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Over the past handful of seasons, it’s probable that no team has been on more of a rollercoaster than the Rangers. After consecutive unsuccessful World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011, the latter of which seeing them come literally one strike away from a championship two different times, Texas has found themselves on the outside looking in, thanks to disastrous September performances that climaxed in losses in the AL wild card play-in game in each of the past two seasons. Thus, big changes were made in the offseason, like dealing away the club’s longtime second baseman Ian Kinsler for some heavy lumber in Prince Fielder, who should bounce back from a relatively quiet season.
The Rangers didn’t stop there, spending significant dollars on Shin-Soo Choo to be the new lead-off hitter, and considering his remarkably high on-base percentage, that could be a fantastic move pairing him with Elvis Andrus at the top of the order, setting the table for the likes of Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rios, and Mitch Moreland. In addition, the Rangers are excited to see what longtime top prospect Jurickson Profar can do in his first full big-league season, while new catcher J.P. Arencibia may end up proving to be a considerable presence in Arlington.
Contrary to their old way of doing things, the Rangers have developed some excellent pitching in recent years. One of their core starters, however, Derek Holland, will be out for an extensive period of time - perhaps through the all-star break - so it will be critical that the other members of this much-improved rotation step up in his absence. That should be no problem for Yu Darvish, who has established himself as one of the better aces in the league since arriving to Texas a couple of years ago. Alexi Ogando and Martin Perez can also help ease the void, having both enjoyed success to begin their big-league careers. But can they get consistency from the back-end of the staff?
Matt Harrison will come back at some point, after missing most of 2013, and if he returns to form, that’s a huge plus. Colby Lewis and Tommy Hanson are two other intriguing options coming back from injury, each having had success in the past. Despite losing Joe Nathan, the bullpen should still be in good shape, boasting the return of former closer Neftali Feliz, who missed most of last season following Tommy John surgery, not to mention Joakim Soria, another who went under the knife and was absent most of the previous campaign as well. With other constants like Tanner Scheppers, Neal Cotts, and Jason Frasor, the Rangers will have no problem securing leads. Being in the wild AL West, though, it will certainly be another rigorous journey trying to get back to the top of the mountain.
Predicted Record: 89-73
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
When you think of the extremely disappointing teams from 2013, there’s no question the Angels are somewhere at the very top of the list, not even being able to finish at the .500-mark in a year loaded with sky-high expectations. After all, this is a franchise that was picked by most to win the division, if not more, after adding Josh Hamilton in the prior offseason, but instead, the addition of the superstar slugger ended up flopping big-time, as did mostly everything else associated with this club. Not only did Hambone underachieve greatly, but so did Albert Pujols, once previously the general consensus best player in baseball, who had an injury-riddled campaign that led to the lowest production of his storied career.
It wasn’t all a nightmare, though, as the future of the franchise, Mike Trout, picked up right where he left off from his historic 2012 to put up just-as-eye-opening numbers a season ago, while continuing to solidify his standing as one of the brightest young stars in all of baseball. The Angels dealt away another main power source this offseason, Mark Trumbo, but did manage to add Raul Ibanez and David Freese, the latter being a notable upgrade for them at third base. The offense still has potential to be explosive on a regular basis, but that will largely hinge on whether or not Pujols and Hamilton can return to old form. If they do, there’s no doubt the Angels can compete offensively with the best of them.
The significant injuries the Angels endured last year also struck their pitching staff, most notably losing starting ace Jered Weaver for an extended period of time as they struggled mightily without him throughout the first half of the season. Weaver did come back, though, and proceeded to post a statline on par with his usual solid numbers, indicating that he, along with fellow established arm C.J. Wilson, can still push this rotation to a potential playoff berth. The Trumbo deal netted them two potential up-and-coming starting pitchers for the back-end of it, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, while Garrett Richards will look to continue his fine contributions from a season ago as he enters his first full year as a starter.
In the meantime, the bullpen was kept mostly the same, other than the underrated addition of set-up man Joe Smith, and still has Ernesto Frieri serving as the closer, which is certainly a positive. Again, though, the fate of the Angels will depend on if they can stay healthy and if their stars can get back on track. If those items go according to plan, there’s no reason to doubt this roster.
Predicted Record: 87-75
Normally, clubs entering a campaign with a streak of six consecutive losing seasons don’t figure to draw much attention as a potential contender, but after the offseason the Mariners just had, they’re definitely an exception to the aforementioned sentiment. While it’s been awhile since Seattle last tasted the playoffs - 13 years, to be exact - they made some serious noise over these past few months, arguably more than any other team in baseball, attaining the gem of the free agent class, that obviously being Robinson Cano. The superstar second baseman leaves New York after nine outstanding seasons and will be “the guy” in Seattle moving forward.
That acquisition alone would usually merit an impactful offseason by itself but the Mariners didn’t stop there, also adding two more established bats in Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. Hart missed all of last year but was always an intimidating presence in Milwaukee prior, while Morrison can be a pretty dynamic player in his own right. Those names, combined with the young core already in place - Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and the intriguing Mike Zunino - should easily give Seattle its best lineup in a decade. New manager Lloyd McClendon has a lot of pieces to work with.
