2014 MLB Preview: The Pastime is Back

The MLB is as wide-open as it has ever been. Pitching, defense and timely hitting has become the new way to win.
The MLB is as wide-open as it has ever been. Pitching, defense and timely hitting has become the new way to win.

For the past two to three decades, Baseball has taken a backseat in the power American sports behind the NFL and the NBA. Both of which are dealing with some serious issues. Football in general is seeing a downturn in participation rates across the spectrum from High school to pee-wee. On the grand scheme of things, the NFL has concussion and other injury related problems along with constant rule changes leave ahead a blurry future of the state of the game. The NBA has been dealing with the one-and-done issue for 8 years now (2006-2007 season) along with “tanking” conspiracy theories in order to get those one-and-done superstars. Change is good, always has been, always will be. But, naturally as sports fans and human beings, consistency and tradition have always had a special place in our hearts. Welcome back Major League Baseball.

With the “death-sentence” of my once long time hero Alex Rodriguez, the MLB is finally saying good-bye to the steroid era. Not only is testing at Olympic standards, guys simply aren’t taking a risk of 80 games of no pay for a drug that ultimately hurts your body in the long term, even if you can knock ten more homeruns out of the park. A-Rod has become the poster-child by default of what will happen if you try to fight baseball for cheating, by the looks of it, the rest of the players are watching closely.

So we usher in a new era of baseball. Well, not really new, we saw this era in the late 50’s into the 60’s when baseball was enjoying a great time of normalcy. Pitchers were dominating: 20+ win game seasons, 2.00 ERA’s. Guys like Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford were titans during that decade. Now we have Kershaw, Verlander, “King” Felix Hernandez, Price, Darvish, Weaver and many more,  guys who may not be as good as Gibson and Koufax, but all legit CY Young winners today.

Gone are the days of the 50 and 60 home run seasons, maybe only two guys (Chris Davis of the O’s and Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins) have an outside chance of breaking 50. Instead, the league is showered with 5-tool guys like Trout, Harper, Puig, McCutchen and Cespedes. Pitching and defense win ballgames nowadays and that’s when baseball is at its finest.

The 60’s saw an exponential growth rate in African American ballplayers, from the time Jackie Robinson put on the Dodger uniform in 1947, African American’s accounted for 20% of MLB rosters by 1965. Today, a new wave of ballplayers have taken the league by storm. Dominicans and Cubans have offered a new style of baseball that has become increasingly appealing to fans and General Managers. Raw talent like power or defensive fluidity that can’t be taught has changed the game. Teams will spend a few hundred million on a guy that has never taken a Major League at bat, because his upside is priceless. Old timers like Ortiz and Cabrera are the godfathers of the generation led by Puig, Cespedes and new comer Jose Abreu of the White Sox. The Central American region is filled with hungry, talented players who just want a taste of American baseball, about time teams have started to take note.

They say money lies in Football, the sheer mass of the game has become a multi-billion dollar industry by itself. Yet the Yankees spent $491 Million on players this off-season, Robinson Cano received a $200 million plus deal with the Mariners, the best hitter in the game Miguel Cabrera inked a 10-year $292 million dollar deal this past week and just a day ago Mike Trout got a 6- year extension worth $144 million. Seems like baseball has plenty of money to spread around, too.

While all seems well off the field, here’s Goat’s predictions of what will happen on it:

AL East

1. Tampa Bay Rays

Lead by ace lefty David Price and third basemen Evan Longoria, the Rays once again posses a balanced lineup that will score enough runs to beat most teams by itself, add one of the top young rotations in the bigs that includes Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore behind Price to go along with one of the best managers in the game in Joe Maddon. It’s Pennant or bust this year.

2. Boston Red Sox

The defending champs may be better than last years club that won 92 games. They win every game the same way and man does it give me migraines. Consistent pitching and an explosive lineup that can knock you from anywhere between 3 to 6 runs in an inning has been the recipe for the past three World Series’ victories for Red Sox nation. Also helps to have the 8th wonder of the world in David Ortiz. Keep an eye on rook Xander Boegarts at shortstop.

3. New York Yankees

Everyone in New York would like to move on from last year. A-Rod drama, no pitching and injuries to Jeter and Teixeira 68fc6120609de975b176a1e5f13825b8_crop_northcompletely derailed the Yankees last season. The way to combat that is the only way the Yanks know how, by spending $491 million on free agents this off-season. No doubt do the additions of  C Brian McCann, OF Carlos Beltran, OF Jacoby Ellsbury and of course P Masahiro Tanaka make the Bombers better, but will if be enough? With Tex back, it will fill a power hole they missed last season but also lost A-Rod in the lineup as well. The rotation will be much improved with Sabathia, Tanaka, Kuroda, Nova and Michael Pineda as the starting five. It will be a “Win-one-for-the-gipper-type-season” with it being the Captain, Jeter retiring at season end. #28 would be a fitting ending, but Wild Card seems more realistic at this point.

