2016 MLB Predictions

Admittedly, this article is coming out a day late, so these predictions are obviously all moot and completely worthless, as the three total games that have been played so far have determined everything that will happen in the regular season for the next six months.

Anyways, here are the Sushi on Sports 2016 MLB predictions.

AL East

Toronto Blue Jays

Boston Red Sox

Baltimore Orioles

Tampa Bay Rays

New York Yankees

AL Central

Kansas City Royals

Chicago White Sox

Detroit Tigers

Cleveland Indians

Minnesota Twins

AL West

Houston Astros

Texas Rangers

Seattle Mariners

Oakland Athletics

Los Angeles Angels

NL East

New York Mets

Washington Nationals

Miami Marlins

Atlanta Braves

Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central

Chicago Cubs

St. Louis Cardinals

Pittsburgh Pirates

Cincinnati Reds

Milwaukee Brewers

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco Giants

Arizona Diamondbacks

Colorado Rockies

San Diego Padres

AL Wild Card

Chicago White Sox over Texas Rangers

NL Wild Card

Pittsburgh Pirates over St. Louis Cardinals

ALDS

Houston Astros over Chicago White Sox

Toronto Blue Jays over Kansas City Royals

NLDS

Chicago Cubs over Pittsburgh Pirates

New York Mets over Los Angeles Dodgers

ALCS

Houston Astros over Toronto Blue Jays

NLCS

New York Mets over Chicago Cubs

World Series

New York Mets over Houston Astros

AL MVP

Carlos Correa

NL MVP

Anthony Rizzo

AL Cy Young

Chris Sale

NL Cy Young

Clayton Kershaw

AL ROY

A.J. Reed

NL ROY

Steven Matz

AL MOY

A.J. Hinch

NL MOY

Joe Maddon

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MLB Over/Unders

After a lengthy winter, baseball is finally nearly back!

Spring training has been awful for me, only whetting my appetite for baseball without truly satisfying it. However, it does serve a purpose. Spring training gives us a first glimpse at the configurations of each team. It provides us with tentative answers as to where each player will bat in the order, or who’ll close, or any number of things.

Today we’ll use some of that information in making our Over/Under predictions for the 2016 MLB season. First, let’s discuss a few best bets for the upcoming season. After that, we’ll zip through the rest of the picks.

Let’s get started!

Best Bets

Chicago Cubs: 92.5: OVER

They can’t make this number high enough for me. If it were raised to 95.5, I’d have to take it off my “Best Bets” list, but it would have to be over 100 for me to even consider taking the under.

Unlike other teams, who may have depth but no superstars, or superstars but no depth, the Cubs are in the enviable position of having both. In fact, although having superstars like Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, and Kris Bryant is important, what might be more impressive is that their worst regular is Dexter Fowler, a center fielder who, last season, smacked seventeen homers, swiped twenty bases, with a .346 OBP. On any other team, that’s a way above average player. Wow.

Chicago’s immense depth will allow to work its way through whatever obstacles it might face during the lengthy season, and its superstars will allow it to excel throughout the campaign. It’s tough to envision a scenario in which the Cubs don’t manage to win ninety games, making this an easy choice for the “Best Bets” list.

Houston Astros: 87.5: OVER

The Astros are eerily similar to the Cubs. They’re both young, up-and-coming teams coming off painful defeats in last year’s playoffs. They’re both led by a pair of young, stud infielders (Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, respectively) and each’s ace was absolutely awful before having a very good season in 2014 and winning the Cy Young in 2015 (Dallas Keuchel, and Jake Arrieta, respectively). And, just like the Cubs, the Astros are set to improve spectacularly on last season’s 86-76 record.

Houston definitely shouldn’t have any trouble gaining an extra two wins over last season. George Springer played only two-thirds of the season; a full season from him could get them over the hump by itself. When Correa’s inevitable improvement as he gains MLB experience is factored in, the Astros should be able to surpass the total that Bovada has set for them with ease.

