Okay, so I know I promised musings, there probably won’t be any of those, but I can promise there will be thoughts and bold predictions.
ITS FINALLY HERE! Baseball season is upon us folks! Pitchers and Catchers report today (Arizona DBacks). We can finally put football behind us. Even though KNBR won’t stop talking about that silly “The NFL is Rigged” video that some fan made, we will. Its time to talk about baseball, you can call me in September when football starts again (although, I do enjoy the NFL Draft). Actually, don’t call me in September, because god willing, the Giants will be contending, and because, well, I don’t know you, and it’d be weird if you actually did call me, even weirder if you somehow got my number, but that conversation is for another time, another very strange time.
The National League is going to get interesting this year. There are about seven to nine good teams all vying for five playoff spots, and I predict all divisions will be competitive, but first I’ll start with the San Francisco Giants. This is, after all, a Bay Area blog, and I am, after all, the Giants insider, or so they call me.
I struggled the most with where to put the Giants than with any other prediction I would make when writing this article. There are so many question marks surrounding this team. Is Brandon Belt finally going to take the reins as a Major League Hitter? Can Tim Lincecum turn it around? What kind of a year is Brandon Crawford going to have? Which Pablo Sandoval are we going to see? and so on and so on.
What the Giants do have is one of the best managers in the game today in Bruce Bochy, He’s a guy who can get the most out of his players, even if they’re less talented than their opponents (see 2010 and 2012 San Francisco Giants). They have two great starting pitchers, although one is coming off a down year, and arguably the best bullpen in the National League. Oh and a guy who’s won the MVP only two seasons ago and the best catcher in baseball, Buster Posey.
Even if all of those questions go their way, they STILL might not make the Playoffs, as Arizona is a rising young team, with the runner up to the MVP in Paul Goldschmidt and one of the best young pitchers in baseball in Pat Corbin.
They currently have five guys in the starting lineup who have the ability to hit 25 or more home runs, with Belt, Morse, Posey, Sandoval and Pence. I am not saying they’re GOING to, but they all have the ability to do it, and we all know what Bumgarner and Cain can do when rested. The Giants will be getting Angel Pagan back, which may be the most important move/non-move the Giants made. We all saw just how important Pagan was to this team last season, as they really struggled getting on base from the leadoff position (from every position really).
That being said, I am not putting the Giants in the playoffs this season. I don’t think they did enough this offseason to really compete with LA and Arizona, let alone Pittsburgh, Washington, Cincinnati and Atlanta, and there are just too many things that can tip either way on this ballclub. With those two reasons in mind is why this team doesn’t make the playoffs in 2014. I have them winning 84 games, but obviously I have Arizona and LA Winning more. Speaking of that….
NL WEST WINNER: Los Angeles Dodgers.
If there ever was a dominant team in the Major Leagues, its the Dodgers, unfortunately. The Los Angeles Dodgers are stacked at every position. They have arguably the best 1-2 Starting Pitchers in the league in Kershaw and Greinke, and Kershaw is bar none, the best starting pitcher in the Majors. I mean, its not close. There are some great pitchers in this league like Madison Bumgarner (more on him in part II), Adam Wainwright, Stephen Strasburg, Greinke etc, but Kershaw is a cut above the rest. His fastball is in the high 90’s and his curveball is the best single pitch in baseball. He is the perennial Cy Young winner until further notice.
Unfortunately for us Giants fans, Kershaw is not the only Dodgers Pitcher we have to worry about. They have talent up and down their pitching staff, whether its Greinke, Ryu, Beckett, or newly signed Dan Haren, each one of those guys can beat you by themselves. And, lets not forget about Chad Billingsley, who is coming off Tommy John Surgery, who is there just as a consolation prize for when Beckett or Haren get hurt (because thats pretty inevitable). Happy freakin’ Birthday to whoever is facing the Dodgers that night.
I haven’t even talked about their lineup or bullpen yet and I already have two paragraphs about just how good on paper this team is. They do, however, like any other team have a couple question marks: Can Yasiel Puig maintain the same production this year as he did last year? And what sort of production are they going to get out of Cuban Defector and virtual unknown second baseman Alexander Guerrero.
