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World Series Predictions

2014 World Series Predictions
by Badger, Baseball Handicapper, Predictem.com

With the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues of Major League Baseball’s spring training already a few weeks into exhibition games, it won’t be long before the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers throw out the first pitch of the 2014 MLB season with a special Opening Day on the historic Sydney Cricket Grounds in Australia March 22 and 23.

It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for baseball. There was some early winter drama when the New York Yankees lost their cheatin’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez who was suspended for the entire season. Other than that, the only other noise really is MLB’s debut of the use of instant replay throughout the game, with manager challenges and everything. It should make for an interesting year.

With no further delay, let’s get to the predictions. The futures odds were plucked from my personal favorite when it comes to betting baseball, 5Dimes.eu. Divisional odds were pulled from GTBets.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

If you correctly predicted that the Boston Red Sox would all grow long beards and play the best baseball as a team collectively from April through October in 2013, then you would have gotten 7-to-1 for them winning the AL East, since the Sox were behind three other teams in the division alone last year.

Last year’s American League race was so wide open the Sox were lost in the pack, so looking at this year’s chase pack will be a bigger challenge now that Boston is back on top.

American League East

Boston Red Sox (odds to win AL East: 9-to-5 at GTBets.eu)

The Red Sox put together an impressive year in 2013, and for the most part turned over a little with the loss of three nice pieces (Ellsbury, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RHP Andrew Bailey). But with home-grown youngsters in SS Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. and grizzled vet A.J. Pierzynski as their replacements, it’s clear that Boston will no longer take the “sleeper” role they enjoyed at the start of last season.

My biggest question with the Red Sox will be the age, and thus subsequent health of their aging rotation. John Lackey and Jake Peavy both have histories of arm issues, and the depth that once was waiting in Triple-A is just not there yet. They picked up one-time closer Edward Mujica (St. Louis) to try and lessen the load on Koji Uehara, but they can’t continue to use Uehara for multiple innings throughout the season with issues sooner or later.

New York Yankees (odds to win AL East: 5-to-2 at GTBets.eu)

No Mariano Rivera, no A-Roid and no Robinson Cano … the Yankees are going to be a different team this season, no doubt. It’s not like the New York Yankees to stand by idle, so they signed catcher Brian McCann, ex-Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury and the ageless Carlos Beltran to fill the holes in the lineup. The Yanks are also hoping Mark Teixeira bounces back to his former self, but I think we’re all kidding ourselves if we think that Alfonso Soriano, Kelly Johnson and a combo Brendan Ryan and Brian Roberts is going to be able to win the 90-plus games its going to take to win the AL East.

The Yankees also went out and got Masahiro Tanaka to go along with CC Sabathia at the top of the rotation, a lean Sabathia who looks ready to rebound from a shaky 2013. New York is moving setup man Dave Robertson to closer, a move that could screw up two bullpen positions instead of just one.

Tampa Bay Rays (odds to win AL East: 11-to-4 at GTBets.eu)

Tampa Bay has been a consistent winner in the hardest division in baseball for so long now, you could almost say they are under appreciated for their run of playoff appearances. It helps that you can’t seem to sneeze in the Rays locker room without splattering snot on a stud young pitcher.

Last year the Rays got huge contributions from rookie pitchers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer, and with 17-game winner Matt Moore and David Price ahead of those two, the Rays rotation is still top-notch. That means Jeremy Hellickson is a dangerous No. 5, and they won’t even need the next round of young arms Alex Colome and Jake Adorizzi. Heath Bell will try and regain his closer mojo with the Rays this year, and they brought back 1B James Loney who’s defense was almost as important as his bat behind Evan Longoria.

Baltimore Orioles (odds to win AL East: 5-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

The Orioles may have been taken to task for not making too many offseason moves, naming not getting ANY starting pitching, but there may be a method to their madness. I’m on board because the moves Baltimore made signing Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz lat in free agency are actually pretty solid. Not spectacular, just solid, and when added to a solid nucleus, I think it makes the Orioles this year’s sleeper in the East.

Trading away fading closer Jim Johnson was okay, except the Orioles are taking a major risk by going with Tommy Hunter in the critical role. With Jimenez and Chris Tillman at the top of the rotation, followed with the mediocre bunch the Orioles have behind them (Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzales), I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Gausman is rushed to the No. 3 role before long.

