2014 MLB Second Half Predictions

2014 MLB Second Half Predictions

With the season half over, I went back over my preseason picks for the order of finish in each of the divisions. Sometimes with deep regret (sorry for picking the Rays to win the AL East), and some with some satisfaction (dead on in the AL Central). Of course, it is impossible to know what will happen at the outset of a season, but there are always strong indicators.

If you want to check out my original article, the 2014 MLB Predictions, find it here: https://gatsbyfuneral.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/2014-mlb-predictions/

There is some wisdom in there, and some foolishness. Here are a few thoughts on what I had guessed, and ideas for the second half in each division.

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AL East

Preseason Prediction: Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Yankees

  • I stated that I had considered picking the Orioles to win the division. Looks like I should have done that.
  • I still believe the Yankees could finish last here. Injuries are going to catch up to them, as are the underperformances of some of their big names. Sad to see Jeter go, however. As much as I despise the Yankees, he has been nothing but class for his entire career. Nothing bad to say about him, he is one hell of a competitor, and a great baseball player.
  • Do the Red Sox have it in them to turn around a terrible first half of the season? Yes and no. They will be able to make up some room, but I don’t see them getting back into it, even for the wildcard at this point. They are perhaps a third place team this year.
  • As usual, injuries are going to derail a Blue Jays season. So much promise, so little delivery. That’s what happens when you have a roster full of Band-Aids. Too bad, they can be a really fun team to watch when they are mashing like they can.

AL Central

Preseason Prediction: Tigers, Royals, Indians, White Sox, Twins

  • So far, I have this division picked exactly right.
  • I don’t see much changing here for the rest of the season. The main question is if the Royals can push for one of the wild card spots and end a playoff drought that has lasted since 1985.
  • The Indians are a solid ball team, but they are just the picture of mediocrity. At .500 thus far, they will probably continue that pace until the end of the year.
  • I think everybody and their dog picked the Tigers to win this division again. The talent there compared to the rest of the division is miles ahead.

AL West

a'sPreseason Prediction: A’s, Rangers, Mariners, Angels, Astros

  • Fairly surprised the Rangers are this bad. Sure, they are riddled with injuries, and that is impossible to predict. But they are just bad. Do they become sellers now?
  • The A’s are just a very good baseball team. Difficult to name a bunch of their players, but they make it all work.
  • A lot more competition from the Angels than I suspected. Trout is an absolute beast, and he is dragging the old guys along with him. Improved pitching has helped them out a ton. Who knew.
  • The Astros are going to be very good in a few years. They are a pretty exciting team, and there is an absolute ton of young talent there. Watch out for the 2018 Astros!
  • I think the A’s hang on to the division, and the Angels will now grab that wild card berth.
  • I love seeing the Mariners doing so well. It has been a long time since they have been a decent club. They will probably stay in the fight for the wild card until the end.

NL East

Preseason Prediction: Nationals, Braves, Mets, Phillies, Marlins

  • Well, my top two seem about right. I think the Nationals hang on and take the division. They are too good, there is too much talent there. I think the Braves will fade a little bit.
  • My order for the rest was messed up. I mentioned that the young Marlins had the potential of being really good, and I should have gone with that feeling.
  • It is impressive how inconsistent the Mets can be. They are definitely a third place team.
  • The Phillies are really bad at baseball at this point. So old. If I was their GM, I would be trading everything that wasn’t bolted down and loading up on prospects to build for the future. The Nats and Braves are going to be good for a long time, and Philadelphia needs to get on board with the youth movement.

NL Central

cardsPreseason Prediction: Cardinals, Pirates, Reds, Brewers, Cubs

  • I still think I could be right about this when it is all said and done. The Brewers were a huge surprise out of the gate, but I don’t think they can sustain that, and they will continue to fade as the year progresses.
  • The Pirates have started surging, and it is nice to see that they are now a team that won’t completely fold up when they have tough stretches.
  • This is definitely the toughest division, with the top four teams all within 3.5 games of one another. It will be tight right down to the end. There are massive benefits to winning the division instead of being faced with the one game playoff, but I don’t think the depth of the Cardinals will be beaten here.

NL West

Preseason Prediction: Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres, Rockies

  • Shame on me for picking Arizona to finish second in the division. They are terrible, and their manager is going to be the first one fired this season. The team is a mess.
  • I still think the Dodgers will prevail over the Giants in the division. They have a ton of depth, and they will probably do something ridiculous at the trade deadline to get another highly paid superstar. Maybe another pitcher. Would make them very scary in the playoffs.
  • Holy hot and cold, Giants. No way that they are as bad as they have been over the past month, but I don’t think they are as good as they were earlier, either. They will fight for the wild card.
  • This is a two team race. The Padres, Rockies, and D-Backs are out of this one.

Overall, I’d say I did alright with my choices. Could have been better, could have been worse. There were some serious blunders, but that happens to everyone, doesn’t it?

Playoff Predictions

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AL Wild Cards
: Red Sox and Royals. Nope and maybe? I’ll stick with the Royals grabbing one of them, with the other going to the Angels.

