The Nationals made the leap from under .500 to first in the NL East in 2012. Who will break out in 2013?
Every season, teams that are irrelevant in the offseason come out of nowhere and take division titles, win postseason games and eliminate other more-favored teams from contention.
This past season, the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics were three teams who were preseason afterthoughts, but all ended up in the postseason. Oakland took the AL West from the two-time defending American League Champion Texas Rangers, who went on to get eliminated in the Wild Card game.
The rise of the Orioles pushed the perennially contending Boston Red Sox into last place and the Nationals took first place from the Phillies, who had won the division in every season since 2007.
Which teams are ready to make the leap into the elite category in 2013?
Josh Johnson will lead the Blue Jays rotation in 2013
The Blue Jays have often been considered a playoff-worthy team in the strongest division in baseball. They haven't finished higher than fourth place in any season since 2007 and have been unable to keep up with the spending of the Yankees and Red Sox as well as the player development of the Rays.
However, this offseason, the Blue Jays finally made a move that could throw them into contention for the AL East crown through a multi-player deal with the salary-dumping Miami Marlins. In exchange for marginal major league talent and a few prospects, Toronto received ace Josh Johnson, front of the rotation arm Mark Buehrle, All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, catcher John Buck and speedster Emilio Bonifacio.
On top of all of that, they signed all-star game MVP Melky Cabrera to play left field. Between these two deals, the Jays acquired three players who will be everyday starters, a reliable backup catcher and two of the top three if not the top two starters in their rotation.
They now have a formidable rotation that includes Johnson, Buehrle, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ. Throwing Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera into a lineup that includes Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie, and you've got yourself one of the most potent offenses in the game.
Don't be surprised to see the consistently mediocre Blue Jays take over the AL East in 2013.
Mike Trout was the MVP runner up in 2012
The Angels would have been on this list in the 2011-2012 offseason after acquiring Albert Pujols and C.J Wilson. However, they did not make the postseason in 2012 and are once again poised for a break out season in 2013.
Albert Pujols was off to an historically slow start in 2012, and the Angels' powerful rotation that included Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana didn't get going early as the Angels fell into a division deficit that they could not overcome.
However, that doesn't mean that they didn't come close. Upon calling up uber-prospect Mike Trout, the Angels turned their season around. On the day of his season debut, the Angels were 6-14 on April 28. The Angels finished the season 89-73, going 83-59 when Trout was called up (a winning percentage of .585).
This season, when Trout will be in the starting lineup from day one, the Angels should get going earlier and could end up winning the division. Don't be surprised to see Mike Trout win the 2013 MVP award and the rotation to come back strong led by Weaver, Wilson and the newly acquired Tommy Hanson.
In his first full season as a starter, Chris Sale was very impressive
The White Sox are the only team on this list who haven't undergone any major changes between opening day 2012 and this offseason. They finished in second place in 2012, just three games behind the first place Detroit Tigers.
In 2013, in the team's second year under manager Robin Ventura, the White Sox could overtake Detroit in the AL Central. Chicago's rotation is very strong, led by Jake Peavy, dark-horse Cy Young and candidate Chris Sale, as well as Gavin Floyd and John Danks. Games will be finished by left-handed power arm Matt Thornton and Addison Reed.
The offense could be stronger, but Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn provide run production from the middle of the order.
This team could use another player or two to bolster their offense, but the pitching could raise the team to another level in 2013 and most certainly overtake what was only a three game deficit in 2012 in the AL Central.
The Dodgers underwent a late-season transformation
Aside from the Blue Jays, no team in baseball has transformed more than the Dodgers. Towards the end of last season, the Dodgers created a package centered around first baseman James Loney, to acquire Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto from the Red Sox.
Going into 2013, the Dodgers have potentially five All-Stars in their everyday starting lineup in Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez. That could be the most potent offense in the National League.
Also, their rotation is headed by Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw and a potentially revitalized Josh Beckett, who should be helped by a move to the National League.
A strong top of the rotation plus potentially the most potent offense in baseball will propel the Dodgers into competition with the World Series defending champion San Francisco Giants.