The Major League Baseball Network (channel 213 for DirecTV subscribers ) is one of the most valuable and entertaining resources available for any hard-core baseball fan.
Top-shelf analysis from a variety of former players who are now insightful broadcast journalists, a wrap-up of baseball's day-by-day current events, along with live look-ins at games in progress, are among the highlights that make this channel a treat for anybody with a fervent interest in Major League Baseball.
Viewers were recently invited by the MLB Network to email in their opinions about which teams they believed faced the greatest amount of scrutiny and were under the most pressure to succeed in the 2014 season.
The Pirates weren't one of those teams, although they very well could have been. Following last year's benchmark season, the Pirates face the two-edged sword of high expectations this spring for the first time in over two decades.
So far, the bar they raised so high for themselves last year has only magnified the disappointments the Bucs have endured over the first quarter of this season.
From my viewpoint, though, several other teams face even more pressing challenges in 2014. Among them, in order:
New York Yankees: Combine the huge payroll, Hall-of-Fame lock Derek Jeter's farewell season, and the fact that the Yankees missed the playoffs last year, and you've got a cauldron of pressure surrounding this year's Bronx Bombers.
Los Angeles Dodgers: The best team that money can buy fell short of the World Series a year ago, getting bounced by the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. With a lineup that any team in baseball would envy, and two Cy Young Award candidates in Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke anchoring the rotation, this season will probably be considered a failure if the Dodgers can't make it to the World Series.
Los Angeles Angels: The Angels' acquisition of free-agent superstar Albert Pujols following the 2012 season broke the bank. In 2013, the Angels' failure on the field broke their fans' hearts. The Angels appear headed in the right direction so far this season, and they absolutely need to be.
Washington Nationals: The addition of right-handed pitcher Doug Fister in an offseason trade with the Detroit Tigers appeared to give the Nats one of the best starting pitching staffs in baseball. But Fister recently came off the disabled list just as lefty Geo Gonzalez was going on it. Those aren't the only problems plaguing the Nats, who nosedived out of playoff contention in 2013 after winning 98 games in 2012. Their two biggest offensive cogs, outfielder Bryce Harper and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, are on the DL and will be for awhile.
San Francisco Giants: After winning their second World Series in three seasons in 2012, the Giants missed the playoffs last year. They made significant upgrades this past offseason, adding veteran Tim Hudson to the starting rotation and slugger Mike Morse to the batting order. Much more is expected of the Giants this season, and so far, they've been delivering.
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds have made a habit of reaching the playoffs, then flopping immediately. That cost manager Dusty Baker his job last fall. Bryan Price, who the Reds promoted from pitching coach to manager, won't suffer the same fate this year if the Reds falter again, but there's still a sense that the time is now for Cincinnati.
John Hartsock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.