2014 MLB Season Preview!
If you love the intense thrill and heart-pounding action of pennant races coming down to the wire, then you really gotta love these past three years of Major League Baseball. As last year for the second year in a row, four of the six divisions come down to either the final days or week of the regular season with one coming down to the final day of the regular season and home-field advantage in both the American and National League also coming down to the final day of the regular season for a second year in a row. The extra wild-card in each league being in place for it’s second season also helped immensely in each league as it had three teams in the AL fighting till the final day of the MLB regular season for those two wild-card spots, while it also had NL Central division foes Pittsburgh and Cincinnati jockeying with each other into the final week of the regular season to see who would get home-field advantage in the one-game wild-card playoff game.
That is why despite the recent announcement before the season by longtime captain and All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees that this will be his final season, the league feels it’s in a good place and ready to pass the bouton of being the face of the league to another young emerging player like Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s also why many Americans feel baseball really is getting back to being the true original American pastime that most everybody loves and a perfect segue into my preview of the new 2014 MLB season.
Starting in the AL Central with the three-time defending division champion Detroit Tigers, who like last year are once again huge favorites to win a fourth straight division title. With reigning two-time American League MVP Miguel Cabrera leading a lineup that’s still really solid despite the loss of slugger Prince Fielder and despite the trade of Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals still has one of the best rotations in the league. By adding second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Texas Rangers in the Fielder trade they also improve on defense and show why they are still the class of the division that still doesn’t have any real competition. I can easily see them winning around 93-95 games and having the best record in the AL or at worst the second best record.
Moving over to the AL East I see the Boston Red Sox, who surprised many including myself last year by winning their third World Series title in the last 11 years putting on another great, but not spectacular year by at least winning a second straight division title with somewhere between 92-95 wins themselves. The Tampa Bay Rays, who finished second in the division last year to the eventual champion Red Sox, who they lost to in the ALDS will be a really solid club again like they have been the past few years and with one of the better rotations in the league with David Price, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore to go along with one of the best managers in all of baseball in Joe Maddon and a lineup that has Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers for a full season to provide a great rotation and a bullpen that always seems to get it done with just enough offense, the Rays should once again be neck and neck with the defending champs for the division. Ultimately falling short though and winning between 92 and 90 games to capture the first of the two wild-card spots in the AL. The Yankees with the addition of rookie Japanese pitcher Mashiro Tanaka hope to make a once very weak rotation very formidable, but I still think the rotation with the possible decline of ace C.C. Sabathia and question marks still to the health of Michael Pineda and the the whole bullpen having a whole new look puts this Yankees team despite the addition of center-fielder and leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury along with prized free-agent veteran catcher Brian McCann that makes it look really good on paper in a very similar situation to the Toronto Blue Jays team from last year that looked really good on paper, but ended up finishing last in the division with 74 wins. No this Yankees team will not go that far by finishing last in the division, but they will have to fight tooth and nail to avoid missing the playoffs for only the second time in Jeter’s career with around an 85-90 win campaign. So while I think they have just enough to make the playoffs in Jeter’s final season, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t make the playoffs though with how many questions they have to such a fragile and aging roster yet again.
Flying west to the AL West, the Oakland Athletics, who have surprisingly won two straight division titles that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim where favored to win, will no longer fly under anyones radar as a surprise team and finally get their just due after two straight seasons of 94 and 96 win campaigns by getting between 92-94 wins this season thanks in large part to their deep rotation. Which despite the loss of Jarrod Parker for the season will still be among the best and help the A’s to capture their third straight division title. The Texas Rangers, who last year won 91 games and finished second in the division to the A’s for a second straight year should be in a fight with the A’s for the division yet again, but once again thanks to injuries to key pieces in their rotation such as Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison missing extended time to start the season to test their depth it will make it somewhat hard on them to start the season. Still despite that with the addition of slugger Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo to anchor the top of the order and Alex Rios for a full season, the Rangers should no longer have problems scoring runs like they did for parts of last season and be among the highest-scoring in baseball. Which should help the team to win around 88-90 games and be in a fight with the Yankees to see who captures the second and final wild-card spot in the American League. Both teams have really solid lineups that should score a lot of runs and will more then likely both be among the top scoring in the league, but I think of the two ballclubs, the Rangers have less question marks on their team and why I think they should be a wild-card team for the third straight year since the two wild-card team was implemented.
As I move over to the National League portion of this preview of the 2014 MLB season one thing that will be brought up is if the NL can continue it’s dominance of the last six years in the World Series, where they have won four of the last six World Series titles or will last year’s Red Sox victory help the AL start going on a streak of their own of dominance in the World Series for the next few years? If the St. Louis Cardinals or Los Angeles Dodgers have anything to say about it though, then it will still be NL dominated.
