It is the eve of another baseball season ( not counting games played in Australia) and it is time for my annual predictions. Right off the top I should mention that I am a long time superstitious Red Sox fan. Last year I did not pick the Red Sox to win the World Series, the AL East or to even make the playoffs. That worked out pretty damn well, so there is a very healthy dose of that superstition in these picks( but not the only factor).
1. Tampa Bay- Where There is a Wil There's a Way
2. Boston*- Red Sox Repeat Realistic? May Depend on X Factor
3. Baltimore- O's Contend 'Cause Duke Thinks Winter Meetings are in February
4. New York- Franchise Face's Farewell Foray Finishes Fourth
5. Toronto- '14 Jays Same as '13--Not Unlucky Just Overrated
1. Kansas City- All-In Royals Overtake Tigers
2. Cleveland- Second in Central Again--But No Wild Card This Time
3. Detroit- Miggy and Three Great Pitchers and ??'s Everywhere Else
4. Chicago- Konerko's Farewell Finishes Fourth, as Well
5. Minnesota- But Byron Buxton is on Target for 2015
1. Texas- Gonna Party Like It's 1999
2. Los Angeles**- Magic Mike Carries So-so Pitching, Aging Teammates
3. Oakland- Moneyball Sequel Suffers Setback
4. Seattle- If Cano Hits .400 the M's Could Finish.......Third??
5. Houston- "With The First Pick in the 2015 Amateur Draft......."
*= Wild Card #1, **= Wild Card #2
Wild Card Game Red Sox over Angels (as so many post seasons before)
ALDS Red Sox over Rays in 4 and Royals surprise Rangers in 5
ALCS Royals in 7 ( damned superstition)
AL MVP Prince Fielder
AL Cy Yu Darvish
AL ROY Xander Bogaerts
AL Mgr. Ned Yost
1. Washington- Consider 2013 as Just a FiliBUSTered season
2. Atlanta**- Newly Signed Nucleus Nudged by Nats
3. New York- Unhealthy Harvey Hampers Higher Hopes
4. Miami- Marlins Title Chances Equal Richie Incognito's for NFL Man of the Year
5. Philadelphia- Ruben Amaro Welcome to the 21st Century & the Unemployment Line
1. St. Louis- Coming Crop of Cards Crush Central Competition
2. Pittsburgh*-Buccos Regression? That'll be a Cole Day in Hell
3. Milwaukee- Honoring Bob Uecker's 80th Birthday, Brewers Finish " Jussst a Little Bit Outside"
4. Cincinnati- Who Would Hire Their Pitching Coach as Manager??
5. Chicago- 106 Years and Counting
1. Los Angeles- Everyone in the Pool
2. San Francisco- Every Other Year Champ Tries to Wrest the Belt Back
3. San Diego- Third in NL West, Fifth in MLB California Teams
4. Arizona- Dbacks Fished in Deep End of Pool for Pitching...and Caught Bronson Arroyo??
5. Colorado- Rocky Mountain Low
Wild Card Pirates over Braves
NLDS Nationals edge Pirates in 5 and Cardinals need 5 to beat LA
NLCS St. Louis over Washington in 6
The Cardinals reverse the curse of Don Denkinger and the 1985 World Series to take down the Royals in 6. First base ump Jim Joyce reprising Denkinger's famous missed call (at first base leading to a Game Six win for KC instead of the Cards who were 3 outs away from the title) calls Eric Hosmer safe at first with the Cards ( up 3-2 in the Series) leading 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. After a 14 1/2 minute review of the instant replay, the call is reversed and St. Louis has their World Series win.
NL MVP Bryce Harper
NL CY Clayton Kershaw ( who else?)