San Diego Padres: 73.5: UNDER

Before last season, Padres GM A.J. Preller went on an offseason trading spree, nabbing Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, and Craig Kimbrel in an effort to win big. That effort failed miserably, and the team is now a wreck, with no hope in the present or in the future.

After Preller failed to turn the Padres into a contender, he sloughed off his two biggest acquisitions, with Upton leaving in free agency and Kimbrel being traded to the Red Sox. The team is now left with a desolate wasteland of a roster with no hope of contention.

In a challenging division with three teams expected to contend for the playoffs, it will be hard for San Diego to make it to seventy wins.

The Best of the Rest

Philadelphia Phillies: 65.5: UNDER

The Phillies won 63 games last year and now have even less talent. The scale of their rebuild is on par with that of the Astros a few of years ago, and those Houston teams won 56, 55, and 51 games from 2011-2013.

St. Louis Cardinals: 87.5: OVER and Pittsburgh Pirates: 86.5: OVER

I group these two teams together because they’re both NL Central teams who had the two highest win totals in MLB last season, didn’t get appreciably worse over the offseason, and are not getting much love from Bovada. These two teams are about the same as they were last year, and last year they won 100 and 98 games, respectively. How is each’s win total expected to decline by double digits?

Over/Under Picks for Entire MLB

Houston Astros: 87.5: OVER

Texas Rangers: 84.5: UNDER

Seattle Mariners: 82.5: UNDER

Los Angeles Angels: 81.5: UNDER

Oakland Athletics: 75.5: UNDER

Kansas City Royals: 85.5: OVER

Cleveland Indians: 84.5: UNDER

Detroit Tigers: 81.5: OVER

Chicago White Sox: 80.5: OVER

Minnesota Twins: 78.5: OVER

Toronto Blue Jays: 87.5: OVER

Boston Red Sox: 86.5: OVER

New York Yankees: 85.5: UNDER

Tampa Bay Rays: 81.5: UNDER

Baltimore Orioles: 79.5: OVER

San Francisco Giants: 89.5: UNDER

Los Angeles Dodgers: 88.5: OVER

Arizona Diamondbacks: 82.5: OVER

San Diego Padres: 73.5: UNDER

Colorado Rockies: 70.5: UNDER

Chicago Cubs: 92.5: OVER

St. Louis Cardinals: 87.5: OVER

Pittsburgh Pirates: 86.5: OVER

Cincinnati Reds: 70.5: UNDER

Milwaukee Brewers: 69.5: UNDER

New York Mets: 89.5: OVER

Washington Nationals: 89.5: UNDER

Miami Marlins: 79.5: UNDER

Atlanta Braves: 66.5: UNDER

Philadelphia Phillies: 65.5: UNDER

Why Was Davis Shut Down?

Earlier today, news broke that the Pelicans had shut down star big man Anthony Davis for the rest of the season.

The important question is: Why?

There are obvious reasons, ones that New Orleans will point to as explanations. Davis has been dealing with injuries all season; he’s currently fighting injuries to his shoulder and left knee. Furthermore, the Pelicans are all but eliminated from playoff contention. Why would they keep on playing a hobbled Davis in meaningless games?

However, there might be another, shadier reason that Anthony Davis has been shut down for the rest of the season.

The Brow signed a record-setting five year, $145 million extension last year to keep him in New Orleans through 2021. However, that mammoth amount of money is based off of the Derrick Rose Rule, that allows a fifth year player to earn up to 30% of the salary cap if he meets certain benchmarks: Being voted to start in two All-Star Games, being named to two All-NBA teams, or being named MVP.

The contract was announced as a $145 million deal because it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that, at the very least, Davis would be named to an All-NBA team, thereby meeting the criteria required to qualify under the Derrick Rose Rule. However, if Davis is unable to meet any of the criteria, rather than the extension being worth $145 million, it instead will be worth about $120 million.

