The Tenth Inning Week 1 – MLB Season Predictions [2014]

By Mike Ivcic

Somehow this entire last week flew by without me noticing that the MLB season starts this week. I’m guessing it had something to do with the below-freezing temperatures along the Northeast corridor and the Dayton Flyers (my alma mater) advancing to the Elite 8 for the first time in my lifetime, but whatever the reason I failed in my usual practice of writing a pre-season prediction column. So, instead, we shall turn the first weekly column of 2014’s “The Tenth Inning” into our season preview column. We’ll shorten it up a bit with just some division-by-division analysis, and then jump right into the postseason picks – you know, the absurd section where I’ve picked the Angels to win the AL each of the last two seasons only to have them fail to even make the playoffs. That just means that I’m due… right?

National League East
1) Washington Nationals
2) New York Mets
3) Atlanta Braves
4) Philadelphia Phillies
5) Miami Marlins
Let’s just start off with the “homer” pick and get it out of the way. Yes, I understand that the Mets are without Matt Harvey for the entire season and Jonathon Niese is starting the season on the DL, but this is a team that’s poised to have a breakout year, if for no other reason than pretty much everyone not named Wright and Granderson are playing for their jobs. They’re not as good as Washington, who should rebound from a tough summer a year ago and reclaim the division title, but there’s no reason they can’t surpass the Braves (who lost Brian McCann and Tim Hudson) and Phillies (whose average age is about 93). One thing is almost certain, though – I can’t seem to mathematically calculate a way in which this division earns a second playoff berth. It’s the Nationals and group of sub-.500 teams, with 85 wins as the best-case-scenario for the Mets, Braves, and Phillies each. There’s simply not a whole lot that excites about this division.

National League Central
1) St. Louis Cardinals
2) Pittsburgh Pirates
3) Cincinnati Reds
4) Chicago Cubs
5) Milwaukee Brewers
Once again, this appears to be the Cardinals division to lose. Pittsburgh still doesn’t have a first baseman, and the Reds will miss Bronson Arroyo’s steadiness and consistency in the starting rotation. Both teams are very good still, and it’s highly likely that the second place team will once again play in the wild card round, but the chances of all three reaching the postseason again are slim, and there’s just something I like more about Pittsburgh than Cincinnati. Either way, the Cardinals have a ton of talent and on paper actually seem better than they were last season, when all they did was win the Central and capture the NL pennant. As for the two northern teams in this division, well… flip a coin. Regardless of the final order, neither the Brewers nor the Cubs will be nearing the 80-win mark this year.

National League West
1) Los Angeles Dodgers
2) San Francisco Giants
3) San Diego Padres
4) Arizona Diamondbacks
5) Colorado Rockies
For the first time in… well, as far back as my memory goes with regards to payrolls, the Yankees don’t have the highest one in the league. Instead, that dubious distinction goes to the Dodgers, who should be able to once again parlay that spending into a division title. The more interesting race will be for second here, as the Giants should once again be strong if the pitching holds up, the Diamondbacks continue to win without any bona fide “stars” on the roster, and the Padres are poised to be one of the surprise teams of the year. But preseason predictions are made on paper, and paper says the Giants are more talented that Arizona or San Diego, so they get my second-place nod.

American League East
1) Baltimore Orioles
2) Boston Red Sox
3) Tampa Bay Rays
4) New York Yankees
5) Toronto Blue Jays
Welcome to the “he picked what???” section of the column. Yes, you are reading this correctly – I’m taking Baltimore. For starters, I think Tampa is bound to finally fall off just a little this year, because how can they continue to see players leave for other cities and not suffer at least somewhat. The defending champs, meanwhile, had just about everything break their way last year, and it’s hard to envision Boston having the same combination of production and injury-free years from virtually the entire roster. Then, there’s New York. As talented as they may be, they are both old and lacking starting pitching depth, which is an absolutely terrible combination, even in the American League. They’re simply not built for today’s game, and it will be a long season battling the talented teams in this division.

American League Central
1) Detroit Tigers
2) Kansas City Royals
3) Cleveland Indians
4) Chicago White Sox
5) Minnesota Twins
Amazingly enough, this offseason the Tigers traded away one of the top-five hitting first-basemen in the game over the last five seasons and got better at that position. That’s what happens when Miguel Cabrera takes over for Prince Fielder. While Detroit will likely miss that left-handed threat in the lineup, they may become a slightly better team in the field by moving the bulky Cabrera back to a more natural fit for his current build. With Scherzer in a free-agent year and Verlander coming off a sub-par (by his standards), I’m expecting another big year from the Tigers. I’m also expecting a big year from the Royals, and don’t be surprised if KC winds up playing beyond game 162 for the first time since 1985.

American League West
1) Texas Rangers
2) Oakland Athletics
3) Los Angeles Angels
4) Seattle Mariners
5) Houston Astros
The recipient of the aforementioned Fielder trade is Texas, who now has a middle of the order left handed bat that they lacked last year after Josh Hamilton left. Speaking of Hamilton, he and Pujols will have to return to their former selves this year if the Angels want to compete, because the starting pitching is still thin behind C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver. Sandwiched between those two in my projection is Oakland, who defied my own internal odds by winning this division the last two years. I can’t see them winning it a third time, and even though Houston is still putrid, I think Seattle’s addition of Robinson Cano will make the good enough to steal enough games from the three teams above them to make this division too rugged to produce two playoff teams.

National League Playoffs
Wild Card Game
Pittsburgh over San Francisco
Divisional Series
Los Angeles over Pittsburgh
St. Louis over Washington
Championship Series
Los Angeles over St. Louis

American League Playoffs
Wild Card Game
Boston over Kansas City
Divisional Series
Detroit over Boston
Texas over Baltimore
Championship Series
Texas over Detroit

World Series
While I really like the young Nationals core that appears poised to finally break through, and it’s always very dangerous to pick against a playoff-tested Cardinals team, I can’t see how a Dodgers team specifically built to win now doesn’t do just that in the National League. Meanwhile in what I think would be a bit of a minor upset, I see the Rangers upsetting the Tigers in what would be a series full of underlying subplots after the Fielder-Kinsler trade. As long as the Texas pitching staff can remain healthy – something they couldn’t do last season – I think they will get back over the hump and into the World Series. And once there, they may finally be able to do what the Josh Hamilton/Nelson Cruz-led team couldn’t finish off in 2011 and capture the first World Series in franchise history. Perhaps it’s a bit of the anti-Dodger coming out from the Mets fan in me, but I really like what the additions of Fielder and Shin Soo Choo do for this lineup, and as such I’m sticking with my first inclination.
Texas over Los Angeles

Three series to watch this week…
1) KCR @ DET (3/31-4/3) – The Royals were awful against the Tigers last year in Detroit. They get the chance to start off this season on a different note.
2) BOS @ BAL (3/31-4/3) – The defending champs start off against my projected AL East winner, and the Sox are already minus Shane Victorino.
3) STL @ CIN (3/31-4/3) – We’ll get an early read on the NL Central, as the Reds will host their annual Opening Day parade with the hated Cardinals in town.

Three series to watch this weekend…
1) SFG @ LAD (4/4-4/6) – The two friendliest teams in all of baseball will renew their wonderfully pleasant rivalry. Or something like that.
2) ATL @ WAS (4/4-4/6) – The Nats won the NL East two years ago. The Braves captured the crown last year. This should be good launch pad for each team this year.
3) TEX @ TAM (4/4-4/6) – Two playoff-tested teams meeting in an early-season inter-division matchup. Always a good time.