After winning NL Rookie of the Year and leading the Nationals to the best record in baseball last year, will Bryce Harper bring a title to Washington?
The long, cold winter is over. Baseball is finally back! Actually, it returned on Sunday night with a battle for Texas bragging rights between the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros. But the official Opening Day is Monday, with 12 games throughout the day.
It also means that this is the time where everyone tries to put some sense of logic to all the madness that will happen over the next six months. Predicting baseball games is futile, because it is an unpredictable game.
But that is also what makes the game so great and fun. If you knew everything that was going to happen, there would be no point in watching any of it. So here is where we tell you what we think will happen with all 30 teams this season, just in time to prove that you can't predict baseball.
2012 Record: 94-68 (Second place in NL East; Lost to St. Louis in Wild Card Game)
The additions of B.J. and Justin Upton more than make up for the retirement of Chipper Jones. Jason Heyward turns into a legitimate MVP candidate. Andrelton Simmons becomes one of the best all-around shortstops in baseball.
The deepest bullpen in baseball continues to dominate opposing lineups. Kris Medlen pitches like an ace to give the rotation stability at the top.
Justin Upton's power outage carries over into this season. B.J. Upton mentally checks out after getting paid. Andrelton Simmons' offense never develops, leaving a gaping hole on the left side of the infield.
Craig Kimbrel looks human, making the bullpen vulnerable. Kris Medlen's late-season surge in 2012 was a mirage, and Julio Teheran still gives up too many home runs, giving the Braves more rotation question marks than they have answers for.
The Braves are better on paper this season than they were in 2012, though they may not be able to match their win total due to better competition in the NL. The Upton brothers are going to at least be solid additions to this lineup, with Justin likely reverting back to his MVP-caliber performance from two years ago.
2012 Record: 69-93 (Last place in NL East)
Giancarlo Stanton carries a lineup of journeymen and youngsters into surprising contention. Jose Fernandez's surprise start in Miami ends up yielding instant results, resulting in a Rookie of the Year award.
Christian Yelich tears up the Double-A, forcing his way onto the 25-man roster in the second half. Fans decide to support the players on the field, not the owner putting the product on the field.
Giancarlo Stanton gets hurt again, leaving a lineup comprised of essentially replacement-level players. Fernandez struggles making the adjustment after just one full season in the minors, ending up in Double-A before the All-Star break.
Youngsters Rob Brantly and Adeiny Hechavarria don't hit their body weight. Logan Morrison's injury woes continue, even if he is able to return from the 60-day DL. Less than 1,000 fans show up to watch this team.
Other than Stanton, you would be hard-pressed to find another player you would want to put in a big league lineup without hesitation. There is some talent in the rotation, but not nearly enough to keep the Marlins relevant past April 15.
2012 Record: 74-88 (Fourth place in NL East)
Matt Harvey's electric debut last season carries over into 2013, allowing him to develop into an ace. Zack Wheeler comes up in May or June, electrifies the way Harvey did when was called up and gives the Mets two top-tier starting pitchers.
David Wright repeats his MVP-caliber performance from last season. Travis d'Arnaud stays healthy in Triple-A long enough to finally get his call to The Show. Ike Davis is at least respectable against lefties to avoid becoming a platoon player.
Harvey loses something off his fastball, dropping his ceiling from ace to mid-rotation starter. Wright's back problems flare up on him, causing him to miss at least one month. The no-name outfield plays like everyone expects it to, justifying Bobby Bonilla and Jason Bay being the two highest-paid outfielders for the team this season.
Wheeler struggles at Triple-A Las Vegas, while d'Arnaud gets hurt again and is unable to contribute in the big leagues.
There are so many holes all over the field for the Mets this season that it is hard to see them moving forward. They have already lost Johan Santana to a shoulder injury. There is some impact help at the high levels of the minors, but not nearly enough to make a difference in 2013.
2012 Record: 81-81 (Third place in NL East)
Roy Halladay's velocity returns to where it was when he was the best pitcher in baseball. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins play in a combined 450 games. Domonic Brown turns into at least an average everyday player.
Cliff Lee actually gets some run support this season. Carlos Ruiz duplicates his out-of-nowhere success when he returns at the end of April. Michael Young and Delmon Young don't become black holes on offense and defense.
