Results tagged ‘ Cy Young ’

My Vote for 2014 American League Cy Young

Each year there are usually several pitchers from each league that have incredible seasons, making it difficult to choose between them for who most deserves the Cy Young award. This year is no different. The American League saw Garrett Richards, Chris Sale, Jon Lester, Dellin Betances, Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez all having great seasons. However, in the end, only one player can take home the Cy Young award.Felix Hernandez

Garrett Richards and Chris Sale both had fantastic seasons, but due to injuries at one point or another that caused them each to miss a few starts, they don’t quite make the cut. Richards helped a relatively subpar Angels pitching staff excel, going 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA; Sale performed amazingly for the White Sox, posting a 2.17 ERA and striking out 208 over 174 innings pitched. However, as mentioned, both of their stints on the disabled list hurt their chances. But despite missing out on the award this time around, they each stand a great chance at the Cy Young award if they can post the same type of stats in 2015.

Also making an appearance on my list but inevitably missing the cut is Jon Lester. Going from the Red Sox to the Athletics in July, Lester combined to post some great number on the year, holding opponents to a mere .236 batting average and recording a 2.46 ERA over the course of 32 games started. But although he was great, Lester didn’t necessarily dominate the competition, as is usually the case with a Cy Young winner.

Just the opposite, Dellin Betances completely dominated the opposition all season long for the Yankees. Over the course of 70 relief appearances, Betances achieved a mere 1.40 ERA while striking out 135 batters. With it not being all too often that a relief pitcher is even considered for the Cy Young, Betances certainly had a significant season. But unfortunately for Betances, a couple of starters had a better one.

One of the two top choices for the Cy Young award this season is Corey Kluber. While Kluber isn’t a household name, even after the great season he had, he is certainly well known to the batters he faced (and fooled) all season long. Striking out 269 batters on the season (second to only David Price in all of baseball) and putting together a 2.44 ERA, Kluber had an amazing season that will definitely earn him a good amount of votes for the Cy Young award. However, he doesn’t receive my (unofficial) vote.

For me, the difficult but correct choice for the 2014 American League Cy Young award is the Mariners’ star pitcher, Felix Hernandez. In what would be his second career Cy Young award, there’s truly no other player that deserves it more. Although Hernandez had a few rough outings, for the most part he was seemingly unbeatable, going on a streak of 16 straight quality starts at one point. With an ERA of 2.14 ERA, due to holding batters to an even .200 batting average for the season, Hernandez surely will receive the Cy Young award for his remarkable year when all is said and done.

Are the Tigers On the Verge of Disaster?

Heading into the 2014 Major League Baseball season, there weren’t very many people around the baseball world who didn’t have the Tigers winning the American League Central division. Citing the fact that the Tigers have one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball, in addition to a really good lineup that includes, arguably, the best hitter in all of baseball, Miguel Cabrera, a lot of pre season predictions had the Tigers completely running away with the division. But with around five weeks of games remaining in the season, the Tigers finishing in first place isn’t a lock, as it was once viewed.20140805krjag90020

A game and a half back of the division leading Royals, the Tigers have some work to do to retake their lead in the Central.

Back on July 31st, the Tigers made a move that seemed certain to help them pull away from the Royals. In a three team trade with the Rays and Mariners, the Tigers sent Austin Jackson to Seattle, who in return sent Nick Franklin to the Rays, with the Tigers sending Drew Smyly and a prospect to the Rays in exchange for David Price.

Though Price hadn’t been overly dominant before the trade went down, a team with David Price is much better off than a team without David Price. And that has proven to be true in his few starts since the trade.

In Price’s most recent outing at his long time home, Tropicana Field, Price had one of his best games of the season. Going eight innings, giving up just a single hit, Price was fantastic on Thursday afternoon. However, Alex Cobb, who was on the mound for the opposing team, was just as good. In the end, despite the amazing pitching performance by Price, he was handed the loss, as the Tigers failed to provide any run support whatsoever.

If the Tigers want to win the division and not be faced with a one-game playoff that comes with a Wild Card spot — a spot that isn’t guaranteed by any means, as the Mariners currently sit just a half game back of the second Wild Card — they’re, obviously, going to have to start playing better as a team than they have been recently.

The day the David Price trade occurred, the Tigers were in a great spot. Sitting in first place, four games ahead of the Royals, the acquisition of Price looked to only improve their team, which was already seemingly on the way to another division title.

Detroit Tigers v Texas RangersBut while Price has done his job for the most part, as has the always terrific Max Scherzer, the remainder of the pitching staff, along with the lineup, has been hit and miss from one night to the next, with their entire bullpen being subpar at best.

