Bleacher Report's Full 2015 MLB Season Preview and Predictions

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 3, 2015

Bleacher Report's Full 2015 MLB Season Preview and Predictions

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    Are big things in store for Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers?
    Are big things in store for Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers?Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Hey, you there. Did you know that a new baseball season starts in just a few short days? Don't you want to get to know it and be told exactly what's going to happen?

    Of course you do. And fortunately for you, kind Internet wanderer, you've come to the right place.

    On Sunday, the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs will play the first game of the 2015 Major League Baseball season at Wrigley Field. The day after is Opening Day, otherwise known as the most beautiful phrase in the English language (take that, "cellar door") and unquestionably the finest holiday in existence.

    As per usual, we're here to mark the arrival of the season by turning to a few categories of interest—ranging from breakout players to awards to division races to the World Seriesand doing a bit of previewing and a whole lot of predicting. 

    Yes, this means we're about to recklessly disregard the set-in-stone truth that you can't predict baseball. We do so because the baseball gods demand sacrificial predictions, and we're starting...

    ...now.

Young Non-Rookie Breakout Stars: Mookie Betts and Taijuan Walker

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

    Right about now, picking Mookie Betts as a 2015 breakout star is about as easy as picking Tyrion Lannister as the best character on Game of Thrones. He's done it all during a scorching hot spring, and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports notes he's even drawing Andrew McCutchen comparisons.

    But somehow, it doesn't sound like too much. Betts tore his way through the minors before debuting to an .812 OPS in 52 major league games last year. Along the way, he displayed an approach reminiscent of the game's most advanced hitters and teased 20/20 potential with five dingers and seven steals.

    The one unknown in the 22-year-old's game is his defense, as the former second baseman is still adapting to center field. But even if he's only average defensively, he should provide tons of value by being an OBP merchant with power and speed at the top of Boston's lineup.

    Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners

    Speaking of hot springs, Taijuan Walker is one of a few guys who have been as hot as Betts this spring, pitching to a 0.36 ERA over 25 innings in six starts.

    Unlike Betts, however, Walker has had only modest success in the majors and is coming off an injury-marred and generally unproductive 2014. As such, there's about a mile of red tape on his hot spring.

    But the 22-year-old Walker is as good a bet as anyone for a post-hype breakout. It was only a year ago that he was arguably baseball's best pitching prospect, and now he has a brand new slider that looks like the best pitch in an arsenal that also features a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curveball and a hard changeup.

    That's a description of a top-of-the-rotation starter. The Mariners don't need one of those with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma leading the way, but Walker is poised to give them a third anyway.

Biggest Names Traded: Hamels, Cueto, Gallardo, Ethier and Craig

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

    Cole Hamels may not be the best ace in baseball, but he's certainly the most available ace. And though nobody has been willing to meet Philly's (apparently silly) asking price, that should change around the deadline. Demand for Hamels' services is bound to increase as the season moves along and needs for pitching arise, and that will give the Phillies the leverage they need to get what they want.

    Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

    According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, the Reds are interested in signing Johnny Cueto to an extension before he hits free agency, but the latest from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com indicates "the Reds apparently will need an 11th-hour turnaround in negotiations for a chance to keep ace pitcher Johnny Cueto beyond this season." With Cincinnati's chances of contending in a tough NL Central rather slim, expect the Reds to hold onto Cueto until after the All-Star Game comes to town and then get what they can while they can.

    Yovani Gallardo, Texas Rangers

    The Rangers traded for Yovani Gallardo in hopes that he would be a solid No. 3 behind Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. But they barely looked like a contender when that trio was intact, and now the evil Tommy John spirit has claimed Darvish. With Gallardo set for free agency after 2015, expect the Rangers to get what they can for him once the American League playoff chase leaves them behind.

    Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Andre Ethier entered camp with a chance to earn the Dodgers' starting center field gig, but then Joc Pederson happened. And because Ethier doesn't work as a platoon player for Pederson or Carl Crawford, it's hard to imagine him getting any more playing time than he did in 2014. He's also said he would prefer to be traded if there was no starting role for him. So yeah. Expect a deal in 3...2...

