NATIONALS TOP BOB’S 2014 MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL FORECAST

 

FLORIDA GATORS EVEN MONEY TO WIN MEN’S NCAA TOURNAMENT

 

HIGH HOPES FOR RED WINGS STARTING PITCHERS

 

DeSEAN JACKSON TO BUFFALO?

 

RAZORSHARKS IN PBL FINALS

 

For a long time, it hasn’t been much fun following politics in Washington, D.C.

 

For an even longer time, it hasn’t been much fun watching the Washington Nationals play baseball.

 

I don’t have much faith in the politicians having a productive summer but I figure the baseball players will do just fine. In fact, Washington is my pick to win the 2014 World Series.

 

Five reasons I like the Nationals: Excellent starting pitching…underrated batting attack…solid defense…Matt Williams an upgrade over Dave John son as manager…not much competition in the relatively weak National League East.

 

The Nationals were surprisingly good in 2012 and underachieved most of last season. They were 34-20 in August and September but it was much too little and too late.

 

The five-man starting rotation might be baseball’s best: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister and Ross Detwiler. Fister has had elbow issues this spring, but when healthy, he should be even better than he was for Detroit. He won’t be facing designated hitters and Washington’s infield defense is a big upgrade over the Tigers.

 

The starting lineup is solid top-to-bottom: CF Denard Span, SS Ian Desmond, LF Bryce Harper, 3B Ryan Zimmerman, RF Jayson Werth, 1B Adam LaRoche, 2B Anthony Rendon, C Wilson Ramos. If Harper stays healthy, Span’s on-base percentage improves and Rendon is as good as the Nats think, the offense could be excellent.

 

Here are my projected final standings for the six divisions:

 

American League East – Tampa Bay 91-71…Boston 88-74…Yankees 83-79…Toronto 77-85…Baltimore 76-86…The Rays have the division’s best starting rotation and a better offense than most people think…I’m impressed by New York’s starting pitching but injuries to an aging lineup figure to take a toll.

 

American League Central -- Detroit 94-68…Kansas City 84-78…Cleveland 78-84…White Sox 73-89…Minnesota 65-97

 

American League West – Angels 91-71…Texas 89-73…Oakland 88-74…Seattle 75-87…Houston 63-99

 

National League East – Washington 94-68…Atlanta 87-75…Mets 72-90…Miami 69-93…Philadelphia 68-94

 

National League Central – St. Louis 93-69…Cincinnati 86-76…Pittsburgh 82-80…Milwaukee 74-88…Cubs 69-93

 

National League West – Dodgers 93-69…San Francisco 87-75…Colorado 85-77…Arizona 81-81…San Diego 75-87.

 

Potential sleeper teams – Kansas City in the AL and Colorado in the NL.

 

World Series pick – Washington over Detroit.

 

AL Most Valuable Player – Mike Trout (Angels)

 

NL Most Valuable Player -- Ryan Zimmerman (Washington)

 

AL Cy Young Award – Yu Darvish (Texas)

 

NL Cy Young Award – Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)

 

AL Rookie of the Year – Xander Bogaerts (Boston)

 

NL Rookie of the Year – Billy Hamilton (Cincinnati; 95 stolen bases)

 

AL Manager of the Year – Joe Maddon (Tampa Bay)

 

NL Manager of the Year – Matt Williams (Washington).

 

GATORS EVEN MONEY, KENTUCKY 5-TO-2

 

The Florida Gators, the only No. 1 seed to make the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, are the even-money pick to win the championship on April 7.

 

Here are the odds from sportsbookag (season-opening odds in parentheses):

 

No. 1 seed Florida 1-to-1 (18-to-1)

 

No. 8 seed Kentucky 5-to-2 (5-to-1)

 

No. 2 seed Wisconsin 7-to-2 (50-to-1)

 

No. 8 seed Connecticut 8-to-1 (33-to-1).

 

My pick is Florida, but my brackets busted weeks ago.

 

In Saturday’s semifinals, Florida is favored by 6.5 points over Connecticut and Kentucky is favored by 2 points over Wisconsin.

 

Since 1979, this is the 14th time only one No. 1 seed reached the Final Four and the third time two of the Final Four team were seeded 7 or lower.

 

RED WINGS STARTING ROTATION: REALLY TALL AND COULD BE VERY GOOD

 

When the 2014 International League season opens Thursday, the Rochester Red Wings undoubtedly will have the tallest five-man starting rotation in team history: Alex Meyer 6-9, Trevor May 6-5, Kevin Johnson 6-4, Scott Diamond 6-3 and Logan Darnell 6-2.

 

It also is unusual to have three left-handers in a starting rotation – Johnson, Diamond and Darnell.

 

More important, they have the potential to be a very effective starting rotation.

 

Meyer is the top pitching prospect in Minnesota’s organization. He was obtained from Washington for Denard Span , Nov. 29, 2012. The Nationals didn’t want to give him up but desperately needed an upgrade in center field and Span filled that bill.

 

Meyer, 24, was 4-3 with a 3.21 ERA in 13 starts for Double-A New Britain last season. In 70 innings, he allowed only 60 hits, with 29 walks and 84 strikeouts. Not all tall lefties have power stuff. Meyer does. Ih he isn’t starting for Minnesota by next season at the latest, a lot of people would be surprised.

