Every MLB Team's Biggest X-Factor in 2013

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIApril 3, 2013

Every MLB Team's Biggest X-Factor in 2013

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    The Major League Baseball season has kicked off and there are a few things that have been noticed about every team.

    However, one thing remains the same—all teams have an X-factor that will help determine success.

    Some X-factors relate to leadership, while others will relate to on-field performance. Regardless of what it is, every team needs certain things to go right this year.

    Here's a look at every team's biggest X-factor in 2013.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Top of the Order

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks are currently dealing with the injury to rookie Adam Eaton, who is also the leadoff hitter.

    However, once he's back, the combination of he and Martin Prado will be the biggest key to the season for the Diamondbacks.

    With Justin Upton now gone from the middle of the order, players like Paul Goldschmidt and Jason Kubel are going to need to be set up by the top of the order.

    Eaton had a .456 on-base percentage in the minors last year, while Prado had a .359 OBP last year with the Braves.

    If both are doing what they're supposed to be doing, then guys like Goldschmidt and Kubel will have RBI opportunities.

Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward's Leadership

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    Chipper Jones is gone from the Atlanta Braves, and it's time for Jason Heyward to step up and be the leader of the team.

    Sure, guys like Tim Hudson and Brian McCann have been in town longer, but both are free agents after this season and there's no guarantee they'll be back.

    That leaves Heyward to take on that leadership role.

    With guys like Justin and B.J. Upton in town, and the emergence of Evan Gattis, the Braves have new star power in town to help them reach the top.

    Heyward occupies the locker in the clubhouse once held by Jones, signifying his new role on the team.

    And, just like Jones did in the leadership department, Heyward is going to have to do the same.

Baltimore Orioles: Starting Pitching

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    Starting pitching was a position of weakness for the Baltimore Orioles in 2012.

    Baltimore ranked 21st in starter's ERA (4.42), 20th in innings pitched (937.2) and 19th in strikeouts (723).

    The bullpen saved the starters on multiple occasions. But can we really expect for the same to happen in 2013?

    With no real changes to the starting rotation, improvements must be made by each pitcher or 2012 will be considered a fluke.

Boston Red Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr.

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    It's hard to say that a rookie alone will be the X-factor, but when it comes to the Boston Red Sox, that's exactly the case.

    Jackie Bradley Jr. surprised many by making the roster to begin the season. But no matter how many times the Red Sox said he would start the season in the minor leagues, he gave them many more reasons to start him in the big leagues.

    As we saw in the Red Sox win on Monday against the Yankees, Bradley drew walks that helped extend innings. It was those innings where the Red Sox scored their runs and ultimately won the game.

    If Bradley can keep that up, the Red Sox should see an improvement from one year ago.

Chicago Cubs: Jeff Samardzija

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    Just a few years ago, Jeff Samardzija was talked about as being the closer for the Chicago Cubs.

    Now, he's a starter and has been impressive.

    If Monday's start against the Pirates is any indication (8 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 0 ER, 9 SO), the Cubs look to have their ace.

    Samardzija will be the key to the rotation this year. If he continues to do well, he'll set the tone for the rest of the team. If he struggles, so will the Cubs.

Chicago White Sox: Jeff Keppinger

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    This past offseason, the Chicago White Sox signed Jeff Keppinger to a three-year, $12-million deal.

    Now, Keppinger must prove he was worth it.

    The White Sox have the pitching and the power in the offense. Now, they just need the table-setters to do their job.

    Alejandro De Aza looks to fit nicely into the leadoff spot, and Keppinger has to support him and the rest of the lineup from the No. 2 hole.

    If he can do the same things that Martin Prado does for the Diamondbacks, then the White Sox should have more success with their offense.

Cincinnati Reds: Shin-Soo Choo

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    Most thought the Cincinnati Reds were one player away from being a World Series contender last year.

    Enter Shin-Soo Choo, who the Reds acquired in a trade with the Indians.

    Choo is that leadoff guy the Reds have desperately been seeking the last few years.

    He has a career .308 average batting first in the order, while leadoff hitters batted .208 last year for the Reds.

    Now that the piece is in place, it's time for the Reds to make a run at the World Series.

Cleveland Indians: Michael Brantley

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    The Cleveland Indians seem to have all of the offensive pieces in place.

    They have speed at the top and bottom of the order and power hitters in the middle.

    However, some of that power in the middle of the order is going to have to come from Michael Brantley.

    With guys like Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher expected to provide most of the power, Brantley needs to be there in support as well.

    While nobody is expecting 20 home runs from Brantley, 80-90 RBI shouldn't be out of the question.

Colorado Rockies: Starting Pitching

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    The Colorado Rockies have always had offense, but pitching—now and always—will be the X-factor.

    While the Rockies do have to play 81 games at Coors Field, the pitchers still have to figure out ways to keep the run totals down.

    Put it this way: the Rockies ranked dead last in starter's ERA (5.81) with only 29 wins being attributed to starters.