Toronto Blue Jays (odds to win AL East: 17-to-2 at GTBets.eu)

The Toronto Blue Jays spent a boatload of free agency money and became everybody’s darlings last year, and because for some reason the betting public still equates free agency with championships, the Blue Jay rocketed up the odds charts to the top of the list. When every single player the Blue Jays picked up (R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera) tanked in 2013, it was a 74-88 record and fifth in a five-team division they ended up purchasing.

With Dickey and Buehrle as their No. 1 and 2 starters, I’m not sure the Blue Jays will ever be good enough to win the AL East, but the lineup will put up its share of runs. With a healthy Jose Bautista joining free-swinging boppers Colby Rasmus and Edwin Encarnacion, the heart of the Jays order can hang with anyone. They’ll also be able to hold any lead they have late, because the bullpen led by closer Casey Janssen and setup duo Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil.

American League East Prediction Baltimore Orioles (5-to-1 +500)

I’m not a huge fan of their starting pitching, which will have to overachieve to win this division, but I do like the balance the Orioles have from top to bottom. The heart of the order is strong with Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz, Matt Wieters able to bop with all the teams in the AL East, and I still think Buck Showalter is the best day-to-day manager in the East.

American League Central

Detroit Tigers (odds to win AL Central: 2-to-5 at GTBets.eu)

The Tigers have a new manager in Brad Ausmus, and made some of the biggest headlines of the offseason for trading Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler, but Detroit is still considered the class of the AL Central. Mark me down in the “skeptical” column on the Fielder-Kinsler trade, as the loss of Fielder’s bat behind Triple-Crown threat Miguel Cabrera in the lineup will be huge.

If Justin Verlander can stay healthy, he teams with Max Scherzer to form a top-notch one-two punch at the top of the Tigers rotation. Detroit also addressed their longtime need of a bonafide closer by signing free agent Joe Nathan, and bullpen help getting LOOGY Ian Krol out of the Doug Fister trade to Washington. Detroit will also be better defensively now that Fielder is gone, Cabrera is back across the diamond at first and the middle of the defense is SS Jose Iglesias, Kinsler at second, and Austin Jackson in center.

Cleveland Indians (odds to win AL Central: 9-to-2 at GTBets.eu)

Cleveland was arguably the surprise of the American League last year, coming from nowhere to win 92 games and reached the playoffs. But the question hanging over the Indians this year will be whether or not the overachieved and already peaked under manager Terry Francona? Or are the Indians legit contenders with a scrappy club and manager and an underrated young rotation.

The Indians staff is young with Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber all following ace Justin Masterson. Cleveland signed former Brewer closer John Axford, and traded for lefty Josh Outman (Drew Stubbs to Colorado), so they hope they’ve addressed the late innings out of their bullpen. If Cleveland can get anything out of the bottom of their lineup (RF David Murphy, 3B Lonnie Chisenhall and C Yan Gomes) they could just surprise some bettors again in 2014.

Kansas City Royals (odds to win AL Central: 5-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

For the first time in decades the Royals were relevant and in a playoff chase until the final weeks of 2013, so that makes them a hot pick in 2014. But swapping out former Angels starters (let Ervin Santana walk, signed Jason Vargas to replace him at No. 2) does not give them the extra 10 games they need to get into the postseason in my book. The Royals do have a couple of solid prospect in RHP’s Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura, but they won’t help their chances by rushing these two into the rotation early.

The Royals addressed their weak middle of the order by getting a leadoff hitter in RF Norichika Aoki from the Brewers, thus dropping Alex Gordon down and into the “4-5-or 6 spot” according to manager Ned Yost. The Royals have lights-out closer Greg Holland too. Kansas City is a breakout year from Eric Hosmer or 3B Mike Moustakas away from winning the AL Central, is this the year one of them hits over 20 homers and leads the team to the top?

Chicago White Sox (odds to win AL Central: 12-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

The White Sox are sort of a wildcard this year because they traded so many players at the end of last year, or in the offseason, that it’s hard to figure out exactly who they have now. With RF Avisail Garcia and Cuban defector Jose Dariel Abreu at first, the right half of the White Sox defense suddenly has a lot of power. The White Sox also traded closer Addison Reed, and in return hope to have two starters from the Diamondbacks in 3B Matt Davidson and CF Adam Eaton.