4. Baltimore Orioles

Machado, Jones, Davis, Cruz and Wieters is one of the best 2-6 lineups in the league, by what about the rest? The O’s offer up some of the best offense in the bigs but it won’t matter if they can’t have consistent starting pitching. Two years ago they led the league in one run wins, last season the ball didn’t fall their way. In a division as tough as the East, a lot will have to happen for the O’s to play in the postseason. Yet still one of the most fun squads to watch.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

R.A. Dickey was brought to Toronto to torment the AL East bats, but last season he did the opposite, offering up plenty of home runs. This season he looks to be more in form like he was in 2012 when he won the N.L. Cy Young. Another top heavy lineup with Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will have to make up for the lower half that plagued them the season before.

AL Central

1. Detroit Tigers

Miguel Cabrera is the best player on the Earth. He hits everything and hits it far and away from people. That gets you 10-years and $292 million, good enough for the largest contract ever. Simple right? A definite World Series contender, the trade of Prince Fielder was sort of a head scratcher but in turn received a lead-off man in Ian Kinsler who can get on base for Cabrera to drive him in. Pitching has always been Detroit’s strength and they will depend on Verlander and Scherzer (Last year CY Young) to carry the load. If they stay healthy, October is almost a lock.

WATCH: Miguel Cabrera reaction to his new contract while getting his haircut:

2. Kansas City Royals

A sleeper pick to do some damage and surprise some this season, the Royals feature a balanced all-around squad from hitting to pitching and fielding. 1B Eric Hosmer, DH Billy Butler and OF Alex Gordon are all 20 home run guys in the middle of the order, also probably three dudes you’ve never heard of either. James Shields leads a consistent staff on the bump, who will be looking to do big things after years of losing seasons.

3. Cleveland Indians

Terry Francona demands a lot from his ball club, maybe most of all, is that of consistency and playing every game like it’s Game 7 (Thibs anyone?) The lineup is consistent with a mix of guys who can hit for average like Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Bourn as well as power in the clean up spot with DH/C Carlos Santana. Defense is the strength of this ball club, but the pitching staff is a wild card. If good, they can contend with the Tigers let alone the Royals.

4. Chicago White Sox

Cuban Import Jose Abreu will have his own personal Home Run Derby at the Cell this season, a guy with power and a fluid swing that won’t strike out is certainly worth the price paid for. But playing 1B will cause problems with the Dunn and hometown favorite Paul Konerko who has been around as long as I’ve been alive. Chris Sale is a perennial CY Young on a better defensive team. Beyond that, well the Sox or myself got nothin’. Another long season possible on the South Side, unless they overachieve like two seasons ago.

5. Minnesota Twins

A team certainly in transition, the Twins will most likely be one of the worst in baseball. Joe Mauer is their lineup and he has little help after that. The pitching situation with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes poses an injury prone 1-2 punch at the top. Fielding will be an issue, regardless of the gorgeous park they play in nowadays.

AL West

1. Oakland Athletics

Gray is quietly becoming one of the best young arms in the game, and he only makes $502,000 a year.
Gray is quietly becoming one of the best young arms in the game, and he only makes $502,000 a year.

Remember what I said about pitching, defense and timely hitting being the name of the game nowadays? Well the A’s have been winning this way for the past 15 years. 25 plus home run guys like 3B Josh Donaldson, 1B Brandon Moss and OF Yoenis Cespedes lead a lineup full of players you’ve never heard of before and a cereal brand ( CF Coco Crisp). Regardless, GM Billy Beane has constructed a legit World Series contending squad with best rotation in the league with more guys you’ve never heard of like Sonny Gray, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin, all of which are studs. A vicious bullpen ( never heard of a bullpen described as vicious, eh?) rounds out a stellar staff. One for the future: Addison Russel is 20 year-old shortstop already named as one of the top five best prospects in the world. All in one of the smallest budgets in the MLB.

 

2. L.A. Angels

In contrast to Oakland, the Angels have one of  the most expensive lineups in recent history with Josh Hamilton ($125 million) Mike Trout, ($144 million) and Albert Pujols ($240 million) which happens to be 2-4 in their lineup. Trout is going to be a year-after-year MVP candidate lock, starting with this season. Injuries hurt this team’s offense last season, if Pujols can return to form as well as Hamilton, this team is scary good. Jared Weaver and CJ Wilson can carry an otherwise shaky pitching staff. David Freese will be an underrated All-Star, due to the fact that he will have Trout, Pujols and Hamilton hitting in front of him.

