Baseball is the sport that rarely changes, but 2014 is the season of change in Major League Baseball. The old stars—Albert Pujols, Roy Halladay, Derek Jeter—are seeing their careers fade away. The new ones—Mike Trout, Jose Fernandez, Bryce Harper—are seeing theirs get brighter and brighter. Sabermetrics are everywhere. Replay is going to be adopted. Most importantly, Bud Selig is in his finally year. The sport has never seen anything like the season that will be 2014, and because of that, there are 1000 different ways it could go. Here’s what I think the MLB will look like in October:

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt is the best first baseman in baseball, and nobody knows his name. Last year, he led the National League in homeruns (36), OPS (.952) and RBI (125), and he added a Gold Glove for good measure. The D-Backs added Mark Trumbo for even more power on offense. What the Diamondbacks lack in star pitchers, they make up for in depth. They have seven capable pitchers that could start, and Archie Bradley, the second best pitching prospect according to Baseball America, will only help.  Playing in a sneakily weak division, the D-Backs will use their depth and power to reach the playoffs.

Paul Goldschmidt is the best player that you've never heard of.
Paul Goldschmidt is the best player that you’ve never heard of.

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals: There are a few rules that I’ve learned in my 15 years on Earth: always do more than what is expected of you, a good meal makes everything better, and never bet against the Cardinals. Never. This year’s Cardinals are built the way a baseball team should be: from the ground up. Yadier Molina is the best defensive catcher of all time and nobody is better at calling a game. He is a main reason that the Cardinals have one of the MLB’s most reliable pitching staffs, which features Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller and last year’s breakout star, Michael Wacha. On offense, the Cardinals are anchored by second baseman Matt Carpenter, who signed a 6-year, $52 million extension this offseason and veteran left fielder Matt Holliday. They have experience that no other team has which, combined with their talent, is a lethal combination.

Yadier Molina has been the best defensive catcher in the MLB for some time now, and his offense has improved tremendously the past few years as well. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Yadier Molina has been the best defensive catcher in the MLB for some time now, and his offense has improved tremendously the past few years as well. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

NL East: Washington Nationals: I picked the Nats to win the World Series last year, and just about every player in DC played worse than expected. Dan Haren had a 4.67 ERA, Adam LaRoche’s OPS dropped over 100 points from his 2012 numbers, and Gio Gonzalez’s WAR decreased 2 whole points. Bryce Harper didn’t improve on his rookie numbers, and Stephen Strasburg lost more games then he won. Injuries weren’t the problem. Everybody just played way below their abilities.

Washington’s talent is unrivaled. Sports Illustrated put a high school Bryce Harper on its cover and called him “Baseball’s Chosen One”. SI called Stephen Strasburg a “national treasure” after only two starts. Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jayson Werth are former all stars. A team with so much talent won’t underachieve so greatly twice in a row, and especially in a horrible NL East—the only other team that could have given the Nationals competition is the Braves, but it seems like every pitcher on Atlanta’s staff has been inured this spring—DC will be watching playoff baseball once again.

Stephen Strasburg will lead a refocused Nationals team on another playoff run in 2014. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Stephen Strasburg will lead a refocused Nationals team on another playoff run in 2014. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Team that will disappoint: Los Angeles Dodgers: I really want to have a great team playing at Chavez Ravine again, but the Dodgers are just not that good. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the MLB, but after him, the rotation is shaky at best. Zack Greinke is injury prone, Hyun-Jin Ryu is incredibly average, and everyone else–Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Josh Beckett, and Dan Haren–could drop dead any second. On offense, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier are all injury prone. The Dodgers have a below average catcher in AJ Ellis and Dee Gordon, who should still be in the minors, playing third. Their best hitter and defender, Yasiel Puig, has already shown regression, batting only .214 in September last season. Regression and injury will make its way to Chavez Ravine this year, and Don Mattingly will be out of a job.

Injuries and age will be detrimental to the Dodgers this season. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Injuries and age will be detrimental to the Dodgers this season. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, OF Washington Nationals: I don’t know what Harper has been using this offseason, but he easily gained 20 pounds of muscle. He’s bigger and better than ever, with two full seasons under his belt. By now you’ve heard how talented he is from Sports Illustrated, ESPN, or anyone that has ever watched a baseball game, and the praise is deserved. The kid is gifted like no one else in the majors, and after the debacle that was the 2013 Washington Nationals, Harper will have extra anger to motivate his extra muscle.

Somebody must have put something in those Girl Scout cookies...
Somebody must have put something in those Girl Scout cookies…

NL Cy Young: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins: Jose Fernandez’s 2013 was the best ever by a rookie pitcher. He allowed fewer hits per 9 innings (5.87) then anyone else in the NL, the second lowest ERA (2.19), and the second most strikeouts per nine innings. All of those seconds are second to Clayton Kershaw, who already has one start this season (from the Dodgers’ series against the Diamondbacks in Australia) and has been scratched from another. The only place Kershaw has to go is down. The only place Jose Fernandez has to go is up.

Jose Fernandez was the only bright spot in the Marlins' lineup last season...and those uniforms of course.
Jose Fernandez was the only bright spot in the Marlins’ lineup last season…and those uniforms of course.

