Sunday, February 9, 2014

American League Story Lines to Watch in 2014

Boston Red Sox: Can they repeat? 

The cornerstones of the 2013 Red Sox were clubhouse chemistry and an improved medical staff. This allowed players to stay on the field and instilled in them the attitude of picking each other up. Perhaps the most amazing feat by the 2013 Red Sox was stopping losing streaks at three games - this team never went downhill and never gave up. The roster depth Ben loaded the 2013 team with is still here, as demonstrated by the Sox signing of Grady Sizemore to compete with Jackie Bradley Jr. and the argument over who should play shortstop and third base. If the Red Sox can stay healthy, there's no reason to think they won't win the AL East again and the matter of repeating a World Series championship may come down to the health of their opponents. 

Detroit Tigers: Can Miggy stay healthy? 

The Tigers are the Red Sox primary opponent for the American League pennant, and despite the power of their pitching, everything for the Tigers revolves around Miguel Cabrera. By the end of 2013, Cabrera wasn't healthy and he wasn't able to be the best hitter in the game. To illustrate how important it is for the Tigers to have a healthy Cabrera, consider this: 3 of the Red Sox 4 victories in the 2013 ALCS were 1 run games. If Cabrera was healthy, he could have turned around those games and the Red Sox lose. It's as simple as that. By trading Prince Fielder for a Ian Kinsler, a veteran with a steady bat to play second base, the Tigers didn't just unload Fielder's costly contract - they allowed Cabrera to move from third base to first base, and placing Cabrera at a less physically demanding fielding position will help him stay healthy throughout the season. This should allow Cabrera to be the best hitter in baseball going into the postseason, instead of the shadow of himself we all saw in September and October last season.

New York Yankees: Who is their slugger? 

With the departure of Robinson Cano, the Yankees may not have a legitimate middle of the order slugger - the kind of hitter that pitchers fear, which prompts them to throw more strikes to top of the order hitters to try prevent them from reaching base. If Teixeria, McCann and Beltran can't be feared sluggers, how will this effect Ellsbury and a 40 year old Jeter? Pitchers won't be afraid to pitch around Ellsbury if they think the batters ahead of him aren't a threat. Without having a legitimate slugger, signing Ellsbury is akin to dumping gasoline over a pile of $152 million and lighting it ablaze. 

Besides that, what happens to CC Sabathia's velocity now that he's a toothpick? And do the Yankees have a closer? All of this makes the Tanaka deal look like an afterthought.   

Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays: The Choose Your Own Adventure Book of Self-Destrution

How will the Rays choose to self-destruct in 2014? That's the question, because in 2013 they chose to self-destruct during spring training by not making Wil Myers an opening day starter. Why? Because if they kept Myers in the minors long enough during the 2013 season, they got an extra year of contract control over the player. Think about the damage caused by that decision: the Rays were only 5.5 GB back of the Red Sox. If Myers was a starter throughout 2013, could he have gotten him over that 5.5 GB hump? And if Myers had a full 9 games of experience playing right field at Fenway under his belt, would he have let that fly ball drop right in front of him during the ALDS? 

In retrospect, the Devil Rays' penny-pinching ways bit them in the ass. So how will the Rays figure out a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in 2014? If David Price is having a good season before the trade deadline, I bet the idea of trading him for prospects, rather than pay him $16-17 mil in 2015, will be too much for the Rays to resist. The Rays won't win because they would rather blow up their team to save a buck than win a World Series. Everyone will still claim that Joe Maddon is a genius because, hey, cult it. Ack, fuck it. That's what I meant to say. 

Oakland A's: I've got nothing

Every year, I look at the A's roster and think "How the fuck will this fucking team win fucking anything?" Then, like clockwork, Billy Beane's rejects from the Island of Misfits somehow win the AL West and put themselves in the playoffs. I feel like this cycle will repeat itself in 2014 simply, and inexplicably, because of inertia. The A's let Bartolo Colon walk and think they can replace him with Scott Kazmir, whose last good season was in 2008? OK, whatever. This is one of those moves that always seems to work out for Billy Beane and nobody knows why, so we'll see. 

Texas Rangers: I've got everything

The yang to the A's yin, the Rangers spend every offseason seemingly making the right moves only to spectacularly failure when September rolls around. They signed Adrian Beltre, they let Josh Hamilton walk, they signed Yu Darvish, annnnd... Fail. Will Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Shoo finally vault them over the A's? We'll see.  

Anaheim Angels: Honorary Mention

I'm trying to keep this list to contenders, but because the Angels have Mike Trout playing out of his mind, and Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton playing well under their abilities, you have to include them as a dark horse candidate. If Trout, Pujols, Hamilton become a three-headed pitcher wrecking machine; and if Weaver and Wilson are pitching well, the Angels can position themselves as buyers at the trade deadline and stay in the playoff hunt. But these are huge if's. 

No comments:

Post a Comment