Welcome to the 2016 MLB season, where the journey is 40 games too long and games only start getting interesting after the trade deadline.
I say that as a fan of the Blue Jays, who were the epitome of mediocre last season as the trade deadline approached. On July 28, the team announced the Troy Tulowitzki deal, and the next day they got themselves back to .500 (51-51) following an 8-2 victory over the Phillies. Less than 24 hours after that, the Jays traded for ace pitcher David Price.
As the saying goes, "the rest is history".
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The Jays played .700 baseball, winning 42 out of 60 games down the stretch. They managed to overcome a seven-game deficit to the Yankees by the third week of August to capture their first division title since 1993.
For all of the positive momentum the Jays gained to end last season, it all seemed to fade away when they were not able to re-sign David Price and beloved GM Alex Anthopoulos was not brought back. Mix in a few questionable pitching signings paired with no long-term extensions for key bats (Edwin and Jose) and the Jays have their work cut out for them to prove that last year was no fluke.
Over in the National League, there were several big signings, including Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks and Jeff Samardzija to the Giants. The D-Backs haven't tasted World Series success since 2001, while the Giants will be looking to keep the trend alive by winning a World Series in an even numbered year (last three titles: 2010,2012,2014).
Let's take a look at some of the other major storylines to follow heading into the start of spring training baseball.
Back to the Future?
The one team poised to make an enormous breakout this season is the Chicago Cubs. I know…that sentence is a year too late.
Last season, the Cubs were surprisingly not the laughingstock of the league and made it all the way to the NLCS, only then to be swept by a Mets team that rode hot pitching and the hot bat of Daniel Murphy.
The Cubbies bring back the same team, led by youngsters Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. They did, however, make a big splash in the free agent market by adding big-name bats like Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. They also added "used-to-be" ace pitcher John Lackey. That would be a great offseason haul for any team.
Hats off to Theo Epstein; he sure knows how to build a team.
The Cubs are currently listed as the favorite to win the World Series at +400. All lines can be found at Bovada.
The big question surrounding this team is how they will fare when seemingly all eyes are on them. They just spent $272 million on three players. They are the betting favorites to win the World Series, and they are in a division that is as tricky as any to win. Given the weight of the expectations this season brings to the North Side of Chicago, it's World Series or bust for this group of players.
Boston's Tea Party
For the people lucky enough to live in Massachusetts, they would probably know a thing or two about championship parades. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, they just endured two dumpster-fire seasons that saw them finish in last place in the AL East.
What do you do when you finish in last place? You retool. You sign a starter. You sign a closer. Finally, you hire a brand-new GM to put the blame on when the season goes up in flames again.
The Boston Red Sox signed ace pitcher David Price (renowned playoff bust), hard-throwing closer Craig Kimbrel and hired Mike Hazen to oversee the clubhouse circus.
I like what the Sox have for their rotation with Price Buchholz and Porcello, but looking at that lineup makes me cringe.
Hanley Ramirez is undergoing another position change. This one is expected to fix the broken infielder and cut down his fielding errors by 400 percent. I really don't buy it.
I also wonder if David Ortiz will have a farewell tour similar to Kobe Bryant's. Any time he is in the lineup, he struggles mightily and makes it look like he held on for one year too long. I hope not because I like Big Papi, but he can have his handful of batting 3-for-4 with two homeruns against anyone but the Jays.
Everything is Bigger in Texas
Prior to an unexpected breakout season last year, the Astros finished, on average, 26 games back of the division lead from 2007 to 2014.
If the Cubs did not have the season they had, the Houston Astros would haven garnered all of the attention. The Astros led the AL West for much of the season. And while a September slump cost them the division, they still beat the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game and took the Royals the full five games in their ALDS matchup.
They were led by Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, 20 year-old Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, who finished third in the AL with a .313 batting average.
The Astros bring back essentially the same team from a season ago, and that bodes well for the team often known as "other team" in Texas.
You can expect more of the same from Correa, who finished last season with a .279 batting average, 22 homeruns, 22 doubles and 14 stolen bases in only 99 games. If we can extend to predict the totals of a full season, you would end up somewhere around 34 homeruns and 22 stolen bases. That's exceptional for a 20 year old by any standards.
The Astros currently sit at +1600 to win the World Series and +700 to win the AL.
I do not believe there is not enough value in those lines given the division they play in and the retooling some of the bigger teams have done. All odds can be found at Bovada.
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