Justin Verlander hasn’t been the same caliber pitcher he once was in quite some time; Joe Nathan, who they acquired to strengthen their bullpen, hasn’t been that great; and although Miguel Cabrera is having a good year, he’s currently on pace to finish out the season around 20 home runs and 30 RBI’s shy of the unbelievable numbers of 44 home runs and 137 RBI’s he posted in 2013.

Those three players are going to have to catch fire for the Tigers to take off in any major way.

With the entire Tigers team underperforming for the most part at the moment, and with the Mariners right behind them, threatening to overtake their playoff chances, the Tigers are experiencing quite a bit of struggles. Though they’ll likely find some sort of groove at some point in September, the Tigers are doing extremely poor in comparison to where they should be with the talent they have. If, somehow, the Tigers miss the postseason altogether, it would be nothing short of a disastrous season on their part.

Felix Hernandez Has Yet Another Quality Start

Start after start after start this season, Felix Hernandez has taken the ball for the Seattle Mariners and given them an unbelievable pitching performance, which has allowed the Mariners to once again become relevant in the American League West division.

Felix+Hernandez+Cleveland+Indians+v+Seattle+dUqcyvbPGzqlWhile they’re not dominating the division like some predicted they would — they currently sit third, behind the Athletics and Angels –, especially with the offseason acquisition of Robinson Cano, along with a few other key players, the Mariners are still finding a way to keep in the playoff mix, thanks in large to a big season by their ace Hernandez.

With a season win-loss record now of 13-3 to go along with a 1.95 ERA, the five time All-Star and former perfect game pitcher is having a career best season in a number of categories. But one of the most impressive numbers Hernandez has put together this season is his streak of consecutive quality starts, which now stands at 16 straight outings of 7 or more innings pitched in which he allowed 2 or fewer earned runs.

That’s simply amazing.

The Mariners currently sit within one game of the second American League wild card spot, which is also quite remarkable, seeing that they were 12.5 games back of the wild card at this point last season. Robinson Cano’s hitting ability has no doubt helped the Mariners reach this point, with him coming up big in the Mariner’s seven-run sixth inning on Monday night, but there’s no telling where they would be without Felix Hernandez.

Robinson+Cano+New+York+Yankees+v+Seattle+Mariners+xNVgSl6OrOElWith talks that Dodgers’ lefty Clayton Kershaw could wind up taking home the National League Most Valuable Player award with the stats he’s posting, many are asking whether or not Felix Hernandez could do the same for the American League.

Though he’ll likely finish in the top few vote getters, the honor will likely inevitably go to Mike Trout, who has finished runner up in the previous two seasons. Even so, Hernandez, barring any major setbacks, is well out in front to take home his second career Cy Young award.

But no matter which awards Hernandez wins, for the Mariners and their fans, the thing that matters most is a playoff run, which Seattle hasn’t seen since 2001.

They have the talent to do it, and with their only chance coming via a wild card spot (they’re too far down to win the division), the Mariners will have to make it past a one game, lose and go home wild card playoff game to keep the run alive for long. But with Felix Hernandez on their team, the Mariners have to like their chances, should they grasp that second wild card spot.

There’s, arguably, no other pitcher in the game today you would want in that situation.

MLB Award Frontrunners At the All-Star Break

Sunday marked the last day of MLB games until after the All-Star break, and although the baseball world is looking forward to seeing Giancarlo Stanton put on a show in tonight’s home run derby (he’s the favorite to win), I wanted to focus my attention on the players who have posted amazing performances throughout the first half of the season.

For this post, I’m covering the players who I feel stand the best chance right now (given, it’s still early) of winning the three major awards of Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and Cy Young. All three awards have multiple players who can be argued as being deserving, but I have my own opinion as to who deserves each award the most at this point in the season.

Most Valuable Player Award

American League: This is finally the year that Mike Trout wins the American League Most Valuable Player award. At least, that’s what many Mike-Troutpeople are hoping. After posting amazing stats each of the past two seasons (25+ HR’s, 30+ SB’s) many felt Trout deserves to have already won an MVP or two in his career (each year the MVP went to Miguel Cabrera).

Even so, while there are a few other players being Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion and the always consistent Miguel Cabrera in the conversation, the Angels are nearing the top of the division thanks to another great season from Trout, who’s at the top of his game.

National League: Troy Tulowitzki is having an amazing year. Andrew McCutchen is having an even better season than the MVP one he put together last year. But Giancarlo Stanton is doing something extremely special.

No, he doesn’t have the astronomical batting average that Tulo possesses (mid .300’s), but Stanton’s power bat is keeping a counted out Marlins team in the running, despite some rough patches as of late.