Pitching wise Chicago has slight lefty Chris Sale … and that’s about it. Although, righty Erik Johnson looked solid in his September call-up and should be an potential underdog play out of the No. 3 or No. 4 role in the White Sox rotation. Nate Jones will be the first candidate to replace Reed as closer, but last year’s trades (Jessie Crain, Matt Thornton) have gutted the bullpen and even if Jones stumbles there doesn’t look to be much behind him that’s proven.

Minnesota Twins (odds to win AL Central: 30-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

I used to marvel at the Minnesota Twins and manager Ron Gardenhire’s ability to turn chicken salad out of the chicken s**t they were given every season, but that magic seems to have disappeared and the genie lamp has been rubbed dry. Joe Mauer has officially moved to first base, and the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco and Yankee flameout Phil Hughes to be the ace(s) of the staff … that’s about all you need to know about the Twins in 2014.

With Mauer and OF/DH Josh Willingham about the only two proven bats in the lineup, hopefully we’ll see Minnesota’s exciting prospects, namely OF Byron Buxton and 3B Miguel Sano, get a chance this season. I do like the signing of Kurt Suzuki to platoon with prospect C Josmil Pinto, but its really hard to see the Twins competing for a full 162-game season with the hands they have on deck right now.

American League Central Prediction Cleveland Indians 9-to-2 +450

Not willing to take the chalk Tigers at minus odds, I’ll settle for Cleveland because I think they are the most balanced team in the AL Central. The Tribe could struggle to score runs with no “big” bat in their lineup, but top-to-bottom of both the lineup and the rotation, Cleveland is about as scrappy as they come these days.

American League West

Oakland Athletics (odds to win AL West: 2-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

Remember that admiration for making something out of nothing that I used to reserve for the Twins, well that’s been passed on to the Oakland A’s now. The A’s, in a way very similar to Tampa Bay, just seem to hand the ball to any young pitcher in their system and they get a strong performance out of them. With the exception of free agent pickup Scott Kazmir, all of the A’s pitchers (Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily) are homegrown and good. Oakland’s bullpen is probably the deepest in the American League too, with closer Jim Johnson (trade with Balt.) and Luke Gregerson (trade with S.D.) joining Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle

The only real move for the A’s offensively is to move catcher John Jaso from behind the plate to DH. Oakland is planning on several platoons with Derek Norris/Stephen Vogt at C, Brandon Moss/Daric Barton at 1B, and Eric Sogard/Alberto Callaspo/Nick Punto at 2B, so day-to-day offense could be a little tough to predict at times. The shuffling of guys in and out could hurt the defense too. No doubt the A’s will go as far as their incredible pitching will take them, again.

Los Angeles Angels (odds to win AL West: 2-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

The Angels are going to be an interesting team this season, because we’ve seen the bottom for this team in 2013 (78-84 record) and really there is nowhere to go but up. With what the Angels hope is a healthy Albert Pujols at first, the Angels went out and traded for his former Cardinals running mate David Freese at third. With Mike Trout at the top and Josh Hamilton (also no where to o but up) behind Pujols, there’s no doubt the Angels could have a very dangerous lineup.

The pitching is where it gets dicey for Los Angeles, which is top heavy with Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson, but then … Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs (the later two were part of the Mark Trumbo deal) form a highly suspect bottom 60 percent of the rotation. If the Angels get a chance to hand the ball to closer Ernesto Frieri they’re just fine, but getting to him will be an adventure if Joe Smith and Dane De La Rosa break down over the work load both have had (Smith 70 games with Clev. in 2013; De La Rosa 75 with Angels).

Texas Rangers (odds to win AL West: 11-to-5 at GTBets.eu)

Most observers think the Rangers got the better end of the Kinsler-for-Prince Fielder trade that brings the big first baseman down to Arlington. Texas also spent heavily on leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo, and along with holdovers Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Alex Rios (late season trade last year) and DH Mitch Moreland the Rangers should have enough offense for a strong title run.

Yu Darvish is the ace of a staff that is young and talented in the middle (Derek Holland, Martin Perez) and old and injury-prone at the back (Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis). Texas has a deep bullpen, with Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers all candidates for the closer’s job, or setup roles if they don’t get picked for the high-wire act.

