Last year there was another worst to first (seven in last 17 seasons) in the Boston Red Sox who had a 28-win improvement from the 2012 season and won the World Series. The Dodgers went from worst to first in the NL West with only three months to play, one of only four teams in MLB history to do so. So who will go from worst to first this season? As the 2014 Major League Baseball (MLB) season gets underway in just a few short days, the league has already said bye to Alex Rodriguez, hello to Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka and has seen blockbuster trades and huge contract deals. How this will all affect this season’s outlook remains to be seen, but here is the MLB Play Ball Predictions:
NL East: 1. Atlanta Braves, 2. Washington Nationals, 3. New York Mets, 4. Philadelphia Phillies, 5. Miami Marlins
With the best pitching acquisition of this off-season going to the Washington Nationals pick up of Doug Fister, the Nats should easily be the number one favorite out of the NL East. However, the disappointing Nationals have yet to prove that their “ace” or their “future NL MVP” can stay healthy for a full season. If they stay healthy, they are hands down the favorites to win the NL East and even perhaps the World Series, but whether or not Strasburg has a full year in him remains to be seen. So look for them to improve their win total from a year ago, but in an improving division and with a bullpen in question, the Nats will remain one or two games behind the consistent Atlanta Braves with 90 or so wins. The Mets are improving quickly and could surprise a lot of teams this year with their strong starting rotation, but they appear to be a year or so away from jumping the likes of the Braves and Nationals. The Phillies after picking up A.J. Burnett have a very strong pitching core and will improve as well. The cellar dweller will remain to be the Miami Marlins, but even the Marlins with young studs Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton are improving, so look for this division to beat up on each other all season long and to provide only one-maybe two- potential 90-game winners.
NL Central: 1. St. Louis Cardinals, 2. Pittsburgh Pirates, 3. Cincinnati Reds, 4. Milwaukee Brewers, 5. Chicago Cubs
The NL Central featured three different teams this past season with over 90 wins and was hands-down the best division in baseball. This year, however, the division will take a step back. With the Pirates and Reds losing A.J. Burnett and Shin-Soo Choo, look for the St. Louis Cardinals to easily win this division by a margin of five games or more. After St. Louis improved at the short-stop position in signing Jhonny Peralta, the Cardinals easily have the most depth of any team in the majors right now and very minimal (if any) weaknesses. The NL Central overall has weakened, but the Cardinals have only gotten stronger from a team that went to the World Series a year ago. The Brewers will improve having Ryan Braun back, but look for them and the Cubbies to remain in the cellar for a couple more years as the top-three in this division do not seem to be faltering to cellar depths any time soon.
NL West: 1. Los Angeles Dodgers, 2. Arizona Diamondbacks, 3. San Francisco Giants, 4. San Diego Padres, 5. Colorado Rockies
The NL west could be this season’s toughest division by far. The NL West going into this season is providing us with top starting rotation after top starting rotation, starting with hands-down favorite Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers could break the 100-win mark this year with the outrageously amazing pitching staff and roster going into this year. Anchored by the best starting rotation in the NL led by CY Young winner Clayton Kershaw, a healthy Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers also go into this season with a healthy and strong Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe and put out a 1-9 lineup that mimics an All-Star squad rather than a real team’s lineup. The Diamondbacks, Giants and Padres also have good pitching staffs going into this season, but health and consistent offense will hold these teams back from dethroning the Dodgers. D-Backs recently lost All-Star pitcher Patrick Corbin, but picked up veteran pitcher Bronson Arroyo and another big bat in Mark Trumbo. The emergence of a new “Bash Brothers” tandem in Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo and a 2-7 batting roster that can all bomb 20 or more homers this season will carry the D-Backs into a wildcard spot and past an improved Giants squad. The Giants picked up a very good player in Mike Morse this offseason, but health will remain a concern for this roster over the 162 games. The Padres starting rotation improved dramatically with the acquisitions of Josh Johnson and Joaquin Benoit, but they lack the offensive tools to compete all season long. The Rockies kept Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gomez, but lost Dexter Fowler and do not have what it takes to take on the rest of the much improved NL West.
