The two-game series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks over the weekend officially kicked off the 2014 MLB regular season, which will get underway for everyone else in the coming week.
With the days winding down until all 32 clubs are back at the park fighting for nine innings, it’s the perfect time to look at all six divisions, recap what each team is facing as the start of the season draws closer, and make predictions on the final regular season standings as well as how the playoffs will ultimately play out in a series of three different articles.
We’ll start in the National League:
Division Preview: The Atlanta Braves won the NL East for the first time since 2005, but the team’s hopes of repeating weigh heavily on a starting rotation that has lost both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy due to Tommy John surgery.
Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals did what they could in the offseason to close the gap on the Braves, acquiring Tigers hurler Doug Fister to help bolster a squad that is now managed by five-time All Star Matt Williams.
The New York Mets are fighting to finally contend in the division again and are hopeful that new additions Bartolo Colon and Curtis Granderson can help keep a team that has not posted an above .500 record since 2008 afloat.
Now without primetime pitcher Roy Halladay, the Philadelphia Phillies are hopeful that Hall of Fame third baseman Ryne Sandberg can have a successful first season as manager with a roster that features many aging faces, including AJ Burnett and Marlon Byrd.
At the bottom of the division is the Miami Marlins, whose disastrous 62-100 record in 2013 shows that Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton’s squad can only go up from here.
Final Season Standings
Washington Nationals 94-68
Atlanta Braves 90-72 (Wild Card)
New York Mets 76-86
Philadelphia Phillies 71-91
Miami Marlins 66-96
Division Preview: The St. Louis Cardinals just missed out on their 12th World Series title last fall, ultimately losing in six games to the Boston Red Sox. The Cards are hopeful that they can repeat their success this season, and despite losing Carlos Beltran to the Yankees and David Freese to the Angels, the familiar faces of Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday mean that St. Louis will once again be a force to be reckoned with.
The Pittsburgh Pirates broke through in 2013, finally piecing together a strong start to the season with a solid second half that helped the Pirates grab a Wild Card spot, ultimately advancing to the NLDS where the Cardinals put them out in five games. The Pirates and NL MVP Andrew McCutchen are looking to duplicate their success, which has simply become a welcomed sight to the Pittsburgh faithful that inhabit PNC Park.
While the Wild Card game served as a sign of promise for the Bucs, it proved to be the end of a disappointing season for the Cincinnati Reds, who opted to fire Dusty Baker and replace him with pitching coach Bryan Price. Price has the daunting task of keeping Cincy in the hunt in a tough division despite losing Bronson Arroyo and Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason, which means that Joey Votto and Jay Bruce will be expected to step up and deliver to keep the Big Red Machine in the hunt.
Having a top-heavy division left the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs out of the picture for the better part of the season, leaving both organizations to work hard to have a better 2014. The Brewers, headlined by Ryan Braun, plan to step up despite losing Corey Hart along with Yuniesky Betancourt, a task that will be easier said than done.
Chicago, on the other hand, are now in Year 3 of the Theo Epstein rebuild, which has now reached its second manager with the firing of Dale Sveum and hiring of Rick Renteria. Talented but extremely raw, the Cubs will have to see great production from Jeff Samardzija, Starlin Castro, and Anthony Rizzo if the North side of the Windy City will see any excitement this season.
Final Season Standings
St. Louis Cardinals 93-69
Pittsburgh Pirates 89-73
Cincinnati Reds 77-85
Milwaukee Brewers 73-89
Chicago Cubs 68-94
Division Preview: The Los Angeles Dodgers had a turbulent 2013, struggling to start the season before exploding to a 92-win season that ended in a NLCS loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. With a roster including Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez, and Hanley Ramirez along with new addition Dan Haren, the Dodgers are hoping to make a run to the World Series, although an eleven-game lead in the division will be hard to duplicate.
Preparing to dethrone the Dodgers is the San Francisco Giants, who had a disappointing 2013 campaign and finished ten games under .500. With third baseman Pablo Sandoval now sporting a slimmer look and Matt Cain ready to make a Cy Young run, expect Bruce Bochy’s club to be in contention from start to finish.
Among the other West teams that are looking to make some noise is the Arizona Diamondbacks, who finished 81-81 thanks to the bat of Paul Goldschmidt as well as the arm of Patrick Corbin. The Diamondbacks have a largely untested rotation, and in order for Arizona to have any shot at staying relevant, starters like Randall Delgado and Trevor Cahill have to log a considerable amount of innings.
The Padres ended last season ten games under .500 and had a slew of changes to the roster over the offseason, waving goodbye to Jason Marquis, Clayton Richard and Ronny Cedeno while adding former Marlins star starter Josh Johnson, who 2-8 in sixteen starts for the Blue Jays last season.
Rounding out the division is the Colorado Rockies, who went 74-88 in Walt Weiss’ first season at the helm and longtime first baseman Todd Helton’s last. With Helton along with Dexter Fowler (traded to Astros), Yorvit Torrealba (signed with Angels), and Jeff Francis (signed with Reds), the Rockies will have several questions to answer early on if there is any hope for 2014.
Final Season Standings
Los Angeles Dodgers 96-66
San Francisco Giants 90-72 (Wild Card)
San Diego Padres 80-82
Arizona Diamondbacks 77-85
Colorado Rockies 74-88
To recap, the five playoff teams out of the National League will be the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and the San Francisco Giants.
Be on the lookout for the American League Predictions article in the upcoming days.
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