Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 MLB Preview

We're nearing the end of March, which means...

It's baseball time ladies and gentlemen!

The season already kicked off this past weekend in Australia when the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in a two game series that absolutely no one watched. But, the season truly began last night in a matchup between the Dodgers and the barn burning....San Diego Padres? Yes, the Dads were in a nationally televised game that is meant to kick off the season. I don't know how the MLB decided to let that happen. Also, what made the Dodgers the Kings of the league? Why'd they get the privilege of being the team to start off the season in two different countries? The league is full of many options that would have been a lot more interesting to see in place of the Dodgers, both in Australia and in the featured Opening Night game.

Why not the Houston Astros? They could have really set the tone for the year, making sure that we all have very low expectations for this baseball season. From there, literally anything remotely competent will be considered a miracle. So that only rules out all things related to the Astros, including their uniforms, logos, stadium, players, former players, or, really, anything tangentially related to the brand of the Houston Astros. It also rules out all trades made by Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers, Rickie Weeks, Jonathon Niese's bones, tendons, and ligaments, the elbow of any Atlanta Braves pitcher, UCLs in general, the contracts that Giants GM Brian Sabean dished out this winter, contract values as a whole, and the very existence of Dee Gordon. Otherwise, thanks to the 'Stros setting the bar at negative 15 on Opening Night, even a pop fly will be riveting TV. It will also make their opponents look like Murderer's Row...on steroids. Though, showing the Astros off to Australia might not give them the best opinion of the sport.

Los Angeles Angels, anyone? Trout. That would have been an excuse to show Mike Trout on national TV. And that's always a good thing. More Trout. Yes, the rest of the team is bad, but all around the country, we'd be able to see Trout. Also, Bud Selig would have all sorts of cash flowing in after introducing Trout to Australia firsthand. Think of all the young, future baseball players down under that would have been able to look back on the time that they saw Michael Nelson Trout in action as the moment when they fell in love with the sport. Now they'll just talk about Paul Goldschmidt and Yasiel Puig. Certainly not a bad duo, but not at the level of Trout.

What about the St. Louis Cardinals? Who wouldn't want to see the best team in baseball in action? A team that is beautifully constructed, beautifully run, and beautiful to watch. Easily the most complete team in the game. How could the MLB deny us, and Australia, of seeing them in action, for the entire country to see?

Most importantly, did the league forget about the Boston Red Sox? They would have been the perfect team to throw into those two slots. But not because they're the reigning World Champions. It's because of one player on their team. One man that's going to take the league by storm, and remind us why we all love sports.
Photo from
The one on the left. Stop looking at Xander Bogaerts and his smile, this is all about Grady Sizemore. His presence alone warrants the entire team taking a trip to Australia. The Aussies would have loved watching him live. And what American wouldn't love to spend their Sunday night watching the MLB return of the Great Grady. Not only is his story of redemption amazing, he was a great player when he was healthy many years ago. He's still only 31 years old, which means that he's still technically in his prime. You may have forgotten how good he was back in Cleveland, but he's back. What better way to kick off America's pasttime in 2014 with the personification of 'Murican perseverance?

Just a warning, is not at all the last time the name Grady Sizemore will appear in this article. He'll be all over it. He was Mike Trout before Mike Trout for me; the first player that I ever fell in love with. Surprisingly, it wasn't Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, or David Wright, but rather, a Cleveland Indian that caught my attention. Soon he was joined by then-Marlin Carlos Delgado, so of course when Delgado jumped ship to the Mets, Sizemore was no longer clearly my favorite baseball player. But he'll always be an important part of my love of baseball.

And now he hath returned. Is he going to challenge Mike Trout in my heart? Probably not, but we'll see.

