It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I awoke shortly before 4 a.m. last Saturday to watch the 2014 season opener between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia. The Dodgers took the first game 3-1. Fourteen hours later, I tuned in to the second game, which the Dodgers also won, by a score of 7-5. The D’Backs might be leaving Australia 0-2, but I do believe they will have the last laugh this October.
In the meantime, as the Dodgers and D’Backs return to the States, spring training continues until March 30, when the Dodgers visit Petco Park to play the San Diego Padres. The first full day of MLB games begins on March 31. As such the time has come for me to once again present my predictions for the 2014 season.
But first here a few comments on my predictions for 2013. While my Cleveland Indians-San Diego Padres World Series did not pan out, the Tribe did reach the post-season for the first time since 2007 under first year manager Terry Francona. Of course, the 2013 World Series was won by the Boston Red Sox. While I knew the Sox would do better under John Farrell than they did under Bobby Valentine, I did not think they would be this good. Then again no one did. On the other hand, I did not buy into the hype being placed on the Toronto Blue Jays and predicted they would finish in last place in the AL East and this is precisely where they ended up.
So here’s what I think will happen this year.
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays#
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Masahiro Tanaka won’t go 24-0, but the off-season signings of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran plus the return of Mark Teixeira loom very large. Derek Jeter also has something to prove in his last season as a big leaguer. David Robertson has some very big shoes to fill in the 9th inning, but that could be said of anyone replacing Mariano Rivera.
The Rays will be their usual scrappy selves and the return of closer Grant Balfour gives them that much more fire. The Red Sox will be good, but it is a lot to ask Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli, and Jonny Gomes to repeat their 2013 performances. Although the Orioles did add Ubaldo Jimenez to the rotation and Tommy Hunter should be able to fill the closer’s role, don’t expect Chris Davis to top 50 home runs again. The Blue Jays aren’t going anywhere as long as John Gibbons is their manager.
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
Look for Kansas City to end its 29-year post-season drought in 2014 led by Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Billy Butler, and Salvador Perez (although it will be interesting to see how hitting Reds closer Aroldis Chapman with a line drive will affect his mental outlook). The additions of Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki will improve the Royals defensively.
The Royals have a genuine ace in James Shields while Jeremy Guthrie appears to have found a home in KC. Jordano Ventura is only going to get better while Jason Vargas and veteran lefty Bruce Chen are dependable. Greg Holland might be the most underrated closer in all of MLB.
The Indians will prove 2013 was no fluke, but they will miss Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. The Tigers will miss Prince Fielder’s bat and with a season ending injury to Jose Iglesias now have a big hole at short. Max Scherzer will not replicate his Cy Young season of 2013 and Joe Nathan will not live up to expectations as their new closer. Bruce Rondon is lost for the season to Tommy John surgery and Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain. and Al Alburquerque are not viable closers. The Tigers will be the biggest disappointment in MLB in 2014. The only two things White Sox fans will be cheering about in 2014 are when Chris Sale takes the mound and Paul Konerko comes to bat. It could be his last season. Don’t expect much from the Twins in 2014 despite the addition of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to the starting rotation.
Los Angeles Angels
# - denotes AL Wild Card winners
The A’s should win their third consecutive AL West title, although I do have concerns about Jim Johnson as their closer. I fear he might be more the Jim Johnson of 2013 than 2012. But the A’s have proven themselves adaptable when things don’t go according to plan. The Rangers offense will be better with Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo in the lineup. Their rotation is a question mark beyond Yu Darvish ((who may begin the season on the DL due to neck and back troubles), but Joe Saunders and Tommy Hanson are capable of having renaissance seasons. Anything the Rangers can get from the oft injured Colby Lewis is also a plus.
Despite the success of Mike Trout, the Angels have been MLB’s underachievers over the past two seasons. Can Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols stay healthy? I have a feeling the Angels are going to miss both Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos terribly. If this is so, then heads are going to roll. Angels GM Jerry DiPoto has a better chance of getting the axe than longtime skipper Mike Scioscia, but owner Arte Moreno could wipe the slate clean and start anew.
The Mariners made a big splash by signing ex-Yankee Robinson Cano to a ten-year contract worth $240 million. I say Cano is out of Seattle in two, three years tops. While Cano will continue to hit over .300, his power will diminish and ex-Brewer Corey Hart and former Marlin Logan Morrison won’t offer much in the way of protection. The M’s still have Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma at the top of the rotation and there are high hopes for youngster Taijuan Walker. But Seattle fans will be sleepless for a winner just the same. As for the Houston Astros, they will have accomplished something if they manage to lose fewer than 100 games in 2014.
