2014 MLB Preview: AL

Standard
A field worker prepares for day one of many. (GETTY)

A field worker prepares for day one of many to follow. (GETTY)

The time of year is once again upon us. The trees are budding, the weather is getting nicer, and ballparks are once again being filled with tens of thousands of fans, eager to see their home team for the first time since the fall, all believing that their chances are promising, no matter how abysmal the team was the last year or how terrible it looks on paper. Spring is a time of hope, but also a time to look forward – to the countless home runs, the stars, the fights, the miracles, the comebacks and the surprise teams.

And at the beginning of every year, I attempt to guess what team will do what, who will win where, and how it will happen. I never get it right. In fact, the team predicted to finish last in their division by many actually took home a World Series trophy. So don’t blame me for getting it wrong. But there’s no point in not trying. So today, I will give you your

2014 AL PREVIEW:

AL WEST

Can the Angels finally make the playoffs?

Can the Angels finally make the playoffs?

For the first time in a very long time, the

 Rangers are not a threat. Not like they were in 2010, 2011 and 2012, when they were dominant throughout the season, with the exception of the September of 2012. So for the first time in a while, it’s really an open slot. The A’s seem very promising, with young Sonny Gray and Yoenis Cespedes, so they should get their three-peat. The Astros, while they have a promising future, do not have a promising today. The first real young talent shouldn’t start to flourish until 2015, although some predict we’ll see Correa and Appel by August or September, depending on injuries and how they do in the Minors. The Mariners made the biggest splash of the offseason, signing Cano to a megadeal. However, their lack of bullpen, rotation and really everywhere-else depth should come back to bite them. Which leaves one sleeper team. The Angels had gone through two years of making big free agent purchases and then not even coming close to winning their division, let alone even a playoff spot. For the first time since those years though, everybody is healthy. Mike Trout is now in season three of an already legendary career. But the question is: Can the Angels can pull it out this year? I’m pretty torn on this. The chances of them getting a wild card spot are about fifty-fifty. But even though I can’t see the Rangers finishing second, the AL East and Central are just too strong for the Angels.

PROJECTED RECORDS: (x indicates division champions, y indicates playoff berth)

W  L

xOakland:  94-68

L.A.           87-75

Texas       84-78

Seattle     79-83

Houston   72-90

AL CENTRAL:

Verlander is looking for another dominant year.

Verlander is looking for another dominant year.

Without a doubt, this is a three team division. Cleveland is one of those three. Cleveland finished hot last year, and even though they did lose the one-game wild card, they showed a lot of promise. With Kipnis finally breaking out, and the squad really meshing together, it looks to be another promising year for Cleveland, unless the Royals can pull something off. However, the one team that will beat them in their own division this year is Detroit. Detroit, while losing 1B Prince Fielder, Starting Pitcher Doug Fister and SS Jose Iglesias until July, has proven they can win. With the one-two punch of Verlander-Scherzer, then more depth in the rotation, the pitching isn’t a worry, except for the bullpen. The lineup includes back-to-back MVP Miguel Cabrera, who has gone back to his native first base after a hysterical stint at third, 2B Ian Kinsler, a nice speedy guy with some pop and V-Mart at catcher, arguably still the best switch hitter in the game. Expect to see another division championship from them. The Royals are a legit threat now, but the question remains if they can jump past the Indians, and any other team in Wild-Card contention. While they are projected to have a great season with Hosmer and Infante dominating, they are just too far down the totem pole to really have a chance, unless the Indians or a couple other wild-card possibilities fall out of it, but expect them to fight until the end. However, the future is very bright, with one of baseball’s best farm systems – next year could be very big, or if anyone speeds through, there may be some new hope. The White Sox, while signing Abreu, didn’t do much of anything else this offseason, which will bite them. A weak farm system doesn’t give them much hope for the future – don’t expect much of anything from these guys this year. The Twins, while boasting the best farm system in the game, can’t boast about anything else. But with Brian Buxton and Miguel Sano both rising very quickly through the minors, happy times may come soon for fans of the Twinkies.

PROJECTED STANDINGS

xDetroit  91-71

yCleveland  88-74

Kansas City  86-76

Minnesota  73-89

Chicago  71-91

AL EAST 

If all goes to plan, the Rays should be doing this in September.

If all goes to plan, the Rays should be doing this in September.

If there was ever a doubt in your mind, I’d like to place this in there. This is the toughest division in all of baseball. Not the NL Central, not the AL West – this is it, right here. The reigning champions are a good place to start. The Red Sox only lost one major piece of the 2013 World Series puzzle, Jacoby Elisbury, who will be easily replaced by Jackie Bradley Jr. The rest of the team is still there, so the only remaining question is if they can keep the momentum from 2013 going, and keep the clubhouse meshed like it was. Watch out for Xander Bogarts to have a breakout season. The Rays are always a threat. They have great talent all around the diamond, and should be expected to fight it out, and probably win the division. I can’t say much more, because I honestly don’t know all that much about the Rays. The Orioles are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2013. While they did lose Reynolds and McClouth, and Machado may be out for a while, expect them to contend. The pitching is the only thing I can see falling apart, but with some great prospects, that’s going to be pretty hard to mess up. The Yankees brought in three big names, McCann, Tanaka and Beltran. Two of the three are very proven. However, the pitching staff and lack of offense elsewhere, unless Jeter figures things out, could be pretty hard to fix. But expect them to contend. The only non-contending team is the Blue Jays, who took everything from the Marlins, and somehow made it even worse. The combination obviously doesn’t work with Reyes, Buehrle, Johnson and the others. It’s time for the Jays to get some prospects and admit it’s time for a fresh start.

