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Here is a look at the surprises, good and bad, to the start of the 2014 major league baseball season.

2014 NL East Predictions

March 31st 2014 02:44

The Atlanta Braves were the class of the NL East in 2013, winning 96 games and taking the Los Angeles Dodgers to four games in the NLDS before losing the series. It continued a string of excellence for the franchise, which has seen them advance to the playoffs in three of the past four seasons.

The Braves were led by starters Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Julio Teheran and in the bullpen by dominant closer Craig Kimbrel. Atlanta's strong pitching staff allowed the team to score 140 more runs then it had given up to the opposing teams.

Offensively, the Braves were led by the breakout campaign of Freddie Freeman at first base along with the contributions of Chris Johnson at third, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward in the outfield. Andrelton Simmons developed into one of the best two-way shortstops in the game.

It was a great year from a promising Braves team.

The Washington Nationals entered last season as the fashionable pick to win the World Series based on their loss in the 2012 NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Instead, the Nats took a step back from 2012's 98 wins to drop down to 86 wins under Davey Johnson last year. Nothing quite went the way Washington expected it to go, with injuries to Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos really hurting the Nationals chances last year.

The New York Mets finished in third place with 74 wins and it was about as good as the Mets could have hoped for. Outside of David Wright and Marlon Byrd, no one on the offensive side of the ball had an above-average season.

Pitching was the Mets strength, led by Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee and Jon Niese. The bullpen was anchored by Bobby Parnell.

The Philadelphia Phillies had a disappointing, injury ravaged season in 2013, eventually leading to the Phillies changing managers during the season. Injuries to Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay really effected the team on both sides of the ball. It was a down season for SS Jimmy Rollins as well.

The Miami Marlins finished in last, winning just 62 games last year. The Marlins feature a ton of young talent led by Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez. The Marlins may have lost 100, but they showed they might have the next wave of talent to challenge the division in 2015 if they can add pitching.

Here is how things look for the 2014 season:

1. Washington Nationals

Even with new, inexperienced manager Matt Williams, I really like Washington's chances this year to win the division.

Washington might have the best rotation in the National League led by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. Washington also might have made the best deal of the winter in acquiring starter Doug Fister. The bullpen is loaded with Rafael Soriano leading a very deep group. It's a group that has been built to win a division crown and a short series.

On offense, the Nats seemed primed to be one of the best groups in the league. Bryce Harper will be an MVP candidate this season surrounded by a deep lineup featuring Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, Denard Span and Jayson Werth.

Washington has everything it needs to win the division and have a chance at making the World Series.

2. Atlanta Braves

The Braves have already been dealt crushing blows with the losses of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery. Losing both pitchers has put a tremendous strain on the team's rotation now led by Julio Teheran and newcomer Ervin Santana. Craig Kimbrel will continue to be one of the best closers in the game.

Offensively, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward will lead a group that needs more production from both of the Upton brothers and second baseman Dan Uggla. Losing Brian McCann will put a tremendous amount of pressure on Evan Gattis to replace his production and leadership behind the plate.

The Braves are in a tough spot and it is hard to see this group overcoming all of these issues to make the playoffs this season.

3. Philadelphia Phillies

Ryne Sandberg took over last season and went 20-22 as the interim manager. He has a tough group to deal with and it is likely that he will butt heads with the veteran players on this roster.

The Phillies have talent, but they have been constructed like a beer league softball team. Adding talent without building a team. The rotation features Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett with Cole Hamels recovering from an injury to start the year.

Offensively, the Phillies will be driven by Howard, Rollins and Chase Utley. If those three players return to form and stay healthy, the Phillies will be a formidable team. It's just unlikely enough to get this team back to the playoffs despite the top end talent on this team. The Phils might be the biggest seller at the deadline.

4. New York Mets

The Mets are already dealing with the loss of rising star Matt Harvey, on the shelf since undergoing Tommy John surgery last October. Going into this season, New York was faced by having to replace Harvey and compensated by adding Bartolo Colon in his place.

New York also brought in former Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson to help the offense. Both veteran players will help, but it unlikely to move New York out of fourth-place in the division.

The Mets have prospects coming, but it will likely be in the 2015 season when Harvey returns to join prospect Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler at the front of the rotation.

