2014 American League East Preview

 

I recently did a series of comparisons between the New York Yankees and the rest of the American League East, which is arguably the toughest division in all of baseball. The Boston Red Sox won it last year with 97 wins and went on to win their third World Series in 10 years. The Tampa Bay Rays won a crucial Game 163 in Arlington, TX to sneak in the playoffs and disposed of Cleveland in the Wild Card game before falling to Boston in four in the ALDS.The Yankees and Baltimore Orioles won just 85 games a year after taking it to the limit in the division race and in the Division Series in 2012. The Toronto Blue Jays, last year’s paper champions, were major disappointments and finished dead last.

This season, just about any of these five teams can make the playoffs or even win the division. The Yankees have made improvements but also have their problems. The Red Sox are the defending champions and have young talent on the way, but they did lose some important pieces. The Blue Jays and Orioles whiffed on some major free agents, but Baltimore managed to salvage the offseason with some late pick-ups.

Who will win the division? Will there be more than one playoff team out of the East? Well, as John Sterling says, “you just can’t predict baseball”, but I’ll try.

Division Champion: Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)

USATSI

The Rays have been contenders just about every year since 2008, but they have not been out of the ALDS since that 2008 season when they won the pennant after 10 years of struggle. After months of speculation, they did not trade ace David Price, so they remain serious contenders, perhaps good enough to win it all. Along with Price, they have one of the deepest rotations in the league with Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer. Their offense looks to improve with a healthy Evan Longoria and a full season of Wil Myers. They also brought back Grant Balfour, who is an improvement over Fernando Rodney, so their bullpen is rock solid. They have enough to make the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons, and will take their third AL East crown.

Wild Card Qualifier: New York Yankees (94-68)

Associated Press

You may have heard: The Yankees are too old. The Yankees are overpaid. The Yankees are very injury-prone. The Yankees have to get younger. Big deal. The point of them losing Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, and Andy Pettitte has been made to death without regarding what they did do: They improved big time at catcher with Brian McCann and twice over in the outfield with Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are better than what they had at short and first last year.

Pitching wise, they got the best arm available in Masahiro Tanaka, who should be at least half as good as advertised. CC Sabathia has reinvented himself and the rest of the rotation looks great. Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda have looked fantastic this spring and could play a huge role moving forward. Even without Mariano, the Yankees’ bullpen has a backup plan with several pieces in the minors. The Yankees are a much better team than the one that somehow won 85 games last year. That is a fact. They will make the playoffs for the 18th time in 20 seasons.

Just A Bit Short: Boston Red Sox (89-73)

Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images North America

Let’s just get this straight: Everything went right for the Boston Red Sox last season. Everything. They set themselves up to be a solid but not serious team and it all came up pay-dirt. The acquisitions of Mike Napoli, Mike Carp, Stephen Drew, and Shane Victorino all paid off big time. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia stayed healthy. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John freaking Lackey all pitched great again, and a 38 year-old Koji Uehara became the savior for their bullpen.

This isn’t to say the Red Sox were a fluke. If anything, the 2012 season was a fluke for them. They still have a solid team that should be considered a serious threat, but they will not be as good. They downgraded significantly at catcher with a 37 year-old A.J. Pierzynski replacing Jarrod Saltlamacchia (118 OPS+ last year). They replaced Jacoby Ellsbury with Grady Sizemore. If Boston fans think Ellsbury is injury-prone, look at Sizemore, who has not played in three years and barely has any knees left. With no other significant moves this offseason, the Red Sox are counting on everything to go right again. That will not happen. They will miss the playoffs for the fourth time this decade.

Not Quite: Baltimore Orioles (80-82)

Carlos Osorio/AP

The O’s had a mostly disastrous offseason. They traded Jim Johnson to Oakland to sign Grant Balfour, but Balfour failed his physical and signed with the Rays. Thus, they’re forced to go with Tommy Hunter as their closer. It wasn’t until February where they made some serious moves. They improved their pitching with Ubaldo Jimenez and Korean Suk-Min Yoon and also brought in Nelson Cruz on the cheap after he was embroiled in BioGenesis. Their lineup looks loaded, but do they have enough pitching? Not likely.

In the Cellar, Again: Toronto Blue Jays (78-84)

The Blue Jays were supposed to be great last year after acquiring Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and R.A. Dickey, but they were anything but, finishing dead last. They whiffed during free agency, specifically on Ervin Santana. They have a very deep lineup featuring Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but can their pitching go from an Achilles to a strength? Their bullpen is solid, but their rotation is old and thin. They will finish  dead last again in 2014.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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My MLB Predictions for the 2014 Season

Derek Jeter (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

As winter dies and spring is born, baseball once again rises from the ashes like the legendary phoenix. The 2014 season had already really begun last weekend in Australia as the Los Angeles Dodgers took two from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but it gets into full swing this week. The Dodgers again are in the spotlight tonight in San Diego against the Padres for the Sunday Night game on ESPN. Everyone else kicks off Monday and Tuesday.

