Technically, there are 2 regular season games in the books already and the Dodgers own 2 victories. Which sucks. But they're against another NL West division rival, which makes it kinda okay? I don't know. What I do know is that it's national prediction time. Despite two "real" games down under, most other teams are still finalizing their rosters. However, most cuts have been made and now it's time for some 2014 predictions. (Bold = Division Winners, Italics = Wildcards):
AL East: Rays, Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays
AL Central: Tigers, Royals, Indians, White Sox, Twins
AL West: Rangers, Angels, A's, Mariners, Astros
NL East: Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Mets, Marlins
NL Central: Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, Brewers, Cubs
NL West: Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Dbacks, Rockies
ALDS: Rangers vs Angels, Tigers vs Rays
NLDS: Nationals vs Dodgers, Cardinals vs Giants
ALCS: Rangers vs Tigers
NLCS: Nationals vs Giants
World Series: Rangers vs Nationals
World Series Winner: Nationals
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals
AL Cy Young: Yu Darvish, Rangers
NL Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner, Giants
AL Rookie of the Year: Nick Castellanos, Tigers
NL Rookie of the Year: Javier Baez, Cubs
A look at the AL East: The East is a beast. One could see any of the 5 teams winning the division, though the Blue Jays followed a last place 2013 with a relatively uneventful offseason. They didn't get a front line starter that they needed and hence are picked for last place in the predictions this year. They have plenty of offense, just not enough pitching. The Yankees are perplexing. On one hand, they spent a ton of money this offseason. But when you look at their infield, you try not to laugh. Their outfield is brittle. And even with splurging on the pitching gem of Japan (Masahiro Tanaka) their rotation is just okay. They will likely fleece the Cubs for Samardzija at the deadline or make some other major pitching move but it may be too little too late to catch up with the other teams in the division. The Red Sox are primed for regression. Just about everything went right in their World Series winning season last season. The breaks will catch up with them this year. While I applaud them for trying to win by building through their farm, I don't think they'll have enough to repeat this year, let alone make the playoffs. The Orioles were having a Blue Jays-esque offseason until they signed Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez. Their starting pitching isn't great but this team can hit. And their pitching may just be good enough for the wildcard. I love Joe Maddon and the Rays ALWAYS find a way to compete. In a wide open division, I think they become the division winners behind solid pitching, an energetic closer, and a line-up that will produce just enough.
A look at the AL Central: The Royals and Indians had a chance in 2014 to unseat the Tigers. Instead, they did absolutely nothing to improve their starting pitching (and no KC, swapping out Ervin Santana for Jason Vargas doesn't count) which means the AL Central will be the Tigers den once again. It's hard to imagine that Scherzer could replicate his Cy Young season last year and at some point Verlander will slow down (his 3.46 ERA wasn't spectacular in 2013 but he's still one of the best pitchers in the game) but the Tigers pitching is still one of their best assets, especially now that they finally decided to address their closer hole by signing Joe Nathan. Even with Detroit inexplicably trading Doug Fister away for peanuts and getting rid of Prince Fielder, the Tigers should dominate a division where every other team seems lackluster. I do expect the Royals to be on the right side of .500 again but their pitching is really underwhelming. If James Shields bolts after this season, that Wil Myers trade is really going to look bad. The Indians were a surprise wildcard playoff team last season but when you're a fluke playoff team one year, it's hard to do it again especially when you let two of your starting pitchers go that were very responsible in helping you get there. The White Sox will be an interesting team to watch this year. Jose Dariel Abreu should hit homers all around U.S. Cellular Field and Chris Sale is a legit stud. The White Sox really aren't as bad as many experts seem to think. With a break here or there, they could even contend for a wildcard spot. The Twins don't look to be serious about being good anytime soon despite opening up the purse strings for Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco, two mediocre pitchers. It should be all Tigers.
A look at the AL West: Poor A's. Oakland entered Spring Training as back to back division winners with the talent to be legit World Series contenders. Then the injury bug hit. Billy Beane usually has great pitching depth and he's going to need it this season. Jarrod Parker is out for the year, Bartolo Colon is wearing a Mets jersey, Brett Anderson is a Rockie, and all of a sudden no A's starting pitcher can stay healthy. Parker is a big loss and the A's aren't a team that can just go out and trade for an equivalent. They have a really good bullpen but I'm not a big believer in the offense. They were great last year but can they repeat? The A's will need some luck to make it to the playoffs 3 years in a row and I think the pixie dust might have worn off. The Rangers addition of Prince Fielder doesn't help. Texas had been a declining team since their back to back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011 but 2014 looks to be a bounce back year for them. They have major offensive firepower and a Cy Young contender fronting their rotation. A lot of missing pieces are returning from injury as well, mostly on the pitching side. There is no good reason for Texas NOT to win the division this year. The Mariners shocked the world and splurged on Robinson Cano, the game's best free agent, but the talent surrounding him is mediocre. The Mariners are probably another high spending offseason away from being relevant unless James Paxton and Taijuan Walker can augment a rotation headed by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. The Angels have underperformed for 2 straight years. This season they should break out of it. They have the American League's (if not baseball's) best all around player in Mike Trout and it's hard to imagine both Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton will repeat their injury-marred, unproductive seasons of last year. Throw in low risk gambles on David Freese and Raul Ibanez and the Halos could score a lot of runs. The Angels rotation isn't great but it should keep the team in games most nights. The A's and Angels should be right there fighting for a wildcard but the Rangers have all the pieces to run away with the division. The Astros probably should be mentioned, but at this point I'm not sure they could consistently beat a AAA team since they essentially ARE one.