Whether or not the Marlins turn things around is yet to be seen, but even if they don’t, Stanton is doing enough for him to pick up the NL MVP, in my mind.

Rookie of the Year Award

American League: It’s very likely that the running for the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year award is going to come down to two players once all is said Billy+Hamilton+Pittsburgh+Pirates+v+Cincinnati+-mQdzhL5gT4land done — Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka. On the offensive side, Abreu’s closest rival is George Springer, who’s been one of the few bright spots for the Astros, but is batting in the low .200’s.

Abreu leads all rookies in hits, homers, slugging percentage and RBI’s, and while Masahiro Tanaka has been the pitching equivalent of Abreu — leading rookies in wins — a recent UCL injury to Tanaka will likely push Abreu over the top.

National League: Despite getting off to a slow start to his rookie campaign, speedster Billy Hamilton has made adjustments that have enabled him to succeed on the major league level.

Although thought of as mainly a speed threat — having stolen 38 bases so far this year — Hamilton has also proven to many that he can handle the bat.

Showing a little power, blasting six home runs, and coming through big, leading all National League rookies in RBI’s, with 38, Hamilton is truly the only current above average NL candidate for the Rookie of the Year award.

Cy Young Award

American League: Scott Kazmir and Masahiro Tanaka (and even Garrett Richards) are arguably in the running for American League Cy Felix HernandezYoung, but as of right now, Felix Hernandez is the front runner. Finally receiving some run support, Hernandez holds an 11-2 record to go along with a dismal 2.12 ERA over twenty games started this year.

Striking out nearly ten batters per nine innings pitched, the Mariners’ ace has proven why he’s been coined “The King” in Seattle. Hernandez could very well be crowned with the Cy Young award when the end of the season arrives.

National League: In my opinion, the NL Cy Young is Adam Wainwright’s to lose at this point. Though the runner up to Wainwright in ERA, Johnny Cueto (Kershaw doesn’t yet qualify due to innings pitched), has a legitimate case for the Cy Young, Wainwright has been unbelievable this season.

Holding opponents to a mere 1.83 ERA, Wainwright has played a big part in keeping the Cardinals near the top of the division, sitting just one game back of the first place Brewers. If Wainwright can keep up the amazing pitching, he could receive his first career Cy Young award for his 2014 campaign.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with my picks for who deserves each award at this point in the season, one thing is for sure: there is still a lot of season left where any player can have anything happen. With 17 of the 30 teams at .500 or better, in terms of win-losses go, regardless of the award races, the games following the mid-summer classic are sure to make for one of the most exciting second halves in years.

Scherzer’s First Complete Game Stops Tigers’ Skid

After winning over 20 games last season and picking up the 2013 American League Cy Young Award, it’s hard to believe that Max Scherzer had never thrown a complete game over the course of his seven-year career heading into Thursday night’s start against the White Sox.

Max ScherzerBut after 178 previous starts without achieving the feat (the longest streak of any active pitcher without their first complete game), Scherzer was finally able to go the distance against the Sox, outpitching the equally dominant Chris Sale, throwing 113 total pitches over his nine innings of three hit, shutout baseball (it was Scherzer’s first career shutout as well) on the mound.

Moving to 8-2 on the year, with an ERA of 3.05, Scherzer’s great start helped to stop the Tigers’ three game loosing streak as well as put a little more room between them and the White Sox in the American League Central standings. When playing a division rival it becomes even more important to pickup the victory, and Scherzer made sure that happened.

One of only two divisions in all of baseball with less than ten games separating the first and last place teams (a mere four games separate the Twins at the bottom from the Tigers at the top), the Tigers are looking to begin turning around a somewhat disappointing year by their standards.

With the team the Tigers possess (Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez on the offensive side; Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer on the pitching side) many people agree that they should be running away with the division as they had been predicted to do. But despite their strong team on paper, not a lot has been going well for the Tigers this season.

Justin Verlander — once one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball — and Joe Nathan — once one of the most dominant closers in all of baseball — are both trying to figure things out, along with the majority of the Tigers’ pitching roster. With their lineup being hit or miss on any given night (except for Miguel Cabrera, who’s having a great year despite a slow start, and Victor Martinez, who’s having a career season), it’s still going to take a lot for the Tigers to begin increasing their current lead.

Although the Tigers currently sit atop the division, they hold only a two game lead over the Royals. With the Royals on a four game winning streak, and the White Sox, Indians and Twins all within a few games of first place, the Tigers shouldn’t be panicking quite yet, as there’s still plenty of season remaining. However, they need to pay close attention before things get too far out of hand.

