My baseball predictions for the 2014 season

Again, I know it's late, but it's time to make my predictions for the 2014 MLB pennant races. Looking back last year, I had the Nationals and the Tigers in the World Series. Yeah, right,...I had the Red Sox finishing 4th in the American League East. With that record of successful prognostication, I nevertheless boldly try to predict what teams will be playing in October. Here goes nothing,...

American League East

1. Tampa Bay Rays

2. New York Yankees

3. Baltimore Orioles

4. Boston Red Sox

5. Toronto Blue Jays

This is the best division in baseball, with four very good teams all fighting for the top spot. I like the Rays because of their pitching and defense. Also, Joe Maddon may be the best manager in baseball, getting great results with innovative approaches to defense and being able to get the most out of servicable players. He does have some superstars on his team, like Evan Longoria, who bounced back from an injury-riddled 2012 season to become one of the top players in the American League; pitching ace David Price, who missed a good portion of last year due to injury, and the A.L. Rookie of the Year for 2013, Wil Myers, who will probably take a huge step towards becoming a perennial All-Star. Getting Grant Balfour to replace erratic Fernando Rodney will pay dividends in the bullpen. I like their depth and their starting rotation of Price, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Matt Moore, with Jake Odorizzi waiting in the wings. This team could be dangerous.

The Yankees spent a lotta money in the off-season, but they let Robinson Cano walk over a few million bucks, and that'll hurt because Brian Roberts is not the answer over there. Still, getting Brian McCann to shore up the horrible catching position from last year, acquiring Masahiro Tanaka from Japan to boost the pitching staff, signing Carlos Beltran to boost the offense, and stealing Jacoby Ellsbury from the Red Sox are all solid moves destined to get captain Derek Jeter into his final post season. But this team is old, and banking on Mark Teixeira to come back from an injury-plagued 2013 as well as Kelly Johnson to be the permanent third baseman may be asking too much. The big question mark is the bullpen. Will David Robertson be an able successor to all-time great Mariano Rivera? If yes, this team could win the division.

The Baltimore Orioles seemed to have flaked out in the off-season, its only big move being trading away closer Jim Johnson for a utility player. But as Februrary rolled around, the O's made two huge moves, signing Ubaldo Jiminez to bolster the weak pitching rotation, and getting Nelson Cruz to give the O's that big bat they needed. With the A.L.'s best defense, a hitting attack led by Chris Davis and Adam Jones, they have enough talent to win the division as well. The big holes on the team are second base and the bullpen. Will Tommy Hunter be good enough to close, and will Jonathan Schoop be the everyday second baseman? If so, they will contend.

The Red Sox had a feel-good year, getting contributions from the usual suspects, such as David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, and regular guys like Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, and Jonny Gomes. But trusting the left side of the infield to Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts may be asking for trouble. The Sox' pitching rotation may be the best in the division, providing Clay Buchholz stays healthy all year. Along with John Lester and Jake Peavy the Sox will get good outings from their starters a majority of the time. I worry about Koji Uehara repeating his fantastic success from last year. He's a good pitcher, but nobody stays lights out like that every year. I think the Sox will slip back to the pack this year.

The Blue Jays have the misfortune of being in the wrong division. Injuries killed a pre-season favorite to be a playoff team, and they will stay in the cellar this year.

American League Central

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Cleveland Indians

3. Kansas City Royals

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

I'm still picking the Tigers to win this division, but some of their moves this off-season were head-scratching, in particular trading Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for a utility infielder (Steve Lombardozzi) who is now a Baltimore Oriole. The Tigers are counting on Drew Smyly to join the rotation and pick up the slack, I guess. But holding onto Rick Porcello is not a good move. Still, with a return to form from Justin Verlander, the reigning A.L. Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, and hard-throwing Anibal Sanchez, the rotation will be the best in the division. Signing Joe Nathan to close is a huge step in the right direction. And getting Ian Kinsler for the uninterested Prince Fielder was addition by subtraction, allowing Miguel Cabrera to give up the charade of playing third base and go back to first where he belongs. Miggy played with a torn groin during the second half of last season, which robbed him of his power, so now that he's healthy again, look out for the numbers he puts up this year!

I'm taking the Indians in the two-spot because they have a good everyday lineup. I think their pitching will be enough to keep them in contention, particularly since jettisoning flaky Chris Perez in favor of John Axford. I also like the move of Carlos Santana to third base. This could be a big help to their offense to get him away from the rigors of catching and allow him to focus on his hitting. Jason Kipnis is also poised for a breakout season. And Justin Masterson has the established himself as an ace.

