Yesterday, my 2014 National League Preview pretty much laid out a predictable holding of form just about across the board, not much in the way of surprises. And I know much more about the NL than I do the AL. Generally, I try to keep the NL preview sort of well-informed, while the American League, I have the tendency to get a little crazy and outlandish with my predictions (Case in point: In 2008, I picked the Cleveland Indians to win the pennant. In 2009, the Minnesota Twins). The point, as usual, is that I don't like the American League, their lack of strategy, their paucity of quality pitching or their Designated Lucas Duda. So, just take this with a grain of salt. Of course, watch my predictions work out.
1) Tampa Bay Rays (93-69)
The best team that nobody watches seems primed to take The Leap this year, and it's probably not a moment too soon as rotation anchor David Price is about to hit Free Agency. Although, for what it's worth, when has losing a key piece ever seemed to bother these guys? Last year, they lost a pair of pitchers and barely blinked, thanks to guys like Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb, and this year can add another stud in Rookie Jake Odorizzi. Offensively, for as much as you sleep on their lack of star power, that's how much a guy like Ben Zobrist or Desmond Jennings will bite you in the ass, and a full season of Wil Myers should provide even more protection for Evan Longoria.
2) Boston Red Sox (91-71)
The Beard Boys shall ride again, after mostly keeping the nucleus of their World Championship roster together. A far cry from the mess that they were, now they're a never-say-die team built around scrappers like Dustin Pedroia, Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli, and toolsy Rookies like Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. Pitching-wise, they remain first-rate, returning all their key starters and continue to boast a deep bullpen. My pick to take one of the two Wildcards.
3) Baltimore Orioles (88-74)
The Orioles seem to be kind of like the Rays with less pitching. They have a young, scrappy team that gets in your way and is generally annoying to play most of the time. This year, they figure to have more thunder after bringing in Nelson Cruz to complement Chris Davis, and adding Ubaldo Jimemez to the rotation gives them some sorely-needed rotation depth.
4) New York Yankees (84-78)
Recently, I've enjoyed going up to Yankee fans and saying to them, in my best Mad Dog Russo voice, "YER TEAM STINKS!!!" and just watch as they melt into an apoplectic shit-fit. They spent their usual boatload of money on guys like Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian Roberts and Masahiro Tanaka, but this team is old. And not only are they old, but they're boring. The entire season is basically built around the Derek Jeter ass-kissing party, which kind of covers up this fact. McCann is 30 and missed loads of time with injuries over the past few seasons, Ellsbury is a speed-based guy on the wrong side of 30, Roberts is 36, innings are starting to catch up with C.C. Sabathia, and the rest of their pitching staff seems to be trading high based solely on the fact that the Yankees have an endless pimp machine on their own players. Mariano Rivera isn't around to pull their asses out of the fire anymore and it's only a matter of time before the curse of the closers finally strikes the Yankees.
5) Toronto Blue Jays (78-84)
I've noticed something strange about the Blue Jays: All of a sudden, Jose Reyes is the face of the franchise. When the hell did that happen? I thought Jose Bautista, Canada's #1 Pizza Pimp, was the main man on that team, but no no, now Reyes is getting all the ink. And rightly so, because Jose Reyes is a good, boisterous guy. Meanwhile, the rest of the team still has a lot of holes. Even the presence of R.A. Dickey can't save them.
1) Detroit Tigers (90-72)
Mostly the same group that went to the World Series in 2012 and the ALCS in 2013, less Prince, and they're still a tough team to beat on a day-to-day basis. They'll probably have their usual lull at some point during the season, but then Miguel Cabrera will catch fire and newly-acquired Ian Kinsler will give them a little more OBA, and Justin Verlander and company will continue to pitch well, so while I think they might be slightly challenged by another team in this division, I highly doubt they will be overtaken.
2) Kansas City Royals (88-74)
It's time. 29 years after their last Postseason appearance, it's time for the Royals to make The Leap and get over The Hump and make their way back into prominence. They, like Tampa, seem to be trying to stuff victories into a window that always seems to be closing, but they've got a nucleus of guys like Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer that have been trading high on potential for too long. Now they've got to meet it and back up their pitching staff behind James Shields and Luke Hochevar. You wanted a ballsy pick, well, here's a ballsy pick. Royals to the Playoffs.
