Inside MLB | MLB season preview: Nationals title favorites

     Believe it or not, it’s already the end of March and baseball’s opening day is right around the corner. As spring training winds down, teams are finishing their final exhibition matchups, and making final roster decisions before heading up North in anticipation of March 30. With that in mind, the Daily predicts the major award winners for the 2014 MLB season.

American League MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
    Despite finishing second behind Miguel Cabrera in the MVP ballots in his first two seasons, Mike Trout has put together the finest start to a career in history and is considered by most experts to be the best player in baseball. A true five-tool outfielder, Trout has accumulated 20.4 wins above replacement (WAR) in the past two seasons, according to fangraphs.com. That is more than five WAR more than any other player in that time period. In addition to WAR, Trout finished in the top five in the AL in runs, hits, batting average, walks and on-base percentage. Coupled with his blazing speed and stellar defense manning centerfield, Trout will lead the Angels to their first playoff birth since 2009 and earn the AL MVP award in 2014.

National League MVP: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
    One of the most hyped prospects in the history of Major League Baseball, Harper has been hampered by injuries in his first two seasons with the Nationals. When he has been healthy, however, he has showcased an unmatched talent – earning consecutive all-star births while hitting .272 and averaging 21 home runs and almost 60 RBIs per year. Harper’s biggest flaw in his young career thus far has been his propensity to play too hard, leading to freak injuries – like when ran into the wall against the Dodgers last season, leading to a concussion that would sidetrack his 2013 campaign. Critics often forget that, at the age of 21, Harper remains one of the youngest players in the MLB. He will continue to improve immensely as he gains experience in the coming seasons. 2014 will be a breakout season for him as the Nationals look to bounce back from a disappointing year in which they missed the playoffs.

American League Cy Young: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
    Simply put, the MLB has not seen a better strikeout pitcher than Darvish in nearly a decade. In his second full season since coming from Japan, Darvish fanned 277 batters in 2013, the most in all of baseball since Randy Johnson in 2004. Darvish has perhaps the deepest repertoire of pitches in the MLB at his disposal, including a fastball that tops out at 98 miles per hour, a devastating sinker and a slow, looping curveball. In addition to leading the AL in strikeouts, the Rangers’ ace finished among the top five in ERA (2.83), WHIP (1.07) and opponents’ batting average (.194). As he enters the season as a 27-year-old, Darvish will emerge as the top starter in the AL, overtaking worthy competitors like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price and Felix Hernandez.

National League Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
    After winning this award in two of the past three seasons, Kershaw has become undoubtedly the most dominant pitcher in baseball. The numbers speak for themselves: In the past three seasons, he’s led the NL in ERA three times, strikeouts twice, WHIP three times, wins once, WAR twice and hits per nine innings twice, while also earning the pitching Triple Crown award in 2011. He’s accomplished all of this before the age of 27, which gives reason to think the best is yet to come, especially given the fact that the loaded Dodgers lineup will provide him with plenty of run support to pad his win totals. Despite the emergence of Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, continued success of teammate Zack Greinke and Cardinals right-hander Adan Wainwright, the NL Cy Young award is Kershaw’s to lose.

World Series Champion: Washington Nationals
    This is the year where the Washington Nationals will put it all together and bring home a championship. The Nationals entered 2013 as favorites to win the NL East, but missed the playoffs altogether due to a series of key injuries, lack of depth and a sub-.500 April. Things are looking better for 2014, however, as offseason-pickup Doug Fister joins Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman to form the best starting rotation in baseball. Washington’s offense is all but guaranteed to improve as well, as Harper, right fielder Jayson Werth and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman anchor one of the deepest lineups in the NL. Look out for second baseman Anthony Rendon, who many scouts predict will break out in his sophomore campaign after hitting .265 as a rookie. From top to bottom, the Nationals will prove to be the most complete team in the league.

 


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