Halladay's shoulder issues make his decline even steeper this season. The defense is dreadful because of Howard, Michael Young, Delmon Young and Domonic Brown. Utley's knees flare up on him, knocking him out of the lineup for an extended period of time. Jonathan Papelbon's fly balls end up going over the fence.
The Phillies are at a point where they think they are contenders, even though age and really poor decision-making could hold them back. The defense is going to be one of the worst in baseball, making it imperative that their pitchers miss more bats than ever.
2012 Record: 98-64 (Won NL East; Lost to St. Louis in NLDS)
Stephen Strasburg's restrictions are lifted, allowing him to become the best pitcher in baseball. Bryce Harper continues to improve following his historic debut season and turns into an MVP candidate at 20 years old.
The deepest rotation in the National League proves to be even more unhittable than last year. A loaded bullpen doesn't have to do much because the starters throw the most innings in baseball. Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond provide necessary pop in the middle of the lineup.
Rafael Soriano's arm problems create a void in the bullpen. Harper goes through a sophomore slump, as pitchers have had an entire offseason to study him. Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann aren't able to replicate their 2012 performances.
Dan Haren's back continues to be a problem. Adam LaRoche has a huge regression following a career year. Jayson Werth struggles to regain his form after missing most of last season.
The Nationals enter the season as the deepest team in baseball. They are loaded with pitching, both starters and relievers. The offense will be better, as Harper could turn into one of the best players in baseball. Strasburg will win his first Cy Young now that he doesn't have to worry about an innings limit.
2012 Record: 61-101 (Fifth place in NL Central)
Starlin Castro bounces back from a sluggish second half and, along with Anthony Rizzo, gives the Cubs the punch at the top of the order they need. Jeff Samardzija continues to evolve into a strikeout-machine in the rotation. Matt Garza returns from injury better than ever, netting a nice trade return at the deadline. Alfonso Soriano finally agrees to waive his no-trade clause.
Castro's inability to take a walk drags down his hit tool. Garza struggles to regain his form, leaving the Cubs on the hook for him all year and getting no return at all. Samardzija and Edwin Jackson give up too many baserunners due to spotty command.
Soriano continues to refuse trades or is so bad the team can't find anyone who wants him. Carlos Marmol and Kyuji Fujikawa can't get anyone out at the end of games.
The Cubs do have some interesting pieces to watch this season (Castro, Rizzo, Samardzija, Arodys Vizcaino, who will start the season in the minors). On the whole, however, they are lacking in enough offensive punch to get close to .500.
2012 Record: 97-65 (First place in NL Central; Lost to San Francisco in NLDS)
Shin-Soo Choo provides the on-base skills at the top of the lineup to get this offense back to where it once was. Joey Votto plays 150 games and is an MVP candidate again. The starting rotation finds someone who can step up in a big spot to shut down a good lineup. Aroldis Chapman remains one of the most unhittable closers in baseball.
A deep, albeit fly-ball-prone, rotation struggles to keep the ball in the park. Without a true center fielder, defense in the outfield becomes a huge liability. Votto's leg problems last season continue to sap his power. Jonathan Broxton's straight fastball makes his ERA balloon. Devin Mesoraco struggles out of the gate, once again losing the faith of Dusty Baker.
The Reds did improve their lineup with the addition of Choo, who gives them someone to get on base. But it came at the expense of defense in center field, one of the most valuable spots on the diamond. They have plenty of depth in the rotation and bullpen, though they are lacking a premier player in the former group.
2012 Record: 83-79 (Third place in NL Central)
Ryan Braun avoids the wrath of Bud Selig. After signing so late, Kyle Lohse returns to form quickly and duplicates what he did with St. Louis in 2012. Yovani Gallardo finds the consistency needed to become a true ace. Aramis Ramirez hangs on to the fountain of youth one more year. John Axford can find the strike zone enough to be a solid closer.
Selig finds enough evidence to suspend Braun. Lohse's long offseason puts him way behind schedule, and when he does pitch, he is worse than league average.
Gallardo's struggles continue to make him an enigma. Axford continues to leave the ball over the fat part of the plate, allowing hitters to tee off. There comes a point where they have to dip into a weak farm system.
