Baseball fans can finally come out of hibernation—the 2013 MLB season has arrived.
Lovers of America's pastime will flock to stadiums across the country for the next two days. It's the 145th year of professional baseball, and Opening Day is just as exciting now as it was in the sport's early years.
This year, unlike any other, promises even more excitement. For the first time in MLB history, interleague games will take place throughout the year, with at least one interleague matchup to be contested every day of the regular season.
All eyes will be on last year's major award winners to see what they can do for an encore. The stars of tomorrow should also draw plenty of attention as they begin carving out their career paths. And as always, some teams will surprise this year, while others will disappoint.
In all, 2,430 regular-season contests and as many as 43 postseason games will be played.
Here are 50 predictions for the 2013 season.
Last October, Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski was enthusiastic in his comments regarding minor league prospect Bruce Rondon.
Dombrowski referred to Rondon as a "rare talent" with exceptional abilities. Unfortunately, those abilities didn't really show up this spring. Rondon was sent to Triple-A Toledo after compiling a 5.84 spring ERA and struggling with his command.
For now, the Tigers will finish games with a closer-by-committee approach. But at some point in 2013, Rondon will be back as the ninth-inning answer in Detroit.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have two pitchers very capable of closing for them to start the 2013 season.
Brandon League came on strong at the end of last season following his trade from the Seattle Mariners. After Kenley Jansen was shut down with medical issues, League posted a 0.55 ERA in 15 September appearances with six saves.
Jansen was terrific before being shut down as well, notching 25 saves with a 2.35 ERA. Jansen did return for the final two weeks of the season last year and is completely recovered from October heart surgery.
If Jansen continues to impress in a setup role, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly won't hesitate to use him as his ninth-inning savior if and when League falters.
As of right now, former San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson remains a free agent, continuing to rehab from last year's Tommy John surgery.
He won't be there all year, though.
According to Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com, current Giants reliever Javier Lopez keeps in touch with Wilson, and has told him that his rehab is progressing.
Lopez also said that Wilson has no intentions of securing a contract with anyone until he feels that he's ready.
At some point this season, Wilson will indeed sign with a team—most likely one in contention—and will make an impact.
It could even be the Giants.
Last year, Craig Kimbrel struck out 116 of the 231 total batters he faced during the season. No one in baseball history who pitched more than 40 innings in any one season ever achieved that feat.
The numbers across the board were otherworldly—a 1.01 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 3.9 H/9 rate and 16.7 K/9 rate.
Kimbrel simply won't achieve that level of greatness this year. Expecting him to come close to reaching those same numbers again in 2013 is just asking too much.
That's not to say that Kimbrel can't be dominant—he simply won't be quite as overpowering. Just about any team on the planet would take 80 percent of Kimbrel's 2012 production.
There may not be an awful lot that goes right in the Bronx this spring and summer, but closer Mariano Rivera will go out with a bang.
Rivera put up a spotless ERA this spring in seven appearances in his return from a torn ACL that cut his 2012 season short. He gave up just three hits and struck out nine batters in the process.
Rivera may not get as many save opportunities as he's accustomed to, especially if the injury bug continues to afflict the Yankees offense, but he will notch at least 35 saves in his 19th and final season.
Last season, Philadelphia Phillies starter Roy Halladay went through one of the worst statistical seasons of his stellar career, and missed a handful of starts with a strained lat.
For much of spring training, Halladay simply looked out of sorts. He finished with a 6.06 ERA in six starts, walking nine batters in 16.1 innings while sporting a mid-80s fastball.
The Phillies continue to express confidence in the veteran right-hander, and Halladay himself doesn't seem to be worried.
Still, with how last season went and the struggles this spring, there's plenty of reason for concern for the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
Last year, Scott Kazmir was pitching for the Sugarland Skeeters in the Independent Atlantic League. He was barely able to hit 84 MPH on the radar gun.
Now, he's the No. 5 starter for the Cleveland Indians.
Through perseverance and a lot of hard work, Kazmir will make his first major league start in over two years later this week. The life is back in his four-seam fastball, and he has rediscovered the control that was seemingly lost.
On the flip side, Ubaldo Jimenez suffered through a miserable 2012 season, leading the majors with 17 losses while walking 95 batters and throwing 16 wild pitches.
Jimenez was up and down for much of the spring, posting a 4.80 ERA but walking only seven in 30 innings.
