By Cal Meacham and Coach Ryan,
Last Tuesday we brought you our AL picks where we both agreed that the Tigers are the team to beat in the American League, but what of the dominant National League. Keep in mind the American League hasn’t won back to back World Series Championships since 2004 & 2005. As a matter of fact the NL has won 3 out of the last 4 World Series with the cream of the NL crop being the Cardinals who have have been to four Fall Classics since 2004, winning two.
A lot has changed in the past couple years in the NL as teams such as the Nationals have emerged as possible contenders. The Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in over 20 years, making for one of the most memorable moments of the 2013 campaign. The Dodgers are spending $235 million on payroll, over $30 million more than the meager $204 million the Yankees are reportedly spending.
Will money buy a championship? Can the Pirates do it again? Let’s take a look at Cal & Coach Ryan’s 2014 National League Predictions:
- Coach Ryan: Washington Nationals – The NL East will be a two pony race but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be fun watching the way the division develops. In my opinion the Marlins have the best young arm in the game with Jose Fernandez, although unfortunately we’re going to have to go through 2014 without Matt Harvey having much of an impact (if any). After missing the playoffs in 2013 I think the addition of Doug Fister will propel the Nationals to the top of the East. The Braves won the division last season and although I think they’ll be right in the race to the end I just don’t think they have the fire power to outlast Washington.
- Cal: Washington Nationals – On paper, The Nationals are a team that will run away with the division (which has been weakened with the injury bug that has plagued the Braves pitching staff), but then again nobody thought that this same team would finish 10 games behind the Braves last year. They solidified their pitching staff with a steal of a trade to land Doug Fister from the Tigers and he will provide some consitancy from their rotation allowing Strasburg and Zimmerman to carry a lot less weight. Expect Bryce Harper to have a monster season as he is out of under the expectation cloud that was his rookie season. Anything less than a trip to the N.L.D.S. will be a massive let down for this team and their fans.
- Coach Ryan: St. Louis Cardinals – Last season the NL Central was easily the most exciting division in baseball, producing three playoff teams and the NL Champion Cardinals. I really would like to see Cincinnati and/ or Pittsburgh take the next step and overtake the Cards, but I just don’t see it happening. St. Louis may have lost Carlos Beltran but they were able to upgrade up the middle with the addition of Jhonny Peralta along with one of the best farm systems in baseball. Although I don’t think the Reds losing Choo or the Pirates losing Burnett are devastating, I don’t think it helps either one of them considering they finished behind St. Louis when they had them.
- Cal: Pittsburgh Pirates – My first instinct is just to go ahead and pen in the Cardinals at this spot, they sure have earned it as one of the most consistent teams in the National League over the last 10 years with 4 N.L. Pennants and 2 World Series titles in that time. There is something about this Pirates team that is making me second guess the auto fill-in and part of it is the young talent getting one year more of seasoning and the other is the intangibles. For this team to win the divisions they are going to need to win the close games (they won 5 1-0 games last year) and have Lariano repeat his form while having Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke taking their game to the next level. They could sure use Pedro Alverez hitting better then the sub .240 he did last year, but the 36 bombs looked awfully nice. Yes, there are a lot of “ifs” but I think Manager Clint Hurdle has the right tools to put it all together.
- Coach Ryan: Los Angeles Dodgers– The NL West could quite possibly become the most fun division in baseball this season. The Padres could become one of the biggest surprises after improving their pitching staff during the offseason. They also sport one of the more talented younger left sides of the infield with Everth Cabrera at short and the speedy Chase Headley at third. The Giants and Diamondbacks will be producing power numbers with the likes of Big Panda Sandoval in San Fran and Mark Trumbo in Arizona. Unfortunately for all of them they will be looking up at the end of the year at the Dodgers and their record setting payroll. If there are any question marks in LA it’s the health status of Clayton Kershaw’s MULTI million dollar arm which currently has him landed on the DL. Even if Kershaw misses the first part of the season the Dodgers are deep enough to take the NL West although it could be a closer division than people think.
- Cal: Los Angeles Dodgers – Magic and company have spent a ton of money on this team and have placed themselves atop the bloated contract market. It is really hard to find a hole in their lineup as the only real question is “what will they get out of Dee Gordon?” The flip side of that coin is the fact that the team will lean heavily on phenom Yasiel Puig who rode the spotlight heavy and hard and expect big numbers from. His playing style injected a much needed energy into the squad last year and helped push them to their first N.L. West crown since 2009. We know what we will get from Clayton Kershaw and I expect a solid year from Zack Greinke but its the Dan Haren’s and Paul Maholm’s that make or break this team. Any slip and the Giants will be happy to steal that crown from them.