Seattle Mariners (odds to win AL West: 8-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

Of course the Mariners made a lot of noise, and sold a few season ticket packages, by signing free agent second baseman Robinson Cano to a huge contract this winter. Seattle also added a nice piece in 1B/OF Corey Hart (free agent), another potential big bat with a trade for 1B/OF Logan Morrison, and a fan favorite for the bench by bringing back Willie Bloomquist. When combined with youngsters the Mariners brought up last year (3B Kyle Seager, SS Brad Miller), the Mariners have the potential to give their pitching some run support for a change.

Felix Hernandez is the undisputed ace and Hisashi Iwakuma eat over 200 innings last year, but if the Mariners are going to take the next step and contend in the AL West, they are going to need rookies James Paxton and Taijuan Walker to pitch way beyond their years. Seattle’s bullpen is also a big question mark, especially since closer Danny Farquhar came from the scrap heap to claim the role last year. Tom Wilhelmsen is still there in case, but the rest of the Mariners pen is largely unproven.

Houston Astros (odds to win AL West: 75-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

The Houston Astros aren’t going to compete for an AL West title in 2014 either, but at least they shouldn’t lose 111 games either. To aid in the what seems-like-forever rebuilding phase the Astros traded for CF Dexter Fowler and added journeymen pitchers Scott Feldman and Chad Qualls. With 2B Jose Altuve and C Jason Castro behind Fowler the Astros do have a solid top of the order, it just that the lineup isn’t supposed to end after DH Chris Carter in the cleanup spot. We should get a chance to see uber-prospect Carlos Correa at shortstop before the year is over, and the same might be said for OF George Springer who had the first-ever 40/40 season in the minors last year.

As far as pitching goes, it could be a long season. Lefty Brett Oberholtzer came up last year and pitched way better than his numbers shows. The same could be said for fireballing RHP Zach Cosart, but then it gets mediocre to below average fast. The bullpen had some talent, namely Josh Zeid, Josh Fields and Chia-Jen Lo, but the rollercoaster that is young pitching is still a few years away from “competing” for a full season.

American League West Prediction Texas Rangers 11-to-5 (+220)

This is almost a pick of attrition for me. I love the Angels everyday lineup, but I don’t think they have enough pitching and bullpen to win it all. Oakland has the pitching, but could struggle to score runs. Seattle I think is one year and one more piece away at least, and Houston is several. By process of elimination then I guess I’ll go with Texas, you seems to have the most balance of everything in this division.

American League Pennant

Based on my divisional winners from above, So in the American League I’m going to wager:

Short – Detroit Tigers +490 at 5Dimes.eu – I didn’t pick Detroit as my divisional winner because of the odds, but I’ll throw a unit on them and hedge the bet taking them as my short favorite to win it all anyway.

Middle – Texas Rangers +815 at 5Dimes.eu – Coming out of the West, the Rangers are probably the best value in a “middle” pick there is on the whole board.

Long – Baltimore Orioles + 1275 and Cleveland Indians +1425 at 5Dimes.eu – Based on both of my picks above, the Orioles and Indians become instant long shots to win the AL Championship.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Much like how the Boston Red Sox dominated the American League from April through October, the same could be said for last year’s version of the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League. The Cardinals have been the class of the NL Central for a few years now, but with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh both breaking through and into playoff spots last year, the Central has become the class of the NL lately.

National League East

Washington Nationals (odds to win NL East: 10-to-11 at GTBets.eu)

By virtue of all of the talent they’ve amassed over the years, the Nationals are still considered the favorite to come out of the NL East. The Nationals added former Tiger Doug Fister to make the rotation go four-deep with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. The Nationals also still have one of the deepest bullpens with Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen and back to solidify things for the Nats in the late innings.

But if the Nationals are going to make the playoff push everyone seems to expect out of them, they’ll need to find a little more offense, which is surprising since Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoache, Bryce Harper, Jason Werth and Ian Desmond all hit over 20 homeruns last season. But that’s part of the problem, they have plenty of table-clearers but not enough table-setters.

Atlanta Braves (odds to win NL East: 6-to-5 at GTBets.eu)

The Braves won the NL East rather easily last season, clinching it early in September with a solid combination of pitching and hitting. But Atlanta lost catcher Brian McCann in free agency and replacing him with breakout star Even Gattis is not only going to hurt the Braves defense, but it could effect the pitching staff in many ways too. The Braves also need 2B Dan Uggla and CF B.J. Upton to turn around their careers that are on the downward slide, as neither player hit above the Mendoza-line last year despite the Braves winning 96 games.