Though neither Indians starter dominate the opposition, Kazmir will end up with more wins than Jimenez in 2013.
"In a twist of irony, chants of 'Miller Time' will soon ring out in Busch Stadium," wrote Bleacher Report featured columnist Kelsey Shea Weinrich when discussing St. Louis Cardinals prospect Shelby Miller.
"Miller Time" will indeed start in the 2013 season as the young right-hander embarks upon his career.
While Chris Carpenter will be sorely missed, the loss won't sting quite as badly with Miller taking over at the back end of the rotation.
In fact, Miller will win more games for the Cardinals than both Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook.
During Brandon McCarthy's two seasons with the Oakland Athletics, he clearly matured as a pitcher. He posted a 3.29 ERA and 1.18 WHIP and was an invaluable member of the A's rotation.
However, McCarthy's stay in Oakland wasn't altogether smooth. He landed on the disabled list several times in his two years with shoulder problems and ended the year on the DL after taking a line drive to the head.
McCarthy has suffered from various arm issues throughout most of his career. However, he was throwing well in his five outings this spring, striking out 19 and walking only three batters in his 18 innings of work.
The veteran right-hander will make every one of his scheduled starts in 2013 for the first time in his career.
Even though the ink is barely dry on Kyle Lohse's new contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, he will be in action this week.
Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on Sunday that Lohse will be the team's starter when they begin a series on Friday with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Miller Park.
He just signed his three-year, $33 million deal with the Brewers last Monday. Lohse, who was 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals last year, had been throwing simulated games in Arizona while waiting for a call for his services.
Adding a veteran presence to the Brewers rotation certainly gives them a boost in their quest to gain a postseason berth.
Lohse may not be as successful as he was last season, but he will get to 15 wins in his first year with the Brewers.
Zack Greinke is $147 million richer now, courtesy of the six-year contract he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in December.
That contract doesn't guarantee wins, though.
Greinke suffered an inflamed elbow this spring that required platelet-rich plasma therapy. He made a few more starts before the beginning of the season with mixed results, posting a 5.54 ERA in four starts.
The 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner may not be bothered by the elbow again, but with the pressure of the embattled Dodgers franchise on his shoulders, he will fall short of winning 15 games.
Yu Darvish went through a few growing pains in his first year of American professional baseball with the Texas Rangers, but finished with an impressive 16-9 record and 3.90 ERA.
This spring, Darvish breezed through the Cactus League with a 1.98 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. Coming into his second season, the Japanese star will have much more knowledge of his opponents and make better decisions in different counts.
Darvish will win at least 18 games and finish with an ERA around 3.35.
The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner takes his extraordinary talents to the American League this year.
But while R.A. Dickey may be switching leagues, the shift won't take much away from his knee-buckling knuckler. Dickey's BABIP has been outstanding the past two years (.283), and that likely won't change with a strong defense behind him.
Dickey will also have the added benefit of run support, something that at times was completely absent last year with the Mets. While he may not reach the 20-win mark again or be able to repeat a sub-3.00 ERA, Dickey will reach 18 victories.
Despite a 1.13 ERA in four spring appearances, the Baltimore Orioles sent 20-year-old prospect Dylan Bundy to Double-A Bowie in mid-March.
Either because of poor performance or injury, though, Bundy will get his chance to shine in the Orioles rotation in either June or July. He was unfazed by major league hitters when he debuted last September, making two relief appearances and allowing just one hit.
Bundy may not win the American League Rookie of the Year award, but he will make it known that his time is now.
Two-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Tim Lincecum may have been a postseason hero for the San Francisco Giants, but he struggled mightily as a starter during the regular season.
Lincecum's 10-15 record and 5.18 ERA were very troubling, as his struggles continued this spring as he compiled a 10.57 ERA in five appearances, allowing 18 runs in 15.1 innings.
At some point, Lincecum is going to force the team's hand. He will be working out of the bullpen by the All-Star break.
After finishing the spring with a crisp 0.75 ERA, Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester appears primed for a stellar season.
He likely wants to put last year in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible.
Lester struggled through a miserable 2012 season, posting a 9-14 record and 4.82 ERA in 33 starts. He was clearly excited about the fact that former pitching coach John Farrell was back in Boston, this time as the skipper.
Welcome back John!!Can't wait to get back to work!! #RedSox— Jon Lester (@JLester31) October 21, 2012
Farrell's presence will be a huge help to Lester. He'll win between 18 and 19 games with a sub-3.00 ERA for the 2013 season.