There are a lot of running storylines for the 2014 season, none bigger than the last ride for the captain of the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter. It’s also commissioner Bud Selig’s last year as well (thank the Lord Almighty). But there’s also the new era of instant replay and the rise of a new generation of superstars, many from abroad.

Many teams have improved, some got worse, some stayed the same. Baseball has reached probably its highest level of parity in history, so just about any team can win it all. But only 10 teams can play in October, and only one can become World Series champions.

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Eastern Division:

Tampa Bay Rays 96-66

New York Yankees*: 94-68

Boston Red Sox 89-73

Baltimore Orioles: 80-82

Toronto Blue Jays: 78-84

Why: The AL Beast is probably the toughest division in baseball, producing a wild card team every year since 2006. Even with questions in their lineups, New York and Tampa Bay have two potentially dominant rotations.

Central Division:

Detroit Tigers: 95-67

Kansas City Royals: 90-72

Cleveland Indians: 78-84

Chicago White Sox: 71-91

Minnesota Twins: 66-96

Why: Even after dumping Prince Fielder, losing Jose Iglesias, and trading Doug Fister for basically nothing, Detroit remains the most talented team in the Central. The young Royals will continue to get better and will have a go for their first playoff appearance in almost 30 years.

Western Division:

Texas Rangers: 97-65

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim*: 91-71

Oakland Athletics: 89-73

Seattle Mariners 72-90

Houston Astros: 57-105

Why: The Rangers will finally get it together and avoid another September collapse with acquisition of Prince Fielder. The Angels will finally live up to the billing thanks to resurgence from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton (and the continued brilliance of Mike Trout) and will beat out a tough race for the second wild card. 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Eastern Division:

Washington Nationals: 97-65

Atlanta Braves*: 93-69

New York Mets: 82-80

Philadelphia Phillies: 68-94

Miami Marlins: 65-97

Why: The Nationals’ rotation is deep and downright terrifying, and Bryce Harper will lead the way in a breakout season for the 21 year-old. Atlanta will survive this injury catastrophe  and will make it back to the postseason without Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. The Mets could use this season as a bridge to a very bright future.

Central Division:

St. Louis Cardinals: 98-64

Cincinnati Reds*: 95-67

Pittsburgh Pirates: 85-77

Milwaukee Brewers: 76-86

Chicago Cubs: 61-101

Why: St. Louis remains a deep club, probably the deepest in the majors at just every facet of the game. The Reds could have an answer to their leadoff woes in the form of Billy Hamilton, and they have some of the best pitching in the game. Pittsburgh takes a bit of a step back, but their future remains bright thanks to Gregory Polance, Gerrit Cole, and of course, Andrew McCutchen.

 Western Division:

Los Angeles Dodgers: 102-60

San Diego Padres: 84-78

San Francisco Giants: 81-81

Arizona Diamondbacks: 76-86

Colorado Rockies: 68-94

Why: The Dodgers should easily run away in this weak division. Resurgence from Matt Kemp will make them even more dangerous come playoff time.

PLAYOFFS:

AL Wild Card: New York over Los Angeles

ALDS: New York over Texas (3-1), Tampa Bay over Detroit (3-2)

ALCS: New York over Tampa Bay, 4-2

NL Wild Card: Cincinnati over Atlanta

NLDS: Washington over St. Louis (3-2), Los Angeles over Cincinnati (3-1)

NLCS: Los Angeles over Washington, 4-3

World Series: New York Yankees over Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-2

Why: Two big market superpowers will collide for the first time since 1981. The Dodgers have the star power to stand out in a loaded NL. The Yankees have enough pitching depth and a good amount of seasoned veterans to make up for the losses of Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte. Also, don’t underestimate the Jeter factor this season. This may be a homer pick, but I think the Yankees will be serious contenders this year and send the Captain out a champion for the sixth time.

AWARDS:

American League:

MVP: Mike Trout (Los Angeles)

Rookie of the Year: Masahiro Tanaka (New York)

Cy Young: David Price (Tampa Bay)

Manager of the Year: Ned Yost (Kansas City)

Comeback Player of the Year: Derek Jeter (New York)

National League:

MVP: Joey Votto (Cincinnati)

Rookie of the Year: Gregory Polanco (Pittsburgh)

Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles)

Manager of the Year: Fredi Gonzalez (Atlanta)

Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Kemp (Los Angeles)

Enough With the Silly Comparisons Between Jason Collins and Jackie Robinson

BART YOUNG/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Jason Collins has played in the NBA for 13 seasons and he has averaged 3.6 points per game on 41% shooting and 3.8 rebounds per game. The seven footer has played for six different teams in the last six years, including a second go-around with the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets. I bet you didn’t even know who he was, even if you’re a basketball fan, until April 29, 2013.