    Allen Craig, Boston Red Sox

    Allen Craig is just one of several Red Sox outfielders who could be traded, but he is probably the most likely. He doesn't work as a platoon partner in an all-right-handed outfield, and he's definitely not a defensive replacement. Expect the Red Sox to showcase him as much as they can early on and then ship him to a team in need of a righty-hitting corner outfielder who can also play first base.

MLB Batting Triple Crown Leaders: Freeman, Stanton and Ortiz

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Batting Average: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

    Before you ask, the limb I'm going out on here is stronger than you think.

    Freddie Freeman is only a year removed from hitting .319, which put him in the top six in baseball. And though his average fell to .288 in 2014, he actually became a better hitter. He tightened up his discipline, kept his line-drive rate trending upward and got even better at assaulting the opposite field.

    That's a guy who should have hit well over .300. And if he continues his trend of small improvements in 2015, it's easy to imagine him blowing .300 out of the water.

    Home Runs: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

    Does "duh" work as an explanation here?

    No? Well then, how about this: Giancarlo Stanton is a mythical man-beast with muscles like mountains and a 162-game average of 40 home runs. He's coming off 37 home runs in only 145 games. Now you know of his might and must prepare his gosh-darn home run trophy.

    Yeah, that ought to do it.

    RBI: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

    With RBI, it's not really about who's the best hitter. It's more about who's the best hitter with the best hitters hitting in front of him. To this end...hey, why not David Ortiz?

    Big Papi drove in more than 100 runs with Brock Holt and Xander Bogaerts in front of him for a big chunk of 2014. Having Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia ahead of him instead is a sizable upgrade. If Ortiz can provide his usual .900-ish OPS and 30-35 dingers while playing in 150 games, the RBI will come.

    Thus concludes this lip service to a stat that really needs to go away.

MLB Pitching Triple Crown Winners: Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Wins: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

    Wins are even sillier than RBI, but some guys do have a knack for racking them up. Max Scherzer is one of them, as no American Leaguer scored more wins than his 39 between 2013 and 2014. And in 2015, making this "talent" translate to the National League should be no problem.

    If Scherzer's hard fastball and trio of electric secondaries could produce a 3.02 ERA in the AL between 2013 and 2014, he should be able to do a lot better than that in the NL. And with his move to the Nationals also gracing him with a defensive upgrade, a more pitcher-friendly ballpark and arguably the NL's best offense, Scherzer should easily get results from his TWTW in 2015.

    ERA: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Because Clayton Kershaw can't win the overall ERA title every year, I'm tempted to say the law of averages makes him a long shot for a fifth in a row in 2015.

    But honestly, I'm not even sure the law of averages really applies there. What I am sure of is that Kershaw has everything he needs to win five ERA titles in a row. He has his insane talent, for one, and he also has a pitcher-friendly ballpark and an improved defense that, per Baseball Prospectus, includes a dandy of a strike framer in Yasmani Grandal.

    Strikeouts: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Yup, Kershaw again. And why not? Though he didn't lead baseball in strikeouts in 2014, he did lead the league in strikeout percentage at 31.9. That's what happens when you take outstanding command, a low-to-mid-90s heater and an optical-illusion curveball and mix in a slider that became even deadlier.

    In 2015, Kershaw should have two more advantages: the aforementioned framing services of Grandal and a full slate of work thanks to good health.

American League Award Winners: Norris, Hernandez and Seager

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Rookie of the Year: Daniel Norris, Toronto Blue Jays

    Daniel Norris is officially part of Toronto's all-out youth movement, as skipper John Gibbons tabbed him for the starting rotation this week. He'll be sharing space with fellow well-regarded rookie Aaron Sanchez, but just you wait till Norris steals the show.

    He has followed up an awesome season in the minors with a strong spring, and he has what he needs to keep right on ticking. There's some deception in his delivery, and his arsenal has four pitches (fastball, slider, curveball, changeup) that all have above-average potential.

    That makes him a wee bit more advanced than your typical 21-year-old lefty. He should tear a hole in the American League large enough to drive a van through.

    Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

    Felix Hernandez could have won the American League Cy Young last year, as he posted a 2.14 ERA and 5.39 K/BB ratio across 236 innings.