The Royals will finish third, as despite a good rotation with James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, and Jason Vargas, I don't see their offense being that good. Getting Norichika Aoki will be a big help, as this team desperately needed a leadoff man, but they need big seasons from Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler. Plus someone has got to point Mike Moustakas in the right direction. If he struggles again, this will be a major inpediment to winning.

The White Sox will be interesting, with Cuban Jose Abreu taking over at first, and Chris Sale trying to establish himself as an ace, but they won't do much. Neither will the Twins, who actually wasted good money on journeymen Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to strengthen their awful pitching rotation. At least Joe Mauer won't have to catch these guys as he becomes the team's first baseman.

American League West

1. Oakland Athletics

2. Los Angeles Angels

3. Texas Rangers

4. Seattle Mariners

5. Houston Astros

I'm going with the A's to win this division, despite the loss of Jarrod Parker for the whole season, and A.J. Griffin is opening the season on the 15-day DL. Despite those setbacks, the A's pitching staff got much stronger in the off-season thanks to the signing of Scott Kazmir and the outright theft of closer Jim Johnson from the Orioles. With Grant Balfour gone, Johnson becomes the relief ace, pitching in a pitcher's park, which should knock at least a half a run off his ERA. The A's offense is good, with Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson emerging in a big way last year. But this team needs Yoenis Cespedes to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 season to make this offense potent. This team platoons and gets players on the cheap, a Billy Beane specialty, and they will be there at the end.

The Angels seem to be in bounce-back mode. Albert Pujols is healthy, Josh Hamilton appears to have fixed the holes in his swing, and Mike Trout is Mike Trout. There's a lot of optimism in Anaheim, especially with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson leading an underrated pitching staff. I think the Angels will be a contender in the division, and could win the thing if their stars stay healthy.

The Rangers have been snakebit by the injury bug in spring training. Derek Holland, Jurrickson Profar, and Geovany Soto are all on the 60-day DL, and nobody knows when or if Matt Harrison will come back. But Shin Soo-Choo will be the leadoff man Texas has always needed, and Prince Fielder seems rejuvenated to play in his home state. Yu Darvish is on the 15-day DL with a stiff neck, but he should be fine soon. The team needs big years from Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios to contend, along with All-Star Adrian Beltre, but this team will go as far as the pitching takes them.

The Mariners signed Robinson Cano, but he's in for a rude awakening in the Pacific Northwest. The M's better hope their pitching staff of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and rookie Taijuan Walker pitch very well, or it's be a long season in Seattle.

The Astros? Lots of young talent, but another last-place finish. However, I think their three-year streak of 100 or more losses in a season ends in 2014.

A.L. Wild Cards: Yankees and Orioles

National League East

1. Washington Nationals

2. Atlanta Braves

3. Philadelphia Phillies

4. New York Mets

5. Miami Marlins

Until about three weeks ago, I had the Braves to take this division, but injuries have just decimated the Braves' pitching staff, so I'm taking the Nationals. Underachievers a year ago, the Nats bolstered the best rotation in the National League (yes, I said it) by stealing Doug Fister from the Tigers. He joins Steven Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, and Ross Detwhiler in a killer rotation. The keys for the Nats to win are to figure out what happened to Adam LaRoche and getting him turned around, and keeping Bryce Harper on the field. Also, Ryan Zimmerman has to get over his Steve Sax-like throwing problem and Denard Span has to bounce back from an off-year. With Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond (who I look to have his best year yet), the Nats will score runs. Not that they need to score a lot with that staff.

The Braves have just been killed with injuries to pitchers Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, and Gavin Floyd, who will all miss the 2014 season. Signing Ervin Santana helps, but the rotation is in a shambles without their ace and two other fine starting pitchers. Plus, Mike Minor started the season on the 15-day DL. But the Braves have a lot going for them, one of the best starting lineups in the game with Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and the surprising Chris Johnson. However, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton had seasons that could only be described as putrid. Both of them have to step it up with all of the injuries for Atlanta to be a playoff team again.

The Phillies were old last year, and they're a year older this year. If anything, they got more ancient by signing Marlon Byrd to play right field instead of letting John Mayberry Jr get a starting job. But the pitching staff was boosted with the additions of A.J. Burnett and Cuban Miguel Gonzalez. The Phils will win about 80 games but contention is out of the question unless Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmie Rollins discover the fountain of youth.

The Mets are not going to have the services of Matt Harvey this year, but their rotation, bolstered by the signing of Bartolo Colon and young studs Zack Wheeler, John Neise, and Dillon Gee, but David Wright and Curtis Granderson can't enough offense to make up for everybody else. And the Marlins are led by N.L. Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, but even if Giancarlo Stanton does bounce back from his awful 2013, the Marlins will be hard-pressed to stay away from 100 losses.

