Major League Baseball: Full Predictions for the 2013 Season
We are at a turning point in Major League Baseball.
We've (hopefully) made it out of the steroid era, and we are a few years into the Era of the Pitcher. The league will have an odd number of teams in each league, creating at least one interleague matchup to be ongoing each day throughout the entire season.
The once-dominant American League has now lost three consecutive All-Star Games and four of the last five World Series, and the New York Yankees seem to be in decline for the first time in a generation.
But, no matter what happens to your team, the return of baseball is always an occasion to rejoice. It means the snow has melted (unless you live in Michigan...snow in July wouldn't be too much of a surprise) and school is almost out. Summer is on the way.
But what will happen throughout the summer in baseball is a mystery to all of us. Last April, every baseball fan would have laughed if they were told that Oakland and Baltimore would be playing in October.
It just goes to show that anything can happen. This is the time of year where all sorts of predictions are made, which also means the time that every baseball writer is ridiculed no matter what he says. If they pick what everyone expects, they get called out for not being unique. If call a few surprises, they get laughed at and questioned whether or not they follow the game.
I know I'll likely get responses from both perspectives, but here's my take on what will happen in this fork-in-the-road season of baseball that is right around the corner.
American League East
1. Tampa Bay Rays (90-72)
Tampa comes out on top of this division which has more parity than ever before. Despite losing James Shields, the Rays still have one of the top pitching staffs in baseball, led by 2012 Cy Young winner David Price.
This team almost made the playoffs last year despite missing its top offensive performer, Evan Longoria, for over half of the season. B.J. Upton left for Atlanta, but young Desmond Jennings should more than fill his spot in the lineup.
2. Toronto Blue Jays (86-76)
The Blue Jays' management went all out this offseason, acquiring players such as Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and 2012 National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, to name a few. While they're a popular pick to win the World Series, the players they acquired from Miami last year didn't exactly get a whole lot done in terms of wins.
Obviously, that doesn't mean a whole lot, but both Dickey and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion cannot be expected to repeat what they did last year.
3. New York Yankees (83-79)
Is this the beginning of the end for the Evil Empire? The Yankees will have to deal with significant injury issues (Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, etc.), a thin pitching rotation behind C.C. Sabathia, and many questions about their performance this season after getting absolutely drubbed by Detroit in last year's ALCS.
They also didn't exactly get much younger this offseason, adding Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay. Ouch.
4. Boston Red Sox (81-81)
Boston will see a slight improvement this year. The clubhouse problems will hopefully be gone after Bobby Valentine's firing, and the team made some interesting signings like Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino to try to reinvigorate the offense.
The team itself still isn't very solid on paper, and the David Ortiz injury hurts, but this season will not be nearly as embarrassing as last season for the Red Sox.
5. Baltimore Orioles (78-84)
Baltimore was one of the best stories of 2012, making the playoffs and winning its Wild Card game against the Texas Rangers. One of the most impressive things about that team, however, was its ability to win one-run games. While it's a good sign that the team could win so many close games, it's not a good sign that they were involved in so many.
They won't be able to duplicate that success this year. The O's have a promising lineup, but a less-than impressive rotation as many starters lost more games than they won in 2012. This should be the last last-place for a while for Baltimore, as they need to come back down to Earth just one more year before everything starts to click.
Also, Orioles fans; for what it's worth, I always used to pick the O's as my surprise team. I didn't last year and look what happened.
American League Central
1. Detroit Tigers (98-64)
So Detroit made it to the World Series last year. They basically have that same team, but have replaced Quintin Berry and Delmon Young with Torii Hunter and a healthy Victor Martinez. Scary.
The Tigers couldn't pull away from the Central until the very end of the season thanks to an awful April and May 2012, but something tells me they won't have too much of a problem this year.
2. Kansas City Royals (84-78)
This Kansas City team has so much potential, and this may be the year that it all starts to come together. Key players like Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez have a lot of promise, and the team finally shored up the rotation by adding four legitimate starting pitchers this offseason.
It may be another year or two before the Royals become a legitimate playoff contender, but things will definitely start trending upwards this season.
3. Cleveland Indians (80-82)
Cleveland went on a spending spree this offseason by adding Mark Reynolds, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Brett Myers; however, the biggest addition to the team is manager Terry Francona. The man knows baseball and will help turn this team around.
Also, watch out for Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis to become established big league hitters in a solid offense. The pitching problems, however, will continue to hurt the Tribe this season.
4. Chicago White Sox (76-86)
I should know better by now not to pick the White Sox to finish near to bottom of the Central, but improved teams in Kansas City and Cleveland make a regression inevitable in the South Side. The team doesn't have a whole lot of guys other than Paul Konerko that can provide a decent batting average, and the starting pitching is fairly thin behind Chris Sale and injury-prone Jake Peavy.