Davis, despite all his troubles, still had a very good chance at being named to an All-NBA team. Over sixty-one games, Davis has averaged 24.3-10.3-1.9, along with 1.3 steals and a pair of blocks per game.

Thanks to this shutdown, Tom Benson, owner of the Pelicans, will save about $25 million in salary. Alternatively, the team could use the extra cash, along with the extra $5 million in cap space opened up, to improve the team around Davis.

Davis is said to be set to undergo surgery, but if he believes that he could have played through his injuries, he could potentially file a grievance. Even if the Pelicans win, this shadiness could wreak havoc on their relationship with their franchise player. If Davis is disgruntled, it could turn toxic in the Big Easy, making this a storyline to watch heading into next season.

Notes From Spurs-Warriors

Last night in San Antonio, the Spurs turned in a stifling defensive performance, holding the explosive Warriors to a mere seventy-nine points, over thirty-five below their season average.

LaMarcus Aldridge had a spectacular game, scoring twenty-six points while grabbing thirteen rebounds, and there was nothing Golden State could do to stop him. That’s what happens when Andrew Bogut is out. Draymond Green is a great player, but he never got a break from defending San Antonio’s big men. Furthermore, while Green’s low center of gravity allows him to capably guard much bigger players, it does nothing to stop them from shooting fadeaways over him, as Aldridge did repeatedly last night.

Still, that clearly wasn’t the problem last night, as the Spurs were able to score only eighty-seven points. The Warriors’ problem was that they were unable to score. More importantly, Stephen Curry was shut down and held to fourteen points on eighteen shots, an abysmal 34.7% true shooting percentage. For context, Curry’s TS% on the season is a league leading 67.5%, while players not noted for their sharpshooting, such as Rajon Rondo (49.8%), Kobe Bryant (46.3%), and Emmanuel Mudiay (42.7%, the worst mark in the league), have shot better over the course of the season than Curry did last night.

Now, the Warriors had lost six times before last night, but how repeatable are those losses? The Blazers beat the Warriors by shooting 17-30 from three and the Lakers beat them when they shot 4-30 from three. The Mavericks beat the Warriors when they were without Curry and Harrison Barnes and the Nuggets beat them by two when they were without Green. The Bucks beat the Warriors when they were coming off a double-overtime game the night before and the Pistons beat them by eighteen in the only game that there wasn’t a clear reason for why they lost.

None of these games, other than the one against Detroit, provide any valuable insight into how to beat Golden State. At first glance, last night’s game looks very similar to the Lakers game: the Warriors shot 25% from three, with Curry and Klay Thompson combining to go 2-19 from deep. Is that really something the Spurs can count on in the playoffs?

Here’s where the eye test comes in handy. Last night, Curry and Thompson weren’t missing wide-open shots; the Spurs didn’t give them any space. San Antonio hounded the Splash Brothers both on and off the ball, not giving them any room to operate. Helped by Kawhi Leonard and their league-best defense, the Spurs only allowed twenty-nine combined points from Thompson and Curry.

As always, the important question is whether or not this game provides a blueprint for how to beat the Warriors. To me, it’s somewhere in the middle.

On one hand, playing close and physical with Curry and Thompson is a recipe for success. However, not every team has the reigning DPOY on it.

I think it’s fair to say that last night’s game provided a way to beat the Warriors, but one that only the Spurs can follow. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not San Antonio will be able to maintain its defensive success in its next meeting with Golden State, on April 7th in Oracle Arena.

Eastern Conference Playoff Bubble: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

As the NBA heads into the final stretch of its season, playoff seeds are beginning to crystallize. By my count, eleven teams have already essentially clinched a spot in the playoffs, leaving five positions available for the other nineteen teams.

In the Eastern Conference, there are two playoff berths available for four teams and Washington, Indiana, Detroit, and Chicago are set to duke it out over the next month to make it into the postseason.

Which teams on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble will make it in? Which ones won’t? Let’s take a look.

