felix and Iwakuma as their top two pitchers, plus they have some hitters that can blossom this season as many have been waiting for. And Fernando Rodney should anchor their back end of the bullpen. I like their cheap, but potential-filled roster. ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield, has a great take on why they could be the surprise team this year.
Oh yeah, they did pay a big contract to some Dominican guy who played for the Yankees named Robinson Cano. He can hit too.
3. Texas Rangers
They don’t have Derek Holland, a starting pitcher to a freak accident while running with his dog (had microfracture surgery as a result) and ace Yu Darvish is also hurt. They traded away Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder during the offseason and let Nelson Cruz walk. Kinsler wasn’t happy about it, calling chief executive Jon Daniels a “sleazeball” and wishing the Rangers go 0-162. They lost their star phenom in the infield, Jurickson Profar, to a shoulder injury in spring training for 10-12 weeks of the season. Too many injuries and subtractions, and even with their farm system I can’t see them making the playoffs this year with this roster.
4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
First of all, the Angels are not “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” to me. Weird scrolling to find Anaheim and they’re listed under Los Angeles.
Unlike the Dodgers, the Angels don’t have any starting pitching but yet spend almost as much as the Dodgers. Jered Weaver hasn’t been electric the past year and I honestly don’t know anyone else in their starting rotation other than him and the forgotten C.J. Wilson (and I consider myself an avid baseball guy). For the record, and thanks to Baseball Reference, Weaver record his third-worst strikeout count last year, the worst since his first two years in the majors. And, his ERA went up to 3.27, a far cry from his high standard of sub-3.00 the past two seasons. Mike Trout will do damage, but I don’t know if Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton will ever be the same. Just a bad roster.
5. Houston Astros
This is automatic. No hope with this roster, no great prospects coming up and an awful TV contract controversy (with Comcast Houston going bankrupt) getting Houston fans upset (as if losing so many games is not upsetting enough). They lost 107 out of 162 games in 2012 and lost 111 games last year.
1. Washington Nationals
Although they lost their starting catcher Wilson Ramos to an injury on Opening Day, their overall roster is in great shape. Their pitching rotation is rock-solid. Strasburg, Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister (being spelled while on the DL by Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark). Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Denard Span and Ian Desmond are a good lineup trying to make up for an awful 2013 season. Their bench is much improved and hopefully their bullpen holds up with Rafael Soriano closing and Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen being the late relievers. Yet they’re awful against the Braves, with a 6-15 record against them since 2013.
Disclaimer: I’m a Nationals fan, so I’m being optimistic that the Nationals will edge the Braves this year for the pennant.
2. Atlanta Braves
Losing Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen are a huge blow as they were two great starting pitchers last year. But, they’ll cause problems with Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman’s hitting. Dan Uggla will Dan Uggla (and not get on base), but I don’t think any team can realistically recover, even with their roster, from losing two starting pitchers before the season began.
3. Miami Marlins
Big stadium, they kept Giancarlo Stanton and had a fire sale last year. That’s about it. Even as a NL East fan, I only recognized a couple of names on their roster this year. They just have slightly better pitching than the Mets and Phillies to be this high.
4. Philadelphia Phillies
They haven’t been the same since their great runs in the late 2000s and after Roy Halliday never recovered from his injuries. Their roster looks and feels old, or overpaid. Longtime Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins doesn’t like how the new Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg is running things, and the Phillies are going through a transition where they have the fat contract of Ryan Howard ($125 million for five years, signed in 2010) hanging over their heads. They’ll go and play every day and night, but won’t be a contender for another year or so, if that.
5. New York Mets
The Mets are a mess with their roster. They have an aging Curtis Granderson, struggling Ike Davis and a hopeful star in Travis D’Arnaud. Pitching is solid, but not great. Do the names Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, John Lannan or Dillon Gee strike fear into hitters’ hearts? Nope. Hitting will be just as bad as last year, where they ranked 14th out of 15 National League teams. Plus there was the whole paternity leave controversy to start the season. Waste of energy and sports radio talk. Another sad Mets season coming up.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
Murderer’s Row of starting pitchers and bullpen, and you add good hitters like Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Allen Craig or Pete Kozma, good night Cards’ opponents. They hit 0.269 in 2013, or second-best in the National League. I mean, look at their lineup and roster. You will have to beat pitchers Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, and Shelby Miller? Their ERA last year was fifth-best in the NL last year. I hope my Nationals don’t have to face them in the playoffs this year, or ever.