3) Cleveland Indians (82-80)
They have youthful pitching and sporadic offense, and that tends to add up to not much good. The offense seems woefully boring, even taking into account the surprisingly strong year Jason Kipnis had last year and ultimately it boils down to how dependent they are on the aging chucklehead Nick Swisher. They snuck up on a lot of teams last year and rode a pillow-soft September schedule into the Wildcard game. I don't think things will break that way for them again.
4) Chicago White Sox (70-92)
Poor Robin Ventura...
5) Minnesota Twins (65-97)
That never ending Minnesota Twins cycle theory is still cycling upwards, so it's likely going to be another long season for the Twins. Byron Buxton and Alex Meyer are still a year away and Überprospect Miguel Sano is lost for the season with an elbow injury, leaving little at the top level to get excited about. Even Rock of Gibraltar Justin Morneau is gone, leaving Joe Mauer sticking out as the veteran among a bunch of kids. The season highlight may end up being the entire team banding together to prank Mike Pelfrey during March Madness.
1) Texas Rangers (89-73)
I think the Rangers will get their act together enough to win a rather paltry-looking AL West. Just a hunch. They suffered through some key losses but they built themselves back up, acquiring Prince Fielder via trade and Shin-Soo Choo via Free Agency, to go along with a strong lineup of returning players and a pitching rotation that's better than it might appear at first glance. They're not on the level of their two World Series teams, but they're good enough to contend.
2) Oakland Athletics (87-75)
I would have picked them to win the division, but it seems like they've lost too many bit pieces and in the Billy Beane Moneyball line of thinking, the team is comprised of the bits. Brett Andersen was dealt away and Jarrod Parker is lost with an elbow injury and the rest of the team is what it is. That being said, it seems like the hallmark of the A's is that you figure they're no good and write them off, and then sit back and watch them hang around and be outliers for 4 months, and then catch fire and run off a 35-13 streak in August and September and somehow end up in the Playoffs, behind some unsung hero like Sonny Gray or Stephen Vogt.
3) Anaheim Angels (83-79)
Look up and down the Angels roster and one thing jumps out at you: This is a team that's loaded...with a bunch of guys that have ridiculous-sounding names. Come on, you want to tell me that guys like J.B. Shuck and Buddy Bosher are going to carry the Angels back to prominence? Things like this tend to get lost in the shuffle of their 4 players with ridiculously large contracts.
4) Seattle Mariners (72-90)
The Mariners problem is that out of all their recent prospects, be it Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero or whoever, none of them have panned out. So, the story of the Mariners season will once again be Felix Hernandez continuing to pitch well in often hopeless situations. On the upside, Robinson Cano did indeed deliver on his promise to bring a World Championship to Seattle. Unfortunately for Cano, it was the Seahawks and not the Mariners.
5) Houston Astros (58-104)
Fortunately for the Astros, the comically putrid hell hole that this team has had to endure over the past 4 years is starting to swing back towards the upside as many of their prospects are just about ready to hit the Major Leagues. But it's going to be a painfully slow upswing, because the names are going to surface in fits and starts. It seems like Meat Mountain Jonathan Singleton is just about ready, but others like Carlos Correa, Mark Appel and Lance McCullers, Jr are still a few years off, which means that the Astros have to deal with a season of guys like Collin McHugh and will still have to take their lumps for another season. However, they can't possibly be worse than their 111-loss effort in 2013, when many, myself included, thought they might have overachieved by winning 51 games. By the way, in case anyone is still paying attention by then, the Astros will actually find themselves closing out their season against the Mets, in an interleague matchup that is sure to captivate everyone's minds.
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
AL Cy Young: James Shields, Royals
AL ROY: George Springer, Astros
Wildcard Play-in Game: Royals over Orioles
AL Wildcard Game: Red Sox over Royals
ALDS: Rays over Red Sox, Tigers over Rangers
ALCS: Rays over Tigers
So, there you have it.