Congratulations, you made it. February is a slog. I’m not sure if it’s the worst month on the sports calendar, but I know it’s a 16th seed with no chance at a first-round upset. But it’s over. We will soon have brackets to fill out, NFL mock drafts to handicap and offseason transactions to digest. In the midst of all that, we will have baseball. Spring training games are underway, and the regular season starts in less than a month. To put into context just how long the baseball season is, by the time it concludes we will have crowned another NBA champion, will have held NFL and NBA drafts and will be about halfway through the NFL regular season. It’s a long bleepin’ year!
The randomness of baseball’s 60-game season and expanded playoffs gave nearly everyone at least a fighting chance last year. This season, however, will highlight the chasm between the top and bottom of the league and might reveal some of the deeper issues that could soon lead to a work stoppage. But while we have Major League Baseball this year, let’s enjoy it. More importantly, let’s try to profit from it.
Dodgers Over 102.5 Wins
Breaking news ... The Dodgers are a good baseball team. Oftentimes, the simple answer is the correct answer. Let’s just agree they are the best team in baseball and will have the best record in the league. The last time no team had more than 103 wins was 2015. The Dodgers won 106 games in 2019, and they went an eye-popping 43-17 in 2020, a pace that would have put them around 112 wins. Oh, yes, they added NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer and will get back former Cy Young winner David Price, who opted out last year. This team is simply stacked. Dustin May and Julio Urias might not crack the rotation but would be near the top of many other teams’ rotations. Some may worry about complacency off a championship, but I think the Dodgers will hear just enough chirping about winning a title in a shortened season that they will be focused and motivated. Also, having fans in the stands after a year of playing in empty ballparks should quell concerns about indifference from the defending champs. Adding Bauer reminds me of the Yankees, who traded for Roger Clemens in 1999 off a championship. They went on to repeat as champs and ultimately won three in a row. The Padres added Yu Darvish and Blake Snell to a team that was already ascending toward elite status, perhaps creating enough of a threat to keep the Dodgers hungry and engaged all summer. The rest of the NL West is incredibly soft, and Los Angeles should pile up plenty of comfortable wins. The Dodgers might have the depth and firepower to win 110 games, a feat very few teams have accomplished. Take the Over.
Orioles Under 64.5 Wins
It is odd to say these two things about the Orioles: I believe they are improved, and I believe they will lose 100 games. The old saying is true: A bad team in a good division has the hardest schedule because it doesn’t get to play itself. If the Yankees are struggling, they know a series against the Orioles is right around the corner to get back on track. The Orioles don’t have a slump-buster on the docket; they are the slump-buster. Matt Harvey and Felix Hernandez were once as good as anyone in baseball, and adding them made plenty of sense ... in 2014. I do understand the logic of the buy-low acquisitions. Maybe Harvey or Hernandez will show enough to entice a contender to flip a prospect to the Orioles midseason. But these additions reveal the Orioles’ dearth of pitching quality. The division is loaded. The Yankees have the highest season win total of anyone in the American League, the Rays just made the World Series, the Blue Jays might have the best lineup in baseball and the Red Sox will get back their two best pitchers. Everyone in the division besides Baltimore could or should make the playoffs. That is 76 games against superior competition. Adley Rutschman and Ryan Mountcastle are just a couple of the talented young bats Orioles fans can look forward to, so brighter days may be ahead — eventually. The bats are on their way, but the arms just aren’t there yet for a team that won just 54 games the last time we had a full season.
Red Sox Over 79 Wins
I can’t prove this, but I suspect that if I drove by Fenway Park right now, I would still see Red Sox opponents rounding the bases from last season. The 2020 Red Sox pitching staff was decimated by injury and set every franchise record for futility. As someone who did very well fading Boston last year, I’m afraid the party may be over, or at the very least the cops have come by and told us to keep the noise down. The two best pitchers, Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriduguez, will return after not throwing a single pitch last season. Collin McHugh and Garrett Richards also bolster a staff that was in dire need of some bolstering. McHugh wasn’t great in 2020, but he posted a sparkling 1.99 ERA in 2019. Richards was on his way to being one of the better young pitchers in baseball before suffering a gruesome injury covering first base in 2014 for the Angels — at Fenway Park, coincidentally. He has battled injuries ever since but has fought back to be a serviceable middle-of-the-rotation arm. The pitching is much better; it was impossible to get any worse. The lineup is still very good. Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, Alex Verdugo and Michael Chavis will hit enough to get this team to at least .500, and the Red Sox might be good enough to flirt with a playoff spot. Boston will bounce back to respectability in 2021. Take the Over.