PROJECTED STANDINGS

xTampa Bay  93-69

yBoston  91-71

Baltimore  88-74

New York   85-71

Toronto  69-93

PLAYOFFS:

Wild Card Game: CLEVELAND over Boston

ALDS: OAKLAND over Cleveland, TAMPA over Detroit

ALCS: OAKLAND over Tampa

Stay tuned for the NL later in the week!

Advertisements

Medlen’s injury just more validation for Strasburg’s shutdown

Standard
Medlen exits against the Mets. It was later announced he would likely need a second Tommy John Surgery.

Medlen exits against the Mets. It was later announced he would likely need a second Tommy John Surgery. (BleacherReport)

This is a tale of two Tommy John surgeries.

Within fifteen days of each other, both Stephen Strasburg and Kris Medlen tore their UCL, requiring baseball’s most dreaded and talked about surgery – Tommy John. The two promising prospects returned in September 2011. This is where the stories differentiate.

In March of 2012, it was announced that no matter what, Stephen Strasburg would be shut down after pitching a certain amount of innings.  Kris Medlen would start the season in the bullpen, and then become a starter in July.

Kris Medlen had a good start, but began his domination of the National League as a starter. He completely dominated the Nationals throughout the entire season, and for that matter, the National League. But Medlen’s start in the NL Wild Card game proved ineffective as the Braves lost the “infield fly” game.

Strasburg had a very good season also, not as dominant as Medlen, but really showing what he would be like in the future. However, as the shutdown loomed, he began to stop producing, and finished early. Strasburg did not play in the playoffs at all, as Rizzo knew it would be better for the overall future, even though the Nats lost in game five, and many people said the opposite, and that if Strasburg had pitched in the NLDS, it might’ve been a different story.

After both posted a good, but not as good follow up year, the two promising prospects entered this year’s Spring Training with high hopes for division titles and great seasons.

Both started this year’s spring training hot. However, one sunny March afternoon, after delivering a pitch, Medlen grimaced, and jogged off the mound. It was later announced he was likely to get a second Tommy John Surgery.

Six days later, Strasburg matched up against Josè Fernandez and the Marlins, giving up two hits over four innings, completely dominating them.

Strasburg throws a pitch in his dominant performance against Miami last week.

Strasburg throws a pitch in his dominant performance against Miami last week.

Even though it was a meaningless Spring Training Game, it showed what road Medlen could be on right now – and that two years later, it’s clear that Mike Rizzo made the right move.

SON FLASH: Side Of Natitude joins BBA, Nationals on Spring Roll (but does it say anything?)

Standard

SON FLASH: Side of Natitude has been accepted into the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, the biggest group of baseball bloggers in the country. This gives me more exposure and credibility. unnamed

In other news, the Nationals had been on an early Spring Training roll, winning their first three games. They are currently 5-3. However, what makes me more excited than their record is the promise that everyone is showing. Zach Walters, a September call-up has been on fire, LaRoche, Harper and Ramos are all hitting complete bombs, and there is a new sense of hustle and strength as we begin the Matt Williams era.

LaRoche, Espinosa, Storen given second chances

Standard

2013 was the year of Murphy’s Law. If something could go wrong for the Nats, it did. Bryce Harper’s face collided with the one part of Dodger Stadium that could hurt him, and somehow hurt his knee in the process. Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos both had leg problems, Ross Detwiler missed nearly all of the season with a back injury, Denard Span slumped until August, Ryan Zimmerman’s throws went in the wrong direction until June, and the middle of the bullpen was not nearly as effective as it had been in the past.

However, there were three players that truly stood out last year with their problems – Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa, and Drew Storen.

In 2012, Danny Espinosa seemed to have a firm grip on the Second Base job, batting .247 and hitting 17 home runs. But after an early injury and a bad start, something had to give with Anthony Rendon tearing up the Minor Leagues. He was sent down on June 4th, and Rendon came up for the second time, having a breakout season. Espinosa never recovered, and wasn’t even called up in September.

Drew Storen had also had a solid 2012, even though he missed the first part of it, posting an E.R.A. of 2.37, and pitched strongly until Game 5 of the NLDS, where he gave up the famous four runs against the Cardinals. He never bounced back to start the season, posting a combined 6.15 E.R.A. for the first four months of the season. Even though he did bounce back in the final two months, giving up 14 hits in 18.1 innings, questions still surround him.

After 100 R.B.I.’s and batting .271, life was looking good for Adam LaRoche after 2012. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.) But he never gained confidence or could keep weight on in 2013, and he also had a monster slump to start the year that never ended,

There had been much anticipation to see if Drew Storen or Danny Espinosa would start the year with a Curly W on their chests. But through all the major checkpoints in the offseason, they all remained on the Nats.

While Matt Williams has already commented on Danny Espinosa getting a chance to re-claim his job, saying that it’s an “open competition”, LaRoche and Storen will start in the same places they did last year.

Rizzo has kept faith in all of these guys, and now it’s up to them to do a good job. Hopefully, they’ll have a succesful season. But what do you think?