    Last year, the Rockies allowed seven runs or more 40 times at Coors Field, while their opponents allowed the Rockies to score seven runs or more 30 times.

    The blame can be put on Coors Field, but both teams played in the same conditions. So, why is it other pitchers can seem to get it together, but the Rockies can't?

Detroit Tigers: Victor Martinez

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    The Detroit Tigers looked good throughout 2012, until they reached the World Series.

    The missing piece...Victor Martinez, who was injured before the beginning of the season.

    Now, with V-Mart back, the Tigers are looking to contend once again.

    With his power behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the Tigers have one of the most powerful lineups in baseball.

    Martinez should hit 20 home runs and 100 RBI.

    More importantly, he'll be there to support Cabrera and Fielder in the playoffs. Last postseason, the pair combined to go 22-for-113 (.194) with three home runs and 11 RBI.

Houston Astros: Inexperience in Lineup

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    When looking at the Houston Astros, any player can be the X-factor this year.

    With so much youth on the team, there are very few proven players.

    Guys like Jose Altuve and Bud Norris should perform well. After that, it's anyone's guess.

    However, if Sunday night's win over the Rangers is any indication, this Astros team isn't going to lie down this year. They're going to fight every game to come out on top.

Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas

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    Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were once thought to be the key centerpieces to the resurgence of the Kansas City Royals.

    However, that hasn't been the case over the last few years.

    Over the last two years, the pair have combined to bat .256 with 58 home runs and 241 RBI.

    While neither played a full year in 2011, last year was a regression in many areas.

    Now, the pair must get things together and lead the Royals.

    There is now an ace on the staff and there seems to be a decent offense around them. They must lead by example.

Los Angeles Angels: Middle of the Order

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    The middle of the Los Angeles Angels order is scary.

    It's a pick-your-poison scenario.

    Would you rather pitch to Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton or Mark Trumbo.

    If all four can do what they're paid to do, the Angels should have no trouble winning their division.

    There is no break in the middle of the order, and those hitters have to ensure pitchers don't ever feel like there is one.

    There's no reason to believe this group can't get close to 170 home runs and 400 RBI. If they can, there might be no question as to who will represent the AL in the World Series.

Los Angeles Dodgers: High-Priced Pitchers

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers have put a lot of money into their starting pitchers over the last few months.

    Zack Greinke signed a six-year, $159-million deal, while Hyun-Jin Ryu signed a six-year, $36 million deal after the Dodgers posted $25.7 million to have the ability to sign him.

    Now, Clayton Kershaw is about to get paid in a big way. The figure could reach that of Justin Verlander's, which was close to $200 million.

    Not to mention the Dodgers still has $31.5 million tied into Josh Beckett over the next two years.

    All said, the Dodgers will likely have more than $400 million tied to four pitchers.

    With that kind of money, those pitchers better be able to carry the team.

    If they can't, then there are more problems for the Dodgers than originally thought.

Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton

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    The Miami Marlins are just like the Astros, except they have a superstar on the team.

    Giancarlo Stanton would be an X-factor on most teams with his abilities at the plate and in the field.

    There really is no support around him, so if the Marlins are going to have success, Stanton has to put them on his back.

    Even if he does that, many other things have to go right for the Marlins for them to have success.

Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun

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    Corey Hart is out to begin the season, meaning Ryan Braun must step up in a bigger way for the Milwaukee Brewers.

    Aramis Ramirez is in the lineup as well, but Braun has to set the example.

    His ability to duplicate what he did last year will be the key if the Brewers are going to make a run in the NL Central.

    He's done it in the past and there's no reason why he won't do it again this year.

Minnesota Twins: Health of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer

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    It's no secret the injury bug has hit the Minnesota Twins.

    That bug has hit Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau the most, with Morneau being the worst case.

    Morneau hasn't played a full season since 2008 due to various injuries, mainly a concussion from 2010.

    If the Twins are going to do anything, both have to be healthy and have to produce at the levels expected of them.

New York Mets: Shaun Marcum

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    With Johan Santana out with injury (again), Shaun Marcum is that much more important to the New York Mets.

    The team already knows what it is going to get from guys like Jonathan Niese and Matt Harvey, but Marcum is still the question mark.

    Marcum is currently out with an injury to his neck, but shouldn't be out too long.

    Once he returns, the Mets are going to need him to produce the same way he has the last three years (3.62 ERA).

New York Yankees: Injuries

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    The New York Yankees need to get healthy.

    Players currently on the disabled list include Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and Alex Rodriguez. Well, the Yanks could probably do without Rodriguez.

    But, the other four bring a lot to the table for New York.

    With the age of the New York players increasing, age is catching up with them as injuries are taking longer to heal from.

    Once healthy, however, the Yankees will be able to compete for a playoff spot once again. That is, if they don't get too far behind in the division while everyone recovers.

Oakland Athletics: Starting Pitching

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    The Oakland Athletics have a young starting rotation.

    Averaging just under 25 years of age, the A's have brought back a group that had a 3.80 combined ERA last year.

