Wednesday, March 26, 2014

AL Central Preview

We continue our division preview with the AL Central on day 2. The Central looks like it will be a 3 team race between the Tigers, Indians, and Royals, with the White Sox and Twins in re-building mode, but not too far behind. Remember to comment and share your opinions and predictions!

1. Detroit Tigers 
The Tigers are looking for a 4th straight AL Central crown, but it's going to be a dog fight in the Central this year. The Tigers have some serious competition with the Indians and Royals both putting together solid teams. The off season was a busy one for Detroit. After losing to the Red Sox in 6 games in last year's ALCS, the Tigers made some major changes. The biggest of course, was trading away Prince Fielder and getting Ian Kinsler in return to play second base. Kinsler will replace Omar Infante at second, which should add to an already potent lineup. Of course, they still have the two time defending AL MVP monster that is Miguel Cabrera to anchor their lineup. They also signed reliable closer Joe Nathan to help improve a weak bullpen. The rotation remains the best in the division, with reigning AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez leading the way. The only glaring weak spot on the roster is at shortstop, after Jose Iglesias went down with an injury. While he was not a offensive weapon, he is one of the best defensive players in the league and Detroit will surely miss him. The Tigers are very similar in talent to last year's Tiger team, but the difference this year is that the Indians and Royals should be better.

If Everything Goes Right: The bullpen is much improved from last year, and it pushes the Tigers over the top to the World Series crown they've come so close to the last few years.

If Everything Goes Wrong: The bullpen collapses, the offense declines, and the Tigers watch Kansas City or Cleveland take over the Central.

X-Factor: Joe Nathan. Nathan has been one of the most reliable closers in baseball throughout the past few seasons; and the Tigers desperately need a strong closer. It seems like a match made in heaven. If Nathan helps Detroit solve their bullpen problems, they could win their first World Series since 1984.

2. Cleveland Indians
The Indians surprised everyone last year, grabbing a wild card spot. It was their first playoff birth since 2007, although it ended in the Wild-Card game when they lost to the Rays. Over the winter they  lost starting pitcher Ubaldo Jiminez, but look for Danny Salazar to step up in his absence. Salazar should combine with Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber to form a solid rotation. Their offense is pretty good, with Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher leading the way. The Tribe signed John Axford to take over the closing duties, and he should be a good fit in Cleveland.

If Everything Goes Right: The Indians overtake the Tigers to win the AL Central through their clutch pitching and timely hitting. And this time, the Tribe don't go one and done in the playoffs.

If Everything Goes Wrong: The offense struggles and the rotation steps a step back, causing the Indians to miss the playoffs.

X-Factor: Danny Salazar. Big things are expected of Salazar this year. The Indians clearly have confidence in him, as they gave him the ball against the Rays in the Wild-Card game last October. Salazar pitched fairly well in 2013, posting an ERA slightly north of 3.00 in 10 starts. If the Tribe are going to end Detroit's reign in the Central, they need Salazar to be an ace.

3. Kansas City Royals
The Royals had a low key offseason, with their major moves being signing 2B Omar Infante and OF Norichika Aoki. While they are under the radar moves, they should boost an offense that already has young stars Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez. Closer Greg Holland has quickly become one of the best closers in baseball, and gives the Royals a strong chance to win when he comes into close a game. The rotation is the weakest part of the team, as James Shields is the only truly consistent starter on the staff. However, the offense could be good enough to overcome any shortcomings the rotation might have.

If Everything Goes Right: The young offense turns into a wrecking crew and leads the Royals to their first AL Central crown in team history.

If Everything Goes Wrong: The Royals miss the playoffs as they continue to wait for their young players to turn into superstars, while the watch their former top project Wil Myers turn into an MVP caliber player

X-Factor: Mike Moustakas. Just a few years ago, "Moose" was expected to be the next big thing at third base. However, in his 2 full major league seasons, he's hit .233 and .242 and has been quickly discarded as a mediocre third baseman. If he's able to reach his full potential, it would make an already strong Royal offense lethal.

