Five players to watch in 2014:
MIGUEL CABRERA, DETROIT TIGERS
One of the cleanest hitters in baseball, Cabrera was named the American League's Most Valuable Player in each of the past two seasons. In 2012, he became the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown after leading the AL in batting average, home runs and runs batted in (RBI).
Despite struggling with injuries in 2013, Cabrera finished with a career-best .348 batting average and matched his record of 44 home runs. With the departure of Prince Fielder, Cabrera returns to first base this year and, if he stays fit, will play a big role in determining whether the Tigers can land the World Series.
MIKE TROUT, LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The 22-year-old outfielder has established himself as the brightest young player in the game. In 2012, Trout was named the AL Rookie of the Year and also finished second to Cabrera in AL MVP voting.
He finished second to Cabrera again in the 2013 AL MVP race after hitting .323 with 27 home runs, 97 RBI and 109 runs scored as well pulling off some outstanding catches in the outfield.
ANDREW McCLUTCHEN, PITTSBURGH PIRATES
The 27-year-old center fielder won the MVP award for the National League last season after averaging .317, with 21 home runs, 84 RBI and 27 stolen bases.
A three-time All-Star, he helped lead the Pirates to the playoffs for the first time in 21 years last season and looms as their trump card again this year.
YU DARVISH, TEXAS RANGERS
Darvish joined MLB in 2012 in a multi-million dollar deal after establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in his homeland Japan. A right hander, Darvish has a wide repertoire of pitches that have made him an instant hit in MLB.
In his rookie season with Texas, he threw 221 strikeouts then tossed a league-leading 277 strikeouts last season with an ERA of 2.83. He came within one out of a pitching a perfect game against the Houston Astros and finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting.
CLAYTON KERSHAW, LOS ANGELES DODGERS
When Kershaw won his second NL Cy Young Award in three years last season, the Dodgers rewarded him with a seven-year $215 million contract extension, the richest deal over offered to a pitcher.
The left-hander finished 2013 with a 16-9 record, 232 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.83, marking the third consecutive season he led the league in the key pitching statistic.
Five teams to watch in 2014:
BOSTON RED SOX
Boston capped a brilliant decade of baseball last season with their third World Series title in 10 years after going 86 years without one. Hoping to repeat as well as prepare for the next decade, the Red Sox have entrusted the left side of their infield to rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts and young, slugging third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Centerfield, another key spot, will be manned either by rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. or Grady Sizemore, who was once one of MLB's most dynamic players but has not played in the majors since 2011 due to injuries.
NEW YORK YANKEES
After suffering the indignity of missing the playoffs for the second time in 19 years, the Yankees opened their checkbook with a vengeance to try and overtake bitter rivals and World Series champion Boston Red Sox. New York's lineup now includes Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann and the pitching staff boasts Masahiro Tanaka, 24-0 last year in Japan. It will be New York's first season without premier closer Mariano Rivera in 19 years, and their last one with shortstop Derek Jeter, who will end his 20-year career at season's close.
The Rangers reached the World Series in 2010 and 2011 but slipped the past two years. After letting slugger Josh Hamilton go to free agency last season, Texas decided to beef up the order, adding free agent Choo Shin-soo and trading for power-hitting Prince Fielder in hopes of returning to prominence. Texas could threaten the Oakland A's, winners of the last two AL West crowns, if they can overcome some injuries to a rotation topped by Yu Darvish, runner-up in last year's Cy Young voting.
The perennial AL Central power once again features the league's top pitching trio in Justin Verlander, Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and ERA champion Anibal Sanchez. But the Tigers might not roar so loud on offense, despite slugger Miguel Cabrera, after trading Prince Fielder to Texas for second baseman Ian Kinsler, an all-round threat. An injury to Kinsler's double-play mate, Jose Iglesias, has the Bengals scrambling for a shortstop. Addition of closer Joe Nathan boosts the bullpen as Detroit takes aim at their first World Series crown in 30 years.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
With young hitters such as Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas poised to break out as run producers, the Royals installed a new top to their lineup in speedy Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante to set the table for what could be a potent attack. The bullpen, led by closer Greg Holland, is top flight, but the quality of the rotation behind James Shields is in question. Flame-throwing Yordano Ventura could be a key if he can harnass his 100-mph fastball.
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