5. Miami Marlins

The Marlins have talent. It's just a question of when it will mature enough to impact the major league roster. Jose Fernandez's emergence was the first sign of this progress. The Marlins will now await the progress of starters Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi to build a rotation to compete.

At the plate, Giancarlo Stanton is one of the better young hitters in the game, but it is getting to the point where the Marlins might have to consider dealing Stanton in order to add talent to the major league roster.

Christian Yelich made a promising debut with the team last season, but the Marlins will need to have others step up to speed up their chances to compete. Newcomer Jarrod Saltalamacchia will bring leadership and offense to the catching position.

The Nationals will win the division this year. How far they advance is really the question.

2014 NL Central Predictions

March 30th 2014 23:07

The St. Louis Cardinals came very close to winning the World Series in 2013. I thought the momentum had shifted permanently after the obstruction call on Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks ended Game 3.

But, the Red Sox were able to rebound and effectively shutdown the Cardinals offense for the remainder of the series. The Cardinals pitched well enough to win, but the World Series displayed the lack of depth to the Cardinals lineup.

Winning the NL Central and getting to the World Series wasn't easy. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds were on the Cardinals trail for the entire season with St. Louis winning 97 games, the Pirates 94 and the Reds won 90.

The 2013 season saw a rebirth of the Pirates franchise, taking Pittsburgh back to the postseason for the first time in 20 years led by NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. It was a special year for the Pirates who look like they will be a thorn in the side of the Cardinals again this season.

The Reds had an excellent season by almost any measure, but in the Central, it only was good enough for third place. The Reds were capable of winning the division, pitching well enough to do so and producing enough runs. It shows the strength at the top of the division among these three teams.

The Brewers had a rough season, especially once the suspension of Ryan Braun came to light. Braun's PED suspension made it difficult for Milwaukee to ever get stabilized during the year. Braun was suspended July 23rd, 2013 for the remainder of the year. It was a huge distraction.

The Cubs brought up the rear in the division, making it four straight seasons that the team has been under the .500 mark. It has been a long rebuild for Chicago and figures to carry into this season.

Looking at this year, 2014 figures to mirror the 2013 season for the division. Here are my thoughts:

1. St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are as deep and talented as any organization in baseball. St. Louis has truly been the model of consistency over the past ten years, having won two of their four World Series appearances while making the playoffs in seven of the past ten seasons. Last year, St. Louis won 97 games and look primed to do the same this season.

The rotation is built around Adam Wainwright and will be augmented by Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller. It is as deep, young and talented group as there is in baseball. Closer Trevor Rosenthal was a revelation during the playoffs and Carlos Martinez might have the best stuff of any pitcher on this entire staff. This is how you contend while changing over your roster; through player development.

The Cardinals made moves on offense that should make things more balanced this year with the addition of Jhonny Peralta at short and hopefully the healthy return of Allen Craig in right. The Cards lost Carlos Beltran, but the defense should be much better with Peter Bourjous in center, Kolten Wong at second and Matt Carpenter shifting over to third.

St. Louis will be in the championship hunt again this season.

2. Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are hoping the switch from Dusty Baker to new manager Bryan Price will be the final piece to get this team over the hump and into the World Series.

Offensively, the Reds are a potential juggernaut with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips leading the way. Newcomer Billy Hamilton could be one of the most explosive players in the National League if he can reach base enough to use his speed.

The Reds have a ton of injuries right now including Mat Latos, Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman on the pitching side and catcher Devon Mesoraco to start the season. If the Reds can weather the first 50 games of the season, they should be primed to make a serious run at the division crown.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates

I hate to say it, but the Pirates look like one of the team's primed to take a step back this season. 2013 was a magical season for Pittsburgh, but the Opening Day roster this year looks slightly weaker than the one that ended last season losing the NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pittsburgh was led by MVP Andrew McCutchen, who was the team's heart and soul offensively and defensively. Offensively, he will be joined Pedro Alvarez, Sterling Marte and Neil Walker. The Pirates still face offensive questions at first base and at short.

Francisco Liriano was a revelation last season at 16-8 and will get the ball on Opening Day. He was excellent, but the Pirates will need to be careful with the fragile Liriano this year. He will be followed Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole. Pittsburgh playoff hopes could depended on the successful rehab and potential contribution from starter Edinson Volquez.