In the East, the seventh and eighth seeds are up for grabs. Currently, the Pacers and Pistons hold those two spots, but the Bulls are tied with the Pistons for the eighth seed. The Wizards are lurking one-and-a-half games behind the Bulls and Pistons after recently pulling out of a tailspin; after making it back to .500, they lost five straight games before a dominant forty-three point blowout against the Pistons earlier this week on national TV and a twenty-one point victory against the Bulls last night.

Washington is the furthest from a playoff spot, but there remains hope in D.C. thanks to a fairly easy schedule to close out the season. Of its fifteen remaining games, only two are near-certain losses (@GSW and @LAC). In addition, the Wizards play three times against the Hawks, although two of those games are at home, and once against the surging Hornets in Washington.

Though Washington is one-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot, there still remains a head-to-head opportunity to make up ground on its direct competitors. The Wizards will play in Detroit on April 8th, a game that will be vital to their playoff aspirations.

The Pacers are elevated above the fray, sitting two-and-a-half games above the Bulls and Pistons and four above the Wizards. With a strong finish, Indiana could even push its way into the fifth or sixth seed, and with a creampuff schedule down the stretch, there’s a very real possibility that it could happen.

The Bulls have the easiest schedule of all, but they currently face severe problems with injuries. Jimmy Butler returned only a couple of days ago from a knee injury, Derrick Rose is dealing with a groin injury, and Pau Gasol has an injured knee. If Chicago is down its best three players, it won’t matter how easy their schedule is.

The Pistons begin a nine-game homestand against the Hawks, but their schedule is the most challenging of the teams they’re competing against. Eight of Detroit’s fifteen remaining games come against playoff teams, and that doesn’t include the games against its direct competitors. It plays in Chicago on April 2nd and against Washington at home on April 8th.

The question remains: Which of these teams will make the playoffs?

It seems to be a forgone conclusion that the Bulls will miss the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. They have too many injuries to adequately compete, and if they lose to the Pistons on April 2nd, they won’t have the tiebreaker against either the Pistons or the Wizards. Chicago will compete to the end, and it’s certainly within its capabilities to scratch out just enough victories to make it to the playoffs, but the postseason seems out of reach at the moment.

The Pacers have a stranglehold on a playoff berth. They’re as close to the #4 seed as the Pistons and Bulls are to them. It’s far more likely that Indiana moves up the ladder to nab a higher seed than they collapse and miss out on the playoffs.

The most intrigue comes with the battle for the eighth seed between the Wizards and Pistons.

I’m torn on this prediction, and although it’s safer to bet on the Pistons maintaining their lead, the Wizards have the tiebreaker and the ineffable, possibly nonexistent “mental edge” after the blowout earlier this week. Instead, I think that whoever wins that April 8th game in Detroit will take home the eighth seed. Washington should be the underdog in that game, so I guess my prediction is Detroit, but if it can defy expectations and win that game on its way to the playoffs, I bet there’ll be a big…

(at least until they get blown out by the Cavs in the first round)

OKC’s Big Problem

Last month, the Thunder traveled to Oracle Arena to face the Warriors. After coming back from a huge deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, the Thunder ended up losing 116-108.

Oklahoma City’s starting lineup, consisting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Dion Waiters, and Steven Adams, had a point differential of +4 over the 20.6 minutes it played together.

The lineup containing Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, Cameron Payne, Kyle Singler, and Dion Waiters wasn’t able to convert a field goal across the 2.6 minutes it played together. Even when Durant was switched in for Waiters, the lineup was only able to make a single shot over the 2.2 minutes it played together. Across the 4.7 (due to rounding) minutes that the Kanter/Adams combo played, it managed to score only four points on eight shots, and had a point differential of -5.

Why is this combo so awful?

Adams is a center in the mold of Tyson Chandler. He has little offensive skill and often scores off of lobs. Kanter is a post-up behemoth, ranking in the top sixth of the NBA in post-up attempts (among qualified players) with 139 despite playing only 20.6 minutes per game off the bench.

