Predicting the 2014 MLB Playoff Teams Way Too Early
Making Predictions for the 2014 MLB Playoffs
While it may feel as if the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals just completed the 2013 World Series, it can be assured that the 2014 MLB season is right around the corner. To affirm this belief, it must only be noted that pitchers and catchers will report to MLB camps midway through February, and the first real game action of the spring will occur on Feb. 25.
In the time between the end of October and today, there have surely been a boatload of trades and free agent pickups that have changed the complexity of a number of organizations and as a result, the entirety of MLB. With this change in mind, there is no doubt that the status quo of the 2013 season will hold over into the 2014 season, and by extension, the standings will surely look a bit different in the upcoming year.
To make some sort of sense of all these changes that have occurred throughout the league, I have taken an extremely early look at who will make the 2014 MLB Playoffs. In forming this list, I have taken into effect a number of different factors such as 2013 results, current offseason pickups and managerial direction to form a realistic list of teams for the 2014 playoffs.
Surely there will be some fans out there who disagree with a certain selection, and this is quite understandable. To that effect, I encourage you to comment as to why you agree or disagree with my selections, and I will comment back as to why I made certain decisions.
AL East - New York Yankees
After being ravaged by injuries during the 2013 MLB season and finishing in third place in the AL East with a 85-77 record, the New York Yankees have regrouped the only way they know how to, by spending loads of money. In quick succession, the team signed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, catcher Brian McCann and right fielder Carlos Beltran. While losing Robinson Cano will be a bit of a blow, these new additions should move the Yankees from an average run-producing team to one of the best in MLB. During the regular season, this should mark over a starting pitching staff that is a bit iffy, but has the potential to rank amongst the best in the majors if C.C. Sabathia and Michael Pineda return to their top form and Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka is signed. Even with this question mark, the combination of a strong lineup, solid bullpen and a weakened Boston Red Sox team makes the Yankees a prohibitive favorite to win the AL East.
AL Central - Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers have been the class of the AL Central for the past three years, and it can be assured that 2014 will bring the organization a fourth-straight division title. A front three of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez will make the team’s rotation amongst the top five in baseball, and surely take apart any lineup in the AL Central. Meanwhile, the Tigers' lineup will withstand the loss of Prince Fielder, as a core group of Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez will make sure the team approaches 800 runs in 2014. This combination of offense and pitching will make sure that Detroit is in the region of 93-98 runs in 2014, and again take home the title of AL Central Division Champs.
AL West- Texas Rangers
Despite a thoroughly disappointing last month of the 2013 season that resulted in not only the AL West being lost, but a Wild Card spot being blown away, it is clear the Texas Rangers will come back with a vengeance in 2014. The addition of Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder will add a bit of pop to a lineup that already ranked amongst the best in MLB. Addtionally, moving Ian Kinsler will allow Jurickson Profar to play second base, and it can be expected that he will team up with Elvis Andrus to form one of the best shortstop and second base defensive combos in recent history. When it is also considered that Yu Darvish, Martin Perez and Derek Holland will make sure that the Texas starting rotation is very good, it is clear the Rangers will have very few holes in 2014. The only thing that could hold this group back is ghosts of past years, but even that seems unlikely.
AL Wild Card #1- Boston Red Sox
It is hard to bet against any team that finished with a 97-65 record, won the AL East and World Series in 2013, but I think that the Boston Red Sox will have to fight to make the Wild Card playoff game. Trading out Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Jackie Bradley Jr. and A.J. Pierzynski will undoubtedly bring down the offense that guided Boston to a World Series victory. Additionally it must be asked whether Koji Uehara can manage anywhere near the incredible performance of 2013, Jon Lester can stay healthy after throwing a career-high 213 1-3 innings and John Lackey can post anywhere near his 3.52 ERA in year two of returning from Tommy John surgery. These questions and the source of being targeted by every team in baseball because of the title of World Series champions will make John Farrell’s second year in Boston much harder than the first.
