Melting snow and freshly cut grass can only mean one thing as winter starts to wind down. Random Australia games aside, Major League Baseball is officially underway in just a few days after another grueling off-season without it. The great thing about baseball unlike other sports is every season begins with a sense of overwhelming optimism for every ball club, since there are no teams simply mailing it in for high draft picks, a disease the NBA has become infested with. Some headlines in the 2013-14 MLB offseason were the Texas Rangers revamping their offense with the acquisition of Prince Fielder, Yasiel Puig driving way too fast and the New York Yankees buying seemingly everyone out of pure bitterness of the Boston Red Sox winning another World Series.
Here are some predictions for how this season will unfold:
NL East: 1. Washington Nationals, 2. Atlanta Braves, 3. Philadelphia Phillies, 4. New York Mets, 5. Miami Marlins
The Nationals didn’t click until late last season when they went on a torrid run that unfortunately came too late to save their campaign. They have added Doug Fister to an already stacked starting rotation and are looking for a huge breakout season from Bryce Harper. Atlanta has seen some big injuries to its starting rotation, but still possesses the talent to compete for a Wild Card. The Phillies should stay in the hunt behind comeback seasons from Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins. The Mets will struggle without Matt Harvey and with a lackluster lineup, whereas the Marlins still have far too many holes to be a factor.
NL Central: 1. St. Louis Cardinals, 2. Cincinnati Reds, 3. Pittsburgh Pirates, 4. Milwaukee Brewers, 5. Chicago Cubs
The Cardinals are far too reliable and consistent to bet against. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have gotten close to their level in recent years, but bring back very similar roster compared to last season. Not enough of a push was made to get them over that hump. The Brewers should show legitimate improvement with Ryan Braun back and with Matt Garza now in the rotation. Don’t overlook the Cubs as well, as they are starting to see some big minor league prospects surface at the MLB level, namely Javier Baez, who should light a fire under the struggling Starlin Castro at shortstop.
NL West: 1. Los Angeles Dodgers, 2. Arizona Diamondbacks, 3. San Francisco Giants, 4. Colorado Rockies, 5. San Diego Padres
The Dodgers have overtaken the Yankees as the highest payroll in baseball, ending New York’s 15-year reign atop that list. Their roster is far too loaded to not at least win the division, and now has another wave of talent possibly returning from injuries with Josh Beckett and Matt Kemp. The Diamondbacks made a big move to acquire Mark Trumbo from the Angels this offseason, but will miss Patrick Corbin in the rotation dearly after he recently underwent Tommy John surgery. The Giants need to many things to go right to be a legitimate threat, so look for them to hover around .500. Colorado’s pitching is a major question mark much like San Diego’s offense.
AL East: 1. New York Yankees, 2. Boston Red Sox, 3. Baltimore Orioles, 4. Tampa Bay Rays, 5. Toronto Blue Jays
This division is going to be a bloodbath. The Yankees simply acquired too much talent this offseason, and will get huge boosts from the additions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann to the lineup as well as Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter returning to health in what will be his final season. Look for ace CC Sabathia to bounce back from his worst season of his career and lead a rotation that will get huge contributions from signee Masahiro Tanaka, MLB’s new $155 million Japanese headliner, and the finally healthy Michael Pineda. Boston’s 2013 title run was a perfect storm of good fortune, and the Sox are unlikely to see another season like that where everything goes right. Baltimore ekes past the Rays with the unheralded additions of Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez. Toronto comes in last by default, but the Blue Jays will still be a tough team to beat all season. It is likely both Wild Card teams hail from this division, which is hands down the best in MLB.
AL Central: 1. Detroit Tigers, 2. Kansas City Royals, 3. Cleveland Indians, 4. Chicago White Sox, 5. Minnesota Twins
The Tigers will look a bit different this season with Prince Fielder out and Ian Kinsler in. The team will still rely on its nasty rotation to win the division. The Royals took a huge step forward with 86 wins in 2013 and should continue to improve this year. Cleveland had a quiet offseason and may take a step back, while the White Sox and Twins could show some improvement, but not enough to move up in the standings.
AL West: 1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 2. Oakland Athletics, 3. Texas Rangers, 4. Seattle Mariners, 5. Houston Astros
The Angels saw everything go wrong in 2013, but expect more typical numbers from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Jered Weaver is back and healthy as well, and newcomers Raul Ibanez and David Freese should alleviate the loss of Mark Trumbo. Of course the superhuman Mike Trout will also be doing his thing. Oakland will not be able to coast under the radar to another division title and will feel the losses of Jarrod Parker to injury and Bartolo Colon to free agency. The Rangers have already seen a boatload of injuries to key guys, mainly the starting rotation, all of which will outweigh the damage done by Prince Fielder. Seattle stole some headlines by acquiring Robinson Cano this offseason for a whopping $240 million, as well as some other parts, but the M’s are still a couple of pieces away from making that leap. Houston will sadly go through another year of rebuilding, albeit a slightly more promising one. They will be the worst team in MLB again.
The Dodgers will take on the Yankees in a matchup of the two highest paid teams in the league and LA will bring the World Series title back to the West Coast with them.
AL Rookie of the Year: 1B Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
NL Rookie of the Year: OF Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
AL Cy Young Award: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
NL Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
AL MVP: OF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
NL MVP: 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Commentary by Justin Hussong
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Los Angeles Dodgers