Baseball is almost here, folks. We are only 12 short days away from the first pitch Down Under, mates. It’s getting real exciting, too. If Spring Training had any sort of meaning behind it, we would have an exciting match-up between the Cleveland Indians versus the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. As it stands, Spring Training means nothing, and that’s precisely why I’m here telling you exactly how this season is going to play out.
THE AL WEST
5. The Houston Astros
(Covers.com has the Over/Under at 57.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 67-95)
It has to be tough to be an Astros’ fan. The last time they had a winning record was in 2008 when Usher unleashed Justin Bieber upon the world (so, we have all been struggling ‘Stros fans). They have lost over 100 games for three seasons in a row. They got booted, not only from their division, but the whole damn National League. They can’t even get poor Craig Biggo into the Hall of Fame.
This season doesn’t look like things will be getting any better as GM Jeff Luhnow has this team prepping for the future. I know a lot about sports, an unhealthy amount, so for me to tell you that there are only four people I in this line-up speaks volumes. It’s not so much who will be on the 2014 Astros’ roster, but who is waiting in the wings as the Astros have what several experts are calling the top farm system in baseball with elite prospects at every position. The simple fact that I know more about Jonathan Singleton (1B), 2013 number one overall pick Mark Appel, and one of the top prospects in the game, shortstop Carlos Correa than most of their starters shows that the Astros will be prime contenders… in two years.
Until then, Houston will have to watch second baseman Jose Altuve and All-Star catcher Jason Castro lead a cast of no names to the basement of the West. I guess newly acquired Scott Feldman, who has gone 27-35 since his 17-8 2009 breakout, is the ace of this staff. That’s mainly because Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, and Brad Peacock have appeared in 44 major league games combined. Chad Qualls, more famous for falling off of pitchers mounds than striking people out, will be the teams closer. Be patient Astros fans. Good times are ahead… way ahead.
Projected 2014 finish: 61-101. For ticket information check out Ticket Monster.
4. The Seattle Mariners
(Covers.com has the O/U at 80 while FanGraphs has them finishing 83-79)
I am not a bitter Yankees’ fan. I loved Robbie Cano. I think he was a more of a made things look easy kind-of-guy rather than the lackadaisical, no effort type-of-guy that everyone seems to suddenly be bashing him about. That being said, $240 million is absolutely absurd. He couldn’t lead a Yankees team to the playoffs last season that had very similar talent to what this Mariners’ team has this season and he’s not going to do it this year, either.
The revamped offense seems to have given up on Jesus Montero, the colossal bust acquired from the Yankees two years ago. His batting average has lowered, his home runs have dropped, and he appears to have eaten former Mariner Edgar Martinez. They brought in outfielder Corey Hart and DH Logan Morrison along with Cano to try and revitalize this offense. A lot will depend on the continued growth of 1B Justin Smoak and 3B Kyle Seager. Both have developed some nice pop but it would be nice if they could hit their weight and they would become All-Stars if the could hit Montero’s weight.
The pitching staff is anchored by Felix Hernandez who is simply one of the best the game has to offer. It’s scary to think what his numbers would be if he pitched on a contender. The rest of the rotation has already taken a big hit this spring. Hisashi Iwakuma is dealing with a finger issue and the Ms hope to have him back by May. Top prospect Taijuan Walker has a bum right shoulder and he is also doubtful until May. King Felix and the four castoffs they have attempting to hold the team together until both return may put them out of contention early.
Fernando Rodney leads an uninspiring bullpen. He returned to reality last season after his superhuman 2012 and that reality is that he is shaky closer. Should Rodney fail, the Ms will have to turn to Tom Wilhelmsen who struggled big time last season. Things are as bleak as the weather in Seattle this season.
Projected 2014 finish: 79-83. For ticket information click here.
3. The Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles that were once California
(Covers.com has the O/U at 84.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 85-77)
The Angels are a prime example of how money does NOT buy championships. Mike Scioscia built this team on a small ball philosophy and when the big brass brought in sluggers, their success changed. It appears that they bought some broken down pieces on offense and their once vaunted pitching staff is half of what it used to be.
Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, folks, and he is only 22. We as baseball fans are very lucky to watch Trout in the AL and Harper in the NL taking over their leagues. It is the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson of the MLB. What is also undeniable is how terribly awful Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton played last season. I know, they both suffered through injuries, but the reality is these guys are getting up there in age and have a lot of mileage on them. A bounce back from these two highly paid superstars is the only way the Angels can return to the playoffs for the first time in 4 years. Pujols unfortunately is on the wrong side of 30 and dealing with a torn plantar fascia which is never easy to come back from. The entire line-up is getting older and the addition of 41-year old Raul Ibanez to replace the departed 28-year old Mark Trumbo may not be enough.
