The World Series parade will depart City Hall right on schedule this fall. But don't rearrange your schedule. You won't be there.
That's because your team won't be participating in that parade -- no matter who "your team" might be. I can say that with confidence because, after spending years incorrectly predicting which juggernaut will win the World Series, I've seen the light.
The odds of picking the team that will win the World Series: way too stacked against me. The odds of picking the teams that won't win it all: excellent.
So here we go. Why won't "your team" win the World Series? You're about to find out.
You wait a century to see the Cubs win one World Series and now you expect them to win every World Series? Sorry. Not going to happen. The Cubs aren't going to repeat because ... nobody repeats.
Oh, they're built to repeat. They're good enough to repeat. It might even be an upset if they don't win it all again real soon. But this is baseball, a sport in which no team not known as "the Yankees" has won back-to-back World Series in roughly a quarter-century (since the 1992-93 Blue Jays) -- and in which exactly one National League team (the 1975-76 Big Red Machine) has repeated in the past 95 years.
Why won't the Cubs win again? Because, well, baseball.
The Indians played baseball until Nov. 2 last year. Have you noticed that can leave its mark on the weary troops? So as beautifully constructed as this team may be to win now, you know why this won't be the year it ends that infamous little 69-year title drought? Because that 2016 workload is too likely to take its toll on the 2017 Indians.
Is Carlos Carrasco going to be OK? Will that rotation -- now minus Cody Anderson, who is out for the year -- going to get through the marathon? And how about that bullpen? Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen went to the mound a combined 243 times last year. And they're now closing in on 700 appearances over the past three years, not even counting Miller's leisurely work this spring in the World Baseball Classic. If any of those three -- let alone all of those three -- go down, aren't the same or both of the above, it will be time for all those folks in Cleveland to sing once again: "Wait 'til next year."
Once there was a time when we could have just said the Red Sox won't win the World Series because ... of course, they won't, they're the Red Sox. But now that New England has mostly gotten past believing their grandfathers were right to suspect that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong, we're forced to remind New England that this spring, it already has gone wrong.
When is David Price coming back, and how dominating will he be? Can't tell you. Is Drew Pomeranz going to make 30 starts? Or 20? Or 10? Can't tell you. Is Eduardo Rodriguez's knee going to act up? Are Steven Wright's shoulder issues going to flare at some point? Who the heck knows.
There were lots of good signs on all those fronts late in spring training. But stuff will happen to this rotation because stuff always happens. And stuff has already happened. So that's a problem because, as good as this team is in every other way, "if they have injuries to their staff," said one rival executive, "I don't think they have that No. 6-7-8 starter who's good enough to cover that."
Clayton Kershaw spent 75 days on the disabled list last year with a herniated disc in his back. The Dodgers survived, somehow or other. You want to bet on that happening again? Go right ahead. But despite the miraculous survival skills L.A. unfurled last summer, its ace is still one of the most irreplaceable humans in baseball. And aces with bad backs represent a segment of the species that would make any front office nervous.
Let's ignore Kershaw's mysterious October struggles for a moment. Let's even assume that there will come a time when Julio Urias will be unleashed to be as awesome as any 20-year-old since Jose Fernandez. The Dodgers aren't winning a World Series without Kershaw. Period. Because, as one NL West executive put it succinctly, "nobody can replace him."
The Astros' time has come. And by that, we mean the Astros' position players' time has come. But why won't the Astros win the World Series? They pretty much announced it to the world last winter. Not by issuing an official press release or anything, but by what they spent their offseason trying to trade for -- namely, a legit power arm with top-of-the-rotation stuff and presence.
Dallas Keuchel owns a Cy Young trophy, but he also owns a shoulder that caused him significant issues last year. Lance McCullers owns ace-type stuff, but "good luck keeping him healthy," said one rival executive. No wonder the Astros lust after Jose Quintana. They've also consistently balked at giving up Kyle Tucker, Francis Martes and the kind of young arms the White Sox have consistently asked for. If this team doesn't trade for an ace at some point, the World Series parade will take place in someone else's town.
Do the Nationals miss Jonathan Papelbon yet? How 'bout Drew Storen? Heck, is Mike MacDougal available? There's so much to like about this team. But the Nationals can't win the World Series because ... how can you pick a team to win it all when even the people who run it aren't sure who's going to close Game 7 of that World Series?
Yeah, yeah. We know the Cubs didn't go into last season with Aroldis Chapman as their closer. And the 2015 Royals didn't start that season with Wade Davis as their closer. And the 2014 Giants sure weren't built to have Madison Bumgarner save Game 7, either. But it feels like those teams at least entered those seasons with a lot more general bullpen stability than this team.
