America's pastime is back! For those who can't remember after a long winter, the Boston Red Sox became World Series champions after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in six games. Few experts predicted the Sox to even make the playoffs, let alone take home the trophy before last season. Now we are in 2014, a new year and a new six months of baseball. Before we embark on the 162-game journey, SCO experts are looking to identify this year's Red Sox.
Will the Red Sox repeat? Will our local teams prosper? Find out in this extended Silver Chips Online MLB preview.
American League (AL)
American League East
1. Tampa Bay Rays
2013: 92-71, second in AL East, lost in ALDS
The Rays, like always, will win games with excellent pitching. They have former Cy Young winner David Price and promising young talents in Alex Cobb and Matt Moore. Some thought that the bullpen would come into question after Tampa lost shutdown closer Fernando Rodney, but the Rays answered with the signing of Grant Balfour. The concerns with this team are on the offensive side. Evan Longoria is back and will provide the bulk of the firepower along with Will Myers, who is entering his second major league season after a phenomenal rookie campaign. Tampa Bay also resigned first baseman James Loney, who hit .299 last year, according to ESPN. Guys like Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce will need to produce for the Rays to make some noise in the postseason, but I think that it's certainly possible.
2. Boston Red Sox
2013: 97-65, first in AL East, won World Series
I don't see the Red Sox having another year like they did last year, but I still think they can be contenders. The most important thing for Boston over the offseason was resigning Mike Napoli, who will provide a power bat in the middle of the lineup like last season along with David Ortiz. The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury, however, will hurt them more than most people think. Ellsbury played an important role at the top of the order, getting on base and stealing bases as well as playing solid defense in the outfield. The worst part about it though, is that his replacement is Grady Sizemore, who hasn't played in the majors since 2011. I don't expect him to be even close to what Ellsbury was for the Sox last year. Ortiz, Napoli, and Dustin Pedroia will hold together the offense and the pitching staff will be fine, but I think the loss of Ellsbury will be just too much, unless somehow Xander Bogaerts can make a bigger impact.
3. Baltimore Orioles
2013: 85-77, third in AL East, did not make playoffs
The hometown O's have added more talent to their lineup for this season with the additions of Nelson Cruz, David Lough and more recently Steve Lombardozzi. Scoring runs and hitting the long ball should not be the problem for this club. The issues appear when you look at the pitching staff. Baltimore has Chris Tillman, who had a breakout season last year, Wei-Yin Chen and veteran Ubaldo Jimenez. These three should be the core of the rotation. After that, the four and five starters are questionable and there are even questions surrounding whether Jimenez can pitch up to his potential after a down year. They additionally lost closer Jim Johnson and will likely make Tommy Hunter the new closer. If Hunter can anchor the bullpen, Jimenez can be consistent and the four and five starters pitch well enough, the Orioles could be a scary team. I just think there are too many questions right now.
4. New York Yankees
2013: 85-77, fourth in AL East, did not make playoffs
Although the Yankees probably made the biggest signing of the offseason in Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, they also had the biggest loss in Robinson Cano. At the end of last season Cano was really the only consistent run producer in the everyday lineup for New York and now he is in Seattle. However, the acquisitions of Brian Roberts, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann should help ease the pain. The Yankees' starting pitching is also improved with the return of Michael Pineda from injury and the addition of Tanaka. The concerns with this team are in the bullpen and in the age department. David Robertson will likely be the closer despite the fact that he has never been a closer before in the majors. Also the Yankees are the oldest team in baseball and will most likely suffer some injuries to key players down the stretch, but if somehow this team stays healthy and Tanaka lives up to high expectations, this team could find itself in playoff contention come October.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
2013: 74-88, last in AL East, did not make playoffs
Toronto was close to a disaster last year after they made so many big time acquisitions and will likely have another similar season. The Blue Jays significantly underperformed for one reason or another and could put it together this year if they overcome a few problems. Obviously they have offensive talent and potential but can the starting pitching be good enough to keep them in games? They rely on veterans like R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow, who all have a relatively high likelihood of injury. They also have no clear fourth or fifth starter. If the Blue Jays can overcome the shaky starting rotation and avoid major injuries, they could see an improvement from last year with all of the firepower they have on offense. Those doubts are too large, however, for the Blue Jays to contend in the tough, deep AL East.
American League Central
1. Detroit Tigers
2013: 93-69, first in AL Central, lost in ALCS
Detroit is still the most dominant team in the AL Central division. The Tigers did lose Prince Fielder, Doug Fister and Joaquin Benoit, but added Ian Kinsler, Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain and Rajai Davis. The Tigers also have MVP Miguel Cabrera, Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. No team in this division has the talent to challenge the Tigers for supremacy in the AL Central.