The Mariners didn’t make any major moves to their starting rotation, but when you look up and down this immensely talented group, you’ll see why no changes were necessary. Of course, it all begins with former AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez, one of the best and most consistent pitchers in the game. Hisashi Iwakuma resides right behind him, and was actually in Cy Young contention with the terrific numbers he posted a season ago. It doesn’t even stop there, as after them, Seattle boasts two of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, that being Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. If you watched what both of those hurlers did in the second half of last season in their first big-league stints, you’d see why they’re so highly coveted and on the fast track to success.
The M’s did make one alteration to their bullpen, meanwhile, adding the experienced Fernando Rodney to be their new closer. That means Danny Farquhar will move into a set-up role, after the fabulous job he did closing games a season ago, and behind him are other talented arms in Charlie Furbush, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Stephen Pryor. There’s no question the Mariners will be competitive for the first time in several years, but in this wild AL West division, if they want a playoff berth, they’ll truly have to earn it by surpassing some of the league’s best.
Predicted Record: 84-78
Over the past couple of years, the Athletics have been riding quite a wave of success, winning consecutive division titles in the ultra-competitive AL West. However, it would end up being all for naught, as the ensuing postseason run would conclude in identical fashion: losing to the Detroit Tigers in the first round in the maximum five games. Even so, there’s a lot of optimism surrounding this bunch, as there should be, since it has been pretty much this exact group that turned things around in Oakland two years ago after five straight seasons mired in obscurity. A lot of that has to do with the pitching, and the same should hold true for 2014. Sonny Gray, of course, was one of the break-out stars of last postseason, and that’s just a hint of what’s to come from this very promising right-hander over the next several seasons.
The Athletics are hoping his journey mirrors that of ace Jarrod Parker, who has marveled thus far through his first two campaigns. Despite losing Bartolo Colon through free agency, Oakland added Scott Kazmir, coming off his own renaissance season in Cleveland, and with the likes of A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, and Tommy Milone following suit, this is quite a pitching staff with a lot of depth. The same can be said for the bullpen, as even with former closer Grant Balfour departing, they still have a plethora of quality arms in Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, and the newly-acquired Luke Gregerson, all seeking to get the ball to Balfour’s replacement, Jim Johnson, in the ninth.
When it comes to their offense, the A’s have nice, dependable nucleus consisting of Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp, both being the main sparks for this lineup. Crisp has become a huge fan favorite during his time in Oakland at the top of the batting order, while Cespedes has developed into a top legitimate run-producer. However, it was the previously unknown Josh Donaldson who emerged as the club’s best offensive player a year ago, posting such an impressive season that he even finished in the top five in the American League MVP voting. Even if he regresses, which a lot of people are predicting, there’s still Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss, and Jed Lowrie, all nice players capable of driving in runs while recording respectable batting averages. Furthermore, the club could get a real boost this season from youngster Nate Freiman, who has interesting power potential.
Can these Athletics make it a three-peat in the AL West? This year’s roster is certainly on par with the previous two that have division titles attached to their team, but with arguably all of their rivals improved this season, 2014 might see them return to the middle of the pack.
Predicted Record: 79-83
It’s been a pretty dismal stretch for the Astros, having registered three consecutive 100-loss seasons entering 2014, all of which resonating as the only such seasons in the 52-year history of the franchise. But on the bright side, there actually is light at the end of the tunnel - not just because of the slew of high draft picks and the stacked farm system Houston has built up over these past few years - but also due to the talent that’s at the major league level right now. With pitching, the Astros saw the debuts of two really intriguing starters in the second half of last season, Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer, both of whom impressed considerably and figure to make an impact in their first full campaigns. Scott Feldman was lured over via free agency, and after the very impressive year he enjoyed in his first action away from the Rangers, he’s someone capable that can definitely assist in the effort of getting these Astros back up to respectability.
Additionally, Brad Peacock exhibited some potential in the second half of last season and might settle in as an acceptable mid-rotation option. For Houston to make any sort of push, though, they’ll certainly need a better bullpen, which ranked dead-last in all of baseball a year ago, but to their credit, Houston addressed this need by adding three veteran arms in Jesse Crain, Matt Albers, and Chad Qualls, one of which will get the first crack at closing games.
Offensively, the Astros flashed some promise in their first go-around in the AL, and will get a boost in 2014 with the addition of Dexter Fowler, one of the more underappreciated lead-off men in all of baseball. His presence also takes some pressure off Jose Altuve, one of the cornerstone players of the franchise, and a potential combo of those two at the top of the lineup actually might be one of the better pairings in the American League. The problem is, who will drive those guys in when they get on base and cause some havoc?
Jason Castro was the Astros’ lone all-star last year and is a very nice contributor behind the plate, but will need to stay healthy for the first time in his career if this team has any shot of escaping the AL West cellar. Chris Carter displayed limitless potential in the power department, but needs to strike out a lot less if he wants to be an upper echelon slugger. And Matt Dominguez, who was second on the team in homeruns and runs batted in last year, is really more of a role-player. If they were still in the NL Central, the Astros would have a lot more potential for improvement, but their current home features way too much talent to make any sort of run. However, they are absolutely getting much closer.
