2014 MLB Predictions

“I’ll just write a few lines for each division.”¬†Almost 2,000 words later, I had to force myself to stop.

I knew that, upon finishing my 2014 MLB Predictions, I would be pacing around the living room for hours, waiting for the Dodgers and Padres game to start later that night. I never intend to go into such depth when breaking down a season of any sport, but I find that I have too much to say and too few outlets through which to say it. That, and I let the excitement of a new season build to the point that I cannot stop myself.

As an effort to spare those where I could not spare myself, I have provided the short version of my MLB picks first, followed by the full breakdown and the playoff picks below.

American League – Red Sox, Indians, Angels, Rays – WC, White Sox – WC

National League – Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, Reds – WC, Cubs – WC

National League East

While nothing in the world of sports predictions is “easy”, the NL East needs to be considered the most obvious division in baseball. The Mets, Marlins, and Phillies all could realistically lose 100 games (they won’t since they will get cheap wins against one another). This leaves only the Braves (and their laundry list of crippling injuries) and the Nationals to vie for the division title. The Nationals have the pitching staff and potential to be the best team in the NL, but even if they were mediocre this year, they will cruise to an NL East crown.

National League West

How can any other team besides the Dodgers be projected to win this division? Largely compared to the New York Yankees of recent years, the Dodgers showcase extreme talent across the board, however poorly they may fit together. The best pitcher in the game headlines a staff that should easily be good enough to support their deep offense. While their postseason success may be a question, their regular season should not. The Dodgers should win the NL West for the second straight year.

Between the Padres, Rockies, and Giants, the team with the greatest upside is Colorado. A healthy Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki (neither played 130 games last season) would put the Rockies in the mix for a Wild Card berth, but every piece would need to fall into place for that to be realistic, and recent history suggests to not bet on the health of either player.

The Diamondbacks remain the only real threat to the Dodgers’ division hopes, but the loss of Patrick Corbin should not be taken lightly. In the same vein as the Atlanta Braves, starting the season without the ace of your staff is immediate grounds for a setback. Arizona does have a not-so-secret weapon in Paul Goldschmidt, but it won’t be enough to catch Los Angeles.

National League Central

The Pirates surprised everyone last year, but only because they seemed to arrive one year too early (see Cubs, Chicago, below). 2014 was the season most analysts would have pegged for Pittsburgh. However, the culmination of every positive factor last year could ultimately have a very simple explanation: they overperformed. This year will be the true test of handling success versus expectations, and the logical outcome is regression.

St. Louis remains the class of a rather consistent division. Despite letting Albert Pujols walk away a few seasons ago, the Cardinals continue to field winning teams. In addition, their bullpen is so stacked that two of their best relievers (Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez) would be number two starters on most teams. This season. St. Louis’ continued front office success gives them the slight edge in the NL Central.

The Reds quietly won 90 games for the third time in the past four years. Their season came to an abrupt (and expected) end when they drew the short straw by going to Pittsburgh to play in their division rival’s first home playoff game in two decades. This year, Cincinnati boasts potentially the most explosive offense in the game, built around speed as much as power. Coupled with a solid rotation, the Reds should find themselves in a Wild Card game, yet again.

2013 was brutal to both the Brewers and the Cubs for separate reasons. Milwaukee lost the face of their franchise when Ryan Braun was suspended the entire season for his use of performance-enhancing drugs and Chicago was outright terrible. The Brewers get Braun back on opening day (he will certainly have a chip on his shoulder), but little else to give much hope, especially with their pitching staff.

The National League’s surprise team this year could be the Chicago Cubs. Teams built around youth tend to always receive the same pre-season predictions: next year. Yet every time this happens, a team (like the Pirates) surprise one year “too early”. The Cubs have a minor league roster that could be better than their veterans, and when June rolls around and Chicago is only a few games out of playoff berth, expect the cavalry to arrive and the Cubs to grab the second Wild Card spot.

American League East

The American League East is the NCAA Tournament bracket of this year’s baseball season. Any permutation of the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, and Rays is realistic. The baseball world would only be surprised if the Blue Jays vaulted past the other four teams foes to the top of the most loaded division in baseball.

Do they Red Sox get the edge as the defending champions? If so, and history has weight, then the Yankees should be included as well. The Rays seem no worse for wear than their past four seasons, all in which they won at least 90 games. And then there’s the wild card (figuratively and, possibly, literally) Baltimore Orioles, who waited patiently enough to nab two of the highest upside free agents on the market.