As for the rest of the league, here are my projected standings, along with my thoughts on every team, in some cases, much longer than others:

AL East
  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. New York Yankees 
  4. Baltimore Orioles
  5. Toronto Blue Jays 
It was tough for me to choose between the Rays and the Sawx for the division crown, but I ended up settling on the Rays because I like their pitching staff so much. While their offense is clearly worse than that of Boston, no other team in the league can boast the quality pitching that the Rays have to offer. Jeremy Hellickson is estimated to be out until late May, but once he returns, he'll probably have to move to the bullpen because of the ridiculous logjam in the rotation. Unless Joe Maddon decides to move to a six man rotation, he would be hard pressed to find a spot in the rotation for Hellickson. With pitching alone, this team can overpower their opponents. When it comes time for the playoffs, no one can match up in this area. 
Player to Watch: Jake Odorizzi. He may not be well known to the general public, but Odorizzi came over from the Royals in the Wil Myers trade, which is partially why I hated that move so much for Kansas City. They traded both their top hitting and pitching prospect in the same night, in a move that was supposed to help them make the playoffs last year. Great job! Anyway, Odorizzi is a very solid young pitcher who struggled in the majors last year, but should certainly improve. He posted a 3.94 ERA, but his 1.213 WHIP allows for optimism for his development. That was about the same number that he put up at the AAA level over the last two years, which usually translates to the majors pretty well. He's only the fifth starter right now, but by the end of the year, he'll clearly be a key at the back end for this team. One of the best fifth options out there. 

Yes, I have the reigning champions finishing second in their division. Sue me. I tend to favor great pitching over great hitting, leading to my pick of the Rays. But the Red Sox are in no way pitching deficient. They have a very good front to back rotation, and a scary bullpen. As for their offense, there are potential concerns that I'm pretty comfortable with. I'm confident in Will Middlebrooks stepping up his game this year and becoming the hitter than he was back in 2012. His drop in performance may have just been the result of a classic sophomore slump, as his .835 OPS two years ago was much more reminiscent of his past performance than his .696 output last year. Otherwise, there aren't any real concerns for me here. Xander Bogaerts will not only match, but exceed the performance of Stephen Drew at short last year, and the team won't miss Jacoby Ellsbury too much because...
Player to Watch: Grady Sizemore. Seriously, did you think I was going to pick anyone different? In 2009, injuries began to derail his All-Star career, but before that he was amazing. Including 2009, a season in which he played 106 games, over a five year span, he put up a great .368/.488/.856 OBP/SLG/OPS line to go along with great defense and a 162 game average of 28 stolen bases. Now, the speed part of his game has probably diminished, but I'm predicting him to round back into mid to late 2000s Grady Sizemore, making the fans forget all about that Ellsbury cat. If he gets hurt again....
Player to Watch Part Deux: Jackie Bradley, Jr. He was sent to AAA to make room for Sizemore as the starting CF, but this kid can flat out hit. He didn't show that at the major league level last year, but has torn up the minors, hitting .374/.469/.842 at Triple-A last year in 80 games. In case of a seemingly inevitable surgery for Sizemore (fingers crossed), Bradley will settle into a starting role pretty nicely. 

Ahhhh, the Yankees. This is going to be fun to watch, for a Mets fan. Sure, Alex Rodriguez was not himself last season, but his .348/.423/.771 will be missed when Kelly Johnson is manning third. Johnson, who used to be one of the most underrated players in the league, has now regressed to the point where he's just, bad...and getting worse. The entire team is one big injury concern, from Jeter to Teixeira to Ellsbury to Gardner to McCann. The rotation is a giant question mark outside of Kuroda. Can C.C. return to form? I'm not so sure. Is Tanaka the Second Coming? Not this year. Is Michael Pineda still alive? Barely. Is Ivan Nova good? No, his 1.406 WHIP from 2010 to 2012 shows that last year was a fluke. Pitchers don't just drop their WHIP to 1.285 with a snap of their finger. The Yanks are headed for a downturn, but there's just enough talent to keep the team afloat for a decent chunk of the year. There's also a conceivable scenario where the team completely submarines and finish at the bottom of the division. We'll see. 
Player to Watch: Michael Pineda. Remeber him??? In his rookie year in 2011, he showed up his great stuff, but still posted a 3.74 ERA. That looks pretty bad, but not when you take a gander at his 1.099 WHIP. He doesn't allow many baserunners, which means he got quite unlucky with that ERA. It will certainly drop this year, given he's healthy. He was still racking up the strikeouts last year in AAA, but I don't know how his shoulder will hold up this year. 

