2013 MLB Predictions: Surprise Teams That Will Challenge for Wild Card Spots
Raise your hand if you live outside of California or Maryland and predicted the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles would reach the postseason last year.
You can put your hands down now, you liars—nobody saw those teams coming, especially in two of the toughest divisions in all of baseball. But after the success of those organizations, everyone is curious to see if another team or two will shock all of baseball and make a postseason run in 2013.
This year, I've identified three teams that could do just that.
While the Indians may not be ready to compete with the stacked Detroit Tigers for the AL Central title this season, I really like this Cleveland squad.
Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana are stars in the making. Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds were all solid veteran additions. Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs have plenty of potential, while Asdrubal Cabrera would make this lineup truly scary if he reverts back to his 2011 form (25 home runs, 92 RBI).
Sure, the pitching staff causes worries; Ubaldo Jimenez is the "ace" and Justin Masterson is coming off a disappointing 2012. But this Indians squad has the potential to really mash opposing pitching, and they have a legitimate chance to be in the postseason hunt to the end.
Kansas City Royals
Look closely, and you'll see a Royals team with a ton of potential.
Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez all have a lot of talent and could post breakout campaigns in 2013. Billy Butler (.313, 29 home runs, 107 RBI) and Eric Gordon were solid last year, though Gordon's power numbers regressed.
The speedy Alcides Escobar may be more familiar to fantasy owners than casual baseball fans, but he gives the Royals even more speed atop the lineup hitting in the two-hole behind Gordon.
And the team rebuilt the pitching staff, landing James Shields and Wade Davis in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, and Ervin Santana in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels. Along with Jeremy Guthrie and Luis Mendoza, the Royals have the makings of a solid rotation.
If the Royals' young guns play up to their potential, look out. The Tigers may be the class of the AL Central, but the division is pretty weak in general. Don't be shocked if the Royals make a run at a wild-card spot.
Could this be the year the Pirates finally reach the postseason and end a drought that stretches all the way back to 1992?
It's not as much of a longshot as it seems.
Two years ago, the Pirates stayed in the hunt until July, while last year they remained competitive until August. There are enough young, talented pieces in place to suggest a postseason berth isn't totally out of the question for Pittsburgh.
Which team is most likely to reach the postseason?
Andrew McCutchen is a legitimate MVP contender. Starling Marte is an exciting youngster. Pedro Alvarez mashed 30 home runs and 85 RBI a year ago. Neil Walker is underrated at second base. Meanwhile, Gaby Sanchez, Garrett Jones and Travis Snider will give the team solid rotations at first base and in right field.
However, for the Pirates, it's all about the starting pitching. While they won't start the season in the rotation, don't be surprised if you see top prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon getting starts before the season ends.
If James McDonald can replicate his first-half form from last year over a full season and veterans A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez remain solid atop the rotation, the Pirates could make a run that finally lasts into October.
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