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New York Yankees (30-1)
The Yankees are extremely banged up to start the season, and it’s going to be very tough for them to overcome injuries. The lineup is rather embarrassing without the likes of Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and even Alex Rodriguez. Robinson Cano is one of the game’s best, but there’s no way he can make up all of that lost production.
The pitching staff is similar to that of last season’s, with CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda leading the rotation. New York will have Mariano Rivera back at closer, which will give it an advantage late in games. If David Phelps, who will be the No. 5 starter, can win at least 10 games, the rotation could be what gets the Yankees back into the playoffs.
Milwaukee Brewers (25-1)
The Brewers head into 2013 with a solid roster, but will have a couple of injuries to overcome to start the year. Corey Hart is a big loss and so is Mat Gamel. But Ryan Braun is still healthy and that makes all the difference in the world. Braun is an MVP candidate year in and year out and could easily propel Milwaukee into the playoff picture all by himself.
The pitching staff didn’t look too exciting until the Brewers recently signed Kyle Lohse. Lohse, one of the league’s top pitchers last season, could give Milwaukee the boost it needs, pitching in the middle of a rotation led by Yovani Gallardo. If the rest of the staff steps up and the bullpen does its job, the Brewers could easily lock up a wild-card spot.
Philadelphia Phillies (25-1)
Philadelphia has a good team; everyone just needs to stay healthy. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can’t afford to catch the injury bug if they have any hope of playing in October. They, as well as Michael Young, are the cornerstones of the offense, and if they aren’t there, the Phillies aren’t in the playoffs. Domonic Brown has had a great spring, but the Phillies need his teammates’ production.
While Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee should have impressive seasons, the X-factor is absolutely Roy Halladay. The right-hander experienced all sorts of problems during spring training, and he needs to figure it out quickly. The Phillies can’t afford for him to have an off season. He’s much too valuable. Basically, the Phillies need to avoid a lot of bad things happening.
Oakland Athletics (25-1)
The 2012 Athletics were a special team, but it’s up for debate as to whether they’ll be just as special in 2013. On paper, Oakland isn’t very good. There are a couple of big names that can have big seasons, but the roster doesn’t compare to that of the Texas Rangers or the Los Angeles Angels. However, it was all about chemistry and luck last season, not the players on the team.
If that luck and the “let’s prove everyone wrong” attitude stays, Oakland could make the playoffs for the second straight season. Yoenis Cespedes should be better with a year of experience under his belt, and if the heroics of Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss continue, watch out.
It’s worth noting that Brandon McCarthy is gone, but the rest of the young starters should be able to pick up the slack.
Boston Red Sox (25-1)
The Red Sox are going to be much better than last season’s 69-win performance. It would be hard to be worse than that. The offseason additions of Shane Victorino, Joel Hanrahan, Ryan Dempster and Mike Napoli should easily improve 2012’s mark. And there’s no way that Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz repeat the poor campaigns they had last season.
With a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury and Will Middlebrooks, the Dustin Pedroia-helmed lineup should be considerably better. David Ortiz is a notable loss to start the year, but if he returns healthy and is his usual self, that’ll only help Boston’s cause.
Boston’s newest rising star, Jackie Bradley, could be the X-factor for the Red Sox. He had a miraculous spring, having never played higher than Double-A before.
Baltimore Orioles (25-1)
Much like the Oakland Athletics, not many saw the Orioles making the playoffs last season. But they played the game right and earned their spot in the postseason. Can they make it back for a second straight year, though? Baltimore has a very similar roster, and in a tight AL East, anything is possible. But it likely needs a little bit of luck once again.
The Orioles have a strong core with Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, and if a couple of players can have similar seasons, such as Chris Davis, things could fall in Baltimore’s favor. The return of Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts should be interesting to watch. The starting rotation might need to step it up a bit, but the bullpen is still very, very strong.