AL East: 1. Toronto Blue Jays, 2. Baltimore Orioles, 3. Boston Red Sox, 4. New York Yankees, 5. Tampa Bay Rays
Looking at these picks it would be easy to claim that a crazy person picked this. In all honesty, these picks are crazy. Just reverse the numbers one through five and there is most of the picks to win this division by most experts. This is the boldest MLB prediction (and quite possibly the dumbest) out there in a division that is by far the toughest to pick a winner out of, but that is what preseason picks are for! The Toronto Blue Jays are this year’s Worst to First pick, but it is not by much. All five of these teams could end up with 80-plus wins this season, but the Blue Jays and Orioles will have bounce-back and breakout season’s this year and finally move to the top… by a very slim margin. The Jays, carried by a return to glory from R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes, will have the rotation, speed and power to finally climb to an 88-win season and take the number one spot. The O’s signed Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez this offseason and will remain steady-as-she goes for another season picking up 87 wins. The Red Sox follow just behind this mark with 86 wins as players like Lackey and Peavy fall much short of expectations and battle the injury bug all season. The Yanks money proves that it cannot buy happiness and with an aging roster win just two more than the Rays who disappoint on offense for the first time and struggle to find a closer winning just one game over .500.
AL Central: 1. Detroit Tigers, 2. Kansas City Royals, 3. Cleveland Indians, 4. Chicago White Sox, 5. Minnesota Twins
The Detroit Tigers will remain atop the division yet again after shipping Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler and return the league’s best hitter, Miguel Cabrera, and possibly the AL’s best pitcher, Justin Verlander. Even after losing Doug Fister, the top-three in the Tigers rotation is a force to be reckoned with and will prove to be the AL’s top rotation for another year. With the possibility of losing Scherzer to free-agency, the Tigers know their window of opportunity of winning the World Series is closing and that could be the final push they need to finally do it. The Royals, led by AL MVP candidate Eric Hosmer, have question marks in their starting rotation behind “ace” James Shields, but if Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy and Bruce Chen can play at the tops of their games, along with a breakout performance from Yordano Ventura, look for the Royals to push the Tigers to the brink. Cleveland lost big pieces in Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez to free-agency, but will remain a solid team for the most part. The White Sox have potential to get over the .500 mark again with youngsters Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu along with an improved bullpen, but after Chris Sale the starting rotation is questionable. The Twins are young and have potential to be contenders, unfortunately for Minnesota fans, that potential will most likely not plateau for another two seasons.
AL West: 1. Texas Rangers, 2. Oakland Athletics, 3. Seattle Mariners, 4. Los Angeles Angels, 5. Houston Astros
The Rangers lost a very good player in Ian Kinsler, but in return got Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. The Rangers have possibly the most feared batting lineup in the game going into this season and if Yu Darvish can continue his success and the rest of the starting rotation can perform well enough to last until Derek Holland returns from injury, look for the Rangers to take the AL West crown over the A’s… but not by much. GM Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics added much needed depth to their bullpen this season as well as added Scott Kazmir to the roster. Look for the A’s to continue their success and to be one or two games behind the Rangers going in to October. The Mariners, after spending over $250 million this offseason in order to nab Robinson Cano, Corey Hart and Fernando Rodney will be much improved in a very good AL West. The Mariners with pitcher “King” Felix Hernandez should compete for a playoff spot, but fall just short along with the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels look very bright this season and are bolstered by the big bats of Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton, but look for the starting rotation to let the Halo’s down this season and fail to keep up and barely miss the playoffs. The Astros have lost a hundred games in three-straight seasons and in a tough division like the AL West, look for that trend to continue.
Season Award Winners:
NL MVP: Yadier Molina
AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL CY Young: Adam Wainwright
AL CY Young: Justin Verlander
The MLB World Series will feature the likes of two teams with stellar pitching and dueling CY Young winners: the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers. After the St. Louis Cardinals defeat the “leader-less” Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS again and the Tigers defeat the “big bats” of the Texas Rangers in the ALCS, look for the Cardinals pitching and depth to rise to the top and take the World Series 4-2 over the Tigers.