Hot Corner
The Boys of Summer are back

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The boys of summer have taken the field once more for a 162 game journey to the postseason with one goal on their mind: a trip to the World Series in October for a shot at living on in baseball immortality. Can the Boston Red Sox repeat? Are the Seattle Mariners contenders after their massive offseason overhaul? Will the Los Angeles Angels finally put all of the pieces together? In this edition of the Hot Corner, Knight Times sports analyst J.T. Grugen breaks down his 50 predictions for the upcoming season. here are predictions 50-41. Check back soon for more …

J.T. Grugen

JT Grugen

50: David Price lands in Atlanta by the trade deadline

A formula in Tampa Bay has developed that has allowed the Rays to work around their salary cap limitations. With a great farm system, nearly every season the club deals their ace in exchange for prospects, such cases can be seen with Matt Garza and James Shields. With one of the best left handed arms in the game set to hit free agency this winter, the Rays would be wise to deal David Price to a team struggling with depth in their rotation.

Enter the defending NL East champion Atlanta Braves that lost both Brandon Beachy and Kris Melden for the year this spring. Price would become the true ace Atlanta has been searching for over the past few seasons. Financially, the team can afford this move and have a few expendable players in their middle infield and corner outfield positions.

49: Ryan Braun will struggle in return from suspension

Looks can be deceiving, and by the looks of his spring training at-bats, 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun appears to have not lost a step since a link to the Biogenesis clinic ended his 2013 campaign early. Milwaukee fans have voiced for disapproval for Braun since the first reports of the star slugger testing positive for performance enhancers. Without Prince Fielder to protect him the lineup like in 2011 and the organization looking to rebuild, Braun could see his numbers dip.

No breaks will be given to Braun upon his return and the respect of Brewer fans will have to be earned once again. The controversy surrounding any PED investigation usually results in inconsistency on the field for the parties involved. Alex Rodriguez is a prime example, the once huge threat to Barry Bonds’ home run record has made more trips to the DL in the past three seasons than in the rest of his career. Whether the injury bug or inconsistency at the plate strikes Braun, he’s bound to face adversity again this season.

48: All five Giants starters finish with at least 12 wins

There’s no doubt the Giants know how to win the World Series: the team has emerges as champions two of the past four seasons led by phenomenal pitching. By signing Tim Hudson, all fives starters in the San Francisco rotation have at least one all star game appearance. Despite the recent struggles of Tim Lincecum over the past few seasons, this is a durable group that could potentially feature five aces if expectations are met.

In order to dethrone the Dodgers atop the NL West though, the team still needs to add their age old need of a power bat in the middle of the lineup. I see the Giants starting rotation putting together double digit win seasons for all starters. While this great pitching will keep other teams in check defensively, don’t expect this team to get back to October baseball without stability throughout their lineup and the restoration of power the team hasn’t had since the retirement of Barry Bonds.

47: Grady Sizemore makes the AL All-Star Team

In 2007, the Cleveland Indians battled with the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central division title and later with the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. Both series featured two young center fielders who had the potential to become the leaders of baseball’s next great wave of outfielders: Curtis Granderson of the Tigers and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox. Since then, both players have found new homes, made multiple all-star appearances, and finished in the top five for AL MVP voting in 2011. Meanwhile, lost in the shuffle was another young star in Cleveland: Grady Sizemore.

Two years after that ALCS berth, Sizemore caught an injury bug that would linger for several seasons. In fact, he hasn’t had an at-bat in the major leagues since 2011. With a second chance for the defending world champion Red Sox, Sizemore had an impressive spring and won the starting center field job for Boston. If he can continue to stay healthy, the true potential of this once bright star could become fully unlocked.

46: Albert Pujols regains old form; joins 500 Home Run Club

After winning the World Series in 2011, Cardinals fans felt betrayed when Albert Pujols selected money over loyalty by signing a record 10 year deal with the Los Angeles Angels. All of the buzz surrounding this signing led many to believe the Angels were serious World Series contenders. However, in his first month in an Angels uniform, Pujols struggled to keep his average above the Mendoza line. By the end of April, panic had spread across the entire Angels organization that 240 million dollars had been wasted.

This season marks year three of Project Pujols out west with the former face of the game fully recovered from injury and finally adjusted to American League pitching. The presence of Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton should give Pujols the confidence and protection he needs to return to his MVP numbers. Only eight homers away from joining the 500 Home Run Club, I see Pujols reaching this milestone in his career by Mother’s Day and hitting 30 home runs for the first time with the Angels. With 2014 a potential make or break year for his huge contract, Pujols has one more shot to return to elite status.

45: White Sox, Phillies become next two teams with trade deadline fire sales

A trend that will continue to grow in popularity as larger contracts are doled out in free agency is the fire sale, which is essentially a reset button for every major league team. In 2012, the Red Sox and Marlins both let go of several big name free agent acquisitions from the past few season, dealing names such as Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Josh Johnson, and Jose Reyes. These veterans provide a boost to teams desperate for a late playoff push while giving the selling franchise a chance to rebuild.

With an empty minor league farm for the White Sox and a financial vice wrapped around the Phillies organization, several big names could be on the move come late July and perhaps into early August before the waiver trade deadline. For Chicago, Adam Dunn would be a prime candidate to be traded. Considering the power in his bat, the White Sox could pick up two prospects should they agree to take on the majority of Dunn’s remaining contract through 2014.

In Philadelphia, the all-star loaded infield that won the franchise a World Series in 2008 has deteriorated. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley have all become a shell of the players that once led the Phillies to dominance. Similar to the White Sox, substantial cash considerations would be sent over by the Phillies in a trade involving any of these stars. These moves would be worth it though to keep up with the youth movements in Atlanta and Washington D.C. and protect the Phillies from falling out of NL East contention for good.

44: Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo become NL’s top home run duo

Despite a great 2013 all-star campaign, many baseball fans are still unaware of Paul Goldschmidt’s talent. With a similar rise to stardom as Reds slugger Joey Votto, the man they call “Goldie” out in Arizona hit 36 home runs last year with 125 RBIs. In the opening series in Australia against the Dodgers, Goldschmidt picked up where he left off, going 4-for-9 with a double in two games. He’ll be joined this season by another power bat acquired from the Angels in the offseason: Mark Trumbo.

These two new teammates follow in the footsteps of several power hitters that have worn a Diamondbacks uniform, including Luis Gonzalez, Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds, and Justin Upton. I see these two combining for over 80 long ball this season. Trumbo will be the protector in the lineup for Goldschmidt as young first baseman will be pitched around more frequently this season. In order for Arizona to challenge the Dodgers for the NL West though, Trumbo’s average must be better than his .234 mark in 2013. Otherwise, the numbers for Goldschmidt could see a drop this season.

43: The Chicago Cubs finish with the worst record in baseball

The 1909 season kicked off with newly elected President William Howard Taft throwing out a ceremonial first pitch, a tradition that would be carried on even today with President Barack Obama. Before that pitch was thrown was back in the dawn of the 20th century, the Cubs reigned as World Series champions. Since, as every baseball fan knows, the team has never reclaimed the title of world champions.

Sadly for the fans of the “loveable losers”, the odds of any curses being broken in 2014 are slim. Following Starlin Castro’s down year in 2013, Anthony Rizzo’s lack of production, and an underwhelming cast of characters in the minor league farm system, the future is rather bleak for the Cubbies. The draft and a few good free agency periods will be needed to rebuild this franchise into contenders. That process restarts in 2014 as this club stares in the face of a 100 loss season.

42: Seattle fails to win more than 75 games

Due to the New York Yankees success in winning World Series championships through big free agent signing, a luxury of their huge payroll, the phrase “buying a championship” has become popular in baseball. Several teams have attempted to mimic the ways of the Yankees, but have collectively failed. Team chemistry and player adaptations are a larger part of the game than most thought, but that hasn’t stopped teams from being aggressive in free agency.

The Seattle Mariners made the biggest waves this winter by signing Robinson Cano to a huge 10 year deal. Cano’s play has often been described as laid back and many have seen him as more of a role player for the Yankees in past seasons. However, the stud second baseman has traded in his pinstripes and has been relied on as the face of the Seattle Mariners for the next decade. In addition to Cano, the Mariners also have added outfield help in Logan Morrison and Corey Hart.

Overall, this team is a recipe for disaster. Even with Cano in the lineup, the rest of Seattle’s moves were overrated and the team is still relying on several prospects to fill in, leaving no room for error. With three starters on the DL to start the season, Seattle’s 71 wins from 2013 are realistic expectations for this season. Cano has little protection in the team’s lineup and with a banged up pitching staff, a few more seasons are needed before the Mariners can contend in a tough AL West division.

41: Chris Davis won’t hit 40 or more home runs

Not many baseball fans outside of Baltimore city limits know that Chris Davis finished the 2012 season with 33 home runs. Just a year later, Davis became one of the biggest names in baseball, going toe to toe with Miguel Cabrera in Miggy’s chase for a second straight triple crown. Belting 53 balls over the fence last season, the overnight success story of Chris Davis closely resembles the uprise of Jose Bautista. Can “Crush” repeat in his success in 2014?

Baltimore’s roster has remained fairly consistent over the past few seasons. This winter, the club focused on their huge pitching needs, but Davis still has three all-star level bats surrounding him in the lineup: Adam Jones, JJ Hardy, and Matt Wieters. Expect a surge in the numbers of the three men previously listed, but that will be a result of Davis’ drop in home runs. Teams will pitch around Davis as the big man draws more walk. This season will give the unsung heroes in Baltimore a chance to shine thanks to contributions by Davis.

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