Having a pair of centers who operate best close to the basket isn’t conducive to good spacing and without proper spacing, it’s nearly impossible to create an adequate offense. To show you what I mean, let’s take a look at a couple of plays from their time together during the game.

Here, we see Dion Waiters drive down the middle of the floor, looking for a layup. He’s unable to get a shot off, so he passes it to Cameron Payne. The rookie point guard then drives down the right side of the court. In a properly functioning offense, Payne would have space to drive to the basket for a shot at the rim. However, in this muddled mess, Payne has to stop short and let loose an awful floater that hits the side of the backboard.

Here, Waiters drives down the middle of the court. He’s met with a wall of bodies, and wildly chucks the ball out to Payne. The rookie immediately drives towards the rim, but yet again, he has to release an ugly floater in traffic.

Kanter is an offensive rebounding monster (he’s tied for 17th in offensive rebounds per game among players who have played in at least twenty games with an average of 2.8, overcoming his disadvantage in minutes) and he manages to corral the ball after Payne’s miss. However, he’s swamped by four or five Warriors at once. At one point, seven of the ten players on the floor are all in that tangled jumble of arms and legs. Kanter tries a couple of times to get a shot off, but the ball is ripped away, and the Warriors immediately launch a fast-break.

You might be wondering why this combination is a problem worth worrying about. After all, it’s impactful for only a few minutes every game.

In the regular season, the Adams/Kanter combo +0.3 per 3.5 minutes per game over 19 games.. However, what happens when the Thunder make the playoffs and need to beat both the Spurs and the Warriors, two historically great teams, to make the Finals? How’s that gonna work out?

In the playoffs, defenses are amped up and specific players are game-planned for. If Adams and Kanter are still playing together for a few minutes a game, then that’s time that the Thunder’s opponent will have a big advantage. In the regular season, against average teams, it’s often not a problem. However, against the Spurs and Warriors the deficit might be insurmountable.

I wrote most of this article before February 27th, when the Warriors overcame the Thunder in overtime to win the most exciting game of the season. I paid close attention to when Kanter and Adams played together, but they didn’t share the court for a single second. Similarly, last week, when the two teams faced off again, Kanter and Adams were never on the court at the same time. Perhaps Billy Donovan hacked into my account and read my draft of this article, or, more probably, finally decided to use common sense.

Not only did Donovan scrap the Kanter-Adams pairing against the Warriors, but he’s also done well to excise them from the rotation. Since the All-Star break, Kanter and Adams have played a mere 6.4 minutes together over two games. Amusingly enough, over those minutes, the Thunder were -5 and made only two shots on eleven attempts.

Now that Kanter and Adams are no longer playing together, Oklahoma City is poised to pose a serious threat to San Antonio and Golden State in the playoffs.

Toronto’s in Trouble: Why the Raptors Should Have Gone All-In

The Raptors are doing great. Splendidly, in fact. Just over two-thirds of the way through the season, Toronto is second in the Eastern Conference with a record of 39-19, only two-and-a-half games behind conference-leading Cleveland.

Furthermore, the Raptors own the sixth-best point differential in the NBA. At +4.5, their point differential trails only the Clippers and the “big four” of title contenders: the Cavs, Spurs, Warriors, and Thunder. Although it’s not in the top tier of the NBA, Toronto is safely ensconced in the next group of teams.

All in all, the Raptors are in good shape, and Masai Ujiri felt no need to shake things up before last week’s trade deadline despite the team’s gaping holes at the forward positions. DeMarre Caroll’s eventual return from a knee injury will shore up the three, but Luis Scola is currently the starting four. The Argentinian means well, but at this point his career, he’s simply not a viable starting power forward on a team that fancies itself a contender.

Ujiri chose not to address that problem, and Scola remained the starter. His reasoning, presumably, was that the Raptors are clearly a cut below the NBA’s elite, and it would make little sense for them to go all-in for a season in which they don’t have a real shot at a championship.

