Handicapping the World Series Odds Following Blockbuster Marlins-Blue Jays Trade
David Banks-US PRESSWIRE
The trade that the Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins pulled off on Tuesday took the baseball landscape and tore it asunder. Things look drastically different now than they did before.
The deal, which was first reported by Fox Sports and is still technically unofficial, will send starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, shortstop Jose Reyes, utility man Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck to Toronto in exchange for a handful of major leaguers and minor leaguers who won't be missed by the Blue Jays.
It was debatable before whether the Blue Jays had enough talent to contend in a tough AL East division in 2013, but not anymore. They have as much talent as any team in the division. Maybe even more.
Might the Blue Jays even be a legitimate pick to win the World Series?
They just might be. As things stand right now, here's my take on every team's odds to win the World Series in 2013.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Enjoy 2013, Mr. Loria.
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
30. Houston Astros
The Astros are still years and years away from being ready to contend. The organization is on the right track, but for the time being, they have very little talent at the big-league level. To make matters worse, they're joining one of the toughest divisions in MLB in 2013. The AL West will show them no mercy.
29. Miami Marlins
The Marlins' odds of winning the World Series in 2013 weren't good to begin with, and they just waived goodbye to several of their best players this week. The word from several general managers per Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post is that Logan Morrison and Ricky Nolasco could go next, and I wouldn't rule out a trade of Giancarlo Stanton either.
28. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies entered an experimental phase in 2012, and the experiments shall continue in 2013. They'll be a good offensive team so long as Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Michael Cuddyer remain healthy, but their pitching is an amorphous blob that will probably be a source of much frustration.
27. Chicago Cubs
There's some upside where the Cubs are concerned, as they have two cornerstone youngsters in Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, and two solid starters in Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. However, their rebuild still needs a lot of work.
26. Cleveland Indians
I honestly don't get their decision to go for Terry Francona, but he should at least be able to keep the club from quitting like it did this past season. The bigger issue is how much talent he's going to have at his disposal come August and September. For that matter, the Indians could trade half their roster before spring training even arrives.
25. Minnesota Twins
I like what the Twins have on offense, as Joe Mauer can still hit and has a solid supporting cast in Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham and Denard Span. But, man, does this team need pitching. They have tons of mound projects they're working on, but none of them seem to be particularly promising.
The Red Sox won't be garbage again in 2013. Probably, anyway.
Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
24. New York Mets
For now, let's assume that the Mets will retain R.A. Dickey and David Wright for 2013. If so, Dickey will remain part of what was a quietly effective starting pitching staff, and Wright will remain the key cog in the club's lineup. It's just too bad the rest of the lineup stinks; the Mets have no bullpen, and they play in a very tough division.
23. San Diego Padres
I'm excited to see what Chase Headley can do for an encore, and I think San Diego's pitching stands to get a lot better, but the Padres still have the look of a team that has some more rebuilding to do. It doesn't help that they're miles below the Dodgers and Giants in terms of overall talent.
22. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have holes in their rotation, their outfield and at first base, but they're built around a strong core of hitters and have brought in a manager who should be able to fix Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and John Lackey. They're not as awful as they looked at the end of the 2012 season, and you just get the sense they're planning something big for the winter.
21. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are my dark-horse pick to be the Oakland A's of 2013. Their offense, which finished fifth in the AL in runs scored on the road, should be a lot more consistent with the fences at Safeco Field coming in.
Pitching wise, Felix Hernandez is awesome, and Jason Vargas and Hisashi Iwakuma are both better than they get credit for. If the Mariners need help later in the season, they have more than a few talented youngsters who are just about ready to contribute.
20. Kansas City Royals
The Royals have added Ervin Santana, but their starting rotation still needs a lot of work. However, they have a strong offense littered with talented young hitters, and they had the most underrated bullpen in baseball in 2012. Offense and great relief work did wonders for the Orioles in 2013. Maybe the same formula could work for the Royals.
19. Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen is a stud and has two quality partners in crime in Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez. A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez are both dependable, and James McDonald showed in the first half of 2012 that he has plenty of upside.
But I'll be damned if I'm going to believe in the Pirates so long as Clint Hurdle is running the show and men who think Navy Seals training is good for prospects are calling the shots.
18. Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun is a beast, and he has a solid group of hitters around him in the likes of Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy. I just worry about whether or not the Brewers have enough depth in their rotation or in their bullpen to challenge the Reds and the Cardinals in the NL Central.
17. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks are a pretty tough team to figure right now. Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley make for a strong starting trio, and Daniel Hudson will come along eventually as well. So could any of the club's top pitching prospects.
The D-Backs also have a strong offense based around Justin Upton, Jason Kubel, Aaron Hill and the underrated Paul Goldschmidt. But the D-Backs had a strong core in place for much of 2012 too, yet they never really got on track. As such, I'm skeptical.
And for what it's worth, my guess is that Upton will be traded soon.
16. Baltimore Orioles
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The Orioles really shouldn't have been as good as they were in 2012. Their starting pitching was inconsistent, their offense came and went, and their defense was lousy for a good chunk of the season.
The O's found a way to win 93 games anyway. Their bullpen was a huge strength, and they were able to add to their win total by rarely losing when a game was close. We may never see a team go 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra-inning games ever again.
We certainly won't see the Orioles do that again. That kind of performance in close games is going to be impossible to repeat in 2013. No team is going to be that lucky/fortunate/whatever two years in a row.
This doesn't mean the Orioles can't be good, mind you. They have a solid core of regulars to rely on in Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy, and they have two super-youngsters in Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy who could both make a huge difference next season.
Elsewhere, much will depend on the club's starting rotation being far more reliable than it was for the majority of the 2012 season, and the club's bullpen needs to be a major strength again. Rick Peterson will have to continue to work his magic.
The other big X-factor is Buck Showalter. We've seen him revive teams before, but we have yet to see him take a team the rest of the way. That's what he'll be trying to do in 2013, and his track record says not to hold your breath.
15. Chicago White Sox
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The White Sox came this close to winning the AL Central in 2012, but it's pretty clear in retrospect that they were just keeping first place warm for the Detroit Tigers. Once the Tigers got their act together, first place was all theirs.
Still, even I have to admit that the White Sox were much better than they were supposed to be in 2012. A ton of credit is owed to Robin Ventura for calming the place down after taking over for Ozzie Guillen, and Kenny Williams made some savvy moves that definitely helped keep the team afloat.
If there's hope for the White Sox in 2013, it's on the mound. Chris Sale was a contender for the AL Cy Young Award for much of the season, and Jake Peavy pitched a lot better than his 11-12 record would indicate.
Both of them will be back, and they'll be joined by a solid group that includes Gavin Floyd, Jose Quintana and John Danks (assuming his shoulder checks out).
With Kevin Youkilis and A.J. Pierzynski both out of the picture for the time being, the White Sox offense is a little incomplete. But at the very least, we know that they're going to have Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios in the middle and the underrated Alejandro De Aza at the top.
I wouldn't classify the club's bullpen as being a strength, but it very well could become a strength if Addison Reed improves and hard-throwing Nate Jones builds on his quality debut season.
The White Sox were an 85-win team in 2012, and that's with contributions from guys like Pierzynski, Youkilis, Francisco Liriano and Brett Myers—not to mention a throwback season from Alex Rios.
I can see them winning 85 games again, but I need to see them bring in some more talent before I buy them as a team capable of unseating the Tigers in the AL Central.
14. Tampa Bay Rays
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The Rays didn't have much in the way of offense in 2012, but man, could they pitch.
David Price, who took home the AL Cy Young on Wednesday (via MLB.com), won 20 games with a 2.56 ERA. James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore all posted ERAs in the threes. As a whole, Rays starters led all of baseball with a 3.34 ERA.
The club's bullpen was just as good. Fernando Rodney had one of the greatest seasons by a reliever in baseball history, and the bullpen as a unit posted an AL-best 2.88 ERA.
It remains to be seen how many members of Tampa's vaunted pitching staff will still be around in 2013. The Rays could trade one of their starters for a bat, and they may not retain free-agent relievers J.P. Howell and Kyle Farnsworth.
But it won't matter. The Rays' strength in 2013 will still be pitching, and strong pitching has a way of masking any glaring weaknesses a club may have.
I don't have a clue what Tampa's lineup is going to look like come Opening Day, but we know that Evan Longoria will be an AL MVP candidate if he stays healthy and that Ben Zobrist is always quietly productive. After experiencing his first full season in the majors in 2012, Desmond Jennings could break out and become a star in 2013.
