(Reuters) - Five teams to watch in the 2014 Major League Baseball season:
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.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)