MLB Predictions 2014: Ranking the 4 Most Likely World Series Matchups
Aside from those that will eventually add free agents Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, teams are done adding impact players, and we now have a pretty good idea of the core talent that each will head into the 162-game season with.
Based on this, we can now make a well-educated guess on which teams are the World Series favorites. If it were only that simple.
At this time last year, Bleacher Report's Doug Mead posted his World Series odds for all 30 teams with the Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angels the top four most likely to win it all, in that order.
While it would be hard to find much of an argument with those odds at the time, none of those four teams even made the playoffs while the team with 13th-best odds, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the team with the 16th-best odds, the Boston Red Sox, were the finalists.
This is why they play the 162-game schedule. Baseball is unpredictable, and all 30 teams have a fighting chance to make the playoffs.
It's still fun, however, to look at the teams' projected rosters and play out the season in our heads. When I did that, here were the four mostly likely World Series matchups I came up with.
MLB's Preferred Matchup: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Boston Red Sox
This Dodgers-Red Sox matchup nearly occurred last season with the Dodgers falling just two wins shy of making it a reality. With most of the same characters in place, the chances of it happening in 2014 are great.
While both rosters are star-studded and capable of a 100-plus-win season, the Sox have much more depth in the upper minors and less questions to answer. On the other hand, if Matt Kemp can return to his pre-injury form of 2011 when he posted a .986 OPS with 39 homers, Yasiel Puig (pictured) can avoid the sophomore slump and Hanley Ramirez can stay healthy, the Dodgers offense has a chance to be one of the most explosive of recent memory.
Two big-market teams, each filled with elite talent, fighting it out in the World Series would be a matchup for the ages. It would also be great for the business of Major League Baseball.
Battle of the Small-Market Powers: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Oakland Athletics
Can the Pittsburgh Pirates go from 20 consecutive losing seasons to the World Series in only two years? You better believe it. Crazier things have happened. You should also believe that a potential matchup of teams with a combined payroll that is less than the 2013 champion Boston Red Sox could happen.
Two of the most talented rosters in baseball, the Pirates and the Oakland A's, will enter the season with payrolls likely to fall under $75 million and $85 million, respectively. The mainstream audience may not be as familiar with young stars playing in a small market, such as Andrew McCutchen and Josh Donaldson (pictured), but this would be the perfect stage for them to introduce themselves and become household names.
Young pitchers Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon could also factor into the playoff equation just as Michael Wacha of the Cardinals did last season, as could top outfield prospect Gregory Polanco, whose arrival in the majors would likely give the Bucs one of the most dynamic outfields in baseball along with McCutchen and Starling Marte.
Battle of Missouri: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals have one World Series title in the history of the franchise, and it was at the expense of the cross-state rival St. Louis Cardinals back in 1985. That doesn't balance out the success each organization has had, though.
Since that 1985 matchup, the Cards have 20 winning seasons under their belt and 12 playoff appearances, including two World Series championships, while the Royals have just seven winning seasons and haven't been back to the playoffs since.
But the 2014 Royals aren't likely to be overshadowed. After an 86-win season, their first time being over .500 since 2003, this up-and-coming young squad should continue to improve and may very well take the next step into the playoffs. They'll have a good a chance as anyone at that point.
Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon aren't kids anymore. They've broken through and should be the impact bats in the Royals lineup that teams will be focused on shutting down. Rookie right-hander Yordano Ventura could be ready to have either a Michael Wacha-like performance as a starting pitcher or a Carlos Martinez-like impact out of the bullpen late in the season.
By the time the playoffs roll around, the Cardinals' young guns in the rotation—Shelby Miller and Wacha—will be battle-tested vets, and the bullpen trio of Trevor Rosenthal, Jason Motte and Martinez could be as feared a group of late-inning relievers as there is in the game.
Oscar Taveras, one of the top prospects in baseball, could also be ready to give the lineup another impact bat to go along with Matt Holliday (pictured) in the middle of the order.
Redemption of the 2013 Disappointments: Washington Nats vs. Los Angeles Angels
Two heavy favorites from 2013, the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals, have fallen under the radar after disappointing seasons. The talent that made them such popular World Series picks in 2013 remains, however, and it would be wrong to write them off.
Both teams have also improved their rosters with savvy trades this offseason—the Nats acquired Doug Fister from the Tigers; the Angels acquired David Freese from the Cardinals, Hector Santiago from the White Sox and Tyler Skaggs from the Diamondbacks—and are in good position to remind the league very quickly that they are each forces to be reckoned with.
A breakout season from right-hander Stephen Strasburg (pictured) could catapult the Nats in 2014 while putting the former top overall draft choice back in the spotlight after a few very good, but not the expected Cy Young-caliber seasons that had been expected.
Productive seasons from Angels hitters Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, two seemingly overpaid former superstars, would be a huge load off of their shoulders. Owner Arte Moreno and his front office would get a break from all the negative surrounding their megadeals.