NL Wild Cards: Braves and Pirates. Hmm. I’ll stick with the Pirates, and go with the Giants getting the other one.

AL Champion: A’s. I’ll stick with the team with the best record in baseball right now. They do have questions, but they are just solid all around, and this could be their year. They will have serious competition from the Tigers and Angels, however.

NL Champion: Nationals. Hard to argue against the might of the Dodgers. But I will stick with the Nats.

World Series Champion: Nationals. Sure, why not?

Why Not Nashville?

Why Not Nashville?

Jason Spezza has demanded a trade from the Ottawa Senators, and with his limited no-trade clause, he was able to submit a list of 10 teams that he would not be willing to be traded to.

Most of the teams on the list make sense. He no longer wants to play under the microscope of a Canadian market, so there are six teams that make up the list. And that is fair. Not just because he wants out of Canada, but because all of the Canadian teams are in pretty terrible shape on the ice, and he would not be able to challenge for a championship with any of them in the foreseeable future.

spezzaThe one team that I was surprised to see on his list was the Nashville Predators. With the stories coming out that there was a deal in place to send him there, and that he refused to waive his no-trade to go there, Spezza is being made out to be the bad guy in the situation, handcuffing his GM by not allowing him to get the best deal out there for the Sens. Well, that is neither here nor there, as Spezza is just exercising the rights afforded to him in the contract that his GM created for him. If he doesn’t want to go somewhere, that’s fine. Then it is up to the GM to not trade him to the very place he said he wouldn’t go, and then try to throw him under the bus to the media.

But I wonder why he wouldn’t want to go to Nashville? Sure, the team has always struggled offensively, which is exactly why they would want to trade for the proven scoring center. But they have a strong foundation down there, with some good young players and a tremendous defensive corps, starting in net with Pekka Rinne and on D with Shea Weber and Seth Jones. With some punch on the offensive side, they are a team that is not far off from competing. And they showed that they are willing to make some changes in order to get better, as demonstrated by their acquisition of James Neal from the Penguins on Friday.

Spezza could have been a star in Nashville, the leader of the offense. But, perhaps, this is not what he wants. He has been in the spotlight for so long in Ottawa, I could see him wanting to end up on a team where he isn’t “the man.” Where he can be a secondary piece, on the second line, and not have to deal with the constant scrutiny that has followed him for his whole career.

Nashville seems like a fun place to play, to be honest. For being a non-traditional hockey market, they have a ferocious fan base, a great building, and from everything I have heard, it is a really fun place to live. Nashville has a great nightlife, and a great music scene, and could definitely appeal to the young millionaire as a place to settle for a few years. I don’t think that Spezza didn’t want to go there because of the city, but because of the situation.

Now, we are forced to wonder who is left for him to be traded to? The only team that really makes sense is the St. Louis Blues, who were rumoured to be involved in trade talks about him from the moment he said he wanted a trade. What other team could afford him, have the pieces to trade for him, and offer him the protection of better talent and a diminished on-ice role? If he wasn’t so expensive, I could see Chicago being involved. Maybe even Minnesota. What about the Red Wings or the Rangers?

The options are definitely limited for him now, which brings me back to the question of why he wouldn’t want to go to Nashville. If anything, it could have helped him out, because there may not be anywhere else to go.

Carey Price Out

Carey Price Out

Definitely the worst nightmare for fans of the Montreal Canadiens is leaving the fate of their team, and a possible trip to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1993, in the hands of their backup goalie. Especially since their starter, Carey Price, has been absolutely amazing in the playoffs, he being the primary reason the team advanced past the favored Boston Bruins, with his incredible play.

Carey Price is the backbone of the Habs, and a leg/knee injury will apparently keep him out of the rest of this series, according to the reports released today.

This is absolutely terrible news for Montreal, already down 1-0 to the Rangers after being smashed in Game 1. Does it mean that they are totally doomed?

No.

Carey Price is at his best right now, and the Habs were flying with confidence because of him. But, at least Peter Budaj is a reliable backup goalie, one who is more than capable to man the nets. He will have some serious rust to shake off from a long break of games Price played, but he can get in there, and make some of the saves that are required. Budaj isn’t going to steal any games the way that Price did, but this definitely does not mean that the Habs are sunk. If they keep playing with tons of energy, and Budaj can make a couple of key saves here and there to give his team confidence in him, things could keep rolling along smoothly.

Could.

It's up to this guy now.
It’s up to this guy now.

The Rangers are a team that struggles to score goals (although it didn’t seem that way in Game 1), and this could be a crack in the door that opens things up for them.

In the end, I don’t think the Habs win this series with Budaj in net. Bu I don’t necessarily think that they lose it because of him.

NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

Another round of the Stanley Cup marathon is in the books, and I did pretty well in my guesses for the second round. I was right about the Kings, Blackhawks, and Rangers, while being wrong (again) about the Canadiens. I had the Bruins going all the way to the final, so I was pretty surprised by the results. But it happens, and I’ll take my 75% correct guesses any day.

Halfway done.
Halfway done.

