Spring is finally upon us, even though it doesn’t look like it, at least in Cleveland and Chicago. But it’s coming and with the springtime comes baseball, America’s pastime.
Last year, a storied playoffs saw the Boston Red Sox, on the brink of probable elimination, storm back with the help from David Ortiz and a bullpen cop to an eventual World Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Then the offseason saw a number of contract holdups (Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz and Ervin Santana) all of whom settled for fewer years and money due to draft pick compensation, but also a number of huge contracts doled out (Robinson Cano, Shin Soo-Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury).
But now it’s finally baseball season: the smell of peanuts in the air, the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd and the shouts of the announcer. 4,860 games, 162 for each team, over the next six months in the race for October, followed by the MLB Playoffs and eventual crowning of a new World Series Champion. It’s finally time to play some meaningful baseball games.
Who will raise the Commissioner’s trophy? Here’s how I think the 2014 MLB Season will shake out. (All Statistics are from the 2013 season)
- East: Boston Red Sox. Everyone is the AL East has retooled, the New York Yankees spent over $400 million this offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays made their share of moves and the Baltimore Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez (13-9, 3.30 ERA, 194 Ks) and Nelson Cruz (.266 BA, 27 HR, 76 RBIs). But at the end of the season, the Red Sox will be the last ones standing. The Orioles and Yankees still have question marks in their rotation and Chris Davis (.286 BA, 53 HR, 158 RBIs) cannot be expected to repeat last year’s production, especially without Manny Machado (.283 BA, 51 2B, 71 RBIs), out indefinitely due to injury, in front of him. The Rays will have the pitching, as usual, but offensive woes will plague them again, leading the way for the Red Sox, with most of their World Series core, to win the division.
- Central: Detroit Tigers. Even with an injury to shortstop Jose Iglesias (.259 BA with Detroit), the Tigers are just too good, both on the mound and at the plate for either the Cleveland Indians or Kansas City Royals to upend. Miguel Cabrera (.348 BA, 44 HR, 137 RBI) will have another MVP season, Ian Kinsler (.277 BA, 13 HR, 72 RBIs) will replace most of Prince Fielder’s (.279 BA, 25 HR, 106 RBIs) production, with better fielding, and the Tigers pitching will be excellent again as Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46 ERA, 217 Ks) should return to form and Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90 ERA, 240 Ks) will have another, albeit not as good, year.
- West: Texas Rangers. Last year the Rangers’ hitting suffered without Nelson Cruz. During the offseason, however, they added Prince Fielder and Shin Soo-Choo (.285 BA, 21 HR, 54 RBIs) who are more than capable of filling the void left by Cruz and should give the Rangers one of the most potent lineups in the AL. In another fierce division race with the Oakland Athletics, the Rangers sheer power, along with a healthy pitching staff gives them the division crown.
- Wild Cards: Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays. In what will be an extremely close race between the Indians, Athletics, Rays, Royals, Yankees and Orioles, the Rays and Athletics take the wild card spots with their superior pitching and ability to score just enough runs, using “Moneyball” strategies and undervalued players.
- East: Atlanta Braves. After a year full of injuries to some of their best players, including Jason Heyward (.254 BA, 14 HR and 38 RBI in 104 games) and B.J. Upton (.184 BA, 9 HR and 26 RBIs in 126 games), and down years from others, Justin Upton (.263 BA, 27 HR, 70 RBIs) and Dan Uggla (.171 BA, 22 HR, 55 RBIs), the Braves still won the division. This year the Braves should return to form and win the division again. The rotation, even without Kris Medlen (15-11, 3.12 ERA, 57 Ks) and Mike Minor (13-9, 3.21 ERA, 181 Ks), will be fine and will benefit from the addition of Ervin Santana (9-10, 3.21 ERA, 161 Ks), who will benefit from increased run production as well. The Upton brothers, along with Heyward will lead a formidable lineup that also plays great defense in the field. Barring another injury plagued season, another 96-win season isn’t out of the question.
- Central: St. Louis Cardinals. Each and every year the Cardinals reload, with one of the deepest minor league systems in the MLB. Allen Craig (.315 BA, 13 HR, 97 RBIs) should be able to replace Carlos Beltran’s (.296 BA, 24 HR, 84 RBIs) lost production and the addition of Jhonny Peralta (.303 BA, 11 HR, 55 RBIs vs Pete Kozma’s .217 BA, 1 HR, 35 RBIs) will improve St. Louis’ production at short. With rookies Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez joining the pitching staff, the Cardinals rotation will be even more formidable, yielding another division title.
- West: Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers are the class of the NL West, with the best lineup and rotation in the division. Clayton Kershaw (16-9, 1.83 ERA, 232 Ks) will again be the best pitcher in baseball and lead one of the best rotations in the MLB with Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63 ERA, 148 Ks) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8, 3.00 ERA, 1.54 Ks). A lineup headed by Yasiel Puig (.319 BA, 19 HR, 42 RBIs) and Hanley Ramirez (.345 BA, 20 HR, 57 RBIs) will lead the Dodgers to their second straight division title.
