13 Things to Watch For in 2013 MLB Season

Zeke Fuhrman@@mellamoelzekeAnalyst IIIDecember 25, 2012

13 Things to Watch For in 2013 MLB Season

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    Today is Christmas, and that means two things: 55 days until Pitchers and Catchers report, and 115 days until Opening Day.

    As we celebrate the Holiday season and get ready to celebrate the New Year, let's take a look at the upcoming season at what will be memorable, breathtaking, and unforgettable moments in the 2013 MLB season.

It's Always Interleague Season

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    I don't think a 100-loss team has ever had this much impact on a baseball season before.

    The Houston Astros, a National League staple since 1962, head to the American League West in 2013 and creates an odd number of teams in each league.

    So there will always be an inter-league series happening, the first comes right off the bat on Opening Night when the Los Angeles Angels take visit the NL Central Champion Cincinnati Reds.

    After competing in the NL Central since the last realignment in 1994, the 'Stros will not say goodbye to their former division foes just yet. Houston will play three games in Pittsburgh (May 17-19) and in Chicago against the Cubs (June 21-23), while playing welcoming the the Brewers (June 18-20) and Reds (Sept. 16-18). They will play a pair of two-game series against the Cardinals that will begin in Houston (June 25-26) before moving to St. Louis (July 9-10).

The Return of Mariano Rivera

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    The first of three aging Yankee comebacks is on. 

    After tearing his ACL shagging fly balls before a game in Kansas City, many analysts figured the 42 year old pitcher's career was over.

    The odd thing about Mariano Rivera's injury was that Rivera credits himself as a reliable center fielder and has asked Girardi to let him play the position before he retires, and that he has shagged fly balls before almost every game in his career.

    But the all-time leader in saves had other plans, signing a one-year deal with the AL East Yankees in the off-season. 

    With last year's closer Rafael Soriano opting out of his deal, Rivera will resume his role as closer.

Toronto Blue Jays Return to Relevance

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    Unless you're from Eastern Canada or western New York, you probably haven't cared much about the Toronto Blue Jays recently.

    Since winning back-to-back World Series titles in the early 1990s, the Blue Jays have gone 18 consecutive seasons without a postseason appearance.

    With the four other AL East teams making the post-season the last three years, Toronto fans have been getting anxious...especially with the way the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays were able to build from the ground up.

    Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos did not disappoint.

    In easily the most productive off-season in Jays history, Anthopoulos traded for pitchers Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A Dickey, and position players Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonafacio, and Josh Thole. In addition, he signed free agent Melky Cabrera.

    And the Jays didn't have to give up Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus or Brett Lawrie to get those guys.

    Don't expect the Blue Jays to be near the AL East cellar again this year.

Johan Santana Returns to Minnesota

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    Johan Santana has beaten every Major League team in his career...expect the team he won two Cy Young awards with.

    Santana has faced the Minnesota Twins only once since being traded to the New York Mets in 2008, taking the loss after giving up five runs over five innings on June 26, 2010 in New York.

    But he should get another crack at them this April when the Mets are at Target Field. 

The Battle for Los Angeles: May 27-30

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    The Angels and Dodgers have been big spenders the last two off-seasons, and the inter-city rivals will square off for a home-and-home series May 27-30.

    Last season the Angels brought in C.J Wilson and Albert Pujols. The Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez.

    This off season, the Angels signed Josh Hamilton. The Dodgers brought in Zack Greinke.

    Even with all the big names each club brought in, neither made the playoffs last season.

    And while an inter league series in May barely has any playoff implications, it is one of the most anticipated match-ups in baseball this season.

Will Derek Jeter Still Be Derek Jeter?

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    Game One of the 2012 ALCS could not have gone any worse for the New York Yankees.

    After wining one of the most exciting ALDS series in recent memory over the Baltimore Orioles (four games decided by one run, two extra inning games), the Yankees headed into Detroit slightly favored over the Detroit Tigers and looking to go to their eighth World Series in the last seventeen seasons.

