Projecting the Winners of Each MLB Division for 2013
MLB division winners from last season will be hard-pressed to be repeat winners in 2013.
Offseason transactions have already seen sweeping changes for many teams. Trades and free-agent signings have changed the landscapes of virtually every division.
From the AL East to the NL West, divisions will likely see tighter races, as many teams have vied to be competitive with moves made over the last two months.
Here is a look at who could come out on top in each division.
American League East Division: Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has clearly shown this offseason that he was not happy with the way his team performed in 2012.
Sweeping changes were made in Toronto. New faces abound all over the roster, with no one grouping in the entire roster left unchanged.
As a result, the lineup for the 2013 Blue Jays will look something like this:
1. Jose Reyes SS
2. Melky Cabrera OF
3. Jose Bautista OF
4. Edwin Encarnacion DH
5. Brett Lawrie 3B
6. Colby Rasmus OF
7. Adam Lind 1B
8. J.P. Arencibia Catcher
9. Emilio Bonifacio 2B
1. R.A. Dickey
2. Josh Johnson
3. Brandon Morrow
4. Mark Buehrle
5. Ricky Romero
The Blue Jays feature two potent table-setters at the top of the lineup for power hitters Encarnacion and Bautista. Rasmus and Arencibia provide power towards the bottom of the lineup, and Bonifacio adds tremendous speed at the bottom of the order.
Considering the starting rotation finished the 2012 season with a 4.82 ERA, the 2013 edition is a significant upgrade. Romero is the wild card—if he can shake off a dismal 2012 campaign and return to his earlier form, this is a rotation that can compete with any in the American League.
There is no question this team has a chance to be both explosive and dynamic.
American League Central Division: Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers were sixth in the American League in runs scored last season. They bring back an offense that has added right fielder Torii Hunter and a healthy Victor Martinez.
They also bring back a pitching staff that was third in the AL with a 3.75 ERA. They'll have Anibal Sanchez for a full season to help provide a powerful top four in the starting rotation.
Here is the projected lineup for the 2013 season:
1. Austin Jackson CF
2. Torii Hunter RF
3. Miguel Cabrera 3B
4. Prince Fielder 1B
5. Victor Martinez DH
6. Andy Dirks LF
7. Jhonny Peralta SS
8. Alex Avila Catcher
9. Omar Infante 2B
1. Justin Verlander
2. Doug Fister
3. Max Scherzer
4. Anibal Sanchez
5. Rick Porcello
The biggest question remains at the closer position. As of right now, it's entirely possible that Bruce Rondon could replace the departed Jose Valverde.
General manager Dave Dombrowski may have all the confidence in the world in Rondon's abilities, but he is completely unproven. He'll have solid veterans to back him up in Joaquin Benoit, Al Albuquerque, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel. However, if Rondon spits the bit, Dombrowski may have to do some shopping.
Nonetheless, this is a team that is prepared to repeat as AL Central Division champs. The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals have made strides in improving their starting rotations, but both still fall far short of the Tigers.
American League West Division: Los Angeles Angels
The American League West Division gets a bit bigger in 2013 thanks to the addition of the Houston Astros.
The Astros could well be parked at the bottom of their new division.
The top figures to be almost as close as last year. However, the Texas Rangers are now at a distinct disadvantage with the absence of three key contributors: Michael Young, Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton.
The Oakland A's bring back a team similar to the one seen in 2012. The Los Angeles Angels, however, made several key acquisitions, most notably free-agent outfielder Hamilton.
Here is the Angels' projected lineup for next season:
1. Mike Trout LF
2. Erick Aybar SS
3. Albert Pujols 1B
4. Josh Hamilton RF
5. Mark Trumbo DH
6. Howie Kendrick 2B
7. Alberto Callaspo 3B
8. Chris Iannetta Catcher
9. Peter Bourjos CF
1. Jered Weaver
2. C.J. Wilson
3. Tommy Hanson
4. Joe Blanton
5. Jason Vargas
The bullpen is much improved as well with the additions of Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett. Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen all return, and Garrett Richards and/or Jerome Williams will help in middle/long relief.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has plenty of options with his lineup. With Vernon Wells still in the picture, matchups can be exploited in certain situations. In addition, Trumbo can spell both corner outfielders, along with Pujols at first base.