Last year, Washington Nationals management shut down young fireballer Stephen Strasburg just short of 160 total innings as a precaution following Tommy John surgery.
Strasburg had to sit and watch helplessly as his team failed to get out of the divisional playoff round in a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
This year, however, the kiddy gloves are off.
Strasburg will toss at least 215 innings in 2013 as he leads a talented rotation into the postseason.
Last week, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander inked a contract extension that tacked on another five years and $140 million to his existing deal. With a vesting option that could add another $22 million, the deal would be worth $202 million.
Verlander will celebrate his added wealth with a 20-win season in 2013.
He has won 41 games in the past two seasons, earning a Cy Young Award and MVP in 2011 and a second-place finish in Cy Young balloting last year as well.
There's no reason to think he can't continue his dominant ways.
Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw set a Monday deadline for negotiations on a long-term contract to keep him in Dodger blue for years to come.
That's a deal that will get done, and it could potentially make Kershaw the second-highest-paid pitcher in baseball.
It might fall short of the deal that Justin Verlander agreed to, which pays him an average annual salary of $28 million between the years 2015 and 2019. Nonetheless, it will be a deal that eclipses that of Felix Hernandez, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain.
The New York Yankees will likely say goodbye to several veterans at the end of the 2013 season.
Second baseman Robinson Cano will not be among them.
Cano figures to be the most highly sought-after free agent next winter, but the Yankees simply won't let it get that far with tons of money coming off the books at the end of the year.
The four-time All-Star will sign a new deal, somewhere in the range of eight years and $210-$225 million.
The Cleveland Indians added a lot of offense this offseason with the bats of Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher.
They added a lot of whiffs as well.
The Tribe offense as a whole only struck out 1,087 times last season. Only the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals struck out fewer times.
However, Reynolds and Stubbs alone combined for 466 strikeouts last season. The offense is certainly improved for the Indians, but so too are the odds for punch-outs for opposing pitchers.
Over the past two seasons, outfielder Melky Cabrera has surged offensively, first with the Kansas City Royals and last year with the San Francisco Giants.
Cabrera was leading the majors with 159 hits when the league slapped him with a 50-game suspension for elevated testosterone levels in mid-August, leading most to believe that his production was synthetically enhanced.
Now with the Toronto Blue Jays, Cabrera has already let his bat do the talking for him, hitting .348 with three home runs and 15 RBI with a .968 OPS in Grapefruit League action.
Cabrera will show the baseball world this season that his offense is indeed for real.
You're probably looking at this prediction and thinking to yourself, "Wow, this guy is really going out on a limb with this one."
Sarcasm aside, Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera is certainly more than capable of achieving back-to-back Triple Crown seasons. Before last year, Cabrera had already led the majors in each category separately.
This year, however, he will have a battle on his hands in the home run race with the likes of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Hamilton and others. The American League is loaded with power hitters, meaning Cabrera will fail to repeat his crowning achievement.
Vernon Wells' time in Anaheim was marred by injuries and subpar performances—he hit just .222 with 36 home runs in those two seasons.
This spring, however, Wells looks much more like the player who starred offensively during his days with the Toronto Blue Jays, hitting .333 with four home runs and 12 RBI.
Wells will start in left field for at least the time that Curtis Granderson is shelved with a broken forearm. He'll likely DH and take spot starts in the outfield upon Granderson's return.
The change of scenery will do Wells good, and he will experience a career rebirth as a result.
Look for Wells to hit .280 with 25 home runs and 75 to 80 RBI, providing a nice lift for an offensively depleted Yankees squad.
After a solid spring training in which he hit six home runs, it certainly looks like Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista is feeling no ill effects from last year's season-ending wrist surgery.
Bautista will be aided by Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera hitting in front of him this year, and will continue receiving protection from the rejuvenated Edwin Encarnacion.
Bautista led the majors in long balls in both 2010 and 2011. He will top the American League—if not all of MLB—in that category for the 2013 season as well.
The New York Yankees have thrived on the long ball in recent years, especially since opening the new Yankee Stadium in 2009.
The Yanks led the American League in home runs each of the last two seasons, but that run is likely to end this year.
With Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson on the disabled list to start the season, Alex Rodriguez lost until at least July (and possibly longer) and several free agents departed, New York is without a large percentage of last year's bombs.