Maybe Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen or Koda Glover can handle that niche. But so far, said one executive who saw them this spring, this pen has consisted of just "a bunch of guys with the bullets to close, but nobody has bought that ticket."
Ask anyone about the Giants this spring, and they're likely to respond: "Have you seen their outfield?" So why won't the Giants win it all? Repeat after us: Have you seen their outfield? Entering the week, Hunter Pence was 6-for-44 (.136) this spring, with no homers. Denard Span was hitting .189 until racking up four hits over the weekend. And no one knows what to expect in left field, where Mac Williamson is already banged up and his prospective platoon partner, Jarrett Parker, has legit power but also flashed a .108/.154/.216 slash line against left-handers last year.
Did you know last season's Giants outfield totaled minus-2.3 wins above average? True story. And no team has won a World Series with an outfield that unproductive since the 1985 Royals. There's a reason Angel Pagan no longer plays here. But are there any signs this year's group will be any more impactful? Um, have you seen their outfield?
If two-man rotations were a real thing, how good would the Rangers look right now? But somebody besides Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish has to eat up somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 starts. And the guys who are currently lined up to sit at that dinner table -- Martin Perez, A.J. Griffin, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross -- combined for a 4.91 ERA last season.
Even more ominous, the only thing Cashner (biceps soreness) and Ross (thoracic outlet syndrome surgery) will be eating up to start the season is disabled-list time. And the lack of upper-level pitching depth had the Rangers searching for live arms this spring. They're as safe a bet to make a July deal for a starter as any team in the game. But how many runs will this offense have to score in non-Hamels/Darvish starts in the meantime? Too many.
The Mets could be scary good. But if you asked every team if they'd rather have the best roster in baseball or the healthiest, you'd be surprised how many would answer: "the healthiest." Well, the Mets are not a good bet to win the American Medical Association's Healthiest Team of the Year Award.
This is a team with health questions all over the field (Pretty much the entire rotation, plus Neil Walker, Travis d'Arnaud, Lucas Duda and, of course, David Wright). It's also a team that will have just two regulars on the right side of 30 (d'Arnaud and Michael Conforto) -- and check out the 21st century injury rate for guys in their 30s sometime. It's even fair to wonder how long Noah Syndergaard (aka their one healthy starter) can keep throwing 101 mph smokeballs and 94 mph sliders without his elbow ligaments asking: "What the heck?" So if they keep their stars on the field and the mound, look out. But if they don't ... uh-oh.
Edwin Encarnacion doesn't work here anymore. You probably heard that news bulletin. But if you're looking for a reason this otherwise-underrated team won't win the World Series, that's it. Kendrys Morales has plugged that hole, and he'll undoubtedly be the same old reliable professional hitter he has been for years. But that guy who doesn't work here anymore was a monster presence who got to the plate 702 times last season, made 42 highly entertaining home run trots, reached base 250 times and did a pretty cool Joe Carter imitation in that AL wild-card game.
"They'll miss that whole dynamic around this guy," said one scout who covered the Blue Jays this spring. "He was a damned good hitter. But he was loved by those fans. And he was loved by his teammates. Hard to replace that."
Not so long ago, if you'd have told us the Cardinals were about to run out a rotation of Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Mike Leake, we'd have said: Sign us up for that. But here in 2017, once we get past Martinez, we have no idea what to expect from anyone else in that group.
We've also done the math. And it says that as the rotation goes, so go the Cardinals. Two years ago, their 2.99 ERA led the big leagues, and they won 100 games. Then came last year, when that rotation ERA inflated to a messy 4.33, the largest increase in baseball. So how did that work out? The Cardinals were one of six teams to score at least 100 more runs than they'd scored in 2015. The win totals of the other five went up by an average of 10 more wins, while the Cardinals lost 14 more games than the year before. Get the picture?
We bet you thought it was the rotation that was the Mariners' biggest worry. Heck, that isn't even their biggest worry about their pitching staff. Other than their soon-to-be-superstar closer, Edwin Diaz, just about their entire bullpen is populated by question marks. Nothing like starting a pivotal season with three relievers (Steve Cishek, Tony Zych, Shae Simmons) on the DL. And who steps into Cishek's shoes as Diaz's prime setup man if his hip issues persist or he's not up to that gig?
These are questions even they can't answer yet. And how many teams win the World Series with bullpens in chaos? That would be none.
The Orioles always prove us wrong, about pretty much everything. So if we tell you they won't win the World Series because this is the year Buck Showalter's inimitable rotation-juggling routine turns into a whole different sort of circus act, they'll undoubtedly go out and lead the league in ERA or something.
But this is a worrisome group once you look beyond breakout-ace candidate Kevin Gausman. They need Chris Tillman to be great. He hasn't thrown a pitch all spring. They've been waiting for Dylan Bundy to fulfill the hype. He "looks more like a back-end starter to me," one scout said.