Predicted Record: 65-97
Final Say on the AL West: The AL West this year will be as competitive as it has ever been, with four of the five teams realistically having a legitimate chance of winning the division. Even the Astros will be at their best - certainly much better than their three previous 100-loss seasons - and could be an interesting spoiler in the second half, especially with how surprisingly great their starting pitching was in the second half of last year. The Rangers and Athletics have battled it out for first in each of the past two years so it should be obvious that they’ll both be factors, while it’s do-or-die time for the Angels and Mariners. Both should take serious strides forward, as Seattle’s blend of pitching is just too good to ignore, while having an improved lineup, which was always their major weakness in recent years. In fact, they were usually last in the AL in runs scored over the past handful of seasons, so having their best lineup can finally allow them to realize the potential set forward by their incredibly talented pitching rotation. Los Angeles should absolutely be better than last season’s disappointment, now that the pressure will be severely lessened, as they did look like they were finally putting it together with a much-improved second half. It’s also a telling sign that the three favorites to win the division are all +200 or lower, which really doesn’t even make it worth it. Seattle at +450 might have the best value, given the enormous strides they made this offseason, and as emphasized, their starting pitching is just remarkable.
Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
In 2013, the Royals finally broke through in a big way, eclipsing the .500 mark for the first time since 2003. However, with the way they played throughout much of the year, it’s apparent that they were left hungry in the end after just coming up short in the wild card hunt. And with that, there’s a lot of optimism around this young group that, for the most part, has grown up together in the Royal farm system, as they seek to graduate to that next level. The potential is certainly there, having a young core consisting of very solid players that are capable of even more.
Billy Butler, for the most part, has fulfilled his potential in propelling this lineup for the past handful of years, but he also may see a huge boost from first baseman Eric Hosmer, who had his best year to date a season ago while quietly leading the AL in multi-hit games. Mike Moustakas, after a disastrous start to his campaign, got back on track over the final couple of months and is definitely someone the Royals will need steady production from, which he can deliver, if they are to reach the postseason. Alex Gordon, aside from his outstanding defensive abilities, is another key contributor at the plate, while Salvador Perez proved last year he can be a constant on both sides of the ball. The Royals added Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante this offseason to give an extra something to the batting order and in the field.
Pitching was this club’s strength in ’13, as they boasted the best team ERA in the American League last season. A lot of that had to do with the aggressive trade for ace James Shields, who was everything Kansas City hoped for while registering another terrific season on par with his usual numbers. The surprising emergence of Jeremy Guthrie also played a critical part in the strong pitching, as he led the Royals in wins. The other guy on this staff that topped 200 innings, Ervin Santana, is no longer with the organization, but the addition of Jason Vargas should absolutely help fill that void, while the return of Danny Duffy is an item that has huge potential for their 2014 outlook, as the southpaw was once one of the more promising prospects in all of baseball before Tommy John surgery put him on the shelf.
If their starting pitching remains excellent, the Royals have a real shot of garnering a playoff berth, especially since their bullpen was kept the same, minus the recent season-ending injury to Luke Hochevar. They were one of the best units last year, and still having a combo Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, and Tim Collins, among others, team up to get the ball to Greg Holland in the ninth, there’s real potential here. As long as their offense improves and shows up more times than not, they have the ability to ultimately dethrone the Tigers and win this division.
Predicted Record: 90-72
Three straight years now, the Tigers have come oh-so close to winning a world championship, but each time, they’ve come up just short. In the process, they did nab three division titles and an American League pennant in 2012, but after falling to the eventual-champion Red Sox in last year’s wild ALCS, their window is closing. If they are to finally pull it off, it will be without the man who has led them in each of those three seasons, not to mention the prior six, Jim Leyland, who stepped down following Detroit’s heart-breaking exit. Enter former Tigers catcher Brad Ausmus, the club’s new manager, and he’s inherited quite a roster.
In fact, he has probably the best pitching rotation in the American League, led by two guys who would be aces pretty much anywhere in baseball, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Verlander is actually coming off a bit of a down season - at least by his superhuman standards - but did look superb in the postseason when it counted most. Scherzer, meanwhile, was so good that he captured his first AL Cy Young award. The Tigers’ rotation takes a hit with the loss of Doug Fister, but they’re replacing him with youngster Drew Smyly, who flashed some promise in his first stint as a starter two years ago. With Anibal Sanchez also still there, the starting pitching should remain in tip-top shape. The bullpen will also be of similar stature, as despite losing Joaquin Benoit, they gained Joe Nathan, a more proven and established closer. Joba Chamberlain was also brought in to join Bruce Rondon and Al Alburquerque amongst the set-up men.
