Cactus League Observations: MLB Predictions for Cubs, Indians, Royals and Brewers
It was sad to see baseball shut down, as for the last 15 years I surveyed the Cactus League in Arizona and gotten a look at all 15 teams. With baseball not expected until mid-May, at the minimum, we don’t know what the season will look like going ahead.
However, this doesn’t change my perspective of what I saw, read or believe at this point. On the videos I did (Doug Upstone Free Sports Picks and Predictions at YouTube), I gave out MLB picks on season win totals, which are now irrelevant and they will not be included in these series of four articles.
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Chicago Cubs (2nd in NL Central, T8th-best NL odds)
The Joe Madden era is over, and David Ross takes over as manager. The hope for management is that it will toughen up this team mentally. However, the sense you get by not upgrading the starting pitcher and those persistent Kris Bryant trade rumors is that the ownership paid a ton of money to rebuild, change the feel of the park and surrounding area and still got a World Series title and is content to rake in profits. The Cubs starting pitching is below average, unless Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana have near career years. The bullpen has arms, just not a ton of experience. And who knows about closer Craig Kimbrel? There is more than enough talent in the everyday lineup (though the outfield is only fair) to score runs and do a much better job hitting in the clutch than the last couple of years. Since winning the title, the Cubs are too casual, have consistently not listened to coaches and lack a hard-ass attitude. If Ross can light a fire under this team, they could win the NL Central and maybe face the Dodgers for the NL title again. Or they could finish third in the division, and that promise of multiple rings ends with in-season or off-season trades. Pass on betting anything on the Cubs.
Doug’s Doc’s Picks – Pass
Cleveland Indians (2nd in AL Central, T5th-best AL odds)
By all appearances, Cleveland’s run of AL Central champions from 2016-18 has come to an end for now. The Indians, after making it to the World Series in 2016, have lost in the AL Division series each of the last three years and were swept 3-0 in the last two and are not expected to make the postseason this year. Some even think the Chicago White Sox could pass them for second place in the division. The starting pitching has a solid base with Shave Bieber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco. However, the bullpen — after having the third-best ERA in baseball — had several free-agent defections. And other than closer Brad Hand, there are several new roles manager Terry Francona has to figure out. The Tribe’s offense slipped from 3 rd to 7 th in the AL last year. The outfield had nine players on their 40-man roster, some with potential, but also suspect. If anyone can get Cleveland into the playoffs, it’s Francona and Detroit and Kansas City are still awful. But if you are like me when breaking down the Indians, I’d be careful, because if they are not a playoff contender, at some point, Francisco Lindor will be traded.
Doug’s Doc’s Picks – Pass
Kansas City Royals (4th in AL Central, 13th-best in AL odds)
After winning 58 and 59 games the last two years, oddsmakers are somewhat more optimistic that Kansas City could show modest improvement. Former St. Louis manager Mike Metheny takes over for Ned Yost as once again, the Royals are in rebuild mode. There are cornerstones with K.C., led by outfielder Whit Merrifield, SS Alberto Mondesi and slugger Jorge Solar. Hunter Dozier showed power and moves to rightfield, with former Phillies third-baseman Makiel Franco trying to rebuild a career at 27. Veterans Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon also return. The starting staff has names like Danny Duffy, Jakob Janis and Brad Keller, but there is not one starter who would be a No. 4, let alone a frontline starter, on a winning team. The bullpen, let’s be honest, stinks. It’s impossible to make a case for the over with the Royals, thus, Pass or Under are the plays. The best news, the farm system is getting restocked, which is good news down the road.
Doug’s Doc’s Picks – Pass or Under
Milwaukee Brewers (4th in NL Central, T8th-best NL odds)
As fun and unique it was seeing the Washington Nationals winning the World Series for the first time, don’t forget Milwaukee was one poor pitch and a defensive miscue away from ending the Nats season in the playoffs. For a team that has been on the cusp of greatness, the Brewers entered Spring Training with 13 new faces on their 40-man roster. It seems impossible the batting order will not miss Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas. However, manager Craig Counsel has a knack of getting everything out of his complete roster. Starting pitching also has questions beyond ace Brandon Woodruff, who has to stay healthy. The organization relies heavily on analytics to figure out how to maximize a player’s value, which is important for small market teams to win year after year. After winning 96 and 89 games the last two seasons, the Brew Crew’s margin of error is thinner than an Instagram model. For Milwaukee to finish over .500, things would have to go just right. Best to Pass.
Doug’s Doc’s Picks – Pass
Doug Upstone brought to Doc’s Sports 21 documented No. 1 titles and finished in the Top Ten 80+ other times in a distinguished career. Doug as a professional handicapper/writer, has written for various well-known sports betting websites and several of the football newsletters you have read before.
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