Though the Boys of Summer are still a few months from spring training we take a look at three teams who could surprise and earn those investing in them big bucks in their MLB picks come October.
AL Pennant Longshots
1. Toronto Blues (20-1 in MLB Odds) - The Toronto Blow Jays - er, excuse me, I have apparently been hanging around my Toronto friends a bit too long - could not have fallen further below expectations. Projected in 2013 to be the odds-on-favorite to win the bruising AL East, the Blue Jays could not overcome the litany of injuries that ultimately derailed their season.
But that was last year and hope springs eternal for 2014 with the return of superstars Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes, both bitten by the injury bug last season. Factor in those who fell victim to the curse of the World Baseball Classic, that ignominious tournament which preys upon major leaguers sense of nationalism, and tried to go too hard too soon for the glory of their native land. All well and good unless you're the MLB club paying the freight for damaged goods every four years.
Such was indeed the case for Toronto when R.A. Dickey took the entire first half of the season to get his back right after pitching in the WBC and third-baseman Brett Lawrie spent spring training recovering from a rib-cage injury suffered while participating on behalf of his beloved Canada. With healthy players starting the season this edition of the Toronto Blue Jays may just do what most expected them to do, only a year later.
2. Seattle Mariners (12-1 in MLB Odds) - Of course the Mariners will have their share of bandwagon jumpers due to the signing of the electrifying Robinson Cano ready to ply his trade in the Great Northwest. However, there are more reasons for Seattle fans to be optimistic and here are but a few.
Twenty-six-year-old infielder Kyle Seager was ripping the cover off the ball until he tailed off in mid-August. Even though his production waned as the season entered its homestretch he still wound up with 22 dingers and a .260 batting average. Now with the luxury of having a superstar batting behind him he should see more hittable pitches and don't be surprised if his numbers jump off the page.
What if defensive wizard Franklin Gutierrez stays healthy for an entire season? My oh my how that would help Seattle win a few close games with Gutierrez roaming centerfield and swallowing every ball hit even remotely in his direction. With an incentive laden one-year deal Gutierrez has every reason to keep himself in uniform and contributing this year and for his own financial security years hence.
And finally let's not forget about the white hot prospect named Taijuan Walker. This budding superstar will be counted on to crack the starting rotation and be mentored under the legendary Felix Hernandez. If Seattle gets a Rookie of the Year kind of season from Walker then there could be a stunning postseason run in the offing.
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3. Minnesota Twins (50-1 in MLB Odds) - Okay so maybe, just maybe, all the ganja I smoked in college a few decades ago is finally catching up to me because I truly believe that the Twins could finally catch lightning in a bottle and shock the world. I even said that with a straight face but you will obviously have to take my word on that.
Joe Mauer will be strictly a DH hitter with the wear and tear of backstopping turned over to young gun Josmil Pinto. This will give Mauer the opportunity to focus on hitting and free his body from the aches and pains that come with being a major league catcher. In addition, Pinto will now be able to showcase his skills along with a tantalizing prospect named Miguel Sano. The combination of those three could be an offensive boon while the signings of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes will give Minnesota more quality in the rotation and added depth in the lineup.