Giants, A’s have high hopes in 2014

Giants%2C+A%27s+have+high+hopes+in+2014

Eric Yee, Sports Editor

The 2014 baseball season is officially underway and fans across the Bay Area have high expectations for their local teams.

The San Francisco Giants, winners of two of the last four World Series, have retained most of last season’s players.

This past offseason the team signed free agent pitcher Tim Hudson and outfielder Mike Morse, and re-signed pitchers Ryan Vogelsong and Javier Lopez to new contracts.

Offensively, the team is poised for a stronger season than last year. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval is in a contract year, and has dropped 30 pounds since last season and will be relied upon for his strong batting average and power.

Catcher Buster Posey is looking to return to MVP form after his production deteriorated toward the end of last year.

First baseman Brandon Belt is hoping to pick up where he left off the end of last season. Belt hit .346 from August to the end of last season, and is off to a hot start in 2014 with four  home runs.

Unfortunately, injuries have already become an issue for the team, as second baseman Marco Scutaro began the season on the disabled list.

Outfielders Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence will look to continue their consistency this year.

The starting pitching is expected to rebound from last year’s unpredictable decline from elite to mediocre. Led by long-time ace Matt Cain, the rest of the rotation features the familiar faces of Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, and Vogelsong.

Bullpen lefty Jeremy Affeldt will begin the season on the disabled list, while trusted relievers Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo will continue to anchor the Giants in the late innings.

Despite a relatively quite offseason, General Manager Brian Sabean has a knack for making big moves at the right time. Expect the Giants to acquire a midseason boost and earn help them claim the NL West title.

It wasn’t until recently that the Oakland A’s began vying for fans’ attention.

The A’s are trying to make the playoffs for the third straight year, and have made the necessary acquisitions to do so.

Outfield slugger Yoenis Cespedes has battled his fair share of injuries of the years, and he is ready to bounce back from last year’s significant drop in batting average.

Last year’s breakout All-Star, Josh Donaldson, is out to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. He will be a cornerstone in  the offense that also features fan-favorites Josh Reddick and Coco Crisp.

Most of the A’s’ offseason acquisitions have come with the pitching.   After closer Grant Balfour ditched Oakland for Tampa Bay, former Orioles’ All-Star Jim Johnson signed and took over closer duties.

Johnson has saved 101 games over the past two seasons with the Orioles and fans should expect a similar output this year.

The loss of starting pitcher Jarrod Parker because of  Tommy John surgery has left the rest of the rotation a large load to carry.

Twenty four year old Sonny Gray dazzled opponents in his time with the team last year and is poised to become the ace of the team going forward.

The A’s signed free agent Scott Kazmir, and while the contract seemed generous to the former All-Star, he has proved to fans he is worth every penny early in the season.

But the competition from the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels may prove too much to overcome, ultimately costing the A’s a postseason birth.

Elsewhere around the league, the biggest offseason signing was that of Japanese phenom  pitcher Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees.  He is expected to win the AL Rookie of the Year.  St. Louis’ rookie second baseman Kolten Wong is the front runner for the National League.

The Angels’ highly coveted outfielder Mike Trout has joined an elite group of four, including Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and current teammate Albert Pujols, as the only players to bat .320 with 50 home runs and 200 runs scored in his first two full seasons.

Trout will pair with National’s outfielder Bryce Harper as favorites to win MVP.

The Dodgers’ terrorizing lefty, Clayton Kershaw, already has won two Cy Young Awards, and a third isn’t out of question. He and Rangers ace Yu Darvish will look to capture the Cy Young Awards this season, despite both beginning the season on the disabled list.

The St. Louis Cardinals are favorites to represent the National League in the World Series.  They feature a constant supply of young players, which include pitchers Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, and infielders  Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, and Wong.

The defending World Champion Boston Red Sox return as favorites in the American League.  The team is expecting young infielder Xander Bogaerts to have a strong rookie campaign at shortstop. Veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia will bring their leadership to the lineup.

Ultimately, the St. Louis Cardinals have proven their roster is worthy of early season favorites to win the World Series, but baseball fans know to expect the unexpected.

Read more of Yee’s thoughts about the season at www.teenink.com. Type in Eric Y to search for his stories.