Projecting Each MLB Division's Final Standings at the Start of Spring Training
After a winter that seemed longer and colder than usual, baseball is back.
Spring training is underway, and, while there are still some moves yet to be made, we've got a pretty good idea of what every team's roster is going to look like on Opening Day.
It's true that most prognosticators don't dust off their prognostication hats and issue predictions for the regular season until we get deeper into spring training, but we've always done things a bit differently here at Bleacher Report.
While these predictions are subject to change—injuries and unforeseen transactions have a way of derailing even the most well-thought out predictions—here's a look at how we see things playing out during the 2014 regular season.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of FanGraphs. Teams with an asterisk (*) next to their name in the standings indicates a wild-card berth.
American League East
1. Boston Red Sox (90-72, First Place)
Boston takes a step back towards the rest of the division with the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury, but not even that is enough to knock the defending World Champions off their pedestal atop the AL East.
A full season from shortstop Xander Bogaerts (pictured) will help to replace Ellsbury's production in the lineup, while a healthy Clay Buchholz will solidify the rotation just enough to fend off a hard-charging Tampa Bay squad.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (88-74, Second Place, Wild Card Berth)
Led by Evan Longoria and David Price, the Rays have a talented roster that is capable of making a deep run in the playoffs. Reigning AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers should be even better than he was a year ago, helping to keep Tampa Bay in a dog fight with Boston for the division all season long.
3. New York Yankees (85-77, Third Place)
The Yankees spent nearly half a billion dollars to drastically improve the roster, and the team will certainly be motivated to produce with Derek Jeter entering the final year of his legendary career. But there are simply too many questions on the pitching staff for the Bronx Bombers to send their captain out with another World Series ring.
4. Baltimore Orioles (81-81, Fourth Place)
Pitching is the problem in Baltimore, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen. There's no question that Ubaldo Jimenez will eat innings atop the rotation, but whether those are quality innings remains to be seen. The lack of an experienced closer could cost Baltimore games they can't afford to lose.
5. Toronto Blue Jays (78-84, Fifth Place)
Toronto finds itself in a similar situation as Baltimore does, heading into the season with a stacked lineup but questionable pitching staff. If the Blue Jays add Ervin Santana as a free agent or trade for a front-line starter, their prospects for 2014 would be significantly better.
National League East
1. Washington Nationals (92-70, First Place)
Washington bolstered an already stacked starting rotation featuring Stephen Strasburg (pictured), Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez—all capable of contending for a Cy Young Award—with the addition of Doug Fister, giving new skipper Matt Williams perhaps the best rotation in the game.
A strong bullpen and deep lineup, including a healthy Bryce Harper sets the Nationals up to return to their 2012 NL East glory.
2. Atlanta Braves (88-74, Second Place, Wild Card Berth)
The top half of Atlanta's lineup—Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis—could be one of the most dangerous and productive in baseball, but questions about the bottom half of the order persist. That, along with concerns about the back-end of the rotation, find the Braves falling short of last year's division crown and 96-win mark.
3. New York Mets (78-84, Third Place)
If the Mets would sign Stephen Drew to take over at shortstop, I'd have them over .500 for the first time in years, but as presently constituted—and without the ace of the staff, Matt Harvey—the Mets will fall short of posting a winning record.
4. Philadelphia Phillies (75-87, Fourth Place)
As has been the case over the past few years in Philadelphia, the Phillies look great on paper, but fall apart—literally—when they step on the field. Age and injury are major concerns for the core of the lineup, where it's insanity to expect Ryan Howard or Chase Utley to stay on the field for 150-plus games.
5. Miami Marlins (70-90, Fifth Place)
Things are looking up in Miami, with reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez leading the way for a young-but-talented starting rotation and solid building blocks with outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. But too many holes remain on the roster for the Marlins to finish with a winning record.
American League Central
1. Detroit Tigers (86-76, First Place)
Even after giving away Doug Fister and trading Prince Fielder, Detroit still has Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez leading the rotation—and the best hitter on the planet, Miguel Cabrera (pictured)—giving new manager Brad Ausmus one of the most talented rosters in the game.
Improved defense on the left side of the infield, and a bullpen bolstered with the additions of Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan, will find the Tigers winning their fourth consecutive division crown.
2. Kansas City Royals (84-78, Second Place)
An improved lineup and the best bullpen in baseball keep the Royals in contention for both the division and a wild-card berth, but questions about the starting rotation after James Shields keep the club from catching Detroit.
3. Cleveland Indians (81-81, Third Place)
Cleveland has enough talent to stay above .500, but the Indians are ill-equipped to replace both Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir in the rotation. Carlos Santana's move from catcher to third base could weaken the team's defense on the left-side of the infield, where Asdrubal Cabrera continues to block top prospect Francisco Lindor, a future All-Star for the Tribe.
4. Chicago White Sox (75-87, Fourth Place)
The additions of Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton and a trio of veteran relievers (Ronald Belisario, Mitchell Boggs and Scott Downs) ensure that the White Sox will be better than they were a year ago, but Chicago still has some work to do before they can contend for the division.
