One down, 161 to go. Yesterday we made our TBL staff predictions for the 2014 baseball season. A day later, so so so much has changed it feels like we need to go back and amend everything we predicted a day ago.
Even so, here’s three thoughts on Opening Day that are worth filing away for a later date:
Snap Judgement No. 1: Mike Trout will win the American League MVP
Trout homered in his first at-bat of the 2014 season and simple math tells me he’s on pace for 162 for the season along with a WAR rating of 10,000,000. However you want to measure it, Trout is an excellent ballplayer. If you wound up with the first pick in your fantasy draft and didn’t select him (looking at myself from last year) you might need your head examined.
The last two years we’ve seen Trout and Miguel Cabrera locked up in a tedious fight for the American League MVP award. New-school baseball analysts love Trout for his overall contributions to the game, whereas the old-school writers still value Cabrera’s prowess in the Triple Crown numbers: home runs, RBIs and batting average. (And the fact the Tigers won their division while the Angels were sub-500.)
The reason I’m writing on April 1 that Trout is a near lock — if healthy — to win the MVP is due to a projected decrease in Cabrera’s offensive numbers. Cabrera will still be an offensive force for the Tigers, but his counting stats are going to take a hit with Victor Martinez providing backup to him in the lineup compared to Prince Fielder. Martinez is no slouch, but he’s not the home run threat that Fielder is — even in a down year. My guess is Cabrera sees a lot less pitches he can drive, meaning a lot more singles to the opposite field compared to home runs. With Ian Kinsler now leading off for Detroit rather than Austin Jackson, Cabrera’s RBI chances should decrease too, unless the former Ranger’s steady offensive decline stops at spacious Comerica Park.
Beyond that, after the way the last two years played out, it feels like people are itching to give the award, deservedly, to Trout — other than the BWWAA hardliners. Given the injuries across the board to the Rangers and to a lesser extent the Athletics, perhaps the Angels have a better season. It gives the voters who put a premium on winning teams more of an incentive to finally yield their first-place vote to the Angels young star.
Snap Judgement No. 2: The Marlins won’t be a laughingstock, on the field anyways
Everyone knows Jose Fernandez — nine strikeouts in six innings Monday night vs. the Rockies — is good. If Giancarlo Stanton gets any protection in the lineup, he is going to hit a lot of home runs. However, the less said about the Marlins starting lineup, the better.
Pitching remains a strength in Miami. Nathan Eovaldi, acquired for Hanley Ramirez, had one of the fastest fastballs in the Majors last year. Miami has a surplus of arms on the farm, meaning a guy like Jacob Turner could be dealt for even more prospects.
The Marlins over/under is 69.5. Odds are they won’t contend — long term — for a Wild Card spot, but on the field the Marlins aren’t as much of a go-to punchline as many think. If anything the Mets and Phillies should provide more LOL-type headlines than anything the Marlins do — again if we’re talking solely about the on-field product itself.
Snap Judgement No. 3: Somebody other than Toronto will win the AL East
Going back to the over/unders, here’s what Vegas came up with for the American League East: Boston (88); Tampa Bay (88); New York (87) and Baltimore (82.5). You could make a case for any of the four teams winning the division, while one of the two Wild Card teams will likely come from the remaining three teams.
One thing is fairly certain, the Blue Jays aren’t going to win the division and end their postseason drought which extends back to 1993.
Jose Reyes lasted all of one inning before landing on the disabled list with a hamstring issue on Monday. R.A. Dickey was shelled for six runs vs. Tampa — and he’s the presumed staff ace. Maybe Drew Hutchison translates his spring success into the season, but Toronto isn’t going far with Mark Buehrle, the always-injured Brandon Morrow and Todd Redmond in the rotation.
The Jays whiffed on pitchers in the offseason, including Ervin Santana, but paying a lot of money to No. 3-4 starters wasn’t going to help them that much in this division moving forward. Losing all the prospects it dealt in the ill-fated Reyes deal with the Marlins stings more.
Toronto is going to hit a bunch of home runs with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarcion, Colby Rasmus’ hair is always worth a laugh and maybe one of these days Brett Lawrie lives up to the hype, but otherwise there’s not a lot to like in the Rogers Centre. There’s only so much goodwill and cheer Munenori Kawasaki can provide while he’s in Triple A Buffalo, right?