With the start of the Winter Olympics and in the midst of a cold winter, what better way to keep warm than to think about the imminent start of baseball in the U.S.? With the Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers and catchers reporting to camp yesterday, the new season is nearly upon us.
Among the highlights of the upcoming season is the decision to have the campaign kickoff with games played in Sydney, Australia on March 222-23rd between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. It will also feature the debut of Mashiro Tanaka, who's signing by the New York Yankees was one of the biggest stories of the off-season.
This time of year is built with expectations for fans and players as they seek to make it to the World Series in November. Taking into account all of the off-season moves, ranking teams stating pitching, lineup, defense and bullpen, these are the teams best positioned for success in 2014.
5. Detroit Tigers
The decision to trade talented players like Prince Fielder and Doug Fister shows that despite the teams' commitment to winning, businesses must evolve to stay profitable. The team will be markedly better with Miguel Cabrera moving from third base to first and with Jose Inglesias at shortstop for a full season. With the Tigers pitching staff geared towards generating ground balls, this was a move that was a long time coming. Couple that with the addition of closer Joe Nathan filling a long absent hole in their roster, the team seems poised for success. The big question is whether teams will pitch to perennial MVP Cabrera, without Fielder hitting behind him in the lineup. If they don't, it's possible that Barry Bonds record for most intentional walks in one season may fall.
4. Boston Red Sox
To bet against the reigning World Champions seems dangerous. The team saw the departure of two key pieces of the puzzle from last season, in catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury stayed out of the free agent market, other than adding catcher A. J. Pierzynski to replace Saltalamacchia. Instead they're depending on young players like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts to have breakout seasons. Couple that with a healthy Clay Bucholz and one of the best offenses in the game and they should certainly contend to defend their title.
3. Washington Nationals
A deep lineup, a couple of good options as closers and the deepest starting rotation in the league made the Nats a popular pick to win it all last year. The addition of Doug Fister, a healthy Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasbourg would seem to make them the prohibitive favorite. The health concerns and questions about first-year manager Matt Williams are the only thing keeping them from topping the list.
2. Texas Rangers
The Rangers are a fascinating team that could end up anywhere from World Series champs to fourth place in a tough AL West division. Adding Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo will undoubtedly provide the team with much needed hitting options, although the long-term deals may prove disastrous in the long-run. Fielder fills a sorely missed slot left vacant by left-handed power hitter Josh Hamilton a year ago. The health of the starting rotation and questions in the closer spot add more stress to manager Ron Washington's job. I'm betting that all the pieces fall into place and their torrid lineup makes up for any shortcomings in the pitching staff.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are the envy of virtually every franchise in baseball. Each year they seem to bring up a slew of young players who succeed on the big stage. Departures of Albert Pujols, manager Tony LaRussa and others over the years haven't caused the Cardinals to miss a beat. Their reputation of building good teams is so good that nobody blinked when they signed Jhonny Peralta, who served a suspension last year for his role in the Biogenesis scandal. Rather, the assumption is that Peralta will play an important role in the lineup and make other teams regret passing on him. This year, their homegrown talent of Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez appear poised to capture the crown back from the Red Sox.
The full spring training schedule is available for viewing at this MLB website.