There are enough good pieces in place that the Brewers should be able to stick around .500 this season. Getting over the hump would require some serious wheeling and dealing from the front office or career years from a number of players all at the same time.
2012 Record: 79-83 (Fourth place in NL Central)
Pedro Alvarez hits lefties and becomes the player behind Andrew McCutchen to pack some punch. A.J. Burnett and James McDonald find what they did in the first half of 2012 and use it to have success. Gerrit Cole debuts in June and shows why he was the top pick in the draft two years ago.
McCutchen's power output last season proves to be an aberration, leaving the Pirates without a great hitter and scrambling for offense. The rotation's second-half collapse last season leaves a bitter taste in the mouth this year.
Starling Marte's hack-at-all-costs approach reduces his chances of turning into an everyday player. Cole's command issues persists and he struggles after getting the call.
Even though Pirates fans don't want to hear it, the losing streak will continue in 2013. There just isn't enough offense around McCutchen to do anything, nor does the pitching staff have enough to make up for the runs Pittsburgh can't score.
2012 Record: 88-74 (Second place in NL Central, Won Wild Card; Lost to San Francisco in NLCS)
Allen Craig and David Freese play in 140 games. Carlos Beltran plays like he did before last year's All-Star break, not after. Matt Holliday's MVP potential once again comes out. The best farm system in baseball churns out stars like Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Oscar Taveras this year. Depth saves the day when the team has to rely on it.
The Cardinals are forced into giving Taveras at-bats before he is ready due to Beltran's age and fragility. Miller can't handle the jump to the big leagues this season. Jason Motte's injury gives the bullpen a weak spot it can't plug. Shortstop becomes too much of an issue with Pete Kozma getting exploited with more reps.
If you just stack the rosters up right now, the Reds might be slightly better than the Cardinals. But over the course of 162 games, players will get hurt, stones will be turned over and depth is needed to survive. No team is deeper than the Cardinals this year.
2012 Record: 81-81 (Third place in NL East)
Arizona's new contact-oriented lineup proves to be a brilliant strategy. Paul Goldschmidt hits righties enough to become a star in the middle of the lineup. Adam Eaton returns from injury and provides the spark at the top of the lineup they need.
Wade Miley's breakout season in 2012 proves not to be a fluke, and Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill provide 400 innings of better-than-league-average performance. Tyler Skaggs' spring problems don't persist long, allowing him to pitch 140 innings in the big leagues this season.
There isn't enough power in the lineup to score runs. A poor defensive outfield, at least until Eaton returns, costs more runs than it creates. Eaton's timing is off after missing time. Ian Kennedy and Patrick Corbin continue to be fly-ball machines in one of the least-friendly pitchers parks in baseball. J.J. Putz's late-career resurgence ends in bad fashion.
New acquisition Martin Prado will be solid at third base, as will the rest of the lineup. But there isn't enough punch to push them over the top, and the pitching staff has depth but no real knockout arms.
2012 Record: 64-98 (Fifth place in NL West)
Best-Case Scenario: The Rockies find a few starters capable of throwing 180 innings without embarrassing themselves. Troy Tulowitzki stays on the field for 140 games and plays like the best all-around shortstop in baseball. Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler figure out how to hit away from Coors Field. Wilin Rosario takes a walk occasionally and proves his power outburst as a rookie was a sign of things to come.
Worst-Case Scenario: Everything we think about their starting pitching, which is basically five pitch-to-contact guys right now, ends up being the worst thing possible for Coors Field. Tulowitzki's injury woes continue, leaving Carlos Gonzalez to pick up the slack even though his home/road splits are extreme. The bullpen completely collapses as a result of having to throw so many innings due to poor starting pitching.
The Rockies have two of the most exciting offensive players in baseball, a solid center fielder and a whole lot of nothing everywhere else. There seems to be no direction in the front office, especially as it pertains to the pitching. They have a lot of spare arms capable of filling innings in pitchers parks, which you may have heard is not something Colorado is known for.
2012 Record: 86-76 (Second place in NL West)
All the money spent over the last 12 months turns into a playoff spot. Matt Kemp reemerges as an MVP candidate with a full season under his belt. Adrian Gonzalez finds his power stroke again.
Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke prove to be the best one-two punch in baseball, and the depth behind them gives the Dodgers the best rotation in the National League. All that money given to Brandon League makes them look smart, even though Kenley Jansen gets all the glory.
The high-priced talent doesn't come together, costing Don Mattingly his job midseason. Hanley Ramirez's absence leaves a hole in the middle of the lineup. Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford break down yet again.
Greinke's elbow issues persist all season. That depth behind the top two starters never comes together, as Hyun-Jin Ryu's talent doesn't translate to Major League Baseball. Chris Capuano's inability to keep the ball in the park catches up to him this year.
Even with all the money spent, it is hard to see a great team here. There is not much depth in the lineup once you get past Kemp and, when healthy, Ramirez. Adrian Gonzalez's power issues last season aren't going to get better moving from hitter friendly Fenway Park to pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw and Greinke will be great, but the rest of the rotation looks like a lot of parts that could be good or really mediocre.
2012 Record: 76-86 (Fourth place in NL West)
Playing in the abyss that is PetCo Park allows their pitching to play better than it really is, because that always happens. Jedd Gyorko is able to provide enough offense at third base until Chase Headley returns, allowing the Padres to move Gyorko over to second and add a little depth to a soft lineup.
Cameron Maybin plays closer to his 2011 performance than 2012. Yonder Alonso's power starts to show up in games more, as his average and on-base percentage continue to get better.
Because we know the pitching will never be bad in San Diego, everything that could go wrong with the offense does. Headley's absence looms large over the lineup, causing the team to fall apart right out of the gate.
Gyorko can't adjust to the big leagues as a rookie, and the team has to scramble to find someone who can drive the ball. Yasmani Grandal's suspension wears on him upon returning and he is unable to duplicate is .863 OPS from 2012.
When you can keep teams from scoring runs, you are going to win a lot of games. The Padres' farm system is still really good and deep, though losing Casey Kelly and Rymer Liriano, who was at least one year away anyway, for 2013 puts them behind the 8-ball to start the year.
2012 Record: 94-68 (First place in NL West; Won World Series)
Tim Lincecum regains some of his old form, giving the Giants an elite trio of arms at the top of a rotation. Keeping virtually everyone from last year's championship team yields the same results. The defense remains among the best in baseball.
Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey get help in the middle of the lineup by Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt, with the latter having the breakout season everyone predicted two years ago.
Buster Posey and/or Pablo Sandoval miss a significant amount of time, creating a void in the middle of the lineup that prevents the Giants from being a league-average offense. The back of the rotation can't get outs. Lincecum struggles to find his velocity and his command problems persist. Barry Zito's postseason success becomes a distant memory. Belt doesn't translate his power into games once again.
Even though there should be regression coming to a lot of key players from last year's team (Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro), there are enough good things to like about this team to expect anther division title. The pitching staff, both starters and relievers, is still the deepest in the NL West, and Posey has done nothing but produce when he is healthy.
2012 Record: 93-69 (Second place in AL East; Lost to New York in ALDS)
Buck Showalter continues to work wonders with that bullpen, and the Orioles continue to defy odds in one-run and extra-inning games. Manny Machado exceeds even the most optimistic expectations in his first full season. Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis add depth to a lineup that only boasts two stars (Adam Jones, Matt Wieters).
They get more than one starter to take the mound more than 20 times this year. Jason Hammel's improvements last season carry over into 2013. Dylan Bundy and/or Kevin Gausman provide a spark in the rotation in the second half.
The fickle nature of relief pitching destroys the Orioles as they can't come close to duplicating last season's success. Nate McClouth remembers that he is Nate McClouth. Chris Tillman, who was recently placed on the disabled list, and the rest of the starting rotation break down. J.J. Hardy's .282 on-base percentage catches up to him, causing his power production to drop significantly.
Virtually everything the Orioles did last year is not something sustainable from year to year. Teams can't be counted on to consistently win one-run and extra-inning games. The bullpen will still be good because Showalter knows how to manage that aspect of the game better than anyone, but the lineup and starting rotation still have too many holes to finish over .500 once again.