Conventional wisdom says that the Rays and Red Sox should vie for the division title. They were the class of the AL East last year, and neither team looks to have taken a hit in any major department. In that same regard, the Yankees are getting a lot of previously important pieces back from injury, and made the biggest splash in free agency by signing Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to fill their team’s biggest hole.

On the opposite side of the “return from injury” spectrum, the Orioles are currently missing their potential superstar third baseman as Manny Machado recovers from his brutal knee injury at the end of last season. A question mark for one of the team’s most important players coupled with the lack of dominance from any other component of the rotation or lineup should leave Baltimore at the bottom of a very respectable list of AL East contenders.

The simple answer is that three playoff teams should come from the AL East. It’s not only realistic, it’s probable. But the disrespect for other divisions should not be taken lightly. Assuming one of the many capable upstart teams like the White Sox or Mariners engage in a season-long battle with former division winners in the Rangers, Tigers, Angels, and Indians, the American League, as a whole, will create a massive bottleneck for the fourth and fifth playoff berths come October. While the Yankees could very well reach their peak performance and win the division, their risk is equal to their reward, and could just as easily be on the outside of the playoff picture, looking in.

Between the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees, the team with the shortest ceiling might be Boston. However, they also have the highest basement and some wiggle room to drop without compromising their division crown. With the least amount of concerns and the smallest perceivable reasons for failure, the Boston Red Sox should win the American League East for the second straight year, leaving the Rays, once again, playing in the Wild Card game.

American League West

The AL West has had consecutive division winners with three teams for the past six years (Oakland ’12-’13, Texas ’10-’11, Anaheim ’07-’09). While the trend is nothing about which to build an argument, it does bode well for overall balance across the better part of a decade.

The Rangers made a big improvement to the middle of their lineup by acquiring Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler, but their already questionable pitching staff took a huge hit when Yu Darvish was placed on the disabled list before the season started. The A’s pitching injuries appear equally as daunting, as both teams will have to rely on their offenses, once again, to carry them through the season. In a very competitive AL West, the chances of success for either team look grim.

The Astros and Mariners are two of the American League’s biggest stories for different reasons. Much like the Cubs (see above) and Twins (see below), the Astros have a minor league system bursting with potential All-Stars, most of which won’t see the field until next season (when they should be extremely competitive). The Mariners made the big splash this offseason to become a win-now team when they signed free agent Robinson Cano. While all eyes will be on the massive contract he now owns, the franchise did little else to take strides forward. The interesting thing to watch in Seattle will be how quickly they become sellers if things turn bad early.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim largely resemble their National League counterpart Dodgers, except they exhibited the negative ying to the Dodgers’ positive yang. No one believes the contracts of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols will ever provide a good enough return on investment, but they both enter 2014 relatively healthy and with the potential to have one more explosion before the careers start to erode faster. There is no reason why the Angels can’t bounce back this season and win the American League West.

American League Central

Much like the AL East, everything about the Central division can be justified. The Tigers should win the division, but probably have more questions than any other team. Can Max Scherzer repeat last season? Is Justin Verlander going to return to his “true” form? Is Ian Kinsler a better fit for the Tigers’ lineup than Prince Fielder? The Tigers would need every one of the answers to be positive to withstand the rise of the other AL Central teams. In all likelihood, this is Detroit’s year to crumble.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Royals are far-and-away this year’s hot pick to usurp the Tigers. Much like the Cubs’ explanation about teams arriving one year earlier than expected, the Royals fit the bill of a massive disappointment in the making. Key players are entering their prime at the right time, as well as youth and upside abound. However, it is reasonable to consider last season’s 14-win improvement from 2012 their peak. It is much harder to follow that up with another jump that would put them over the edge. Kansas City will not be the laughing stock of previous years, but they could very well fail to meet the lofty goals placed on them for 2014.

The Cleveland Indians are possibly the most intriguing team in the AL Central. Last season’s rise to success was a perfect example of the team arriving before expected. But much like the Pirates of 2014, the Indians are primed for a regression. The difference between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, however, is the Indians’ depth and balance. Between Cleveland’s lineup and pitching staff, they are one of the most underrated teams in baseball, and, with Terry Francona at the helm, should be atop the AL Central when the dust settles.

The Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros (explained above) appear to have the best on-paper teams in 2016. Their time will come sooner rather than later (probably next year), but it won’t be 2014.

The American League surprise team for ’14 resides in the same city as the National League sleeper: Chicago. The White Sox have quietly assembled the biggest upside team in baseball. With the acquisitions of players like Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton, coupled with the potential growth of Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson and staff ace Chris Sale, the White Sox could realistically compete for the division, let alone the fifth Wild Card spot. Robin Ventura, entering his third season as manager, should take the team to the playoffs for the first time since ’08.