That’s the day that Collins came out as a homosexual, becoming the first open, active person in sports, disputably. Since then, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park, received phone calls from the President, and he was invited to the State of the Union by the First Lady. He has returned to the NBA after signing a 10 day contract with the Nets, and his jersey is somehow the current top seller in the league. The media attention itself has been much.

Maybe because of the Brooklyn parallels, but he has been hailed as this generation’s Jackie Robinson by the talking heads on ESPN and MSNBC by becoming the first openly gay player in the NBA.

Wait, what?

REED SAXON/AP

Yup, there are plenty in the media that have gone on to compare Collins’ coming out to Jack Roosevelt Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Honestly, this comparison is really silly, and downright insulting to Robinson. It brings down everything Robinson went through and stood for quite a bit. Yes, Collins has had plenty of courage to come out and try to play in the NBA, and it is very significant, but his experiences aren’t that similar to Robinson’s.

It’s one thing if Collins came out in the 1980s or even the 1990s, but this is the 21st Century, and we as a society in the western world have become more accepting of gay people. Collins’ revelation has been applauded everywhere from Kobe Bryant to George Takei. The media has covered him positively and his return to the NBA was a top story on SportsCenter for days. But let me ask: How much is Collins REALLY contributing to the LGBT movement by just coming out and playing in the NBA?

Jackie Robinson hit .311 in a ten year career in Major League Baseball, winning NL MVP in 1949. He helped the Dodgers win their only World Series championship in Brooklyn in 1955. He could have played even longer in the big leagues, but he, like every other African American player, was outright BANNED from playing because of a gentlemen’s agreement. Collins has been nothing more than a career scrub who has played for six different teams. His numbers make Kwame Brown’s look like Shaquille O’Neal’s.

hollywood.com

Maybe you think their respective career numbers don’t really matter as much, and you may be right. But the other problem is this: Jackie Robinson faced discrimination that was very, very real at the height of the Jim Crow era. Despite being an All-American in several sports at UCLA and serving in the military in World War II, Robinson was, at first, denied to play in Major League Baseball, like every African. His entry into the game was very controversial. Fans would spit on him, shout slurs at him, send him death threats, and that was just at the ballpark. Throughout the country, he wasn’t even allowed to stay in hotels or dine with his team. His own teammates petitioned to Leo Durocher and Branch Rickey to get him off the team or request a trade for themselves. Many of the teams, particularly the Philadelphia Phillies, threatened to refuse to take the field.

Just watch last year’s film 42, starring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. It may not be totally accurate, but it’s a great depiction of what America and baseball were like in 1947.

Jason Collins has come out in a time where LGBT people have become more accepted. Yes, there certainly is homophobia in this country, as we’ve seen time and time again, but it isn’t the level it used to be. The times, they are a-changing. Nobody in the NBA has stopped Collins from continuing his career. You’ll find a lot of sports fans that will not consider a player’s sexuality a big deal. Yes, there certainly are those bigots out there, many who will throw their slurs at him. But most fans are more concerned if a person can play ball. Collins can’t, as you see by his career numbers.

If he was any better of a player than he is, he probably would have signed with a team before now. The fact that he is a marginal player at best was the reason why teams didn’t sign him for seven months, not homophobia. He has been accepted in his locker room and embraced by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, his teammates in Boston and now in Brooklyn. The First Lady invited him to Capitol Hill. The Red Sox had him throw out the first ball. His jersey is the top seller in the NBA!

AP

The real story should be just how he has been accepted, and that is reflective on how our country has progressed in the last 20-30 years. But he is not Jackie Robinson because he has not gone through what Robinson went through, not even close.

In order for LGBT to make an turning impact on sports, they have to be a star. If Robinson was a marginal player, he would have been out of the league after a few years. The fact that he became an all-time great player was one of the biggest reasons baseball and in fact the entire country began to change in the 40s and 50s. Jason Collins is not that guy, a true star athlete coming out would really change things.

If you really want to make comparisons to Jackie Robinson, look to the NFL, where homophobia is certainly alive amongst teams. The Missouri defensive end Michael Sam could be that guy, as we’ve already seen questions of how his outing will affect locker rooms. Like Collins, he has been supported by his peers, the media, the elite, and many others. If he blossoms into a star, he, not Jason Collins, could very well be the guy who becomes this generation’s Jackie Robinson. His success in the NFL would be the true turning point in sports.