Play Ball! It’s the 2014 Baseball Preview
MLB Network analysts Cliff Floyd, Al Leiter, and Harold Reynolds offer up their picks for what to expect in the season ahead.
Photo: Rob Carmell / CSM / Lanov
Cliff Floyd: Oakland Athletics: I’m not going to sleep on Oakland again this year. With Jarrod Parker out for the season, Scott Kazmir has to step up and I think he will since he’s throwing in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. You never think they’re going to score enough runs, but they find ways to get it done.
Al Leiter: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: I can’t wrap my head around this division, but I think people are sleeping on the Angels. You have the best player in the game in Mike Trout and I think the Angels’ pitching will do better than the 4.23 ERA they posted last year.
Harold Reynolds: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The rest of the division got hurt in March and I think they’re going to get a big enough lead in the beginning of the season to not get caught.
Cliff Floyd: Detroit Tigers: The one question mark behind them was having a reliable closer and now they’ve brought in Joe Nathan. Yes, they lost Prince Fielder, but I expect Victor Martinez to have a big year now that he’stwo years removed from a big injury. People are forgetting that Martinez has averaged over 100 RBIs a season for his career.
Al Leiter: Detroit Tigers: This might be the best team in the American League. Yes, they have star power in Cabrera, Verlander, Scherzer and Hunter, but I’m excited to see Nick Castellanos hit and field the hot corner at third base. Castellanos hit 18 homers in 134 games in Triple-A last year. He’s ready.
Harold Reynolds: Detroit Tigers: They’ve got Miguel Cabrera and they’ll be versatile. They are still a notch above the rest of the division.
Cliff Floyd: Boston Red Sox: Even after coming off a World Series title, they’ve upgraded the roster. Bringing in Edward Mujica from the Cardinals to shore up the bullpen helps, and they just have strong depth with former All-Stars like Grady Sizemore fighting for playing time.
Al Leiter: New York Yankees: It all depends on health, but if their Opening Day starters play the majority of the games, they’ll be tough to beat. CC Sabathia is the key to the rotation and Shawn Kelly is essential in the bullpen. This is the toughest division to pick in baseball so the Yankees will only beat out the third place team by a handful of games.
Harold Reynolds: Baltimore Orioles: They’re one of the only teams in baseball that has five or six guys that play 162 games. They’re going to be consistent. It’s a coin toss in the AL East but that’s why I picked the Orioles.
AL Wild Card:
Cliff Floyd: Tampa Bay Rays against the Texas Rangers: The Rays couldn’t find the right package to trade David Price away, so as a result, they’ll be in Postseason contention all year long.
Al Leiter: Tampa Bay Rays against the Texas Rangers: Manager Joe Maddon has created a winning culture and the Rays have been to the Postseason four times out of the last six years. I’m a huge Joe Maddon fan.
Cliff Floyd: Los Angeles Dodgers: I’ll take Kershaw and Greinke atop the rotation with Kenley Jansen closing games. The key is Matt Kemp. If he is healthy during the year, the Dodgers might run away with this division. If he struggles, the NL West could be a dogfight.
Al Leiter: Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers have the least amount of flaws in the National League. I’m a big bullpen guy because that’s what makes a huge difference in October, and their bullpen is top notch.
Harold Reynolds: Los Angeles Dodgers: They’re going to spend to do it. They’re in a win-win mode and they’re very talented. And if they don’t have it in the beginning of the season, they’ll go buy it later.
Cliff Floyd: St. Louis Cardinals: They’re one of the most complete teams in the game who can beat you so many different ways. A strong pitching performance or a game when they hit five homers are just a few of the ways. When you go into a season not relying on one specific way to win, you usually end up with 90-plus wins.
Al Leiter: St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals’ ability to develop and promote from within has sustained that organization. It keeps them at a relatively high payroll, but not to a point where they have to overpay on free agents.
Harold Reynolds: St. Louis Cardinals: It’s all about winning championships now with organizations and they are the best organization in baseball.
Cliff Floyd: Washington Nationals: Jordan Zimmermann took a huge step forward last year so if he progresses with Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister falling in line, it’s going to be a long year for opposing lineups in the NL East.