A good over/under for the Rays in 2013 is 90 wins. That may be enough to get them a wild-card berth. If they get past the play-in game, their pitching will make them dangerous in a short postseason series.
13. Philadelphia Phillies
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After the season they just had in 2012, my guess is that a lot of people want to count out the Phillies for 2013.
Here's a hint: don't.
Yes, the Phillies came tumbling down to earth in 2012, but it was really a tale of two seasons. They went 37-50 in the first half when seemingly half their roster was in bandages, but then went 44-31 in the second half when they got healthier.
Phillies fans will have to cross their fingers for good health in 2013, but this team could do some serious damage if its key players manage to stay healthy.
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels could get back to where they were in 2011, and the team's offense will have considerably more thump if Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can avoid any catastrophic injuries. We know Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz are going to be solid.
Elsewhere, the Phillies have some intriguing youngsters who could make an impact in 2013. It's too early to call Domonic Brown a bust, and Darin Ruf capped off a highly successful season with a strong cameo in the majors.
Nobody should expect the Phillies to coast to a division title like they did back in 2011. The Nats are holding all the cards in the NL East, and the Braves are going to be a player as well. Plus, things could just as easily go to hell again if the injury bug strikes.
But let's face it. The Phillies are going to be fine if their luck is even a little better than it was in 2012, and nobody will want to face Halladay, Lee and Hamels in a short playoff series.
12. New York Yankees
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Surprised to see the Yankees this low?
If you are, take a minute to go look at who they currently have under control and who they currently don't have under control.
For the moment, the team that won 95 games in 2012 is missing its starting right fielder and catcher, as well as its most dependable starting pitcher and its closer. These are fairly integral parts that Brian Cashman has yet to replace.
Elsewhere, the Yankees have a broken-down old man in Alex Rodriguez penciled in to be their starting third baseman, and Derek Jeter will be fresh off a broken ankle when the 2013 season gets underway.
Mark Teixeira will be looking to snap out of his slow decline in 2013, and Curtis Granderson will be looking to put a disappointing 2012 campaign behind him so he can boost his free-agent stock.
On the mound, it became clear in 2012 that CC Sabathia may not be a man of steel anymore, and the Yanks don't have much in their rotation outside of him as long as Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte remain unsigned. If they don't bring back either of them, they'll be asking a lot of Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda.
The Yankees will eventually add Mariano Rivera, but right now their bullpen looks pretty barren with Rafael Soriano opting out of his contract. Even after Mo is brought back, the 'pen is going to need some work.
The Yanks will be fine after Brian Cashman finishes his winter's work, but right now they don't look so good.
11. Los Angeles Angels
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It's been a bit of a rough offseason for the Angels so far. They failed to get anything for Dan Haren before they had to decline his option, they lost Torii Hunter to the Tigers on Wednesday (via Fox Sports), and it's only becoming more and more apparent that it's going to cost them a fortune to retain Zack Greinke.
Nevertheless, there's still much to like about the Angels.
The Angels rotation is still headed by one of the game's best pitchers in Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson is at least a solid No. 3 starter. Ernesto Frieri is still in the bullpen and flanked by the likes of Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden.
Offensively, the Angels still have Mike Trout, who was the best player in baseball in 2012 by a mile-and-a-half.
It's doubtful that he'll be able to be as good as he was this season all over again in 2013, but he'll still be good enough to qualify as an elite player even if he takes a few steps back. His patience-power-speed-defense combination pretty much ensures that he'll never have a downright bad season.
Not having Hunter around to back Trout up in the lineup is going to hurt, but the Angels still have a couple of quality power sources in Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales in the middle of their lineup.
They'll obviously be looking for a better season from Pujols, and they should get one seeing as how he hit .308 with a .959 OPS over his final 118 games in 2012.
The Angels should have done a lot better than 89 wins in 2012. As things stand right now, I'd say 89 wins is probably their ceiling. That's good enough to put them in wild-card territory, and they have enough talent to do some damage in a short playoff series.
10. Atlanta Braves
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
If it feels like the Braves have gotten weaker since their 2012 season came to a disappointing end, that's because they have.
Chipper Jones is finally done playing. The Braves lost one of their key reserves when backup catcher David Ross signed with the Boston Red Sox. Eventually, they're probably going to lose their leadoff hitter when Michael Bourn signs a lucrative contract elsewhere.