2. Cincinnati Reds
With Dusty Baker gone, now the Reds pitchers can last longer than Kerry Wood and Mark Prior did when Baker wore them out as the Cubs manager. Here’s an even-handed piece on the perception of him killing pitcher’s careers for good measure, but the perception seems to ring true. Joey Votto is back, but they do lose their aged-but-great-on-base center fielder Chin Soo Choo. Can’t count them out with Brandon Phillips manning the middle infield or their hitting. It’s a good roster and will be fun to watch.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
They finally made postseason, but without a true number one pitcher (AJ Burnett left this past offseason) they don’t have a chance this year. Look at their roster. Andrew McCutchen can make up for a lot of things, but he can’t make up for pitching or for hitting. Other stalwart hitters, but by no means scary hitters, are Starling Marte, Gaby Sanchez and Neil Walker. Also, Wandy Rodriguez, Gerrit Cole and Edinson Volquez are good pitchers, but are they playoff-caliber pitchers? I don’t think so.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun is back and should give them a much-needed boost in the lineup. But, I don’t see them making it out of this division without stronger starting pitching other than Kyle Lohse or Matt Garza. You could say Yovanni Gallardo is good, but I don’t see him as a top pitcher in the division. And, their roster isn’t impressive, with a 35-year-old Aramis Ramirez (earning $10 million this year), 37-year-old Lyle Overbay, but they do have Braun and Carlos Gomez.
5. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs will be the Cubs. The only bright spots could be Starlin Castro, a budding star, and Jeff Samardzija, the former Notre Dame wide receiver who is a good starting pitcher. Their starting rotation consists of Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, Justin Grimm, and Samardzija and that doesn’t scare me. A couple journeymen pitchers never scares hitters. And Mike Olt, a former Rangers prospect, and Anthony Rizzo will be the other sole bright spots on this roster.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Too much money, too much talent on paper. Should wax everyone in the West. My top concern is Yasiel Puig’s stamina as the season progresses, and his problems with manager Don Mattingly are well-documented. Oh, and the whole “Clayton Kershaw, our seven-year, $215 million pitcher, has a mysterious back injury” is also a major concern.
2. San Francisco Giants
Can’t count the Giants out. Somehow they pitch well enough and hit well enough to make the playoffs. I like their roster, but it would’ve been nice if they made some power upgrades other than a streaky Michael Morse. Even with Tim Lincecum’s decreasing velocity, he is an okay pitcher and isn’t a lost cause. Buster Posey, now having a full year back from a terrible knee injury, should rebound well.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
Too much Dodgers and Giants for them. They’ll be chillin’ in the Arizona desert this fall with this roster, even if Paul Goldschmidt partially repeats his 2013 numbers of .302 batting average, 125 RBI’s and 36 home runs.
4. Colorado Rockies
The World Series run back in 2007 seems so far away right now and it won’t get any better, based on their current roster. They have some older guys in Drew Stubbs and Justin Morneau, with their only stars being Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.
5. San Diego Padres
They’re used to being in last place, or close to it. Cheap payroll, small-market team. The life of a league without a salary cap. But Chase Headley, their best hitter and player, will be fun to watch and will be the only good player on this team.
AL East: Tampa Rays
AL Central: Detroit Tigers
AL West: Oakland A’s
- Wild Cards: Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles
NL East: Washington Nationals
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
- Wild Cards: Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants
NL Champion: St. Louis Cardinals
- Too much great starting pitching and bullpen to go around.
AL Champion: Tampa Rays
- They find a way to win and you can’t count them out. After surviving a brutal AL East schedule, they should be more than ready to beat any other AL team. Also, I don’t trust Tigers hitting in the postseason other than Miggy Cabrera.
World Series Champion: St. Louis Cardinals
- St. Louis’ pitching and lineup are solid. I just don’t see the Rays beating the Cardinals toe-to-toe in the World Series.