3. Texas Rangers

The acquisitions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo put them back in the hunt of the ALCS, if they can get out of their own division of course. Yu Darvish will battle Tanaka for the CY Young award all season long, but after him the rotation has holes. What doesn’t have holes is the lineup, they in fact will fin them. I love Jurickson Profar who now has the starting job at 2B, will hit 15-20 homers, hit .280 and play consistent defense which doesn’t suck for a 21-year old. Don’t forget that Adrian Beltre is the best 3B in the game, all-around, he’s the best.

4. Seattle Mariners

Congrats Seattle, you won the Super Bowl and now signed Robinson Cano away from the Yankees for $240 million as well as locked up King Felix from leaving for New York. After that, not much to cheer about at Safeco field. With no one hitting behind Cano that’s relevant, the lineup is easily pitchable. Pitching after Hernandez will also be a problem all year as they failed to add anyone that can win a few ball games on their own. But hey you still won the Super Bowl Seattle, so cheer up.

5. Houston Astros

Built for the future, the Astros are and will be rebuilding for awhile, although the addition of Dexter Fowler makes them more watchable if you’re a fan of the team. Underrated 2B Jose Altuve is their best all around player at the moment, but for the future, SS Carlos Correa, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft is a special, special player. Combine A-Rod and Jeter into one and you get this guy. It may be saying a lot, but of course I’m talking about A-Rod pre-roids.

N.L. East

1. Washington Nationals

Slowly but surely, the Nats worked their way to the top of the NL East. Now they arguably are the best team in baseball. P Stephen

This can be the 1st of many seasons that Harper wins an MVP, and most likely along side his AL counterpart, Mike Trout.
This can be the 1st of many seasons that Harper wins an MVP, and most likely along side his AL counterpart, Mike Trout.

Strasburg and OF Bryce Harper are primed to have monster years, I would be the least bit surprised if they ended up MVP and CY Young winners. But what makes the Nats contenders is their strength in depth, especially pitching with Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. The wild card in the lineup is 2B Danny Espinosa who, when he doesn’t chase pitches outside the zone, can be as dangerous as Harper.

2. Atlanta Braves

The Braves were expected to win this division as Spring Training begun, then injuries to pitchers Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor really thins out their rotation. So to combat with that, 1B Freddie Freeman will have to be a MVP-caliber player all season in the middle of the lineup for the Braves not to fall too behind Washington. If 2B Dan Uggla plays like an All-Star like he was in the past, the Braves are division winners, if not, Wild Card.

3. Philadelphia Phillies

The NL East after the Braves and Nats is ultra thin and a whole lot of not good. The only reason I give a three spot to the Phillies is because with Lee, Hamels and Burnett, they can win 3 out of 5 games most of the time. If these guys get injured, they’re toast. The core of Utley, Howard and Rollins is slowly deteriorating, if all three can play 120+ games this season, it’s a win.

4. New York Mets

Without ace pitcher Matt Harvey, it’ll be a long, “Wait till next season” type year for the new look Mets. Acquisitions OF Chris Young and Curits Granderson will provide much needed power in a ballpark where nothing leaves it, besides angry Mets fans. Also new, Bartolo Colon was an overachiever in Oakland, it’s hard to see him having the same year in NY.

5. Miami Marlins

The last thing this team lacks is talent. Young superstar Pitcher Jose Fernandez is lightning in a bottle with a fastball that clocks at 98 mph and a slider around 90, he’s one of the last right-handed power pitchers left in the league, and he isn’t even 22. In the lineup, Giancarlo Stanton hit 35 to 45 home runs this season, some ending up in the Gulf. After that, well, Miami is in the middle of rebuilding, and that’s all you need or want to know.

Superstars for the future, the young Miami duo rivals the one that plays in American Airlines Arena.
Superstars for the future, the young Miami duo rivals the one that plays in American Airlines Arena.

N.L. Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals

Remember when the Cardinals let Pujols go and everyone said they would live in the basement of the Central for years to come? Well apparently the World Series appearance came to be a shock for many and a realization that they have one of the deepest and most talented clubs in the N.L. The loss of Beltran to the Yankees stings, like a pinch though because Peter Bourjos gives them a two hitter with speed for Matt Holiday and Allen Craig to knock in. Wainwright and Wacha proved that they can be the best duo in the league, and I think they will be this year.

2. Pittsburgh Pirates

A lot of people have the Reds in this spot and I don’t blame them but… young and hungry for more of the playoffs is a dangerous

Defending MVP Andrew McCutchen (above) will try to lead his Pirates deeper into the playoffs this season.
Defending MVP Andrew McCutchen (above) will try to lead his Pirates deeper into the playoffs this season.

situation for anyone playing the Pirates this season. After two decades of losing seasons, they finally broke through into the playoffs and let everyone know that this young core of MVP Andrew McCutchen , Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte is here to stay. A consistent pitching staff that added Edison Volquez this off-season can be really good. They’ll have to win a lot of one run ball games but with Jason Grilli in the pen, it’s likely they will.