National League Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals

2. Cincinnati Reds

3. Pittsburgh Pirates

4. Milwaukee Brewers

5. Chicago Cubs

The Cardinals are a machine. Every year, they lose players, and every year they stay in contention. Carlos Beltran walks away as a free agent, but the Cards just move Allan Craig to the outfield, and everything's fine. David Freese gets trades, and Matt Carpenter just shuffles off to third base, making way for rookie Kolten Wong. The Cards did sign Jhonny Peralta to play shortstop, and should get a lot of offense from a position that was lacking last year. But it's their pitching staff that is the strength of this team. Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, and Joe Kelly form a fine rotation, and Trevor Rosenthal inherits the closer job, although watch out for Carlos Martinez. I think he has closer's stuff, and may have the job by September.

The Reds have a lot of spring injuries to its pitching staff. Mat Latos is recovering from knee surgery, Jonathan Broxton might be out all year, Sean Marshall is opening the season on the 15-day DL, and worst of all, closer Aroldis Chapman is out for 6-8 weeks due to being struck by a ball coming off the bat of Salvador Perez. But the Reds will make do with a strong rotation led by Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and sensation Tony Cigriani. Offensively, Billy Hamilton will see if he can hit enough to use his tremendous speed as a leadoff man, and Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce will provide the power.

The Pirates were the feel-good story of 2013. And they could be better this year. They got big years from Pedro Alvarez (finally!) and N.L. MVP Andrew McCutchen. Sterling Marte signed a huge extension, and should get better. I worry that they don't have enough offense to repeat their playoff run of last year. And aside of Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, the pitching is kind of uneven.

The Brewers will be much improved this year. Matt Garza joins a good rotation with Yovanni Gallardo and Kyle Loshe, and young stars Khris Davis, Kyle Segura, and Carlos Gomez could improve. The key to the season is the return of Ryan Braun from his PED suspension. Can he produce without the HGH? We'll find out.

The Cubs are rebuilding, as Theo Epstein finds out it's a lot harder running a team that lacks talent than it was with the star-studded rosters in Boston.

National League West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. Arizona Diamondbacks

3. San Francisco Giants

4. San Diego Padres

5. Colorado Rockies

The Dodgers are the no-brainer pick here. The only question is how many games they will win the division by. Despite Clayton Kershaw starting the season on the 15-day DL, the pitching staff is excellent, with Zack Grienke, Hyun-Jun Ryu, and Dan Haren providing plenty of quality. Yasiel Puig's lackadasical attitude and lack of good fundamentals don't stop him from being a star. Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez join up with Andre Ethier to provide plenty of punch. And if Matt Kemp ever gets healthy, this team could rack up some serious offensive numbers.

The Diamondbacks lost ace Patrick Corbin for the season, but they still have Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, and free agent innings-eater Bronson Arroyo to pitch for them. Addison Reed came over from the White Sox to close, so the bullpen should be solid. Getting Mark Trumbo from the Angels was a big help to the offense. Paul Goldschmidt, Martin Prado, Aaron Hill, and Geraldo Parra should provide plenty of offense for the Snakes.

What you could say about the Giants before last season was that the pitching was always good. Not in 2013. Matt Cain had an awful year, and Tim Lincecum may be about done. So the Giants signed Tim Hudson to help the staff. He is coming off an injury, but if healthy can give veteran leadership to a still-young rotation. Madison Bumgarner took a major step up last season, and could be the ace the Giants envisioned when they drafted him. The offense has some holes, but Michael Morse was signed to alleviate some of the pressure put on Hunter Pence and Buster Posey. Keys for the Giants are the return to health of Angel Pagan, and the continued development of Brandon Belt, who crushed the ball in August and September. If this is a realistic output for him, the Giants may have a star on their hands.

The Padres have a good pitching staff, with Andrew Cashner and Eric Stults leading the rotation. Josh Johnson was signed as a free agent and may find himself again thanks to the pitcher-friendly dimensions of Petco Park. The offense isn't much, with Jedd Gyorko and Will Venable being the big bats unless Chase Headley bounces back from a horrible 2013. It won't be enough to contend.

The Rockies have Troy Tulowitski, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, and Willin Rosario to lead the offense, unless one of them gets traded, which almost happened to Tulowitski. They just don't have enough to keep up with the big boys in the division.

N.L. Wild Cards: Braves and Reds

World Series Prediction: Nationals over the Yankees in six. I love the Rays, but they usually stink up the postseason. The current Yankee club is not the one you will see in September. I think they will make some moves to get to the postseason, but the Nats will upset the Dodgers and then beat the Yankees for the first World Championship in the nation's capital since 1924.

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