About Guerrero I cannot say, as I know about as much as everyone else, which is not much, but to answer the Puig question I would say it is going to be incredibly hard to reproduce what he did last season. Teams now have tape on him, and started to figure him out at the end of last season. He’ll swing at bad balls, and he’s vulnerable to the high and away pitch. Puig is an immensely talented player with five tools, and while I usually hate talking about a players attitude being detrimental to his game, in Puig’s case, it can be. Baseball is as a cerebral game as they come, and ones attitude and emotional state can affect his game in more ways than one. I still expect Puig to have a good year, just maybe not the year he had last season.
We all know by now just how good the Dodgers are as a whole. I fully expect them to win the NL West and at least put themselves in a position to win the National League, there is one team, however, that will challenge them in that aspect….
NL CENTRAL WINNER: St. Louis Cardinals.
If there is one team that can beat the Dodgers, its the St. Louis Cardinals. The Card’s have a rotation that can compete with any team in baseball, and they employ the best young pitchers in the league in Michael Wacha (Or Wacha Wacha as Pedro Martinez likes to call him), Shelby Miller, Closer Trevor Rosenthal, and relievers Carlos Martinez and Seth Maness. Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia to round out the rotation aren’t really what you’d call bums either.
Their lineup contains the ever stoic superstar Matt Holliday in Left Field, Allen Craig, one of the better hitters in baseball, and who probably would have won the MVP last season had he not got injured. Seriously, go look up his numbers from last year! They have Matt Carpenter who can play anywhere on the diamond, and hit anywhere in their batting order, Matt Adams who can hit the ball 600 feet, and looks like a reincarnation of Babe Ruth. In the offseason they traded fan favorite David Freese to Anaheim (I still refuse to call them the Los Angeles Angels) for Center Fielder and Leadoff hitter Peter Borjos, and they signed Shortstop Jhonny Peralta, just to add a little more firepower to an already potent lineup.
They have a Manager who, while only having two years of experience has already been to the NLCS twice, and won it once, and did I mention Michael Wacha, who, as just a rookie, almost led the Cardinals to a World Series victory, if it wasn’t for Big Papi hitting .700 in the WS for Boston last season.
St Louis plays in a tough division, with Cincinnati, and the rising Pittsburgh Pirates, but I still think they have enough (and more) to win that division, and contend for the National League Pennant.
NL EAST: The Washington Nationals
Here it is! One of the Bold Predictions I was talking about. The first three were somewhat tame, but this is the bold one!
Every year, there is always one team that comes out of virtually nowhere and surprises everybody with a great season. I believe that this year, that team is the Washington Nationals. They’ve quietly put together what could be the best overall starting rotation in the National League with Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and newly acquired Pitcher from Detroit, Doug Fister.
As good as their pitching is, their lineup is even better, featuring Bryce Harper (more on him in Part II of this Preview) Third Baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and if you haven’t heard of Shortstop Ian Desmond before, well then you better remember his name, as this season could be his break out year. He’s put up good numbers in the past, but I believe this year will be the year he puts it all together.
Washington is hungry after blowing the NLCS to the Cardinals two seasons ago, and expect Harper in what will be his third full season in the bigs to have a huge year. Their one vice is their health. If Strasburg, Harper and Zimmerman can all stay healthy, then we should expect big things from the team managed by newly hired former Giant Matt Williams. Williams should bring that fire and intensity that he played with to a team that needs some after enduring three years of the ancient Davey Johnson. Williams was just the spark this team needed to contend again.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPION: The Los Angeles Dodgers.
After all of that we’re finally here. The team that is going to win the National League Pennant is going to be the LA Dodgers. You have no idea how much pain that last sentence just caused me. Seriously, its physically hurting me. Everything inside of me wants to pick St. Louis. They have the experience, this great lineup and pitching staff and they actually do have a better manager than LA does, but I’m going with my head here over my heart. I can’t pick against LA. They have no weaknesses, although I still don’t trust Donnie Baseball in big time situations, I think LA will win in spite of him. Unfortunately they’re just too dang good. The good things are though, A) I’m wrong a lot. ( I did pick Colin Kaepernick to win NFL MVP, but I’m not a football guy), and B) No team is bigger than the game. Baseball the cruelest sport there is and can bite you at the most unexpected times. I am really hoping in this instance that I am wrong, and am willing to put my hatred of the Dodgers over my credibility as a sports writer, but hey, who needs credibility anyway.
*I know this was a lot, but please stay tuned till tomorrow of Part II of our National League Preview, where I will predict Individual Awards. Don’t worry, it will be a lot shorter than this.
In the coming days we will also have parts I and II of our American League Bold Predictions, where, there will be a lot more, you know, bold predictions. Including a good one about the team from across the bay!