    Oh well. He'll once again be a strong candidate for the Cy Young if he repeats that performance, and that's doable. King Felix found some lost velocity in 2014 but kept right on being a five-pitch pitcher with outstanding command. Hitting him was hard, and squaring him up was next to impossible.

    Look for another ERA in the low 2.00s, well over 200 innings and, in the end, a second Cy Young.

    MVP: Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners

    Now, this is going out on a limb, folks. Hoo-boy.

    Except not, really. Kyle Seager has been getting better every year, with his most recent act being a legit star turn in 2014 that featured a .788 OPS, 25 home runs and Gold Glove defense at third base. From there, the next step up is an OPS over .800, 30 home runs and, well, more Gold Glove defense.

    If Seager can manage that, he'll further entrench himself as Seattle's best overall player. And if the Mariners are as good in 2015 as they figure to be, that'll make him a front-runner for the AL MVP.

National League Award Winners: Bryant, Scherzer and Stanton

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

    This year's National League Rookie of the Year race figures to be one of the most crowded in recent memory, as names to watch include Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson and Noah Syndergaard.

    But who are we kidding? Kris Bryant is the rookie everyone wants to watch, and rightfully so. His 1.098 OPS and 43 homers in the minors last year won him more or less all the awards, and his 1.652 OPS and nine home runs made him the most dominant hitter of spring training.

    Bryant is starting 2015 in the minors, but he should be up by mid-April. Once he arrives, the ZiPS projection system sees him hitting 29 home runs with an .839 OPS. The goods for that kind of production are definitely there, and a breakout of that magnitude will make him a shoo-in for the ROY.

    Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

    Because picking Clayton Kershaw to win his fourth National League Cy Young is just too easy, darn it.

    That's half the story here, anyway. The other half has to do with how Scherzer has a good chance to match Kershaw stride for stride in 2015. He should pitch a ton of innings, rack up a ton of strikeouts and post a shiny ERA.

    And for reasons referenced earlier, an impressive record is also in the cards. That shouldn't matter, but R.A. Dickey's victory over Kershaw in 2012 and Corey Kluber's victory over Felix Hernandez last year indicate that it might. Win-loss records are going out of style, but they still count in the Cy Young voting.

    MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

    The National League MVP race will probably be as wide open as it was last year and should once again feature usual suspects such as Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen.

    So why Stanton? Mainly because he's coming off a year in which he was arguably the National League's best position player, a product of his becoming so much more than just a power hitter. He has the goods to do it all over again, and he figures to once again be the Marlins' very own Atlas. He'll carry them on his shoulders to the bitter end, giving him the look and feel of a truly "most valuable" player.

    And unlike in 2014, this time Kershaw will do him the favor of getting out of the way. So says the guy who needs this prediction to work, anyway.

Cinderella Team: Tampa Bay Rays

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Since last summer, the Rays have lost David Price, Wil Myers and Ben Zobrist, and they also watched club architect Andrew Friedman and field general Joe Maddon depart.

    More recently, the injury bug has taken to the taste of Tampa Bay Rays like Jaws took to the taste of Quint. Among the injured Rays are Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore, Jake McGee and Nick Franklin.

    And yet, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections expect the Rays to come a game short of winning the AL East. Though they probably won't be that good, they do have a chance to be better than advertised.

    Though the Rays are battling their share of injuries, they do figure to get healthy sooner rather than later. Once they are, they're going to have maybe the best starting pitching staff in the AL East and a killer bullpen to go with it. They should also be strong defensively, and they'll have more offense than they need if Evan Longoria and James Loney bounce back and Steven Souza Jr. breaks out.

    Right now, you get the sense the Rays have been left for dead. But they have a sneaky amount of talent, and it should put them smack in the middle of the American League playoff chase.

Most Disappointing Team: San Francisco Giants

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Wait, is this an even year?

    [Checks. Sees it's not. Nods.]

    OK, no. Didn't think so. And that's not the only reason to doubt the reigning champs.

    The Giants didn't have the best offseason. Replacing Pablo Sandoval and Mike Morse with Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki wasn't the worst idea, but now there's a noticeable lack of power in San Francisco's lineup. Add in that Hunter Pence will be out a while with a broken left arm that could subsequently sap his power after he returns, and scoring runs figures to be a challenge for the Giants.