    After a four-run ninth inning, courtesy of two-run shots by Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez, the Yankees carried all the momentum carried all the momentum heading to extras.

    At least until Detroit's Jhonny Peralta hit a slow roller up the middle in the top of the 12th inning.

    As future first-ballot Hall of Famer Derek Jeter went to field the ball, he ended up in a head, clutching his left foot. Jeter had been battling a sore foot for weeks, and even played DH in the Orioles series. But the news was worse than anyone expected. 

    Jeter suffered a fractured his ankle, and required season-ending surgery. Recovery time was expected to be 4-5 months. Jeter missed the rest of the series, and the Yankees were swept out of the ALCS.

    The New York Daily News reported that the Yankee Captain is on schedule to return on Opening Day, but at age 38, Jeter is due to start declining, right?


    Despite his age, Jeter has shown no signs of slowing down. He hit .316 and led the AL in hits with 216 and won his fifth Silver Slugger award.

    Jeter is signed through this season, with a player option for 2014.

Josh Hamilton Goes Back to Texas

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    It will not take long for Rangers fans to get another crack at Josh Hamilton.

    Hamilton belted a career-high 43 home runs with 128 RBIs in 148 games last season for the Texas Rangers, but they lost the division to Oakland on the final day of the regular season.

    Texas then lost in the winner-take-all wild-card game against Baltimore, and Hamilton was booed by Rangers fans while going 0-for-4...twice striking out on three pitches, including an inning-ending out in the eighth with a runner in scoring position when it was still a 3-1 game.

    That came after Hamilton dropped a routine pop up in the regular-season finale two days earlier, a two-out miscue that allowed the A's to score two runs on their way to the AL West title. He missed five games down the stretch in September trip because of a cornea problem he said was caused by too much caffeine and energy drinks. He hit one home runs and struck out 18 times in the final nine regular season games and the tie-breaker against Oakland.

    Hamilton felt, amidst the criticism, that his time in Texas was over and signed a five year, $125 million deal with the division rival Los Angeles Angels.

    Hamilton's career totals in Texas include a .305 batting average with 142 home runs, 556 RBI, two American League Championships, five All-Star Games and the 2010 AL MVP trophy in five seasons.

    Texas hosts the Angles in their second series of the year, April 5-7.

Braves-Cardinals NL Wildcard Rematch

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    The very first NL Wild Card round got very wild indeed amidst a controversial infield fly rule in a St. Louis Cardinals win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

    With the Braves trailing, 6-3, and runners on first and second, Andrelton Simmons came to the plate with one out. The Braves shortstop popped up a 3-2 pitch from Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs to left field. Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma ranged out into left, arms spread wide, trying to get under the ball. Meanwhile, left fielder Matt Holliday charged in toward the ball. With both players in the area, the pop fly dropped between them.

    What initially looked to be a tremendous break for the Braves, who appeared to have loaded the bases with just one out in the eighth, turned into the first controversy of the 2012 MLB playoffs. The umpire in left field had raised a single finger as the ball dropped, signaling that the infield fly rule was in effect. This ruling meant that Simmons was automatically out.

    Showing their displeasure with the call, fans at Turner Field rained debris on the playing surface, causing a stoppage in the game.

    The Braves have to wait until a weekend series on July 26-28 to get another crack at the Cards. The Washington Nationals also want another crack at the Cards, who scored four runs in the top of the ninth in Game 5 of the NLDS to knock the top-seeded Nationals out of the city's first appearance since 1933.

Mike Trout Sophomore Slump

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    Mike Trout could easily redefine the term "Sophomore Slump".

    The unanimous AL Rookie of the Year had one of the greatest rookie seasons in the history of Major League Baseball, batting .328 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI, and led the league with 49 stolen bases and 129 runs scored. He finished runner-up to Miguel Cabrera in AL MVP voting.

    And this after being called up at the end of April.

    With the bar set so high for Trout for 2013, a "sophomore slump" is nearly inevitable. Trout could hit .320 with 25 homers and steal 40 bases and still technically have a sophomore slump. And with such lofty expectations in one of the larger markets to play, it will be interesting to see how the 21-year-old superstar handles the pressure as the Angles try to return to the post-season.