AL Wild Card #2- Oakland A's
In what could be described as Moneyball 2.0, Billy Beane has again established the Oakland A’s as a force to be reckoned with via young and talented starting pitching. A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily and Sonny Gray combine to form a very young and talented front four, and along with Scott Kazmir will likely combine to be one of the best rotations from top to bottom in all of baseball. A somewhat rag-tag lineup that boasts the likes of Jed Lowrie, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes will not have to provide much offense to keep Oakland in games, although each of these guys has the potential to change any given game. With a lineup that has big bopper potential, formidable rotation and solid bullpen, Oakland could very well take home a third-consecutive AL West title in 2014, but I think Texas will be a bit too strong for this to happen. Still, a 90-plus-win season seems all but a lock, and by extension, the second AL Wild Card spot should be Oakland’s to lose.
NL East - Washington Nationals
All throughout the 2013 MLB season, everyone in baseball was seemingly waiting for the Washington Nationals to live up to their vast potential, but things never seemed to fully click as they finished with a 86-76 record and an October vacation. During the offseason, the Nationals have not stood idly by, as the acquisitions of Doug Fister and Nate McLouth will bring fresh and talented faces into the clubhouse, and bringing in Matt Williams as manager will bring a new tone to the clubhouse. With a rotation that now consists of Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Ross Detweiler, it should be incredibly difficult to score on Washington. Moving into the bullpen, the combination of Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano will lock down teams in the eighth and ninth innings. On the offensive side of the ball, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmermann and Adam LaRoche will form a solid core that will ensure the Nationals consistently drive in an adequate amount of runs. While the 2013 season may have been a disappointment, it can be assured that the Nationals will come back with a bang in 2014.
NL Central - St. Louis Cardinals
In recent years, the St. Louis Cardinals have turned into the model franchise of MLB baseball in terms of consistently being productive, and it can be expected 2014 will be much of the same. With a core group of players consisting of Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, Shelby Miller and Matt Carpenter, among others, all returning, it is impossible to see a way the Cardinals do not win the NL Central in 2014. Simply put, the team is too balanced and deep to go into any long slump, and should win 95 games or more.
NL West- Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have became the New York Yankees of the NL West with their large spending sprees in recent years, and it can be expected the wealth of talent that has been accumulated will equal an NL West Title in 2014. Offensively, the team’s combination of Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Juan Uribe and Yasiel Puig could very well lead the MLB in runs, and will at the very least be an offensive juggernaut. Meanwhile on the mound, the combination of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Dan Haren and Hyun-Jin Ryu should form an incredible starting five, and Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen will help make sure the back end of the bullpen keeps games safe. With seemingly a whole roster of All-Stars, it could be said the Dodgers are the Evil Empire of the West, and their money will certainly flex its muscle during the 2014 regular season.
NL Wild Card #1- Pittsburgh Pirates
During the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates were the talk of baseball, as they finished over .500 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1992. In the current offseason, they have currently been eerily quiet, yet still remain a force to be reckoned with. Franchise cornerstone Andrew McCutchen will serve as the catalyst of a lineup that has the potential to put up significant run totals, although it is dependent on Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Starling Marte and Russell Martin bringing back their form of 2013. Still, a rotation spearheaded by Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez, Edinson Volquez will make sure the Pirates stay in most games, with the potential addition of A.J. Burnett reinforcing this. Any lead should be safe once the late innings arrive, as Mark Melancon, Justin Wilson, Tony Watson, Jason Grilli and Vin Mazzaro all return to a bullpen that ranked third in the majors in ERA during the 2013 season. All in all, a win total such as the 94 compiled in 2013 may be a bit high for Pittsburgh, but 89-91 wins is realistic and should ensure an NL Wild Card spot for the Pirates.
NL Wild Card #2- San Francisco Giants
The 2013 season was a major disappointment for the San Francisco Giants, but if history tells us anything, then the 2014 season should be a golden one for the organization. In 2010 and 2012, the Giants won the World Series, only to miss the playoffs the following year, and it is not impossible to envision this replaying in 2014. Of course, that will require Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain to rejoin Madison Bumgarner as elite pitchers and Tim Hudson to return from a broken ankle effectively, but none of these things are impossible by any means. In fact, I expect each pitcher to exceed expectations, and for Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and company to squeeze out just enough runs to make the Giants an 88-90 win team in 2014. This will place them in a tight race with the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds for the second NL Wild Card spot. But ultimately, I think the Giants will beat these sides out.