The 2014 Major League Baseball season is underway and baseball fans around the world have made their predictions of division champions and wildcard winners.
Most baseball fans this year are picking the following eight teams to make the MLB postseason and are willing to bet money on it, per Las Vegas oddsmakers; L.A. Dodgers (8:1), Detroit Tigers (9:1), St. Louis Cardinals (9:1), Washington Nationals (9:1), Boston Red Sox (12:1), New York Yankees (14:1), San Francisco Giants (14:1), and L.A. Angels (18:1).
These eight teams could very well end up being part of the postseason participants, but there are other teams that are worthy and should not be overlooked. With lots of hard work, timely pitching, clutch hitting, and some well deserved luck, they too can make the postseason.
Here are my five teams to watch out for in this MLB season:
By Ralph Battiata – @RalphB1471
5. Cleveland Indians (40:1)
The Tribe finished the 2013 MLB season with a record of 92-70 (.556), just one game behind the American League Central division champion Detroit Tigers.
The Indians won the top Wildcard seed, but their season came to a screeching halt when they were defeated by the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wildcard play-in game. Manager Terry Francona has a 1,124-987 (.532) win-loss record in his 14 season as an MLB manager, winning two world series with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. Francona is highly-respected in the game as one of the best managers and for his exceptional handling of locker room personalities on his ball clubs.
The ace of their pitching staff is RHP Justin Masterson who owns a career record of 53-63 with a 4.04 ERA and 847 K / 406 BB, and is coming off an All-Star 2013 season with a 14-10 record, 3.45 ERA, and 195 K / 76 BB. RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Zach McAllister, RHP Danny Salazar, and RHP Carlos Carrasco round out the Tribe’s rotation.
The Bullpen boasts closer RHP John Axford (108 Saves in 129 opportunities) and setup man RHP Vinny Pestano (2.94 ERA, 208 K / 75 BB). The lineup consists of the following: 1. CF Michael Bourn (on DL, Nyjer Morgan subbing) 2. 1B Nick Swisher 3. 2B Jason Kipnis 4. 3B Carlos Santana (the other one) 5. LF Michael Brantley 6. DH Ryan Raburn 7. SS Asdrubal Cabrera 8. RF David Murphy 9. C Yan Gomes. The Tribe will once again be a feisty bunch in 2014. The top teams in MLB should keep an eye on the rear-view mirror for the Wahoos.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates (35:1)
Ending the 2013 MLB season with a record of 94-68 (.580), the Bucs won the top Wildcard seed coming up three wins short of the division champ St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central division.
The Pirates went on to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Wildcard game, but then lost the NL Division Series to the Cardinals who would go on to defeat the LA Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.
Manager Clint Hurdle has a career managerial record of 783-868 (.474) in eight seasons as the Colorado Rockies manager and four years as the Pirates manager. Hurdle won the National League Sporting News Manager of the Year Award in 2013.
The ace of this staff is 30-year old Dominican lefty Francisco Liriano who holds a 69-63 career win loss record with a 4.17 ERA and 1,023 K / 424 BB in 169 starts and was honored as the NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2013. RHP Charlie Morton, LHP Wandy Rodriguez, RHP Gerrit Cole, and RHP Edinson Volquez comprise the rest of the Bucs’ starting rotation.
The Bullpen is stocked with 2013 All-Star closer RHP Jason Grilli (33 Saves, 2.70 ERA, 74 K / 13 BB in 2013) and setup man RHP Mark Melancon (career 3.23 ERA, 209 K / 64 BB). The Bucs lineup is very talented and consists of; 1. LF Starling Marte 2. RF Travis Snyder 3. CF Andrew McCutchen 4. 3B Pedro Alvarez 5. C Russell Martin 6. 2B Neil Walker 7. 1B Travis Ishikawa 8. SS Jordy Mercer 9. Starting Pitcher. The Pirates will be even stronger in 2014 and should give the Cardinals a run for their money in the NL Central.
3. Baltimore Orioles (25:1)
The Birds had a 85-77 (.525) record in 2013 finishing in third place in the stout AL East division and missing the playoffs for the first consecutive season.
The Orioles made a few roster alterations for the 2014 season by signing 2013 All-Star OF Nelson Cruz and 2010 All-Star RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, and traded closer RHP Jim Johnson in the offseason in hopes of returning to the MLB Playoffs in 2014.
Manager Buck Showalter has a career managerial record of 1,165-1,099 (.515) in 15 MLB seasons with four different ball clubs. Showalter was named 2012 Manager of the Year.
