My Bold Predictions for 2014
National League Edition
If you’re a fan of any of the teams I predict will win, you won’t like my predictions - they’re usually wrong. But as Paul McCartney sings, “Here I go again…”
The Braves fail to make the playoffs because of the onslaught of injuries to their pitching staff and tight budget. Look for newly signed Ervin Santana to be traded before July 31 to a contender. Meanwhile the Nationals under new manager Matt Williams avoid an early season slump and cruise to a division title behind a dominant starting rotation. The Marlins and Mets both make a run at .500 behind their respective young and power-armed rotations. The Marlins fall short due to their anemic offense, but if the Mets are on the fringe of playoff contention they’re more likely to add salary via a mid-season trade. They also have 21-year old pitcher Noah Syndergaard, ranked as the 11th, 16th and 18th best prospect by MLB.com, Baseball America and Fangraphs.com respectively, on schedule to make his major league debut later this summer. As for the Phillies, pity new manager Ryne Sandberg who finally gets a well-deserved shot at managing in the majors only to be saddled with a poorly constructed team with no help on the horizon from the farm system. General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. finally decides to retool by trading ace pitcher Cliff Lee for prospects as the Phillies become fodder for the rest of the NL.
No surprise here as the Cardinals cruise to the division crown led by four legitimate MVP candidates (Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter) and a young, deep, flame-throwing pitching staff. Surprise! The Brewers win a wild card as their underrated starting pitchers each post ERAs under 4.00 while making more the 20 starts apiece. Owner Mark Attanasio, who has previously opened the purse strings to add talent and salary mid-season, does so again to help his team over the hump and into the playoffs. The Pirates, on the other hand, sat on their hands this past winter as pitcher AJ Burnett and right-fielder Marlon Byrd left for greener pastures. That’s fine for the bottom line and it also leaves unblocked pathways for the midseason arrival of pitcher Jameson Taillon and right-fielder Gregory Polanco, ranked respectively as the 22nd and 10th best prospects overall in the minors by Baseball America. Unfortunately for Pirates fans though, that fiscal restraint also means a failure to return to the playoffs. As for the Reds, new centerfielder Billy Hamilton may literally run away with the NL Rookie of the Year award, but with a minor league career OBP/SLG of .350/.378 he cannot reasonably be expected to approximate Shin-Shoo Choo’s .423/.462 campaign last year. The Reds struggle to score runs and get off to a slow start which leads to a trade of second baseman Brandon Phillips, who seems very unappreciated by the Cincinnati media, to the Yankees. Meanwhile, the future looks bright for the Cubbies and their fans as team president Theo Epstein finds the next Terry Francona in new manager Rick Renteria, who nurtures a good team chemistry and coaxes his young team toward a surprise run at .500.
The Dodgers have the money and a wealth of outfielders to facilitate a trade to address any weaknesses should they get off to a slow start again. Matt Kemp, playing with a slight chip on his shoulder, returns to MVP form and his status as a Dodger fan favorite. But the Yasiel-being-Yasiel act gets old fast, prompting the Dodgers to trade Puig to the Tampa Bay Rays for pitcher David Price, who signs a six-year $150MM contract extension with the Dodgers immediately following the trade. The rotation of Kershaw, Greinke, Price, Ryu and Haren/Beckett pushes the Dodgers to the division title despite lackluster performance at second base and a regression by third baseman Juan Uribe. Meanwhile, further up the California coast Matt Cain returns to Cy Young form while Tim Lincecum is still maddeningly inconsistent. He’s dominant more often than not though, which is just fine for the number four starter in the Giants rotation. A happy and healthy Mike Morse also regains his power stroke in AT&T Park as the Giants earn a wild card berth in the playoffs. The Padres are surprise playoff contenders led by an underrated pitching staff. They’ll opt to keep third baseman Chase Headley to remain on the fringe of playoff contention. Ultimately though, they’ll fall short of the playoffs and Headley will leave next winter after rejecting the Padres qualifying offer. Out in the desert, aside from first baseman Paul Goldschmidt the Diamondbacks play very lackluster ball and struggle to play .500. This leads to the midseason firing of both GM Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson. As for the Rockies, you can’t completely count out a team that has a healthy Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki in the lineup (I said the same thing last year). Michael Cuddyer will continue to flourish in Denver, Justin Morneau will show that he still has something left in the tank, and third baseman Nolan Arenado is a candidate for a breakout season. As always though, it will be the Rockies pitching that will determine their fate.
NL Champions: Cardinals
Their depth, experience and lack of drama bring them back to the World Series for the second consecutive year.
Top Left: Allen Craig, photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Top Right: Matt Carpenter, photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Bottom Left: Matt Holliday, photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Bottom Right: Yadier Molina, photo by Elsa/Getty Images