Playoffs

The adage, “Pitching wins Championships” is valid, but only after hitting has carried a team to the playoffs. Once the field is set, the more dominant staffs tend to thrive in the short series that follow. This gives the edge to the Nationals and Dodgers in the NL, and the Indians and Rays in the AL.

The Rays, battle-tested and more experienced than the Indians, should eliminate them for the second straight year en route to an American League pennant.¬†The Nationals’ top-to-bottom pitching staff should be the perfect antidote for the Dodgers’ lineup, and Washington could finally cash in on the investment made in young pitching years ago.

A World Series between the Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays would be the culmination of two young, balanced teams coming from opposite directions. When the dust settles, the Tampa Bay Rays, fighting all season in the league’s best division, led by manager Joe Maddon, and with the talent and recent history, should stand alone as the 2014 World Series Championships.

One Year of 750 Words

One year.

For one year, every single day, whether all at once or spaced out, I have written at least 750 words. Every day.

For a year.

It started, like most things, as a recommendation from my friend. Mike had a found a website, 750words.com, and told me to look into it. About 20 minutes later, I had flown through my first day’s writing and emailed him my thoughts.

“That isn’t how it works,” he told me. “It’s supposed to be private.”

“Not for me,” I responded. My words were passionate. Powerful. I did not want them in solitary confinement, never to see the eyeballs of a reader. Especially since I knocked out 750 words in the form of an email to my friend.

Most days never get seen, however, as they are not intended to be anything except my journal. But some do have value, hence this website.

The end of March was now days away and the beginning of April included the next month’s challenge. “Write every day for an entire month.”

Sure, I think I can do it. “Tina, make sure I do this.”

“Did you write today?” is still asked every so often, as the one-month challenge has now consumed twelve.

In the past year, I have written a total of 328,397 words on 750words.com. An overwhelming majority is garbage. Often times, I actually questioned if my writing was getting worse with this exercise, as I would frequently force entries for the day. Too many times, including this week, I have written useless sentences such as, “I have no idea what to write so I will just write about not knowing what to write.”

18 words of nonsense, serving no purpose but to fill space en route to an arbitrary goal. Yet I do it all the time. How could that possibly make me a better writer?

It didn’t.

At least, for a long time.

I am of the “I can do that, too” personality. I see someone do something that looks cool, and I believe I can do it as well. Ski jumping in the Olympics was one of these moments. Although I never actually had a desire to do so. That’s the difference between “what works” for me and what doesn’t: desire.

I wanted to learn guitar. So I taught myself. I wanted to learn to play piano. So I taught myself. I wanted to learn how to write so I could get my opinions out in to the world. So I taught myself…writing? That one didn’t quite fit.

I will never forget the first essay that I completely bombed. I remember hand-writing (printing, even though “script is what you need to know in the future”) my essay on looseleaf paper, and actually thinking to myself, “I never do well on essays, maybe I should try something new.” I wrote sentences like, “I’m not saying this, but…” and “that’s not to say…”. I had no other options. I was out of ideas as to how to please my teacher.

Failed.

Actually, I don’t remember if I failed or not. I was probably asked to rewrite it. Or something like that. But it’s more dramatic for this story if I failed. And then the paper was ultimately burned in front of the class.

What really happened was that my mom questioned what I was thinking when I wrote it. I told her the truth. I knew all the rules of the English language, but writing essays was a chore. Writing for a grade, to please a teacher, was a puzzle to me. I felt how others have described word problems in math.

Although I believed this had no solution.

I gave up trying. I struggled in every Social Studies and History class from that point on. But I aced English.

Rules.

It wasn’t just that “learning English” included rules such as “I before E, except after C”, it was that the rules could not be broken. In writing, the rules were just as strict. But only in the textbooks.

“How could J.D. Salinger get away with that?” I asked myself. Not the use of the curse, but the spelling of the phrase. Writing, in the “real world”, was nothing like in school. It was very much like script versus print. One was a facade. The other won literary acclaim.

“This is fantastic,” my mom said, as she read the creative passage I had written for school years later. I knew it was good, too. While I was writing, and afterwards. I knew I had written something of value.

Probably because I bent the rules.

Because I learned that I could start a paragraph with “because”, especially if it has impact. And write in fragments. And change directions without warning.

I now struggle, not with the writing, but with calling myself a writer. I believe I am, but I also believe that is an insult to those out there who make a living by putting their fingers to the keyboard. In the same vein, am I a pianist because I can play Konstantine?

I guess so. I guess I am those things. I worked hard to be able to do either, write or play the most beautifully constructed song ever created. I practiced.