    That wouldn't be a deal-breaker if their starting pitching looked characteristically strong, but the Giants might have the most volatile starting rotation in the National League. There's a great big pile of uncertainty after Madison Bumgarner, and even he might be on thin ice after pitching 270 innings in 2014.

    So yeah, we're getting at the whole "World Series hangover" thing here. And rightfully so. The darn thing got the Giants in 2011 and 2013, and the 2015 team doesn't look capable of breaking the trend.

American League East Champ: Boston Red Sox

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    There's been no middle ground for the Red Sox in the last couple of seasons. They've been terrible twice and really good once. And from the look of things, 2015 is shaping up as another all-or-nothing year.

    "All" looks like the better bet, though, largely because Boston's offense should be a destroyer of worlds.

    Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia could be the best one-two punch in the American League, and David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Mike Napoli make for a hell of a 3-4-5-6 combo. That's before you get into a possible Xander Bogaerts post-hype breakout, Shane Victorino recapturing his 2013 form or Rusney Castillo emerging as the next great Cuban superstar.

    As for the one complaint everyone has, no, Boston's pitching won't be great. But it should be good enough.

    Ryan Hanigan's presence will ensure that Christian Vazquez's yearlong absence doesn't cost the Red Sox too much in the strike-framing department. And as Grantland's Ben Lindbergh noted, Boston's defense projects to be the second best in the American League.

    All told, there's enough here for around 90 wins. And in a year when the Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles all have low ceilings, that will be good enough to win the AL East.

American League Central Champ: Cleveland Indians

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    The AL Central has been the Detroit Tigers' domain in each of the last four years. But you don't need good ears to hear their window closing, and no team in the division stands to take advantage like the Indians.

    Their biggest strength? Starting pitching. Indians starters combined for more WAR than anybody else's starters in the second half of 2014 and are projected by FanGraphs to be the best in the American League in 2015. When you look at what they have, that makes sense.

    Corey Kluber is coming off a Cy Young season. Carlos Carrasco has awesome stuff that really shined in a late-season surge. Former top prospect Trevor Bauer has learned how to throw strikes. T.J. House was quietly one of the better pitchers in the American League last year.

    Where the Indians might not improve is on defense, as the only real change from last year to this year involves Jose Ramirez playing every day at shortstop. But they could make up for that by scoring more, as they're due for an influx of power from Brandon Moss and bounce-back seasons from Jason Kipnis, Michael Bourn (hopefully) and Nick Swisher.

    The Indians might only land in the 85-to-90-win range in 2015. But in an AL Central littered with mediocrity from top to bottom, that should be plenty.

American League West Champ: Seattle Mariners

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    If you're looking for the most balanced team in the American League, here you go.

    Pitching was Seattle's biggest strength in 2014, and it's in line for more of the same in 2015. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are an elite rotation duo. And though we highlighted Taijuan Walker as a big breakout star, James Paxton is in that same conversation.

    Not that it's all about Seattle's starting rotation. The Mariners had one of baseball's better bullpens in 2014, and pretty much all the key characters are back in 2015. Led by veteran closer Fernando Rodney, they all have overpowering stuff that makes it that much tougher for opponents to erase deficits.

    As for what should improve, that's the Mariners offense.

    The addition of Nelson Cruz ensures that the Mariners are going to have a competent cleanup hitter, and don't overlook the boost they stand to get from their right field platoon of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano. They also have Robinson Cano, who you know is great, and Kyle Seager, whom we previously highlighted as a guy on the verge of being great.

    The Mariners just missed qualifying for the playoffs with 87 wins last year. They're poised to be better than that, and that should mean an easy division title in an AL West that quickly runs out of talent once you get past the Los Angeles Angels.

American League Wild Cards: Angels and Rays

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Angels

    The Angels aren't winning 98 games again. They didn't even seem like they were really that good in the process of winning that many games last year, and they didn't make any upgrades over the winter.

    But that doesn't mean the Angels are going to fall to earth. They still have the all-powerful Mike Trout, after all. And even despite the loss of Howie Kendrick, the Angels still have enough talent around Trout to once again be an elite run-scoring team.