 

May was obtained by Minnesota from Philadelphia, with right-handed pitcher Vance Worley, Dec. 6, 2012, for center fielder Ben Revere. May spent the past two seasons in the Double-A Eastern League: 10-13 with a 4.87 ERA for Reading in 2012 and 9-9 with a 4.51 ERA for New Britain in 2013. His most impressive numbers were 310 strikeouts in 301.1 innings. He led the Eastern League in strikeouts both seasons.

 

This is a big year for May, 24, who will need to produce to make the trade involving Revere look better. Worley started the 2013 opener for Minnesota but quickly fizzled, finished last season with the Red Wings, and was sold to Pittsburgh last week.

 

Johnson, 28, was a first-round pick (No. 40 overall) by the Boston Red Sox in the 2006 entry draft. He among the best pitchers in the International League last season for Indianapolis: 10-4 record; 2.39 ERA; 135.2 innings; 116 hits; 43 walks; 94 strikeouts. He made his major league debut with four games with Pittsburgh.

 

Diamond was 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 27 starts with Minnesota in 2012 and 6-13 with a 5.43 ERA in 24 starts in 2013. In two stints with Rochester, he had an 8-1 record, with a 2.50 ERA in 13 starts. It was a surprise when he cleared waivers last week because he is a left-hander and has had success in the majors. If he pitches well early this season, he figures to be pitching in the majors soon, with the Twins or another team.

 

Darnell became Rochester’s fifth starting pitcher when Kyle Gibson made Minnesota’s rotation this spring and Worley was sold. He was 10-10 with a 3.22 ERA combined with New Britain and the Red Wings last season.

 

HOW ABOUT DeSEAN JACKSON TO THE BILLS?

 

The Philadelphia Eagles last week stunned the NFL by releasing star wide receiver DeSean Jackson, one of the league’s best deep threats. He reportedly wasn’t coach Chip Kelly’s favorite player and had some problems off the field. Not surprisingly, teams immediately expressed interest in this terrific receiver in his prime.

 

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com listed five teams “reportedly interested” in Jackson: Kansas City, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Washington and –surprisingly – Buffalo. Not surprisingly, Rapoport put down Buffalo as Jackson’s least likely option: “This would be a tough pill for Jackson to swallow. Going from one of the premier teams in the league, in one of the largest cities, to Buffalo would not exactly be a prime-time move for the wideout. The Bills are also in the middle of a rebuild, and it would be shocking to see them in the playoffs next season.”

 

I’d love to see Jackson in a Bills uniform and make Rapoport eat his words. Buffalo worked out pretty well for James Lofton and even Terrell Owens for a year.

 

RAZORSHARKS VS. BLOOMINTON IN PBL FINALS

 

The Premier Basketball League playoff finals matchup of the Bloomington Flex vs. Rochester RazorSharks was even more inevitable than the Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers in the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals.

 

 Bloomington is the two-time defending PBL champion, sweeping Rochester 2-0 in 2012 and 2013.

 

Bloomington  completed an 18-0 regular season Saturday night with a 129-79 romp over the host Lake Michigan Admirals. Interesting sidenote: Scott Odom, playing with a prosthetic  leg, scored 5 points for Lake Michigan in a winning losing effort.

 

The Flex are loaded and might even have slightly more talent than Rochester. No other teams in the PBL are close. In fact, the rest of the PBL was so outclassed (and hurting for travel expenses) that the first round of the playoffs were scrubbed.

 

The RazorSharks finished their regular season 17-1 (16 wins in a row) with a 161-103 home romp over The Lynchburg Titans Sunday afternoon.

 

The best-of-three championship series starts Sunday, 2 p.m., at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial. The remainder of the series will be played in Bloomington on dates to be announced.

 

SHORT SHOTS

 

The Pittsburgh Steelers probably made a good move last week when they signed bruising LeGarrette Blount. The Steelers figure to have a productive pair of running backs in Blount and Le’Veon Bell. New England coach Bill Belichick obviously soured on Blount. Considering the way Blount destroyed Buffalo late last season, his departure from the AFC East is a good thing

 

African Story was the popular winner of the world’s richest horse race Saturday. He won the $10-million Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates. The 7-year-old horse is owned by Sheikh Muhammed. It was his seventh victory in the 19-year history of the race.  African Story won by 2 ½ lengths over pacesetter Mukhadram. There is no wagering at Meydan Racecourse. In American betting pools, African Story was 17-to-1 and Mukhadrum was 30-to-1 in the 16-horse field. For the first time, there were no American-based horses in the race…In two major races in the United States on Saturday, Constitution ($8.60) won the Florida Derby and 2013 Belmont Stakes champion Palace Malice ($4.40) won the New Orleans Handicap.

 

Assuming Ryan Miller starts in goal for the St. Louis Blues Thursday night against Buffalo, I wonder if more hockey fans in western New York will be rooting for Miller or the Sabres. In 13 games since being traded by Buffalo to St. Louis, Miller has a 9-3-1 record, 2.18 goals-against average and .012 save percentage.

 

All New York Yankees games will air on Oldies 107.3 and all New York Mets games will air on Sunny 102.3.