Manager Joe Girardi will be looking for more creative ways to score runs this season, because his roster simply won't power up like it has in years past.
Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard didn't start last year until midseason due to a slow-healing Achilles tendon. As a result, he hit just 14 home runs with 56 RBI in 71 games.
Howard raked during spring training, though, hitting .322 with seven home runs and 16 RBI. He appears to be fully recovered, and has a healthy Chase Utley in the lineup along with new additions Michael Young, Ben Revere and Delmon Young.
With more protection in the batting order, a healthy Howard will tally at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI in a 2013 comeback campaign.
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez underwent surgery on his left hip in mid-January to repair a torn labrum and impingement, marking his second major hip surgery in the past four years.
Appearing on WFAN radio with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts in late January, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said it wasn't a given that Rodriguez could return this season (via the New York Daily News):
I think because (of) the serious nature of the surgery and the condition that he is trying to recover from, there is that chance, ... I would say it’s not going to be because Alex doesn’t do everything in his power to put himself in a position to get back and be healthy and productive. Best-case scenario, he should be back. Worst-case scenario is he won’t be back or there might be something in between.
With an expected six-month rehab, Rodriguez could be back sometime after the All-Star break. But that's only if there are no complications.
The fact that A-Rod will be 38 years old by then could hinder his recovery, leading to a delayed 2014 return.
Outfielder Alfonso Soriano enjoyed one of his finest seasons in a Chicago Cubs uniform last year. Soriano hit 32 home runs with 108 RBI, the first time he eclipsed the 100-RBI mark in his six years on the North Side.
Soriano has 372 lifetime home runs, but will not reach the 400-home run club this season.
Now at 37 years of age, it's a stretch to think he can continue going yard like he did in 2012.
Soriano will have to wait until the 2014 season to join that prestigious company.
As it stands right now, Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols is tied for 28th all time in career home runs with 475.
Ironically, he is tied with a man he adores and who is an icon in Pujols' former home—Stan Musial.
Pujols hit just 30 home runs last season, not hitting his first of the year until May 6.
There will be no such delay this year. Pujols will get off to a strong start in pursuit of the landmark 500 home runs, and will reach that number shortly after the All-Star break.
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has scored 1,868 times in his magnificent career.
While he's starting his 19th season on the disabled list, Jeter will return to the Yankees at his customary spot in the batting order.
By the time the 2013 season is over, Jeter will surpass Alex Rodriguez on the all-time runs scored list and become one of only 10 players history who have crossed home plate at least 1,900 times.
He may even achieve the feat before the All-Star break.
A new era begins in Atlanta this season.
Gone is Chipper Jones after an outstanding 19-year career that will undoubtedly culminate with a place in Cooperstown. Arriving to fill the void are the Upton brothers.
Brothers Justin and B.J. join right fielder Jason Heyward to form an explosive outfield trio for the Braves. With B.J. as the old man in the group at just 28 years of age, it's a threesome that promises to wreak havoc in the National League.
They will get off to a great start in their first season together, combining to hit at least 90 home runs with at least 300 RBI.
It's going to be fun watching the fireworks at Turner Field this season.
The Los Angeles Angels added slugger Josh Hamilton to their offense this winter.
Hamilton now teams with Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo to form would could be the most powerful offensive quartet in the big leagues.
The Angels play in a pitcher-friendly park, but that likely won't affect this particular group much, if at all.
Hamilton, Pujols, Trout and Trumbo will combine for 140 home runs and 400 RBI, conjuring plenty of oohs and ahs with their prodigious blasts.
At 20 years old, left fielder Bryce Harper is now a grizzled and battle-scarred denizen of the Washington Nationals.
OK, so that's a slight exaggeration.
Still, Harper hit 22 home runs with 59 RBI and 18 stolen bases as a teenager. He also showed that he could take on the rigors of a full season at the big-league level.
Bryce Harper is not Joe Charboneau, people; he's going to stick around for awhile. Joining the elusive 30-30 club is well within reach for this super sophomore.
Last year, Bleacher Report featured columnist Robert Knapel boldly proclaimed that Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp would have a 40/40 season in 2012.
We all know how that turned out.
Kemp saw two stints on the disabled list with hamstring issues, ending his streak of 399 consecutive games played. He also needed surgery to repair a torn labrum after crashing into the center field wall at Coors Field in late August.
The injuries kept my colleague's prediction from coming true, but I feel good in making the same prediction for this season.