However, was it really the right move to pass on acquiring a power forward like Ryan Anderson? Should the Raptors really be waiting until next year to make a serious push for a title?

I think not. Toronto is one of the best teams in the league right now, and they can’t pass up this opportunity. There’s no guarantee that the Raptors will have a shot like this one with their current team. Who knows what will happen in the future?

Next year, and for years to come, Cleveland will still have LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, Boston’s young core will continue to get better and better, and other teams, like Detroit, Orlando, Milwaukee, and more, will be far more competitive than they are today. In two years, this Raptors team won’t even have a guarantee of a home playoff series, let alone a top-2 seed in the conference.

That prediction assumes that Toronto continues to improve, or, at the very least, maintains their current level of play, but that’s no guarantee either.

This season, the Raptors are about $1.6 million over the salary cap, shelling out $71.6 million to field the team. Next season, however, Toronto already has $82.7 million committed to twelve players, and that’s with DeMar DeRozan’s $9.5 million player option. Barring a catastrophic injury, DeRozan will decline his option, and command a max deal on the open market, one that will start at $25 million. The Raptors are stuck in a bind: Resign DeRozan and lose flexibility, or let him go elsewhere and lose continuity?

Luckily for the Raptors, per Zach Lowe, the salary cap for the 2016-17 season is currently projected to be at $92 million, rather than the $89 million that the NBA originally projected, giving them extra flexibility. However, they’ll still be a few million dollars over the cap. hindering Ujiri in trades and free agency.

The salary cap for the 2017-18 season is expected to be $108 million, which will allow Toronto to resign Kyle Lowry, who will decline his player option, without going over the cap. However, Lowry will earn at least as much as DeRozan, if not more (the exact amount is uncertain due to the uncertainty about the exact salary cap, which dictates max salaries). Even if we conservatively project Lowry’s 2017-18 salary to be $25 million, the Raptors will still be bumping up against the cap.

If Toronto resigns both Lowry and DeRozan to max contracts, then by 2017-18, it will be spending $98.6 million on six players: Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph, and Terrence Ross. That’s a lot of money to commit to six players who collectively are, at best, solidly above-average. Filling out that roster would be nine players making close to the minimum, but even those cheap players will push Toronto over the salary cap.

It’s fine to commit a ton of money to a few players and go over the salary cap in the process. Teams like the Cavaliers, the Thunder, and the Warriors do it, but those teams are giving their money to some of the best players in the league, not just good ones, like the Raptors.

Even worse, unlike the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, the 2018-19 season won’t have a big salary cap jump, so there won’t be any cap relief for the Raptors in the near future.

There are still some bright sides to Toronto’s situation. The salary scale for draft picks is locked in regardless of what happens with the cap, and, in addition to owning all of their own first rounders, the Raptors also own the Clippers’ 2017 first round pick and the lowest of the Knicks’ and Nuggets’ 2016 first rounders.  Those picks will provide cheap and (hopefully) valuable players, allowing Toronto to spend elsewhere on its roster.

However, Toronto’s picks will be in the mid-to-late 20s, while Los Angeles’ choice will be in the early-to-mid 20s. Only the lesser of New York and Denver’s first rounders will be in the lottery, so Toronto will have to draft extremely well to nab productive players from those disadvantageous draft slots.

We haven’t even delved into the Lowry’s advancing age (he turns 30 in less than a month), or DeRozan’s limitations (he can’t shoot threes), or any other problems that might crop up over the coming years.

Now, at least, the Raptors know that they’re a top team, and, although the Cavaliers look unstoppable, they’re only one fortuitous injury away from being in the NBA Finals. And that’s just as things stand right now. Imagine if Toronto had added Anderson; it would have become a serious threat to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals.

It’s always risky to make a big move, especially when there’s an uncertain reward, but it’s clear that there’s far more uncertainty a few years down the line than there will be in a few months.

There were definitely some good reasons for the Raptors to refrain from making a big trade before the deadline, but in a few years, they seem likely to regret their decision.