With a little over three weeks left until the season begins, we're wrapping up the pennant chases before we head into the Daily Dish playoffs, as voted on by the readers.
Part 1 led to the Red Sox taking the AL East.
Part 2 ended up with Atlanta repeating in the National League East.
Part 3 saw the Tigers dominate the AL Central.
Part 4 was the most contested race, but the Cardinals took the vote and the NL Central with 49% of the vote.
Onto the West, where an intriguing trio of teams tackle the temptation to tear each other's throats out.
The immediate future is not particularly bright, particularly after a 111-loss season. Jason Castro was a revelation in his first full season with a wRC+ of 130 and good defense behind the plate. If they can find a position for Chris Carter, or manage to shunt him into being the Designated Hitter, his defense would no longer continue to hinder his offensive production. Dexter Fowler was brought in via trade and is a neat player. Prospect George Springer could provide some value later this year as well. Jonathan Singleton might also
On the pitching side of things, moves have been made to shore up the bullpen, bringing in Jesse Crain and Matt Albers. Scott Feldman signed a three-year deal after almost symmetrically splitting his season between the Cubs and Orioles last year (91.0 IP and 90.2 IP, respectively).
But really, what can Houston hope for? Maybe losing less than 100 games.
The greatness of Seattle may be better in its parts than the sum of its whole; Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma would fit at or near the top of any team's rotation, and they have some productive bullpen pieces in Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush. Bringing in Fernando Rodney should further stabilize the relief corps.
On the offensive side of things, Seattle has one big hype and two great hopes.
The hype being, of course, Robinson Cano, who will boost an offense that finished 12th in the American League in runs scored.
The hopes lie in the viscera and sinew of Mike Zunino and Justin Smoak. In Smoak, the hope is that his .238/.334/.412 triple slash might see a slight uptick in his contact rates, or at least continue being an above-average hitter (his wRC+ of 109 in 2013 was a career-high).
Mike Zunino, on the other hand, just needs to be average, and can't repeat his .214/.290/.329 effort over 52 games last year if the Mariners hope to finish higher than fourth.
Los Angeles Angels Of Anaohmygoditjustkeepsgoingdoesn'tit?
Speaking of teams that probably should have been better than they were, the Angels could very easily see some improvement just by everyone regressing to the mean. Between Best Player In Baseball Mike Trout, Howie Kendrick, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton, along with Chris Iannetta and the withering husk that is Raul Ibanez, there's a lineup that can consistently produce offensively.
The rotation, though, could use a leg up. Jered Weaver is trying his best, and Jered Weaver for a full season would help a lot, but after that, they need some kind of improvement from the battery of Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards while relying on a full season of Hector Santiago brought over from Chicago.
You want a lineup you can really sink your teeth into? Shin-Soo Choo, Leonys Martin, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rios, Mitch Moreland, Geovany Soto, Elvis Andrus, and Jurickson Profar should suit any appetite. You should not be at all surprised if they move up from 7th in runs scored.
Oh, yes, they also have Yu Darvish, who is responsible for stellar pitching performances and THE GREATEST GIF EVER. Derek Holland is out for a few months because staircases are hard when dogs get involved. Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando make for a good mid-rotation pair, and the bullpen should remain solid even with the loss of Joe Nathan. They've got a puncher's chance, even if some former employees aren't fans of the team's general manager.
And then there's Oakland, whose witchcraft and wizardry continues to pave the way to postseason appearances and, concurrently, postseason early exits. Josh Donaldson had one of the most underrated seasons last year, hitting .301/.384/.499 with very good defense at third. Coco Crisp continues to be a productive asset since he was brought in from Kansas City, who gave up on the outfielder after one injury-plagued season despite the fact that he earned 1.4 Wins Above Replacement in just 49 games. If Yoenis Cespedes rebounds from his sophomore slump, the Athletics will be in very good shape, particularly with Alberto Callaspo in the fold at second (another Royals castaway) and Josh Reddick rounding out the outfield.
Meanwhile, at the Halls of Justice, the pitching staff is going to need some growth and improvement out of A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker, along with high-priced import Scott Kazmir. A full season of Sonny Gray in the rotation, who is my pick in the MLB Daily Dish "Best Name In Baseball" lottery, could help out quite a bit. Load. Reload.