Wild Card #1
- Coach Ryan: San Francisco Giants– I really wanted to pick the dark horse Padres to make the post season but after studying both rosters I just can’t pick them over the Giants. San Francisco needs to stay healthy with this to happen but I think having the veteran leadership of Tim Hudson will go a long way to help the starting rotation. The lineup may not be spectacular but I think Sandoval being in a contract year will lead to an increase in his numbers, laying the ground work for Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. Nothing on the Giants screams spectacular but the team on a whole is solid, and that could lead to playing in October.
- Cal: St. Louis Cardinals – How could this team miss the playoffs? They have a great, young pitching staff and a lineup that can score runs in the clutch…..But lets be honest, it is pitching that makes all the difference in the playoffs. As I stated earlier, the Cards have been doing it often and the right way for the last 10 years. They allow the media to dismiss them when they fail to resign the likes of Pujos or Beltran, but its those exact moves (or lack there of moves) that have positioned this team each and every year, to capture the N.L. Central. There isn’t another team (The Braves are a close second) who develops pitching better from within their system then the Cardinals and this also helps with the cohesion of the team. It seems that every year this team quietly makes the playoffs and ends up looking like the most in sync team every time. I don’t think that this year will be any different.
Wild Card #2
- Coach Ryan: Pittsburgh Pirates– I flipped back and forth between the Pirates and the Braves for the final Wild Card spot, but the Braves have too much going against them right now. The Pirates on the other hand tasted the post season for the first time last year, and I don’t think there’s a hungrier team in all of baseball. A.J. Burnett is going to hurt their chances although like the Indians they’re going to be relying on young arms like Gerrit Cole to lead their team. This team will have their ups and downs but I’m counting on this exciting team to come together late in the season and squeak in, even if it takes a play-in game to get to the play-in Wild Card Round.
- Cal: Atlanta Braves – There is just too much on offense to dismiss this team, even with their ravaged starting rotation. They still have the best closer in baseball and are loaded with hitters who can drive in runs…..that is when they decide that they want to hit. The most consistent thing about the Braves batters in the last few years is how inconsistent they have been. Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton and Jason Hayward have been for the most part, massive disappointments, especially with what was expected from Hayward. Two of these guys are going to have to turn their year long slumps around if the hope to make a splash in the playoffs and BJ Upton can just continue to contribute nothing to the stat card. I know that I haven’t said a lot of positive about this team but they have the right makeup of players and a solid farm system to take some risks. While I don’t think it will lead them to a World Series I think they can make the playoffs.
- Coach Ryan: Los Angeles Dodgers- You can officially call the Dodgers the Yankees of the west as they easily have the biggest pay roll in baseball. The key for the Dodgers is still the health of Clayton Kershaw although the front office will take their time not rushing him back to make sure he is the key that will drive the Aston Martin. When you finally have Puig listening to his teammates for advice there’s not a pitching staff or lineup in the NL that is superior to the Dodgers.
- Cal: St Louis Cardinals – The N.L. (beyond the Dodgers) is a real head scratcher, leaving me with no real confident pick. Besides the A.L.’s string of big money spent W.S. champions, it has been a mid market bonanza. I think that trend continues this year and we see the Cardinals quietly into the World Series again. Leadership, cohesion and pitching, pitching, pitching seems to be the formula and this team has it all.
World Series Champion
- Coach Ryan: Los Angeles Dodgers– If baseball has proven one thing over time it’s that even though small market teams can make the playoffs, big spenders win the World Series. After the little contract Miggy just received it’s fitting that both the high spending Tigers and Dodgers will make the Series, but in the end the Dodgers are just too talented top to bottom. The Dodgers lineup much like their rotation is stacked and if they stay healthy through the course there’s no reason they can’t be on top in October November giving Vin Scully one last memorable call.
- Cal: St. Louis Cardinals – I think the Tigers will put up a good fight but their bullpen will be their undoing. It will be a starting pitching war with starters going 7-8 strong, giving up a run on one bad pitch, but that run will be enough as the Tigers hand it over to the likes of Joba and Coke (who I hope is long gone by the playoffs) only to lose the game. The Cardinals have earned this recognition year after year and they deserve it, too bad it has to come at the hand of my Motown Kittens.