21. Colorado Rockies (75-87)
Team Ace: Jorge De La Rosa
Breakout Player: Rex Brothers
For a team that plays in such a hitter friendly park, I find the Rockies very boring to watch. They’ve yet to find any help for their pitching staff, and refuse to commit to Rex Brothers as their closer, instead electing to bring in a 41-year-old in his place. Troy Tuloitske and CarGo missed some time again in 2013 so there’s no reason to think the two of them can see the field at the same time.
Justin Morneau is an interesting addition because he might see a noticeable spike in his power numbers and has been slowly improving the last few seasons, but he, too is an injury risk, and won’t be the fan favorite Todd Helton was, even if his production is more consistent.
20. Toronto Blue Jays (76-86)
Team Ace: R.A. Dicky
Breakout Player: Brett Lawrie
When the whole team is clamoring to get a guy like Ervin Santana and is extremely bummed out when they don’t, like the Jays were earlier in the Spring, the team has some problems with their pitching staff. The Jays’ success rides on the health of four injury plagued players, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie, and pitcher Brandon Morrow. If those guys can stay on the field for even three-fourths of the season they’ll be in decent shape.
19. Milwaukee Brewers (77-85)
Team Ace: Matt Garza
Breakout Player: Kris Davis
I admit this prediction might be on the lower end of the spectrum for the Brewers this season, who have a lot of upside across the board. Their outfield could be one of the best in baseball if Ryan Braun plays like he did back in 2012, if Carlos Gomez, one of the years most improved player over the last season and a half, can continue to thrive, and if Kris Davis reaches the power potential he showed at the end of last year. But that’s a lot of “if”s, any of the three could struggle at various points of the season. In the infield Jean Segura broke out in the beginning of 2013 but really had a poor second half. Aramis Ramirez spent a lot of last year injured and was never fully healthy. Rickie Weeks is, well Rickie Weeks; a lot of power and even more strike outs.
At their best, the starting rotation can have four guys with an ERA around 3.42 with a K rate in the 8 or 9 range, but there’s just as likely a chance those numbers are 4.20 and closer to 6 K/9 across the board. Can Gallardo bounce back? Can Garza be consistent for the entire season? Can 35-year-old Lohse keep his numbers up again this year? One think I’m pretty sure of is that closer Jim Henderson will be dominant this season.
18. Arizona Diamondbacks (82-81)
Team Ace: Wade Mily
Breakout Player: Mark Trumbo
My opinion of the D-Backs changes a lot with Corbin’s injury this spring. He goes from the team ace to out for the year. That does leave a possible rotation spot for Archie Bradly to make the team early in the year, which is great for his development (and make him my runner-up for breakout guy), but not a perfect situation for the team. They have a good core and a young but talented infield that’ll do a fine job, but what this team really needed was their pitching to take the next step this year, and now that doesn’t look as realistic.
17. Baltimore Orioles (83-79)
Team Ace: Ubaldo Jimenez
Breakout Player: J.J. Hardy
Everyone on Baltimore is solid, but I fell like you pretty much know what you’re going to get with them all. Jones, Markakis, Hardy and Wieters are who they are, solid defensively with sporadic weeks of stellar batting. Nelson Cruz could hit 30 homers but he could also struggle coming off a suspension and joining a new team. Who knows if Chris Davis can crush like he did last season, or even bat above .260 again? With Manny Machado’s injury, it may take him into late May or June to get back into form.
The pitching staff has improved. In my mind, Jimenez’s second half success with the Indians has to do with their utilization of Yan Gomes at catcher, who frames pitches at a far superior level than Carlos Santana did. Now he moves to Baltimore with Matt Weiters, one of the best game managers in the league. I don’t know if I expect his 1.82 post break ERA again, but somewhere close to 3.00 would be just fine for the club, who really needed a pitcher to take over their top spot.
No doubt they’re a talented team who’s dangerous when everyone’s clicking at the same time, but the top half of the league is extremely strong this season and I see them falling behind in the East early.
16. Pittsburgh Pirates (83-79)
Team Ace: Francisco Liriano
Breakout Player: Garret Cole
The Pirates are a prime regression candidate for a few reasons. First off, the team won many close games in 2013, similar to the Orioles of 2012, in large part thanks to an over-performing bullpen that relied heavily on two guys, 37-year-old Jason Grilli and the usually inconsistent Mark Melancon. Even if they’re effective, there’s no way they’ll be that dominant again in 2014. Second, they failed to resign AJ Burnett, who’s been stellar for them over the last few years. I understand that Gerritt Cole will pick up a lot of that slack in his second season, but everything behind him is up in the air, and he hasn’t yet proved that he can be a staff’s workhorse. And finally, there’s the fact that their only real offensive impact guy was Andrew McCutchen, who’s fantastic, but can’t do everything on his own. Most of their position players are young so there is the opportunity for improvement across the board, but they needed a lot of things to go right last season, and they’ll need even more good fortune this time around.