Ranking the 10 Best Lineups in Baseball Entering Spring Training

Mark MillerCorrespondent IFebruary 7, 2013

Ranking the 10 Best Lineups in Baseball Entering Spring Training

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    We're now less than a week away from the start of spring training, and with only 52 days separating us from MLB Opening Day, teams everywhere have their work cut out for them as they prepare for a regular-season marathon.

    Teams like the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays made major improvements to their lineups and rotations this offseason, and promise to make a big splash once the season gets underway.

    The next month-and-a-half will provide teams the opportunity to tune their lineups in any way possible to give them the upper hand, and even though a season brings about unpredictable obstacles, it's hard to beat a strong offense.

    Here are 10 of the strongest starting lineups heading into this spring's action.

     

    *Projected lineup information via MLBdepthcharts.com.

10. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Rafael Furcal
    2. Allen Craig
    3. Matt Holliday
    4. Carlos Beltran
    5. Yadier Molina
    6. David Freese
    7. Jon Jay
    8. Daniel Descalso
    9. Adam Wainwright

    The St. Louis Cardinals had plenty of pressure facing them heading into last season, as the defending World Series champions would be taking to the field without slugger Albert Pujols for the first time in a decade.

    They responded in a big way, leading the league in on-base percentage (.338) while also ranking in the top five in runs scored (765) and batting average (.271).

    As spring training gets under way, the Cardinals won't have the offensive production of Lance Berkman at their disposal, but with Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina making up the middle of their lineup, they're still in good hands.

9. San Francisco Giants

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Angel Pagan
    2. Marco Scutaro
    3. Pablo Sandoval
    4. Buster Posey
    5. Hunter Pence
    6. Brandon Belt
    7. Brandon Crawford
    8. Gregor Blanco
    9. Matt Cain

    The San Francisco Giants are one of the most balanced teams in the league and in many ways can attribute the World Series title they're currently holding to their ability to play both sides of the ball.

    Buster Posey showed once again in 2012 why he's one of the best young players in the entire league, and with returning stars like Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro making up the top of the order, the Giants offense should thrive again this season.

8. New York Yankees

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Ichiro Suzuki
    2. Derek Jeter 
    3. Robinson Cano
    4. Mark Teixeira
    5. Curtis Granderson
    6. Kevin Youkilis
    7. Travis Hafner
    8. Brett Gardner
    9. Chris Stewart

    Alex Rodriguez may be out of the picture for much (maybe all) of the season, but there's still plenty of offense to go around in the Yankees lineup.

    It will be interesting to see how Derek Jeter returns from his season-ending injury, but even if he's not himself right away, the team can still fall back on the always steady Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson.

    Travis Hafner has shown plenty of signs of his age in recent seasons, but he and Kevin Youkilis are no doubt looking to prove there's something left in the tank—and the pinstripes could very well bring out the best in anything they have to offer.

7. Milwaukee Brewers

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Norichika Aoki
    2. Rickie Weeks
    3. Ryan Braun
    4. Aramis Ramirez
    5. Jonathan Lucroy
    6. Mat Gamel
    7. Carlos Gomez
    8. Jean Segura  
    9. Yovani Gallardo

    The Milwaukee Brewers put forth a very strong offensive effort in 2012 even though they were absent one of their best bats in recent years, as Prince Fielder departed for the American League.

    Ryan Braun beat the PED charges that he faced and returned even better than could have been expected, leading the league in runs scored and home runs while stealing 30 bases for just the second time in his career.

    They're somewhat inexperienced in the bottom half of the lineup and will definitely miss Corey Hart early on, but once he returns to form, they should once again be scoring plenty of runs.

6. Washington Nationals

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Denard Span
    2. Bryce Harper
    3. Ryan Zimmerman
    4. Adam LaRoche
    5. Jayson Werth 
    6. Ian Desmond
    7. Danny Espinosa
    8. Kurt Suzuki
    9. Stephen Strasburg

    There wasn't a whole lot that the Washington Nationals needed to tweak this offseason when it came to their starting lineup, though they did take care of one position they've had their eyes on.