2. Kansas City Royals
2013: 86-76, third in AL Central, did not make playoffs
The Royals have a lot of intriguing young talent, similar to last season. Kansas City should have good starting pitching again with James Shields at the helm. They probably won't have the league's lowest ERA as they did last year, however, after the departure of Ervin Santana. On offense, the addition of Omar Infante could mean a decent bat at the top of the lineup to get on base for guys like Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas. After an 86 win season last year, I only see the Royals improving.
3. Cleveland Indians
2013: 92-70, second in AL Central, lost in Wild Card game
I think the Indians somewhat overachieved last year and will regress slightly. Sure, Terry Francona is a great skipper, but I find it improbable that Cleveland makes the postseason. The issue for the tribe will be starting pitching depth. With Ubaldo Jimenez now in Baltimore and Scott Kazmir off in Oakland, there is no real consistent second starter behind Justin Masterson. The X-factor, however, could be Trevor Bauer and this problem could be partially solved if he pitches up to the hype. In addition, Cleveland will also need better offensive seasons from Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Carlos Santana.
4. Minnesota Twins
2013: 66-96, fourth in AL Central, did not make playoffs
The Twins, I think, made a very smart move moving Joe Mauer to first base for this upcoming year. While Kurt Suzuki is doing all of the dirty work behind the plate, Mauer can focus on and improve upon his offense. Minnesota also resigned starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey and added Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco to go along in the rotation. The problem for this team will be the lack of offense and a lack of defense. Minnesota does, however, have the top prospect in baseball in outfielder Byron Buxton. If he can reach the majors early and make an impact, don't be surprised if the Twins have a record close to .500.
5. Chicago White Sox
2013: 63-99, last in AL Central, did not make playoffs
The one thing that we are missing is a good baseball team in Chicago. The White Sox had the worst offense in the majors last season only scoring 598 runs as a team, according to ESPN. They have also not done enough to improve that number even after acquiring Cuban defector Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton. Expect Chris Sale to dominate once again, but only manage ten to twelve wins.
American League West
1. Texas Rangers
2013: 91-72, second in AL West, did not make playoffs
The Rangers struggled to score runs at times last season, but that shouldn't be a problem anymore. Texas made a few key additions to the lineup in the form of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and big first baseman Prince Fielder. The pitching staff should also be solid with Yu Darvish at the top of the starting rotation and Derek Holland in the mix once he returns from injury. In addition, Texas acquired starting pitcher Tommy Hanson and closer Joakim Soria. The bad news for this team is that top prospect Jurickson Profar, who was projected to start at second base, will miss at least the first two months of the season due to a muscle tear. Starting pitching in the beginning of the season could come into question as well since they will be without Holland. The Rangers, however, should still be poised for a postseason appearance.
2. Los Angeles Angels
2013: 787-84, third in AL West, did not make playoffs
The Angels might have the most talent on their roster, but failed to live up to high expectations last season. If other people than Mike Trout can produce on offense, the Angels will win games. LA also has a great front end of the rotation in Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson. After Weaver and Wilson, however, there is not much even though the team acquired Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. The bullpen will also continue to be an issue as it has been in recent years. The Angels have the bats though, and can potentially hit their way into the playoffs if the rest of the offense plays up to its potential.
3. Oakland Athletics
2013: 96-66, first in AL West, lost in ALDS
It seems as if the Athletics might have just run out of magic this season. The A's certainly are the best in the business at finding young talent for a low price, have elite starting pitching and are always among the top defenses in the AL. This year, however, could be different. Oakland lost its top starter from a year ago, Bartolo Colon, and closer Grant Balfour. Not to mention the fact that starting pitcher Jarrod Parker will be out the whole season and there is almost no way that Josh Donaldson repeats his stellar offensive year. The A's will win games, but will be hurt too much to win the AL West yet again.
4. Seattle Mariners
2013: 71-91, fourth in AL West, did not make playoffs
Seattle is definitely heading in the right direction right now. After adding star second baseman Robinson Cano, outfielder Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, the offense will likely improve at least a little. Regarding pitching, king Felix Hernandez will be great but there are a lot of questions after that. The bullpen though, did get a significant helping hand with the acquisition of closer Fernando Rodney. If it all comes together, the Mariners could potentially contend for a playoff spot, but I just don't find it too likely at this point because of pitching woes behind Hernandez and inconsistent offense around Cano.
