SI.com's MLB experts make their playoff picks, awards predictions
In the first of our two-part series of predictions for the 2015 major league season, SI.com asked its baseball writers to tell us which teams they think will reach the playoffs, which one will win the World Series and which players will take home the major awards. Click here for Part II, including their picks for surprise team, breakout player and more. And to see SI's ranking of every team before the season begins, click here.
World Series Picks
Tom Verducci: Dodgers
The Dodgers have the young stars (Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson), as well as the pitching and improved defense, to dominate in the postseason, especially if they get Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto in July.
Albert Chen: Dodgers
The best team in baseball is the Nationals, who have a real shot to be the first 100-win team since 2011. After that? No one knows anything, especially in the parity-ridden American League, which is a forecaster’s nightmare this season: Cross off the Twins, but other than that, everyone has a shot at the postseason. In the NL, other than the Nats—who are led by a rotation featuring Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister—no team has a clearer path to October than the Dodgers, who now have the depth and the defense to waltz away with the NL West crown. With Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy, they also have a rotation that can match those fire-breathing dudes from the nation's capital in a short series.
Ben Reiter: Mariners
The Mariners have in many ways followed the Nationals’ blueprint for building a contender out of nothing. Both franchises demonstrated great patience as they gradually used savvy drafting and trades, as well as a few mega free-agent signings, to assemble what are now their respective leagues’ most talented rotations, with deep lineups to match. (Seattle has increased its offensive output in each of the past four seasons.) Washington, though, has shown how difficult it is for even stacked clubs to win the ultimate prize, and the Mariners—buoyed by the signing of home run leader Nelson Cruz and a breakout season from 22-year-old starter Taijuan Walker—will, heartbreakingly for the Nationals, do so first.
Cliff Corcoran: Nationals
With the Marlins and Mets as their most dangerous rivals in the NL East, the Nationals should easily claim their third division title in four years. They’ll then get to unleash the best rotation in baseball in full-series playoffs. We’ve seen time and again that the best rotation doesn’t necessarily translate into a World Series victory, but by October, Washington should have put most of its early-season injury woes behind it and be able to back up its elite arms with plenty of firepower at the plate, not to mention excellent play in the field. The result should be a victory in a World Series matchup of the only two major league franchises never to have appeared before in a World Series.
Jay Jaffe: Nationals
With the exception of replacing the defending world champion Giants with the busy Padres, I've called for a complete repeat of the entire 2014 NL playoff slate, mainly because I don't think the teams behind last year's division winners did enough to close the gaps this winter. San Diego's swap meet and the losses of Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse in San Francisco are, at least to my mind, enough to tilt the balance there, and I don't see the Cubs—or the Brewers or Reds—as ready to surpass the Pirates in the Central, despite Pittsburgh's loss of Russell Martin. As for the AL: The addition of Nelson Cruz in Seattle and the belief in Taijuan Walker’s arrival, plus a rather static winter in Anaheim and a big shakeup in Oakland appear to be enough to reorder the West; healthier versions of Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera should help the Tigers carry the Central again (with the youthful Indians challenging); and in the weakened East, the Red Sox have a deep enough lineup to overcome their lack of an ace in the rotation.
Joe Sheehan: Nationals
The Nationals are clearly the best team in baseball, but they'll get plenty of competition in the senior circuit, where the NL—which could have four of the five best clubs in the game—may finally have caught the AL after more than a decade of inferiority. The Red Sox are poised to go worst-to-first-to-worst-to-first in the AL, thanks to an offseason rebuild of both the lineup and the rotation. They head a deep league in which 13 teams can at least think about reaching the 2015 postseason.
Verducci: Mike Trout, Angels
Don’t fight it. Trout is still the clear best player in baseball and he plays on a team that is going to win more than 90 games again—that has MVP written all over it. Imagine if Trout cuts his strikeouts by 50, which he should do with a more aggressive approach early in counts. Already the first player since Mickey Mantle to lead the AL in runs scored for three straight years, Trout could become the first player in history to lead his league in runs for four straight seasons.
Chen: Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
Picking against Trout is not advised, but if you're looking to make a case for someone else, Donaldson is your guy. He was a bona fide MVP candidate in Oakland, and now he’ll be in the middle of a monster lineup in that launching pad in Toronto, the Rogers Centre. Donaldson could put up even better offensive numbers than the 26 home runs and 96 RBIs he averaged the past two seasons while still displaying his sterling fielding skills.
Reiter: Mike Trout, Angels
Spring training stats are just spring training stats, but through Monday, the AL batting leaderboard was topped by the two men who will likely battle it out for this award at season’s end: Jose Abreu (.479) and Trout (.468). Trout’s preternatural all-around skill set, though, will allow him to capture the second of what will likely be many MVP awards.
Corcoran: Mike Trout, Angels
Trout is the best player in baseball and is heading into his age-23 season coming off three consecutive MVP-worthy campaigns. Last year, he was our unanimous preseason pick for this award and the eventual winner. Don’t be surprised if he’s my preseason pick for this award for at least the next five years.