Kemp ended up hitting .250 this spring after a horrific 0-for-11 start. With a solid support group around him in the lineup, the two-time All-Star could easily surpass the 40/40 mark this season.
As long as he stays healthy, of course.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were just one game away from facing the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1992 World Series before a motoring Sid Bream ended their championship hopes.
Ever since that fateful slide, the Pirates have rattled off 20 consecutive losing seasons. No team in North American professional sports history has ever endured a longer run of futility.
But that will come to an end this season.
The Pirates have threatened to put a stop to their losing ways over the past two seasons, only to fold down the stretch and finish on the wrong side of .500 yet again.
However, they have assembled a team capable of putting runs on the board with a pitching staff that can help them compete. While winning the NL Central Division will be a tall task, the Pirates will make news by putting an end to their unfortunate streak.
The Kansas City Royals hoisted the World Series championship banner back in 1985, but they haven't even sniffed the postseason since.
After finishing under .500 for the ninth consecutive season last year, owner David Glass vowed to make changes and promised to spend money to upgrade the starting rotation.
He did exactly that, acquiring James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana. He also spent to keep Jeremy Guthrie for another three years.
Along with a solid core of young position players, the Royals are primed to make a serious run at the playoffs. They will win close to 85 games, but the postseason will be out of reach once again.
The Twins brought up the rear last year in the AL with 96 losses, meaning that no team in the junior circuit reached the century mark in defeats.
This year, however, the AL welcomes the Houston Astros to their side, and it might be more of a shock if they don't lose at least 100 games. In fact, 110 losses isn't out of the question.
That said, several other American League teams that have been at the bottom of the standings for years have made inroads in reversing their fortunes. The Minnesota Twins have upgraded an abysmal starting rotation, and the Seattle Mariners have added several bats to their lineup.
Houston will be the only American League team to taste defeat over 100 times.
The Washington Nationals won 98 games last year to lead the majors. It was the second time in three seasons that a team failed to reach the century mark in victories.
That won't happen in 2013.
In fact, the Nationals could very well be the team that tops 100 wins. By bringing in Dan Haren, Denard Span and Rafael Soriano, they could easily eclipse last year's total.
The Toronto Blue Jays also promise to be explosive with Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera hitting in front of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. In addition, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow will prove to be a formidable starting quartet.
Finally, the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels also threaten to be outstanding teams.
More than one team finishing with over 100 wins in the 2013 season isn't out of the realm of possibility.
The Houston Astros have left the National League, but that doesn't mean the senior circuit won't see its own share of futility.
The Miami Marlins will be fielding a team of youngsters and aging veterans on their last legs. The New York Mets were forced to shut down Johan Santana for the season, and boast an offense that will likely struggle to score runs.
The San Diego Padres open without Chase Headley and Yasmani Grandal, and with the fences at Petco Park moved in, no longer have a major advantage for their pitching staff.
The Chicago Cubs finished with 101 losses last season and will be looking to avoid a three-digit result in the loss column once again.
The National League has an excellent chance of seeing two teams with at least 100 losses for the second consecutive season.
Many believe that the American League West is shaping up as a three-team race between the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers.
I am not one of those people.
The Angels and A's could certainly give fans a nice pennant race, but I don't think the Rangers have enough to contend.
They acquired A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman to help offset the losses of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young, but those two additions won't be enough.
The Rangers failed to land quality starting pitching this offseason, and are going with Nick Tepesch as their No. 5 starter.
Raise your hand if you've heard that name before.
The Rangers will win, but they won't win enough to keep pace in the AL West.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have been living the high life in the American League East over the past 10 to 15 seasons. The Red Sox had a major hiccup last year, though, finishing with 93 losses and their worst record since 1965.
The Yankees face an age issue and a rash of injuries to start the 2013 campaign. Despite winning the division with 95 wins last year, the Bronx Bombers are in dire straits.
Looking at the rest of the division, the Tampa Bay Rays continue to boast stellar pitching, the Toronto Blue Jays have a completely rebuilt roster and the up-and-coming Baltimore Orioles should see continued success with one of the best young rosters in the game.
While the Red Sox worked hard to acquire talent to get back into contention, they and the Yankees could absolutely find themselves at the bottom of the AL East standings.
With Chase Headley sidelined, San Diego Padres prospect Jedd Gyorko is going to start the season manning two positions—second and third base.