    With two divisional opponents adding to their offense (Seattle and Los Angeles), Oakland will have more to contend with this year.

    However, one thing playing in their favor is the fact that the A's will now get 18 games against Houston this year. Winning 13 or 14 of those 18 games could go a long way in determining their place in the division.

Philadelphia Phillies: Outfield

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    The Philadelphia Phillies traded for Ben Revere this offseason and are hoping Domonic Brown can finally show them what he's capable of.

    The infield is set with four players who have the ability to be all-stars.

    So, it all comes down to the outfield.

    Can Revere be that leadoff hitter the Phillies need to set up guys like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard? Can Brown finally stick with the team over the long term and provide a valuable bat in the bottom half of the order?

    If the pair can do that, then the Phillies will compete with the Braves and Nationals for the division crown.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Second Half Pitching

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the surprises of 2012.

    Before the All-Star break, the Pirates were 48-37 and in first place in the NL Central.

    After the break, the Pirates went 31-46 and finished in fourth place.

    The pitchers held a 3.47 ERA before the break and a 4.29 ERA after. They also allowed opponents a .242 average before the break and a .256 average after the break.

    Simply put, the starters have to do better in the second half of the season.

San Diego Padres: Health of Pitchers

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    The health of the San Diego Padre pitchers was a major issue last year.

    Over the course of the 2012 season, the Padres sent 15 different players to the mound to start. Include the 19 different pitchers who pitched in relief appearances and you have a conundrum in the pitching department.

    There has to be some sort of consistency on the mound and the Padres haven't had that.

    If they're going to go anywhere this year, both numbers have to drop dramatically.

San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum

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    How times have changed.

    Tim Lincecum was once the most untouchable pitcher in baseball. Now, the San Francisco Giants starter has to prove that he deserves a massive contract.

    The Giants won the World Series despite the faults of Lincecum, but can they really expect the same thing to happen in 2013?

    Barry Zito can't be expected to have another good season, and Ryan Vogelsong is performing well on borrowed time.

    Lincecum must step up if the Giants hope to repeat. If he struggles like he did last year, I'll go ahead and say the Giants won't repeat.

Seattle Mariners: New Pieces

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    The Seattle Mariners made a minor splash this offseason with the additions of Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales.

    The Mariners finally have a little power in the middle of the lineup, which is something they needed playing in the AL West.

    Having that power should allow them to compete with Oakland, Texas and Los Angeles, although the Mariners have other holes in areas the other teams don't.

    Still, the new power on the team should help them improve on their 75 wins from a year ago.

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Beltran

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    The St. Louis Cardinals hung around last year and made the playoffs.

    Carlos Beltran was a big part of that and is going to have to be that again this year.

    Beltran was down in his average last year (.269), but hit 32 home runs, which was his highest since 2007.

    The Cardinals don't have many holes in the offense. Batting in the fifth spot gives Beltran the opportunity to pick up multiple RBI, but also set up the bottom half of the order.

Tampa Bay Rays: Roberto Hernandez

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    The Tampa Bay Rays have a lot of starting pitching.

    If they didn't, then there is no way they trade James Shields in the offseason.

    The rotation consists of studs like David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. The biggest question marks come from the No. 4 and 5 spots, however.

    Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) will be the key. He had two good years (2007 and 2010), but in other seasons he wasn't so good.

    If he can recapture that magic he had in the two good years, the Rays will have a solid rotation throughout.

Texas Rangers: Replacing Lost Production

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    When looking at the Texas Rangers this year, all you see is the lost offensive production from 2012.

    Gone are Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli. That's 75 home runs and 251 RBI.

    Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz are still there, but guys like A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman won't replace that lost production.

    Other players have to step it up.

    Hamilton moved to division rival Los Angeles as well, so that's one more thing the Rangers have to deal with.

Toronto Blue Jays: Chemistry

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    The Toronto Blue Jays made a lot of moves this offseason.

    Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis, Melky Cabrera, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle are all new faces for the Blue Jays.

    How will they gel together?

    Toronto looks to have a great lineup and great pitching, but they still have to be able to work together.

    One advantage the Blue Jays do have is up the middle with Reyes and Bonifacio, who are familiar working with each other.

Washington Nationals: Denard Span

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    The Washington Nationals didn't have many holes last year, but one of them was at the top of the order.

    Enter Denard Span, who the Nats traded for in the offseason.

    Span hit .283 with four home runs, 41 RBI and 17 stolen bases in 128 games for the Twins last year.

    While he's not much of an upgrade over last year's leadoff hitters (.276 average, 14 home runs, 63 RBI, 20 stolen bases), it's still an upgrade.

    The playoffs were the biggest struggle where Jayson Werth went 5-for-21 with one home run, one RBI and six strikeouts in the playoffs last year.

    While he did have a game-winning home run in Game 4, Werth struggled at the top of the order.

    The move for span puts Werth back in the middle of the order where he belongs, and gives the Nats a legitimate leadoff hitter.