5. Houston Astros
2013: 51-111, last in AL West, did not make playoffs
The Astros made a few signings over the offseason like starter Scott Feldman and reliever Chad Qualls, but Houston will still be in the cellar of the AL West. Second baseman Jose Altuve has talent and future potential as well as young catcher Jason Castro. Other than that, however, the Astros will feature a lot of young, largely unknown players just coming up to the major league level. Houston has some intriguing minor league prospects right now like pitcher Mark Appel and shortstop Carlos Correa, but don't expect them or anyone else to make any significant impact on the team right away.
National League East
1. Washington Nationals
2013: 86-76, second in NL East, did not make playoffs
For most of last season, our hometown Washington Nationals could get little going offensively beyond solo home runs. They became overly-reliant on their pitching, which regressed significantly from 2012. The bullpen was less than impressive, pitching to a combined 3.56 ERA, good for 16th in baseball.
The Nats are a new and improved team now, though. They brought in a more dynamic manager in Matt Williams, along with Doug Fister, who will serve as the Nats' fourth starting pitcher but could be the number one or two on most teams. Jerry Blevins, a strong left-handed reliever, will provide Washington with more firepower out of the bullpen.
The pitching should return to its 2012 level, and the hitting should be improved, not because of offseason acquisitions but because of leadoff hitter Denard Span. The Nats lacked RBI opportunities last year, in large part because the top of the order wasn't producing. However, Denard Span picked it up last season and has carried that into spring. Expect a strong year from the leadoff man.
The biggest question mark for this team is the health of catcher Wilson Ramos. "The Buffalo" has found himself sidelined for good portions of the last two seasons, but when fit, he is a consistent line drive hitter with tremendous power. Despite playing only 55 games last season, Ramos managed to knock in 42 runs, good for second on the team.
2. Atlanta Braves
2013: 96-66, first in NL east, lost in NLCS
The Braves had a net loss in the offseason, one that makes the pick of the Washington Nationals a little easier. Not only did they see both catcher Brian McCann and starting pitcher Tim Hudson depart in free agency, but they also lost ace Kris Medlen to Tommy John surgery. The signing of Ervin Santana will not make up for the pitching losses. Still, this Braves team has the best bullpen in baseball and one of the most prolific offenses. The biggest x-factor is centerfielder BJ Upton, who has the intangibles of a good hitter but struggled mightily at the plate last year.
3. New York Mets
2013: 74-88, third in NL East, did not make playoffs
The Mets are unlikely to contend for the playoffs next year, but even breaking .500 is a step in the right direction. Ace Matt Harvey could miss the entire 2014 season recovering from Tommy John surgery—the playoff hopes of the Mets will likely dictate whether or not he returns. Even without Harvey, though, this rotation is still not all that bad. Four of the five projected starters had a sub-3.75 ERA in 2013 and Zach Wheeler has all-star potential. The Mets were far from spectacular offensively last year, but the addition of Curtis Granderson should provide a spark.
4. Miami Marlins
2013: 62-100, last in NL East, did not make playoffs
After finishing with the worst record in the National League in 2013, there is only up for the Marlins, a team with many bright, young players. The rotation is headlined by the fiery Jose Fernandez, whose remarkable 2013 earned him the Rookie of the Year Award, in which he pitched to a 2.19 ERA. Three of the four other projected starters had ERAs below 3.75. Pitching will have to keep the Marlins in games, because their offense was the worst in the Major Leagues last year. Giancarlo Stanton can only do so much, especially when teams pitch around him. The Marlins brought in Jarrod Saltalamacchia among other solid MLB-experienced players, which should improve their offense somewhat.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
2013: 73-89, fourth in NL East, did not make playoffs
At quick glance, this team looks decent. Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett are a strong front three of the rotation and Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz are all big names. This team would be contending for the division title if this were 2008. But it's not, and instead the Phillies are stuck with a bunch of injury-prone players past their primes. Keep an eye out, though, for Dominic Brown and Ben Revere, two players who will be cornerstones to the Phillies' rebuilding process, which should start sometime in late July.
National League Central
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2013: 97-65, first in NL central, lost in World Series
The Cardinals have unfinished business after falling to Red Sox in the World Series last year. To bolster an already dominant rotation featuring Adam Wainwright among others, pitcher Michael Wacha emerged onto the scene late last season and proved unhittable at times. The pitching doesn't end there, as the Cards boast one of the strongest bullpens in baseball. The loss of Carlos Beltran hurts, but a middle three of Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina is one of the best in baseball. A lot would have to go wrong for these Cardinals not to win the division.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
2013: 94-68, second in NL Central, lost in NLDS
The NL Central will be the National League's most contested division, thanks to what looks to be an exciting race once again between the Pirates and Reds. While I'm giving the edge to the Pirates, there are major concerns for this team. For one thing, many argue that it maxed out its potential last year, best symbolized by the overachieving Francisco Liriano, who managed a 3.02 ERA when his career average is 4.18. The loss of A.J. Burnett is not a killer, but the Pirates did little to replace him. Expect the Bucs to regress slightly in 2014.