Offensively, the Tigers took a huge gamble at the start of the offseason when they traded Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler, which could be the main move that either makes or breaks this squad in 2014. Yes, Kinsler fills a dire need at second base with Omar Infante gone, but Fielder has always been one of those unique power bats that you could always count on to make a huge impact, and beyond that, he was also the key presence that protected the game’s best hitter, Miguel Cabrera, in the Detroit lineup. The Tigers do have other options, though, to replace his production, as they still have Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter, each with their own more-than-respectable track records in the big leagues. Austin Jackson also remains, having maintained his status as one of baseball’s most dynamic lead-off hitters.
Other than them, though, things get a little murky. Highly-touted prospect Nick Castellanos is being given the chance to sink or swim right away, as he takes over third base with Cabrera shifting across the diamond to first. At catcher, Alex Avila is coming off a nightmarish 2013 so that’s another question mark. Rajai Davis was added for outfield depth, but he’s really nothing more than a speedster with minimal power. With their AL Central rivals closing the gap, it’ll be tough for this year’s Tigers to secure a fourth straight division title. The tide is turning.
Predicted Record: 87-75
Nobody was more on target with the surprising Indians in 2013 than this author, after talking them up and promising that Over 76.5 Wins was the best bet on the board. Fortunately, with then-new manager Terry Francona at the helm, these Indians did not disappoint at all, smashing the low expectations set for them as not only did they exceed .500 by a wide margin, they also made it to the AL wild card play-in game. There, however, they fell short thanks to a lack of offense, but, given how consistent they were throughout the whole season, that was more of an anomaly than anything, and luckily for Cleveland, it’s pretty much the same group that will be entering 2014.
At the top of this batting order is one of the best lead-off men in the American League, Michael Bourn, with the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis directly behind him, and it is those two who comprise one of the better middle-infield pairs in baseball, with Kipnis having real potential of being a top-five second baseman for years to come. Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher are still there as well to provide some heavy lumber, while Michael Brantley is someone who brings a lot of different things to the table. The Indians, not to be content, also brought in David Murphy, Jeff Francoeur, and Nyjer Morgan to serve as solid depth.
If this club is to have a downfall, it more likely will be associated with their pitching, which will be missing two of their key stalwarts from a year ago, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, both of whom made more starts than any other pitcher for the Indians. However, with Justin Masterson returning at the top of the staff, and the influx of youth right behind him in Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, and Carlos Carrasco, not to mention Trevor Bauer, there may be enough pitching here after all. Salazar is the most promising of the bunch, cementing that sentiment with a truly clutch performance in the play-in game, and even if any of the others falter, there are some above-average insurance options like Josh Tomlin and Shaun Marcum waiting in the wings.
The bullpen turned out to be a successful bunch in ’13, and may only get better with the addition of John Axford replacing the departed Chris Perez, who was a huge disappointment last year, to be the new closer. Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, Vinny Pestano, and Marc Rzepczynski are all acceptable bullpen specialists capable of providing a smooth bridge to the ninth, which should ensure Cleveland’s late-inning work remains steady. The Indians should be right around where they were last year, and with more experience together, just may take that next step.
Predicted Record: 79-83
Chicago White Sox
Coming off an 85-win season in 2012, the White Sox entered last season with some pretty high expectations. Living up to said expectations proved to be laughable, though, as the club ended up in the AL Central cellar, just narrowly avoiding 100 losses in the process. While it was a huge step back for a franchise that seeks its first playoff appearance since 2008, Chicago’s South Side residents find themselves devoted to an extreme youth movement that can only be pushing them forward from here on out. It all begins with their centerpiece star, Chris Sale, who has emerged as one of baseball’s elite starting pitchers over the past couple of years, and he’s still just in his mid-20’s. Jose Quintana is of similar age and has already established himself as a consistent dependable option in the middle of the pitching rotation.
Other than those two, the rest of the youngsters, like Andre Rienzo and Erik Johnson, are all relatively unproven, although they do have some potential, while longtime ChiSox hurler John Danks serves as the lone veteran presence. The bullpen, meanwhile, has some older guns to work with, as it will either be Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom, or Ronald Belisario that get first dibs at replacing the departed Addison Reed as the team’s closer.
The lineup, meanwhile, is following a similar blueprint. Yes, still in place are veterans Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, who you can usually count on to generate run production, but outside of them, it’s just about all young players looking to carve their niche on this roster. Specifically, the White Sox will see what they can get out of Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, Jose Abreu, and Josh Phegley over their first full seasons in Chicago, and if most of those guys end up producing, there’s a chance to compete as early as this season. If they can also get Alejandro De Aza, Alexei Ramirez, and Dayan Viciedo back on track, coupled with expedited development out of their younger players, it could be the difference in trying to catch their rivals off guard and make an impact in this division.
More likely, though, there will be a lot of growing pains along the way, as Chicago takes a long look at their key players of the future. Being in the AL Central, though, presents the best opportunity for such a youth-dominated group - at least relative to the other divisions in the American League, and thus, returning to .500 is certainly a possibility for 2014.