With such a small margin separating the Tigers, Royals, White Sox, Indians and Twins in the division, no matter how you look at it, any team in the American League Central currently has a chance at finishing in first place at the end of the season. While it’s a long shot at best for a couple of the teams, if the Tigers want to be the division winners, they’re obviously going to have to start playing better.

But if Max Scherzer’s dominant outing was any sort of sign of what’s to come, the Tigers could easily begin to pull away from the rest of the pack in the upcoming weeks before the All-Star break.

Jeff Samardzija Winless In 2014 Despite Sub-Two ERA

The Cubs are a bad team; nearly everyone around the baseball world knows it. Jeff Samardzija, one of the best pitchers in baseball so far in 2014, has seen that first hand more than any other player currently on the Cubs, as regardless of his terrific outings, Samardzija is yet to win a single game.Jeff Samardzija

Sitting 0-4 on the year — part a winless streak that stretches back to August 24th of last season — Samardzija’s overall performance on the year could be missed if you were to look solely at his win-loss record. But possessing an ERA of 1.46 over 10 games pitched, Samardzija has been setting himself up for success all season long, however, the Cubs simply haven’t provided any run support in his starts — the fourth worst for any pitcher in baseball — going 1-9 in Samardzija’s starts this season.

In Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Yankees at Wrigley Field, Samardzija was outstanding yet again, going seven innings and not allowing a single run. But, as has been the case so often this season, it wasn’t enough, with the Yankees coming back to tie things up in the ninth, and going on to win the game, 4-2, in the thirteenth inning. Certainly a blow to Samardzija, who appeared to have his first win of 2014 secured upon his departure.

If Samardzija played for nearly any other team in Major League Baseball, such as the Yankees, there’s a chance that he could be 10-0 on the season. Given, that’s purely speculative, and a few of those games would likely have been losses or no decisions, the basic point being made is that a pitcher can only do so much. It also takes good performances by your teammates to win ballgames.

And therefore, the question many people are asking: What value does a win truly carry?

As far as the answer goes, I’m halfway in between. On one hand, a win can say a lot about a pitcher and how well he’s pitched over the course of his outings. When you pitch extremely well, the majority of the time (unless you play for the Cubs) you’ll pick up the win. But on the other hand, as has been proven with Samardzija, you can’t just look at a win-loss record and declare who’s the best pitcher in baseball. Right now, arguably, that accolade would go to Samardzija, even though he’s yet to pick up a win.

Some people go as far as to say that the win statistic is useless and should be taken out of the game all together. Although I agree that the win isn’t as useful as some of the other stats a pitcher can post — ERA, batting average against, strikeouts per nine innings, etc. — I still think it’s a big part of the game. While it might have meant more numerous years ago when a pitcher that was pitching well would stay in the entire length of a game, there’s something special about a pitcher hitting the 20-win plateau, or only loosing a few of their numerous games pitched in a season.

Though you now have relief pitchers racking up wins that, had their team performed better, the starting pitcher would’ve notched, in addition to pitchers with bad outings still receiving the win due to a ton of run support — Chris Tillman gave up 7 runs back on April 23rd and won the game — it’s still a fun statistic to keep an eye on.

But while the win isn’t everything, and Samardzija is very unlikely to go the full length of the season without a single win with the way he’s been pitching, it doesn’t help the Cubs’ cause in terms of influencing Samardzija to stick around for the long haul. When you do your job but still lose due to being apart of a team that is among the worst in baseball, I imagine you can get frustrated very easily. As one person put it in on Twitter, “Samardzija is one of the biggest wastes of talent in the game today”. It’s truly a shame.

In the end, whether or not you agree with the win being an important stat for pitchers, you have to agree that Samardzija is putting together an amazing 2014 season. Even though he’s winless, Samardzija seems to have figured things out over the past couple of seasons, and is one of the only bright spots on the Cubs. However, for the majority of the Cubs, if they can’t figure things out for themselves as a whole fairly quickly, they may face a situation without Samardzija at some point down the road.

Clayton Kershaw Makes Impressive Return In D.C.

Going into Tuesday, it had been over a month since Clayton Kershaw last threw a pitch on the major league level (down in Australia against the Diamondback’s on March 22nd). However, despite the large gap due to an injury, Kershaw picked up right where he left off, overpowering the Nationals and recording his second win of the 2014 season — the 31st start of his career with zero earned runs on seven or more innings pitched.Untitled

Kershaw’s missed month was due to an injury he acquired after plowing through the D-backs lineup in game one of the 2014 Opening Series in Australia (a start that many are now questioning), experiencing a strained left shoulder muscle afterwards, which landed him on the disabled list for the first time in his seven-year career.

