Los Angeles Dodgers: Stacked and with an huge payroll. No surprise the Dodgers won 92 times last season despite a slew of injuries. Health would go a long way in helping L.A. move closer to the 95-97-win range, specifically when you’re talking about outfielders Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, who missed a combined 135 games in 2013. The Dodgers will also have a full season of outfielder Yasiel Puig, who will attempt to duplicate the pace of last year’s 40-game stint (.313, eight homers, 37 RBIs, 13 stolen bases). Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke anchor the starting rotation, with veterans Dan Haren and Josh Beckett on the back end.
San Francisco Giants: Will bounce back, seems like they do every other year. Last year was a year of frustration for the Giants as they suffered a 76-86 season and were out of the pennant race by the All-Star break after winning their second World Series in three years. One has to expect a bounce back by the bay as their pitching is simply too good to suffer another poor season. Tim Lincecum's fastball continued to be missing in action, but Madison Bumgarner has emerged as a front line pitcher along with Matt Cain, while newly acquired Tim Hudson gives the Giants rotation a veteran presence. The Giants have also added some much needed power with the acquisition of Mike Morse.
San Diego Padres: Might be a dark horse. This is a young team, but if Josh Johnson can stay healthy along with improvements with starting pitchers Andrew Cashner (10 wins, 3.09 ERA in 26 starts) and Tyson Ross (3 wins, 3.17 in 35 games including 16 starts), this team could finish above .500. It’s more about their younger players and their capability to take a step forward, namely Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko and Yasmani Grandal. Third baseman Chase Headley who had a bad 2013 (.250, 13 HRs, 50 RBIs) should post better numbers (he had 31 homers and 115 RBIs in 2012).
Arizona Diamondbacks: Sorry, but not buying the hype. Weak in the outfield and can they compensate for injuries to their starting rotation? The Diamondbacks will be hard-pressed to match or surpass 81 victories, which they have accomplished in back-to-back seasons; given the news that ace pitcher Patrick Corbin will miss the entire season after Tommy John surgery. He won 14 games for Arizona in 2013. Maybe veteran righty Bronson Arroyo can step up. He averaged 13 wins the past eight seasons with Cincinnati, but has dealt with a back issue this spring. The club is also gambling on bounce-back seasons from Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill, which is far from a certainty. While new left-fielder Mark Trumbo doesn’t hit for average, he’ll provide power alongside first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. With a very questionable bullpen the Diamondbacks will have a hard time keeping their heads above water in the National League West. I do really like Addison Reed as the closer! I hate to say they are on decline, but I have no choice. I did get season tickets and will hope for an exciting season.
Colorado Rockies: Finished fifth in the National League West last season with a 74-88 record, to inch closer to the .500 mark, health permitting. However, that’s already in question with starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin nursing a shoulder strain. Fellow starter Brett Anderson, who arrived in a trade from Oakland in the off-season, has also been a frequent visitor to the disabled list but is currently healthy. Colorado could still improve and outperform the opposition with its stellar offense, led by star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, also oft-injured players. Outfielder Michael Cuddyer, catcher Wilin Rosario and Justin Morneau can top the 20-homer mark.
Washington Nationals: A very deep, talented and now healthy squad. Bryce Harper is in amazing shape. The Nationals are a good bet because of their starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister. Before last season, the Nationals were a trendy pick to win the World Series. However, they spent most of the season struggling to find their grove. They did make a late run but came up short of the playoffs. Part of the problem was the uncertainty of Manager Davey Johnson who retired at the end of the season. Their new Manager Matt Williams does not have any managerial experience but has served as 3B Coach in Arizona for several years. He is intense and should be able to get the most out of the Nationals roster.
New York Mets: Baby steps but they need a few guys to breakout in short order. Mets management received a number of laughs when they said this team could win 90 games, and on paper they will be lucky to win 80 games without Matt Harvey. However, Harvey is not the only young arm that could soon have the Mets pitching staff being the class of MLB. Zack Wheeler is already in the rotation and Noah Syndegaard and Jesus Montero are on the way. If the pitching comes together and remains healthy the Mets can make a run late in the season. The lineup still has major holes especially at shortstop where Ruben Tejada might just be the worst infielder in the history of baseball. However, this team has some talent and can finish strong and setup a return to relevance in 2015.
Atlanta Braves: Too many injuries in that rotation and defection of Brian McCann hurts. Their top three starting pitchers were injured during spring training. Mike Minor might miss most, if not all, of April after developing shoulder soreness following off-season urinary tract surgery. Kris Medlen had Tommy John surgery (out for season), his second, while Brandon Beachy also requires a second Tommy John procedure. The loss of Medlen and Beachy should quiet any talk of Atlanta winning 96 games again and repeating as National League East champions. The Braves will be good, not great, because of hitters like Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Justin Upton.