The pitching staff is a question mark. Only James Shields and Justin Verlander have thrown more pitches than CJ Wilson has over the last two seasons. It may catch up to him as he has always had a high WHIP and is entering his mid-30s. Jered Weaver was once a perennial Cy Young candidate, however both his strikeout rate and velocity have been in a steady decline for a few years now. Rounding out the rotation is a new and relatively young staff. What effect Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, and Garrett Richards can have in turning around this team is yet to be seen.
Ernesto Frieri is an enigma in the pen. He’s a bit like Rick “The Wild Thing” Vaughn. He is either going to strike you out or the ball his going to leave every park but Yellowstone. This is never a good sign for a long-term answer at closer.
Projected 2014 finish: 83-79. For ticket information click here.
2. The Texas Rangers
(Covers.com has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 84-78)
Ron Washington is the winningest coach in Rangers history and will always have this team competing. They could wind-up the last Wild Card spot if it weren’t for my most outrageous prediction yet (which hasn’t been made, so stay tuned!) They made some big changes for the better this past offseason and like Chuck Norris’s beard, it makes them stronger.
Shin-Soo Choo was brought in from Cincinnati and instantly makes the offense more potent. The guy does everything well but most importantly knows how to get on base. That will be huge with fellow Ranger newbie Prince Fielder waiting in the hole. The veggie burrito eating monmouth is built for the home run-frienldy confines of The Ballpark at Arlington (I don’t believe in corporate name changes to stadiums, so back off Globe Life) and alongside Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios form a pretty sexy heart of the line-up. Ian Kinsler was sent to Detroit for Fielder which makes room for he prospect we have all been waiting on: Jurickson Profar. He will have his chance to prove his worth with no real threat on the roster.
The pitching staff is a bit iffy, but if you haven’t noticed, that appears to be the theme in the AL West. Yu Darvish is the clear cut ace. The Rangers really need Matt Harrison and Derek Holland to return to full health because it gives them a very formidable front end of the rotation. Joe Saunders and Tommy Hanson will be forced into action without their services and that’s not good for anyone.
Neftali Feliz is officially the closer… again… I think. He wants to be a starter but because of his mechanical flaws, the Rangers feel he is more suited for the bullpen. Well, that doesn’t make much sense, now does it? Should he stumble the Rangers are actually in good shape as they have Joakim Soria and Tanner Schepps waiting in the pen.
Projected 2014 finish: 90-72. For ticket information click here.
1. The Oakland Athletics
(Covers.com has the O/U at 86.6 while FanGraphs has them finishing 84-78)
The A’s are geared and ready for another run like the early 90s. They don’t have the power or swag that the Bash Brothers had but the back-to-back AL West Champs have all the goods to keep the title run going for at least another season.
The A’s return the same line-up that has been the best of the West. Josh Reddick needs to bounce back from an injury plagued 2013 and become the power surge in the middle of the line-up he was in 2012 when the A’s nabbed him from the Red Sox. Yoenis Cespedes must continue to adjust to pitchers as they have clearly begun to figure him out. He has all the tools and raw talent to take the next step, the question remains on when he will do it. Jed Lowrie is still the unsung leader of this offense while Josh Donaldson quietly continues his rise as one of the best third basemen in baseball.
The loss of last year’s ace Bartolo Colon should not be a problem for this young staff as their rotation gives them the edge in this division. Jarrod Parker must now become the leader of this staff and at 25 he should be ready to shine. The addition of Scott Kazmir brings some veteran leadership to the young staff, although a history of injuries along with it. I still feel like even at age 30 we are waiting for that one amazing season from Kazmir, but those expectations may be a result of too much hype early in his career. Sonny Gray, Dan Straily, and AJ Griffin round out a staff that is growing into one of the most solid rotations in the league.
The A’s let Grant Balfour walk and brought in Jim Johnson as their new closer. It will be interesting to see how he pans out. He amassed 101 saves over the last 2 years in Baltimore, however, he walked a ton of batters and blew a lot of saves that the O’s potent offense frequently bailed him out of losing. Should he struggle, the A’s are safe with possibly the best bullpen in the AL featuring Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, and Luke Gregerson.
Projected 2014 finish: 95-67, AL West Champs. For ticket information click here.