The O's bolstered their offense with Nelson Cruz, but I have concerns about the pitching staff. But, William, you don't trust Ubaldo Jimenez? No. He wasn't even that great last year, but was even worse for the last few years. I think his performance was more of a fluke than a trend. Bud Norris is flat out bad, and Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen are decent at best. Then we get to Chris Tillman, who was absolutely awful before 2012, had a great season, and regressed to somewhere in between pre-2012 and 2012 Chris Tillman. there's a chance that he repeats his performance from last year, but it's also possible that he goes back to his old self, which is not good. Either way, he's not someone I want to trust as an ace. 
Player to Watch: Jonathan Schoop. I'm very unhappy with what the Orioles are doing with this kid right now. He's going to be splitting time at second with Steve Lombardozzi, and, until Manny Machado returns, at third base with Ryan Flaherty; neither of whom are any good. Schoop has a lot of talent as a hitter, and, unlike the other two, he actually has potential. I'm not sure why he made the roster so quickly, because he struggled last year in AAA, putting up a .301/.396/.697 line. He had a great spring, but I think it's a bit earl for him. But, now that he's on the roster, why is he a backup? He can't grow unless he actually plays. Expect him to usurp Lombardozzi at second very soon.
There was not much turnover from last year's Jays squad. I don't think they'll be terrible, but there isn't much to be too excited about in Canada this baseball season. Unless it involves Munenori Kawasaki. 

Player to Watch: Moises Sierra. It was a struggle to find anyone that I was excited about, so I settled on their fourth outfielder. It's not that I don't like him, in fact, I said back in December that the Mets should make a move to trade for him. It's just hard to watch a player when he's sitting on the bench. I say he should be starting over Melky Cabrera in right, but they would never make that move. In 35 games last year, he had a .369/.458/.827 line. Clearly that's a minuscule sample size, but his career AAA numbers are .335/.447/.782 in 200 games. If he can put up numbers around those in the majors, he'll be a solid player on some team for years to come. 

AL Central

  1. Kansas City Royals
  2. Detroit Tigers
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins
The addition of Norichika Aoki, a true leadoff hitter, was a great move by Royals brass. I doubted their chances of contending last year, and they proceeded to prove me wrong. They have a great, young core, and while they exceeded my expectations last year, it should have been obvious to everyone that this will be a dangerous team at some point down the road. The pitching staff gives me pause, but I can see them piecing together a solid group. Should Bruce Chen repeat his revelatory performance last year, and Alcides Escobar not play like a Blind Dee Gordon, which are both possibilities, watch out!
Player to Watch: Norichika Aoki. He's not going to hit for power, but he's going to get on base consistently, as evidenced by his eerily similar .355 OBP in 2012 and .356 last year. Hopefully he can at least  get near his .433 slugging percentage in 2012, but that's only an added bonus. In that case he could be the best offensive player on the team.

The injury to Jose Iglesias will end up costing the Tigers the division. Not only is he a valuable offensive player, but he leaves a gaping hole defensively. Alex Gonzalez as the Opening Day shortstop is a very scary proposition. He was never anything better than average, if I'm being generous. Oh, and he's 37 years old. The move to trade Prince Fielder in an effort to make room for third base prospect Nick Castellanos was a pretty good one. Still, the Tigers have the best hitter in baseball, and second best player (for now, until Grady Sizemore passes him) in Miguel Cabrera, who just signed an absolutely ridiculous extension. Nice job by the Tigers! Enjoy paying him $29.2 million a year when he's forty. That's worse than the A-Rod contract. Yikes! But, besides that insanity, they also have maybe the second best front to back rotation in the league, behind Tampa of course. No, Max Scherzer isn't the best pitcher on this team, because despite last season's performance, that title still belongs to Justin Verlander. 
Player to Watch: Nick Castellanos. So, why did the Tigers decide it was completely alright to trade Prince Fielder? First of all, they needed to plug a hole at second base without Omar Infante, but it was also so that Cabrera could move back to first, and allow Castellanos to take over the hot corner. He was quickly accelerated through the minors after tearing apart high-A ball in 2012. In 134 in AAA last season, he hit .343/.450/.793, which is even a bit below what he's capable of. It will be interesting to see what he's able to do in his first full season. 