3. Cincinnati Reds
2013: 90-72, third in NL Central, lost in NL Wild Card game
The Cincinnati Reds could almost make a roster out of their disabled list: it's loaded. Fireball closer Aroldis Chapman should return sometime in late April or May. Once he gets back on the field, though, there's no telling how the line drive to the face will impact his mentality. There's reason for concern there. Additionally, the Reds lost centerfielder Shin Soo Choo to free agency. As the leadoff hitter, Choo had an on base percentage of .423. However, the Reds might have a center fielder/leadoff hitter of the future in Billy Hamilton, who stole 75 bases in the minors before being called up and stealing 13 with the Reds. Hamilton is an unproven hitter, and so his damage on the base paths could be limited by an inability to get on base. The Reds' offense was mediocre last season. It will need to see a jump if the Reds are to beat the Pirates for what potentially could be the second wild card spot.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
2013: 74-88, fourth in NL Central, did not make playoffs
Ryan Braun is not a popular man right now. After being suspended 65 games last season for using performance-enhancing drugs, Braun will make his return to the Brewers. We'll find out the extent to which the 'roids impacted his play. Last season, the Brewers were pretty mediocre hitting and pitching. Their offense should improve this year with the returns of Braun and Aramis Ramirez (injury), but their overall pitching remains pretty shallow.
5. Chicago Cubs
2013: 66-96, last in NL Central, did not make playoffs
Now that the Marlins are a little more respectable, the Cubs look destined to finish last in the NL. This is one of those cases where the Cubs' TV network might be better off broadcasting Minor League games, since that's where the majority of their future playoff team is playing. They hold six of Baseball America's top 100 prospects. Even Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, two young and promising Major Leaguers, will have little impact on where the Cubs finish in the standings.
National League West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2013: 92-70, first is NL East, lost in NLCS
First and foremost, congrats to the Dodgers on becoming the new Yankees of baseball! Although big spending generally annoys fans of other teams, it has proven to be an effective strategy. The Dodgers are now loaded with players on big contracts: Zack Greinke (28 million), Adrian Gonzalez (22 million), Matt Kemp (21 million), Carl Crawford (21 million), Hanley Ramirez (16 million) and Andre Ethier (15.5 million). Yet ironically, the Dodgers' most successful offensive player of last season, Yasiel Puig, is making less than four million on his rookie contract in 2014. The front four of their rotation is one of the best (when Chad Billingsley returns), with arguably the best player in the NL, Clayton Kershaw, leading the way. Dan Haren will likely start the season in the rotation, which is good news for Diamondbacks and Giants fans. Nevertheless, even Haren could win his fair share of games thanks to the Dodgers' potent offense.
2. San Francisco Giants
2013: 76-86, T-third in NL West, did not make playoffs
The Giants had an overall positive offseason, although they probably didn't do enough to secure a Wild Card spot. They signed Tim Hudson to add to a formidable rotation, one that was banged up for much of last season. Even with a top five rotation in baseball, this Giants team could still miss the playoffs because of poor hitting. They finished 21st in the MLB in runs scored last season. The addition of Michael Morse isn't going to resolve the Giants' offensive woes.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
2013: 81-81, second in NL West, did not make playoffs
While the Giants remained pretty static this offseason, the Diamondbacks were active, trading for slugger Mark Trumbo and closer Addison Reed and signing starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo. The Diamondbacks could be a surprise Wild Card team this year, but they'll have to overcome a tough NL West, which includes a resurgent Giants team. Not to mention, they'll have to go the entire 2014 without formerly projected opening day starter Patrick Corbin.
4. San Diego Padres
2013: 76-86, T-third in NL West, did not make playoffs
The Padres are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and the first time under manager Bud Black. Unfortunately, 2014 does not look to be the year. The Padres have a decent pitching staff, led by Ian Kennedy and Andrew Cashner; however, it's not nearly good enough to compensate for the poor hitting. In 2013, the Padres combines for a .245 average and finished 24th in runs scored.
5. Colorado Rockies
2013: 74-88, last in NL West, did not make playoffs
The Rockies return a pretty similar team to last season's: they brought in starter Brett Anderson, saw Todd Helton retire and traded away leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler. With that being said, the Rockies will likely finish similarly to last season, although if Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez can stay healthy, which history would not suggest, then the Rockies could find themselves around .500 for the season. A starting rotation headed by the currently injured Julio Chacin does not look promising, but maybe it'll surprise…maybe.
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