AL West: Oakland Athletics: The Rangers and the Angels get all the attention, but the real contender in the AL West is the A’s. They’ve won the AL West two years straight, and there is no reason to think 2014 will be any different. The names in Oakland aren’t recognizable, and that’s the way Billy Beane likes it. Nobody will make your jaw drop in disbelief, but there isn’t a player on the A’s that is below average, and luckily for the A’s that includes back ups. Jarrod Parker is sidelined for the year due to Tommy John Surgery, but due to that depth and the signing of Scott Kazmir, the pitching staff won’t miss a beat. This is the deepest team in the majors, and I don’t know how Billy Beane did it, but he managed to outsmart the rest of baseball again. Somebody call Michael Lewis, because this is the year that Moneyball could finally get its storybook ending.

Fear. The. Beard.
Fear. The. Beard.

AL Central: Detroit Tigers: The Tigers won the blockbuster trade of the offseason, sending Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler. While Fielder was in Detroit, Miguel Cabrera was forced to move from his natural position at first place play third. Plus, Miggy’s move back to first provides third base prospect Nick Castellanos a spot in the Major League lineup. On top of the lineup openings, Kinsler is every bit as good as Fielder, if not better. Kinsler’s WAR was more than double Fielder’s (Fielder: 2.0, Kinsler 4.5). The pitching staff is headed by two of baseball’s best pitchers, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello provide extra punch at the bottom of the rotation. They have the best bats, two of the best pitchers, and one of the worst divisions in baseball. By September, they’ll also have an AL Central title.

Ian Kinsler only helps an already exceptional Tigers team. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Ian Kinsler only helps an already exceptional Tigers team. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays’ pitching staff has unbelievable amounts of talent. David Price is a Cy Young candidate year in and year out, Matt Moore is the former top prospect in baseball, and Alex Cobb had a sub-three ERA in last year’s sophomore season. Chris Archer and Jeremy Hellickson are more than capable at the bottom of the rotation, and GM Andrew Friedman strengthened baseball’s eleventh best bullpen (according to WAR) by adding all-star reliever Grant Balfour this offseason. Evan Longoria anchors Tampa on offense, and he’ll get help from Wil Myers and Swiss army knife Ben Zobrist. It’s hard to win a game if you don’t score, and that’s exactly what the Rays’ pitching will do to the rest of the AL East.

David Price was the subject of trade rumors this offseason, but nothing came of them, and he will stay in Tampa and lead one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
David Price was the subject of trade rumors this offseason, but nothing came of them, and he will stay in Tampa and lead one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Team that will disappoint: Seattle Mariners: When will GMs learn that signing a bunch of big name free agents never works? In 2012, the Miami Marlins signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell to long-term, big money deals. They finished 29 games out of first in the AL East. The next season, the Blue Jays traded for most of the Marlins’ stars—Reyes, Buehrle, and Hanley Ramirez–and were preseason favorites to win the AL East. They finished last in the division. It isn’t only in baseball. The 2012 Lakers traded for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard and were on the cover of Sports Illustrated. They are one of the worst teams in basketball just a year and a half later. The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Jason Babin. They dubbed themselves the “dream team”. They won 8 games.

Signing tons of big name free agents and expecting immediate results never works, and it definitely won’t happen in Seattle this year with the signings of Robinson Cano, Logan Morrison, and Corey Hart.

Have fun in Seattle, Robinson. Oh, and I hope you enjoy missing the playoffs too! (Seattle PI)
Have fun in Seattle, Robinson. Oh, and I hope you enjoy missing the playoffs too! (Seattle PI)

AL MVP: Mike Trout, OF, Anaheim Angels: Trout barely lost the MVP the last two seasons, with Miguel Cabrera just edging him out. 2014 is the year that Trout will finally be the biggest fish in the pond. His rookie season two years ago was historically prolific, posting the best single season WAR since Joe Morgan in 1975 (Barry Bonds’ was higher in 2001 and 2002, but he’s a cheater). His sophomore season was every bit of impressive, with his stolen base numbers decreasing, and RBI and OPS increasing. He’s playing for the chance to receive the most expensive contract in baseball history (yes, even more than Miguel Cabrera’s), which Trout will earn with an MVP too. 

Mike-Trout-catch-GIF

AL Cy Young: Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers: I have never seen a pitching performance the likes of Darvish’s on April 3rd in Houston. His stuff was filthy; the fastball went as fast as 96 MPH, and the splitter dove into the dirt just as the Astros swung their bats. He was unhittable. Until there was one out left, and Darvish allowed the only base runner of the day. In his rookie season two years ago, he had the stuff. Last year, he added control. This year, he’ll put it all together. And he won’t be coming up one out short.

Yu was as close as you can get to perfection in 2013, and he'll only get closer in 2014. (Pat Sullivan/AP)
Yu was as close as you can get to perfection in 2013, and he’ll only get closer in 2014. (Pat Sullivan/AP)

World Series: St. Louis Cardinals over Oakland A’s: The Cardinals have veteran leadership, young talent, and an abundance of arms made even better with Yadier Molina. Oscar Taveras will add another bat to the lineup when he is called up mid-season, and Matt Adams and Kolten Wong will only improve in their second year. The Cardinals are the embodiment of the entire MLB right now—the new are meshing with the old and are overtaking them. In a season where change is the norm, the Cards have controlled their transition better than anyone else, and it will bring another trophy home to St. Louis.

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