And then there are Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez. They've allowed 49 baserunners in 25⅔ innings this spring. They also have a track record that has "undependable" written all over it. Now watch the Orioles cover all of that with their standard 250 home runs, three or four Gold Gloves and a fabulous bullpen. Happens every year. But teams with rotations this unsettled never have that win the World Series look.
Did you know the Tigers went a week and a half without winning a game this spring? But they'll be delighted to hear we'll be ignoring that depressing little tidbit. You know why the Tigers won't be winning the World Series, for the 33rd consecutive year? Too many minefields in their bullpen. That's an issue we can't ignore.
The Tigers ranked 24th in bullpen ERA last year, 28th the year before that and 24th the year before that. And no matter what they try, they can't seem to fix it. So after a winter in which they didn't make a single big league addition, you'll be stunned to hear they looked as unsteady as ever this spring.
"They've got some guys out there who could win a teddy bear at the fair," quipped one scout. "But I don't think they have enough who can get big league hitters out."
Barring a shocking comeback by, say, A.J. Burnett, the only Pirates starting pitcher older than 26 this season is going to be Ivan Nova (who is 30). Your guess is as good as Clint Hurdle's on what they get out of the most inexperienced rotation any contender will run out there.
Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon looked awesome this spring. But combined, they've pitched one full, healthy big league season in their careers (by Cole in 2015). Nova parlayed 11 excellent starts as a Pirate into a three-year, $26 million contract. He's also a guy who went 15-19, with a 5.35 ERA, over the previous three seasons in New York. And if you can project what's to come from Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl, Drew Hutchison or Steven Brault, you either have better projection software or a better crystal ball than we have.
"They're all so inexperienced," said one scout who covered them. "They could be great. They may not be good at all. I have no idea."
We know that altitude causes baseballs to fly farther than they would normally fly. But does altitude also cause lousy luck? We're hereby authorizing the Rockies to investigate that because they've had one of those springs. They won't win the World Series -- not because they can't pitch for a change, but because they just led the Cactus League in health issues.
Their big free-agent attraction, Ian Desmond, gets drilled by a pitch and breaks his hand? Their catcher, Tom Murphy, makes a routine throw to second base, collides with a bat and fractures his forearm? Outfield phenom David Dahl goes down with a mysterious stress reaction in his rib cage? It all happened this spring. And then there's the dispiriting recurrence of pitcher Chad Bettis' testicular cancer, which has put his baseball career on hold while he undergoes chemotherapy.
"I really like that team," said one NL scout. "But every day, there's another guy hurt or ailing."
The Yankees are going to win the World Series. Oh, not this World Series. But this is a team, says one AL executive, "that's coming on faster than people think." But they're not coming on that fast. The impressive young pitchers in their system aren't ready to ride to the rescue of a rotation that is about as unstable as any Yankees staff in maybe 25 years. Masahiro Tanaka might win a Cy Young. But then what? CC Sabathia was their fifth starter last year. He might be their No. 2 starter this year. Then comes a series of arms who can tantalize you (Michael Pineda, Luis Severino) but never quite get around to dominating you.
"You've got to like what's happening there," said one scout who was on them this spring. "But there's just not enough starting-pitching depth. And that's their undoing."
The Royals played in two straight World Series because they had The Bullpen Nobody Wanted to Face. But they've lost that late-inning fear factor.
Remember when they had three fire-breathers with sub-1.50 ERAs pitching the seventh, eighth and ninth innings in 2014? Well, Kelvin Herrera is still on the payroll. He has even graduated to closer. But there's no more Davis and no more Greg Holland. So does Joakim Soria, coming off a year in which he allowed 99 baserunners in 66⅔ innings, still have it in him to be the sort of setup monster Herrera used to be? Is Matt Strahm, coming off a spectacular August and September (13 hits, 30 whiffs and a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings), ready to dominate like that for a full season?
For a team still reeling from the death of Yordano Ventura, it has never been more vital for this bullpen to have the same impact it had in the good old days. But is that happening? The truth is, way too much has to go right to believe it will have the same impact.
It has been 15 years since the Angels actually did win a World Series. But which relievers on this team are going to remind you of Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez and Brendan Donnelly, the shutdown bullpen monsters of Octobers past?
Huston Street? Nope. He's coming off maybe his roughest year ever, and he'll start this year on the DL with back issues. Andrew Bailey? Sorry. He's a great dude, but he isn't the same Andrew Bailey who won that 2009 Rookie of the Year Award. Cam Bedrosian? He may be the son of a Cy Young closer (Steve), but is he ready to duplicate his Bob Gibson-esque 1.12 ERA over a full season as the most critical bullpen weapon in Orange County? That's a lot to ask. And don't even contemplate where this team will finish if the elbow of its best starter, Garrett Richards, remembers there's a tear in there someplace.