Predicted Record: 74-88
Not too long ago, the Twins were the team to beat in the AL Central. Over the past few years, however, they’ve fallen on some hard times, having lost more than 95 games in each of the past three years. They did escape the division cellar in 2013, though, and despite this franchise’s hardships in recent years, there might be some potential for them to return to relevancy. For one, at the very least, the club did immediately address their main need, starting pitching, something they finished dead-last in baseball a year ago. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that they “addressed it” with the signings of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, two guys who haven’t exactly set the world on fire. Nolasco has been pretty good in the past, but attaining the responsibility of leading a staff while opposing American League lineups regularly might lead to a regression, while Hughes experienced a severe regression in his final year in New York. Samuel Deduno and Kevin Correia must contribute numbers similar to their 2013 performances for this team to have a chance. At the very least, they do have a fine bullpen, as Glen Perkins was tremendous in his first full season as the closer, even making the all-star team. To their credit, the Twins rarely relinquished a late-inning lead last season.
Offensively, the Twins clearly revolve around one man, former MVP and three-time batting champion Joe Mauer. He’s a world-class hitter, and moving him to first base might end up being a smart move, as it will keep him healthier, and therefore ensure that he is in the lineup for most of the season. However, with the little talent surrounding him, it will still be difficult putting runs on the scoreboard. Josh Willingham was supposed to be one of the other big guns in this batting order, after coming to Minnesota last year, but struggled through injuries in enduring a disastrous campaign. If he can somehow bounce back and return somewhat to his 2012 form, it will be a huge step in the right direction.
Other than him, it’s mostly young, unproven bats, with the main one to look out for being Oswaldo Arcia, who actually led all American League rookies in home runs last year, something he should definitely build on. The Twins also brought back Jason Kubel for his second go-around in Minnesota, and, despite a horrendous 2013, if he can stay healthy, that could end up being a nice bonus that pays dividends in the middle of their lineup. More likely, though, this is still an organization in the middle of rebuilding mode. With the majority of this division clearly still superior, the Twins might have another long season on their hands.
Predicted Record: 68-94
Final Say on the AL Central: Compared to the other divisions in the American League, this is probably the most clear-cut of the three groups. You have the Twins and White Sox anchored towards the bottom in obvious rebuilding modes, although that’s not to say each of those clubs has no chance of making any serious noise in 2014. There have been several times in the past where young teams came out of nowhere to reach the playoffs, but it just seems like it won’t be enough to combat the other three more-talented rosters. Kansas City’s rebuilding project seems to have hit its stride after last year’s breakthrough campaign, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them take that next step forward, given how long their main core of youngsters has been playing together now. Plus, everyone forgets how excellent their pitching was a season ago. The Indians have a nice combination of veteran leadership and emerging youth, and it was that mix that was the big reason why they took big steps forward last year, so they’re a contender if they can pick up where they left off, albeit with much higher expectations. Detroit has owned the division in each of the past three seasons, but this is the most talent their rivals have had in awhile. Pulling off something four years in a row is always tough, especially when that fourth year is distinctly the most challenging. It looks like there will be a new king in the AL Central, and Royals +450 to accomplish that appears to be the best of all the divisional futures bet in the American League.
Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
Despite not making the playoffs for only the second time since 1995, the Yankees still, as always, dominated the headlines throughout 2013, mostly thanks to the monumental departure of legendary closer Mariano Rivera. This year, not only will the Bronx Bombers be determined to get back into the postseason, but they’ll be enjoying a similar tearful ride along the way, as they prepare to say goodbye to the one and only Derek Jeter, who is set to retire at season’s end. New York added three tremendous hitters to join the future Hall-of-Famer in the lineup, that being Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann.
Aside from them obviously being talented, all three are battle-tested and have excelled in the postseason with clutch at-bats, an area the Yankees have struggled in mightily since their last title in ’09. With Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson gone, they’re really going to need each of those guys to deliver, to go along with the other notables - Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, and Brett Gardner - that remain. Furthermore, New York picked up old foe Brian Roberts, who could be a nice bonus to the roster if he can somehow stay healthy. Oh, and you can’t forget Alex Rodriguez, who will miss 2014 due to suspension, but some would see that as “addition by subtraction,” as A-Rod’s production has seriously gone down in recent years anyway.
As expected, the Yankees also made changes in the pitching department, nabbing the most-talked about name available, Masahiro Tanaka. The Japanese export comes to the United States with enormous expectations, given the pressure that comes with being a high-profile player making his way to New York. Not only that, they also are dealing with uncertainty surrounding their ace, C.C. Sabathia, who is coming off a surprisingly career-worst campaign, as well as needing to replace Andy Pettitte, so Tanaka’s emergence will be crucial. On the other end of the spectrum, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova are coming off two very pleasant campaigns and should be looked at as constants in this rotation. The wild card, however, might be Michael Pineda, who is seeking to win the final spot on the pitching staff. His health seems to be at its best since coming to the Bronx a couple of years ago, and if he’s able to resemble how he was in his rookie season of 2011, the Yankees have a real gem on their hands.
With the bullpen, the Yankees will obviously be scrambling to fill the giant void left by Rivera, but David Robertson, after years as a very successful set-up man, appears to have the mentality and stuff to handle the high-pressure gig. With Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, and free agent signee Matt Thornton working ahead of him, the Yankees have a fine group in place to get Robertson the ball in the ninth. The success, or lack thereof, of the new relief corps could ultimately be what determines the fate of The Captain’s final season. No matter what, it should be another wild ride for America’s most prestigious franchise.