2012 Record: 69-93 (Last place in AL East)
All the changes over the last eight months provide a new outlook for the Red Sox. Mike Napoli and Mike Carp provide some pop in the middle of the lineup. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury all play 140 games, providing star-level production.
Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz regain their form without Bobby Valentine around. A rebuilt bullpen becomes one of the best in baseball. Star prospect Xander Bogaerts scorches Double-A pitching and forces his way onto the roster the way that Jackie Bradley Jr. did this spring.
The new pieces struggle to adjust to the difficult AL East. Mike Napoli's hip causes him to miss 50 games, as does Ortiz's heel issues. Ellsbury can't stay on the field heading into free agency. Lester, Buchholz and Ryan Dempster, who had a 5.09 ERA with Texas, have no clue how to figure out what went wrong last season, making the new bullpen additions largely irrelevant.
No one is talking about the Red Sox because of what happened last season, as well as some of the moves made in the winter, but when healthy, this is still a good team. As long as Ortiz, Napoli and Pedroia are in the lineup for 130 games apiece, the offense will be fine. Lester and Buchholz look to be in a much better place this spring, which is exactly what the rotation needs.
2012 Record: 95-67 (First place in AL East; Lost to Detroit in ALCS)
Starting pitching is able to keep the team afloat for the first month of the season until Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira return and provide support to Robinson Cano. Derek Jeter comes off the DL and is able to defy the odds once again, at least with the bat because he is still terrible in the field.
CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte combine to make 90 starts. Mariano Rivera and David Robertson form the best late-inning duo in the AL. Alex Rodriguez returns at the All-Star break and is able to provide above-average offense at third base and/or DH.
Age finally ruins this team. Andy Pettitte pitches like a 41-year-old in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. Sabathia battles injuries that plagued him at the end of 2012. All of the temporary solutions brought in to provide an offensive boost struggle (Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, Brennan Boesch). Mariano Rivera's diminished velocity and time missed in 2012 take a toll on his command, making it easier to square up his cutter.
Even the most optimistic fan would struggle to make an argument that the Yankees will make the postseason. The Yankees are really old, have no depth and all the best talent in the farm system is at least one year away. Times are changing in the Bronx, though some might say it is not for the better.
2012 Record: 90-72 (Third place in AL East)
Not even the loss of James Shields can slow down the deepest starting rotation in baseball. Matt Moore grows into the top-of-the-rotation arm everyone knows he can be. Evan Longoria stays healthy for 150 games and finally wins that MVP award everyone predicted for him before Mike Trout came along. Wil Myers gets called up in June and gives the lineup the other power bat it needs behind Longoria.
Trading Shields proves to be a mistake, as no one behind David Price is able to provide 200 quality innings. Longoria gets hurt, leaving Ben Zobrist as the one above-average hitter in the lineup. Myers doesn't adjust to big league pitching when he gets called up and the power they need isn't there. Fernando Rodney reverts back to his time with the Angels when he had an ERA over 4.00.
Even though there is another team in the division that grabbed all the headlines, the Rays are the deepest team in the American League East. Their pitching, especially the starting rotation, and defense are among the best in baseball. Getting a full season from Longoria and Zobrist and three-fourths of a season from Wil Myers, as well as some improvements from Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce, give the Rays more than enough offense.
2012 Record: 73-89 (Fourth place in AL East)
All of the headlines from the offseason translate into big things on the field. The new starting rotation provides stability and takes a lot of pressure off the bullpen. Jose Reyes adds a dimension to the offense that hasn't been there, allowing Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion to drive in a ton of runs. Melky Cabrera lucks his way to another season of hitting over .300 with plenty of home runs and doubles in a better hitters park than San Francisco's.
The injury bug that has plagued Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow throughout their careers hits once again. R.A. Dickey's knuckleball isn't as crisp, causing a huge regression from his Cy Young season. Mark Buehrle finds life in the AL East a lot more difficult than the AL Central or NL East. Jose Bautista struggles to regain his power form after wrist problems last season. Lawrie's hacker approach leads to another disappointing season.
Think about the last team to "win" the offseason that went on to win the World Series. Probably the New York Yankees in 2009, so it's not like it happens every year. Plus, even more important than that arbitrary stat is the fact the Blue Jays don't have a lot of depth heading into the year.