We all know the heartbreaking reason the Marlins aren't going to win this World Series. Because, sadly, they can't replace the irreplaceable. And that's what Jose Fernandez was.
A Cuban-American superstar playing baseball in the shadow of Little Havana. A charismatic personality in a star-driven market. And, especially, a transcendent talent who was ready to take his place among the giants of his craft, if he hadn't already. This team was all set up to contend, to have Fernandez start an All-Star Game in his home park and to lure in a fan base that couldn't resist his inescapable star power. Even without him, they're more talented -- and more tight-knit -- than much of the world realizes.
But the tragic loss of Fernandez will hang over them every day of this season.
Rickie Weeks is going to get significant playing time for this team -- at a position (first base) he had never played before this spring. If that's the sort of prospect that makes you think, "Boy, is that team ready to win the World Series!" you might be thinking of a different Rickie Weeks than we are.
This club also will play its favorite 30-homer secret weapon, Brad Miller, at second base, a position where he has started exactly 27 games in his pro career. And then there's shortstop, where ex-Giants third baseman Matt Duffy was supposed to slide in, except that his lingering heel issues mean Tim Beckham is now your Opening Day shortstop. So why won't the 2017 Rays win the World Series, despite a rotation no one would want to hit against in October? Because they aren't allowed to clone Evan Longoria and play him at all four positions in this infield.
OK, name the closer on this team. C'mon. You can do it. No, it's not Brad Ziegler. He's a Marlin now. No, it's not J.J. Putz. He's retired. No, it's not Byung-Hyun Kim. It isn't 2001 anymore. It's Fernando Rodney, of course. Because that 6.16 ERA he had in the second half wasn't scary at all. But somebody has to close. So why not the 25th-ranked closer in baseball, according to ESPN's trusty fantasy gurus?
This team actually has more upside than it's being given credit for. And new GM Mike Hazen is already restoring order and new-age wisdom where once there was, well, the opposite. But if Fernando Rodney is your closer, at age 40, guess what? You're not winning the World Series.
Did you know that if last season had started on Aug. 21, the Braves would have made the playoffs? Unfortunately, baseball insisted on counting those first 124 games too, so that 24-14 finish wasn't enough.
But the smart men who run this team are all charged up about that finish anyway. And about that new ballpark that will open this season to replace the apparently antiquated Turner Field. And about shortstop Dansby Swanson, who seems destined to be the NL Rookie of the Year. And about all the other high-ceiling young players who make up one of the best farm systems in baseball. Hey, it's hard to blame them. But the Braves aren't going to win the World Series because ... it's not 2020 yet.
The Phillies' best lineup isn't even going to play baseball in Philadelphia this year. It's going to play baseball in scenic Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, where their Triple-A team will start a real, live prospect at just about every position. And that will have a whole lot more to do with determining the future of this franchise than most of the guys who take the field at Citizens Bank Park.
So if your best team is playing baseball on a minor league diamond not near you, you know what that means? You're not going to need to corner the market on ticker tape this October.
The Brewers used to play in Milwaukee. Now, they've apparently moved the club, because every time you read a story about them, they're known as the Rebuilding Brewers. Their 32-year-old GM, David Stearns, has done such a splendid job in Rebuilding, his team had eight players who made Keith Law's Top 100 Prospects list. So there's that.
But there's also this: If we can even joke that your team just moved to some town called Rebuilding, you're not going to win the World Series.
There are years when Billy Beane is clearly going for it. Then there are years when he's just as clearly not going for it. Guess which kind of year this one is. Now if Sonny Gray were primed for a healthy, Cy Young-type bounce-back summer, everything might be ... nah, he'd just get traded. So maybe Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill will we be back to film that "Moneyball" sequel one of these years. But it won't be this year.
We're pretty sure that if you drive past Guaranteed Rate Field this week, you'll see a sign out front that says: "STORE CLOSING. EVERYTHING MUST GO." Or maybe not. But pretty much everything and everybody on this roster is for sale. And if you're in sell mode even on Opening Day, you're not winning the World Series.
The Twins hold the first pick in the draft this year. You know how many teams have drafted first and won the World Series in the same year? If you guessed zero, you can probably guess the rest.
The Reds lost 94 games last year. And no team has ever lost 94 games one year and won the World Series the next year. There's that -- and the fact that their Opening Day starter is going to be Scott Feldman.
The Vegas odds have the Padres as a 150-1 shot to win the World Series. Maybe the folks who set those odds are just messing with us. But the folks who set those odds are never just messing with us.