Now we move on to the Conference Finals, the Final Four. After 82 regular season games and two grueling rounds of playoff action, we are left with the four teams who have survived up until this point. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

These both should amount to good series, and the first year of the new playoff format has been a massive success, in my mind, as all of the battles have been pretty good, and there hasn’t really been a dud series yet. You can see the rivalries continuing or developing, as they should for the foreseeable future.

On to my next round of guesses.

Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks

  • How well do the Kings play with their backs up against the wall? So far this year, they are 6-0 when they are facing elimination. That is beyond impressive, as they have been dominant in those games, including both Game 7s they have played in so far. This is a team that knows how to show up and win when it matters most.
  • Drew Doughty is just awesome. He runs the Kings, and he does it well. The guy is absolute beast, and absolutely does it all for LA. He would be in the Conn Smythe conversation if he were putting up a few more points.
  • Someone who is in the conversation for playoff MVP is Anze Kopitar, who has been on fire for the entire playoffs, scoring a point in nearly every game. It will be a great battle seeing him going against another all-world defensive forward in Jonathan Toews. These guys are two of the very best (and both Selke nominees), and it will be a treat to watch them play against one another.
  • Goalie advantage goes to the Kings. I’ll take Quick over Crawford any day, even though I believe that Crawford is in that Chris Osgood area where he does nothing wrong, but still gets no respect from anybody. The guy is a Cup winner, but he is more apt to give up a bad one than Quick is.
  • These are two teams that have incredible depth. The Hawks have a great bottom 6, guys who can plug away, frustrate another team, and contribute offensively. It’s always tough when a team can roll out four lines that can do damage to you in one way or another. But the Kings can offer the same thing. They have toughness and scoring spread throughout their lineup, and they can always be dangerous as well.
  • Any time the Kings play, it will be a bruising series. They are so big and so fast. Chicago isn’t as big, but they can absolutely fly on the ice. That will be the biggest challenge for the Kings, is keeping up with the speed across the way. They will be trying to slow them down with their size, and hopefully they don’t have circles skated around them. Not that the Sharks or Ducks were slow teams, but they were built more like the Kings are, and LA is better at their own game. This will be the first battle where they are playing a different style of team.
  • I can see LA struggling to adapt to the different style of play the Hawks employ. This could get Chicago one or two valuable wins.
  • Have to wonder if LA is getting tired from the grinding seven game series they have had to play already. Chicago has won both their matchups in 6 games, and neither series was as physical as LA.
  • This is a rematch from last year’s conference finals, that the Hawks won. Can the Kings get revenge here? Did they learn anything from last year?
  • This is also the third straight year the Kings have been in the third round of the playoffs, which shows their consistency as an organization.
  • Honestly, I don’t see massive advantages anywhere. If the Hawks are better at one thing, the Kings are better at another. A pretty balanced series, which makes it hard to guess. So I guess I’ll go with my gut.

Prediction: Kings in 7

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New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens

  • Well, I am 0-2 when it comes to guessing the Montreal series. I thought they would lose to Tampa and get whipped by Boston. I was wrong on both counts.
  • I predicted the Rangers to the finals since the beginning of the year (against St. Louis, but we won’t talk about that). Nice to have a horse still in the race.
  • This is a battle of perhaps the best two goalies on earth right now: Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. You can’t say enough about how either one of them has performed so far. They are the backbones of their teams.
  • This is also an Olympic goalie rematch in the Canada vs. Sweden gold medal game. Of course, Price won that one and the gold medal.
  • Both teams are balanced in a similar way. There is equality all through the forward lineup. The Habs scorers seem to be scoring, while the Rangers scorers are becoming more all around players, even if they aren’t putting the puck in the net (hello, Rick Nash).
  • Overall, I’d say New York has the better D corps, but the Habs have something the Rangers don’t: P.K. Subban. This kid can change the course of a game. With a big hit, or a jaw-dropping goal. Every shift, he is a threat to do something crazy, or something incredible. That is a massive advantage for Montreal, especially coming from the back end.
  • Do I jump on the bandwagon, and cheer for the only Canadian team left (and the only Canadian team to make it, actually) in the playoffs? Or do I stick to my guns with my initial prediction from the beginning of the year?
  • Is it possible to bet against Price at this point. He is absolutely on fire, is completely unfazed by the pressure, and is now facing a team that is decidedly weaker than their previous opponent, the Bruins? Can he keep up this amazing pace? Will the team begin to relax in front of him knowing that he is standing on his head?
  • On paper, I like the look of the Rangers better than I do the Habs. Both teams have good momentum getting here, with the Rangers overcoming a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh. Something has to give. The Rangers are clicking at the right time, playing some of their best hockey of the season, while the Canadiens seem to be playing above their heads.
  • Again, this one is going to come down to a gut decision.

Prediction: Rangers in 6.

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I think the fact that both of these series are tough to guess, speaks to how good of matchups they are, and how good these playoffs have been. I can easily see it being a Chicago-Montreal final, or any other combination. But as it stands right now, I’m going for the New York-Los Angeles mega city challenge for the championship.