It's possible that Kendrick could be the No. 2 hitter; that decision could be decided in spring training.
In any event, the Angels will have a very explosive offense—one that could make up for any deficiencies in the starting rotation. And the offense could be more than enough to carry them to the AL West title.
National League East Division: Washington Nationals
After a 98-win season in 2012, it's hard to imagine that the Washington Nationals could have similar success in 2013.
However, a repeat could well be in order.
Here is the projected starting lineup:
1. Denard Span CF
2. Jayson Werth RF
3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
4. Michael Morse 1B
5. Bryce Harper LF
6. Ian Desmond SS
7. Danny Espinosa 2B
8. Wilson Ramos Catcher
1. Stephen Strasburg
2. Gio Gonzalez
3. Dan Haren
4. Jordan Zimmermann
5. Ross Detwiler
If Adam LaRoche does in fact re-sign with the Nationals, general manger Mike Rizzo will have a trade chip with Morse. Morse could be used to add depth and/or prospects, and LaRoche would replace him in the cleanup role.
Strasburg returns for a full season and will be well-rested.
If Haren's back and hip are indeed healthy, the Nationals have a starting five that is arguably one of the best in the National League.
Rizzo is still on the hunt for left-handed relief help with the loss of Sean Burnett and Mike Gonzalez.
The Phillies and Braves will give the Nationals some stiff competition this year. The Braves added B.J. Upton, while the Phillies added Ben Revere, Mike Adams and Michael Young. However, the Nationals feature a deep team with special talent across the board. Look for them to repeat as NL East champs.
National League Central Division: Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds locked things up early last season, cruising to the NL Central Division title by nine games.
They'll have one less team to deal with in the division next year, with the Houston Astros moving to the AL West.
Even if things were the same, though, the Reds are fully prepared to repeat as division champs.
Here is the projected starting lineup for the Reds in 2013:
1. Shin-Soo Choo CF
2. Brandon Phillips 2B
3. Joey Votto 1B
4. Ryan Ludwick LF
5. Jay Bruce RF
6. Todd Frazier 3B
7. Ryan Hanigan Catcher
8. Zack Cozart SS
1. Johnny Cueto
2. Mat Latos
3. Bronson Arroyo
4. Homer Bailey
5. Mike Leake/Aroldis Chapman
Adding Choo was a big move for the Reds, who experienced nothing but misery at the top of the batting order last season. Votto put up MVP-like numbers while missing two months, and Frazier's bat will be in the lineup every day with Scott Rolen now out of the picture.
The wild card in the rotation is Chapman. If he can be anywhere near as dominant in a starting role as he was as the closer last year, the Reds could be wrapping up a division title even earlier in 2013.
The St. Louis Cardinals have tremendous talent, and the Milwaukee Brewers are solid but have made few moves this offseason.
The Reds are once again the class of this division.
National League West Division: Los Angeles Dodgers
The National League West Division will without a doubt be more competitive in the 2013 season.
The San Francisco Giants return with a team largely intact and ready to defend their World Series crown.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been one of the most active teams of the offseason and could make even more moves before the start of spring training.
However, on paper, it's hard to find any team that matches up with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Here is their projected 2013 Opening Day lineup:
1. Mark Ellis 2B
2.. Carl Crawford LF
3. Matt Kemp CF
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. Hanley Ramirez SS
6. Andre Ethier RF
7. Luis Cruz 3B
8. A.J. Ellis Catcher
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Zack Greinke
3. Josh Beckett
4. Hyun-Jin Ryu
5. Aaron Harang
The rotation is certainly not set in stone. Both Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly are returning from significant injuries, and Chris Capuano is still in the fold as well.
It's likely that general manager Ned Colletti will continue to look for opportunities to bolster his roster using his abundance of starting pitchers as chips.
There are still a lot of intangibles in play for the Dodgers. Can Crawford return fully healthy and play up to his $20 million-plus contract? Can Ramirez return to the form that saw him become one of the great right-handed hitters in the National League? Can Kemp stay healthy?
With Kershaw and Greinke at the top of the rotation, the Dodgers will indeed be formidable. A full year with a new cast of characters should bring a title back to Dodgertown.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.