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Baseball Insider

2014 season predictions: How the MLB division races will shake out

After a spring that featured key free-agent signings, a couple mega-contracts and way too many mentions of Tommy John, it is time to get on with the real action -- games that count.

The Nationals, Cardinals and Dodgers look like strong favorites in the National League, but thanks partly to all the injuries the American League looks no easier to solve than a Rubik's Cube.

After much calculation and deliberation, I'll take the Dodgers over the Royals in a World Series matchup of teams that haven't won it all since the 1980s.

Without further ado, here's my team-by-team rundown ...

Heyman's Picks: American League East
FinishTeamThe skinny
1.OriolesLate signings Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez could put them over the top. Cruz lengthens an exceptional lineup and Jimenez makes it a solid rotation, which may be all they need. Once wunderkind Manny Machado returns, no one can match their defense.
2.Red SoxSuperb clubhouse dynamic means they won't relax in the Year After. There are a few questions though: Is talented Xander Bogaerts ready to play shortstop? Can Grady Sizemore be the comeback story of the year? And can Koji Uehara replicate his 2013 magic?
3.RaysAs one rival GM said, "They have good pitching, and they know how to put together a team." They also bumped up their payroll to a more normal level ($77 million). Major threat.
4.YankeesThey spent $453 million on four stars to re-make themselves into a power after merely getting by in 2013, and they had a very nice spring. Masahiro Tanaka will be a star, and the lineup is dynamic. But scouts say the infield defense remains a question..
5.Blue JaysThey needed to bolster their rotation but stood pat. The pitching prospects are talented, but most of them aren't ready (Drew Hutchison may be an exception). As for the offense, as one scout said, "Teams that are all power don't win."

Ubaldo Jimenez bolsters a Baltimore rotation that could put the O's over the top. (USATSI)
Ubaldo Jimenez bolsters a Baltimore rotation that could put the O's over the top. (USATSI)

Heyman's Picks: American League Central
FinishTeamThe skinny
1.RoyalsThis could be their year, with exceptional defense, a solid lineup and a nice bullpen. If Mike Moustakas can shake off his poor 2013 season at bat and 101-mph thrower Yordano Ventura can be a rotation star, they could overtake the Tigers.
2.IndiansNobody looked better in spring training. Justin Masterson and Danny Salazar appear ready to emerge as stars, the lineup is balanced and John Axford solved their closing issue reasonably. A shot.
3.TigersThe disastrous spring could cost them. Miguel Cabrera is said to be their best defensive infielder following the loss of wizard shortstop Jose Iglesias, and their bullpen could miss Bruce Rondon. Tough to pick against a team with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, but there are issues.
4.White SoxThey are on the right track bringing in 20-something talents like Avisail Garcia ("a star in the making," said a scout), Jose Daniel Abreu and Adam Eaton. John Danks being back to form could help. Nice year possible, but division is toughening.
5.TwinsThey remade their rotation. Now what to do about that lineup? They could barely hit in spring training. "Work in progress," said a scout.

If Mike Moustakas flashes his old form, the Royals could be courting a big season. (USATSI)
If Mike Moustakas flashes his old form, the Royals could be courting a big season. (USATSI)

Heyman's Picks: American League West
FinishTeamThe skinny
1.AthleticsThey have something special going in the clubhouse, and with a deeper roster and improved bullpen should make it three straight in this star-crossed division.
2.AngelsAlbert Pujols and Josh Hamilton looked better this spring (once Hamilton returned) and Trout isn't doing anything but getting better. If left-hander Tyler Skaggs is ready, they could threaten.
3.RangersThey won the winter by importing an excellent leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo and slugger Prince Fielder but suffered a brutal spring, losing young second baseman Jurickson Profar and starting catcher Geovany Soto, and showing pitching weakness. Need to stay afloat for Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Derek Holland.
4.MarinersThe losses of Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker left them with tough starting pitching questions, and they could still use someone to bat behind superstar import Robinson Cano. Also look a little too left-handed, and probably too young, to make it this year. Maybe '15.
5.AstrosHouston is building something special, but the ETA isn't 2014. Will be something to watch once George Springer, Carlos Correa, Mike Foltynewicz, Mark Appel and Co. arrive, though.

The Rangers got lots of power in Price Fielder, but spring injuries limit Texas' prospects. (USATSI)
The Rangers got lots of power in Prince Fielder, but spring injuries limit Texas' prospects. (USATSI)

Heyman's Picks: National League East
FinishTeamThe skinny
1.Nationals"Best team in Florida," said a scout. Also likely the best in the NL East, especially with Atlanta's injury questions. The front three of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann plus a solid lineup should make things relatively easy for new manager Matt Williams.
2.BravesThe unfortunate losses of young pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery mean they are scrambling to put together a rotation. Julio Teheran should be a star, Ervin Santana helps, but what comes next? With nice nucleus, they should still be pretty good though.
3.MarlinsTheir pitching could be exceptional, led by the amazing Jose Fernandez. But beyond Giancarlo Stanton it's still unknown where they get the offense.
4.PhilliesIf Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard are close to what they were, they may surprise some. But the bullpen is a "mess" and Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett don't look like saviors from here.
5.MetsMaybe 2015 is their year. Without Matt Harvey and Jon Niese (at least to start), and with unsettled situations at first base and shortstop, this could be a long one. The outfield is much better, but it looks like a sixth straight losing season in Citi Field.

Stephen Strasburg heads up an impressive Nationals pitching rotation. (Getty)
Stephen Strasburg heads up an impressive Nationals pitching rotation. (Getty Images)

Heyman's Picks: National League Central
FinishTeamThe skinny
1.CardinalsSt. Louis looks as deep and solid as ever, maybe even moreso. Clubhouse leaders Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday won't let this team falter. Playoff certainty.
2.PiratesThey didn't do much in the winter, but a full year of emerging ace Gerrit Cole and a midyear appearance by future outfield star Gregory Polanco may help. Andrew McCutchen, a driven star, won't allow them to slip back.
3.RedsLoss of Shin-Soo Choo plus new bullpen woes could make things tougher than expected. Speedy rookie Billy Hamilton could be the key.
4.BrewersBig pitching import Matt Garza had a rough spring, but if he can pitch up to his 2013 Cubs performance, they could threaten. Lineup looks deep and solid, and Ryan Braun may be back.
5.CubsRookie Javier Baez will be only the first from their wave of great positional talent that promises an exciting future. ETA to contend: 2016.

Will Andrew McCutchen have another MVP season in Pittsburgh? (USATSI)
Will Andrew McCutchen have another MVP season in Pittsburgh? (USATSI)

Heyman's Picks: National League West
FinishTeamThe skinny
1.DodgersRich and exceptional team could benefit from last year together. If they can harness Yasiel Puig, that'd be even better. World Series favorite.
2.GiantsTheir vaunted rotation should get even better with former A's star Tim Hudson. Otherwise, they brought back their old gang again. Threat.
3.RockiesHealthy years for Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez could go a long way. They need Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood healthy, but could surprise.
4.D-BacksThe loss of star left-hander Patrick Corbin is devastating. Lineup is solid, but they'll require healthy seasons for Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill, and a contribution from feature star Archie Bradley wouldn't hurt, either.
5.PadresThey have a deep stash of position players and potential to improve, but spring injuries to Josh Johnson and Carlos Quentin hurt, bringing up memories of unfortunate past hurts for the small-market team also suffering from the worst in-division payroll disadvantage in baseball.

The Dodgers need Yasiel Puig's production, but none of the drama. (Getty)
The Dodgers need Yasiel Puig's production, but none of the drama. (Getty Images)

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