Philadelphia Phillies: Older and fading and not much on the farm. Success is passing; no greater example of this is the Phillies who just three years ago had a rotation that was the envy of baseball. They had two trips to the Fall Classic, five straight division titles and a Championship, when suddenly it fell apart. Roy Halladay's arm gave out and he is now retired, along with Roy Oswalt. Their lineup has broken down and their team now just looks old. This is a team that could begin to break it apart and begin the process of rebuilding which means players like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Cliff Lee could all be on the move, as General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr has become the target of Phillies fans scorn.
Miami Marlins: Dynamic young arms. Well, at least fans can get excited about 21-year-old pitching sensation Jose Fernandez, who posted a 12-6 record in his first 28 major league starts. More impressive was his 2.19 ERA, 187 strikeouts in 172 2/3 innings and holding opposing batters to a .182 batting average. The Marlins might match their 62 wins of 2013 should outfielder Giancarlo Stanton play more than the 116 games he did last season. He still managed 24 home runs but is capable of 40 in a healthy year. First baseman Garrett Jones and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia are new to the team but not difference-makers.
St. Louis Cardinals: Very deep and resourceful, Molina leads the way. There is little doubt the Cardinals continue to rule the division coming off their second National League pennant in three years. They have few weaknesses entering the 2014 season, having added Jhonny Peralta to replace Pete Kozma at shortstop, while Matt Carpenter shifts to third base from second to replace David Freese, who was traded to the Angels. Adam Wainwright and 2013 playoff standout Michael Wacha form a 1-2 punch atop the starting rotation and Trevor Rosenthal is their full-time closer.
Pittsburgh Pirates: A deep system and Andrew McCutchen may very well win MVP. The Pirates ended 20 years of futility last year in a big way, reaching the NLDS as they won the Wild Card game against division rival Cincinnati. The Pirates will have a tough time returning the postseason as they suffered some losses to the rotation with the departure of A.J. Burnett. Other than reigning MVP McCutchen, the Pirates lineup is not too deep. It will also be tough for Francisco Liriano to equal his numbers from last season. Still the Pirates should remain in the playoff picture.
Milwaukee Brewers: Some interesting additions on this club. Ryan Braun’s is back. The Brewers should best their 2013 performance of 74-88, even though they were reeling before Braun’s banishment for PED use. Fellow outfielder Carlos Gomez supplies power and speed (24 homers, 40 stolen bases in 2013), Jonathan Lucroy is a strong-hitting catcher and a healthy Aramis Ramirez at third base is usually good for a .290 batting average and 25 home runs. Matt Garza returns to the NL after a brief and disappointing stint with Texas. A bounce-back season from Yovani Gallardo would help.
Cincinnati Reds: I don’t know why but something tells me this team has peaked. The Reds have had the talent to go far for a number of seasons but failure down the stretch and in October led to Manager Dusty Baker being fired and replaced by former Dbacks pitching coach Bryan Price. The Reds have already suffered a major blow in Spring Training with Closer Aroldis Chapman being struck in the face by a liner back to the mound. There is no timetable for Chapman's return and when he gets back will he have trouble regaining his form after such a traumatic injury. The Reds have talent but they don't also have flaws as their pitching staff led by Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey is often inconsistent.
Chicago Cubs: Improving on the farm but still a disaster at the major-league level. Led the Cactus League in attendance! The Cubs are looking at a long term overhaul rather that a quick fix as they begin the third year of the Theo Epstein regime. Last year they topped 90 losses and finished dead last and they will do the same this year as little was done to improve the team. What makes things even more frustrating is that it does not seem any big prospect is on the horizon either. In fact the biggest addition the Cubs made in the off-season was a new mascot. Unless Clark the Cub comes into pitch and wins 20 games and hits 30 homers the Cubs will not be going anywhere.
Los Angeles Angels: One player makes not a team but Mike Trout is pretty darn good. The Angels have the talent to improve upon their 2013 record of 78-84. Health will be a big factor, specifically with slugging first baseman Albert Pujols and ace pitcher Jered Weaver. The 34-year-old Pujols, who still has 30-homer, 100-RBI potential, had his 2013 campaign end in late July due to a foot injury. Weaver, who missed the first two months of last season with an elbow injury, still managed 11 wins and a 3.27 earned-run average in 24 starts. Management would like to see outfielder Josh Hamilton, a career .295 hitter, hit better than .250 as he did last season, and hopes the additions of third baseman David Freese and DH Raul Ibanez offset the power lost by the Mark Trumbo. Arizona gave up pitcher Tyler Skaggs for Trumbo.
