New York Mets – O/U 89.5 – Projected 83-79, No Playoff Berth
When the Mets cruised to a division title by mid-September, many were caught off-guard. After all, New York’s pitching staff was highly-touted by those who follow the Minor League systems, but had yet to make an impact on the Major League level. Those players who did – Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey – entered with question marks of their own – would deGrom be able to follow-up his rookie season in grand fashion and how will Harvey return from Tommy John surgery?
By the end of the season, every hope that the Mets had came to fruition. Even their lineup was a relative risk in April, but received an undeniable boost with the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes at the end of July.
Catching the league by surprise is not, in itself, a reason to expect regression. Instead, factors that were previously valid but were overlooked due to over-performance need to be considered. Basically, the 2015 Mets should have performed as well as they did if the pitching staff proved to be dominant and the lineup was not an issue. The mistake frequently being made by 2016 projections for the Mets is that the same potential flaws will be masked for a second consecutive season.
What Yoenis Cespedes did in a 35-game stretch is both unconscionable and unreliable – a .318 batting average with 14 home runs and a 1.048 OPS. By comparison, Cespedes has never finished a season with a batting average above .292 – including 2015 – and his previous career-high of 26 home runs in 2013 was bested only by last year’s insane streak.
If Cespedes and his output was the galvanizing factor for the 2015 Mets’ lineup, they will be in no better position when Cespedes regresses than they were to start the season, last year.
On the mound, the talent is undeniable for the Mets’ starters, but there should be caution exercised when projecting young pitchers to remain at a high level. It was only a few short years ago when Matt Harvey, himself, took the league by storm as one of the bright spots of the future, only to require elbow surgery shortly thereafter.
Perhaps impossible to quantify, what might ultimately undo the Mets is the personalities and dynamics of the players and fans, especially in New York. In the clubhouse, at what point does Matt Harvey’s ego – think Odell Beckham Jr. losing his cool on a New York Giants team with back-to-back 6-10 seasons – get in the way of the team’s success? In addition, what will the reaction be if the Mets don’t deliver on the now-astronomical expectations? This is a fan base suppressed for years, finally getting the opportunity to enjoy its team’s success. If 2015 was more of the exception than the rule, the house of cards will come crumbling down.
Detroit Tigers – O/U 81.5 – Projected 68-94, No Playoff Berth
If the Blue Jays are considered ‘all-in’ for 2016, the Tigers appear to have pushed their chips to the center of the table, took out a second mortgage on their home, then added to the pot. But what is their aggressive actions worth if their decisions were lacking?
Will Miguel Cabrera revert back to the historically great hitter of only a few short years ago? Will Justin Upton finally contribute to a winning team? More importantly, how will the team prevent runs from scoring, both on the mound and in the field?
Nearly all of Detroit’s projected success lie in the expectation that every question asked yields a positive result. The Tigers need Cabrera to be in contention for another Triple Crown, Justin Upton to reach his potential, and Justin Verlander to pitch like it’s 2012. Not only are these glaring red flags, but they are all unlikely to happen in the same season.
Detroit has been trending downward for years, and the collapse is upon us. With the biggest disparity in the numbers between our projections and the over/under win totals, the Tigers are the team to sell in 2016.
Chicago Cubs – O/U 92.5 – Projected 86-76, No Playoff Berth
Not only were the Cubs saddled with the highest win total via their over/under lines, but they were the only team to be given a number higher than 90. While this speaks volumes as to how dangerous the Cubs could be, it is more telling of how quickly the narrative has changed into what baseball fans want Chicago to be. That is, a World Champion.
Make no mistake, the Cubs’ organization is easily in its best position in decades. The farm system has now consistently produced top talent, and there remains more in development. The ideal manager is in place in Joe Maddon, a top ace in Jake Arrieta will anchor the staff, and the Cubs have not have a better opportunity to break their century-long World Series drought until now.
This crop of Cubs players will win a World Series. Just not this year.
Think back to the New York Jets of 2009 and 2010, the Oklahoma City Thunder of 2009, or even the Pittsburgh Pirates of 2013. Each of these teams received an infusion of young talent, surprised many with a playoff run – although Pittsburgh’s was cut short by its rival from St. Louis in the Division Series – were considered ready to take the proverbial next step, yet have not seen it materialize into a Championship.
The reality is that the Cubs will need to win the World Series based on a prolonged stretch of stellar play with their current corp of players. They simply can’t be penciled in as National League Pennant winners by virtue of their appearance in the NLCS in 2015 – in fact, they may have appeared in the series, but they hardly showed up.
Most importantly, the Cubs are one of the most recognizable franchises in all of sports. Like the Dallas Cowboys, what the Cubs do gets noticed. It is not an accident that their bar is set higher than the rest – in the eyes of the baseball world. They are asked to win more games than other teams because the outside observer is suddenly aware that they can. They just won’t. This year.
Jake Arietta cannot possibly repeat the performance of the second half of 2015, and the collective offense peaked by beating the league average by a single run over the course of the season. Now that Chicago’s calvary has already arrived, their growth as an offense will temporarily stall. The Cubs will still enjoy a solid season, but will not clinch back-to-back playoff berths.