Frank Wren is going to have some work to do to make sure these losses don't hurt too bad, but they're surely going to hurt. When the Braves are put back together again, it's hard to imagine them being as strong as the 2012 club.
But they'll still be strong.
Jones and Bourn may be gone, but the Braves will still have a quality lineup featuring young stars in Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, as well as veteran sluggers Brian McCann and Dan Uggla. Martin Prado is always quietly productive, and I feel comfortable marking Andrelton Simmons down to win a Gold Glove in 2013.
However, the Braves will be all about pitching. Their rotation will be anchored by the seemingly invincible Kris Medlen and the ever-reliable Tim Hudson, and they'll be joined by a couple of quality southpaws in Paul Maholm and Mike Minor. The Braves have plenty of depth beyond these four, and eventually Brandon Beachy will be ready to pitch again.
When the game gets to the ninth, the Braves will still have Craig Kimbrel to throw at opponents. For them, it's kind of like throwing LeBron James at a rec-league basketball team.
The Braves should at least be a 90-win team in 2013, and the pitching they have lined up for next season would be able to do some damage in the playoffs.
9. Texas Rangers
Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE
With Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, Scott Feldman and others all testing the free-agent waters, the Rangers have the look of a team that needs an awful lot of work this offseason.
But it's not all bad. They still have Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler in their infield and David Murphy and Nelson Cruz in their outfield. Their rotation is still headed by Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland, and their bullpen still has Joe Nathan in it.
It's a good bet that the Rangers will get their core prospects involved in a significant way in 2013 as well. They'll find playing time for Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, and Martin Perez could figure into the club's plans for its rotation regardless of whether or not they bring any starters in via trades or free agency.
For what it's worth, you can rest assured that the Rangers will make a significant move or two this winter, whether it's signing Zack Greinke or trading for a star hitter to replace Hamilton (Justin Upton, perhaps?). They have a very solid foundation in place, but GM Jon Daniels isn't about to leave good enough alone.
By the time the Rangers are done shopping this winter, they'll look like a major World Series contender again. Just wait and see.
...But since I'm focusing on what teams have right now at this very moment, it's pretty obvious that the Rangers are a weaker team now than they've been at any point in the last three years. They're still good, but they're short of great.
8. Oakland A's
Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
Every bone in my body is telling me that I need to accept the A's for what they were in 2012: a total fluke.
But I can't do that. Even in retrospect, the fact that the A's won 94 games and the AL West title in 2012 still makes too much sense.
You can go far in baseball if you can pitch well and hit a ton of home runs, and the A's very much used this formula to get ahead. They finished sixth in MLB in team ERA, and they hit more homers and scored more runs than any team in the American League after the All-Star break.
Outside of Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew, the A's don't stand to lose any key members of their offense. Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick will be back in the outfield, and now Bob Melvin has Chris Young at his disposal as well.
Brandon Moss and Chris Carter will once again form a killer left-right platoon at first base, and Josh Donaldson is a guy to watch at third base after he finished the 2012 season with an .844 OPS in the second half.
The A's may lose Brandon McCarthy from their starting rotation, but they've already retained Bartolo Colon, and they'll be looking for more great things from their young starters. Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker both have tons of talent, and Tommy Milone proved to be a very reliable lefty throughout the course of the 2012 season.
In their bullpen, the A's retained Grant Balfour to be their closer, and they still have Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle to set up for him.
The A's aren't going to catch anybody by surprise in 2013 like they did in 2012, but they're not about to plummet back to earth either. They were a legitimately good team this season, and they have all the pieces they need to enjoy themselves all over again next season.
7. Toronto Blue Jays
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Heck, why not?
Seriously, why not?
This may seem like a knee-jerk reaction, but this is a case where you actually have to sit down and look at what the Blue Jays are packing for 2013. Actually give this some thought.
Adding Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to the club's rotation was a huge win for Alex Anthopoulos.
The Jays had a very hard time coming up with reliable starters in 2012, and now they have a veteran lefty—who may as well be the definition for the word "reliable"—and a high-ceiling righty who has the same FIP as Roy Halladay since the start of the 2010 season (h/t FanGraphs).
Having these two around will help. If Brandon Morrow stays healthy, he has the stuff to be a Cy Young contender. Ricky Romero will be a Comeback Player of the Year candidate if he puts his awful 2012 season behind him and gets back to where he was in 2011.
