I went to a trivia contest last night, to benefit a group trying to build a women's shelter. Our team didn't do so well; we tied for fourth place, struggling in a couple different arenas. There was a geography category specifically we crapped out on completely that still sticks in my craw today. Regardless, we finished up five points back of the leaders (out of 100 questions), and all went home rather more irritable than we arrived.
There's a point to this story. Well, sort of. One of the questions was about a man, skilled with a knife, who is known principally for defending the Alamo to his death. Of course, we all knew the answer, and so set about making exceedingly clever, whispered jokes to each other, as is often the wont of trivia participants when there is no actual debate over an answer to be had.
"Well, duh, David Bowie, why are you so proud of that answer? We learned that in Mr. Anderson's class sophomore year, about the time David Bowie repelled a Mexican force and then recorded Station to Station later that night."
"That's actually what Space Oddity was about. Major Tom was his second in command at the time of the battle."
"You know, ground control was actually in Texas. It's all related!"
"Teddy Roosevelt had the Rough Riders at San Juan; Bowie had his own regiment, the Spiders From Mars, that he led to victory over the forces of Santa Anna."
And so on.
Anyway, the point is this: ever since that exchange, I haven't been able to get Space Oddity out of my head. So I put the record on a little while ago, and I've just been listening to it for the past couple hours, running through the whole of side one, then wandering back over to the record player and dropping the needle back down when the music stops.
The countdown seems very appropriate to me. Just over 24 hours from now, our boys in red will be taking their protein pills, putting their helmets on, and preparing to step through the doors onto the field in Cincinnati, to make 2014 a real year, to bless it with baseball.
I'm obviously a very wordy man, for the most part. After all, I just spent 350 words telling you about getting a David Bowie song stuck in my head. But I'm not going to be wordy today. Well, starting now. In fact, I'm going to tell you everything you need to know about baseball in 2014, and I'm going to do it with an excess of economy. Here, then, is your Viva El Birdos guide to the teams of 2014, in absolutely no more than two sentences per team, in order of finish by division.
American League East
1) Boston Red Sox
They had the feeling of an overachiever in 2013, what with all the talk of beards and chemistry and the like. But what Boston really has is a top-flight core of star players, an extraordinarily deep rotation, and the best shortstop prospect in baseball joining a team which nearly won 100 games last year.
2) Baltimore Orioles
I really like what the Orioles did this offseason, even if it took them longer than expected to do it. This may be the best lineup in all of baseball, even building in some regression from Chris Davis, and while this is a very aggressive ranking, I think the O's are going to make a return trip to the playoffs in 2014.
3) Tampa Bay Rays
There are a lot of analysts saying they think the Rays are the best team in American League, and looking at the pitching it's easy to see why. On the other hand, it seems as if Tampa is always just one bat short, and the song remains the same; I look at their offense, and I just don't see the firepower needed to win big in this division.
4) New York Yankees
Their infield consists of Mark Texeira, Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, and Kelly Johnson as the primary starters; unfortunately, the year is not 2007, meaning that's not a good infield. The Yankees spent a lot of money to improve this year, but they're still underpowered and overaged in a brutal division.
5) Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays could be better this year, if they can avoid the same kind of injuries that killed them in 2013. Then again, I just don't think the pitching is all that good; they might be the best last-place team in baseball, but the words 'last place' are still in there.
1) Detroit Tigers
I wrote some words about the Tigers already, so I won't go over all that here. Suffice to say, they're heading for disaster eventually, but for now they've still got that rotation and a guy named Miggy.
2) Kansas City Royals
The Royals are going to be good this year, and they'd better be considering what they traded away for their staff ace. Still, there's a core here in KC you can't deny, and that offensive core is what's going to lift the Royals into the playoffs for the first time in what seems like forever.
3) Cleveland Indians
The Indians were one of the most exciting stories of 2013, making a playoff push very few saw coming, surprisingly built on a foundation of older players on short-term deals. This year, they're going to fall short, as the offense will still be good, but not good enough to support what looks like a very dicey pitching staff.
4) Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are finally headed in the right direction, and they're set to begin graduating their first real wave of talent to the majors this year, even as Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn are still around. They're going to be very young this season, and not very good just yet.
5) Minnesota Twins
The Twins are like the White Sox, only a couple years behind. They'll be really good one of these days, but not right now.
1) Oakland Athletics
The whole division has turned into a war of attrition, but the A's still have a solid offense and what might be the best bullpen in baseball. They may only get to 90 or 91 wins, but that might be enough to win a very competitive, but tightly bunched, American League West.
2) Texas Rangers
The Rangers, coming in, looked like the best team in the division, if not the AL as a whole. They've since lost something like 40% of their regulars; they're still talented enough to stay afloat, but not to catch Oakland at this point.