5. Minnesota Twins (65-97)
The Twins dumped Denard Span and Ben Revere this offseason, taking away a lot of speed from the top of the order. Young players like Aaron Hicks and Pedro Florimon will have a chance to make their mark, but this team isn't going anywhere with a mediocre pitching rotation and a declining Justin Morneau.
American League West
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (92-70)
The Angels geared up this offseason by adding slugger Josh Hamilton, but their path to glory will not be as easy as some people think. First of all, the pitching rotation is average behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Wilson can even be inconsistent at times.
Second, the offense will not be as good as most expect. Mike Trout will not duplicate his numbers from last year to state the obvious, and Albert Pujols has been in a steady decline the past five seasons. They also have to face many tough teams in the American League West: arguably baseball's best division.
2. Oakland Athletics (87-75)
Oakland had an amazing late-season run to an unlikely AL West crown, but it will be a little tougher to do that again in 2013. The A's didn't have an overly impressive offense last year, and it didn't get any better this offseason.
What will lead the A's back to a near-division title is their young pitching staff. Expect Jarrod Parker and Brett Anderson to be a terrific one-two punch.
3. Texas Rangers (85-77)
Losses this offseason: Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Mike Napoli. Ouch. Texas added Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski to the offense, but lost out on several bidding wars in the offseason and ended up as a depleted version of the team that stumbled last September and fell to the Baltimore Orioles at home in the Wild Card game.
The rotation is decent, but it lacks a true, consistent ace. Texas has a shot at making the playoffs again, but it is going to take some tremendous efforts from guys like Derek Holland and Matt Harrison.
4. Seattle Mariners (82-80)
The fences are being moved in at Safeco, and Seattle's young hitters like Michael Saunders and Jesus Montero are licking their chops. This team boasts a young and improving lineup as well as one of the league's top pitchers in Felix Hernandez, and could surprise a lot of people in 2013.
I say give it another year to shore up the pitching rotation and develop the young hitters, but the M's are definitely on the way up.
5. Houston Astros (54-108)
It's going to be a tough first year in the American League for Houston. The Astros are entering a league with fewer bottom-dwellers and one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Especially in a division with an improving Mariners team, it would be a miracle for the Astros to finish anywhere outside of the cellar.
National League East
1. Atlanta Braves (96-66)
Even without Chipper Jones, this Atlanta Braves team looks to be a legitimate World Series contender. Signing the Upton brothers in the offseason was huge, and they can be expected to create a formidable middle of the batting order to go along with a great pitching staff and one of the best bullpens in the history of baseball.
The Braves are a fantastic team and they will surprise many, beating out the Nationals for the NL East title.
2. Washington Nationals (94-68)
Washington's pitching rotation is excellent, featuring five legitimate big league arms. Denard Span is a great addition to the top of the lineup, and we should expect Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond to continue to improve, leading to some great offensive production for Washington.
Gio Gonzalez may not duplicate his Cy Young-worthy numbers from 2012, but he should come fairly close. Even though Atlanta comes up with the division crown, the Nats push them to the brink.
3. Philadelphia Phillies (85-77)
The Phillies will show improvement this year. Cliff Lee will win some more games, Roy Halladay will pitch much better than he did in 2012, and fresh names like Domonic Brown will contribute to the offense.
Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins all look to be healthy and ready to go for a Philadelphia team that could plausibly return to its old form.
4. New York Mets (68-94)
The Mets won 74 games last year, but now-Toronto Blue Jay R.A. Dickey got credit for 20 of them. They have some pieces like Ike Davis that could contribute on offense, but don't expect the Mets to finish higher than fourth in this top-heavy division by any means.
5. Miami Marlins (51-113)
Yes, the Marlins will be that bad. They finished 69-93 last season with Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, etc. Now all they seem to have is an angry Giancarlo Stanton.
This team will be one of the worst in baseball history, especially having to deal with division opponents like Washington and Atlanta.
National League Central
1. Cincinnati Reds (96-66)
After choking up their first-round series to San Francisco, the Cincinnati Reds will come into the 2013 season as one of the hungriest teams in baseball. Cincinnati is a solid team in every facet of the game, and added a good leadoff hitter this offseason in Shin-Soo Choo.
Zack Cozart will develop into one of the league's better shortstops this season, and Joey Votto is a prime MVP candidate.
2. St. Louis Cardinals (85-77)
One lesson we keep learning every year is to never, EVER, count out the St. Louis Cardinals. Ace Chris Carpenter will be out for the entire season, but we learned in 2011 that it may not be a problem, as the team proceeded to win the World Series without Adam Wainwright pitching a single game.
Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Pete Kozma are all ready to make names for themselves, but older players like Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran cannot be expected to duplicate their same success from 2012.
3. Milwaukee Brewers (82-80)
Milwaukee is one of the better offensive teams in baseball with Ryan Braun leading the charge, but they are not a complete enough team to compete with the Reds and Cardinals.
Aramis Ramirez will probably regress a little from what he did last year, but expect shortstop Juan Segura to be a surprise performer for a team that already has a good amount of solid hitters.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates (80-82)
The Pirates finish a game better than last year, but remain more consistent over the course of the season than their customary second-half collapse.
Pedro Alvarez could have a breakthrough season and Andrew McCutchen is one of the best players in baseball today, but the fact that the team won't have the Astros 18 times a year will halt it from seeing a major improvement.
5. Chicago Cubs (63-99)
How do the Cubs finish 61-101 in 2012 despite having the luxury of playing in the same division as the Astros? Now the Cubs don't have to worry about anyone competing with them for the cellar, but they will still see an improvement in play this year.
If last year indicated anything, Anthony Rizzo is the real deal and can be expected to be a bright spot along with Starlin Castro on a team that is a ways away from winning anything important.
National League West
1. San Francisco Giants (90-72)
After a season-long battle, the defending champs hold off the big spenders from LA and capture the division crown on the last day of the season. As long as Buster Posey doesn't get hurt, this season should be a little better than the last one following a Giants' World Championship.
Tim Lincecum will also be better this year. He showed in the playoffs that his old form isn't completely unreachable, and, well, he can't pitch much worse than he did in the regular season last year. Especially by his standards.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (89-73)
The Dodgers have to settle for the National League Wild Card Game since their spending still can't find a way to knock off the Giants. This team has a great pitching rotation as well, bolstering the talent on the mound by winning the bidding war for Zach Greinke this winter.
3. San Diego Padres (83-79)
Many people are picking the Padres to be a big surprise this season, and it is definitely plausible that they could turn some heads. Their team is built much like the 2012 A's, albeit less pitching talent but possibly more offensive talent.
Once Chase Headley comes back, this team should put decent offensive numbers for a team that plays at Petco Park. Watch out for breakout seasons from Nick Hundley, Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks (80-82)
Arizona finishes a game worse than last season. They could surprise everyone and win the division again, but the D'backs look like an average team on paper and played like an average team last season.
They shouldn't be expected to be a top contender, but it wouldn't be overly surprising if they finished in the mid-80s in wins.
5. Colorado Rockies (65-97)
A healthy Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez along with young stars like Wilin Rosario and Josh Rutledge should create a terrific offense, especially in Coors Field.
The problem is that pitching rotation. Not only is it arguably the worst in baseball, but it also has to pitch half of its games in one of the best hitters' parks in the league. Expect lots of high-scoring games.
Wild Card Round
Toronto Blue Jays at Oakland Athletics: winner faces Detroit Tigers
Since this is one game, predicting the outcome is incredibly tough. The pitching matchup will probably be R.A. Dickey vs. Brett Anderson, featuring two top-tier pitchers. This game will be very tight, but Toronto's offensive advantage punches their ticket to Motown and denies Oakland of a shot at revenge against the Tigers.
Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals: winner faces Cincinnati Reds
Again, Wild Card games are incredibly tough to predict. This game will likely feature a terrific pitching duel between Clayton Kershaw and either Stephen Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez. Washington comes through and advances, becoming the first team to win the Wild Card Game at home.
American League Division Series
(1) Detroit Tigers vs. (5) Toronto Blue Jays
The Tigers have made the playoffs three times in recent years and have yet to lose in the first round (knock on wood). That streak will continue this year, as their pitching shuts down the Toronto offense and the big bats come through for Detroit.
Tigers in four
(2) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. (3) Tampa Bay Rays
This series features all sorts of intriguing matchups. Josh Hamilton will be looking to better his clutch reputation after a dismal September 2012, Mike Trout makes his postseason debut, and Tampa will be looking to advance to the ALCS after being knocked out of the first round by Texas in both 2010 and 2011.
In the playoffs, pitching usually proves to be extremely important, and despite having a less powerful lineup, Tampa Bay has one of the most talented rotations in baseball. The Rays find a way to be better than the Angels in the later games of the series due to their pitching, and they move on to the ALCS.
Rays in five
National League Division Series
(1) Cincinnati Reds vs. (4) Washington Nationals
These two teams should put on a spectacular show after both blowing NLDS series that seemed to be in the bag last year. Washington's problem is that they likely cannot use whoever they chose to pitch the Wild Card Game more than once in this series, which could hurt them in crucial situations.
