Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 MLB Predictions: The Year Of Chalking Safely

Bah, Chalk Bug
Do you remember a year where the division winners looked this locked in? I sure as hell don't. Four out of six divisions look more or less locked down unless there are exceptional amounts of injury, and that's not the way you bet. Rookie of the Year candidates, Cy Youngs, MVPs... it's all looking about as clear as day, at least at the opening bell. Oh, and the five worst teams in baseball? Even more locked down.

That's all an illusion, of course. As Atlanta's spring training shows, one bad week with Dr. James Andrews (every week is a bad week with that guy) can reset everything, and I'm sure that will happen to at least one division that looks solid. But again, not the way you bet.

NL East

1) Washington 91-71
2) Atlanta 88-74
3) NY Mets 75-87
4) Miami 70-92
5) Philadelphia 66-96

The worst division in baseball looks like it should be a cakewalk for the Nats once the Braves suffered a SP leprosy outbreak, but they've got a way of making things hard on themselves, and the offense might struggle after the inevitable Jayson Werth regression. The pitching is too good for them to falter, though. Atlanta will slug their way into wild-card contention, mostly on the fact that they'll get a lot of games against the trash at the bottom of the division. New York is slowly but surely rising to mediocrity, and will be ready to contend just in time for their good young talent to leave town for a franchise that chooses to afford them. Miami has some dead cat bounce in them from top tier young talent that, as always, will be trying like hell to get out of Miami, and the Ruben Amaro Jr. train wreck will end... in another 2 to 5 years. Don't want to be setting expectations too high, Philly Fan.

NL Central

1) St Louis 100-62
2) Cincinnati 90-72
3) Pittsburgh 82-80
4) Chicago 75-87
5) Milwaukee 72-90

The best franchise in baseball comes back for another year of stomping the turf, seamlessly bringing in new talent with quality holdovers, and the scary thing about them is that they'll probably be even better next year, when the pitching is more experienced and Kolten Wong and Matt Adams are past the growing pains. No one looks like they are ready to fall off a cliff, the bullpen is positively absurd, and the offense just turns you into paste with patient ABs and OBA all over. Cincy will excite fantasy honks with Billy Hamilton's SBs and Joey Votto's OBA, but the rotation is set to take a step backward, and they just don't have the horses to stop the Cards. Pittsburgh's little team that could year will falter on inadequate SP depth, but there is some fun young talent coming, and they could luck their way into another wild card game. Chicago is on the way with outstanding young talent, and as soon as they start the clock on Javier Baez, the North Side will have something fun to watch, but they really aren't close yet. Milwaukee is counting on a return to form by disgraced PED user Ryan Braun; even if it does happen, the pitching's not good enough, and neither is the rest of the lineup.

NL East

1) Los Angeles 96-66
2) San Francisco 91-71
3) Arizona 80-82
4) San Diego 76-86
5) Colorado 66-96

LA's got an insane payroll and reasonable minor league to go with solid talent, and the division is theirs to lose, especially if they get anything out of Matt Kemp, or health from Hanley Ramirez. About the only thing that could throw them is Clayton Kershaw going down for serious time, but I don't see that happening just yet. San Francisco is secretly good on offense (the home park kills that), but the rotation isn't as good as it used to be, and the bullpen might also start to show cracks. Arizona might have been frisky before Patrick Corbin's injury, but now they'll just be the middle weight in a top-heavy division. San Diego isn't ready for prime time, especially in the rotation, and Colorado needs unprecedented health from Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales just to be mediocre. Oh, and when you are bringing in Justin Morneau to play first base, you are telling the world that your farm system is sad. Very, very sad.

NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez
NL Cy Young: Adam Wainwright
NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton
Wild card: San Francisco over Cincinnati
Division: St Louis over San Francisco, Los Angeles over Washington
Conference: St. Louis over Los Angeles

AL East

1) Boston 92-70
2) Tampa 91-71
3) New York 88-74
4) Baltimore 81-81
5) Toronto 75-87

Baseball's best division, but not by record, is a full-on meat grinder with no weak options; even Toronto can slug you bad, and have some intriguing options in the rotation. In this division, that just gets you wrecked. Look for the defending champions to struggle with injury and overwork, but the rotation is still solid, they'll get major contributions from youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks, and they don't miss in the bullpen. Tampa might be on their last go-around at the top of the division, as it's David Price's last year at a manageable number, and the other SP options haven't shown themselves to be good enough in a playoff crucible, but at least they'll score more this year with a full year of Will Myers. New York broke the bank on talent that's going to get hurt, and Derek Jeter's final year won't be nearly as solid as Mariano Rivera's. They need CC Sabathia to have his old velocity, and he just doesn't; it's also going to be unsettling when the closer role isn't locked down in concrete. Baltimore's going to hurt from Chris Davis regression and Manny Machado's ascension to MVP candidate falling behind due to the knee injury. And Toronto? Well, someone's got to finish last. What a division.

AL Central

1) Detroit 90-72
2) Kansas City 85-77
3) Cleveland 77-82
4) Chicago 68-94
5) Minnesota 62-100

The conference's worst division by a wide margin will be won easily by a Tiger team in remission, with what used to be a world-class rotation taking major steps backward with the trade of Doug Fister, Justin Verlander showing signs of wear, and feuding with Max Scherzer leading to a bitter walk year. The bullpen's a little better, and the offense will be enough, but this is going to be six months of everyone knowing they are going to lose in the first round. Kansas City has the division's best young talent, but not the best overall, and they'll miss the innings eater work from Ervin Santana. Cleveland is expected to contend but won't -- Ubaldo Jimenez was big for them last year and I'm not quite buying their young talent staying healthy. Chicago looks like a tire fire to me, and Minnesota is what happens after the tire fire is over. These organizations just aren't very smart.

AL West

1) LA Angels 90-72
2) Oakland 89-73
3) Texas 86-76
4) Seattle 77-85
5) Houston 63-99

Sort of the mirror version of the East, only with a designated patsy in Houston for everyone to beat up on. All three of the top teams have serious issues. LA's pitching depth and minor-league looks shaky, but they have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout, and two huge bounce-back candidates in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Oakland was the favorite, but then lost pitching depth in the starter's block, and the offense is boom or bust with platoon guys who whiff a lot; they need Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick to be great, and they really might not be. Texas has bullpen questions, middle infield and SP injury woes, and a farm system that's looking a little piqued. So throw a blanket over all of them and guess, and when you go in that direction, I'll take Arte Moreno's money and growing insecurity over the Dodgers drinking his milkshake. At the tail end of the division is a Seattle team with a vest and rest Robinson Cano; if they ever got into a playoff they'd be dangerous with possible SP goodness, but that's not happening. Bringing up the rear is the quietly improving Houston, who have exceptional young talent and the knowledge that nothing before 2016 really matters. They'll win a few more games this year, even if they don't really want to.

AL MVP: Mike Trout
AL Cy Young: David Price
AL Rookie of the Year: Xander Bogaerts
Wild card: Oakland over Tampa
Division: Oakland over Detroit, Boston over LA
Conference: Boston over Oakland
World Series: St. Louis over Boston

See? Chalk as you can get, complete with a repeat World Series. Isn't stasis fun?

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