View From Studio 3: Predictions for 2014 season
Yankees will take the AL East, but it is the Rays who will win World Series
In many parts of this great country, snow is still piled high along roadsides in backyards and parking lots. The big, filthy piles of snow are remnants of a brutal winter for many of us.
It's officially over.
You take the ice scraper from your backseat and toss it in the garage. Good riddance.
For those of you who live in a warm-weather climate; three things:
1. Good choice
2. I'm jealous
3. Bear with me
Finally, hope has arrived. Opening Day is upon us -- time to smell the grass and ballpark food, an unmistakable smell.
Players, fans, vendors and ticket takers all around baseball are tired of reading predictions and analysis. They want the real thing.
So, I apologize (sarcastically, of course) in advance for my take on how the 2014 regular season will go down. But I will tempt you to keep reading by promising a new World Series champion and a Cinderella story.
American League East
Coming off a "miserable" season in which they won 85 games (their fewest since 1995), the Yankees' response was to change their stripes by spending and healing. Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran are on board, while Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira return from seasons lost to injury. Despite losing Robinson Cano to free agency, it stands to reason that the Yankees' offense is more balanced and potent now than it was a year ago.
Their rotation is still anchored by CC Sabathia (the slimmed-down and revitalized version) and Hiroki Kuroda. But it now includes one of the great Japanese-born pitchers in Masahiro Tanaka. Ivan Nova will take a step forward and solidify the back part of the rotation for a full season. If David Robertson falters in the closer's role, the Yankees will make the necessary in-season moves to right the ship. Mariano Rivera may be gone, but New York will end the Jeter era with a division crown by dethroning the World Series champion Boston Red Sox
American League Central
Since division play began in 1969, only two AL teams have reached the League Championship Series three straight seasons while failing to win a World Series in that stretch: the '76-78 Royals and 2011-13 Tigers.
Those franchises will battle each other this season for the AL Central crown. In the end, it will be the Tigers winning a fourth consecutive division title. But it won't be easy.
The Royals are incredibly athletic, great on defense and possess a fantastic bullpen. The difference will be in starting pitching. It is tough to beat Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez over a long season. Losing Prince Fielder in a trade and Jose Iglesias to injury will sting, but Ian Kinsler will be an asset at second base and adding Joe Nathan to the back of the bullpen completes a pitching staff that is the best in the division
American League West
The Angels, Rangers and Mariners are trying to find the magic formula to bump off the Athletics. While division newcomers Cano and Fielder may help close the gap a bit, Oakland is the best team, top to bottom, in the division. That's even with a season-ending injury to Jarrod Parker.
The pitching is young but battle-tested, and the bullpen may be the best in baseball, with Jim Johnson replacing Grant Balfour as closer. Corner outfielders Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes will improve upon their 2013 numbers, and Oakland will three-peat in the wild AL West.
AL Wild Card winners: Kansas City and Tampa Bay
National League East
The 2014 Nationals will do what many of us believed they would accomplish last year: win the division.
The starting rotation, headlined by Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg, is relentless. The rotation actually will actually be deeper than last season once Doug Fister returns from the disabled list.
With All-Stars all around the field, manager Matt Williams inherits a club that, on it's face, has no real weaknesses. And given the injuries to a few of the Braves' starting pitchers this spring, Atlanta will not have the rotation depth to keep up with the Nats.
National League Central
St . Louis is easily identifiable by the Gateway Arch, but its signature landmark is fast becoming "The Pitching Tree."
The Cardinals make it look so easy. Need a new arm? Just pluck one off the branches. Young guns like Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez will give the Cardinals a shot to win every year, not just in 2014. And don't forget about the best starting battery in the NL Central -- Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina.
The Cardinals also added a power bat at shortstop in Jhonny Peralta to beef up the middle of a lineup that also includes Matt Holliday, Molina and Allen Craig.
National League West
There is no reason for the Dodgers not to win the West this season. But they will be pushed big time by the Giants and D-backs.
The difference maker will be L.A.'s offense. Every night, Don Mattingly will have to pick three outfielders from a crop that could all be All-Stars.
Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke lead a deep rotation, but it's the bullpen that may actually be the deeper unit. Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, J.P. Howell and Brandon League will be a nightmare for the opposition. If the Dodgers can withstand the pressure to win at all costs, they'll defend their division crown.
NL Wild Card winners: D-backs, Giants
World Series match-up: Rays vs. Cardinals
World Series champions: Rays
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.