Predicted Record: 95-67
Boston Red Sox
It just goes to show how quickly things can change, as one year removed from a shocking last-place season in 2012, the Red Sox rebounded as quickly as possible to record the organization’s eighth World Series championship a season ago. So how will they do for an encore in their second season under manager John Farrell? Whatever the results, it will be conducted without one of the team’s key players over the past several years, that being Jacoby Ellsbury, who left through free agency and landed with the enemy Yankees. Aside from also losing Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the silver lining is that just about all of last year’s title-winning roster is still in place, which should ensure another intriguing run for the controversial Boston franchise.
Above everything, the two club leaders, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, still remain, after both registered marvelous seasons in ’13. The other key proven contributors, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, are also still here, but it could be the new wave of fresh talent that determines how far these Red Sox go in the upcoming campaign. Xander Bogaerts looked impressive at shortstop in the postseason, while the team will be leaning on Jackie Bradley to replace Ellsbury in centerfield. Will Middlebrooks has had success before at the hot corner and the potential is still there for him to carve out his niche as a solid everyday player. Furthermore, despite losing Salty, the Red Sox replaced him with veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who could be an upgrade at catcher.
It’s always good news when you’re able to keep an established, solid pitching rotation from a championship-winning team, and that’s exactly what Boston managed to do. Following a pretty disappointing ’12, ace Jon Lester re-emerged in a big way last year to help lead the starting staff, as he posted great numbers all across the board. Clay Buchholz was outstanding, too, even though an injury wiped out half his season, but he was still able to return and make significant contributions in the playoffs. Perhaps the most valuable cog of this group in 2013 was John Lackey, who seemingly came out of nowhere to enjoy a true renaissance season, even winning the World Series clincher. Felix Doubront is another arm to pay attention to, as the left-hander is a pretty big part of their future, and he’s already had success.
As good as their rotation sounds, it actually might be the bullpen that is stronger, especially after the incredible display we saw from closer Koji Uehara throughout all of last year, most notably in the playoffs. He’s getting up there in age, though, so Boston wisely acquired some insurance, picking up Edward Mujica, who will team up with Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow in the meantime to comprise a very strong back-end of the bullpen. The AL East should be highly competitive, as it always is, but the Red Sox appear to have enough fuel once again to push them into another postseason run.
Predicted Record: 87-75
Toronto Blue Jays
No team in 2013 epitomized the word “disaster” more than the Blue Jays. Could it have been any worse for this organization? Entering the year as a very trendy pick to win the division, Toronto instead finished in last place while seemingly never getting out of first gear. In their defense, the AL East is chock full of competitive squads, and the Blue Jays did have numerous significant injuries, which muddled them early on in a deep hole that they could ultimately never escape. Not only was the face of the franchise Jose Bautista banged up, but so were their two top offensive acquisitions from the offseason, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera, both of whom each missed approximately half the year. Furthermore, arguably their brightest young player, Brett Lawrie, missed a large chunk of the campaign, and thus was severely limited.
The good news for Blue Jays faithful is that all of those key players will be healthy from the start, and if they can get another outstanding season out of Edwin Encarnacion, one of the true underrated power hitters in the game, that would be a huge facet to build around. Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind are two other fine sluggers in this lineup, which should rebound in a big way in 2014 - if they stay healthy.
Remarkably, it wasn’t just the batting order that was marred by injuries; their pitching was, too. Much like in 2012, the Blue Jays saw some of their significant starters go on the shelf in 2013, to the point where they only had two pitchers make over 20 starts the whole season. The two guys who accomplished that, R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, remain with the club, each still having the potential of helping lead a pitching rotation into the postseason. Brandon Morrow, meanwhile, was one of those aforementioned injured arms, but will enter this campaign “fully healthy,” according to general manager Alex Anthopoulos. That’s important, considering Morrow was enjoying a Cy Young-caliber season the year prior before getting hurt. Another key name that could help considerably, J.A. Happ, has had success before and really has potential to settle in as one of the more dependable lefties in the AL, now that he’s finally found a permanent home after a few years of uncertainty.
As long as the Blue Jays get solid, consistent pitching, that could really go a long way, as their bullpen was an excellent strength last year. Casey Janssen performed wonders as the closer, and having the likes of Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar, and Brett Cecil setting him up, that should ensure continued success for this unit. The main issue overall, of course, will be if they can stay healthy. If that’s accomplished, you have to look out for the Blue Jays this season.
Predicted Record: 83-79
Tampa Bay Rays
When you have one of the best managers in baseball, and you’re winning 90 or more games every year, why even attempt to make any serious changes? That’s the sentiment abided by Tampa Bay, who made almost no alterations to their roster from a year ago, while seeking to go further this season after an anti-climactic ALDS exit at the hands of the eventual-champion Red Sox. Grittiness, scrappiness, and competitiveness are three distinct adjectives to describe any Joe Maddon-led team, and there shall be no exception in 2014, with the same group of mostly youngsters about to hit their stride for the Rays. That couldn’t be more appropriately said for the pitching staff, which is amongst the best in baseball. Everybody already knows ace David Price, and while he was hampered a bit by injuries in ’13, the 2012 AL Cy Young still enjoyed his usual dominant campaign. Behind him, though, is what Tampa might be most excited about. Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer are all under 27 years of age, but even at this stage in their careers, all three have proven themselves as formidable arms that can make a huge impact in the immediate years to come.