That’s what my daily exercise of writing 750 words became. Practice. Not a chore. A baseball field with a never ending supply of pitches and fielding opportunities. If I wanted to ramble on about how much I love my daughter, I could. If I wanted to write random narrative passages, I could. And I could toy around with anything. Sentence structure. Flow. Plot.

Paragraph length. Anything.

But the real appeal for me was never the practice. I could write whenever I wanted and still feel like I was getting the exercise (even though that was naive and false, as I needed the crippling fear of possibly missing a day’s writing).

I now have a backlog of my words and thoughts.

The concept that, in 100 days, I will have at least 75,000 words (of anything) was too great to ignore. I, right now, have over three hundred thousand words. My words. An online journal that, through a large majority of fluff, contains some of my deepest insight. Not necessarily secrets, as I don’t find value in writing them as much as I do hiding them (and I don’t really hide many anyway), but in my thoughts.

Thoughts, passages, narratives. All by my own hand, from which I could pull anything if I ever needed.

Not that I would ever reach this level of… anything… but I would kill for the opportunity to read the inner most thoughts and workings of Andrew McMahon, Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and Drew Karpyshin. I would pay an obscene amount of money to sit with Derek Jeter for 15 minutes and pick his brain about baseball. That’s all I’d want. 15 minutes.

Imagine one year of thoughts.

Who knows? Maybe, one day, someone will want more of my thoughts. More of my words. By then, I will have millions of them to offer. By then, I will be better.

Because I will be practicing.

Every. Single. Day.

March 22, 2014

6:30am.

I refused to look at the clock, knowing the time would be earlier than anything I wanted to see. Any number starting with 4, 5, or 6 would be trouble. It was a 6. The worst of the options.

4:00 would have been fine. The game would just be starting but I knew it would be early enough to fall back asleep. Even 5:00 would have afforded me the same luxury. But not 6:30.

I pretended like I would fall back asleep. Like there was no baseball game going on right now on the other side of the globe. Like my intentions of drifting to dreamland would deliver me there. It didn’t.

It delivered me downstairs. On my couch.

I had set my DVR to record everything on the MLB Network from 4:00am until 7:30am. I set my alarm for 8:00, knowing that I would never make it there. In fact, last night, before I fell asleep, I said as much.

“I just hope I don’t wake up too excited.”

Two baseball games. Both regular season games. A live fantasy baseball draft. The second (yes, second) round of the NCAA Tournament. A Saturday. 60 degrees.

I woke up too excited.

Early wakeups are the norm now. When Tina was pregnant, everyone told me to enjoy my sleep, since I would no longer have it when she was born. Naturally, in a cruel twist of fate, I wake up earlier than my child every day. Of course, I’m lucky that she sleeps so late.

But what good is luck if nothing fortunate comes from it?

I have written (and will post in the near future) many times about my aversion to sleep. I even had this conversation with my friends last night. Sleep is no longer a luxury. It’s an annoyance.

I did get through a few innings (with fast forwarding) before rolling over on the couch and…I think… falling asleep for about a half hour. The game was on pause when I turned around and I refused to look at the clock so I don’t actually know. I hate the clock. The clock is the vehicle that drives my lack of sleep.

I finally awoke from my phantom nap to the call from my daughter upstairs. Minutes later, she is sitting on my lap, reading a book, listening to her new favorite Andrew McMahon song (Me and the Moon – she loves the part, “I am a butterfly…”).

And baseball is on our television. Life is perfect.

I do not sleep. I do not want to. I want to get excited about things. I want to look forward to tomorrow so much that I cannot sleep tonight.

I want to be awake to enjoy everything, whether I am alone for a few hours or with my family. I want to wake up early and go to bed late.

6:30am? Fine. It means I get an extra hour and a half to enjoy today.

And today will be great.

March 11, 2014

I believe today’s feeling of hope has to be as simple as positive reinforcement. I wrote (and posted) yesterday’s words out of fear and disappointment that I had let myself down. It was not exaggerated but it was exposing. So much so that I had to question if it was worth showing publicly.

I still have doubts about it, mainly because it paints me in one of two lights. According to how the post is interpreted, I’m either a manic depressive or extremely egotistical. I don’t even hope I fall in between the two. I just hope I’m neither.

Starting mariomergola.com, therefore, is nothing more than another outlet. It is not intended to be a blog. It is not intended to be updated every day. Or ever. I may never write on it again. The only thing I will continue to do is write. For no one but myself.

I have now written at least 750 words every day consecutively for almost one year. Shout out to 750words.com for being the inspiration and vessel for my words. The anniversary of this will come later this month.