AL Rookie of the Year – Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
AL Cy Young Award – Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
AL Most Valuable Player – Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
AL Comeback Player of the Year – Grady Sizemore, Boston Red Sox
AL Manager of the Year – Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals
New York Mets
After a disappointing 2013, the Nationals should return to form under new skipper Matt Williams. Expect both Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez to return to form while Bryce Harper takes a big step forward as will Ian Desmond. The Braves will compete with the core of Freddie Freeman, Justin Heyward, and Justin Upton but the addition of free agent Ervin Santana won’t make up for losing both Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen to Tommy John surgery.
Look for the New York Mets to be the most pleasant surprise of MLB. The addition of Curtis Granderson will take pressure off David Wright and boost the confidence of the likes of Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, Travis d’Arnaud, and Ike Davis. Juan Lagares could be the Mets’ breakout player this season. While the team won’t have Matt Harvey, the presence of Bartolo Colon should be of help to Zack Wheeler and Dillon Gee. I think a renaissance is in order for Daisuke Matzusaka. Noah Syndergaard will make his presence known before season’s end. The Mets won’t reach the post-season, but they will make a run for it in the NL East.
The Miami Marlins have talent (i.e. Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez), but I don’t think Mike Redmond has his players’ backs. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies are getting old. Cole Hamels is ailing and Jimmy Rollins is clashing with manager Ryne Sandberg. It does not make for sunny days in Philadelphia.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals remain the class of the Central despite the departures of Carlos Beltran and David Freese. Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina still make for a potent lineup. Their starting rotation remains in tact and their bullpen is even stronger with Trevor Rosenthal going into his first full season as the team’s closer. I believe both the Pirates and Reds will take a step backwards after winning the NL Wild Card spots last year. Don’t expect Francisco Liriano to win 16 games again this season or closer Jason Grilli to retain his all-star form. An unhappy Brandon Phillips will cast a pall over the Reds clubhouse and cause a headache for new manager Bryan Price. Still, rookie Billy Hamilton will provide spark to the Reds’ offense with his speed and Jonathan Broxton will do fine in the closer’s role while Aroldis Chapman recuperates from his injury. The Cubs will show signs of life under new manager Rick Renteria, but aren’t ready to be a contender. Don’t be surprised if the Brewers fire manager Ron Roenicke at some point during the season despite exercising his option for both the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Los Angeles Dodgers##
San Francisco Giants##
San Diego Padres
This will be the toughest division in MLB. There will be a three-way race with the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Giants competing for the top spot. The D’Backs and Giants will regain their winning form while the Dodgers won’t take anyone by surprise. Arizona has made some excellent additions such as ex-Angels slugger Mark Trumbo, former Chisox closer Addison Reed, and veteran Reds starter Bronson Arroyo (although he is likely to begin the season on the DL with a bulging disc). Complicating matters is D’Backs ace Patrick Corbin being out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery, but I have a feeling both Randall Delgado and Archie Bradley will be equal to the task. In particular, Trumbo will provide much needed protection for emerging superstar Paul Goldschmidt. It will be sufficient to put them over the top in the NL West. The Padres and Rockies will be left in their dust. It will come as no surprise if the Padres should fire manager Bud Black in mid-season.
NL Rookie of the Year – Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
NL Cy Young Award – Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
NL Most Valuable Player - Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
NL Manager of the Year – Terry Collins, New York Mets
NL Comeback Player of the Year – Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
2014 MLB POSTSEASON
AL Wild Card Game – Tampa Bay Rays vs. Texas Rangers (winner: Rays)
ALDS – Best Three out of Five
New York Yankees vs. Oakland A’s – Yankees in five
Tampa Bay Rays vs. Kansas City Royals – Rays in four
ALCS – Best Four out of Seven
New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays – Rays in six
NL Wild Card Game – Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants (winner: Giants)
NLDS – Best Three out of Five
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Washington Nationals – Cardinals in four
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants – D’Backs in four
NLCS – Best Four out of Seven
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. St. Louis Cardinals – D’Backs in seven
2014 World Series – Best Four out of Seven
Tampa Bay Rays vs. Arizona Diamondbacks – D’Backs in six