RHP Kris Medlen becomes the ace of the staff now that they let Tim Hudson walk, and the rest of the rotation (Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Brandon Beachy) was so inconsistent its hard to believe that the Braves got as far as they got last season. The main reason they made it to the post-season is because the combo of Craig Kimbral-David Carpenter and Luis Avilan were lights-out out of the bullpen last season. Relying on the bullpen to carry them again in 2014 is asking a lot, even if they come close to matching their dominating performance last year.

Philadelphia Phillies (odds to win NL East: 9-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

We’re all going to get treated to one more year of the old Phillies core, you know, SS Jimmy Rollins, 2B Chase Utley, C Carlos Ruiz and 1B Ryan Howard, as they play out their huge contracts and ride out into the sun. Philadelphia’s outfield is also going to rely on another old veteran, as the Phillies signed Marlon Byrd after his comeback year with the Mets and Pirates in 2013. With age comes experience, but they are also just a pulled hamstring or a bad back away from losing major portions of their aging lineup.

The top of the rotation is handled by the lefty duo of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, but it gets ugly fast as they signed another “old” arm in Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) and are relying heavily on Cuban defector Miguel Gonzales to regain his for after not pitching since 2012. Philly has Jonathan Papelbon as the closer, but not much in front of him to get him the ball, so even holding onto leads in the late innings could become a big adventure for the Phillies.

New York Mets (odds to win NL East: 25-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

The New York Mets finished a surprising 74-88 last year and continue to make progress in their rebuilding efforts, but their ace Matt Harvey threw out his elbow and will miss the entire 2014 season recouping from Tommy John surgery. It really is too bad too, because the Mets signed the ageless Bartolo Colon do add rotation depth and instead of mentoring a young staff of budding stars (Harvey, Zach Wheeler), he’ll be counted on to be the ace and do most of the heavy lifting. Without Harvey, the Mets may be forced to rush RHP Noah Syndergaard (part of R.A. Dickey trade with Toronto) if Jon Niese or Dillon Gee continue to underachieve.

The Mets added a very nice piece by swiping OF Curtis Granderson away from the team across the city, and if former D-Back Chris Young could regain any of the form that made him an All-Star many moons ago, the Mets offense should be able to score more runs. The Mets also need corner infielders David Wright and Ike Davis to carry more of the load too, and a major unknown is C Travis D’Arnaud (the main piece of the Dickey trade) who could turn into an offensive-minded backstop like the days a dude named Piazza used to done the tools of ignorance.

Miami Marlins (odds to win NL East: 50-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

I thought about cutting and pasting the same thing I wrote about the Astros in the same spot here for the Marlins, since they are almost in the same going-nowhere fast boat, except I think the Marlins are a lot more talented at the major-league level right now. Jose Fernandez is legit-legit as an ace already at 21-years-old, with room to improve too, and Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jocab Turner are all under 24 and still learning how to pitch in the bigs. If they all start to figure it out at the same time, the Marlins rotation could become the envy of the AL East by season’s end.

The problem the Marlins can’t seem to overcome is a lack of offense. Last in the NL in runs, on-base percentage and slugging, the Marlins “improved” by bringing in ex-SS Rafael Furcal to play 2B, Jarrod Saltalamacchia at C and Garrett Jones to play 1B … not exactly ground-breaking lineup changes. The Marlins have so many good young pitchers, maybe if some of them start performing at a big league level they can move them for some bats, since they have plenty of pitching prospects down on the farm too.

National League East Prediction Washington Nationals 10-to-11 (-110)

I hate taking the chalk here, but I just don’t think the bottom three teams in the NL East (Mets, Phillies and Marlins) are ready to compete with the other two. I think Washington is built and balanced to win, and a little pissed off they didn’t get there last year, which won’t hurt as far a motivation goes.

National League Central

St. Louis Cardinals (odds to win NL Central: 2-to-3 at GTBets.eu)

Reload and keep winning, that seems to be the way the Cardinals operate. There will be a few new faces in the Cardinals everyday lineup this year, namely CF Peter Bourjos, SS Jhonny Peralta and a second base platoon of Kolten Wong and Mark Ellis, but the rest of the cast is the same. With Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and a (hopeful) full season from Matt Adams and Allen Craig, the Cards shouldn’t experience many problems with their offense dropping off.