Toronto's offense didn't need much help to begin with. The Jays may have ended up with mediocre offensive totals, but they ranked third in the AL in runs and second in homers before the All-Star break when Jose Bautista and others were healthy.
Now this offense has two top-of-the-order speedsters in Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio and an additional power source in John Buck.
The only area the Blue Jays are really lacking is in their bullpen, as they don't have much outside of Casey Janssen. But as the Tigers proved this past season, having a poor bullpen isn't necessarily a deal-breaker.
You don't win championships on paper, but there's no denying that the Jays suddenly look like a frightfully good team after their trade with the Marlins. If everything comes together the way they're hoping, they could be a juggernaut.
6. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals took a lot of people by surprise when they ended up coming one win away from going back to the World Series after an unspectacular 88-win regular season, but we really should have seen it coming. They are, after all, the Cardinals.
Presently, they're set to return many of the players who played key roles in 2012. Kyle Lohse is probably a goner, and Lance Berkman may just decide to hang up his spikes, but they're the only free agents the Cardinals have to worry about.
All the key parts of their offense will be back, from Jon Jay to Carlos Beltran to Matt Holliday to Yadier Molina to Allen Craig, all the way down to Pete Kozma. The club's rotation will feature fully healthy versions of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright for the first time since 2010, and they'll be joined by Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook.
If the Cardinals want to inject some youth into their starting rotation, they have more than enough options to do so. Lance Lynn could start again, and the Cards also have Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal standing by. Whoever isn't starting could work out of the bullpen.
I'm not going to be surprised if the Cardinals have another mediocre regular season in 2013, but they'll be a team to watch when the postseason rolls around. They live for October, and they showed in 2012 that they haven't lost their edge under Mike Matheny even if they did fall short in the end.
5. Cincinnati Reds
Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
No contender was more overlooked than the Reds in 2012, but they soon had everyone's attention when they dominated the first two games of their matchup against the Giants in the NLDS. They looked like they were on their way to the World Series.
And then it all fell apart. Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.
But the Reds will be back. In fact, they should be even better in 2013 than they were in 2012.
Pitching led the way for the Reds this season, and it will lead the way once again next season. Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos will form one of the best one-two punches in baseball, and they'll be backed by a quality veteran in Bronson Arroyo.
After he went 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA in his last seven regular-season starts and then flirted with a no-hitter in the NLDS, Homer Bailey is definitely a guy to keep an eye on.
So is Aroldis Chapman, who could be moved into the starting rotation if the Reds find somebody to take his place as the club's closer. If they do, the Reds rotation will be as stacked as any rotation in baseball.
If they don't, they'll be able to live with Chapman coming out of what is already a very strong bullpen.
The Reds could stand to make a few offensive upgrades, but at the very least they'll know they're going to get good production out of Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. Phillips is always good for at least 15 homers and 15 steals, Bruce is good for 30 homers, and Votto is the game's best left-handed hitter when he's healthy.
Winning 97 games in consecutive years is a tall task, but I don't see any glaring reason to expect a drop-off from the Reds in 2013. They have an enviable pitching staff, and their offense will be good enough so long as Phillips, Bruce and Votto stay healthy and productive.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
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The Dodgers are an easy target after they made all their big moves and then finished the season by going "pluh," but underestimating this team is about the dumbest thing you can do.
For starters, the Dodgers are not going to finish in the bottom third of the National League in runs scored again.
Matt Kemp will go back to being an MVP-caliber player when his health clears up, and he's joined in the middle of the lineup by a very good cast of characters in Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier.
If Gonzalez gets back to where he was in 2011 and his years with the Padres, he could also emerge as an MVP candidate.
And don't sleep on Carl Crawford. His time in Boston made it easy to forget how good he is, but we're talking about a guy who averaged an .806 OPS, 14 homers and 49 stolen bases between 2004 and 2010 with the Rays. He was one of the game's elite players, and he's still too young to be over the hill.
On the mound, the Dodgers have the National League's best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw, and his supporting cast isn't bad. Josh Beckett had a 2.93 ERA as a Dodger, and Chris Capuano, Chad Billingsley and Aaron Harang all had ERAs in the 3.00s.
The Dodgers may have given Brandon League a ridiculous contract, but he's part of a bullpen that finished in the top 10 in ERA in 2012. If he can't cut it as the team's closer, Kenley Jansen can step in and put his vicious cutter to work, Mariano-style.