Once again, I don't trust Cleveland's pitching staff. I really like their offense, especially their infield, but I can't see them having a good enough rotation. They got lucky last year with best-case scenario performances from people like Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. If the pitchers can piece together a solid performance, expect the Indians back in the postseason, but, Carlos Carrasco was asbolutely awful in limited time last year, and while he was very good in AAA, he's a bit old for me to be excited by that. Corey Kluber doesn't really excite me, and Zach McAllister is what he is. The real key is...
Player to Watch: Danny Salazar. He ended up starting the Wild Card game last year against the Rays, and expect him to take over this rotation by the end of the year. In 10 starts, he was really good, with a 3.12 ERA and 1.135 WHIP. That's still a pretty small sample size, so let's take a quick look at his AAA stats from 2013: 2.73 ERA and a ridiculous 0.978 WHIP. This kid is the real deal. 
Player to Watch Part Deux: Yan Gomes. Playing limited time last year, he hit .345/.481/.826 in 88 games. He was so good that he forced Carlos Santana to move to third base. That is an amazing line for someone's second season of MLB service. I love this offense!

After a disastrous season, not much changed in Chicago. They pillaged Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson from the Diamondbacks in two separate trades, and Davidson isn't even on the major league roster right now. They also got Cuban slugger Jose Abreu to play first base over Paul Konerko. He has all the tools of a great hitter, but I don't know if he'll show that off consistently in his first season in the majors. Otherwise, there is not much for me to talk about. Get ready for a really disappointing year. 
Player to Watch: Adam Eaton. He was not particularly good in 66 games last season for Arizona. But this man can hit. He ripped apart AAA in 2012 for .456/.539/.995 in only 119 games. For those of you who still swear by batting average , how's .381 for ya? In his first full MLB season, expect Eaton to keep growing. 

Maybe the worst rotation in the league, led off by the 4 year, $49 million Man, Ricky Nolasco. What a horrible contract that's going to prove to be. Um...what else is happening on this team? All they really have to look forward to, is when Byron Buxton finally gets promoted to the majors, which may not be this year. 
Player to Watch: Joe Mauer. He's actually the only player on the team worthy of your eyes. The next best hitter is either Brian Dozier or Josh Willingham. Better yet...
Real Player to Watch: Don't. Just don't watch the Twins. 

  1. Texas Rangers
  2. Oakland Athletics
  3. Los Angeles Angels
  4. Houston Astros
  5. Seattle Mariners

They made the right decision to trade Ian Kinsler, making room for Jurickson Profar at second base. Unfortunately, he's going to miss about half of the season with a shoulder injury. Still, they have by far the most talent in the division. Prince Fielder had a very bad season by his standards last year, with an OPS of .819, much below his previous career average of .931. Even in a down year, he was still very good. Expect him to bounce back. Shin-Soo Choo is great, and will continue to be great this year. The pitching staff is missing Yu Darvish for now, and has two converted relievers in Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross. It's possible that either of those projects fail, but I trust that their talent will prevail over the struggles of converting to a starter. While there are a few potential issues, I trust this team a bit more than Oakland, so I'm picking them by default. 
Player to Watch: Tanner Scheppers. While Robbie Ross is my boy, Scheppers is the better of the two. He had a 1.88 ERA and 1.070 WHIP last year in 76.2 inning out of the pen. It's impossible to simply extrapolate those same numbers over a full season of starting, but the Rangers have had great success in this category with Alexi Ogando's wonderful transition last season. There's always a risk, but that bodes well for Scheppers. 

Hold on, it's been a while since I've mentioned Grady Sizemore. 

Photo from
Take a minute. 

Okay, carry on.

There are a couple of holes on this team offensively, in Eric Sogard and Josh Reddick, but otherwise, they will be a very good offensive team. OBP all the way, baby!!! Now, when we get to the pitching staff, my best reaction is, "eh." Scott Kazmir outperformed his usual self last year, and still wasn't anything special. Drew Pomeranz is coming off of two awful years, and I'm not sure if we'll ever see the same Drew Pomeranz that was named the thirtiest best prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to last season. I really like Sonny Gray, while Dan Straily and Tommy Milone are at the very best, decent. Those concerns of mine should keep them in second place, but don't be surprised if they take the division again. 
Player to Watch: Sonny Gray. I was going to go with Jed Lowrie, but I think by now it's quite obvious how good he is. As for Gray, he has a 2.67 ERA and 1.109 WHIP in 10 starts last year. Again, that's not much to judge a player by, so we have to go back to his 20 starts in AAA, where he pitched a 3.42 ERA and 1.318 WHIP. Not amazing, but, it seems like he grew as a pitcher during the year. So it's very possible for him to continue his great play this year. 