Though many people felt that the Dodgers were too cautious with Kershaw, spreading his rehabilitation out over several weeks, you can understand their concern, having just locked him up on a seven-year, 215 million dollar, record breaking contract back in January.

Making two rehab starts down in the minor leagues before getting the call back up to the majors, Kershaw’s return couldn’t have come at a better time for the Dodgers, who were merely managing to keep in contention, having gone 17-15 without him. Sitting behind the Rockies and Giants in the National League west, despite pre season predictions from many for them to run away with the division, having Kershaw back immediately makes the Dodgers a stronger overall team.

But the loss of their two-time Cy Young award winner for the first part of the season didn’t just have an impact on the Dodgers as a whole; it may prove to have a big impact on Kershaw himself. Although he moved to 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA on the season, behind an 8-3 win on Tuesday night against the Nat’s, having missed over a month, many pitchers in the National League have been given the opportunity to overtake Kershaw when it comes to the running for some of the games’ highest honors.

Jose FernandezNone more so than Jose Fernandez.

Fernandez, who finished third in Cy Young voting in 2013 (truly saying something considering the fact that it was his rookie season), currently sits as the front runner to make the start for the National League All-Star team in July, as well as to win the 2014 NL Cy Young award, with his stat line of 4-1 with a 1.74 ERA on the year.

Given, there’s still a ton of the season left where anything can happen, with Kershaw having to play catch up, Fernandez could potentially run away with the voting at season’s end, should he be able to continue his fantastic pitching performances.

Even so, Clayton Kershaw’s return is good for both the Dodgers and baseball, even if it did come a bit later than in year’s past. Every time he takes the mound, people stop and watch to see how Kershaw will perform, as there’s always the chance for something special to happen.

Going down in the record books — at least for now — as the highest annually paid pitcher in Major League Baseball history, Kershaw showed on Tuesday why he’s worth every penny the Dodgers spent, and, inevitably, why he will go down in the record books as one of the best pitchers the game of baseball has ever seen.

Surprising Starts for Teams A Week Into the Season

It’s been just over a week since Opening Day launched the 2014 Major League Baseball season back on March 31st, and there have already been a lot of ups and downs for teams all around baseball, some of which were anticipated, but some that have come as a shock to many. Though we’re less than ten games into the long 162-game season, and many things can and will happen over the next several months, it’s interesting to take a look at how teams are beginning their season.

The most surprising good starts to the year, in my opinion, have to be the Mariners, Brewers, Marlins, and Rockies, as each have gotten off to an unpredicted great start.

While the Mariners picked up Robinson Cano this offseason, and made a couple of other great additions to their team as well, I’m not sure anyone predicted them to pitch and produce runs the way they’ve been able to do thus far. Everyone up and down their lineup is clickingYovani Gallardo for the most part, and their pitching has been really good. It should be interesting to see if they can keep up their 4-2 start.

The Brewers don’t really have all that much above average talent past Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo, who can be hit and miss, but they’ve been able to put together a great start to the season. Going 4-2 so far this year, the Brewers, while still not predicted to do much, have shown that they have the potential to cause some problems with the rest of the teams in the National League Central division.

Down in Miami, it takes a lot to get fans excited about the Marlins, ranking year after year towards the bottom in overall attendance, however, the start to the season the Marlins have produced is more than anyone could’ve asked for. Jose Fernandez has been fantastic in his two starts, and Giancarlo Stanton seems to have found his groove earlier than usual. Looking to build on their 5-2 start, the Marlins are worth watching.

One of the great things about baseball is that you never know what may happen, and that holds true with the Rockies, who have gotten off to a .500 start of 4-4 to begin the season. Though they’re still expected to finish near the bottom of the division, with Carlos Gonzalez clicking as usual and Troy Tulowitzki finally healthy, in addition to a good start for their pitchers, they could surprise a lot of people.

But those are just the surprising good starts to the year.

On the other side of the spectrum, the most surprising bad starts to the year, in my opinion, are the Rangers, Diamondbacks, Reds and Orioles, who haven’t been able to put much together yet.

The worst start to the 2014 season in all of baseball goes to Diamondbacks, who currently stand at 2-7. That comes as a big surprise, as they made several good moves this offseason, including acquiring power bat Mark Trumbo, who is currently one of the only bright spots on the team, MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Redsbesides Paul Goldschmidt, who is always consistent. The D-backs certainly need to turn things around, but they have plenty of time to do so.

Cincinnati is one of those teams that can be good or bad, however, I thought they’d begin the year better than they have. With a 2-5 record, they sit at the bottom of their division, and with several players struggling (mainly Billy Hamilton) or injured, it could be awhile before they begin to rebound. Though, they’re still too good of an overall team to keep doing this poorly as the season goes on, in my mind.