    Trading for Denard Span meant losing a top pitching prospect, but the Nationals had been considering the former Twins center fielder for a couple seasons, so the move came as a surprise to few.

    Bryce Harper may have struggled at times during his much anticipated rookie campaign, but with a year of experience under his belt, he should be primed to have an even better season this time around.

5. Cincinnati Reds

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Shin-Soo Choo
    2. Brandon Phillips
    3. Joey Votto
    4. Ryan Ludwick
    5. Jay Bruce
    6. Todd Frazier  
    7. Ryan Hanigan
    8. Zack Cozart
    9. Johnny Cueto

    Despite ranking in the bottom third in the league in runs scored (669), on-base percentage (.315) and batting average (.251), the Cincinnati Reds still had a strong enough offense to back up their top-notch starting rotation and earn an NL Central crown.

    Their abrupt departure from the postseason was a disappointment to their entire fanbase, and they made some improvements this winter that should help get them on the right track early on.

    Adding Shin-Soo Choo brings another solid bat to the Reds lineup, as he's a career .289 hitter with an on-base percentage over .380.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Jose Reyes
    2. Melky Cabrera
    3. Jose Bautista 
    4. Edwin Encarnacion
    5. Colby Rasmus
    6. Brett Lawrie
    7. Adam Lind
    8. J.P. Arencibia
    9. Emilio Bonifacio

    With some of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the league at their disposal, the Toronto Blue Jays managed to score over 700 runs with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion pacing the lineup.

    That alone could be enough to give the team's fanbase hope for the 2013 season, but the front office saw things differently and completely reshaped the face of the AL East with their actions.

    Adding Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera on offense will give them one of the best 1 through 4 hitting combos in the league, and Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson will help make sure that even a few runs will be enough to secure a win.

3. Detroit Tigers

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Austin Jackson
    2. Torii Hunter
    3. Miguel Cabrera
    4. Prince Fielder
    5. Victor Martinez
    6. Andy Dirks
    7. Jhonny Peralta
    8. Alex Avila
    9. Omar Infante

    The Detroit Tigers' less than impressive performance in the World Series last fall had to come as a major disappointment to fans in the Motor City who had high expectations from the start after the team signed Prince Fielder to his massive deal prior to the season.

    Miguel Cabrera will no doubt be himself again in 2013, and with Torii Hunter adding some depth in the outfield and Victor Martinez back after missing last season, the Tigers lineup should be vastly improved this season.

2. Atlanta Braves

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Andrelton Simmons  
    2. Jason Heyward
    3. Justin Upton
    4. Freddie Freeman
    5. B.J. Upton
    6. Dan Uggla
    7. Juan Francisco
    8. Gerald Laird
    9. Tim Hudson

    The Atlanta Braves offense was strong enough as it stood last season, but the front office clearly knew they needed to make some improvements if they hoped to make it in the improving NL East.

    Losing the production of a player like Michael Bourn can be a tough reality to face, but the Braves won't have that problem after bringing in both B.J. and Justin Upton to make up one of the strongest outfields in the entire league along with Jason Heyward.

    Dan Uggla had an uncharacteristically down season by his standards, but if he's able to rebound, the Braves should be on their way to contending for a division title.

1. Los Angeles Angels

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Mike Trout  
    2. Erick Aybar
    3, Albert Pujols
    4. Josh Hamilton
    5. Mark Trumbo
    6. Howie Kendrick
    7. Alberto Callaspo
    8. Chris Iannetta
    9. Peter Bourjos

    2012 was supposed to be the breakout season for the Angels after they brought C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols into the fold to bolster the team's postseason chances.

    Even the addition of Zack Greinke wouldn't be enough, as the team missed out on the playoffs, but the outstanding efforts of Mike Trout put a positive spin on the season for the Halos as they looked toward 2013.

    They ranked in the top five as a team in every major offensive category last season, and though they lost Torii Hunter to the Detroit Tigers this offseason, they got a huge upgrade in signing Josh Hamilton away from the rival Texas Rangers.