    All they'll have to do to make all that offense worthwhile is pitch just well enough. With a front three of Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker and Jered Weaver, and Huston Street leading the way in the bullpen, they should be able to handle that. They'll land in the 85-to-90-win range and nab the top wild card.

    Tampa Bay Rays

    We just talked about these guys, and what was said there applies here.

    As for who could challenge them, that list includes the Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays and, potentially, the Oakland A's.

    The best bet among that group is probably the Blue Jays, who are going to slug their way to contention this year. But the concern one has with them is that their stable of young pitching will run out of gas in the end, which will ultimately cause the Blue Jays to fall just short.

National League East Champ: Washington Nationals

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Well, obviously the Nationals are going to win the NL East. Haven't you had that crammed down your throat yet?!

    Silliness aside, it is hard to argue with the idea. They look like a potential superteam.

    Particularly where their rotation is concerned. It looked awesome when it was just Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez, and then they dropped $210 million on Max Scherzer. Now it looks awesome enough to be one of the best rotations in history.

    As Dan Uggla told ESPN.com's Tim Kurkjian: "I've never seen anything like this. In 2012, this team really started something by getting Gio, then adding Fister. And they keep doing things to make it even better. But this is just crazy."

    At least on paper, the Nationals also have plenty of offense. Once everyone is healthy, they'll have Denard Span and Anthony Rendon leading the way, followed by Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond. That's a deep lineup and a fairly balanced one too.

    The only real weakness is their bullpen. But that won't cost them in the regular season, as their starters figure to eat a ton of innings and conspire with their offense to create plenty of big leads.

    At least 95 wins are in order. Maybe 100. That'll be more than enough to outpace the Miami Marlins and New York Mets, who are both at best 85-win teams.

National League Central Champ: St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Of all the divisions in baseball, the NL Central is probably the toughest to call. It was a three-horse race in 2013 and again in 2014. In 2015, it once again figures to be a three-horse race.

    But the Cardinals will win. They always win. Such is the power of their #CardinalsDevilMagic.

    More to the point, their rotation should be dynamite so long as everyone stays healthy (fingers crossed, St. Louis). Adam Wainwright is one of very few true aces, and he's backed by Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, who will be deadly if he can make his fastball-slider combo translate as well to starting as it has to relief work in the last two years.

    Speaking of relief work, Trevor Rosenthal and Jordan Walden are an overpowering late-inning duo. There's also a solid supporting case beneath them, with the X-factor being Carlos Villanueva. He had a 1.69 ERA and 7.0 K/BB in the second half of 2014. True story.

    As for the Cardinals lineup, it's not the best we've seen in recent years. But Jason Heyward is a huge upgrade in right field, Kolten Wong is a big-time breakout candidate, and Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta and Matt Carpenter should keep going strong.

    The Cardinals might not make it to 95 wins in 2015, but they'll still win the NL Central. It's what they do.

National League West Champ: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The Dodgers bear little resemblance to the team that won 94 games a year ago, as Andrew Friedman and the club's new-look front office took a hammer and chisel to, well, everything.

    And it's a good thing they did. 

    By bringing in Yasmani Grandal, Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick and trusting Joc Pederson with center field, Friedman and Co. dramatically improved the club's up-the-middle defense. The additions also allow them to play Yasiel Puig in right field full-time, which is best for both him and viewers alike.

    That's the big upgrade, and making it didn't mean downgrading the Dodgers offense too much. Rollins, Kendrick and Grandal can hit a bit, and Pederson, Puig and Carl Crawford should be among MLB's most productive outfield trios. And though he's far from his vintage self, Adrian Gonzalez can still hit.

    Lastly, the Dodgers can definitely pitch. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are arguably baseball's best one-two punch, and they're backed by a second one-two punch in Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy. Just as important, new additions Joel Peralta and Chris Hatcher should take pressure off stud closer Kenley Jansen once he's healthy.

    The Dodgers are probably going to feel some heat from the Giants and the freshly renovated San Diego Padres at the start of the year. But as the season moves along, they should have no problem pulling away and chasing down a 100-win season.

National League Wild Cards: Cubs and Pirates

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    Chicago Cubs

    No, the Cubs probably aren't winning the World Series in 2015. So stop that, people.

    But that doesn't mean they're not a legit playoff contender. Because they are, you see.