The rotation, led by ace Adam Wainwright, also retuns almost in tact, with Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Jamie Garcia and Lance Lynn all back to make a third-straight run at a NL Central title. The bullpen and closer Trevor Rosenthal is back in tact too. It’s hard to find any holes in the Cardinals armor, except maybe that the law of averages is going to catch up to them and drop them off the top spot one of these years.

Cincinnati Reds (odds to win NL Central: 3-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

Similar to the Pirates, the Cincinnati Reds didn’t do a whole lot in the winter and in fact, it could be argued that the Reds are hoping for addition by subtraction because they did less than nothing. After losing innings-eater Bronson Arroyo and leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo the Reds responded by signing … wait for it … Skip Shumaker. The Reds are hoping speedster Billy Hamilton will replace Choo at the top, and lefty Tony Cingrani will replace Arroyo on the bump, so they are hoping to fill the gaps from within.

Did I mention that they also got rid of manager Dusty Baker when the Reds lost the wildcard game to the Pirates, so former pitching coach Brian Price will get the job of trying to get the Reds to a 90-win season for the third year in a row. The Reds should have enough offense, with Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips still the heart of an imposing order. The Reds bullpen, other than closer Aroldis Chapman, is questionable too since they will need big contributions from Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall in order to get the ball to Chapman unscathed.

Pittsburgh Pirates (odds to win NL Central: 7-to-2 at GTBets.eu)

The Pirates finally got off the schnid last season, clinching a winning season (first since 1992) and even making a brief albeit very inspiring playoff run for the first time in decades since a guy named Barry Bonds was a 180-pound gaps hitter and not a size-9 hat, roided-out homerun king. With a fan base for the first time that wasn’t calling for major offseason moves, the Pirates did little this winter except take a shot on RHP Edinson Volquez as their No. 5 starter and bring in C Chris Stewart as a backup.

The Pirates rotation, led by a revived (and overachieving?) Francisco Liriano, will be counted on again to carry a huge load. Youngsters Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke were solid as rookies and will be counted on more this year as Volquez and Wandy Rodriguez continue to slide down the slippery slope of their fading careers. Pittsburgh’s bullpen was strong, but used a ton (545 innings, second highest behind only Colorado), so it could be hard for them to offer a repeat performance that can get the Pirates back in the playoff chase in September.

Milwaukee Brewers (odds to win NL Central: 12-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

The Brewers went 6-22 in May last year, lost their best player in Ryan Braun for 65-games to a PED suspension around the All-Star break, but still went 36-32 after the break to provide inspiration for the faithful that 2014 won’t be a lost season again. If Milwaukee is going to get back into the NL Central title chase, they’re going to need a sneaky good rotation of Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Loshe, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada to stay healthy and overachieve against deeper division lineups all season.

Milwaukee will also have the dilemma of what to do at second base, where incumbent Ricky Weeks has regressed so bad he’s been “replaced” in the ball club’s plans for 2014 by Scooter Gennett. Except someone forgot to tell Weeks, who is tearing the cover off the ball in spring training while Gennett has struggled so bad that thoughts are starting to change. SS Jean Segura and CF Carlos Gomez were pleasant surprises in 2013, if they continue to mature along with C Jonathan Lucroy the Brewers could stay in the race. But those are big ifs.

Chicago Cubs (odds to win NL Central: 50-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

The Cubs also changed skipper’s of their ship, picking bench coach Rick Renteria from the Padres to become the next victim, er, I mean the fourth manager in five years at Wrigley Field. What else can you say about Chicago and the Cubs these days, other than good luck with that squad. Sure they have some nice pieces in 1B Anthony Rizzo and SS Starlin Castro (when he seems like he “wants to” be a stud SS), but other positions of power (Nate Schierholtz in RF, Luis Valbuena at 3B) are just head-scratchers as to why the Cubs don’t spend some of that yuppie Cubbies money and get some players on their team.