Like the Reds, the Orioles can be good or bad depending on several factors, but what it really comes down to is their pitching. Their offense is one of the best in baseball, with strong points up and down the lineup, but they need their newly added starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to return to form for the Orioles to make a run in the division. Sitting at 2-5, it will be fun to watch the O’s in the difficult American League East.

Picking up Prince Fielder this offseason, many people (myself included) predicted the Rangers to have a great year, possibly winning the division. However, due to a ton of pitching injuries, among other things, they haven’t been able to perform to their potential, currently sitting at the bottom of the division with a 3-4 record. But despite the poor start, the Rangers should be just fine.

As stated, there is still a ton of season remaining where anything could happen. The teams that are off to a fantastic start could end up taking a tumble as the year goes on, while other teams that are struggling at the moment could very well take off on a major run. You never know what will happen throughout a given MLB season, and that’s what makes baseball so much fun.

2014 Spring Training TTM Autograph Update

Around a month ago, I blogged about the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I was planning to send off to players during Spring Training. At the end of the post, I stated that I was going to be publishing a blog post every time I received back a few autographs, and now that I’ve successfully gotten back some of the requests I sent, I figured I’d go ahead and type this entry up. Of the fourteen total TTM requests I sent off, I’ve received four of them back, with them being from:

KYLE ZIMMER — ROYALS’ ORGANIZATION

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Kyle Zimmer is the number 25 overall prospect in all of baseball. Although he didn’t have a fantastic 2013 season, going 6-9 with a 4.32 ERA, Zimmer has a ton of upside moving forward, and has many people excited for Kansas City’s future. With a fantastic fastball, in addition to an arsenal of a curveball, slider and changeup, Zimmer could, potentially, see his first big league time at some point towards the end of this season.

ALBERT ALMORA — CUBS’ ORGANIZATION

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Albert Almora is the number 18 overall prospect in all of baseball. Though he played in just 61 games last season, Almora is one of the Cubs’ highly coveted core prospects — consisting of Kris Bryan, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, etc. — that are making their way to Wrigley Field. Almora is still several years away from the major leagues, but by batting .329 last year, hopes are high that he will develop into the talented outfielder that he has the ability to become.

CLAYTON KERSHAW — LOS ANGELES DODGERS

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This one doesn’t need too much explaining. Clayton Kershaw has become one of the biggest superstars over the course of the past few seasons, winning two Cy Young awards in that time frame. Going 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA in 2013, Kershaw should continue to be, arguably, the most dominant pitcher in all of Major League Baseball. He’s set to get his first start of the season on March 22nd, in game one of the Opening Series against the Diamondbacks down in Australia.

EDDIE BUTLER — ROCKIES’ ORGANIZATION

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Eddie Butler is the number 41 overall prospect in all of baseball. Pitching in the 2013 MLB futures game up in New York City, in July, Butler went a combined 9-5 with a 1.80 ERA last season, really putting himself on the map around the league. He held opponents’ batting average to a mere .180 for the entire season, and combined with other top Rockies pitching prospect, Jonathan Gray, the Rockies have a fairly good pair of young arms coming their way in the next couple of years.

I still have autograph requests out for Archie Bradley, Taijuan Walker, David Robertson, Mark Appel, Cody Asche, Kris Bryant, Kolten Wong, Mike Napoli, Jake Marisnick and James Paxton. When/if I get any of those back, assuming it’s before Opening Day on March 31st, I’ll be sure to post another update. Though, there’s no guarantee I’ll get any more back at all.

American League Predictions for 2014

For the third season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I picked the Red Sox to finish last in 2013 and they won the World Series), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.

I’ll be posting my predictions for the National League in the next few days, but for now, I’m going to give my predictions for the American League (along with my reasoning), starting with the American League East:

EAST

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Rays

4. Orioles

5. Blue Jays

Originally, I had the Yankees winning the division, but the more I thought about it the more I second-guessed the choice. The Red Sox are far too good of a team to ignore, and should have just enough to beat out every other team in the American League East. What really puts them over the Yankees when it comes to deciding first and second place is their pitching depth. Not just their starting rotation, but their bullpen as well. From Jon Lester, Jake Peavy and John Lackey, to a top of the line closer in Koji Uehara, there is a ton of talent to keep the opposing teams from scoring runs. As far as their own lineup goes, it’s one of the best in the division, with a good mix of veterans — David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, A.J. Pierzynski — as well as young future stars — Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks. And therefore, they should be able to win the division, yet again.