4. Chicago White Sox
Over the winter, the Sox signed Cuban superstar Jose Abreu to a 6 year/$68 million deal. They also dealt away closer Addison Reed and acquired young prospect Adam Eaton in return. This should be a good move for the future. While the White Sox won't compete this year, they're building a young core in ace Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for the future.

If Everything Goes Right: Abreu becomes the star Chicago is paying him for, and the White Sox young players make progress, foreshadowing a return to playoff contention in 2015.

If Everything Goes Wrong: Abreu is a bust, the young guns struggle, and the South Side of Chicago has to wait awhile for another competitive team.

X-Factor: Jose Abreu. All eyes will be on the Cuban sensation in Chicago this season. If he lives up to the hype, the White Sox investment will be well worth it.

5. Minnesota Twins
There's not too much expectations for the Twins this year, but that will change soon. Minnesota boasts the #1 prospect in baseball with Byron Buxton, who should make his major league debut next season. Unfortunately, another highly touted prospect, Miguel Sano, went through Tommy John surgery and is out for the entire season. It's a shame, because Sano was expected to be in the bigs this year, but his development will have to be delayed by at least one year. The other big news from Minnesota this winter is Joe Mauer's move from catcher to first base. The Twins hope the switch helps improve Mauer's health and offense.

If Everything Goes Right: Sano recovers quickly from the Tommy John surgery and Buxton continues to destroy the minor leagues. The Twins are close to contending with these two stars

If Everything Goes Wrong: Sano has trouble returning from surgery, Buxton crashes back down to Earth, and the Twins are forced to wait a few more years.

X-Factor: Byron Buxton. While Buxton probably won't see a single pitch in the bigs this year, he's still the best prospect in baseball and the most important player in the Twins organization. The Twins need him to continue to improve if they want to compete soon.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

AL East Preview

We kick off our division preview with the powerful AL East. Over the next 6 days we will go through each division in baseball, giving you our predictions about each team and where they'll be come October. The AL East is the only division in baseball where all 5 teams have a realistic chance to make the playoffs. This division should come down to the wire, just like it always does. Feel free to chime in with your own predictions!

1. Tampa Bay Rays
The AL East is the best division in baseball, and it's tough to pick who will come out on top. The Red Sox and Yankees have a chance to win it, but the Rays are the most equipped to take the Division title. The Rays had a relatively low key off-season, with most of their moves involving the bullpen. They lost closer Fernando Rodney to Seattle, but signed Heath Bell and Grant Balfour to bolster the back end of their bullpen. Balfour is a step up from Rodney, as Rodney struggled last year to close games. The rotation, which has also been a strong suit for Tampa, will be one of the best in the American League. David Price anchors the staff that also includes young guns Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Chris Archer. With those guys on the mound, Tampa will always have a chance to win. The offense isn't the most potent out there, but it plays small ball and executes when it needs to.

If Everything Goes Right: The combination of the Rays dominant young staff and shut down bullpen overcome any short comings the offense might have. The Rays take the AL East title, and make a deep (maybe even a World Series) run in October.

If Everything Goes Wrong: The young pitchers regress, the offense struggles, the Rays get overrun in the powerful AL East, and there's no October baseball in Tampa Bay.

X-Factor: Wil Myers. Myers was the big piece that the Rays received when they sent James Shield to Kansas City before last season. A highly touted prospect, Myers played well last year after being called up mid-season. He hit .293 with 13 Home Runs and 53 RBI's in 77 games. If the Rays are going to make a World Series run, they need the young star to have a breakout season and lead the offense.

2. Boston Red Sox
The defending champions have a tough road ahead if they want to repeat. They're in the toughest division in baseball and as defending champs, they'll have a target on their back. They signed A.J. Pierzynski to play catcher, and he should be a good fit in Boston. They also added relief pitcher Edward Mujica, which should strengthen what is already one of the best bullpens in the bigs. The lineup remains one of the best in baseball with Dustin Pedroia and World Series MVP David Ortiz. The big question mark is the starting rotation. The rotation was average during the regular season, but in October, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Bucholz turned it on and lead them to the World Series title. If they pitch like they did in October, we could be looking at the first repeat champions since the Yankees, when they did it 1998-2000.