It's the same old same old for the Angels. Iffy pitching, two depreciating former superstars, one promising young hitter, and of course, Trout. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are going to be very good at the top, while neither Hector Santiago and Garrett Richards are really anything special. I expect Tyler Skaggs to bounce back to the level that made him such a great prospect. On offense, Trout and Kole Calhoun are the only players that I expect to do anything. Josh Hamliton wasn't a total disaster last year as it seemed like to everyone else, but he was average at best. Albert Pujols was a bit better, but I don't see him getting back to his previous level. And yet, Mike Trout signed on for six more years of this! What a waste. 
Player to Watch: Mike Trout. Really, he's the best player in baseball. Too easy? Fine.
Real Player to Watch: Kole Calhoun. In his rookie year, he hit .347/.462/.808 in 58 games after raking for 59 games in AAA. Even if he simply matches his performance from last year, he'll be the second best hitter on the team, and one of the more underrated bats in the league. 

Tanking done right! This team is very young, and has a bunch of parts that have come through the system, and now it's time to see what they can do. 
Player to Watch: Jason Castro. Coming off of an All-Star season, I don't think people really understand why he made the team, other than the fact that the Astros needed a representative. In 120 games, he batted .350/.485/.835, which means he was more than deserving of that All-Star selection. As the Astros get better gradually, it seems that Castro will be a mainstay. 

Cano, Felix, Iwakuma, maybe Corey Hart, Brad Miller, Kyle Seager, and dirt. That's all the Mariners can look forward to this year. Fun times. The Cano deal looks worse and worse by the second, since this team is going absolutely nowhere at the moment. 
Player to Watch: Kyle Seager. Over the last two years, Seager has been a solid contributor to the Mariners, hitting .327/.424/.752. He's not a star, but he's a very good hitter, and would help every team in the league. For his sake, I hope that team is not the Mariners. 

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. New York Mets
  4. Miami Marlins
  5. Philadelphia Phillies
A season after a huge disappointment, the Nationals should win this division easily. This rotation is right up there with the Rays and Tigers amongst the best in the game from front to back, and the offense is great. The pitching let them down a bit at times, but it should all come together this time around. 
Player to Watch: Anthony Rendon. Throughout his minor league career, Rendon showed off his skills at the plate. When he got called up, he was decent in 98 games, hitting .329/.396/.725. I think he'll improve his power numbers this year, so keep your eyes on this second baseman. 

This team saddens me. Even after losing Tim Hudson in free agency, I thought they would be fine. But when both Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen were forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, I lost all hope. With an unstable rotation, which includes Ervin Santana, who isn't supposed to start the year until the second week of the season, Mike Minor, who should be coming back at the end of April, and Aaron Harang, who's just bad, I see a potential disaster. Throw in the fact that The Lesser Upton and Dan Uggla hit like they belonged in AA last year, I don't know how Atlanta will be able to repeat as division champs. In fact, it's certainly conceivable that they will finish behind this next team. 
Player to Watch: Alex Wood. He was accelerated through the minors since being drafted in 2012, but this 22 year old is certainly up to the challenge. Splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation, he had a 3.13 ERA and a 1.326 WHIP. Both of those numbers should, and will go down this season. He's definitely major league ready. 

Yes! My Mets! I can't pull the trigger on that aforementioned second place finish, but it's a possibility. Even without Matt Harvey, the rotation is actually very good. Jonathon Niese and Jenrry Mejia are injury concerns, but when they are healthy, both are solid starters. Curtis Granderson fills a gaping hole in the outfield, while Chris Young is fine in right. Those moves have allowed Eric Young, Jr. to be relegated to the bench, where he really belongs. Things are looking good for the future of my team. 
Player to Watch: Jenrry Mejia. He has struggled to stay healthy over the last couple of years, but when he randomly appeared in the major league rotation last summer, he shined in a short period of time. His 5 starts yielded a 2.30 ERA and 1.171 WHIP, which was reminiscent of what made him an important prospect in the Mets' farm system for so long.

