It seems like every Major League Baseball season is required to feature at least one team that comes out of nowhere and blows everyone's expectations to smithereens.
In 2010, it was the Cincinnati Reds, who rose from a fourth-place finish in the NL Central in 2009 to win the division for the first time since 1995.
Last year, it was the Arizona Diamondbacks, who shrugged off a 97-loss season and a last-place finish in the NL West to win the division for the second time in five years.
This year, the team that is throwing the status quo for a loop is Baltimore. The Orioles lost 93 games and finished in last place in the AL East in 2011, and this year, they find themselves tied for first place in the division with less than a month to go in the season.
The Orioles may not win the AL East crown, but the franchise's first postseason berth in 15 years is likely. You have to love it (unless you're a Yankees fan).
When the 2013 season rolls around, we'll all be on the lookout for a team that could duplicate what the Orioles have done this season. And rest assured, at least one team will come along and shake things up.
Here's a look at five teams that have what it takes to pull off an Orioles-like revival in 2013.
Note: All stats come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
It's been a tale of two seasons for the Metropolitans in 2012. They were 46-40 and a great story of redemption at the All-Star break, and they have since stumbled to the tune of an 18-32 record in 50 games since the break. They now reside in fourth place in the NL East.
Such things are bound to happen when you're scoring only 3.44 runs per game and your bullpen can't protect a lead to save its life. The Mets were standing on shaky enough ground even when they were winning, and that ground has completely come apart in the second half.
However, there is room for optimism regarding the Mets.
The Mets likely aren't going to have a great offense next season, but they can rest easy knowing that David Wright will still be around to provide some thump in the middle of the order. He's cooled as the season has progressed, but he's proved all over again this season that he's one of the game's elite third basemen. Wright will be back in 2013 even if Sandy Alderson can't ink him to an extension.
Meanwhile, Ike Davis has shrugged off his brutally slow start to post an .894 OPS and hit 20 home runs over his last 72 games. If he stays consistent in 2013, he could have a 35-homer season. Maybe even a 40-homer season.
Wright and Davis will have to handle the bulk of the offense in 2013, but the team's true strength should be its starting pitching staff.
Stud knuckleballer R.A. Dickey will be back in 2013. Johan Santana will be back as well, and he should benefit from his early shutdown this year. Joining Dickey and Santana in the Mets rotation will be the underrated Jonathan Niese, young flamethrower Matt Harvey and potentially top prospect Zack Wheeler as well.
Keep in mind that we're talking about a starting pitching staff that ranks third in MLB in quality starts this year. Next year, it should be even better.
The only concern is the club's bullpen, which will need a complete overhaul during the offseason. The Mets bullpen has lost 25 games and posted a 4.75 ERA this season, and that can't happen again.
The bright side for Alderson is that there will be some quality relievers on the free-agent market this winter, so he will be able to patch up the team's bullpen as long as he and the team's ownership are willing to spend a little money.
And they should be. The Mets' 2012 season has taken a turn for the worse, but the team really doesn't need all that much to get back on top in 2013.
It's been 16 years since the Royals finished any higher than third place in the AL Central, and it's looking like that same fate awaits them in 2012. Their 61-74 record puts them in third place in the AL Central once again.
Here's the thing about the Royals, though: Nobody wants to play them right now.
Since the first of August, the Royals have a record of 19-14. They've pulled off sweeps of both the White Sox and Tigers, and they also managed to win a series against the Oakland A's.
You may be thinking that one hot month is nothing to get excited about, and you're absolutely right. However, the thing to keep in mind about the Royals is that their season has basically been ruined by two horrid months in April and July. In May, June and August, the Royals finished with winning records.
Kansas City has two main strengths: its offense and its bullpen. The Royals rank sixth in MLB in team batting average at .268, and their bullpen is tied for fourth in MLB with none other than the Orioles with a 3.00 ERA. Few bullpens around the league feature as many flamethrowers as Kansas City's, and they make watching the Royals 'pen go to work one of this season's most underappreciated spectacles.
Going forward, what other teams should be worried about is the fact that the Royals are based around a solid core of hitters who should only get better in 2013. Billy Butler is already one of the top right-handed hitters in either league. Former No. 2 overall pick Alex Gordon is one of the best all-around left fielders in the game. Mike Moustakas has had a very strong sophomore season, and one assumes Eric Hosmer will be due for a bounce-back year in 2013.
Likely to join this core of hitters in 2013 is Wil Myers, who was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year this week. He earned that award by hitting .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs in 134 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
The Royals will have to improve their starting pitchin to contend in 2013. Poor Ned Yost has been forced to use 12 different starting pitchers this season, and the starters he has used this season have posted an ERA over 5.00.
However, the Orioles had the worst starting pitching in the league last season. It was a mess for much of the 2012 season, and that hasn't kept them from contending. For much of the year, a good offense and a good bullpen was more than enough to keep the wins coming for the Orioles.
The Royals could abide by this same formula next season.
The Padres are in pretty much the same boat as the Royals. They may have a bad record, but nobody wants to play them right now.
The Padres have a 29-21 record since the All-Star break, and at one point, they won eight games in a row against contending teams in the Giants, Pirates, Diamondbacks and Braves. Their pitching during that eight-game win streak was tremendous.
