The 2014 major league baseball season officially began last weekend in Australia, with an idiotic decision by MLB to have the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks play a couple games that actually count. But the Opening Day that counts is Monday and that means it’s time for TheSportsNotebook’s final 2014 MLB preview.
Over the month of March, our MLB coverage has toured the major leagues with team-by-team previews. Here are the final predictions of TheSportsNotebook, in order of finish, with wild-card teams marked with an asterisk*. Comments follow each division.
Comment: Just as in 2013, the top four teams are going to win at least 85 games and you could realistically throw them in a hat and pick out any random order and have a chance at being right, with Toronto being the odd team out.
Tampa Bay is the easiest team to like right now because of how good their starting pitching is. They are also the team that can leave you looking the silliest, because of the season doesn’t go well, they might trade David Price and just bottom out. But I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.
Baltimore’s starting pitching is underrated and if they add a couple more bats mid-season, they can win the AL East. Boston’s pitching will keep them in the hunt, but after such a magic ride in 2013, is it realistic to expect a year where everything breaks their way all over again?
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And with New York, a lot is riding on C.C. Sabathia returning to form and staying healthy all year, and on Masahiro Tanaka being all he’s advertised. That’s a lot to ask, which is why I have the Yanks fourth, but if both pitchers come up aces, the Yankees will win this division.
This is also by far the most interesting of the six division races, due to both the volume of teams with a real shot and how little of a gap seems to separate them. For this reason, you can argue that picking Boston and New York to finish as the odd two teams out is foolish, because they are the most likely to make a move at the trade deadline. That’s true, but for now, I’ll stick with just evaluating what’s there for each team.
Comment: Detroit is the best team on paper, but with a managerial change I’m a little concerned about the Tigers and I also don’t like the way they went out in the playoffs, with what was mostly an implosion of mistakes and relief pitching to cost them at least an American League pennant and was a repeat of what happened to them in the 2012 World Series.
Cleveland and Kansas City are both strong challengers to what is a three-year run at the top for Detroit. The reason I like the Indians is that I love the young starting pitching. And in the end, this is much process of elimination than anything—I think the Tigers slip enough to fall into second place, and while the Royals might be better than the Tribe on paper, I trust Terry Francona more than Ned Yost in the dugout.
Comment: Texas saw its pitching staff ravaged by injuries last year and their offense collapse. They’ve got the arms healthy, they’ve put Neftali Feliz back in the bullpen and they’ve upgraded the lineup with Shin Soo-Choo and Prince Fielder.
If Ron Washington could get this team to within one win of the postseason with all that going wrong, I think this two-time pennant winning manager can get back atop the AL West with a healthy staff and a potent lineup. Oakland and Los Angeles strike me as competitive, but not playoff-caliber.
Comments: This division is top-heavy, as the Phillies, Mets and Marlins are awful. That’s going to give the runner-up a big edge in the wild-card race, as they pile up wins with the unbalanced schedule. It took Washington too long to get started in 2013, but they were playing better down the stretch and I see that carrying over and the Nationals taking the NL East.
Comments: St. Louis is so stacked with good young pitching, and loaded with quality bats, that this division should turn into a runaway. On the reverse side, Cincinnati has good pitching and should be competitive. But this is a team that finished on a very dour note, and I think they’ll pay the price for stupidly sacking Dusty Baker.
It’s the Milwaukee-Pittsburgh race for second, a race I believe will settle a playoff spot, that’s most interesting. The Brewers have Ryan Braun back, but that’s not what impresses me. What I like is Milwaukee’s pitching, adding Matt Garza to join Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo in what is going to be a balanced rotation with some big-game pitchers in there. That’s why I give the Brewers a slight nod for second.
Comment: Another race that will be a runaway, unless San Francisco improves its offense and consistent pitching from someone other than Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. San Diego is the interesting team here. If everything clicks, they could challenge for second place, and while I don’t think the NL West gets a wild-card team, second place still at least means you’re in the hunt. I’m disgusted with Arizona after believing in them last season and Colorado looks pretty close to hopeless, at least as far as contending for the playoffs.
AMERICAN LEAGUE PLAYOFFS
Wild-Card Game: Detroit over Baltimore
Division Series: Texas over Detroit, Tampa Bay over Cleveland
American League Championship Series: Texas over Tampa Bay
NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYOFFS
Wild-Card Game: Milwaukee over Atlanta
Division Series: St. Louis over Milwaukee, LA Dodgers over Washington
National League Championship Series: St. Louis over LA Dodgers
St. Louis over Texas
The St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series is one of the few predictions I’m really confident in. I don’t mean to suggest that the season is just going to be one long coronation for the Cards, that their season is a bust if they don’t win the Series, or that there won’t be several other teams that have their moments of looking like they’ll be the one.
What I do mean to suggest is that projecting six months out, St. Louis is the one team who has all the pieces, along with the postseason track record that you can confidently say they will be there at the end. And I do believe that on paper the Cardinals are the best team.
The American League has several teams for whom you can build a solid case, but I’ve got a very good feeling about this Texas Rangers’ team, they’ve got the budget to add pieces during the season and they’ve got a manager who has shown he can lead them deep into October.
That’s the good news for the fans in Dallas. The bad news is that this season ends the same way 2011 did—with a World Series defeat at the hands of St. Louis.