Waiting in the wings are impact prospects Jameson Taillon (pitcher) and Gregory Polanco (center field), ready to give the team a second-half boost.

Free agent Stephen Drew would make a lot of sense for this team right now.

4. Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are in the middle of a transition period right now. They are not good enough to win the division at the major league level and don't have a farm system good enough yet to build their team from.

Milwaukee was sent reeling by the year ending suspension to star Ryan Braun. Braun had strongly denied PED use and his suspension has really hurt his credibility within the game. He will need to have a monster season to quiet his critics.

Offensively, things will revolve around Braun's return coupled with Carlos Gomez, Juan Segura and Aramis Ramirez. Pitching wise, Yovani Gallardo leads Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza and the rest of the pitching staff into battle.

Milwaukee doesn't have the prospects ready to impact at the major league level and will need to have most of the roster rebound for this team to win 80 games this year.

There are some good, interesting pieces here, but I think Milwaukee will be one of the games biggest sellers at the deadline potentially dealing off Lohse, Ramirez, Gallardo and possibly even Braun.

5. Chicago Cubs

The natives in Chicago might be starting to get restless at this point.

The Cubs enter year three of the Theo Epstein-reign looking like the last place team in the division again. If the Cubs can make it through this season making progress, Chicago has the type of farm system that can help the franchise make the leap next season into contention.

Offensively, young stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are the building blocks as the team awaits the arrival of super-prospects SS Javier Baez and 3B Kris Bryant. Castro might eventually find himself moved to second to accommodate Baez's arrival.

The pitching staff will be led by Jeff Samardzija, who will be the subject of trade rumors all summer. Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel figure to be the subject of trade talk if they pitch well during the season's first-half.

It's wait 'til next year for the Cubs. But, they have something to look forward to in the near future.

In the NL Central, the Cardinals look like the clear favorites again.

2014 NL West Predictions

March 29th 2014 17:46
The Dodgers will win the West.

The Los Angeles Dodgers coasted through most of last season until finally righting the ship after starting the season with a 30-42 record. The Dodgers went on a run that included winning 45 of 55 games which partially coincided with the promotion of Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers finished the season with a 92-70 record. L.A. ended up losing in the NL Championship Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in six games

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The stuff is there. The Boston Red Sox have seen it and the Los Angeles Dodgers have seen. Teammates on both teams have seen it.

Right-hander Allen Webster has excellent stuff, more than good enough to become an above-average major league starter or reliever. His value to the Red Sox could be in the rotation, in the bullpen or in a trade

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January Deals Still Available in MLB

January 5th 2014 00:44
The trio of Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are still waiting on the outcome of the Masahiro Tanaka posting situation to find a home. Once teams have a chance to a gauge their chances of landing Tanaka, teams will start to make some movement towards the main three starters.

Nelson Cruz and Stephen Drew are two high-profile free agents that are still looking for a home while a player like Kendrys Morales will likely have to wait until the end of the month to find a home

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Post Season Awards Predictions

November 7th 2013 14:40
Major League Baseball has tried a new format with announcing the end-of-year awards, something that might build a little suspense to the actual announcements.

Most of the awards seem pretty clear cut, but a few of awards might cause some arguments between the two dividing factions of the sport

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At one time, Daniel Bard looked like he was on the brink of stardom with the Boston Red Sox. It was 2010 and the 25-year-old Bard had developed very quickly into the best eighth-inning reliever in baseball.

Just three short years later, the Red Sox have finally given up on Bard and designated him for assignment yesterday according to WEEI's Alex Speier

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Hopefully Will Middlebrooks is noticing now. While he is sitting in the minors, trying to get his stroke back, the Boston Red Sox haven't missed him in the slightest.

In fact, they have done quite well without him. It is a lesson and a message that Middlebrooks better take to heart. Quickly

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2013 MLB Playoff Predictions

May 7th 2013 00:12
Now here comes the fun stuff, prediction time. After making my picks for each of the divisions, I am going to look at how I believe the playoffs will breakdown. I believe that parity has hit baseball across the board, meaning that all of the playoff series should be very close and either team will capable of winning the series.

In the American League I have already picked the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Oakland As to win their division. It will be a tight race for all three

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