The 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot

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    Mark McGwire, an admitted performance-enhancing drug user, has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for seven years. This year, he is joined by a plethora of suspected users: Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds as the first big wave of Steroid Era players attempt to have their plaque hung in the hall with the all-time greats.

    The ballot also includes first-timers Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Kenny Lofton, Craig Biggio, David Wells, Steve Finley, Julio Franco, Reggie Sanders, Shawn Green, Jeff Cirillo, Woody Williams, Rondell White, Ryan Klesko, Aaron Sele, Roberto Hernandez, Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Mike Stanton, Sandy Alomar, Jose Mesa, and Todd Walker.

The Mets Get the All-Star Game for the First Time in 49 Years

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    The Mid-Summer Classic returns to Flushing for the first time since LBJ was in the Oval Office.

    The Mets haven't had the All-Star Game played in their venue since Shea Stadium opened in 1964. Since then, 27 cities and 41 different stadiums have hosted the event. 16 franchises have had the All-Star Game twice, and Anaheim (California) and Pittsburgh have had it three times.

    The only cities to not host the All-Star Game in that span are Miami and Tampa...the only two major league cities to have not hosted an All-Star Game. Two defunct franchises, the Montreal Expos and Washington Senators, both hosted an All-Star Game during that period.

    The 1964 All-Star Game pitching match-up was Dean Chance vs Don Drysdale. The National League scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the game, thanks to a walk-off home run by game MVP Johnny Callison. It is the last All-Star Game to end in a walk off.

    This year's All-Star Game is also the last year of a contract signed with FOX to broadcast the event, so it may be the last Joe Buck-called All-Star Game we have to sit through.

A-Rod Milestones

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    Despite how you feel about Alex Rodriguez in the record books, his name is in them.

    And he should join a couple more exclusive clubs this season, granted the 37-year-old slugger recovers from off season hip surgery. Rodriguez is expected to miss most of the first half of the season recovering.

    A-Rod needs 99 hits to get to 3,000 in his career. He needs 13 home runs to pass Willie Mays for fourth all-time, and he needs 50 RBI to reach 2,000 which would put him in fourth place.

    Other notable 2013 milestones could include:

    Juan Pierre's 600th career stolen base; 200 career wins for Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson, and CC Sabathia; 2,000 career strikeouts for Johan Santana, AJ Burnett, and Ryan Dempster; 300 career saves for Joe Nathan and Francisco Rodriguez; and 100 career wins for Felix Hernandez, Jake Westbrook, Ervin Santana, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, James Shields, Matt Cain and Jon Lester.

The Cardinals Take on Albert Pujols

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    Albert Pujols has hit a home run off of every team in Major League Baseball...except the one he won three NL MVP awards for.

    The St. Louis Cardinals play in Anaheim, where Pujols signed a 10-year, $140 million deal last off season after winning a second World Series with the Cardinals. It will be the first time that Pujols has faced the team he hit 445 home runs for from 1999 to 2011.

    The three game series in Los Angeles is scheduled to start July 2.

Other Nuggets

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    • Former Yankees Don Mattingly will lead his Dodgers against his beloved Bronx Bombers next year in New York (June 18-19) and at home (July 30-31). Mattingly played 14 seasons for the Yankees, winning a batting title in 1984 and an AL MVP in 1985. His number 23 is retired, and he is the only person to have his number retired by the club without winning a World Series championship.
    • Boston visits the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 23-25. Four significant former Red Sox are under contract with the Dodgers for next season: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto after last year's blockbuster deal.
    • The Chicago Cubs visit the Oakland Athletics for the first time on July 2. The Coliseum will represent the 114th different ballpark they have visited in franchise history.
    • There could be a possible match-up between Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg as the Detroit Tigers play the Washington Nationals for a pair of two-game series. The two series take place May 7-8 at Nationals Park and July 30-31 at Comerica Park.