A look at the NL East: The Braves had been the class of this division but losing Medlen and Beachy to their 2nd Tommy John's is going to be hard for the Braves to overcome. They were lucky to have Ervin Santana still out on the market when they learned of Medlen's fate but even with Santana the Braves rotation went from a strength to a question mark. They could still make a run at a starting pitcher at the deadline if they're in the thick of either the division or wildcard race but it seems like it may not be in the cards for Atlanta in 2014. Their offense still can be very good and they still have the best closer in the game but they'll have to find a way to compensate losing 2 key arms. Just like the situation in Oakland, it's possible they have the depth to survive but it's unlikely given the talent in the division they'll snag a playoff spot. Due to the Braves woes, the door is wide open for the Nationals to dominate the East. The Nationals underperformed in 2013 but what many forget is that they ended the season on a tear. They have all the talent in the world. Last season I thought they were the best team in the National League on paper and I think so again this year. They arguably have the best rotation in the National League with the addition of Doug Fister, their bullpen is solid, and their line-up can produce especially if Bryce Harper explodes in his 3rd year. Washington has no excuses this year and with beloved ex-Giant Matty Williams calling the shots in the dugout, I expect a deep playoff run for the Nats. The rest of the NL East is meager. The Phillies can't come to grips with the fact they need to rebuild so they plod along with old guys hoping to support a talented starting rotation. The issue is that Cole Hamels may miss the first month and if Washington gets off to a fast start, Philly may have to cling to the wildcard for any hope at a playoff run. The Marlins and Mets should battle for last place in what should be a long year for both fan bases. At least the Fish have Jose Fernandez and the Mets have David Wright, right?
A look at the NL Central: It's hard not to pick the Cardinals to repeat as division champs. While the new wear and tear on the young pitching staff may crop its ugly head this year, the Cardinals have depth. They have legitimate starting pitching depth that is scary. They found a closer in Trevor Rosenthal who could challenge the Braves' Kimbrel for the best closer crown. They have arguably the best prospect in the National League (Oscar Taveras) waiting in the wings for a spot to open in the outfield. Their line-up barely misses a step with the departure of Carlos Beltran and they add a solid bat at shortstop in Jhonny Peralta, a position that had been essentially a black hole for them for years. The NL Central should be super competitive with only the Cubbies really having no shot at playing .500 ball. The Brewers rotation could be sneaky good and with Braun back with all his PED stuff out of the way could result in a big season for the Brew Crew. Don't discount the Pirates who finally made the playoffs last year. They should have done more to augment their rotation (I mean, Edinson Voquez, really?) but Jameson Taillon should be joining the starting 5 at some point and when he does it'll give the Bucs a 1-2 punch in Gerrit Cole and Taillon that should be great for years to come. I really like the Reds this year though. I feel they've been underestimated. Their starting 5 is solid all the way through. Billy Hamilton may steal 100 bases if he stays in the line-up all year. Joey Votto should be back with a vengeance while Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips continue to do their thing. The loss of Aroldis Chapman hurts but he shouldn't be out too long. The NL Central is going to be a dog fight but in the end pitching wins and I think the Cards and Reds have the best in the division.
A look at the NL West: OK, I am SFGiantsGuy so how do I NOT pick the Giants as division winners? You can call me a homer but I honestly think this team can win the division. A lot will have to go right. Bounceback seasons from Cain and Vogelsong are a must. Lincecum needs to continue evolving. Hudson needs to stay healthy. And Bumgarner needs to further prove he's an ace. Aside from that, Pagan and Scutaro need to play and stay at the top of the line-up. Sandoval will be motivated by free agency and is poised for a huge year. Pence has been Mr. Consistent his entire career and the team knows what to expect from him. The bullpen should be a strength with a lot of depth in the minors. The Giants HAVE the pieces to outlast LA in what should be an awesome division fight. LA is clearly the favorite but really, once you get past their 1-5, the bottom half of their line-up is not terrifying. However, their bullpen could be lights out. The Dodgers have 3 ex-closers setting up for their own closer Kenley Jansen in Brandon League (Mariners/Dodgers), Chris Perez (Indians), and Brian Wilson (you know). Not to mention their other guys aren't too shabby either. Clayton Kershaw is a machine and the rest of the rotation is above average, including their underrated 5th starter Paul Maholm. While the Giants and Dodgers should combat for the division, the Dbacks and Padres and Rockies can emerge as challengers. The NL West is no slouch this season. The Padres as always have good pitching (even if Josh Johnson already has owwies) and they always seem to put up a fight. The Rockies have offense but they're relying on a lot of what-ifs in the rotation. The signing of LaTroy Hawkins was baffling when they had Rex Brothers ready to close. The Rockies should as usual punish the ball in Colorado and have trouble on the road. The Diamondbacks "coulda been a contenda" but they lost their ace Patrick Corbin to TJ surgery and the rest of the rotation, even with uber prospect Archie Bradley on the brink, doesn't match up well with the other teams in the division. Paul Goldschmidt is a monster but he can't do it on his own. I suspect the Dbacks will be maddeningly inconsistent this season and will have a tough time separating from the .500 mark most of the year.