Texas Rangers: Fielder and Choo yes but the injuries and lack of depth in the starting rotation is troubling. The Texas lineup features on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo and the speedy Elvis Andrus at the top and up-and-coming second baseman Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin at the bottom. In the middle is a powerful 3-4-5 of Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios. Yu Darvish leads a pitching staff that is minus regulars Derek Holland and Matt Harrison to start the season, while Colby Lewis returns from an injury marred 2013. Neftali Feliz is the expected closer.
Oakland Athletics: Could be the most balanced club in the AL. I honestly don't know how the Athletics do it. A look at their roster and you can't get real excited, but the last two years they have won the American League West. However, with the departure of Bartolo Colon who was a solid innings eater and the injury of ace Jarrod Parker (Tommy John), the A's will have an even steeper hill to climb. There is hope that Scott Kazmir could be a solid contributor in the middle of the rotation, but I just can't see a team that has Sonny Gray at the front of the rotation going very far as they struggle just to stay above .500.
Seattle Mariners: King Felix and Cano and pray for snow. The front office got many baseball fans in Seattle and elsewhere excited by signing free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano away from the Yankees for $240 million over 10 years. But then No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma sprained the middle finger on his pitching hand at the start of spring training and top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker followed with shoulder soreness. It could be at least the end of April before they build up sufficient arm strength, putting more pressure on ace Felix Hernandez. The jury is out on newcomers Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, who must remain healthy if Seattle hopes to climb the standings. Injuries cost Hart the entire 2013 season and Morrison 77 contests.
Houston Astros: A superb minor-league system. There is no place to go for the Astros but up, losing 100 games in each of the last three seasons, the Astros ended last year on a 15 game losing streak as they became the first team to lose 105 or more games in three straight seasons in nearly 50 years. The Astros enter the year hoping they can avoid another 100 loss season, when your goal is simply to avoid 100 losses you are already in a hole and while the farm system is starting to stack up talent it is more than a year away. In the meantime it's another century mark in the loss column for Houston.
Boston Red Sox: A deep starting rotation and farm system will help push them over the top. Boston says bye to outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (now with the division rival Yankees) but returns the nucleus of a roster that won the East by five-and-a-half games over the Rays. Veteran A.J. Pierzynski replaces Jarrod Saltalamacchia at the catcher position, and highly touted Xander Bogaerts is the full-time shortstop in a lineup that scored more runs than any other team last year. Led by Jon Lester, the starting five pitchers return, along with 38-year-old closer Koji Uehara, who converted 21 of 24 save chances but will be hard-pressed to repeat his 1.09 earned-run average.
New York Yankees: Could be built for October but can they hold up long enough to get there? The Yankees after a catastrophic season full of injuries have completely re-tooled in the hopes of making one last run to the World Series with their Captain Derek Jeter. Jeter turns 40 in June and will retire at season's end needs to be healthy if the Yankees are to make a run at the postseason. Brian McCann from Atlanta will help add some toughness and offense and Carlos Beltran will bring the clutch hits. However the pen will miss Mariano Rivera as nobody could replace him, but David Roberston should be good enough. The Yankees will also need Mashrio Tanaka to be the real deal, if all comes together the Yankees could win their 28th Championship.
Tampa Bay Rays: Starting rotation and bullpen may be the best in the business. It has now been six years since the Rays went from laughingstock to perennial contender. However, they still have just one trip to the World Series and have yet to reach the Promised Land despite a deep farm system and one of the best pitching staffs in baseball year in and year out. The Rays have lost several key players but continue to win near 90 games a year thanks to their player development and solid pitching. They are likely to lose David Price after the season.
Baltimore Orioles: Added some nice pieces, a solid lineup but could still use an ace on that staff. — Expecting the Orioles to finish shy of the 85 wins achieved last season rather than a sharp decline in play. They added former Texas slugger DH Nelson Cruz and starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. But keep in mind that Cruz has never played a full season and is coming off a 50-game drug suspension. Jimenez posted a 3.30 ERA and 194 strikeouts last season but didn’t have an ERA below 4.68 in each of the previous two years.