With the Cardinals, who fought the surprise Pittsburgh Pirates and their longtime rival Cincinnati Reds in a three-team race for the NL Central last year, this St. Louis team this year looks to be more of a safe bet to win the division this year than any other year. As with the addition of shorstop Jhonny Peralta this year it shored up the one weak spot the Cardinals had on their roster, which was defense. With such a young rotation that’s one of the best if not the absolute best in all of baseball lead by ace Adam Wainwright and the best most complete team in all of baseball you can see why many are picking this Cardinals team to not only win their second straight division title, but at least be World Series title contenders if not win their third World Series in the last nine years and make their third World Series appearance in the last four years. The Reds and Pirates could very well have good seasons yet again too and I could easily see both capturing both NL wild-card spots again if neither one wins the division with the Reds having the better chance at winning the division if the Cardinals don’t. The Reds have enough talent with rookie Billy Hamilton manning the top of the order and veterans Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce among a very solid lineup and a great rotation of Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey to go with their always great bullpen they have had the last few years that should give them enough to at least make the playoffs if not win the division with around 90-93 wins. The Pirates meanwhile minus the loss of A.J. Burnett to their rotation still have a pretty solid young team and rotation that returns Gerrit Cole and Wandy Rodriguez for a full season, as well as much of it’s core in the lineup including reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, Gaby Sanchez, Starling Marte and Russell Martin that should give the team enough to win between 89-90 games if not more to capture the second and final wild-card spot in the NL.
Going into the National League East the young upstart Washington Nationals, after a surprisingly down year that say them win only 86 games and miss the playoffs after what me and many others expected to be a big year for them look to be great on paper and favorites again to win the division. No they wouldn’t have the best record in all of baseball like they did in 2012, but last year was just a bump in the road and with a solid rotation once again lead by ace and NL Cy Young candidate Stephen Strasburg to go along with Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister, who they added from the Tigers in the offseason this Nationals team should win 92 games to capture their second division title in three years.
Heading over to the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers look to be clear favorites to win their second straight division crown thanks in large part to one of the best rotations in all of baseball, which is lead by defending NL Cy Young, Triple Crown winner and arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball Clayton Kershaw. Not to mention having Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez to go along with Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier makes a once weak lineup a very potent one that can be even more scary if former NL MVP candidate Matt Kemp can stay healthy. The scary part too is this is a Dodgers team that won 92 games last year after getting off to only a 23-32 start. So this year’s team should easily win in the 93-95 win range if not higher. The Dodgers longtime rival San Francisco Giants in all likelihood wouldn’t challenge the Dodgers for the division, but with a still big-name rotation that includes Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum and with All-Star catcher Buster Posey and 2012 World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval among the key players from the 2012 World Series winning team back, the Giants at the very least look to challenge for a wild-card. The health of leadoff hitter Angel Pagan, as well as Cain and Lincecum having big bounce back years will be huge if the Giants really except to do so though. If they can and a team like the Reds or Pirates falter I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Giants back in the playoffs again after such a disappointing season last year, but in all likelihood I think they end up falling just short.
That leads to the playoffs where the Tampa Bay Rays would host the one-game Wild Card Game of the American League versus the Texas Rangers and would win a closely fought game to advance to their second straight Division Series as a wild-card team. In the National League the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates would face each other for a second straight year in the Wild Card Game with the game being played in Cincinnati rather than Pittsburgh like it was last year. That would be the deciding factor with the Reds winning 5-4 on a walk-off hit to get revenge for last year’s loss to the Pirates. Thus leading to the Division Series where the Detroit Tigers would host the Rays in the ALDS in what could be a very classic type five game series between two teams that matchup so well with each other. Ultimately thanks in part to having a much better lineup, the Tigers would win in a series that could come down to the very last outs. In the other AL matchup the defending champion Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s would fight to a pretty good four game series that seen the defending champs win and move on. Moving onto the National League Division Series that would then setup a matchup of the St. Louis Cardinals taking on their heated NL Central rival Reds for the first time ever in the playoffs in a very hard fought five game series that would come down to the last outs with the Cardinals surviving to move on. In the other NL matchup the Dodgers would host the Nationals and the Dodgers thanks in part to a more experienced team compared would move on a pretty good four game series.
Leading to both championship series where the Detroit Tigers would face the Boston Red Sox for a second straight year in the ALCS and unlike last year’s Red Sox team this one would lose to the Tigers in a hard fought six game series with Detroit getting their revenge for last year to head to win their second American League pennant in three years. Moving over to the NLCS the St. Louis Cardinals would host the Los Angeles Dodgers for a second straight year and once again defeat the Dodgers in six games in another really great series between these two historic franchises.
That would setup a 2006 World Series rematch of the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series with the Cardinals using last year’s four to two loss to the Red Sox in the Fall Classic as a great motivation to help them win a pretty good six game series to capture their 12th World Series title and third within the last nine years.