Pitching will definitely be San Diego's primary strength in 2013. Its rotation is likely to feature the likes of Edinson Volquez, Clayton Richard, Andrew Cashner, Casey Kelly and Cory Luebke once he recovers from Tommy John surgery that he underwent in May. That's a solid group, and the Padres will have depth beyond those five as well.
The Padres will also be returning a strong group of relievers, including recently-extended closer Huston Street. His 0.75 ERA in 2012 is just one of the reasons why San Diego's bullpen as a whole has been able to post a highly respectable 3.30 ERA in 2012.
Don't underestimate the bats the Padres have at their disposal either. The Padres may rank 13th in the National League in runs scored, but they actually rank fifth in the Senior Circuit in runs scored on the road. The Padres can swing the bats a little.
Assuming he isn't traded this offseason, Chase Headley will be a dark-horse MVP candidate in 2013. He's established himself as a true superstar in 2012, as he actually boasts a higher WAR than players like Buster Posey and Adrian Beltre, according to FanGraphs. He should be even better in 2013.
And he won't be alone in San Diego's lineup. Carlos Quentin will be back, and the Padres could see an uptick in production from high-ceiling youngsters such as Cameron Maybin, Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal. It also wouldn't be a huge surprise if the Padres spent some money in free agency this offseason to add to their lineup, as they have a new ownership group that has promised an increase in payroll (see CBSSports.com).
As the 2013 season goes along, we're likely to see the Padres start dipping into their farm system, which some consider to be the best in baseball. The young guys could provide a spark similar to the one the Oakland A's have gotten from their young players this season.
The Padres are on a path that will have them contending sooner or later. Don't be surprised if it's sooner rather than later.
We come to yet another team that nobody wants to play right now.
The Mariners stumbled to a 36-51 record before the All-Star break, but ever since, they're 30-20. The only team with a lower team ERA than Seattle since the break is the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Mariners can thank Felix Hernandez for that. He's 7-1 with a 1.57 ERA (and one perfect game) in the second half, and 13-6 with an AL-best 2.51 ERA overall this season. He has my vote for the AL Cy Young award.
King Felix isn't the only Mariners pitcher who's been money lately, however. Jason Vargas has a 2.82 ERA over his last 13 starts, and Hisashi Iwakuma has an ERA of 2.18 in 10 starts since the break. Both of them are likely to be back in 2013.
Joining King Felix, Vargas and Iwakuma in Seattle's rotation could be top prospects Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen, both of whom found their way into the top five of Baseball America's midseason rankings of the top 50 prospects in baseball.
Those two aren't the only elite prospects Seattle has down on the farm. Shortstop Nick Franklin could be an everyday player very soon, and the Mariners could also start 2012 first-round pick Mike Zunino at the major league level as soon as Opening Day.
The Mariners already have a solid core of young players in place at the major league level. Jesus Montero's bat has a ton of potential. Dustin Ackley is an elite defensive second baseman whose bat still has a lot of untapped potential. Kyle Seager looks like a solid option at third base heading into the future.
The Mariners aren't going to be a great offensive team no matter how things work out, but they're showing in the second half of this season that pitching and defense are more than enough for them to win games.
If they abide by this same formula in 2013, they'll make some noise. If their young players blossom into stars, they'll become the new power in the AL West.
And in this scenario, methinks King Felix will want to stick around beyond the 2014 season.
The Blue Jays have seen their once-promising season fall apart to the tune of a 17-32 record in the second half, but don't blame their struggles on a lack of talent.
No sir, their struggles have more to do with a lack of healthy talent.
The Jays have been (literally?) snakebit this season. They currently have 11 players on the disabled list, including star slugger Jose Bautista, young stud Brett Lawrie and talented pitchers such as Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and Sergio Santos.
The Blue Jays won't be completely healthy until next season. When they do get healthy, other teams in the AL East will quickly learn to fear them.
In Bautista, Lawrie, Colby Rasmus and Edwin Encarnacion, the Blue Jays have one of the most explosive offensive foursomes in all of baseball. The Blue Jays will have even more thunder in their lineup if they retain Kelly Johnson, and they'll have a ton of power at catcher if they go with a tandem of J.P. Arencibia and Travis d'Arnaud.
Pitching-wise, the Blue Jays won't be at full strength until all their injured pitchers recover from their various surgeries, but at the very least it looks like they'll be able to start the season with Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero at the top of their rotation.
Morrow has had injury problems of his own, but few pitchers in baseball have nastier stuff than he does. If he stays healthy, he's capable of putting together a Cy Young-caliber season.
Romero, meanwhile, has been awful this season, but we know from his 2011 season (15-11, 2.92 ERA) that he has the ability to be an above-average major league starter.
So does Carlos Villanueva, and even J.A. Happ has been decent since the Jays acquired him from the Houston Astros.
The Jays will have to add some bodies to their bullpen this offseason, but at least they know that Casey Janssen can cut it as the team's closer. He has a 1.14 ERA and a staggering 10.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio in save situations this season.
The only thing standing in Toronto's way next season will be health. If it's luckier than it was this year, it'll go far.
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