Most of the time, I write garbage. There are times when I can think of nothing else to put on paper (or screen) besides the goings-on in my life, be it fantasy sports, video games, or random thoughts that appear and disappear in the middle of the night. In essence, it has become my journal. I am now Doug from my childhood. Tina is Patty Mayonnaise.

Throughout this writing, a few gems have appeared. Every once in a while, I would like to share them. Almost every single time, they are underdeveloped and don’t fit anywhere. The simple answer to post them on Facebook, but it doesn’t quite work that way. Long “status updates” don’t make sense in blog format, especially when taken out of context. This was the genesis of making some of my “journal” entries a little more public.

And what happens when I want to write about sports? I spent an entire day breaking down the American League Central division this year (to myself) and why I think the White Sox and Twins will surprise people (specifically Chicago). What do I do with that information? Tweet about “watch out for the ChiSox in ’14!” Maybe. But again, out of context.

I tried this before, and failed. (That should actually be my motto, as it has been written countless times in the past 350 days of consecutive writings…) I started a website of random blogs and, like many things I do, changed directions and had to start over. This will be attempt three. But again, “this” is not “that”.

This is not a blog. It is not even a journal. It is the only way I can share some thoughts. It will barely be edited. It will contain no pictures. The site itself will eventually become a host for the work I have done (videos, drawings, writings, etc.) only because I want a centralized location that I know won’t change going forward.

I urge you not to read most of what I write here. It serves no purpose and will provide no literary benefits. It will only provide an outlet for my thoughts. The only reason some will now be public, the only difference between this site and 750words.com, is for me to break through my own barriers.

I may not even link most of what I write, unless it has a direct audience or purpose. I will not obsess over updating this, or make any effort to stay on track. For the past year, this is how I have written. And it has made me feel good, despite the content at times.

I will not update this site. I will not worry about its maintenance. I will simply write and share what I believe deserves to be outside my mind. This will be my challenge. I will do this and only focus on writing.

For me.

Mar10, 2014

Things matter to me.

Like that first sentence. It’s incorrect. It’s incomplete. Things matter *too much* to me.

Now it is correct.

I have had my bouts with milk. I have lost all of them. And cried when they spilled. The only positive that has come from milk containers is the printout of the expiration date.

“Mar10″, it once said. “That’s my name!” I replied to the container that would most likely end up in the pantry. Or on the floor.

Since then, I have celebrated “Mario day” each year. Every time, I try to do something memorable for myself. Past years have included opening a Twitter account and announcing when Tina was pregnant two years ago. Both events were life-changing.

More importantly, both things mattered. As does everything, with me.

This year was going to be perfect. Mar10, 2014 was going to line up perfectly with my 1,000th tweet as well as some things I have been writing for a long time. Planets aligned, tweets were counted, calculated, and held back.

And nothing life-changing occurred.

Work swallowed me for the past week. Deadlines I wanted to hit for my own personal goals were all missed. Pile after pile piled onto my piles until I was left under one pile. I don’t even think an archaeologist could verify the age of each pile, as the lines between layers are all blurred now.

This bothered me. It still bothers me. It makes me angry and upset to write this because it bothers me. It makes me upset that things matter so much to me.

Unfortunately, even that is a lie. It doesn’t make me upset that I care so much. It may be an extreme annoyance and disappointment at times, but it doesn’t bother me. In fact, it is what I consider my best quality.

I care.

I really really care.

I care that I don’t have something important to say on a Monday in March. I care that things I have worked towards personally had to put on hold. I care that I might lose Billy Hamilton in my fantasy draft. I care that I might have to take Jeter out of gratitude.

I’ve had this conversation with Tina hundreds of times, and she phrases it more poetic than I. Where I call it “unnaturally and unhealthy level of caring,” she calls it “passion”. We both have it.

And so does Hayley.

That is my biggest accomplishment. The single greatest flaw in my personality is also the thing about which I am most proud, and I see it every day in my little legacy. She is determined beyond comprehension, a level of stubborn that borders on conviction. She is strong-willed. She is tough.

She is passionate.

She will cry when she spills her milk. She will laugh when daddy slips on it and falls. She will care way too much about things that don’t really matter. But she will always love hard.

In fact, she won’t cry at the milk, because she laughs about how she spills it on her own accord. She won’t laugh at daddy, because she will come over and ask if I need a “Kees?”, because she cares about me. She will do what she pleases because she works hard for the outcome.

She will do great things.

Hopefully, I will too. I just need to learn from her and meet my next deadline.

As always, thank you for reading.

And thank you for caring.