The pitching staff is much the same, a few solid starters in Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood (again, Edwin Jackson sometimes) and a bunch of what the front door are they doing in Chicago? The job of closer goes to Jose Veras, who was signed this winter, which means Pedro Strop becomes a rejuvenated and risky setup man instead of risky closer. The

National League Central Prediction Pittsburgh Pirates 7-to-2 (+350)

About the only thing I don’t like about the Pirates is that expectations are high and have been raised, maybe too high, because of their breakout campaign last year. Otherwise they are solid 1 through 9, deep at starting pitching and in the bullpen, and seem to have found the right chemistry and mix with easy-going Clint Hurdle as the manager.

National League West

Los Angeles Dodgers (odds to win NL West: 2-to-5 at GTBets.eu)

The Dodgers are the trendy pick for 2014, which is the label the team that usually makes the most offseason moves gets to wear, but in the case of Los Angeles the odds are just now catching up to them after all of the moves the past two seasons. About the only move of significance for the Dodgers was to try and recapture the Cuban spark of OF Yasiel Puig, by signing another Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero to a big deal to play second base. L.A. also made headline by not trading one of their extra outfielders, so they’ll likely enter the season with Puig, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier all in Dodger blue.

I guess you could call the signing of Dan Haren to try-out for the No. 5 spot in the rotation an offseason move, but I think it will mean very little. With Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Josh Beckett all in front of him he may not even make the team. Resigning former closer Brian Wilson, who was lights out for the Dodgers in the playoffs last year, gives them a nice, cushy backup plan should closer Kenley Jansen stumble in the role.

San Francisco Giants (odds to win NL West: 15-to-4 at GTBets.eu)

The San Francisco Giants and their on one year, off the next year pattern they’ve developed over the years was off last season, so it can only mean a return of big things for the Giants in 2014. But believe it or not, there’s no reason why the Giants can’t flip the script and get back to the top of the NL West because they still have plenty of pitching and potentially enough offense to get them back into October.

With Matt Cain and lefty Madison Bumgarner at the top, and grizzly vet Tim Hudson sliding in between the resigned duo of Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong, the Giants are hoping that their faith in the latter three doesn’t bite them in the rear. The lineup will add Michael Morse to left field and protection for Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval, but the defense will struggle as Morse will not be able to cover the vast left field of AT&T Park even with a golf cart. The Giants chances literally ride on the arms of Hudson, Lincecum and Vogelsong … feast of famine and the pattern says feast.

Arizona Diamondbacks (odds to win NL West: 6-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

The Diamondbacks were aggressive this winter and remade parts of the ball club that were weak, namely protection for 1B Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup and a closer for the bullpen. A few deals later and Arizona landed OF Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed, mission accomplished. Heck, they even signed rubber-armed Bronson Arroyo just before spring training, giving them a solid veteran to slot in between incumbents Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley and behind ace Patrick Corbin.

Arizona can get away with hiding Trumbo in left field because CF A.J. Pollock and RF Gerardo Parra are plus defenders. The Dbacks will also need someone to take over the role at shortstop, since last year’s prospect Didi Gregorius struggled and opened the door for this year’s prospect Chris Owings. With solid vets in Aaron Hill, Martin Prado and C Miguel Montero at the bottom of the Arizona lineup now, the Dbacks have an off-the-radar lineup that could really put up numbers if everything clicks.

San Diego Padres (odds to win NL West: 15-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

San Diego struggled to score runs all season last year, check that, they’ve struggled to score runs for three seasons now, but they went out and added Seth Smith to turn things around this year. Sounds silly? Well, welcome to this year’s Padres where the heart of the lineup (3B Chase Headley, OF Carlos Quentin, 1B Yonder Alonso) hit 13, 13 and 6 homeruns last year. Smith will have to play right field and find a way to team with breakout 2B Jedd Gyorko to get the Padres more runs on the board in spacious Petco Park.

The Padres rotation is built around Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy and lefty Eric Stults, but if they can catch lightning in a bottle and get anything out of free agent pickup Josh Johnson, it could be good enough to get it to their now stronger bullpen. Huston Street was just fine as the team’s closer (33 of 35), but the Padres added former Tiger Joaquin Benoit to setup. Its hard to see the Padres scoring enough runs, even though their pitching is good enough to keep them in games.