They traded a lot of assets to win now, which is one of the great things about having a deep farm system. But do you really trust Johnson and Morrow to combine for 55-60 starts? Where do they go if Bautista, Reyes or Encarnacion gets hurt? This is a very good, potentially great team, but it is not a slam dunk the Blue Jays even make it to the playoffs.
2012 Record: 85-77 (Second place in AL Central)
Chris Sale remains a Cy Young candidate. Jake Peavy stays healthy, and John Danks is able to make at least 25 starts when he returns from the DL. Alexei Ramirez has a bounce-back season, while Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko hit 70 home runs in the middle of the lineup. Matt Thornton and Addison Reed form one of the best late-inning tandems in baseball.
Konerko's decline continues, putting more pressure on Dunn to make more contact than he is capable of. Alex Rios can't come close to duplicating his .516 slugging percentage. Sale's arm action catches up to him and he has to miss time. Peavy breaks down, as he is prone to doing. Gordon Beckham's continues to post an on-base percentage under .300, and Jeff Keppinger regresses after a career year with Tampa Bay in 2012.
It's going to be a struggle for the White Sox to hang around .500 this season. So much of their offense is built around Dunn, who strikes out 200 times every year, and Konerko, whose OBP has dropped by 22 points and whose slugging has dropped 98 points since 2010. Rios is not going to be as good as he was in 2012. The rotation doesn't have depth behind Sale and Peavy.
2012 Record: 68-94 (Fourth place in AL Central)
The offense takes a huge step forward, with new additions Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs joining Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera. The outfield defense is among the best in baseball, with three center fielders spread around.
Trevor Bauer gets called up in May and pitches like the top-of-the-rotation starter he looked like when he was drafted two years ago. Justin Masterson performs well enough against lefties to have a good season. Ubaldo Jimenez learns to pitch with diminished stuff.
Bourn's speed isn't what it used to be, causing a huge drop in average and on-base percentage. Reynolds doesn't make enough contact to be a difference-maker at DH. Masterson and Jimenez turn into disasters at the top of the rotation, with no significant depth behind them. Bauer's control problems linger after he gets called up, lowering his ultimate ceiling. The Bullpen Mafia feels the pressure of backing up a weak starting rotation.
The Indians were able to spend money this offseason, which will certainly make them respectable in 2013. But the lack of any reliable starting pitching will make it hard for them to crack the .500 mark, though it will be interesting to see what Bauer brings when he eventually does get the call to Cleveland.
2012 Record: 88-74 (First place in AL Central; Lost to San Francisco in World Series)
The power arms at the top of the rotation (Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer), as well as the depth of pitching with Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez, prove to be as dominant in the regular season as they were in the postseason (excluding the World Series). Victor Martinez gives more depth to a lineup that features Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The "proven closer" myth gets busted by the closer-by-committee approach the Tigers are using.
The bullpen woes that plagued the team at the end of 2012 prevent the Tigers from running away with the division once again. Defense continues to be a huge problem area, forcing the starters to strike out everyone (which two of them are probably capable of). Martinez's return doesn't go as planned, because a full season away throws his timing all out of whack.
The Tigers are the best team in the division, with no one else being close right now. The starting rotation is one of the deepest in baseball. Even if there isn't a lot of depth in the lineup, the top half is so good that it will score plenty of runs. As long as the defense, which really killed the team last year, is even adequate, the Tigers will run away with another division title.
2012 Record: 72-90 (Third place in AL Central)
The starting rotation at least posts a league-average ERA. James Shields provides stability with 200 innings and solid peripherals. Eric Hosmer fixes his swing mechanics and has the huge year expected from him last year. Billy Butler's power outburst last season is a sign of growth and not a one-year fluke. A solid group of arms in the bullpen eases the burden on the rotation.
Shields pitches well, but there is no one behind him who can provide enough quality innings to keep the Royals in the race. Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana post ERAs around 5.00 once again, leaving two huge holes in the rotation.
Hosmer's development continues to stall, and Mike Moustakas still refuses to walk enough to have an on-base percentage over .300. Salvador Perez's swing-at-everything approach results in a slash line of .270/.300/.400.
