Major League Baseball's Opening Day is my favorite day of the year, with the exception of my kids' birthdays and my wedding anniversary. Last year on the blog I talked about what baseball means to me. It was a love I got from my father growing up and even though I was never good at playing it, that love remains. I remember one night when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, my dad got me out of bed one night so I could watch a few innings of a game on TV with him. I don't recall if my mother was home at the time, but the circumstances would lead me to believe that she wasn't.
I grew up about 90 minutes west of Philadelphia and my dad is a die hard Phillies fan. Based on that, I learned about the misery of cheering for a losing team through observation at a very early age. The Phils were awful in the mid to late 80's. Then there was the 1993 World Series, when I watched Joe Carter crush my father's heart, thanks to Mitch Williams in Game 6. As Carter was walking up to the plate, my dad looked at me from his chair in the corner of the room and said, "he's either going to strike him out or lose the game." Good call, pop.
This is the cool thing about baseball to me. I could go on and on with stories like this, from my father to my roommates in college. Several of my good friends and I have been in the same fantasy baseball league for 14 years. I don't think I've done anything for that long. We love sports of all kinds, but there's just something about baseball...
OK, enough reminiscing for one night. Let's talk about the present... the 2014 season. Every team has hope right now, as do their fans. I'm a Seattle fan, and having hope is nice right now, considering the last time the Mariners made the playoffs was, well, when I started playing fantasy baseball.
So with that I give you my predictions for this season. I welcome your comments and embrace your right to disagree with me:
Like many others, I'm liking the Nationals in this division. The Braves will be their closest competition, followed by the Phillies, Mets and Marlins. Washington strengthened its rotation with Doug Fister and I look forward to see how strong Jordan Zimmermann is this season. These guys will help with depth to go with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. I'm also growing into a Bryce Harper fan and am very curious to see Matt Williams as a manager.
It was one of the most competitive divisions last season with the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates. St. Louis has been a popular pick to win this group and their depth in the line-up and on the mound certainly would lead me to agree. I like the Pirates to take second, with the Reds third, but I don't think the gap will be all that big. Milwaukee and the Cubs will fall into place well back of the three front-runners.
There isn't a team in baseball with the potential of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and there shouldn't be. The Dodgers will lead the majors in 2014 with an eye-popping $235 million payroll. Kershaw, Ryu and Greinke provide possibly the best top three in the game, and LA boasts solid middle relief as well between the starters and Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers' outfield is stacked with Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and, when he returns, Matt Kemp. Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez anchor a talented infield as well. Look for the Giants and Diamondbacks to battle it out for second, with Colorado and San Diego bringing up the rear.
The Red Sox, Rays, Orioles and Yankees could offer one heck of a competitive division race. At the end of the day, though, I'm putting my money on the defending world champs. Jacoby Ellsbury is gone with former all-star Grady Sizemore taking his spot ahead of Prince George native Jackie Bradley Jr, so there's some uncertainty there, but we're seeing something in Boston that mixes the faces of the past few seasons with some fresh talent, and I think it will prove to be a winning formula. That said, this division is about as wide open as the come, sans Blue Jays. Admittedly, part of me is cheering on the Yankees, because Derek Jeter deserves nothing less than to go out on top.
The Tigers and Royals will battle it out for this division, but I would once again give the edge to Detroit. Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer could end up accounting for 40 wins alone when it comes to starting pitchers, and the addition of Ian Kinzler will compliment the line-up headlined by Miguel Cabrera. Of course, Cabrera will have to live up to the big contract with the departure of Prince Fielder. Kansas City won't be far behind. The Royals had the best bullpen ERA in baseball last year, and closer Greg Holland will offer a nice advantage in close games. James Shields could prove to be one of the best starters in the AL this season, and I expect the offense to be considerably better. Cleveland should finish third, with the Twins and White Sox battling to stay out of the cellar.
The Rangers, A's and Angels are the top three teams here, but I'm actually taking the Angels to take this division. I think their big bats wake up this year and give them some solid offense, but the X-factor will be how their pitching fills in behind Weaver and Wilson. I think the Rangers take second, thanks to their offense, and I'll drop Oakland to third, as I think inconsistency could catch up with them. Cano will get Seattle back to .500, but the Mariners are still a few moves away from competing. All are well ahead of Houston, which will once again lose 100-plus games.
NL Wildcard Game: Pirates over Braves
NL Divisional Playoffs: Dodgers over Pirates, Nationals over Cardinals
NL Championship Series: Dodgers over Nationals
AL Wildcard Game: Royals over Rays
AL Divisional Playoffs: Tigers over Royals, Red Sox over Angels
AL Championship Series: Tigers over Angels
2014 World Series: Dodgers over Tigers in 6