The only question mark revolves around mainstay Jeremy Hellickson, who will miss the first two months of the season. The bullpen had the most changes, with Grant Balfour coming over from Oakland to take over as the new closer in place of Fernando Rodney, while the club also added Heath Bell to join the impressive set-up unit that already features Joel Peralta and Jake McGee.
On offense, the Rays remain the same as well, which makes sense considering the talent that’s already in place. It centers on their cornerstone superstar, Evan Longoria, who has been one of the best third basemen in the American League for several years now. Soon enough, it could revolve around another big-time player, Wil Myers, who was acquired prior to last season in the James Shields deal. Myers enjoyed a very nice freshman campaign as soon as he was called up in June, leading to his capture of the AL Rookie of the Year award, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the budding star.
Tampa Bay has other unique pieces in their lineup, like Ben Zobrist and Desmond Jennings, each providing a different dynamic in their respective roles. Jennings is a very good lead-off hitter who boasts a lot of tools, while Zobrist brings quality versatility in the field and a dangerous bat at the plate. Also having others names who shouldn’t be overlooked, such as David DeJesus, James Loney, and Yunel Escobar, this Tampa Bay fits the persona of a Maddon-managed group to a tee. In the past, it’s always led to success, but with how extremely competitive the AL East is, they’re really going to have to dig deeper than ever.
Predicted Record: 80-82
When manager Buck Showalter took over in Baltimore in 2010, the franchise was in disarray, having owned a miserable streak of 12 consecutive losing seasons. Luckily for Orioles fans, it would only take Showalter two seasons before he broke through, guiding his men to the franchise’s first postseason berth since 1997, albeit while coming up just short in the ALDS that season. Despite missing the postseason a year ago, the Orioles still managed to win 85 games in a very respectable performance, and with the influx of young talent that is in place right now, there might be enough ammunition to get them back into October. A potential postseason run centers around the organization’s young core four on offense, that being Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters, all of whom have already established themselves among the best at their respective positions.
Machado might be the most intriguing, as he’s the youngest and arguably the most talented on both sides of the ball, but will be returning from a serious injury that derailed the end of his 2013. If he picks up where he left off, that could be a determining factor alone. Nelson Cruz, underrated on the free agent market by seemingly every team in baseball, was added at the last minute and should be a huge boost for a team that could really use it in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. In addition, J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis are two holdovers who contribute solid production.
Everything looks nice and clear regarding the offense, and the same can be said for the pitching as well. On the starting front, the Orioles made one significant addition when they signed Ubaldo Jimenez, and while the mercurial right-hander has been erratic over the past few seasons, he is coming off his best campaign since leaving Colorado. While Jimenez was dealing in Cleveland last year, the Orioles were getting modest, steady numbers from the main nucleus of their rotation, consisting of Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez. However, the real wild card of this group just might be Bud Norris, one of the more underrated hurlers in baseball who is a very solid strikeout pitcher.
Perhaps the best facet of Baltimore’s starting pitching is that they have tremendous depth in their farm system, with the likes of Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman waiting in the wings in case one of the names already in place goes down. The bullpen will feature a different closer, with Jim Johnson moving on, and that gig most likely will go to Tommy Hunter, who has shown enormous potential to handle the role successfully. With Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz, and newcomer Ryan Webb setting him up, odds are relief pitching will be a strength for Baltimore. The trick will be getting in that position to win consistently, which will be a challenge for all of these teams in the intense AL East.
Predicted Record: 76-86
Final Say on the AL East: This is the best division in the American League, if not all of baseball. In fact, it’s probably the toughest to predict, as it’s the only division where every team that resides in it actually has a legitimate chance of finishing in first. Even the Blue Jays, who disappointed greatly last year en route to a last-place finish, are capable of a lengthy run that could propel them above their four other counterparts - if they can just stay healthy this time. The Orioles, with their talented youth emerging into their respective primes, are dangerous as well. Of course, you can never count out Tampa Bay either, especially considering how good their manager is at what he does in bringing out the best out from everyone on his roster, despite usually having less to work with. Overall, though, it’s hard not to see the Yankees and/or Red Sox tussling over first at the end of the day. Aside from a pretty big overhaul of their roster, New York will get a mental lift from the impending retirement of Derek Jeter, and while that necessarily didn’t work with Mariano Rivera last year, you have to remember how decimated they were by injuries - and still managed to win 85 games. The Red Sox are the defending World Series champions with much of the same roster intact so you have to believe they’ll be somewhere towards the top. As far as futures bets go, I wouldn’t even recommend anything in the AL East. Way too close to call, with all the potential that oozes from this group collectively.
Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
National League central preview: Will division produce three playoff teams again?
The National League Central division featured three playoff teams that all won 90+ games last season with the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates. Those three clubs will once again battle for the division title, while the Brewers and Cubs try to catch up.
Chicago Cubs (2013: 66-96, -1542 units, 68-86-8 over/under)
Division odds: 70/1
Season win total: 70
Why bet the Cubs: Starlin Castro tops a lineup that has youth and the potential to improve with more at-bats. Rookie Junior Lake hit a solid .284 in 64 games for Chicago last year. Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood present a strong 1-2 punch in the pitching rotation, while Pedro Strop and Wesley Wright are two young arms in the bullpen with potential.
Why not bet the Cubs: The rest of this team is a mess. They had 26 blown saves last year which was the second most in the National League. In an unsuccessful attempt to address this problem, the Cubs acquired Jose Veras who is now on his 8th different team since 2006. Edwin Jackson finished the year losing seven of his last 10 starts. Jake Arrieta and Chris Rusin are also question marks in the rotation.
Why bet the Reds: Speedy Billy Hamilton should score a ton of runs at the top of this lineup with Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce batting behind him in the heart of the order. The pitching rotation is solid with Johnny Cueto available for the whole season along with Mat Latos and Homer Bailey. Tony Cingrani was great last year and will also be part of this strong rotation. Aroldis Chapman will be throwing heat out of the bullpen.
Why not bet the Reds: Ryan Ludwick missed time last year and is an injury risk along with Cueto. Mat Latos threw a career high 210 innings last year, so we'll see if there are any side effects and fatigue. The bullpen should be stable, although Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall did miss time last year.
Why bet the Brewers: Ryan Braun is back for a full season and he has looked strong in spring training. Kyle Lohse isn't flashy, but he is a capable leader in the pitching rotation along with Yovani Gallardo. Jim Henderson will be even more of a force in the bullpen this season. He was fantastic in his second season, converting 28-of-32 save opportunities last year with 75 strikeouts in just 60 innings pitched.
Why not bet the Brewers: Gallardo had a velocity drop last year which is concerning since the rest of the pitching rotation is suspect with Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada and Tyler Thornburg. Can Matt Garza pitch well too? Aramis Ramirez is coming off a power outage with just 12 home runs last year. The bench is weak with few backup options if any major injuries occur.
Why bet the Pirates: Andrew McCutchen is the reigning National League MVP and one of only two players with 20 plus home runs and 20 plus stolen bases in each of the past three seasons. He also has help in the lineup with Starling Marte and Russell Martin. The pitching rotation is solid with Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole leading the way. Jason Grilli had 30 saves last season before getting hurt, while Mark Melancon had a 0.93 ERA at home last year.
Why not bet the Pirates: They went from AJ Burnett to Edinson Volquez. Wandy Rodriguez is coming off an elbow injury and who knows if Gerrit Cole might slip a little after a solid rookie year. Pedro Alvarez led the NL in strikeouts last year and may not be the best protection for McCutchen in the lineup. This offense is inconsistent and struggles to score runs at times.
Season win total pick: Under 84.5
St. Louis Cardinals (2013: 97-65, +1,106 units, 79-75-8 over/under)
Division odds: 4/7
Season win total: 91.5
Why bet the Cardinals: The Cards are arguably the most complete team in the league. They hit .330 with runners in scoring position last year and they have several talented hitters from Matt Holliday and Allen Craig to Matt Adams and Yadier Molina. The pitching rotation has young talent in Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha who follow veteran Adam Wainwright. The strong bullpen is led by Trevor Rosenthal and Jason Motte.
Why not bet the Cardinals: There aren't many negatives on this team. Injuries are usually the biggest concern, but the Cardinals have depth and talent throughout the lineup. Could there be a hangover after falling short last year?
Season win total pick: Over 91.5
Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
Manager Don Mattingly has revealed his lineup for Opening Day when the Dodgers face-off against the Diamondbacks in Australia.
The most noticable part of the order is Yasel Puig listed as the leadoff hitter for the Dodgers. Not many other surprises as Hanley Rameriez and Adrian Gonzalez will be at the heart of the order.
The entire lineup looks like this:
1. Yasiel Puig RF
2. Justin Turner 2B
3. Hanley Ramirez SS
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. Scott Van Slyke LF
6. Juan Uribe 3B
7. Andre Ethier CF
8. A.J. Ellis C
9. Clayton Kershaw P
Liriano's availability for Opening Day in question
Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano left in the sixth inning of his start against the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday because of tightness in his left groin. He landed awkwardly after throwing a pitch and was removed from the game after being examined by team trainers.
The injury puts the Pittsburgh ace's availability in question for his scheduled Opening Day start March 31 against the Chicago Cubs, although Liriano's postgame comments make it sound like he left the game as a precaution.
"I didn't want to keep pitching like that, maybe push it too much and have it get worse," Liriano told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
Liriano, who had a limp in the clubhouse postgame, pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits while walking one and striking out four.
"I think it's going to be OK," Liriano said. "We'll see how I feel (Friday)."
Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs: