Closing in on week four of the MLB regular season, things are already starting to heat up. Although the season is young, we already can see which teams look like contenders, and those that don’t. There are countless reasons to be excited, and as always, nothing is ever set in stone until it’s really set in stone. …Meaning the last week or two of the season, or possibly even the last day. Until then, expect anything, and everything. That’s the beauty of sports. With the majority of the baseball season still to come, there is still a bunch of time to fulfill the most rewarding part of any baseball fan’s curious mind: division and world series predictions. Well, I am here to offer you mine.
Winner- New York Yankees: The signings of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann give the Yankees one of the most explosive lineups in the MLB, but what will truly push them over the top is their severely underrated pitching staff, headlined by new signee Masahiro Tanaka, who made the transition seem effortless during his spring training outings, and has been absolutely outstanding in his first three starts to the young season. A large amount of the Yankees success will lie on his shoulders, and only time will tell whether the real big-time bats eventually get to him. I say he continues to thrive.
Sleeper- Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles were on the brink of a playoff berth last season, but fell just short. This season they will be out for vengeance. Any team that has a power-duo of Chris Davis and Adam Jones will be, at worst, near contention. The addition of Nelson Cruz adds even more offensive power to arguably the most “power-full” team in the league. The pitching, which was a major problem last season, may continue to be an issue. However, the addition of Ubaldo Jimenez helps the rotation tremendously and provides the Orioles with a solid number-two starter behind Chris Tillman, who has started the year like a surprising ace.
Winner- Detroit Tigers: Detroit is the clear favorite in this division, but I don’t think it will as easy as many people are expecting. But despite the competition they may face, the Tigers’ boat of superstars is just too heavy; they boast the best hitter in baseball on the planet in Miguel Cabrera, and the best pitcher in the American League in Max Scherzer. Oh, and Justin Verlander. And Anibal Sanchez. And Ian Kinsler. And just about every other player on the team. Not much more needs to be said.
Sleeper- Kansas City Royals: I really like the Royals. I mean, reaaally like them. And I don’t think I’m alone. What’s so appealing about this team is that they are so exciting to watch. They have the perfect balance of speed, power, and contact, and great pitching. What’s not to like a team that has that capability? They are exciting to watch, and they have the assets to change their lineup from a power-hitting team to a contact-hitting team on a game-by-game basis depending on how they want to match up with a pitcher or a defense. Their versatility could make them an incredibly tough matchup in any playoff series, which is where it counts. And I’m positive they’ll get there, somehow, some way. These Royals can be potentially lethal.
Winner– Los Angeles Angels: This is by far the toughest division to predict. The Angels have serious comeback potential, so much to the point that I couldn’t place them any lower than first in the AL West. With a healthy Albert Pujols and a currently injured (but still hopeful upon return) Josh Hamilton hitting behind the best all around baseball player in Mike Trout, the Angels can live up the lofty expectations that they failed to meet last season.
Sleeper- Texas Rangers: Really, the Rangers shouldn’t be a “sleeper” pick; they are as hyped up as any team in the league. But they are so close to the Angels in my book, I couldn’t leave them out. The Rangers are the popular pick to win the AL West. While I would absolutely entertain the idea of the Rangers making it as far as the World Series, their pitching outside of Yu Darvish is just too weak. That has been proven several times already this season.
Winner- Los Angeles Dodgers: This pick is easy. The Dodgers have the best combination of hitting and pitching, and they have all the pieces necessary to make a deep playoff run. Having the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, is a luxury and the closest thing to an automatic win every time he steps on the mound. People tend to forget that the Dodgers were two games away from making it to the World Series with a hobbled Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier, two vital pieces to the Dodger offense. This year, assuming the players stay healthy, great things can happen.
Sleeper- San Francisco Giants: People have to realize that the Giants won the World Series only two years ago, and the same core is back together for another run. Sure, they failed miserably last season with this same core, but things happen. They didn’t play well. This year is a fresh start and another chance to prove they are still good enough to compete, and if things fall into place, they could be serious contenders again. The pitching continues to be their strong suit, and Madison Bumgarner has officially taken over as the ace of team. One year ago, it was Matt Cain. Two years ago, it was Tim Lincecum. The Giants still have all three of those guys, and if Cain and Lincecum have solid seasons, the pitching can return to its 2012 form along with the dominant Bumgarner. Oh, and the addition of Tim Hudson to the rotation hasn’t looked too shabby either. The Giants are capable of a deep playoff surge.
Winner- Washington Nationals: The Washington Nationals probably have the most pure potential of any team in the league. What was an up-and-coming offensive lineup is now a mature, capable group that has the ability to put tons of runs up on the board on a consistent basis. Is this year the year when Bryce Harper finally comes out from beneath Mike Trout’s shadow? It’s possible. Believe it or not, it wasn’t too long ago when Harper was viewed to have the superior potential of the two. If he has a big year, which I believe he is capable of, there is no stopping the Nationals. More importantly, the Nationals pitching, somehow, has flown under the radar. If a core of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez wasn’t enough for you, then the addition of Doug Fister should surely open more eyes. On the offensive and defensive side of things, the output could be ridiculous. But could is the major word, because they still need to turn this potential into production.
Sleeper- Miami Marlins: The Miami Marlins have one major quality among many that stands out: very arguably, they have the best hitter-pitcher duo in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, both of whom have played out of their minds in these first few weeks. And that’s far from unexpected; Stanton is arguably the most potential-filled hitter in the league, and the same applies to Fernandez at the pitcher position. The Marlins can definitely be the most improved group by October. While they didn’t make any major offseason moves, they instead decided to stick with their rawly talented group which could end up being a very smart choice. If the Marlins utilize their talent, they could make noise, but they won’t go too far.
Winner- St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals, still burning from their defeat in the 2013 World Series to the Boston Red Sox, are fresh and ready to go. Scarily, they look even better than last year. Finally, management made the room to put Matt Adams in their everyday lineup and shift Allen Craig to the outfield. While they have a ton of guys who can hit for average and contact, Adam’s bat may end up providing the power they desperately need. The pitching looks as stable as ever, led by Adam Wainwright, who will give Clayton Kershaw major competition for the NL Cy Young award. There is no counting out these Cardinals.
Sleeper- Milwaukee Brewers: Before the season even began, the Milwaukee Brewers were my ultimate sleeper team of all sleeper teams. If Ryan Braun can return to his old form, which he seems to be doing, the offense has an immediate foundation. There is also Carlos Gomez, a rising superstar who possesses one of the best power-speed combinations you will see in the majors. With the addition of Matt Garza to solidify the pitching rotation, who has looked outstanding thus far, the Brewers may seriously make a run. Don’t overlook them for a second.
2014 World Series:
New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Winner- Los Angeles Dodgers
It will be a classic matchup between baseball’s two most storied franchises, and a matchup of the highest payrolls. But, in the end, the highest payroll will triumph. Behind Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers will fight through several tough games with the Yankees before pulling it out in game seven. While I am certainly not one to believe that high payrolls equal success, both teams have lethal squads that will be tough for beat. While the Yankees pitching rotation has surely garnered a boost from Masahiro Tanaka and former all-star Michael Pineda, they lack a dominant ace. The Dodgers have not one, but two proven aces in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and when it’s all said and done, that will be the overriding factor in the Dodgers’ championship victory.