It’s Opening Day for the 2014 Major League Baseball season. It is a time for hope, a time for optimism, a time for new stars to emerge and memories to be made. It’s also time for writers like me to make absolutely foolishly early predictions for division winners and playoff matchups.
Disclaimer: The following picks are mine and mine alone and are not necessarily that of the remainder of the FanSided staff.
Disclaimer 2: The following picks also assume completely perfect health for every team, which, as we all know, is ludicrous and absurd.
NL EAST: Washington Nationals – As far as acquisitions go, the Nationals had the strongest and most sensible pick ups this Winter. They picked up Nate McLouth for outfield depth, Jose Lobaton to back up Wilson Ramos, and probably most importantly, Doug Fister for their rotation. As of Opening Day, Doug Fister is on the DL, but he’s not expected to miss more than one start. With a rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, and Jordan Zimmermann, along with one of either Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan, the Nationals may have the best rotation in the entire game of baseball right now. Adam LaRoche should have a better year than last year, Bryce Harper continues to grow, at least in a baseball sense, and the ever present threat of Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman make the 2014 Nationals a popular, legitimate pick.
NL CENTRAL: St. Louis Cardinals – This is another popular, easy pick. The Cardinals did nothing but improve over the off season and have not had any major subtractions from their lineup. It has been argued that losing Carlos Beltran was huge, but, as things go with the Cards, they have enough depth at every position to make up for losing the aging Beltran. Allen Craig is going to a place he feels more comfortable at in right field, and now there’s a regular presence of Matt Adams as he slots into the first base role. Their biggest question marks defensively are highly touted prospect Kolten Wong at second base and Matt Carpenter, who will finally settle into ONE position on the diamond. Led by Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha in the rotation, the Cardinals have everything necessary to win the NL Central and win it comfortably.
NL WEST: San Francisco Giants – The NL West is an intriguing division. It’s easy to pick the Dodgers, but this particular writer believes that there is far too much dysfunction in Los Angeles for them to succeed long term. The Dodgers won’t have another 32-8 run like last year, and their bullpen has three displaced closers in it, which looks awesome on paper, but then you remember that they were displaced for a reason. That leaves the door open for the San Francisco Giants, who are counting on a big year from each of their rotation members, particularly Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Solidifying Brandon Belt in the lineup and having a solid rebound year for Mike Morse is key for the Giants in having everything click in the lineup. They might have to struggle and come up late in the year, but the Giants always have that underdog mentality, and they should win the NL West at the finish line.
NL WILD CARDS: Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds
AL EAST: New York Yankees – All of the acquisitions that the Yankees made this Winter are great for the New York Yankees of the next two-to-three years. With that in mind, this year is probably the best chance the Yankees have to come out strong and get a good start. They play all but 10 games in the first month against their division, which provides ample opportunity to start off miles ahead of the Red Sox and Rays. With a lot of new faces, having “The Captain” Derek Jeter back in the lineup is going to be big for keeping the team together through rough patches and keeping a good chemistry in the locker room can go by unnoticed at times. The Yankees should be the Bronx Bombers of old, having acquired some bats that are going to thrive in Yankee Stadium. Adding Tanaka was a necessity for a questionable rotation, and if Sabathia can adapt to his decreased velocity, and if Michael Pineda comes out ready to prove he’s what the Yankees wanted when they got him, New York will come out on top. It will be a close race, but I think it’s smart to bet on the Yankees.
AL CENTRAL: Kansas City Royals – The Tigers aren’t the same team of the last two years. It’s easy to point at Miguel Cabrera and say, “LOOK! It’s Miguel Cabrera,” but that’s one guy. Sure, he’ll have people in front of him to get on base, but it’s far easier to pitch around Cabrera than it has been. Looking at the Royals, it’s not easy to pick them, but the more you look at what they have and the potential they bring, it’s more of a “Hey, you know what? They just could do it” type feeling. Is it sustainable? Probably not, and if the Royals win the division this year like I’m predicting, it will be lightning in a bottle for them. They still have one of the best bullpens in baseball, and the star of Yordano Ventura is about to shine brighter than anyone’s. Going into a contract year, James Shields should win more than 15 games for KC and very well could be in Cy Young talks. Good pitching is backed up by good defense, and the Royals have some stellar defense. Their offense will score enough that the pitching can take care of the rest.
AL WEST: Texas Rangers – In this division, less than 90 wins is probably going to win it. We assume perfect health for everyone, but honestly, nobody in this division came away without injury concern except for the Houston Astros. As the weeks roll on, everyone will start to get healthy, and once everyone’s healthy, the Rangers are the best looking team from all aspects in this division. The announced starting five of Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, Robbie Ross, Joe Saunders, and Nick Martinez doesn’t sound like a winner, but that rotation should last all of three weeks. At that point, Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis should be ready to come back to big league action, and that’s a case of “been there, done that.” Both of those pitchers have a huge chip on their shoulder as they need to show they can stay healthy and still pitch competitively. Everything about the first couple of months for the Rangers is about treading water until their big guns come back. IF their big guns come back, Texas gets a second wind and takes the division.
AL WILD CARDS: Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays
NL WILD CARD: Dodgers def. Reds
NLDS: Dodgers def. Giants (3-1), Nationals def. Cardinals (3-2)
NLCS:Nationals def. Dodgers (4-2)
AL WILD CARD: Tigers def. Blue Jays
ALDS: Tigers def. Royals (3-2), Rangers def. Yankees (3-2)
ALCS: Rangers def. Tigers (4-3)
WORLD SERIES: Rangers def. Nationals (4-2)
Cheers to an entertaining 2014 MLB Season.