3. Cincinnati Reds

Overall, the Reds are one of the most well put together squads in the MLB. Their lineup is solid, with lead-off man Billy Hamilton stealing bases at will and Joey Votto as a RBI machine, they can win a lot of ball games. Cueto, Bailey and Latos is a strong 1-2-3 rotation. But they always get injured, especially Jay Bruce, who when healthy can hit 40 homers in a season.

4. Milwaukee Brewers

With Ryan Braun PED lying scandal hovering over them all year, I think it will take away the fact that this is a decent team and a possible Wild Card team, in another division. Braun will still hit .300 and 20-25 home runs and will probably be hit by a lot of pitches too, which will help the cause, obviously. The latter half of their rotation is questionable and inconsistent and that’s where the Brew-Crew will falter.

5. Chicago Cubs

I cannot wait for the Cubs to be World Series Champs in…2018. It’s undoubted that the Cubs have the best farm system by a mile, it’s not even close. SS Javier Baez can be a legend in Chicago if he plays up to his potential. 3B Kris Bryant has a smooth swing that will power out 30 home runs a year, and guys like CF Albert Almora and OF Jorge Soler will be potential All-Stars as well. By adding these guys with Rizzo, Lake and Castro in the show, the Cubs lineup will be scary good. Except that’s four years from now. Today, Starlin Castro will be in trade rumors all season, probably because the Cubs need young pitching more than his error filled glove. P Jeff Smardzija, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood is an OK 1-2-3 rotation. But don’t get ahead of yourself, they’ll be the worst team in baseball, but in four years, they’ll be World Series contenders for a decade. Cubs fans are definitely willing to drink to that.

N.L. West

1. L.A. Dodgers

With the Lakers having one of the worst seasons in their storied history, Showtime is dressed in blue. If they all stay healthy, they should win 100 games, if not, clean house. Big things are expected out of the Dodgers as they should, sporting the most expensive roster in the MLB, loaded with talent. Puig, Crawford, Rameriz, Gonzalez, Kemp is an All-Star lineup by itself, and let’s not forget that Andre Ethier is coming off the pine. To go along with a dynamic lineup, a potentially dominating pitching staff headlined by the highest paid pitcher ever, Clayton Kershaw. A lot of focus will be centered around the Cuban missile in Yasiel Puig, but keep an eye on former MVP Matt Kemp who is returning after a year filled with injuries, he’s primed for a big year once again.

Matt Kemp (left) and Yasiel Puig headline the most talented OF in the past decade.
Matt Kemp (left) and Yasiel Puig headline the most talented OF in the past decade for the Dodgers. 

2. San Francisco Giants

Back and forth they’ll go with the Dodgers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they won the division either. Their pitching staff, bullpen included is lights-off-shut-the-building-down-go-home-early good as usual to partner with a sound defensive unit. It’ll be the whether the bats will show this season as they didn’t a year ago.

3. San Diego Padres

Quietly, the Padres have made this more of a race than most would think. The addition of Josh Johnson into the rotation solidify’s an already solid group. Their lineup is full of young talent that will be led by their lead-off man Everth Cabrera. If they get ahead in most ballgames and let the bullpen do the rest, they could challenge for the division crown, if they get into a lot of track meets, the Padres will find themselves in the cellar.

4. Colorado Rockies

This is also another possible surprise team in the division. 3-6 in the order will be tough to pitch to with OF Carlos Gonzalez, SS Troy Tulowitzki, 1B Justin Morneau and defending Batting Champ Michael Cuddyer. A lot of offensive talent, but will struggle to have consistency at times, be on the lookout for young fireballer Jonathon Gray who can touch 97-98 consistently, he’ll be brought up most likely in the later summer months.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks

By no means is this team worthy of a last spot in the division. But the N.L. West is full of talent and the D-Backs will ultimately be overwhelmed with having to keep up with all of it. 1B Paul Goldschmidt doesn’t get enough recognition with supplying all the power in this lineup, one of the most underrated players in the Majors. A young and inexperienced roster will have a lot of ups and downs this summer but in the future could turn out to be a solid group.

 

A.L. Awards:  MVP: Mike Trout                  CY Young: Yu Darvish              ALCS Winner: Oakland A’s

N.L. Awards: MVP: Bryce Harper              CY Young: Jose Fernandez     NLCS Winner: L.A. Dodgers

World Series: A’s over Dodgers in 6. The team that has been winning with pitching and defense ushers in the new era, and Billy Beane can finally be happy with himself.

-Goat

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