2014 MLB Preview: AL

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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!

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The baseball offseason in review

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There are quite a few holidays in the good ol’ U.S.A. Christmas, July 4th, Labor Day, Presidents Day, Easter, Hanukkah, and my personal favorite after Hanukkah: Opening Day. However, there is one more I didn’t list there. The day that pitchers and catchers report.

The month is February, and the days are short, gray and cold. But you know, that somewhere in Southern Florida or Arizona, the boys of summer are getting ready. Maybe they’re just catching up on what happened in those long months or sharing glory from the World Series, or doing basic drills. But they’re back in uniform, in the heat, and everyone is optimistic. That will change for most teams, but this is the most hopeful day. So, as baseball starts up again, we have to look back at the offseason.

The first thing was managerial positions, the most important thing in my opinion. Former players like Matt Williams & Brad Ausmus both got the most appealing jobs, for the Nationals and Tigers. Lloyd McClendon, Bryan Price and Rick Rentaria all joined the Mariners, Reds and Cubs, respectively.

Back in November, which feels like forever ago at this point, the first truly major name switched teams. Tim Hudson left the Atlanta Braves for the Giants on a two year deal.

However, the real stuff didn’t start for another few days. This was one of the most unexpected deals, with Prince Fielder being traded to the Rangers for cash and Ian Kinsler.

This shocked the baseball world in ways more than one. However, I feel like I said something about this a while back…

After this, the bigger deals started. Jhonny Peralta went to the Cardinals, and before you could say that “The Cardinals are the Yankees of the NL!” The Yankees made a splash and a half by signing Jacoby Elisbury and Carlos Beltran, creating a starting outfield with a combined age of 96 and 3 other outfielders including Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano. Sheesh.

This is where it gets interesting for Nats fans. For barely anything unless you are a citizen of Natstown, The Nats acquired Doug Fister for prospect Robbie Ray and second baseman/utility man Steve Lombardozzi. Even more interestingly, the deal was reported by a high schooler.

Next, a confusing three-team deal sent Mark Trumbo to the D-Backs. The next day, the Nats traded for Jerry Blevins, a lefty reliever. The day right after that, Nate McClouth made the cross-beltway journey to join the Nats as a utility man. Right after, Mike Napoli resigned with the Red Sox, and beards everywhere rejoiced. However, the biggest deal of the offseason was yet to come. The Seattle Mariners somehow got their hands on Robinson Cano, for ten years and $240 million.

Trying to replace the big bat that Helton provided, Morneau decided that he would spend the next two years in Colorado. The Giants then added Michael Morse. The final big deal before the new year was Sin Soo Choo signing with the Rangers for seven years. Jamey Carroll came back to Natstown, again, except he’ll start (in all likelihood) in Syracuse. Right before MLB approved instant replay, A-Rod was suspended, and it was announced he would miss all of the 2014 season.

Coincidentally, the final “really big deal” happened when the Yankees spent the A-Rod money on Masahiro Tanaka signed with the Yankees.

The final relatively important deals were made on January 26th, when Matt Garza signed with the Brewers.

The only big names that remain are Nelson Cruz, A.J. Burnett, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.

So, if there’s anything I missed, I apologize. It’s pretty hard to put an entire offseason into 700 words.

But everything is in place for an awesome season. What will be a bust? What will work? What was stupid? What was smart? Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, see you on Opening Day!