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Athlon Sports predicts the 2014 baseball season
4. New York
Heading into spring training this looked like a two-team race. But a couple of key injuries to Atlanta starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy handed the advantage to Washington. The Nationals have a tremendous rotation, deep bullpen and talented lineup. Keeping outfielders Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth healthy for a full season is key. They are the anchors of the batting order. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann form a tough 1-2-3 combo. Already suffering the loss of catcher Brian McCann to free agency, Atlanta acted quickly to sign starter Ervin Santana in the wake of the pitchers’ injuries. Philadelphia is another year older and this surely is the final run for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard et al. The Mets are an up-and-coming team. Miami has some enviable talent that is not quite ready for prime time.
1. St. Louis
The strongest division in the National League had three playoff teams last season and could again in 2014. The defending NL champion Cardinals added speed and athleticism to their lineup without sacrificing any pitching. There are five dependable starters in St. Louis led by Adam Wainwright, NLCS MVP Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller. Outfielders Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and catcher Yadier Molina could be in the MVP discussion. The Pirates are out to prove that 2013 wasn’t a one-year wonder. The talent is still developing, an indication that the club will be in the hunt for years to come. Cincinnati did very little to strengthen its lineup, and with the loss of leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds may struggle to score. Rookie Billy Hamilton will be fun to watch on the bases. Milwaukee has a respectable rotation and could have a potent lineup if the embattled Ryan Braun can return to form. The Cubs appear headed in the right direction, but the destination is still in the distance.
1. Los Angeles
2. San Francisco*
5. San Diego
The Los Angeles Dodgers have officially become the West Coast version of the so-called evil empire once known as the New York Yankees. No contract is beyond the Dodgers’ reach. Money alone can’t win division titles, but Los Angeles has put together a talented roster, especially the pitching staff. Ace Clayton Kershaw is the best in the game right now. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Greinke could be No. 1 starters for most teams. The Giants have assembled a pretty good staff as well, but the G-Men may have trouble producing runs at the same clip as the Dodgers. Arizona has MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt in the heart of the batting order, but he may be pitched around. A season-ending injury to ace Patrick Corbin was a huge blow to the D-backs. Colorado and San Diego will once again sit this race out.
*Wild card teams
St. Louis over Washington
St. Louis over Detroit
1. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado
There isn’t a shortage of MVP candidates in the National League. Gonzalez won a batting title and led the NL in total bases back in 2010. He was on a similar pace last season when injuries limited him to 110 games. If he stays on the field for 145 starts, he’ll win this award. We believe he’s in for a healthy season.
2. Bryce Harper, Washington
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
4. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona
5. Allen Craig, St. Louis
NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
Forget about the back stiffness that has knocked the Dodgers’ lefthander out of the club’s second Opening Day. He will be fine now that the team isn’t flying all over the world, interrupting his training routine. Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game with the added benefit of pitching in a friendly ballpark for a winning team.
2. Jordan Zimmermann, Washington
3. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis
4. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco
5. Jose Fernandez, Miami
Rookies to Watch
Travis d’Arnaud, C, New York Mets
Traded for multiple Cy Young winners while still in the minors, the Mets believe injuries are behind him and he’s ready to blossom.
Alex Guerrero, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
It may take him a few months to acclimate himself with the American game, but the Dodgers believe they have another Cuban star.
Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati
Much has been made over his base-stealing prowess — and rightfully so — but will a .350 career OBP in minors translate to majors?