Toronto Blue Jays: Their staff is too inconsistent but might they thrive under the radar this year? One year removed from their off-season spending spree, the Blue Jays are back and once again hopelessly trapped at the bottom of the American League East. Injuries ravaged their pitching staff last year and it is impossible to think they can all bounce back together. It will be a slow process in Toronto and they will be wise to begin to unload some of their bad contracts and veteran players like Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle for prospects. While the teams ahead of them are getting older, the Jays are at least two years away from being where they believed they were at the start of last season.
Detroit Tigers: I don’t love their lineup but they still have Miggy and V-Mart, plus Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in the rotation and Joe Nathan now closing. Coming of a third consecutive division title, the Tigers might run their way to a fourth. Unlike former manager Jim Leyland, expect rookie skipper Brad Ausmus to have Detroit burning up the base paths. Ian Kinsler was acquired from Texas in a trade that sent Prince Fielder to the Rangers, while rookie Nick Castellanos takes over at third base. Ausmus will be hoping ace Verlander can return to his 2012 form after a disappointing 2013. Detroit also brought in reliever Joba Chamberlain and closer Nathan after the bullpen ranked 24th in the majors in ERA last season and tied for 21st with 39 saves.
Kansas City Royals: Could be a breakout year for that lineup but I need to see more from the starting rotation. Coming off their first winning season since 2003, the Royals could raise their win total a little from last year’s 86 if young hitters like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez continue to improve at the plate. Setting the table for those run producers will be two newcomers in leadoff man Norichika Aoki (formerly of Milwaukee) and one-time Detroit infielder Omar Infante, a reliable contact hitter. There is plenty of hype about fifth starter Yordano Ventura, who reaches 102 miles per hour on the radar gun. And rock-solid closer Greg Holland fronts a bullpen that led the league in earned-run average in 2013.
Cleveland Indians: Still a pesky team but a byproduct of beating a lot of losing teams last year. Manager Terry Francona has always been good at getting the best out of his team, but the Indians are not much better than a .500 team at best. They have many players that could be the last cog for a championship team, but no foundation and no true leader to build around. There is hope by moving Carlos Santana to Designated Hitter from behind home plate, could help Santana develop into that player to build around, but I don't see him being much better than a 25 home run hitter. The pitching staff is much the same with Justin Masterson being the ace, but compared to other contenders he is a third man at best. So, too, is the thought of beating the defending Central Division champion Detroit Tigers, who prevailed in 15 of 19 meetings last season. Cleveland was 40-17 against the rest of the division.
Chicago White Sox: Make or break year for a lot of guys in that lineup. The White Sox may not post 85 wins as they did in 2012, but we’re should improve upon last season’s 63-99 mark after they made two significant additions in Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu and outfielder Adam Eaton. Abreu signed a six year deal in the off-season and projects to hit for average and power, while Eaton, who was slowed by a sprained ligament in his left elbow last season with Arizona, should score plenty of runs and could make a run at 30 stolen bases. Chris Sale anchors a pitching staff that includes a healthy John Danks and is filled out by up-and-comer Erik Johnson and former Kansas City flame thrower Felipe Paulino. Nate Jones is expected to take over at closer from Addison Reed, who was traded to the Dbacks for power-hitting third baseman Matt Davidson.
Minnesota Twins: A bunch of underachieving starting pitchers and a suspect lineup. The Twins who have been terrible the last three years are hoping an off-season spending spree can begin to turn things around. They are also hoping that Joe Mauer can find more power by moving from catcher to first base. The move will assure that Mauer stays healthy and will allow him to have a good season, but the Twins still are banking on big years from players that are mediocre at best. Phil Hughes a big addition to the rotation could not win with the Yankees, and the money he got from the Twins may be the worst contract of the off-season, as he will be lucky not to lose more than 15 games.
End of the season predictions:
National League: Wild Card game: Giants over Pirates. NLDS: Dodgers over Giants, Cardinals over Nationals. NLCS: Dodgers over Cardinals.
American League: Wild Card game: Yankees over Rangers. ALDS Yankees over Red Sox, Angels over Tigers. ALCS: Yankees over Angles
World Series: Dodgers over Yankees
AL MVP: Mike Trout.
NL MVP: Bryce Harper
AL Cy Young: Yu Darvish
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw.
Homerun Kings: Giancarlo Stanton Marlins and Miguel Cabrera Tigers
Surprise Teams: New York Mets/KC Royals
Disappointing Hitters: Yasiel Puig Dodgers and Robinson Cano Mariners
Manager of the year: Terry Collins –Mets and Ned Yost-Royals
Managers to get canned: Ron Gardenhire-Twins, John Gibbons-Blue Jays, Ron Roenicke-Brewers and Robin Ventura-White Sox