    Once Kris Bryant is in the Cubs lineup next to Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro, scoring runs shouldn't be too much trouble. But pitching could be their biggest strength. Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta are an electric duo, and the rest of the staff isn't too shabby either.

    The Cubs should make it into the 85-to-90-win range and probably closer to the higher end of it. That'll put them back in October, prompting much rejoicing on the North Side.

    Pittsburgh Pirates

    The second wild card in the National League could go to anyone. The Padres. The Mets. The Marlins. The Milwaukee Brewers. Even you.

    But the Pirates should have the inside track. They have everything they need to once again be baseball's ground-ball-iest pitching staff, and that should work as well in 2015 as it did in 2014 (3.49 ERA). That'll lessen their need to score runs, but they're actually more cut out for that than they're getting credit for.

    Andrew McCutchen is always awesome. Starling Marte and Neil Walker are solid B-list stars. Pedro Alvarez is a big-time bounce-back candidate. Gregory Polanco is a big-time breakout candidate, and Korean import Jung-ho Kang could be as well if he finds regular playing time.

    The Pirates don't appear to have a high ceiling. But their floor is higher than those of the other NL wild-card contenders, and that'll make the difference in the end.

American League Championship Series: Mariners over Red Sox

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Here's how the American League Division Series will go down: The Mariners will laugh in the face of and then dispatch their wild-card adversary, and the Red Sox's hitting will overwhelm Cleveland's pitching.

    Thus will the board be set for the American League Championship Series: Mariners vs. Red Sox for the (AL portion of the baseball) world.

    That's a matchup the Mariners will win, as their pitching will succeed where Cleveland's failed by overwhelming Boston's enviable collection of bats.

    Now, maybe this sounds silly knowing that the Red Sox proved in the 2013 ALCS that an elite offense is indeed capable of beating elite pitching. But this series will be a different animal. The 2015 Red Sox are not going to have Jon Lester to help balance out the pitching equation, and the 2015 Mariners bullpen is to the 2013 Tigers bullpen what a falling tree is to a guy trying to catch it.

    The Red Sox will be able to land a couple of punches, but only a couple. The Mariners will win in six and advance to their first World Series.

National League Championship Series: Dodgers over Nationals

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The National League Division Series will go down like this: The Nationals will use their studly starting pitching to bludgeon their wild-card opponent, and the Dodgers will finally overcome the Cardinals, thanks, in part, to Clayton Kershaw's overdue and inevitable postseason heroism.

    Then we'll get a matchup worthy of the ol' Jonah Hill GIF: Dodgers vs. Nationals. 

    The main theme of the matchup will be starting pitching, which will result in a series of low-scoring games. That will put the fate of the series in the hands of the little things—as in defense, relief pitching and depth.

    And that's what will turn the series in favor of the Dodgers.

    With Justin Turner, Darwin Barney, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Heisey and Scott Van Slyke sitting on it, the Dodgers have one of the better benches out there. They also don't have any weak spots on defense, and their late-inning duo of Kenley Jansen and Joel Peralta tops that of Drew Storen and Casey Janssen.

    The Nationals will be able to push the series to seven games. But in the end, the Dodgers will punch their ticket to their first World Series since 1988.

World Series: Dodgers over Mariners

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    It just has to be this way. The most complete team in the American League against the most complete team in the National League. Mariners vs. Dodgers. Deep breath...let it out...oh yeah.

    But sorry, Seattle. Your first World Series championship will have to wait.

    The matchup of starting pitching staffs will once again be the central focus, as such a World Series is more than likely to be a battle between the AL's best and the NL's best. But unlike what had been the case in the NLCS, the matchup of one-two punches in the World Series will favor the Dodgers. Felix Hernandez is damn good, but he's no Clayton Kershaw. Hisashi Iwakuma is also damn good, but he's no Zack Greinke.

    That's a significant advantage in a short series, and not the only one the Dodgers will enjoy. Their strong bench will be an asset once again, as will their strong defense. With the offensive matchup looking like a push, that would leave relief pitching as Seattle's only real ace in the hole.

    That won't be enough. The Dodgers will win in six, and that will be all she wrote for the 2015 season.

    Until then, have fun. For it is baseball season, and that's what it's all about.

    Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.