Game 1, Mariners at Rangers
King Felix vs. Cole Hamels, 1:05
Happy Felix Day!
The M’s kick off their 2016 season as a strange kind of dark horse contender. They’ve completely overhauled the roster and the front office, and despite a painful 2015, and despite the myriad failings false starts dogging them, they’re neck and neck with some of the best teams in the American League. A lot of that has to do with today’s starter, a wise and magnanimous King. The M’s are going for the tenth straight opening day win in large part because Felix has started most of them.
I’m still too scarred to be truly optimistic – thanks, Jack Z – but I’m grateful for another opening day, and another opportunity to revel in the singular awesomeness of Felix and the unique-in-sports endurance race that is baseball’s regular season. I’m looking forward to new developments in the minors as well, and reading way too much into every early-season hot start as Andy McKay and the development staff try to work their magic and undo the damage of 2014-15 on the M’s prospects.
With that, here are some other projections/pronouncements on the upcoming season:
1: Texas is good, and they’re kind of going unnoticed.
Sure, the rotation’s kind of a mess, but that’ll get better when Yu Darvish returns, and they have a bit more depth in AAA than they did last year thanks to AJ Griffin. Their bullpen’s underrated, too. It’s probably just me, but I see the potential for an absolutely elite group, and I’m trying to take comfort in the fact that the projection systems don’t see it that way.
2: Scoring will be up in 2016. By a lot.
Jeff Sullivan talked about the increase in HRs in the THT Annual, and Dave mentioned it today as well, but I think we’ve seen the peak of the pitcher era in baseball, and we’re going to see the pendulum swing back towards the batters. Dave mentions the glut of young hitting prospects hitting the league, but I think the league is going to exert some pressure on umps to halt or reverse the strikezone’s seemingly relentless move down, and make pitchers throw at or above the knee again. I think the players and especially training methods have had an impact on players ability to drive pitches. That is, slugging on contact will rise in part because teams keep acquiring George Springer-types, but also in part because they’ve gotten better about how to develop and nurture them. Finally, I think temps may be slightly higher in this El Nino year, and that’ll help the bats. Good luck, M’s bullpen.
3: The M’s 40-man roster will look very different in August
On opening day several years ago, the M’s were projected to be a bottom-feeder (they were), but they had an aging roster. That was the classic case of a team that was due for a roster shake-up. This year’s M’s are quite different – they’re a bit younger, and they’re at a different spot on the win curve. But despite all of the churn, the *way* Dipoto’s built this roster is remarkably suited to plug-and-play. If the M’s race out of the gate and look to be a playoff team, they can shop for help at the deadline and deal their prospects – the ones Dipoto didn’t draft/develop. This is what Zduriencik did upon taking over the team, after all. If they struggle, they could move Seth Smith, Norichika Aoki, whichever relievers are pitching well and perhaps Wade Miley near the deadline, when prices are highest. The team’s got several talented guys in the lower minors who ooze potential but have terrible performance records: Austin Wilson, Gareth Morgan, Alex Jackson. DJ Peterson and Tyler O’Neill are two more similar hitters who have more of a track record, as well. No matter how the big club performs, a fast start by some of those guys and the right deal on the table, and Dipoto may decide to cut bait on guys who may not be stylistic fits for the new org.
Opening Day Lineup:
1: Aoki, LF
2: Marte, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Gutierrez, DH
7: Lind, 1B
8: Iannetta, C
9: Martin, CF
SP: FELIX. HERNANDEZ.