- Wild Cards: Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates. In a four-way race between the Pirates, Nationals, Reds and Padres, the Nationals take on the Pirates in the NL Wild Card game. With a healthy Stephen Strasburg (8-9, 3.00 ERA, 191 Ks) and Bryce Harper (.274 BA, 20 HR, 58 RBIs) the Nationals will return to their 2012 playoff form, while the Pirates will continue to improve with their young lineup and rotation, but will miss A.J. Burnett’s (10-11, 3.30 ERA, 209 Ks) veteran presence.
Wild Card Play-In Games
- Washington Nationals over Pittsburgh Pirates. In a one game series I’m picking the team with Stephen Strasburg on the hill. That Nats take the Pirates with an excellent game from Strasburg, along with clutch hitting from Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper.
- Oakland Athletics over Tampa Bay Rays. Both teams have great pitching, but the Athletics can score runs much easier than the Rays, leading to their victory in a low-scoring game.
AL Division Series
- Oakland Athletics over Boston Red Sox. While the Red Sox won the World Series last year, they were a few outs away from potentially being down 2-0 in the ALCS, and the Athletics pull the upset here. The Athletics have a balanced team with excellent pitching, defense and hitting, while the Red Sox still have a few question marks in their rotation and on the hill. David Ortiz won’t be able to replicate his magical playoff run, and the Red Sox lose in the ALDS.
- Texas Rangers over Detroit Tigers. In a matchup of AL heavyweights, the Tigers and their vulnerable bullpen and defense come up short. Both teams score lots of runs and have good pitching, but the Tigers’ weaknesses at shortstop and at the back-end of their bullpen leave them vulnerable leading to another early exit in the playoffs.
NL Division Series
- Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals. The Dodgers are too complete of a team for the Nationals to beat. Kershaw is an automatic two wins, even against Strasburg, and the rest of the Dodgers rotation should easily be able to win a third. The Dodgers are the team to beat in the NL.
- St. Louis Cardinals over Atlanta Braves. Atlanta’s weakness in their rotation comes back to haunt them and St. Louis and their overabundance of young arms powers them past the Braves and into the NLCS.
AL Championship Series
- Texas Rangers over Oakland Athletics. In a very evenly matched series, the Rangers sluggers overpower the Athletics pitching, giving the Rangers their third pennant in five years.
NL Championship Series
- Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams have stacked rotations, but having the best pitcher in the game gives the Dodgers the edge. Kershaw will again win two games for the Dodgers and Greinke and Ryu each win one to give the Dodgers the series.
- Los Angeles Dodgers over Texas Rangers. Great pitching beats good hitting. In a pitching duel for the ages, Kershaw outduels Yu Darvish in Games 1 and 5, and the Dodgers take the series in six. Choo, Andrus and Fielder can only do so much against excellent pitching and the Dodgers have great hitting themselves.
- AL: Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Trout finally beats out Miguel Cabrera to win the AL MVP with another spectacular season, as Cabrera suffers a bit of a decline due to age and lingering effects of injuries suffered this past year.
- NL: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks. Even though the Diamondbacks won’t make the playoffs, Goldschmidt will put up another huge season with MVP numbers (.302 BA, 36 HR, 125 RBI last year), especially with the addition of Mike Trumbo to warrant the MVP selection.
- AL: Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers. Leading the Rangers to the World Series, Darvish takes home the award for the best pitcher in the AL. After leading the league in strikeouts with 277 last year, but finishing second in the Cy Young voting, Darvish finally gets his award.
- NL: Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers. For the third time in four years the best pitcher in the MLB gets the NL Cy Young award. Barring any injury or huge surprise season by another starter, Kershaw should win his third Cy Young award, especially if the Dodgers win it all.
Rookie of the Year
- AL: Xander Bogaerts, 3B, Boston Red Sox. Bogaerts takes over for Stephen Drew at short and will more than replace Drew’s defense and production. In a weaker rookie class, Bogaerts beats out Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka for the AL Rookie of the Year.
- NL: Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals. While Taveras might not start the year in the majors, he will finish it and emerge as a top hitter in the Cardinals lineup, as he is the No. 3 prospect in the MLB according to Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com
Manager of the Year
- AL: Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics. Terry Francona narrowly beat out Melvin to win manager of the year last year, but Melvin takes the award in 2014, as his team makes the playoffs and goes all the way to the ALCS.
- NL: Matt Williams, Washington Nationals. The Nationals, projected by many to win it all last year, were a bit of a mess and ended up missing the playoffs. Enter Williams who will turn the Nationals around, control Bryce Harper and help the Nationals earn a wild card berth.