Should everything break right, the Marlins have a chance to shock everyone and actually be decent. There's a ton on young talent all around, but especially in the outfield and in the pitching staff. Jacob Turner was a former top prospect who has struggled at times, but will probably bounce back this year. Nathan Eovaldi has always been touted as a guy with great off-speed pitches. They've rounded out their roster pretty well with completely decent veterans. While I don't think the youth won't develop into a star-studded lineup just yet, the playoffs look like a distinct possibility in 2015. 
Player to Watch: Christian Yelich. He played 62 games last year and hit .370/.396/.766 after being rushed up from AA during the year. For that reason, I was quite impressed by his play. It was great for 22 year old who never played in AAA. Expect a lot from him this season. 

While the Phillies still have some decent talent left on the roster, the ideal scenario is that GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. gets fired at some point before the All-Star break, and their new GM completes a fire-sale and tries to get back as much young talent as possible. Am I supposed to be excited by an aging Jimmy Rollins, an oft-injured Ryan Howard, an old Marlon Byrd coming off of the King of all fluke seasons, and an inconsistent A.J. Burnett? Someone has to break up this team, and fast. 
Player to Watch: Darin Ruf. In 73 games, Ruf hit .348/.458/.806, which is quite impressive. He's going to be out until late April, but upon his return, expect him to take over right field from Byrd, given Ryan Howard is still healthy, which is quite the assumption. Ruf's 27, so he's not exactly a prospect, but he's a very good hitter entering his prime. 

You've been through a lot so far...take a Grady break:

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NL Central
  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Cincinnati Reds
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Chicago Cubs
Ho hum, the Cardinals are once again one of the best teams in baseball. An example of how to run an organization properly, the NL Champions only got better during the offseason with the addition of Jhonny Peralta, and by trading David Freese, allowing them to move Matt Carpenter over to third base, creating room for second base prospect Kolten Wong. With pitchers galore, it's going to be tough to envision a scenario where these guys can be beaten in a playoff series. 
Player to Watch: Kolten Wong. He was absolutely awful in 32 games towards the end of 2013, but do not fear. Considering that he was seeing his first MLB action, there's nothing to be concerned about. His .369/.466/.835 line in AAA is what everyone should be looking at. There's a reason why the Cardinals were so giddy to make room for him in the lineup. 

Somehow, Zack Cozart is still the starting shortstop, but that won't deter me from saying that this team should continue to be one of the best in the league. Playing in the same division as the Cardinals will hold them back, but with an offense that includes Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, as well as a pitching staff led by Johnny Cueto and Tony Cingrani, expect a lot from the Reds this year. Sure, losing Shin-Soo Choo will be a blow to their offense, but they have the ability to back it up thanks to their pitching. But no, Homer Bailey did not deserve a 6 year $105 million contract.
Player to Watch: Tony Cingrani. He had a very weird season in 2013 after being called up early in the season. He then proceeded to pitch very well, then spent some time back in AAA, before returning to the rotation. Then, in a  really odd move was put into the bullpen for three weeks, before rejoining the rotation. That's Dusty Being Dusty for ya! And through it all, he had a 2.92 ERA, and a 1.099 WHIP. He pitched great, and will only get better this season. Hopefully he has the trust of new Reds manager Bryan Price. 

Even after last year, I can't find it within myself to trust Francisco Liriano. And he's supposed to the be ace of the Pirates. Gerrit Cole is really good, as is Jeff Locke, but he's currently hurt. Charlie Morton was also very good last year, with a 3.26 ERA and 1.284 WHIP. But the other pitchers aren't trustworthy. Liriano had a great season. but it was such an extreme outlier compared to the rest of his career. Wandy Rodriguez is fine, but he had easily the best season of  his career last year, which is nothing something you can rely on when the pitcher in question is 35, and he's not named R.A. Dickey. With a great bullpen led by Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, it will be hard to score on the Pirates late in games. This team is good enough offensively to make the playoffs, and we'll see how they do based on their matchup. 
Player to Watch: Jordy Mercer. After taking over the starting shortstop role mid-season, Mercer shined in 103 games, hitting .336/.435/.772. Those power numbers are quite impressive for a middle infielder, and he'll probably put up similarly solid stats in a full season of starting. He's a very stable player, who will occasionally shine.  