Jaffe: Mike Trout, Angels
I'm picking Trout for the third year in a row because I remain convinced that he's the best player in baseball, and that the voters have finally seen the light.
Sheehan: Mike Trout, Angels
Trout has been the best player in baseball since his call-up in 2012, and the writers even got around to giving him the AL MVP award last year. He's the safe and boring pick—but the right one.
Verducci: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
On Aug. 3 of last year, Puig was hitting .323/.407/.551—MVP numbers. He then sputtered to .237/.328/.228 in his final 46 games. The talent is there, and he is missing only a consistent, everyday approach. At age 24, the time is now.
Chen: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
After a huge season in which he figured out how to mash lefties, helping him finish second to Miami's Giancarlo Stanton in the NL home run race, look for the Cubs' first baseman to take the next step. Rizzo will put up even bigger numbers in an improved lineup and emerge as the leader on a young Chicago team on the rise.
Reiter: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
One reason Miami felt comfortable giving Stanton a record $325 million contract is that it was certain that the immensely powerful 25-year-old is still improving in many ways: as a contact hitter, as a defender and as a base runner. A pitch to the face last September cost Stanton both a shot at 40 homers and the NL’s unofficial WAR title, but those will be his this year, in addition to the MVP award.
Corcoran: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Stanton is on the verge of putting a Trout-like hold on this pick. He’s one of the top talents in the game heading into his age-25 season and coming off an MVP-worthy performance, and he’ll get a little extra help in the voting this year from what should be a better showing by the Marlins in the standings.
Jaffe: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Until his 2014 season was so rudely interrupted by that grisly beaning in Milwaukee, Stanton showed that he had taken his game to a new level, setting career highs in OPS+ (160) and WAR (6.5). He's just 25, and there's no reason why he can't continue to improve.
Sheehan: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Stanton was shorted his award last year by a Mike Fiers fastball that cost him the last two weeks of the season. Had he been able to finish his campaign, he may have held off reigning NL MVP Clayton Kershaw for the hardware. It says here that he'll sidestep that obstacle in 2015.
Verducci: Chris Sale, White Sox
His spring training foot injury appears to be a minor setback. An improved offense and bullpen should reward Sale with his best year yet.
Chen: Corey Kluber, Indians
After he came practically out of nowhere to beat Seattle's Felix Hernandez in the Cy Young voting last year, it would be reasonable to expect regression for Kluber. But with an improved defense behind him (the Indians had the worst defensive efficiency in the league), the Klubot, as nasty as he was last year, could be even better in 2015.
Reiter: Chris Sale, White Sox
Despite suffering an avulsion fracture in his right foot during spring training, Sale is on track to make his first regular-season start on April 12. That will prove plenty of time for the lanky, 25-year-old southpaw—who throws three elite pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) from crazy angles, and who last season was a close second to Felix Hernandez in ERA (2.17) and WHIP (0.97)—to win his first Cy Young.
Corcoran: Chris Sale, White Sox
Here are Sale’s Cy Young finishes from the last three years: sixth, fifth, second. See a trend? The primary thing keeping Sale from the award thus far has been health. Indeed, he’s going to start the season late this year, but current projections having him missing just one start, and Clayton Kershaw won the NL award last year despite missing all of April. Sale was the best starting pitcher in the AL last year on a per-game basis. If he can just stay healthy for a few more games in this, his age-26 season, the award is his.
Jaffe: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
The King gets taken for granted by many, but on the heels of his best season since his 2010 Cy Young-winning campaign in terms of WAR (6.5)—with career bests in ERA (2.14) and strikeout rate (27.2%) to boot—it would be absolutely no surprise if he added more hardware to his collection.
Sheehan: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Max Scherzer is gone and Yu Darvish is hurt, thinning the field considerably. Look for Hernandez, a perennial contender, to step into the void and win his second career Cy Young Award.
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Verducci: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Over the past four years, Kershaw is 72–26 with a 2.11 ERA; from 1962 to '65, Sandy Koufax went 84–25 with a 2.02 ERA. Max Scherzer will dominate the NL, but there’s no way I can pick against Kershaw, who’s still just 27 years old.
Chen: Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
Zimmermann, who might be the most underrated pitcher in baseball, went 14–5 last year with a 2.66 ERA, threw a 1–0 no-hitter in his final regular-season start of 2014, and—before being pulled out of another 1–0 game with two outs in the ninth in Game 2 of the NLDS—was one out away from pitching two of the greatest back-to-back games in history. At 28, and entering his walk year, he should have his best season yet.
Reiter: Johnny Cueto, Reds
One major caveat here: The Reds might be bad, and Cueto will be a free agent after the season, so he will likely be the trade deadline’s single most coveted asset. If he stays in the NL, though, the diminutive Cueto is the top challenger to Clayton Kershaw’s Cy Young reign, having compiled a record of 53–25 and an ERA of 2.48 over the past four seasons. He's my choice as the game’s most underrated starter.