If Everything Goes Right: The rotation pitches like they did in the playoffs, the lineup wrecks havoc on American League pitching, and the bullpen continues to dominate. Beantown has another champion.

If Everything Goes Wrong: 2012 Lester and 2011 Lackey show up, teams start to figure out closer Koji Uehara and the Red Sox watch the playoffs from home.

X-Factor: Xander Bogaerts. The #2 ranked prospect on, Bogaerts showed a lot of promise down the stretch last season. Boston expects big things of him and he should be the staring SS on Opening Day. If he succeeds, the Red Sox lineup will be unstoppable.

3. New York Yankees
The Bronx Bombers lost the biggest offensive free agent (Robinson Cano), but signed the biggest pitching free agent (Masahiro Tanaka). It was a busy off-season for the Yanks, which doesn't always guarantee success (see 2012 Marlins, 2013 Blue Jays). Even though they lost Cano and Curtis Granderson, they signed Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and former Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury. They're still an older team, but should be in the hunt down the stretch. Plus, they'll have that extra motivation to give Derek Jeter a final season to remember.

If Everything Goes Right: C.C. Sabathia regains his old form, and combines with Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda to form a strong rotation. The offense bounces back after a miserable season and Derek Jeter gets one last chance in October.

If Everything Goes Wrong: Tanaka doesn't live up to the hype, the aged offense continues to decline, and the Yankees finish near the bottom of the AL East.

X-Factor: Masahiro Tanaka. The man everyone wanted to sign wound up in New York. Now the big question is this, will he be an ace like Yu Darvish? Or a bust like Daisuke Matsuzaka? If he's the former, the Yankees will make a playoff push; but if it's the latter, the Yankees will be in trouble.

4. Baltimore Orioles
On paper, the Orioles are a good team, just not great. The offense is elite with Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and free agent pickup Nelson Cruz, but the bullpen and rotation aren't quite there yet. The O's signed Ubaldo Jimenez, but he can be inconsistent and he isn't the ace this rotation needs. They didn't bring in anyone to replace closer Jim Johnson, so that will most likely go to Tommy Hunter or Darren O'Day, and neither have much experiencing closing games. The O's also need young star Manny Machado to return from his gruesome knee injury healthy and ready to contribute.

If Everything Goes Right: The rotation and bullpen take big steps forward and the Orioles are in Wild Card position come September.

If Everything Goes Wrong: Pitching continues to plague the team, and the offense struggles to keep up. The Orioles return to the AL East cellar.

X-Factor: Chris Davis. Davis had a breakout year last season, and if the Orioles want to contend, they need him to do it again. However, he hit .250 in August and September last year and he had an alarmingly high strikeout rate. So, will we see first half Chris Davis? Or Second half Chris Davis?

5. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays were the favorite to win the division last year, but instead, finished dead last. They bring back almost the same team this year, hoping it will be different. When they're up to bat, they are scary. Edwin Encarnacion is one of the most underrated hitters in the game. He's hit 78 Home Runs and driven in 214 runs over the past two seasons. Plus they have a guy named Jose Bautista. However, the pitching staff is subpar at best. R.A. Dickey turned out to be a one year wonder, Brandon Morrow was hurt, and Josh Johnson never fully recovered from his shoulder injury a few years ago. If the Jays want to compete, they need a healthy rotation.

If Everything Goes Right: Brandon Morrow turns into an ace and the rotation is good enough. The offense picks up the rest of the slack and Brett Lawrie finally breaks out. The Jays are in playoff contention come September.

If Everything Goes Wrong: See 2013 Blue Jays

X-Factor: Brandon Morrow. Morrow pitched surprisingly well in 2012, posting an ERA under 3.00. There were high expectations for him coming into 2013, but injuries plagued him throughout the season. Toronto needs him back healthy and he needs to be the staff's #1 in order for them to compete.