Still, the rotation is a little deeper than Cincinnati's and the batting order can definitely do some damage to the bottom of the Reds' rotation. Washington takes this one.
Nationals in four
(2) Atlanta Braves vs. (3) San Francisco Giants
The Braves get their crack at the defending champs in their first series since the 2010 NLDS...also against the soon-to-be World Champion Giants. San Francisco doesn't have an overly daunting offense, but it doesn't need to be due to the spectacular pitching.
Atlanta, however, has one of the better offenses in the National League and a bullpen that is second to none. If the Giants fall behind in any game, they could be in some major trouble.
Braves in five
American League Championship Series: Tigers vs. Rays
Verlander vs. Price, Cabrera vs. Longoria. This series would be fantastic.
These are two of the top pitching staffs in the American League, and even though Detroit has some ridiculous talent offensively, this would be a very low-scoring series. Both of these teams have been to the World Series recently, but neither has any hardware to show for it.
Detroit's dominant rotation will be able to shut down Tampa's offense and give the Rays struggles, especially when they come up to the cold Comerica Park in mid-October. Tampa will put up a good fight, but the Tiger offense will get the key hits when it needs to.
Tigers in six
National League Championship Series: Braves vs. Nationals
A classic NL East battle takes place as the Nationals try to prove they're the better team after losing the division crown.
Washington's pitching staff is good, and it may even be better than Atlanta's. Both teams also feature two of the top bullpens in baseball, especially in the late innings.
This is the time of year where teams cannot get any further without offensive heroes, and both teams have some definite candidates at the shortstop position. Andrelton Simmons for Atlanta and Ian Desmond for Washington will both enjoy breakout series, but the rest of the lineup surrounding Simmons is better overall than the one surrounding Desmond.
I've said before and I'll say it again, the Atlanta Braves just don't blow leads when they get ahead, and this offense may be able to push the Braves to the point where they're ahead often enough to send them to the World Series.
Braves in seven.
World Series 2013: Atlanta Braves vs. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have a record of 1-8 in World Series games since 2006. The Braves haven't been to a World Series since losing to the Yankees in 1999.
Atlanta makes it to the World Series in its first season without Chipper Jones, bring more joy and hopefully fewer items tossed on the field. Their bullpen is far superior to Detroit's, which could be a huge factor in this series.
Detroit hopes not to pull a Texas and lose in the World Series for two consecutive seasons. This is a hungry team, hoping to finally capture a World Series for its beloved owner Mike Ilitch. While Atlanta has a much better bullpen, the Tigers hold advantages in starting pitching, offense and playoff experience.
Detroit's hunger and determination to avenge last year's disappointment will drive the offense, which was nonexistent in the 2012 World Series, to produce a good amount of runs against the Braves' pitchers.
Also, don't expect Justin Verlander to have a bad outing like he did in Game 1 last year. He will come up huge and redeem his World Series reputation, pitching the Tigers to a long-awaited World Series victory.
Tigers in five
Just for fun, here are some predictions for some of the league's top awards.
MVP: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Longoria's absence last year is what caused Tampa to nearly miss out on the playoffs. He will lead an offense that is just average without him to an American League East title for the third time in six seasons.
Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
There are a lot of good pitchers in the American League, but few would argue that any are better than Verlander. He leads one of the top staffs in the league and will see his numbers feed off of the somewhat-weak American League Central.
Rookie of the Year: Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians
Bauer has a lot of potential and will definitely get his shot to prove himself in a weak Cleveland pitching corps. He should be a ray of light for the future of Cleveland's pitching, as their offense appears to be decent enough already.
Manager of the Year: Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals
This should be the year that Kansas City starts to turn things around. I know people have been saying that for years, but this is the start. The team won't make the playoffs, but it will finish with a winning record and the youngsters will continue to develop. If it all works out as planned, Yost will be highly praised in Kansas City.
MVP: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Braun is the full package when it comes to offense. He can lead the league in batting average, hit 40 bombs a year, and can steal bases. A big target was on his back last year after being accused of PED use the season before, but he proved his critics wrong with one of the best seasons of his career. While the Brew Crew will fall short of the playoffs, its fans should enjoy watching another season of Ryan Braun.
Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Strasburg is already one of the league's best pitchers, and he will only continue to get better as his career progresses. This will be a year in which he leads the National League in strikeouts and will not have to worry about an innings limit.
Rookie of the Year: Travis d'Arnaud, New York Mets
The Mets will have an awful year, but will be excited about the future after seeing what d'Arnaud will do this season. He is one of the top catching prospects in baseball and will perform very well for the Mets when he is called up.
Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants
Bruce Bochy has proven year in and year out that he is one of the best managers in baseball. Despite having a much lower payroll, his Giants will still find a way to beat out the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League West title.