The Ace of the Birds’ staff is 2013 All-Star RHP Chris Tillman who owns a 33-25 career record with a 4.20 ERA and 370 K / 174 BB in 86 starts. The rest of the Orioles rotation includes RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, LHP Wei-Yin Chan, RHP Miguel Gonzalez, and RHP Bud Norris.
The O’s Bullpen is headed by first-time MLB closer RHP Tommy Hunter (career 6 Saves, 4.45 ERA, 334 K / 125 BB) and setup man RHP Darren O’Day (2.60 ERA, 277 K / 78 BB). The Orioles lineup is made up of; 1. RF Nick Markakis 2. LF David Lough 3. CF Adam Jones 4. 1B Chris Davis 5. DH Nelson Cruz 6. C Matt Wieters 7. SS J.J. Hardy 8. 3B Ryan Flaherty (Manny Machado on DL) 9. 2B Jonathan Schoop. The Orioles will have to compete in the extremely tight AL East division, but have the pieces to come out on top in 2014.
2. Atlanta Braves (20:1)
Los Bravos finished atop the NL standings in 2013 by 10 games over the next competitor with a 96-66 (.593) record. However, once the playoffs began they were not as strong as they lost the NL Division series to the L.A. Dodgers three games to one.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has a career managerial record of 559-487 (.534) in 4 seasons with the Florida Marlins and 3 seasons with the Braves. LHP Mike Minor is the ace of the Braves’ pitching staff with a 32-24 record and a 3.90 ERA with 446 K / 143 BB in 85 career starts. RHP Julio Teheran, LHP Alex Wood, RHP Aaron Harang, and RHP David Hale complete the rotation.
The Braves Bullpen boasts the best closer in MLB in three-time All-Star and 2011 NL Rookie of the Year RHP Craig Kimbrel (career 142 Saves, 1.37 ERA, 387 K / 82 BB) and setup man RHP David Carpenter (3.64 ERA, 139 K / 51 BB). The Braves impressive lineup consists of; 1. RF Jason Heyward 2. CF B.J. Upton 3. 1B Freddie Freeman 4. 3B Chris Johnson 5. LF Justin Upton 6. 2B Dan Uggla 7. C Evan Gattis 8. SS Andrelton Simmons 9. Starting Pitcher.
The Braves may be a little banged up in the rotation to start the season with RHP Kris Medlen undergoing Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow and out for the season, and LHP Mike Minor and RHP Gavin Floyd on the 15-Day Disabled List. However, don’t overlook the very successful Atlanta franchise as they still have one of the most powerful batting lineups in all of MLB and usually find a way to come out on top in the National League.
1. Tampa Bay Rays (15:1)
After finishing the 2013 season one game ahead of the Texas Rangers for the final AL Wildcard seed, The Rays had a 92-71 (.564) record finishing second to the Boston Red Sox in the AL East division. In the postseason, The Rays defeated the Indians in the AL Wildcard play-in game then lost to the Red Sox in the AL Division series 3 games to 1.
Two-time Manager of the Year Joe Maddon is also considered one of the best managers in MLB for his in-game adjustments and his ability to maintain a cohesive atmosphere in the Rays clubhouse. Maddon owns a career managerial record of 708-648 (.522) in two seasons as manager of the L.A. Angels and eight seasons as manager of the revenue challenged Tampa Bay franchise.
The ace of the staff is 28-year old lefty and 2012 AL Cy Young Award recipient David Price with a career 72-39 record, a 3.20 ERA, and 888 K / 287 BB in 149 starts. RHP Alex Cobb, LHP Matt Moore, RHP Chris Archer, and RHP Jake Odorizzi round out the Rays starting rotation.
The Rays Bullpen is headlined by free agent signee, 2013 All-Star, and former Ray closer RHP Grant Balfour (career 73 Saves, 3.26 ERA, 515 K / 208 BB) who hails from Australia and setup man RHP Joel Peralta (3.88 ERA, 483 K / 155 BB). The Rays efficient lineup is constituted by; 1. LF David DeJesus 2. RF Wil Myers 3. 2B Ben Zobrist 4. 3B Evan Longoria 5. 1B James Loney 6. CF Desmond Jennings 7. DH Matt Joyce 8. C Ryan Hanigan 9. SS Yunel Escobar.
The Rays are perennially one of the most overlooked teams in MLB and in recent years that thinking has come back to bite the top teams in the butt. Don’t expect the Rays to be overlooked in 2014 or you could be stung too.
These are the 5 teams to watch out for in this MLB season. It is sure to be a very interesting and exciting six months. So don’t get caught overlooking any of these teams or you just might get caught off guard and surpassed in the standings.
*All statistics provided courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
*Lineups and rotations provided courtesy of MLBdepthcharts.com