3) Anaheim Angels (or whatever they're called now)
They have the best player in baseball and a motivated, fighting for his legacy Albert Pujols at the center of an outstanding offense. The bottom half of this roster, though, especially on the pitching side, just isn't strong enough to support a run at the division title.
4) Seattle Mariners
Hey, remember when the Mariners made the move to sign Robinson Cano, and we all expected them to make one more big signing or trade to bolster what was suddenly a much more interesting roster? Well, we're still waiting, and the Mariners still aren't good enough.
5) Houston Astros
The Astros will be a little better to start the year, and quite a bit better to finish the year. In the overall scheme of 2014, though, they're still not particularly relevant just yet.
National League East
1) Washington Nationals
When you pick at the top of the draft year after year for awhile, this is the sort of team you end up with. The Nationals pitching is crazy good, and they have an offensive core that very, very few teams can match.
2) Atlanta Braves
The Braves looked like a strong second place team before their spring of discontent hit and two-fifths of their rotation was eaten by wolves. They still look like a second place team in the division, but mostly because the division, as a whole, is kind of crap.
3) New York Mets
The Mets will be a little better this year, as they move a couple new arms up to the big league level, but really, they're only middle of the pack compared to the dumpster fires going on in Miami and Philadelphia.
4) Miami Marlins
The Marlins infield is the only competition the Yankees have for the very bottom spot in baseball. And yet somehow, this team has two talents by the name of Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez in the middle of all the other things that define baseball The Marlin Way.
5) Philadelphia Phillies
Mark it down: 2014 will be the year of rock-bottom for the Philadelphia Phillies. Ruben Amaro has made all the wrong decisions for way too long now, and things are going to get worse before they get better; the only interesting question here is whether they'll finally get desperate enough to trade Cliff Lee.
1) St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards are the deepest team in baseball, with logjams at more than one position, too many pitchers for too few rotation spots, and one of the most valuable and unique (and uniquely valuable), players in the game behind the plate. Middle relief could be an issue, but honestly, my only real concern with this team is the eerily unanimous support they seem to be getting from all corners.
2) Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are going to regress a bit, as they relied heavily on a bullpen that was nearly unbeatable in 2013. Still, they have an outstanding young core -- particularly in the outfield -- and more pitching talent on the way in the very near future.
3) Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee has a lineup that can do plenty of damage; they pretty much always have, in fact. With the signing of Matt Garza, though, the Brew Crew can now run out three representative starting pitchers as well, particularly if Yovani Gallardo can get back on track after a really rotten 2013 campaign.
4) Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have had a rough spring, with plenty of injuries to go around on a team which already looked weaker coming in to 2014 than it was last season. Aside from Joey Votto, the Reds are going to have a tough time getting on base, and there's a lot of age-related downside risk here besides.
5) Chicago Cubs
Yes, they're building a powerhouse on the North Side. No, we don't have to worry about them this year.
1) Los Angeles Dodgers
I think the Dodgers are a very, very overrated team, despite acknowledging they have some of the best top-end talent of any team in the game. They'll win the West, I think, because the rotation should be tremendous, but the Dodgers of 2014 are not the juggernaut so many are eager to portray them as, mark my words.
2) Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks and the Tigers feel very similar to me, in the sense that both teams seem to constantly do stupid things in making moves that actually hinder their chances of winning, yet both still have enough talent that those stupid moves have yet to fully sink their respective metaphorical ships. Their rotation should be good enough to hold things together this season, and they have Archie Bradley waiting in the wings to come up and do something special.
3) San Francisco Giants
I was surprised, looking at the team rosters, how much I like what the Giants are going to be rolling out there on a daily basis, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, which is surprising. In 2014, I actually think it's going to be the starting rotation which isn't good enough to carry the team into the playoffs, even if Madison Bumgarner just might challenge for the title of Best Lefty Starter in the NL West very soon.
4) San Diego Padres
There are a handful of really, really nice names on the Padres' roster; guys like Will Venable, Everth Cabrera, and Jedd Gyorko are just the sort of players you could see making up part of a solid nucleus for a contending team. Unfortunately for San Diego fans, there's a lot of detritus on this roster, too, and the starting rotation in particular just isn't strong enough to support a run toward October.
5) Colorado Rockies
I'll be honest with you: I have virtually no idea what the Rockies' plan of action is, which makes it very hard to come up with a lucid bit of analysis. This pitching staff should be better than what we saw from Colorado in 2013, but in this particular case that's like comparing any injury one can suffer to a sucking chest wound: well, sure, it's a little better than that, you could say, but the point of comparison is so bad as to tell us absolutely nothing about the continuing wretchedness of what we're trying to make look better.
And there it is, folks. Sixty sentences, thirty teams, six months of baseball. Just a few more hours now.
Check ignition, and may god's love be with you.