Thursday, March 27, 2014

Baseball is Back: NL, AL Central Preview and Prediction

Who takes the NL Central?
After taking a look at the NL and AL East, I will be looking into the National and American League Central.

Chicago Cubs (2013 record: 66-96): The Cubs are coming off a bad season and looking at the team, it doesn’t look like it will improve anytime soon. The only bright spot offensively is Anthony Rizzo who has a chance to be productive. Starlin Castro was thought of as the franchise player but he struggled mightily in 2013. He will need to vastly improve from his 2013 season if they want to be some what competitive.  They do, however, have Javier Baez in the minors who has a chance to be very special. He probably will get his feet wet in the majors this year and hopefully he makes a big splash. Jeff Samardzija anchors the pitching staff. The pitching staff doesn’t look to be as bad as the offense but both will likely struggle. The Cubs will be one of the worst teams in baseball and it’s a shame because it’s such a historic franchise.
Key additions: 2B: Emilio Bonifacio, OF: Justin Ruggiano, RP: Jose Veras

Cincinnati Reds (2013 record: 90-72): The Reds are coming off an impressive 90 win season. The offense will be led by Joey Votto who is coming off a disappointing 2013 season. If he has the production he had in 2012, the Reds will be a very scary team. Votto has help with Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips around him to help provide the punch on offense. Then you add the fastest player in baseball, Billy Hamilton, to the top of the lineup, this offense can be very scary. There are many people who don’t believe in Billy Hamilton’s hitting ability so that will be something to look at this season. The pitching staff will be one of the best in the National League led by Homer Bailey. They also have Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Tony Cingrani so it will be a pretty dangerous pitching staff. The Reds lost their closer, Aroldis Chapman, to injury from a scary line drive to the head in a spring training game. He will be held out till mid to late April but it shouldn’t hurt the team too much.
Key additions: 2B/OF: Skip Schumaker, RP: Manny Parra

Milwaukee Brewers (2013 record: 74-88): Coming off a disappointing 2013 season, I expect the Brewers to bounce back in a big way. The offense is loaded with Ryan Braun coming back from suspension. Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Aramis Ramirez will all be helping Ryan Braun and the offense. The pitching might not be as strong as other teams in the National League, but as long as they can keep the games close, they will have a chance with this offense. Yovanni Gallardo and Matt Garza lead the way for the Brewers pitching staff. An interesting player to watch will be outfielder Khris Davis. Many people believe he will be a force offensively and if he is productive this offense may be the best in this division.
Key additions: SP: Matt Garza, 1B: Lyle Overbay, 1B: Mark Reynolds

Pittsburgh Pirates (2013 record: 94-68): The Pirates were the surprise team in 2013 as they reeled off 94 wins and made it to the playoffs. The team has a strong trio on offense with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez, however they will need help from their supporting cast. The Pirates have a very strong top of the rotation with Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole leading the way. I expect Gerrit Cole to take a huge leap forward this year and becoming one of the elite pitchers in all of baseball. They have two top prospects in Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco waiting for his chance with the team who can be very helpful. The bullpen of the Pirates is strong and was a key part of their success for their 2013 season. The Pirates will be a competitive ball club fighting for a playoff spot.
Key additions: SP: Edinson Volquez, C: Chris Stewart

St. Louis Cardinals (2013 record: 97-65): The defending National League champs are ready to defend their title. The offense doesn’t have really have any big names with the likes of Carlos Beltran and Albert Pujols leaving but all the players are very solid. The offense is well balanced and all of the position players have a chance to be productive. The pitching is also very balanced led by Adam Wainwright. The young guns in Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller will help with the pitching. The Cardinals have one of the top prospects in all of baseball, in Oscar Taveras, and if it were not for injuries we probably would have already seen him in the major leagues. It will be interesting to see if he gets the call up to the majors sooner rather than later.
Key additions: OF: Peter Bourjos, 2B: Mark Ellis, SS: Jhonny Peralta

Prediction: I see the Milwaukee Brewers surprising many people this season. The offense can be very potent with Ryan Braun back in the lineup. How much did the PEDs affect him will be a key question. I see the Brewers sneaking their way near the top of the standings. This will be one of the more competitive divisions in baseball.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Chicago Cubs
Who takes the AL Central? 
AL Central

Chicago White Sox (2013 record: 63-99): Like their friends up north, the White Sox came off a poor season. However the White Sox have more hope than the Cubs as of now. The offense will be led by Cuban star Jose Abreu. Hopefully the success Abreu had in Cuba will translate to the US. If not, then they are in some trouble. Adam Eaton who was traded to the White Sox will likely be the leadoff hitter and if he does well, that is good for this team. The pitching is a bit of a question mark after Chris Sale so that will be something to watch. The White Sox will likely have a better 2014 campaign than 2013 but I do not see them reaching the playoffs once again.
Key additions: 1B: Jose Abreu, OF: Adam Eaton

Cleveland Indians (2013 record: 92-70): No one expected the Indians to do what they did in 2013 so it is something they can build off. The offense is led by second basemen Jason Kipnis who is coming off a very nice 2013 year. He has some help around him as well in Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. The pitching is young and talented. They have the potential to be very good led by Justin Masterson. The Indians will be a fun team to follow as they have a lot of young and exciting players.
Key additions: OF: David Murphy, RP: John Axford

Detroit Tigers (2013 record: 93-69): Coming off a 93 win season, the Tigers were definitely disappointed to be bounced in the 2013 playoffs. They will be looking to make a deep run in the postseason. The offense is led by the best hitter in the game Miguel Cabrera. It will be interesting to see how losing Prince Fielder as his protection will affect him. The Tigers made a huge trade which sent Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler. Ultimately, I think this will hurt Cabrera as I would rather have Fielder protecting him in the lineup. The pitching is going to be dominant once again with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer leading the way. It will be a very scary rotation to face in the playoffs. The Tigers are the clear favorites to win this division and have the players to make a deep run in the postseason.
Key additions: 2B: Ian Kinsler

Kansas City Royals (2013 record: 86-76): The Royals will be the surprise team this year. The offense is talented and the pitching is good enough to fight for a playoff spot. They probably will not win the division since the Tigers are in it, but they are capable of taking one of the two Wild Card spots. The offense is led by Eric Hosmer who struggled at the beginning of the 2013 season but was scorching hot towards the end. Hopefully he can carry the momentum into the 2014 season. They also have Alex Gordon and Billy Butler and if they produce the way they are capable of, this offense will be dangerous. The pitching is led by James Shields who is an innings eater and a very dependable pitcher. Look for Yordano Ventura to become a name that the entire league knows because he has electric stuff. This Royals team will be very good so teams better not sleep on them.
Key additions: OF: Norichika Aoki, 2B: Omar Infante

Minnesota Twins (2013 record: 66-96): Coming off a disappointing season, the Twins will be looking to make a turnaround. The offense is led by Joe Mauer who will be the full time first basemen and not have to worry about catching duties. This will keep him more fresh and will produce better numbers. Besides Mauer, it is difficult to find a bright spot. Oswaldo Arcia will be the name to know by the end of the year. The outfielder is very talented but not many people know of him right now. The pitching is led by Ricky Nolasco but the rest of the rotation is pretty spotty. The Twins will improve from last year but I do not see them being in the playoff race.
Key additions: SP: Ricky Nolasco, SP: Phil Hughes

Prediction: The favorite of the division is the Detroit Tigers and I see them running away with the division towards the end of the season. The Royals and Indians will try to stay with them, but the pitching of the Tigers is just too dominant for them to keep up.
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Minnesota Twins

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