NL ROY Gregory Polanco, Pirates
NL Mgr. Matt Williams
Now for a few more detailed thoughts
Let's take a little more detailed look at the AL East. I think as opposed to last year's pre-season thoughts, it is very likely the Rays and Red Sox distance themselves from the rest of the pack. I do think Baltimore could hang in all the way to the end if they can get any pitching ( Ubaldo, Kevin Gausman, Tommy Hunter as closer). The Yankees ( more on them later) and Toronto will finish under .500 and well behind the leaders. I did not pick the Rays to win the AL East on the afore mentioned superstition only. They have a strong( although still not entirely proven to me) rotation of David Price and highly touted youngsters, and I do begrudgingly believe Wil Myers will combine with Evan Longoria to boost the heart of an otherwise potentially anemic offense. I think the Red Sox with their own strong pitching staff( very likely better than the Rays from 1 through 12+) are very well positioned to repeat. If Xander Bogarts and Will Middlebrooks can live up to their ceilings and provide power from the left side of the infield, the Sox could pull away from the AL East just like 2013.
Could the Yankees win the AL East and beyond in 2014? Yes they could, but they would need almost all of the following ifs to come true.
*If the signs of age CC and Kuroda showed in 2013 can be reversed
*If David Robertson can come close to replacing Mariano Rivera
*If more importantly, they have anyone who can pitch in front of Robertson in set-up
*If Masahiro Tanaka can become an ace right away as in Japan
*If Derek Jeter can run or hit like a big league shortstop should
* If Mark Teixeira can not only recover from a serious wrist injury, but can he reverse a pattern since 2008 where his OBP, OPS, and RBI have decreased each year from the year before.
* If Jacoby Ellsbury stays healthy and can hit HRs in the right field bandbox( but no matter what Ellsbury provides isn't it totally offset offensively by the loss of Robinson Cano?)
* If Brian Roberts ( who makes Grady Sizemore look like Cal Ripken, Jr.) and Kelly Johnson are both decent major league infielders ( You might as well add Jeter to this too. What a terrible infield.
* If Carlos Beltran can play in the field almost all of the time because New York all ready has several other guys who need to be at DH( Soriano and yes, we are looking at you Jeter, to begin with). And again can Beltran really provide any more than Curtis Granderson did before his injury filled 2013?
* If Michael Pineda can overcome the rust of missing two whole years AND his limited big league experience before the injury.
I cold go on, but enough about them. To repeat if nearly this entire list falls their way ( or if they spend another half billion on players during the year) they could contend.
This is the prediction most likely to bit me on the butt. Tigers third in the AL Central and out of the playoffs. As I mentioned in the one line prediction above, I feel like the only givens for Detroit are Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez. Even there you can come up with questions: How does Cabrera respond to his new contract which equals the GNP of several small third world nations? Justin Verlander has thrown something like over a thousand pitches more than any other MLB pitcher in recent years...does he feel that? Sanchez has been injured on and off in his entire career and how does Max handle being the defending Cy Young winner and more importantly impending free agency( after turning down $144 million from the Tigers this week). And these are their solid guys. Detroit has other veteran players but to me they all have ??'s. Too old? Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. Adjusting to playing home games in a non hitters park? Ian Kinsler. Injury issues? Alex Avila and Jose Iglesias ( out for all of '14?) Youngster trying to make it? Nick Castellanosand Drew Smyly. Overrated? Austin Jackson. Then the flat out holes in their team...shortstop( they traded for Andrew Romine and Alex Gonzalez, yikes), left field, and most of all the bullpen even with Joe Nathan who is after all 39 years old. And maybe most importantly, Jim Leyland is retired replaced by novice manager Brad Ausmus. Ausmus comes in with high regard in the game ( he very well would have been hired in Boston, if they had not been able to make a deal for John Farrell). But he is no Jim Leyland.
I am probably in the vast minority, but I do not like the expanded replay, hell I was not all that jazzed about the replay for home runs that was all ready in place. As I alluded to in my predicted ending to the World Series, I foresee a delay in big league games that are all ready too long. If you want to get more calls right, hire better umpires. I know I am fighting a losing battle, and I do think as the year goes on the replay will go somewhat smoother, but all the rules about when a manager can challenge are going to cause controversy on their own.