Manager Bud Black announced that Gyorko will move around depending on the opposing pitcher. That in itself speaks volumes for what the Padres think of Gyorko, who has yet to log a major league game.
Gyorko hit 30 home runs with 100 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A ball last year and showed off his power this spring as well. With the fences coming in at Petco Park this season, it's clear the Padres want Gyorko's bat in their lineup as much as possible.
Expect Gyorko to hit at least 22 home runs with 80 RBI this season, becoming the obvious choice for National League Rookie of the Year.
The Minnesota Twins have enjoyed a tremendous history with center fielders that were fixtures in their lineups. Kirby Puckett, Torii Hunter and Ted Uhlaender are just a few names that come to mind.
Aaron Hicks could become the next name on that list.
After a torrid spring, Hicks will open the season in center field, making his major league debut on Monday at Target Field against the Detroit Tigers.
Hicks has five-tool potential. Last year at Double-A New Britain, Hicks hit .286 with 13 home runs, 61 RBI, 32 stolen bases and 11 triples. He's considered a plus defender with terrific range as well.
Hicks' power is expected to continue developing, and he could walk away with Rookie of the Year honors at the end of his debut season.
Carl Crawford was one of the top outfielders in the American League during his time with the Tampa Bay Rays.
A force on the basepaths and a spark plug near the top of the batting order, Crawford capitalized on his success by signing a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox in December 2010.
Needless to say, Crawford hasn't lived up to that lofty contract.
Crawford missed all but 31 games last season as he attempted to rehab the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. Crawford finally shut it down and underwent Tommy John surgery in August.
The elbow has healed to the point where Crawford was a regular participant in Cactus League games toward the end of spring training, ending with a .357 batting average and two stolen bases.
Crawford will be back in action on Opening Day as the Dodgers take on the San Francisco Giants. He has a lot to prove—both to himself and to his team.
He will respond with a year that nets him the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Last year, designated hitter Victor Martinez was forced to sit and watch as his Detroit Tigers captured the American League pennant.
Out of action all year because of a torn ACL suffered while working out last January, Martinez is now back and ready to do damage.
Martinez has the luxury of hitting behind Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the Tigers batting order, giving him ample opportunity to produce.
His output should be more than enough to capture the AL Comeback Player of the Year award.
Last year, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto led the majors with a .474 on-base percentage. He also led the National League with 94 walks.
And he did both while missing 51 regular-season games.
Votto hasn't only become one of the league's elite hitters—he's become a complete all-around force.
He certainly has the capability of hitting 35 to 40 home runs, but he also uses the entire field and has tremendous plate discipline. Not to mention the fact that he's a Gold Glove-winning fielder as well.
Votto will capture his second NL MVP award in the 2013 season.
Last year, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout didn't just exceeded expectations—he shattered them.
Trout put together a season that became the new standard for excellence among rookies, and he nearly defeated a man who captured baseball's first Triple Crown in 45 years for the AL Most Valuable Player award.
Trout will not be denied that honor in 2013.
Trout came into camp weighing 240 pounds—extra bulk that caused immediate concern. But he went about his business this spring all the same, hitting .350 with two home runs, 14 RBI and six stolen bases.
So much for the added weight.
A sophomore slump will not be in the cards for Trout this season. An MVP trophy, however, will adorn his mantel by the end of the year.
Eric Wedge is entering his third year as skipper of the Seattle Mariners. Wedge guided the club to 67 wins in 2011, showing a six-game improvement. That number inched up to 75 victories last season.
However, any early slip-ups this year by a team perceived to have a better offense could lead to his early departure. The Mariners brought in Kendrys Morales, Mike Morse, Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez in an attempt to get them out of the run-scoring cellar in the American League.
For four straight seasons, Seattle has been last in runs scored. With the fences moving in at Safeco Field, the offense will be expected to provide adequate support for its pitching staff.
Wedge will be the fall guy if the offense fails in that endeavor.
Back in November, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson signed a contract to manage the team for the 2013 season.
It will likely be Johnson's last season in uniform. He has every intention of retiring, and will do so with a World Series title to his name.
The Nationals enhanced their roster this offseason and could be even better than the 2012 team that produced the majors' most wins last year.
It's also a team built for the playoffs, with Stephen Strasburg cleared to pitch without limitations and the addition of Rafael Soriano to an already stacked bullpen.
Johnson will drift off into the sunset with a smile on his face and a ring on his finger.