The Dodgers are being built to win a World Series no matter the cost. As absurd as their payroll is getting, you have to admit that they could be doing worse things with their money.
3. San Francisco Giants
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Some say the Giants have the makings of a dynasty. They are absolutely right.
The Giants won the World Series for the second time in three years in 2012, and they're set to return virtually all their key players in 2013. The only big ones who are still in limbo are Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro.
The club's pitching staff is still intact, and it should be expected to once again be the core of the team's success in 2013.
Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong all finished with ERAs under 3.40 in 2012, and they'll lead the way for the rotation next season. The Giants know they can rely on Barry Zito like never before after how he finished the season, and they'll be looking for a bounce-back season from Tim Lincecum.
And you have to think that such a season is in the cards. Lincecum is too good to post an ERA over 5.00 again, and he has the added incentive of performing well in what will be a contract year. He'll get his mechanics squared away over the offseason and come back looking to pick up where he left off in 2011.
The Giants are probably going to be a mixed bag offensively, but it's pretty clear that they have a premier cleanup hitter on their hands in Buster Posey. He won the batting title in 2012, and he's probably going to win the NL MVP on Thursday. He's still only going to be 26 when Opening Day rolls around.
Elsewhere, the Giants will be looking for more consistency out of Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, and they'll be looking for Brandon Belt to realize his still-untapped potential after he finally got regular playing time in 2012.
The Giants don't have the best team on paper, but what it boils down to is that the 2013 Giants are going to look a lot like the 2012 Giants when Opening Day finally comes. They'll be a heavy favorite to repeat pretty much by default.
2. Detroit Tigers
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The Tigers were not the best team the American League had to offer in 2012, but that didn't matter by the time the postseason rolled around. What mattered was that they were perfectly constructed to win in the postseason.
This had pretty much everything to do with their starting pitching, which was excellent in October. Though he crashed and burned in Game 1 of the World Series, Justin Verlander conquered his playoff demons in the ALDS and ALCS.
Doug Fister allowed only three earned runs in 19.1 innings. Anibal Sanchez allowed four earned runs in 20.1 innings. Max Scherzer struck out 26 in 17.1 innings.
The only guy who might not be back in 2013 is Sanchez, as he's seeking a new contract that may be too rich even for the Tigers. Even if he isn't retained, though, starting pitching will still be one of Detroit's key strengths in 2013.
Detroit's offense, meanwhile, should be a lot better. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder will be a killer middle-of-the-order duo once again, and in 2012 they'll be sandwiched by Victor Martinez and new toy Torii Hunter. After making big strides in 2012, Austin Jackson could develop into a true superstar in 2013.
As things stand right now, the Tigers are the best team in the AL Central by a mile. Losing Sanchez will hurt, but the offense they're gaining with Hunter's signing and Martinez's return should make up for it. And as long as Verlander, Fister and Scherzer are healthy come playoff time, the Tigers will still be able to do damage in a short postseason series.
The Tigers were good in 2012. They have the pieces to be great in 2013.
1. Washington Nationals
Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE
The Nationals were the best team in baseball in 2012, winning 98 games and their first ever division title.
You may be surprised to hear this after the season they just had, but we still haven't seen the Nationals at their best. This team is loaded.
The Nats may lose Edwin Jackson to free agency, but their starting rotation won't miss him all that much.
They'll still have Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gionzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, which gets my vote for the best starting trio in baseball. Strasburg and Gonzalez should both be Cy Young contenders in 2013, and Zimmermann's 3.05 ERA over the last two seasons makes him one of the top No. 3 starters in the league.
Offensively, the Nats will bring back pretty much everyone from a lineup that ranked second in the National League in runs scored in the second half when everyone was finally healthy.
Ryan Zimmerman hit 17 homers with a .945 OPS after the break, and 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper hit .323/.378/.646 in his final 42 games. If he builds on that finish, his 20-year-old season could rival Mike Trout's.
The Nats also have a highly underrated shortstop in Ian Desmond and a very good power source in Mike Morse who could step in and play first base if Adam LaRoche signs elsewhere as a free agent. Jayson Werth could return to the leadoff spot in 2013 where he posted an .838 OPS in 38 games in 2012.
The Nats were good enough to go to the World Series in 2012, and they didn't even have Strasburg when they began their playoff run. He'll be on a much longer leash in 2013, and now the Nats have experience to back up their talent.
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