Al Leiter: Washington Nationals: The Nationals have the best one through five rotation in the senior circuit. Failing to reach the high expectations everyone put on them last year has left a bad taste in their mouths and they’re hungry again this year like they were in 2008. Fister is going to help them in a huge way as it lengthens their rotation.
Harold Reynolds: Washington Nationals: They’re loaded, top to bottom. At every position, they’re the best team on paper in baseball.
NL Wild Card:
Cliff Floyd: Cincinnati Reds over Pittsburgh Pirates: Joey Votto and Jay Bruce is as good as they come for a 3-4 combination in the lineup, and Tony Cingrani takes the next step to bolster an already strong rotation.
Al Leiter: Pittsburgh Pirates over Arizona Diamondbacks: How could you not love what the Pirates did last year and the way the city of Pittsburgh embraced them last year? People think they might regress this year. I’m going against that line of thinking and say they potentially get better. Pitcher Gerrit Cole is just starting to scratch the surface for how good he can be.
Cliff Floyd: Detroit Tigers over the Los Angeles Dodgers: Detroit has been knocking on the door the last three years and this October they finally get it done.
Al Leiter: Los Angeles Dodgers over the New York Yankees: This is a team that finished 7th in the NL in runs scored last year and second in team ERA. It’s possible they finish first in both categories this year.
Harold Reynolds: Washington Nationals over the Detroit Tigers: Detroit has three guys who are going to be very hard to beat in the Postseason: Verlander, Scherzer, and Sanchez. All you need is three guys to get you through it. But the Nationals are the best team.
Cliff Floyd: Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) – Trout wins it this year after finishing in second the last two seasons. The Angels will be healthier with Pujols and Hamilton playing more games, so Trout’s numbers will get better. This is a stud who has averaged a .948 OPS his first three seasons. That is off-the-charts good.
Al Leiter: Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) – Trout is the consummate baseball player. If you wanted your son to learn how to play baseball by watching one player, Trout would be the guy.
Harold Reynolds: Albert Pujols (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) – He’s healthy. I saw him hit a triple in Spring Training and when he ran from home to first, I said, ‘Look out, rest of the league.’ His foot injury is finally gone, and he’s got Trout, Hamilton, and Kendrick in the lineup, so he’s going to drive in runs and put up numbers.
AL Cy Young:
Cliff Floyd: Yu Darvish (Texas Rangers) – Darvish’s numbers have gotten better each season. His strikeout totals continue to rise to the point where he might strike out 300 this year.Yeah, I’m saying it: 300 strikeouts.
Al Leiter: Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers) – Verlander is going to have a monster year because he’s ticked off by people thinking he can’t get back to the all-world numbers he posted two years ago.
Harold Reynolds: Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners) – I think he’s going to win a lot of his games. He’s already won a Cy Young Award on a poor team, and the Mariners are going to be competitive. I think he’ll have a big year.
Cliff Floyd: Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Goldschmidt can hit the baseball all over the place and now he’s got some help in the lineup with Mark Trumbo. Goldschmidt will hit 35 homers and knock in 125 RBI’s. Mark it down.
Al Leiter: Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates) – There’s nothing bad you can say about McCutchen. He plays every day. He’s a strong clubhouse leader. He puts up monster numbers. You add it all up and he can win his second straight MVP.
Harold Reynolds: Hanley Ramirez (Los Angeles Dodgers) – I just think he’s the best player in the NL. He’s coming into his prime and when I look at what he did last season, he was overshadowed by the hype of everyone else on the team.
NL Cy Young:
Cliff Floyd: Jose Fernandez (Miami Marlins) – Fernandez is unhittable. This is a right-hander who struck out 187 batters in 172 innings last year and it was only his first year. Those are filthy numbers.
Al Leiter: Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals) – Strasburg puts it all together and has a Hall of Fame, Tom Seaver type-of-year. Don’t be fooled by the eight wins last year. This guy got better.
Harold Reynolds: Adam Wainwright (St. Louis Cardinals) – The last three years he could’ve been the Cy Young winner. It’s his time.
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