The Yankees did a lot of things right this past offseason, and I really feel confident in them for the coming year, but I can’t quite see them placing first. They lost their All-Star closer, Mariano Rivera, and didn’t really address that by signing another closer to take his place. On the topic of pitching, their starting pitching improved a bit with the addition of Masahiro Tanaka, but it will take a bounce back year from C.C. Sabathia, and the rest of their rotation, for the Yankees to pitch themselves to a lot of wins. But what they lack in pitching, they more than make up for in their lineup. Newcomers Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann will go a long way in helping the offense score runs. Even without their star second baseman, Robinson Cano, to provide a major power threat, the Yankees still have a chance to go far, in this Derek Jeter’s farewell season.

There were a lot of rumors this offseason that the Rays’ 2012 Cy Young winner, David Price, was going to be traded. But that didn’t happen, which is what will help them barely beat out the Orioles, in my opinion. If Price can return to form, combined with Chris Archer, Matt Moore and the remaining players of their entire pitching staff, including newly acquired Grant Balfour to fill their closer role they lost when Fernando Rodney left, the Rays will be good to go. Their lineup is decent, with Evan Longoria and Wil Myers being the standouts, and with James Loney and Ben Zobrist likely being good yet again, their overall lineup should be good enough to compete. Towards the end of the 2013 season, the Rays went on a run, and if they can do that at the right times throughout this year, they could surprise some people.

The Orioles have the ability to beat out the Rays for third, but I don’t think they’ll be quite good enough to get there. I have them finishing next to last, as despite adding Nelson Cruz to go along with Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis as the big impact players in their lineup, they don’t have the best pitching. Signing Ubaldo Jimenez will go a long way in making them a good team if he is able to have a breakout year, but losing their All-Star closer, Jim Johnson, to the Athletics, will hurt them at the end of games, as they have no true replacement for him. If everyone up and down the lineup and all throughout the bullpen can get going, the Orioles could move up the division ranks, and make a push. But I don’t see that happening until their top prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are full time members sometime next season.

Last season after signing so many impact players in the winter months, many had the Blue Jays making the playoffs, with some going as far as to predict a World Series championship for Toronto. I thought those predictions were a little far fetched, and I predicted a fourth place finish for them, despite having some veteran proven pitchers such as R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. After they disappointed many by finishing dead last in the AL East last season, I’m putting the Blue Jays last again. They didn’t do a whole lot this offseason, and if anything they got a little worse by losing some players to free agency. It would take a near perfect and injury free season by their star players Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie, as well as perfect years by all of their starting pitchers, for them to compete in their division. To me, that’s an awful lot to ask out of the Jays.

CENTRAL

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

There’s no reason why the Tigers shouldn’t run away with things in the American League Central. Although they lost one of the biggest bats in the game, Prince Fielder, trading him away for Ian Kinsler, who will play second, freed up their options. Meaning 2012 Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, will now move back to first, with top prospect, Nick Castellanos, taking over his spot at third base. With Jose Iglesias at shortstop, who could pick up a Gold Glove this season, there really aren’t any holes in their infield, or anywhere in their entire lineup for that matter. And that continues with their pitching staff. The Tigers have a superb starting rotation, with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, and strengthened the back end of their bullpen by signing proven closer, Joe Nathan. Everything combined together, the Tigers could have a magical season.

This is finally the year for the Royals, in my mind. They made a strong push towards the end of last season, with their first baseman, Eric Hosmer, beginning to play like many predicted he was capable of, but they came up just short. This season, however, the Royals have enough to finish second if they can get everything to come together. Their starting rotation won’t dominate, but it will do fairly well, from James Shields to rookie Yordano Ventura. They have one of the best, under the radar, closers, Greg Holland, and he should have a great year again. In addition, their consistent players such as Billy Butler and Alex Gordon will continue to perform, but it will take production from players like Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante and Mike Moustakas (he has something to prove this season) for the Royals to make any sort of a deep playoff push.

The Indians made the playoffs last season via the Wild Card, quickly being eliminated, but I don’t see them getting back this year. I have them finishing third, but a down year by the Royals could see them moving up a spot. Their rotation has the potential to be good, with Justin Masterson and Danny Salazar leading the way, but they lost Scott Kazmir, and need Trevor Bauer to finally come through for them more than ever. As far as their lineup goes, it’s pretty good. Yan Gomes will likely be their catcher, with Carlos Santana transitioning to third, and Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis will contribute both offensively and defensively, along with Jason Giambi providing the Indians some pop. Francisco Lindor, their top prospect, could see major league time towards the end of the season, but it likely won’t be enough to push them over the edge.

