2014 MLB Preview #15-10

You’ll be finding playoff contenders from this point on in my rankings.

Since I started writing my power rankings a few weeks ago, a lot of things have changed, most of them injury related.  I’ve adjusted my remaining team rankings accordingly but am leaving my projected records the same (they’re too hard to change across the board, and I’ve already published so many that I wouldn’t want to go back and change all of them)  So the records and ranks might not make too much sense together at this point, but I am confident with my order.

15. Los Angeles Angels (85-77)
Team Ace: CJ Wilson
Breakout Player: Hector Santiago

Last year, like many, I bought into the hype of what the Angles had done in the offseason, and was let down.  This year they’ve once again made a few additions, albeat lesser names than in the past, that make the team look better on offense and defense.  The problem this year is that their pitching staff has bigger questions than ever.  Jared Weaver’s a year older, with a slower fastball and is coming off an unimpressive, yet effective season, and while CJ Wilson still looks good, he’s not as dominating as a team would look for in a number one starter.

I do believe in a big bounce-back for Pujols if he says on the field.  His days of batting well over .300 are probably over, but a .290 season with around 30 homers could be in the works.  Josh Hamilton should be able to turn things around a little too, with maybe a .270 and 26 year in 140 games.

Like always the angels have the talent to take the next step, but until I see it all come together, I’d rather be conservative then go out on a limb with their ranking.

14. Atlanta Braves (87-75)
Team Ace: Julio Teheran
Breakout Player: Alex Wood

I wasn’t high on the Braves last season and they got the better of me, but this year I do feel like they’ll struggle a bit more.  Last year they were inconstant on offense, but got a lot of production off the mound.  Now they’ve lost a lot of their pitching depth, and I have no reason to think the offense will be improved.

This offseason, they lost longtime pitcher Tim Hudson in free agency.  Both Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen went down in spring training and will be out for the rest of the season.  Mike Minor will start the year on the DL, and who knows how soon he can be back to full strength.  This forced them to sign the highly inconsistent Ervin Santana to a deal, but even at his best he can’t replace the production of one of these guys, let alone all four.  This did leave the door open for Alex Wood, who will now make the rotation and could be this year’s Julio Teheran.

The Braves gave their young talent a boat load of cash this offseason, which essentially gives these guys a vote of confidence.  I’m not as optimistic with their investments.   As great as Freddie Freeman and Andralton Simmons were last season, they’ve had some injuries through their young careers, and with a limited track record it’s hard to tell if last year was something both players can build on, or if they’ll regress back to the norm.

They have the luxury of playing in a soft division and playing in a pitcher friendly park, but I don’t see 90 wins in the equation this year, especially considering their injuries.

87 wins – WAR for Beachy (1.5) – Medlen (3) – Hudson (1.5) + Santana (2.5)  = 84 wins after injures and replacements.

 

13. San Francisco Giants (87-75)
Team Ace: Madison Bumgardner
Breakout Player: Brandon Crawford

I’d like to point out the up and down success the Giants seem to have every other year.  This is an up year for them, and with the injury bug going around the National League this year, they’ve stayed healthy.

They added some pitching depth in the off season, and kept their core of guys around from last year.  It’s essentially the same team that won the World Series two seasons ago, and there’s not reason to thing the same guys can’t do it again if a few balls bounce their way.

Brandon Belt has slowly started to live up to his potential, the team signed Michael Morse to add depth to the outfield, and they expect Matt Cain to reclaim his spot at the top of the rotation.  I like this team to make the playoffs this season.

 

12. Texas Rangers (88-74)
Team Ace: Yu Darvish
Breakout Player: Jurickson Profar

Like last year, the Rangers have an unstable rotation.  Outside of Yu Darvish ( who now may start the season on the DL) they’ve had a lot of health concerns in past seasons, and every year their staffs productivity swings drastically.  This year their pitching staff is in worse shape than ever. The team  didn’t resign Joe Nathan and their now stuck with an unproven and shallow bullpen.  I personally like Naftali Feliz a lot but it’s hard to trust him at this point, and the team might not even use him as their closer on opening day.

Offensively Prince Fielder could have a dominant year while taking advantage of Rangers Ballpark, but you can’t expect him, even at his best, to replace both Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler’s production by himself.

They always have talented players on paper, but Ron Washington tends to screw something up time and time again, at it’ll cause the team to fall just short of the post season.  A strong all around infield will carry this team, but the more I look at the team, the more I think I might even be over rating them this season, and if they don’t make it past the wildcard play-in game this year, they might be looking for a new manager for 2015.

Update: Earlier this week the team lost both Jurickson Profar and their catcher for at least two months.  Elvis Andrus is also expected to start the year on the DL, with pitcher Derek Holland.  The injury puts the team in a hole right now, and significantly stunts the growth of one of the best up and coming middle infielders in the league.  Profar can still have an impact at the end of the year, but it won’t be nearly as soon as we all expected.

88 wins this year isn’t looking too good right now. It’ll probably be more like 83 or 84, unless they trade for help early in the year.

 

11. Kansas City Royals (88-74)
Team Ace: James Shields
Breakout Player: Salvador Perez

I’m not totally buying into the idea that the Royals are a dominant team yet, but I do feel like this is their last chance to take that next step.  This is James Shields’ last year under contract, and I think they’re desperate to get this thing working before he leaves over the winter.

It’s obvious that they have a lot of offensive upside, and the team ended last year on the right track.  But they also lost Ervin Santana and didn’t really do much to replace him.

They’ll look to make some moves during the season if things aren’t going their way right near the All Star break.

 

10. Cleveland Indians (89-73)
Team Ace: Justin Masterson
Breakout Player: Danny Salzar

The Indians may have over performed a little last season but still have one of the five best managers in the game, and haven’t lost too much in the off season.

The offense should be about the same as last year. The team can expect a little more production from Nick Swisher at first, and the third base slot as a whole could be improved if their experiment with Carlos Santana works.

That also allows Yan Gomes to lock down the catcher position, which will help the team’s young pitching staff. Justin Masterson had a career year and Corey Kluber made a big impact in limited work in 2013.  I have a lot of confidence in Danny Salzar, who’s one of three up and coming pitchers (including Arizona’s Archie Bradly, and another that we’ll get to later) in the majors that I’m the most excited for this season.

The playoffs are in reach, but they’ll need to be better than they were last season to make it happen.

 

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