Colorado Rockies (odds to win NL West: 20-to-1 at GTBets.eu)

You have to admit that the Colorado Rockies quietly made some, in hindsight now as I prepped for the season, significant moves to try and turn around several seasons of disappointment. The Rockies acquired Drew Stubbs in a trade to replace Dexter Fowler at the top of the order, ahead of the mash-up group of Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, free agent pickup Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer. But then again, scoring runs has never really been an issue at Coors Field over the years.

Pitching is always an issue at Coors Field, and with the exception of staff ace Jorge De La Rosa, the Rockies have yet to find a solid enough rotation to compete over the long haul. So the Rockies also traded for lefty Brett Anderson from the A’s, and their hope is that when slipped between Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood the rotation will be strong enough to reduce the overload in the bullpen. Veteran LaTroy Hawkins was signed to close, but he may give way to the lefty Rex Brothers if history repeats itself and Hawkins struggles in the role.

National League West Prediction Arizona Diamondbacks 6-to-1 (+600)

I thought long and hard about taking the Giants here as my anti-Dodgers pick for the NL West, but something in my gut tells me that Lincecum’s funky delivery and Vogelsong’s smoke-n-mirrors and Hudson’s lack of “stuff” anymore is going to catch up to them about, say, July. I honestly think Arizona can hit with the Dodgers, I’m just hoping those young pitchers and Arroyo figure out a way to outpitch them somehow.

National League Pennant

Based on my divisional winners from above, I’m going to put a unit wager on:

Short – Washington Nationals +500 at 5Dimes.eu – One of these year’s my pick of the Nationals will come through. At 5-to-1, why not chuck a unit at it again.

Middle – Pittsburgh Pirates +1200 at 5Dimes.eu – I’m really digging the value on this middle pick, in a very similar way that I like the value on my AL middle pick. The Pirates just have to find a way to get past the Cardinals, and I think they have the pieces to do it.

Long – Arizona Diamondbacks +1700 at 5Dimes.eu – A long shot is a long shot. Again, the pitching is going to have to make big strides, but the lineup with Goldschmidt and Trumbo will hit some major bombs.

2013 World Series Predictions

I usually will go back at the start of the postseason and revisit my world series picks, but here are three that I’ll go ahead and put in the books right now at these higher-priced preseason odds.

Short Favorite Bet – Washington Nationals +1050 at 5Dimes (They offer the lowest odds you've ever seen on baseball games!) – This is their year, if you can’t remember why I like the Nationals scroll back up.

Middle of the Road Prediction – Texas Rangers +1500 at BetOnline (Offers a 25% bonus up to $1000, dimelines on all MLB games and credit cards work here!) – I’m also considering putting a prop bet on SS Elvis Andrus for AL MVP. The past three season’s Prince Fielder has hit behind an MVP (Braun, Cabrera), and this year’s it looks like it’s Andrus’ turn.

Longshot Pick – Pittsburgh Pirates +3000 at GTBets (Get a 100% bonus up to $500 on your first deposit. Credit cards work here!) – This is my favorite pick of the whole card. I might have to go out and buy a McCutchen jersey or something.

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How to Bet Baseball

Moneylines - The most common of baseball bets. Beautiful too, as they create a situation where you can win less than 50% of your bets and profit by betting underdogs!

Totals - The easiest wager to beat in all of sports betting. There's a reason why sportsbooks have lower limits on over/under bets!

Runlines - A wager that creates a point spread where a team is either -1.5 runs or +1.5 runs. Underdog run lines are a great bet for game in which you predict a slim margin. Favorite moneylines pay well and are great bets for potential blowouts.

Alternative Runlines - Turn a favorite into a +2.5 underdog! Turn an underdog into a -2.5 run favorite. You better know what you're doing before betting these lines or your bankroll will resemble the action of a craps table.

Parlays - This type of bet is the reason many bookies drive cadillacs. Big risk; big payouts!

Prop Bets - Similar to totals, these are easy to beat if you do your homework. Avoid the ones that look easy though as they're surely sucker bets.

Futures - A great bet for recreational bettors who only want to spend a few bucks and have something to root for all season. There's a big payout if you're right!

Season Wins - Bet on teams to go over or under the posted total. Fading public opinion can make you money with this type of wager. Especially with public teams.

FAQ

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FOR THE DIEHARD FAN

Famous Baseball Quotes - From Yogi Berra to Casey Stengel, we list some of the greatest words ever spoken on the diamond.