Speaking of controversy, the rule change to greatly reduce ( apparently not to eliminate) home plate collisions will be a nightmare. Baseball cannot even seem to clearly state what the rule is to be. First it was no collisions, then it was the runner can hit the catcher if he is in a certain position in regards to the plate. Who the hell knows? And there seems to be a massive split among players and other baseball people on if the rule is even needed. Even among the catchers themselves. This will be a mess. I predict the entire rule is scrubbed during the season.
Now for a few quick predictions before getting to some Red Sox centric forecasts.
*AL wins the All Star Game ( for those who read my World Series prediction carefully you all ready knew this) 2-1 at Target Field on a 8th inning 2 run single by Coco Crisp.
* Moving to the hitter friendly park in Texas leads to a rejuvenated Prince Fielder with 44 home runs and an MVP season( but he fails in the post season as in 2013)
* Harold Reynolds in the Fox Game of the Week booth will make us miss Tim McCarver.
*Kirk Gibson will be the first manager fired, followed by Bob Melvin, John Gibbons, and Walt Weiss.
*Javier Baez and Kris Bryant arrive at Wrigley Field and show Cubs fans the beginning of Theo magic.
* Attendance will continue to climb and TV money continues its explosion as well.
* The A's finally strike a deal with the Giants to move to San Jose, and the Rays begin a process to move to Montreal which will happen by 2017 if not sooner.
14 Red Sox Related Predictions for '14
*Jon Lester, with his new extension ( signed in April for 5 years, 110M) will pitch like the post season ace he is all year long, and Clay Buchholz will make it through the entire year without injury.
* Felix Doubront has a breakout season wining 15 games, which trail Lester and Buch, but he will lead the team in strikeouts edging Lester.
* One of John Lackey and Jake Peavy ( maybe both) will fight the injury bug.
* Koji Uehara takes a step back from his 2013 super season, but is still the best closer in the AL.
* Xander Bogaerts makes the American League All Star team.
* With a healthy thumb, Dustin Pedroia power returns and he has a career high in home runs.
* Will Middlebrooks improves his selectiveness at the plate ( there is NOTHING wrong with his selectiveness otherwise), cuts down on his strikeouts, raises his OBP and combines with Xander to provide over 50 home runs from the left side of the infield.
* David Ortiz's numbers come down slightly ( 25 HR 95 RBI and hits .288) but he and Mike Napoli, who has another season with no hip related issues, provide production in the middle of the order.
*Red Sox outfielders will be plagued by injury throughout the year. This will lead to Jackie Bradley, Jr. starting over 100 games for Boston and performing solidly. Grady Sizemore will be among those with nagging injuries, but he will make it all the way through 2014 with no major injury and will re-sign to stay in Boston.
* Besides the stellar seasons of Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr., other Red Sox prospects will play a big part in their 2014 success. With a pair of 37 year old catchers in AJ Pierzynski and David Ross, Christian Vazquez will get time behind the plate by July and he will be the starting catcher by mid August. The plethora of outfield injuries mentioned above will open the door for not only Bradley, Jr. but also Bryce Brentz. Brentz will bring his raw power and strong arm to Boston and will play a key role in each corner outfield spot. and with predicted injuries in the rotation, both Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo will make a number of key starts for Boston. Henry Owens and Matt Barnes will make their MLB debuts as well.
* Brandon Workman will make some starts in Boston, but even with veteran pitching injuries, the emergence of the other kid starters will leave Workman largely ( and very successfully) in the Boston bullpen.
* At least one of the Boston coaches get hired as big league managers after the 2014 campaign. Torey Lovullo is the most likely, but do not count out Brian Butterfield ( maybe back in Toronto).
* Jerry Remy will bow to pressure and take a reduced role at NESN. Dennis Eckersley and Derek Lowe both have stints as Don Orsillo's partner. Jamie Erdahl, after the Bruins season ends up as Jenny Dell's replacement. NESN will continue the revolving door used in spring training until after the Bruins have their Stanley Cup parade. ( that is a free non-baseball prediction).
* Lead by Mookie Betts the Portland Sea Dogs win the Eastern League pennant.
Well, there you go. Do not take these to Vegas, but hopefully they will be close come October.
Happy Baseball to you all.