Predicting the Winner of Each MLB Division
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With the return of spring training, every team has reason to believe they can contend for their division title.
Some teams may have more optimism than others, and many with good reason. A few teams have sold veterans in return for promising prospects, and a couple teams have unexpectedly spent aggressively this offseason.
Although it is quite early, here are my predictions for the winners of each division this season.
NL West: San Francisco Giants
NL MVP Buster Posey makes a speech at the Giants' World Series parade.
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It’s hard to pick against the defending champions.
The San Francisco Giants retain all of the key players who were instrumental in helping the team win its second World Series in three years. The most notable of the bunch is Buster Posey, the reigning NL MVP. Tim Lincecum will look to build on his postseason success after a disappointing regular season.
The biggest threat to the Giants is the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have spent big recently and should look to capitalize on that money as soon as possible. They have the potential for an incredibly deep lineup and rotation.
Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke headline an elite 1-2 pitching duo. If Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford can stay healthy, all three have a potent combination of speed and power. Manager Don Mattingly is well-known as a players’ manager, and Ramirez absolutely thrives under personable managers.
Regardless, the Giants are the defending champions. They remain the team to beat, especially considering that the core of last year’s team is still intact.
NL Central: Cincinnati Reds
Despite missing over 50 games, Votto hit .337 with 44 doubles and a 1.041 OPS.
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The Cincinnati Reds, coming off a 97-win season, are serious World Series contenders. They will definitely contend for their division title.
The St. Louis Cardinals may have a down year. The retirement of Chris Carpenter, the face of the team for years, will hurt. They also lost Kyle Lohse, the best pitcher on the team in 2012, to free agency. Their most notable free-agent signing so far has been Ty Wigginton to replace the departed Lance Berkman.
Andrew McCutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates had a surprise run last season, but they are still a few pieces away from contending.
The Reds, though, are elite in all aspects of the game.
In Joey Votto, they have a perennial MVP candidate and one of the best players in baseball. Even though he missed more than 50 games, Votto still ranked first in runs created, according to ESPN.com. He should have MVP numbers with an entire season to accrue stats. The Reds have other serious power hitters in Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick, and an all-around performer in Brandon Phillips.
The Reds also made one of the most underrated moves of the offseason, acquiring Shin-Soo Choo.
Choo has a superb on-base percentage. Although not a threat to steal many bases, he could hit leadoff. Choo will get on base enough to produce even more run-scoring opportunities for the dangerous middle of the lineup.
In terms of pitching, the Reds are healthy, consistent and deep.
They had four starters in 2012 who pitched more than 200 innings with a sub-3.75 ERA. The fifth starter threw almost 180 innings with only 41 walks. The Reds also had two of the top-10 vote-getters for NL Cy Young last season in fifth-place Johnny Cueto and ninth-place Aroldis Chapman. Chapman is the most electrifying pitcher in baseball, and at only 24 he could improve on the daunting 1.51 ERA and 0.81 WHIP he earned in 2012.
With the depth and talent they have, the Reds will win this division handily.
NL East: Washington Nationals
Strasburg will have no innings limit this season, and he and Gio Gonzalez will produce Cy Young-worthy numbers.
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The Washington Nationals have slowly built a contender, culminating in a 98-win season in 2012.
This team is young and hungry, led by the power pitching of Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, who finished third in the AL Cy Young voting. The Nationals also have a stacked lineup, led by the emergence of young star Bryce Harper late last season. Other key power bats include Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman.
The acquisition of Rafael Soriano also gives the Nationals three high-quality closer candidates, as well as a deep bullpen.
The talent in the rest of the division does not compare to the Nationals.
The Miami Marlins are light years away from contending. The New York Mets have many bright young stars, but are still a couple years away themselves. The Philadelphia Phillies, who are on the opposite end of the spectrum, are too old and injury-prone to be serious contenders.
The primary competition for the Nationals is the Atlanta Braves, who won 94 games last season.
They lost Hall of Famer Chipper Jones to retirement, but added Justin and B.J. Upton. The Upton brothers have the potential to be stars. If they can stay level-headed, their presence makes the Braves very dangerous.
But the Nationals are young and figure to improve in all phases of the game. They could approach 100 wins this season and win another NL East title.
AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
After facing off in the 2011 World Series, Hamilton (middle) and Pujols (right) are two of the best hitters in baseball and will produce monster numbers together.
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Despite a few consecutive disappointing years, 2013 will be the year the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim get it all together.
This division is stacked, but the Angels will set themselves above the rest.
Most notably this offseason, the team signed 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton and Pujols are the scariest righty-lefty power-hitting combo in the majors. The Angels also have Mark Trumbo and last year’s Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up Mike Trout. As if that talent wasn’t daunting enough, this lineup is tough from top to bottom and very skilled on defense.
The pitching staff is solid, led by two aces, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
As for the other teams in the division, they will each present a challenge. But for the newly added Houston Astros, any fewer than 100 losses will be a positive.
The reigning division champions, the Oakland Athletics, have not done much to improve. But then again, Billy Beane knows exactly what he is doing with his limited payroll, so you can never count them out.
The Seattle Mariners recently gave Felix Hernandez a seven-year $175 million contract. They've added a few respectable players in Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, Robert Andino, Raul Ibanez and even Jason Bay.
Morales may surprise this year, but the Mariners are still just a good team in a great division.
The Texas Rangers lost Hamilton to the Angels and Michael Young to the Phillies. They have added a number of solid role players, but they do not seem as much of a contender as they have been in recent years. Age is slowly becoming a factor with them.
The Angels arguably have the top three hitters in baseball in Trout, Hamilton and Pujols. They also have a solid pitching staff and bullpen, so they should pull ahead late to win this division.
AL Central: Detroit Tigers
MVP and Triple Crown winner Cabrera (left) and Fielder (right), a combined 515 pounds, highlight a deep and powerful Tigers lineup.
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The Detroit Tigers won the AL Central last season and are poised to do so again in 2013.
Led by Triple Crown winner and MVP Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers have strong power in their lineup. Prince Fielder hit 30 home runs last season. Victor Martinez returns from injury after missing all of 2012. In 2011, he hit .330 with more than 100 RBI. The Tigers also signed free agent Torii Hunter, who hit .313 with 16 home runs and 92 RBI in 2012. He will be a vast upgrade over the disappointing Delmon Young.
The Tigers also have Cy Young runner-up Justin Verlander. He is one of the best pitchers in the majors and will contribute immensely to the success of this year’s team.
The Chicago White Sox finished above .500, but they have not done much to improve upon that. The loss of star catcher A.J. Pierzynski hurts greatly.
An interesting contender in the division is the Cleveland Indians. They spent freely this offseason and acquired an incredible manager in Terry Francona. The front office also signed a star cast of players including Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jason Giambi, Matt Capps, Scott Kazmir and Brett Myers.
They also acquired Drew Stubbs in a trade that included Shin-Soo Choo. The team is clearly going in a completely different direction, getting rid of such former mainstays as Choo, Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner.
But considering their ace is either Justin Masterson or Ubaldo Jimenez, they are not quite ready to contend this year.
Thus, the Tigers will repeat as division champions, and perhaps make another run deep into October.
AL East: Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Reyes (left) highlights one of the two blockbuster trades the Blue Jays pulled off this offseason, turning the franchise around.
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Like the Indians, the Toronto Blue Jays spent big this summer. But unlike the Indians, their spending will pay off right away.
The Blue Jays pulled off two blockbuster trades, acquiring key players such as R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Maicer Izturis and Esmil Rogers. These are franchise-changing players. If they stay healthy, the team will pull away with this division.
The AL East had three teams with at least 90 wins last year, but there is a chance all three will not repeat that feat.
The New York Yankees won the division in 2012, but they have not improved much this offseason. They are also incredibly old, and perhaps may not make it through a whole season unscathed.
The Tampa Bay Rays retained Cy Young winner David Price, but lost a number of key players. They are set up well with prospects, but are not as ready to win now as the Blue Jays.
As for the Baltimore Orioles, they surprised everyone last year. Buck Showalter manages them incredibly well, and an entire season of Manny Machado is an exciting proposition. But they were 29-9 in one-run games, and won’t be so lucky this year.
The Boston Red Sox may have lost 93 games last season, but they made major changes and should also not be counted out.
In the end, however, the Blue Jays are too deep and too talented not to win this division. Assuming they stay healthy, which at this point is the only thing holding them back, they will establish themselves as potential World Series candidates for at least the next three years.