Every season, certain teams come out and shock the so-called experts, as they enjoy a remarkable and almost magical ride to unexpected success. We saw it with the Oakland A’s last year, and we’re bound to see it again with someone else in 2013.
There are teams—such as the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees—that are automatically labeled as contenders. Then there are teams like the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros who are penciled in for at least 90 losses. In between those teams, however, we have talented clubs with serious potential to exceed expectations.
But which of those teams will actually succeed in doing so this season?
Here are four MLB teams that will come out of nowhere and surprise everyone in 2013.
The Mariners have had the potential to go places during the last couple of years, but they haven’t maximized their potential. This year, I think the Mariners can maximize their potential and even make the playoffs.
Seattle has finished last in the AL West in seven of the last nine seasons, and they have not been to the playoffs since 2001. Yet they have talent, and they just locked-up ace Felix Hernandez for seven years.
Michael Morse became a Mariner over the offseason as well, and the same goes with Kendrys Morales. Those two can hit the ball over the pulled-in fences at Safeco Field, and Hernandez can keep the ball in the park. The Mariners don’t have a great No. 2 pitcher, but they have rotation depth and talent in the farm system, such as Brandon Maurer and Danny Hultzen.
Last season, Maurer went 9-2 and won Southern League Player of the Year honors, while Hultzen was 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA in the Southern League. So you can tell that both are talented, and both could even be on the Mariners big league club at some point this season.
Another young hurler, Erasmo Ramirez, appears to be headed on an upward swing, as he can touch 95 mph with his fastball and has some good off-speed stuff. Ramirez posted a 3.36 ERA last year in 16 appearances for the Mariners last season, and he could make the jump to No. 2 starter at some point this season as well. Blake Beavan throws strikes and won 11 games in 2012, and he could help out a lot in 2013, too.
Seattle’s rotation appears fine, and their bullpen is as well. Tom Wilhemsein saved 29 games in 2012 and is ready for a full season closing games, while Carter Capps is a flame-thrower with a lot of potential as a set-up man. The Mariners can hold leads, and the bullpen will have success.
While the Mariners don’t look great on paper, they are a good team. Seattle went 39-35 in the final 74 games of the 2012 season, and they improved a lot in the offseason. Morse hit .291 last year and skyrocketed a 465-foot bomb as well, and with the pulled-in fences at Safeco Field, Morse should flash his power and hit around 25-30 long balls.
And so will Morales, who posted a .273 batting average and hit a home run in over 4.5 percent of his at-bats.
Seattle will now have almost 20 games against the lowly Astros each year as well after their move to the AL West from the NL Central, and they should win most of those contests. That will give them an edge, and so will their talent. Expect the Mariners to have a winning season, and don’t be surprised if they make the playoffs.
When Terry Francona accepted the manager's position for the Indians this offseason, some wondered why the two-time World Series champion accepted a job with a team that appeared to be going nowhere. However, now that the offseason is over, some of those thoughts have been altered. And that’s a good thing for the Indians.
Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher both signed with the Indians this offseason, giving them an outfield full of talent: Michael Brantley in left field, Bourn in center and Swisher in right. Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera will also form one of the best-double play tandems in baseball, and Mark Reynolds adds pop to the right side of the infield.
In 2012, Swisher hit .272, which isn’t incredible, but he posted a very good OBP of .364 and an equally good OPS of .837. Bourn hit .274 with a .348 OBP, meaning he gets on base over one-third of the time, like Swisher. Kipnis had a .335 OBP, meaning he gets on base over one-third of the time as well.
Cleveland will have an offense that is jam-packed with talent, with Bourn and Brantley being the table-setters, Kipnis, Cabrera and Swisher in the middle of the middle of the order and with Reynolds providing power from the bottom of the order. However, there are doubts about the pitching staff.
After a 2010 season that could have netted him a Cy Young Award with the Colorado Rockies, it has been all downhill for Ubaldo Jimenez ever since. Justin Masterson struggled mightily in 2012 as well, and these two are expected to lead the Indians’ pitching staff in 2013.
Cleveland also dealt Shin-Shoo Choo to the Reds this offseason, but in that three-team deal, they acquired star prospect Trevor Bauer, who can significantly improve the pitching staff. Bauer has some great stuff, and he could even be Cleveland’s No. 1 pitcher by the end of the year. In 2012, Bauer went 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA and 157 strikeouts in about 130 innings. Some scouts see him as a carbon copy of Tim Lincecum.
Jimenez has the potential to do well, as he threw harder in 2012, but his command is still an issue. The same goes with Masterson, who posted a 3.21 ERA in 2011 and should be able to bounce back into form.
I think the pitching staff can step up, and even if Jimenez or Masterson struggle, the Indians can dump one of those two and let Carlos Carrasco slide into the rotation. Zach McAllister can be a good back-of-the-rotation guy with a good fastball, while Brett Myers brings experience. So there is depth in the rotation, and some potential as well.
The offense is set, and the pitching will improve. Chris Perez saved 39 games and blew just four saves in 2012, while Vinnie Pestano knocked out right-handed hitters, who posted a miserable .168 batting average against him. The bullpen is set, and everything else will fall into place. Cleveland has potential, and they’re going to be going places in the future.
And the future can start as soon as, well, now.
While no one sees the Brewers as a pushover, they aren’t expected to win the World Series. And while it’s hard to see them winning it all, the Brewers could actually surprise a few folks this year.
Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and the Brewers narrowly missed the playoffs in 2012 by going on a tear in August and September while providing hope for the future. However, not many people outside of Milwaukee are optimistic about the Brewers’ chances.
The Cardinals and Reds both appear to be better this year, and while I believe that the Reds are clearly the best team in the division, the Brewers can still finish higher than the Cardinals. St. Louis was one game away from the World Series in 2012, but in the NLCS, they were outscored 35-18 by the Giants. I am predicting that the Brewers will finish second in the NL Central, which would be a surprise to a ton of people.
Last year, Ryan Braun posted absolutely incredible numbers, hitting .319 with 41 homers and 112 RBI. Braun, the 2011 NL MVP, could have won the award in 2012 as well, and he will be in the three-hole this season.
That means that he will be knocking in Norichika Aoki, who posted a .355 OBP and .288 batting average in 2012, and Rickie Weeks. He will also be setting the table for another star.
Aramis Ramirez hit .300 with a .360 OBP and 105 RBI in 2012, and while he and Braun aren’t as dominant as Braun and Prince Fielder used to be, Ramirez is underrated. He and Braun will be dominant.
Corey Hart is also a talented player, and he will help drive in Braun and Ramirez in the five-hole. Hart will not be back on Opening Day, but he could be ready by late April. Last year, Hart hit 30 homers and got on base more than one-third of the time.
The Brewers finished third overall in runs scored in 2012 with 776, and while the Brewers were ranked 22nd in pitching, the blame for that is almost solely on the bullpen. Milwaukee focused on upgrading the bullpen in the offseason, and they brought in three relievers to help out.
Tom Gorzelanny posted a 2.88 ERA and can eat up innings, while Burke Badenhop was brought in to eat innings. Mike Gonzalez stifled lefties, holding them to a .179 batting average, and has good fastball velocity. He can pitch to righties too, as his overall ERA was 3.03 and his FIP (fielding independent pitching) was 2.98. Basically, that means that his ERA should have been about 2.98 if everything played out normally in terms of fielding.
Yovani Gallardo anchors a strong rotation with lots of talent, one that posted the 13th best ERA last year among starting rotations. Marco Estrada, Mark Rogers and Mike Fiers are all young, and Wily Peralta is also a prospect with potential.
Gallardo is 60-38 in the last four years, and Estrada posted a decent 3.64 ERA while walking under 1.9 batters every nine innings. These two can take the reins and lead the pitching staff, and if needed, the Brewers can target a pitcher at the trade deadline.
Milwaukee has a great offense and a good pitching staff anchored by a legitimate ace, and I believe that the bullpen will be a lot better, as John Axford still saved 35 games. I believe he can return to his 2011 form, when he saved 46 games in 48 chances.
There are question marks, but the same goes with every team. Milwaukee is complete and has the bats to find success, and I think the pitchers will surprise people and power the Brewers to the playoffs.
And if they do get there, they could go even further.
Last year, the Oakland Athletics literally came out of nowhere. However, they are still extremely underrated and not expected to go very far in 2013.
The A’s made a lot of moves in the offseason, such as acquiring Jed Lowrie, Chris Young, John Jaso and Hiroyuki Nakajima. However, the A’s appeared to be fine just as they were, as they were one win away from the ALCS after a magical run to capture the AL West in 2012.
Oakland finished sixth in team ERA last year, and the bullpen combined for a 30-14 record and 2.94 ERA. The A’s had a rotation full of just rookies in 2012, but now, with Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Bartolo Colon and A.J Griffin, they are ready to roll.
No one expected the A’s to win the World Series in 2012, but it is a realistic possibility in 2013. Sure, it would be unexpected, but that’s the way the A’s like it. The Giants have always been doubted and underrated, and they have captured two championships in three years.
Last year, the A’s had huge needs at catcher, second base and shortstop (before Stephen Drew), and they filled both needs. John Jaso posted an exceptional .389 OBP in 2012, while Jed Lowrie posted a .331 OBP and hit 16 homers in 340 at-bats. That means that he hit a home run in 4.7 percent of his at-bats.
The A’s already had a good offense, but they should be much better with Jaso and Lowrie. Second base is still a bit of a problem, but Nakajima, who hit .297 or better in all of his years in Japan, can play there. Scouts have even compared him to 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui, and he has been projected to hit .270 or .280 in the big leagues, which a solid clip by any means.
In 2012, Oakland scored 713 runs, 14th in the league, and blasted 195 home runs. For a frame of reference, the World Series champion Giants hit just 103 long shots. Oakland can go long, and their new additions will help.
Another thing that will help is having Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes healthy. Cespedes hit .292 with a .356 OBP in his rookie season, while hitting a home run in about 4.72 percent of his at-bats. The speedy Cespedes also stole 16 bases with an 80 percent success rate.
Cespedes can be a star on a team that lacks one, but in baseball, you don’t need stars in order to be successful. The A’s are a low-payroll team, but one that is complete with talent and with the potential to go far. They make games dramatic, play hard, make the game fun and win close games.
Having Cespedes as a star would only help. Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie will be decent table-setters, and Cespedes can knock them in, swipe some bases and score for himself with the powerful Josh Reddick behind him. It will make for a powerful lineup that will score runs.
While critics can think of reasons to doubt the A’s, and while I think that the A’s could struggle in 2013, they are out on a mission to prove that 2012 wasn’t a fluke. They are much more talented and experienced, and with a successful first half, they can go places.