5. Minnesota Twins (73-89, Fifth Place)
Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco represent a massive improvement to the starting rotation, but the Twins are in a holding pattern when it comes to contending until the likes of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer are ready for their MLB debuts—which should come at some point this season.
National League Central
1. St. Louis Cardinals (95-67, First Place)
Already one of the deepest and most talented teams in baseball, last year's World Series runner-ups head into 2014 in even better shape than they were a year ago.
The Cardinals upgraded the left side of their infield, have Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina leading a young, talented pitching staff and sit with a loaded farm system that is ready to provide reinforcements, should they be needed.
If you're looking for the best team in baseball, look no further—it resides in St. Louis.
2. Cincinnati Reds (83-79, Second Place, Wild Card Berth)
Questions about Billy Hamilton's ability to effectively replace on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo atop the lineup and the loss of long-time Red Bronson Arroyo from the rotation find the Reds weaker than they were a year ago. Still, there's enough talent for Cincinnati to remain in the thick of the wild-card race.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (81-81, Third Place)
Wandy Rodriguez returns from an injury-plagued 2013 season to try and help the Pirates replace A.J. Burnett in the rotation, but questions about the rotation—and a gaping hole at first base—find the Pirates unable to carry the momentum it built up with last year's playoff appearance to make it two-in-a-row.
4. Milwaukee Brewers (75-87, Fourth Place)
The addition of Matt Garza to the rotation and Ryan Braun's return to the lineup will keep Milwaukee closer to the top of the division than the bottom, but the Brewers lack the depth, both on the roster and on the farm, to contend in 2014.
5. Chicago Cubs (65-97, Fifth Place)
Chicago's rebuilding process continues, leaving the team years away from contending with the likes of St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. But the Cubs should see their first wave of prospects, including SS Javier Baez, make their MLB debuts in 2014, setting the team up for future success.
American League West
1. Oakland Athletics (91-71, First Place)
It's easy to bet against the A's this year given the improvements that the rest of the division made, but it's not as if Oakland sat idly by without making moves of their own.
A full season from Sonny Gray (pictured) and the addition of Scott Kazmir improves an already excellent starting rotation, while newcomers Luke Gregerson and Jim Johnson will find Oakland's bullpen challenging Kansas City's for the title of best in baseball.
2. Texas Rangers (88-74, Second Place, Wild Card Berth)
After an off-year, the Rangers return with one of the most intimidating lineups in baseball, bolstered by the addition of on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo and slugger Prince Fielder. Questions about the back-end of the rotation and the health of oft-injured pitchers Alexi Ogando, Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz keep the Rangers from reclaiming the top spot in the division.
3. Los Angeles Angels (84-76, Third Place)
An improved rotation and a return to health for Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton find the Angels back on the winning side of things, but they'll need some untimely injuries to fell Oakland and Texas if they hope to end a four-year playoff drought.
4. Seattle Mariners (79-83, Fourth Place)
Seattle spent big to add Robinson Cano, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to its lineup, but the Mariners lack another big-time bat to help their new All-Star second baseman carry the offense. While Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are incredibly talented, they're also incredibly inexperienced, leaving questions at the back-end of the rotation.
5. Houston Astros (64-98, Fifth Place)
Things are looking up in Houston, where top prospects George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and Mark Appel should all contribute to the cause at some point in 2014, but the Astros are still another few years away from being called contenders.
National League West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (90-72, First Place)
A stacked roster with All-Stars at nearly every position is light-years ahead of the competition in the NL West, where the Dodgers will have little trouble clinching their second consecutive division crown.
Los Angeles not only has the best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw (pictured) but ridiculous depth behind him, both in the starting rotation and bullpen. Should a need arise in-season, the Dodgers have enough assets on the farm to acquire whatever they need.
2. San Francisco Giants (83-79, Second Place)
A terrific starting rotation, a perennial MVP candidate behind the plate in Buster Posey and a slimmed-down Pablo Sandoval keeps the Giants in the thick of the wild-card race, but San Francisco can't hang with Los Angeles—and barely hold off San Diego—to finish second in the division.
3. San Diego Padres (82-80, Third Place)
San Diego may lack a true superstar, but the Padres have legitimate talent at every position. Full seasons from Jedd Gyorko, Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin—along with the additions of pitchers Josh Johnson and Joaquin Benoit—will find San Diego becoming the team that surprises everyone in 2014.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks (76-86, Fourth Place)
Mark Trumbo will thrill fans with his majestic power, but the Diamondbacks simply don't have the pieces needed to contend. Bronson Arroyo is a solid addition to the rotation, but the D-Backs would have been better served by slotting top prospect Archie Bradley, who has ace potential, into that spot.
5. Colorado Rockies (71-91, Fifth Place)
Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki continue to pace what should be a high-scoring lineup, but not even the addition of starter Brett Anderson is enough to bolster what will continue to be an underwhelming starting rotation.
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