This is it: Saturday, Mar. 29 serves as the last day without baseball until the end of the season in October. To celebrate the end of the dreaded offseason, let’s continue with my series of predictions and projections for the upcoming 2014 season.
National League MVP: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals. Molina has been on the cusp of landing the Most Valuable Player Award for the last two seasons, finishing third back in 2012 and fourth last season thanks to a pair of campaigns in which the native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico combined to hit .317 with 320 hits and 156 RBIs. Molina is not a power hitter and has never been called upon to be one, instead focusing on bringing runners in which near-perfect precision at the plate while also handling a rotation that is consistently one of the best in baseball. Now thirty-one years old, it is not clear if Molina has hit his ceiling yet, but it seems safe to assume that he will be among the best hitters in baseball for a considerable amount of time.
American League MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers. I was tempted to place Evan Longoria here as a darkhorse MVP winner, but it is hard to argue that anyone in either league can top Miggy’s production. The former Florida Marlin has been simply outstanding in Detroit for several years now, specifically his 2012 season in which his numbers (.330 average, 44 HRs, and 139 RBIs) were good enough to become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski did it with the Boston Red Sox in 1967. A three-peat at MVP seems far-fetched, but when it comes to Cabrera, it looks like he can accomplish almost any feat placed in front of him.
NL Cy Young Winner: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers. Kershaw, who won the Cy Young last season and back in 2011, sure looks like the most dominant N.L. pitcher for a considerable portion of his six-year career and has led all of baseball in ERA and WHIP for three consecutive seasons. Players like Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals and Matt Cain for the Giants will create valid arguments, but no one will have enough to overcome the play of the Dallas, Texas native.
AL Cy Young Winner: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers. The American League has had a different Cy Young winner for nine consecutive seasons, which is a testament to the talent that resides in the A.L. in any given year. Now going into his third season in MLB, Darvish has made noticeable strides ever since he arrived to Texas from Japan, which included leading all of baseball in strikeouts (277) and hits per nine innings (6.2) while flirting with a no-hitter twice last season. Darvish is currently having neck problems which will cause the twenty-seven-year-old to start 2014 on the DL, but if he is able to overcome this injury, he has the potential to have a remarkable season for the Rangers.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Tim Hudson, San Francisco Giants. A consummate pro’s pro, Hudson is prepared to start anew with the Giants after having his 2013 season cut short due to a gruesome ankle injury he sustained in July. Despite having less-than-stellar numbers with the Braves last year (8-7 record with 3.97 ERA in 21 starts), Hudson had been pitching his best baseball at the time of the season-ending injury, which should leave the fans of the Giants excited about his prospects. Expect Hudson to have a quality season while mentoring Tim Lincecum and providing veteran know-how to a Giants club that is determined to return to the postseason.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Grady Sizemore, Boston Red Sox. Sizemore, who was once heralded as the next big star during his time with the Cleveland Indians, has already been the feel-good story of the spring, which culminated in Red Sox manager John Farrell naming the former 3rd round pick by the Montreal Expos as the defending champs’ starting center fielder following an impressive spring. Although the fact that the thirty-one-year-old has been so productive after not playing for two seasons is impressive enough, the fate of Sizemore’s regular season success lies directly in his durability. Sizemore has not played in more than 110 games since 2008; if he is able to stay healthy and contribute even on a spot-start basis, it should be considered a win for Boston.
NL Manager of the Year: Matt Williams, Washington Nationals. Williams, who played for three different teams and appeared in five All-Star games during his seventeen-year career, has some big shoes to fill with the retirement of Davey Johnson, who opted to call it quits after three years at the helm in D.C. Williams has plenty of valuable pieces to work with, including outfielder Bryce Harper and a starting rotation comprised of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmerman, and if the Nats can start off strong, they could find themselves in the playoffs for only the second time since the team left Montreal.
AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays. Once again, I started to tip my cap to a pair of rookie managers and hand Detroit’s Brad Ausmus the award, but I balked and instead went with the longtime Rays manager. Now in his tenth season in Tampa, the Rays have been outstanding ever since he stepped into the clubhouse, but the former Angels third base coach may have his toughest task yet awaiting him. The AL East looks incredibly stacked for the upcoming season, as new faces like New York’s Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka and Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez only bolsters a division that is already one of the most competitive in baseball. If Maddon’s Rays can see players like Evan Longoria and Wil Meyers make strides and lead the team, we may ultimately witness a race for the divisional title like we’ve never seen before.
With the major awards now out of the way, I give you my blueprint for the 2014 MLB Playoffs:
Wild Card Game
Atlanta Braves over San Francisco Giants
Boston Red Sox over Oakland Athletics
National League Divisional Series (best-of-5 series)
Los Angeles Dodgers over Atlanta Braves 3-2
Washington Nationals over St. Louis Cardinals 3-1
American League Divisional Series (best-of-5 series)
Detroit Tigers over Boston Red Sox 3-2
Texas Rangers over Tampa Bay Rays 3-1
National League Championship Series (best-of-7 series)
Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals 4-2
American League Championship Series (best-of-7 series)
Texas Rangers over Detroit Tigers 4-3
Los Angeles Dodgers over Texas Rangers 4-1
Well, there you have it: the LA Dodgers will win the World Series thanks to a great performance from Clayton Kershaw, who takes home the World Series MVP award. Much like Chris Berman’s annual pick of the 49ers and the Bills in the Super Bowl in the late ‘80s, I’m picking the Dodgers to win it all for the second straight season, although this time not against the hapless Angels.
For an added bonus, here’s a look at my predicted managerial changes in 2014:
Who’s Out in 2014
Terry Collins, New York Mets
Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota Twins
Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee Brewers
Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim