March 5, 2014

ZAKOUR | This Season in the MLB

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By John Zakour

I thought I would offer some very early predictions about baseball’s upcoming season, since they seem to be equally worthless whether or not I wait for the free agents to sign. So yes, I am going pick a World Series before I know where Ervin Santana or Stephen Drew will ply their craft.

Excuse my bias, but the New York Mets are an interesting team. The Mets should not be bad this year, at least not “tire fire” bad. Tepid praise, but better than what can be said of every year since 2008. That being said, Matt Harvey is on the shelf for the year and Reuben Tejada is manning shortstop for the time being. And with either Ike Davis or Lucas Duda patrolling first, there are definitely some sizable holes.

But the Mets have a ton of hope in the pitching department. Zach Wheeler is looking to break out, while Noah Syndergaard, the Mets top prospect, is looking to join the team and make an impact. If Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese can stay healthy, the Mets should have four above average pitchers and potentially, two very good pitchers. General Manager Sandy Alderson said the Mets are gunning for 90 wins. We will see how serious he is, depending on who is playing short in Queens by season’s end.

National League East Champion: the Braves. The Braves already have all the pitching and a lineup that is good enough, even if they are not world beaters. Jason Heyward, the apparent superstar, certainly has not proven himself as such. But the Braves’ pitching already has, and it is backed by a premier defense.

In the NL Central, the Cardinals very much remain the predator. The Cardinals are a possible threat every year, and this season looks to be no exception. They have reloaded with the addition of Peralta at short, and we may see the departure of outfielder Carlos Beltran. Following their NL pennant win, they look to be one of the best teams in all of baseball. Again.

National League Central Champion: I will stay conformist here. The Cardinals end up winning this division. The Cardinals are still a relatively young team as well and will be around for a while. So get used to hearing the phrase “Cardinal Way.”

The Dodgers just do not care. Another year, another huge contract. Clayton Kershaw was locked down for $215 million, and with that, the Dodgers have probably locked down another crown. A lot of money? They do not care. Despite that, L.A. has not made any noteworthy additions, unless you count the signings of two cuban infielders, a 23-year-old shortstop and a 27-year-old presumptive second baseman named Alex Guerrero. Despite this, they still have the rotation with a top three as good as any and a potent, if slightly top heavy offense.

National League West Champion: the Dodgers. As tempted as I am to pick an upset in the NL, I just cannot find one. The Dodgers biggest concern might be the international opener in Australia messing with their sleep schedules.

Wild Cards: the Nationals & the Diamondbacks. The Nationals should rebound after a somewhat inexplicable down year, especially with newly acquired Doug Fister slotting into their rotation. I like the Diamondbacks for no good reason in particular. I am so tempted to pick the Mets as a second wild card, but I cannot tell if that is blatant homerism or good intuition. Either way, I will ignore it.

National League Champion: Cardinals. The Cardinals and the Dodgers are the two best teams in the NL by some margin, in my eyes, and I already see them on a collision course in the National League Championship. But I think the Cardinals is the most complete team on the senior circuit, despite the Dodger’s checkbook.

Once again, the American League East is an intriguing division. The AL East never is short on storylines, even if they do not produce the top three teams in baseball anymore. The Red Sox were world champions, but are sure to regress after everything gelled together to perfection for them last year. The Blue Jays are stuck in the wrong division, while the Orioles seem to be dangerous again. Another MVP year out of Chris Davis would help their cause immensely after having done their best to sure up some of their pitching woes with the addition of Ubaldo Jiménez and Johan Santana.

American League East Champion: the Rays. I love their young talent, and with David Price still in the fold, I think they will only improve on last year’s season. Look for Wil Myers to break out for a big year.

The American League Central defending champion, the Tigers, have been a mainstay in the playoffs. But they are getting older and lost a key part of the rotation when they shipped off Doug Fister. I think this is the beginning of the end for Detroit, who is getting old fast. Justin Verlander was unusually flawed last season, and can you count on Cy Young production from Max Sherzer to pick up the slack again? With Fister gone, Detroit looks a little wounded.

American League Central Champion: the Indians. They came close last year, and I think they will finally flag down Detroit this year.

Probably the most interesting team in baseball is the Seattle Mariners. After another mediocre season, the Mariners decided to go for it. The Mariners are now high rollers, led by Robinson Cano’s astronomical $240 million contract, and bolstered by Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. But the question is whether it will be worth all of the money. The Mariners find themselves in a tough division, featuring two time defending champion the A’s, the always dangerous Rangers team and the extremely high priced but disappointing Angels.

American League West Champion: the Oakland A’s. Moneyball is alive and well. The playoffs might be in the Mariner’s future, but I still love the construction of the A’s.

American League Wild Cards: the Orioles and the Mariners. While I do not think the Red Sox will have a bad year, I still do not see them repeating their collective greatness of last year.

World Series: Cardinals over Rays. Cannot say enough about this Cardinals roster. They are stacked.