Corcoran: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Three Cy Young awards in a row for Kershaw? Why not? Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson each won four Cy Youngs in a row at more advanced ages, and, yes, Kershaw is good enough to be put in their company. The lefty has already finished in the top two in the voting in four straight years, something only Maddux, Johnson and Pedro Martinez had done before. If he wins again, he’ll be the first pitcher ever to finish in the top two in five straight seasons.
Jaffe: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Lather, rinse, repeat—preferably without a detour to the disabled list this time around.
Sheehan: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Anyone not picking Kershaw is being too cute by half. This isn't the NBA: We don't decide a guy can't win an award just because we're bored.
Verducci: Rusney Castillo, Red Sox
The 27-year-old Cuban outfielder will start the year in the minors but he has impressive skills, having hit .333 in September and .324 in the Arizona Fall League.
Chen: Carlos Rodon, White Sox
This spring, the No. 3 pick of the 2014 draft struck out 19 in 12 1/3 innings, including nine over four innings against the Royals. Rodon’s season will begin at Triple A Charlotte, but he’ll be a South Side difference maker, either in the rotation or bullpen, by the All-Star break.
Reiter: Francisco Lindor, Indians
Jose Ramirez will start at shortstop on Opening Day, but make no mistake: The 21-year-old Lindor, a consensus top-10 prospect, is the Indians’ real shortstop, or at least he will be as soon as he’s spent enough time on the farm to delay his eventual arbitration eligibility for cost-conscious Cleveland. Lindor is a fully formed defender at the game’s most important position (and defense is annually given more weight in awards like these) with a quickly developing bat, making him the platonic ideal of a shortstop. He’ll outdo a quartet of AL East prospects in the Red Sox’ Rusney Castillo and the Blue Jays’ Daniel Norris, Dalton Pompey and Aaron Sanchez.
Corcoran: Rusney Castillo, Red Sox
The Rookie of the Year race in the American League should be a compelling one, but I see Castillo rising to the top. Part of that is a good match of player and ballpark: Castillo will play his home games at Fenway Park, a welcoming place for hitters, as he found last year when he went 8-for-20 with a double and a pair of home runs in his new baseball home. The Rogers Centre won’t be as kind to Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris, nor Tropicana Field to Steven Souza Jr., giving Castillo the edge.
Jaffe: Rusney Castillo, Red Sox
He won't make a Jose Abreu-like impact when he comes up from the minors, but with future studs such as Carlos Rodon and Francisco Lindor perhaps staying in the minors until midseason, the timing of Castillo's arrival will be key. While he will have to fend off a crowd in the Boston outfield to get playing time, his seven-year, $72.5 million contract suggests the team will find room for him before too long.
Sheehan: Carlos Rodon, White Sox
Rodon won't start the season in the rotation. It won't matter. He'll be up by June and will pitch well enough to push the White Sox to the top of the division and to take home a trophy for himself.
Verducci: Joc Pederson, Dodgers
This should be a fascinating race between Pederson and Kris Bryant of the Cubs, two outstanding hitters who were born three months apart in 1992 (which makes both of them older than Bryce Harper). Pederson, who hit .303 and was a 30-30 player (33 home runs, 30 stolen bases) at Triple A last year, gets a slight edge because of his defense in centerfield.
Chen: Kris Bryant, Cubs
Simmer down everyone: The phenom will be up soon enough, and he’ll be hitting moonshots over the walls at Wrigley Field. The Cubs will have to deal with the high strikeout totals, but they’ll take the 30 home runs a season—perhaps as soon as this year—even if Bryant spends much of April in Triple A.
Reiter: Kris Bryant, Cubs
Who else? Well, maybe Joc Pederson, the Dodgers' five-tool centerfielder who will likely have a head start on Bryant in 2015. But Bryant has mashed 52 homers in just 174 minor league games and hit an MLB-high nine this spring. The day the Cubs promote him will be the first of a Rookie of the Year campaign that seems like a sure thing.
Corcoran: Kris Bryant, Cubs
Believe the hype: Bryant is a monster bat and, as a 23-year-old product of the University of San Diego, a refined hitter, as well. He’ll likely be in the majors by the end of April, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati just one year after playing in the Futures Game in Minneapolis. He won’t post a four-digit OPS like he did at every full-season stop in the minor leagues, but he’ll come close and could win this award unanimously.
Jaffe: Kris Bryant, Cubs
Despite being sent down to Triple A to start the year due to service-time issues—an overblown debate, given not only the current CBA structure but also the reality that not every rookie lights up the sky like Yasiel Puig in his first week—Bryant should get ample opportunity to show why he's worthy of
going straight to Cooperstown winning this award.
Sheehan: Joc Pederson, Dodgers
The only benefit to the Dodgers stubbornly holding back Pederson in 2014 is that it kept him eligible for the '15 Rookie of the Year award. He's going to have a very, very big year for a team that needs everything he brings to the table.