While the White Sox probably won’t do much this season, finishing next to last in my book, they will have a slightly better season than the one they had last year. Chris Sale, one of the best players on the team, will be the leader of their starting rotation, which is good but no where near great. Another spot where they have a ton of holes is their lineup, however, Jose Abreu is set to be the next big, power hitter out of Cuba, so it will be interesting to see how he does. If he can perform well, along with Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, who have been known for years for their power, the Sox should have a decent year. One of the biggest things that will hurt them is the loss of their overpowering closer, Addison Reed, who was great at finishing out games for them. With so many question marks and missing pieces, it will take a lot for the White Sox to finish any better than fourth.

I have the Twins finishing last again, but it will likely be the final year for awhile. They have numerous top prospects coming up in the next few years, including Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, and those players will definitely have an incredible impact. But with the players they have for this season, they will likely have a subpar year. With a rotation of Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, and Phil Hughes, among others, the Twins don’t have a true ace of their pitching staff like a lot of teams do. They also no longer have Justin Morneau at first base, losing him in the second half of last year, and the rest of their infield is a question mark. One of their stronger points is their outfield, with Aaron Hicks and Josh Willingham, as well as newly signed catcher, Kurt Suzuki, but those players alone won’t be enough to win the Twins many games in 2014.

WEST

1. Rangers

2. Athletics

3. Mariners

4. Angels

5. Astros

Trading away Ian Kinsler in exchange for Prince Fielder will really go a long way in helping the Rangers beat out the Athletics for the number one spot in the AL West. Adding Fielder to an already great infield of Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, will give the Rangers their first production from first base since Mark Teixeira left in 2007. The only thing that could hurt the Rangers is their pitching, as Derek Holland will miss the first portion of the season, along with a few other of their key pieces. Yu Darvish will be dominant again, and Tommy Hanson, Martin Perez and Robbie Ross will help a bit, but the loss of their closer, Joe Nathan, will have somewhat of an effect. If newcomer Shin-Soo Choo can produce from the leadoff spot the same as he was able to do in 2013, the Rangers, and several players on their team, could have an amazing year.

As far as the Athletics go, although they’ve won the division the past two seasons and made some fairly good moves this offseason as they seem to always do, they don’t have the lineup threats that the Rangers do. They do, however, have an overall better pitching staff (especially in the bullpen) with young stars Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily leading the rotation. A pickup of Scott Kazmir and closer Jim Johnson will have a great impact on their success throughout the coming season, as will Coco Crisp and Eric Sogard, who really broke out in 2013. But it will take great seasons from Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick for the A’s to make a run at beating out the Rangers. With the seasons they’ve been able to put together without any superstars on the team, however, it wouldn’t be all that difficult for the Athletics to surprise me.

The Mariners, with all of the offseason moves they made, could potentially place better than third place, but I’m projecting them to disappoint a lot of people. The biggest signing they made was undeniably the top free agent of the offseason, Robinson Cano, for the next ten years. He will go a long way in turning the Mariners back around. But other than Cano, and possibly Corey Hart who they signed as well, there’s no major power threat in the lineup. Logan Morrison will add some average hitting, and young players such as Mike Zunino, Kyle Seager and Brad Miller will be decent. The one player that needs to produce is Dustin Ackley, but you never know with him. Their pitching should be excellent, with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, etc., as well as new closer, Fernando Rodney, but if they don’t produce a ton offensively, it won’t do them much good.

After really disappointed a lot of people last season, the Angels could very well could do so again this year, finishing next to last in my opinion, as they didn’t do a lot to get much better this offseason. Their rotation doesn’t extend much past Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, though they did pick up promising prospect Tyler Skaggs. While Mike Trout is going to be amazingly good, as he has proven he can be, and I feel Albert Pujols will have a bounce back year, Josh Hamilton isn’t really looking all that promising. Also, although they picked up David Freese this offseason, they lost a huge impact bat in Mark Trumbo, and really don’t have any other major impact players to place in their lineup. While they certainly have the pieces to surprise many people this year if everything goes right, I just don’t see it happening for the Angels.

It’s becoming routine for the Astros to finish dead last, and they will likely do so again this season, but on a brighter note, they could possibly finish with fewer than 100 losses, which they haven’t been able to do since 2010. The Astros don’t have any impact players to speak of for their rotation or lineup, but one of their top prospects, George Springer, if called up soon enough, could play a big role in the outfield. Jarred Cosart will likely be their best starting pitcher, with players such as Jose Altuve, Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez making some noise with their bats. However, it won’t be enough to do any better than fifth. But it shouldn’t be long until the Astros are moving up in their division, as they have several fantastic prospects coming up in the next year or two. From Mark Appel to Carlos Correa, the Astros could have a very formidable team in the very near future.

Leave a comment below with whether or not you agree with my predictions.

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