This team in one word: fine. Former Met Carlos Gomez had a breakout year in 2013, while Jean Segura started off hot, but tailed off severely in the second half. Ryan Braun will be back from a steroid suspension, but he'll still be really good. Scooter Gennett impressed in 69 games last year, exceeding expectations. Otherwise, I don't know what to get excited for. Yovani Gallardo is what he is, as is Kyle Lohse. There's a ton of fine pieces. For now, this team will be stuck behind the Cards, Reds, and Bucs in the division, but the Brewers are by no means a bad team. 
Player to Watch: Khris Davis. Not only is his name very similar to that of the well-known Orioles slugger, Khris played a lot like Chris in limited time. Yes, he only played 56 games, but even so, a .353/.596/.949 is absolutely incredible. Sure, those numbers will most likely come down, because they're rather unsustainable, unless your name is in the category of Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, and that Chris Davis. But Alternate-Spelling Khris showed off all sorts of power last year. I'll certainly be checking in to see how close he comes to that benchmark this year. 

Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are coming off of season of severe regression. In Rizzo's case, he didn't drop off the map, and was able to bounce back pretty well in the second half. Castro however was flat out awful. His offensive game has always been a lot of him swinging at everything, and hitting a lot of it. Him taking a walk is like if the offspring of Ruben Amaro, Jr. and Omar Minaya procreated and created the greatest general manager in the history of them world. It was impossible. Unfortunately, last year, he kept the same approach, but hit the ball significantly less.  Jeff Samardzija will strike a bunch of people out, and Travis Wood will continue his great pitching after his breakout season last year. 
Player to Watch: Junior Lake. Continuing with the "Fun with Names" section of this article, a man named Junior Lake is actually an intriguing baseball player. Not only does he have one of the best names in sports, he hit .332/.428/.760 in 64 games, after hitting .341/.462/.803 in 40 AAA games. The power seemed to decrease upon his promotion, but he's a patient hitter with a good amount of pop in his bat. 

NL West
  1. San Francisco Giants
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers
  3. San Diego Padres
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. Colorado Rockies
A great rotation is being backed up by a solid bullpen will help this team bounce back from a worst-case scenario season. I was away from a good chunk of the summer, so I was very surprised when I returned to the country to find the Giants in last place in the division. Offensively, there's absolutely nothing going on past Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence (who does not deserve his 5 year, $90 million contract), and somewhat Angel Pagan. But that's enough to keep them afloat. 
Player to Watch: Brandon Belt. Take notice of this character. His ridiculously high OBP makes him one of my favorite players in the league, and he's gone unnoticed for too long. In each of his first two full seasons, he posted a .360 OBP, and last season was able to back it up with power, slugging .481. After being one of the top prospects in baseball, Belt has been backing up the hype so far in his young career. 

But, why would they win the division over the Dodgers? Because, while the Giants offense is bad in certain spots, the Dodgers have an offensive black hole in Dee Gordon at shortstop. He does nothing well at the plate. Juan Uribe is going to come back down to earth, which means he too will be a negative. The injuries are a concern here. To begin the season, three of their starting pitchers are on the DL, including Clayton Kershaw. Matt Kemp has joined them there, and even when he comes back, he'll be involved in an outfield logjam with Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Yasiel Puig. Combine that with the fact that it looks like everyone involved with the team hates Puig, and you've got a disaster soup on your hands. Served with a side of second place. 
Player to Not Watch: Dee Gordon. You already know about all the Dodgers, so I'm going to use this space to complain about Devaris Gordon. His putrid career .304/.317/.621 makes him one of the worst everyday players in baseball. Sure, he steals bases, but he can't steal anything unless he's on base. And that's a rare sight. 

Maybe Chase Headley will return to his 2012 form, and if he does, people need to look out at the Padres. Jedd Gyorko had a pretty good rookie year, and, while it may be the steroids, Everth Cabrera looked like a whole new man last year. Will Venable had a really good year, and has been quite underrated. I love his offensive ability. Yonder Alonso is decent, and all of these guys are part of a pretty young core. The pitching staff is great, starting with Andrew Cashner, who I absolutely love. After him, Robbie Erlin, Tyson Ross, and Eric Stults are all very good, and very young pitchers. And they're all going to be in San Diego for years to come. Hold on Padres fans, because the good times are closing in on you. 
Player to Watch: Andrew Cashner. I don't think it's too far to say that this guy might just creep towards the upper echelon of pitchers this year. In 26 starts last season, he had a 3.09 ERA to go along with a 1.131 WHIP, which is quite similar to the numbers that Travis Wood put up in his breakout season in 2013. Cashner's 27, so this is the time when he should be hitting his stride. Watch out for this ace. 