While the Royals did make themselves better in the surprise trade for James Shields and Wade Davis that was almost universally panned (at least for them), they still aren't where they need to be to challenge for a playoff spot. A .500 record isn't out of the question as long as Hosmer gets back to what he did as a rookie in 2011 and Butler rakes in the middle of the lineup. It's not much, but it is progress.
2012 Record: 66-96 (Fifth place in AL Central)
The M&M brothers play in 280 games once again, with Justin Morneau providing some pop in the middle of the lineup so that the Twins can flip him at the deadline for future value. Rookie Aaron Hicks takes to the big leagues quicker than anyone expects, giving the Twins a potential star in center field.
Kyle Gibson's recovery from Tommy John in 2011 is complete and he looks like the No. 3 starter he was before the surgery. Mike Pelfrey and Vance Worley provide solid innings to make it easier for the team to ease in Gibson and Trevor May.
Morneau and Joe Mauer battle injuries, which prevents the Twins from being able to trade the former and makes them unsure of what the future holds for that latter. Gibson's command is so bad while he works his way back that he can't spend much time in the big leagues.
Hicks falls apart after a two-league jump to the big leagues, leaving the Twins with no clear answer in center field. Josh Willingham's offensive outburst last year was a mirage, lowering any trade value he might have had eight months ago.
The Twins are not delusional about where they are and where they want to be. They have added a lot of intriguing talent to the farm system, some of which will debut in the big leagues within the next two seasons. It is going to be another long season, but the direction of the franchise is positive.
2012 Record: 55-107 (Sixth place in NL Central)
Houston's long-term process gets a jolt from a group of journeymen who play over their heads. Jose Altuve continues to defy all odds and hits his way to some level of stardom on a team without a true face. Brad Peacock emerges as a mid-rotation starter. Jarred Cosart gets called up and proves he has enough command to start.
Erik Bedard stays healthy long enough to fetch some kind of trade return. Chris Carter makes enough contact to let his big power show up. Jonathan Singleton returns from his 50-game suspension to at least get a call-up in September before taking over the first base job full time in 2014.
Altuve's bat slips into obscurity now that everyone else has figured out how to pitch to him. Singleton struggles mightily upon returning to the minor leagues. The rotation flops harder than anyone expects. Cosart can't throw enough strikes and gets relegated to the bullpen. Peacock's inability to get plane on his fastball makes him too homer-prone.
The Astros are technically better now than they were at the end of 2012, whatever that's worth, with some intriguing pieces on offense and in the rotation. But moving to a division with Oakland, Texas and Los Angeles is going to hurt and could make them a 50-win team.
2012 Record: 89-73 (Third place in AL West)
The offense turns out to be the best in baseball, led by an MVP-caliber performance from Mike Trout. Jered Weaver avoids the disabled list this season to throw 220 innings. C.J. Wilson's second-half woes last season are behind him after having his elbow cleaned up.
Some combination of Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jerome Williams gives the Angels at least a solid No. 3 starter. Ernesto Frieri and Ryan Madson dominate at the end of games, forcing teams to outscore this lineup in seven innings or less.
Albert Pujols' decline continues, as his slash stats drop for the fifth straight year. Josh Hamilton proves the end of last season is closer to the player he is now. Mark Trumbo still doesn't know how to take a pitch. All of those factors lead to a disappointing offensive performance, putting more pressure on a soft starting pitching group. Weaver misses time again, leaving the Angels scrambling to find someone who can provide better-than-average innings.
The Angels are the most frustrating team to evaluate. They are going to score a ton of runs and still have a very strong defensive team. On the other hand, that pitching staff could be so bad nothing can save it. One factor that does work in their favor is Angel Stadium, which caters to fly-ball pitchers.
2012 Record: 94-68 (First place in AL West; Lost to Detroit in ALDS)
Oakland's young rotation continues to take steps forward. Brett Anderson makes 30 starts. Yoenis Cespedes plays in 150 games and becomes the five-tool star he would have been if he played more last season.
Josh Reddick's evolution continues, as he learns to work counts and cut down on strikeouts. A deep bullpen continues to thrive in pitcher friendly O.co Coliseum. Brandon Moss finds a way to average one home run every 13 at-bats, even with a high strikeout rate, like he did in 2012.