The Dbacks were exactly .500 last year, and expect that to continue in 2014. I've been writing an article about GM Kevin Towers and his questionable decisions this offseason, and that should be finished soon. I just don't know what he was thinking this offseason. The combination of Mark Trumbo and Paul Goldschmidt will be really nice, which means that the offense should be pretty good along with the many decent supporting parts. 
Player to Watch: Archie Bradley. He is not currently on the major league roster. In fact, he's in AA right now, but there's a chance that he will come up at some point during the season. He's their top prospect and absolutely dominated the minors last season, posting a 1.97 ERA and 1.232 WHIP in 21 starts in AA. He's most likely going to make it up to AAA quite soon. Listen out for this name if the injury bug begins to affect the Dbacks. 

Before we finish the individual team previews, here's some More Sizemore:

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I hate Colorado's pitching staff so much. They might be as bad as the Twins in that area. Offensively, this is an intriguing team, led by Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer. But opponents will score a ton of runs, especially at Coors Field. That might prove to be a home field disadvantage for the Rockies. 
Player to Watch: Wilin Rosario. I don't think this catcher is getting the mainstream love that he deserves, despite being one of the best catchers in the MLB over the last two years. He's a great power hitter, putting up a .314/.507/.820 line to prove it. At only 25 years old he should be making All-Star teams for many years to come. 

That was a bit tiring, no? Now that you've made it this far, I'll simplify things here, by cutting out all the non-playoff teams. Here, are my playoff prognostications for this season:

Playoff Picture
  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. Oakland Athletics
  3. Kansas City Royals
  4. Boston Red Sox
  5. Texas Rangers
  1. Washington Nationals
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. Cincinnati Reds
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers
Wild Card Playoffs
Rangers over Red Sox
Dodgers over Reds

Division Series
Rays over Rangers in 4. 
Athletics over Royals in 5.
Nationals over Dodgers in 4. 
Cardinals over Giants in 5. 

Championship Series
Rays over Athletics in 6.
Cardinals over Nationals in 7. 

World Series
St. Louis Cardinals over Tampa Bay Rays in 7. 
World Series MVP: Matt Adams. 

AL MVP: Mike Trout. He will finally get the award he's deserved over the past two seasons, as the Tigers will miss the playoffs, and the voters finally realize that Miggy lacks #TWTW. #TRAID
NL MVP: Joey Votto. I pretty much expect him to win this award every year. 
AL Cy Young: Yu Darvish
NL Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu
NL Rookie of the Year: Kolten Wong
Comeback Player of the Year: Grady Sizemore. If you weren't seeing that coming like a Mariano Rivera cutter, you honestly haven't been paying any attention to this article. 

Now it's time for a segment that I started with my NFL Preview last year, and continued with my NBA Preview

Bold and Unnecessary Predictions That I'm Making Anyway
  • Jose Abreu will put it on the booooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooard (YES!) at least 34 times this season. This kid has all sorts of power, as well as a very sweet looking swing. It will be fun to watch him terrorize pitchers this year. 
  • Grady Sizemore will play 138 games. The last time I made a wild, Boston injury-related prediction, I said that Danny Amendola would play 16 games this past football season. He played in 12 games. That proves I cannot predict how someone's body will treat them over the course of a season. But I can dream! 
  • Matt Adams will hit .355/.550/.905. Because I said so. His career numbers are along that very trend, but I think he's going to take a major step forward this season. 
  • The Detroit Tigers will miss the playoffs. The hole at short, along with Miguel Cabrera's iffy health at certain points throughout the year will prove costly as they fail to hold off the surging Royals. 
  • Both Chris Youngs will get hurt. Well, the Mets' Chris Young has already gotten hurt, as he was scratched from the lineup on Opening Day. As for the Mariners' Chris Young, he's gotten hurt every year of his career, so why would this season be any different?
  • Matt Adams, Wilin Rosario, Yan Gomes, Brandon Belt, Danny Salazar, Sonny Gray, and Andrew Cashner will all make their first All-Star Game appearances. 
Enjoy the season folks!

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P.S. Don't think I love Mike Trout any less. Expect a few gushing posts about him at some point this season. 

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