The young pitching takes a step back, especially away from Oakland. Reddick doesn't make the adjustments, leaving him as a power hitter who can't hit for average or get on base. Grant Balfour struggles after missing most of the spring following knee surgery. All of those players who contributed down the stretch, led by Moss, prove to be half-season flukes.
A lot of things went right for Oakland last season during what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. It was followed up by a strong offseason; acquiring Jed Lowrie and John Jaso could prove to be steals. But it is hard to see every single thing going right two years in a row to keep the A's in the playoff mix.
2012 Record: 75-87 (Fourth place in AL West)
New additions Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales, as well as returning players like Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero and Dustin Ackley, hit well enough to get the Mariners out of the offensive cellar. Young pitchers like Brandon Maurer and Danny Hultzen, who should get called up in June, give the Mariners a stable of quality arms behind Felix Hernandez.
It will get even better when Taijuan Walker debuts, either at the end of 2013 or next season. Mike Zunino gives the team a very good all-around catcher and the ability to move Montero to DH or first base.
All of the moves the Mariners made this offseason flop, with Morse and Bay getting hurt and Ibanez still unable to hit left-handed pitching. Smoak's last chance turns into a disaster, causing him to get released in June. Hultzen struggles to throw strikes at Triple-A, delaying his arrival.
The offense will be better this season, which isn't saying much. But how much better depends on a lot of unclear variables. Do you think Morse will get 500 at-bats? Is Ibanez an everyday player? Will one of Montero, Ackley or Smoak finally hit up to their potential? With that many question marks, it is hard to see significant progress.
2012 Record: 93-69 (Second place in AL West; Lost to Baltimore in Wild Card Game)
Yu Darvish's strong finish to last season is a steppingstone to a Cy Young-caliber 2013. The platoon of Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin in center field proves to be a work of brilliance, as the production is still good at a fraction of the cost of an everyday player. Depth on the 25-man roster and in the high levels of the minors is too much for everyone else in the division to catch up with.
The starting rotation disappoints, as Darvish struggles to throw strikes consistently and Matt Harrison regresses. Joe Nathan's age catches up to him, leaving the Rangers with a void in the bullpen that they struggle to fill. Lance Berkman and Adrian Beltre get hurt, as they are known to do, and Ian Kinsler's offensive regression continues, making it difficult for the team to score enough runs.
It will be interesting to see how Jurickson Profar gets integrated into the roster, because we know it will happen. Depth is an asset the Rangers have that none of the other teams in the division has. Darvish is an ace ready for his crowning moment. The offense, even without Josh Hamilton, will be great. Defensively, the Rangers still boast the best left side of the infield in the game and are solid around the outfield. Don't sleep on this team in 2013.
Look for the Rays to win the AL East for the third time in six years.
|AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST|
|1. Tampa Bay Rays 94-68|
|2. Toronto Blue Jays 89-73*|
|3. Boston Red Sox 85-77|
|4. New York Yankees 83-79|
5. Baltimore Orioles 77-85
|AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL|
|1. Detroit Tigers 95-67|
|2. Cleveland Indians 80-82|
|3. Kansas City Royals 79-83|
|4. Chicago White Sox 77-85|
|5. Minnesota Twins 68-94|
|AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST|
|1. Texas Rangers 90-72|
|2. Los Angeles Angels 89-73*|
|3. Oakland Athletics 84-78|
|4. Seattle Mariners 72-90|
|5. Houston Astros 57-105|
*Denotes Wild Card
Good times are coming to Washington once again in 2013.
|NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST|
|1. Washington Nationals 96-66|
|2. Atlanta Braves 91-71*|
|3. Philadelphia Phillies 78-84|
|4. New York Mets 67-95|
|5. Miami Marlins 62-100|
|NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL|
|1. St. Louis Cardinals 92-70|
|2. Cincinnati Reds 91-71*|
|3. Milwaukee Brewers 81-81|
|4. Pittsburgh Pirates 78-84|
|5. Chicago Cubs 74-88|
|NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST|
|1. San Francisco Giants 91-71|
|2. Los Angeles Dodgers 88-74|
|3. Arizona Diamondbacks 83-79|
|4. San Diego Padres 76-86|
|5. Colorado Rockies 63-99|
*Denotes Wild Card
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