Predicting the Worst Team in Each MLB Division in 2013
Opening Day is a time of hope and optimism around Major League Baseball.
In an era of parity, it's not hard to envision at least 20 cities believing a postseason trip is within reason.
Last year, despite being projected to be the worst teams in their respective divisions, Baltimore and Oakland rose up to make the postseason.
They even took New York and Detroit, respectively, the distance in the American League Division Series.
With the addition of a second wild card team in each league, more teams can see the postseason light at the end of a rebuilding tunnel.
For years, rebuilding in baseball was a long, arduous task. It doesn't have to be that way anymore.
Yet, despite parity, increased chances to make the postseason and revenue streams that allow small and mid-market teams the opportunity to re-sign their own homegrown stars, there will be bottom-feeders in 2013.
Due to a combination of front office mistakes, prospects who failed to reach their potential, ownership shortsightedness and bad luck, not everyone can take advantage of the opportunity to compete.
Here's a snapshot of the worst team in each division heading into the season.
National League East: Miami Marlins
If Miami's Opening Day lineup was any indication of what new manager Mike Redmond has to work with, it's going to be an easy year for opposing pitchers in the National League East.
Giancarlo Stanton is a star, but it's tough to imagine him seeing many pitches to hit with this lineup surrounding him:
1 Juan Pierre, LF
2. Chris Coghlan, CF
3. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
4. Placido Polanco, 3B
5. Rob Brantly, C
6. Donovan Solano, 2B
7. Casey Kotchman, 1B
8. Adieny Hechavarria, SS
9. Ricky Nolasco, SP
The offseason blockbuster trade that sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle depleted Miami of the little talent they had around Stanton, but the actual on-field product is almost more embarrassing than originally thought.
In Placido Polanco, Miami protected Stanton with a 37-year-old that hit 257/.302/.327 with two home runs in 90 games last season.
The pitching staff is so devoid of arms capable of navigating through a season that 20-year-old Jose Fernandez made the staff. His 158 strikeouts in 134 minor league innings last season suggest high-end talent, but these numbers are offset by the fact that he's never thrown a pitch above High-A ball.
The future may be bright in Miami, but the present is very, very dim.
American League East: Boston Red Sox
It's rare to see in any sport postseason predictions linked to a team with last-place potential, but that sums up the state of the American League East in 2013: Up is down, down is up.
On Saturday morning, WFAN's Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti said he believes any of the five teams in the AL East can finish between 80-90 wins.
Coming off a 69-win campaign in 2012, the firing of Bobby Valentine, and offseason acquisitions of Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Jonny Gomes, expectations have changed in Boston.
The team doesn't look like a World Series contender, but it's impossible to count them out in a muddled division.
Despite the additions, the culture change and incremental improvements, the collective strengths of Tampa, Toronto, New York and Baltimore should be enough to keep Boston in the basement by the end of 2013.
Of course, that doesn't mean they will be a poor team. In fact, they could finish around .500. That might just be enough to be in the race come September.
It also could ticket them for a second consecutive last-place finish.
National League Central: Pittsburgh Pirates
If Opening Day was any indication of the pecking order in the National League Central, the arrow is pointing up for the Chicago Cubs.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh Pirate fans, that could mean another year under .500, another year near the bottom of the division.
Although Pittsburgh has made progress in the time Clint Hurdle has been manager, they have shown a tendency to fold down the stretch.
Pittsburgh's win total has jumped from 57 to 72 to 79 in the last three seasons, but their composite August and September winning percentage over the last two seasons is .321.
Despite being around first place in late July of 2011 and 2012, the franchise has not been able to break their dubious streak of losing seasons, which dates back to the days of Andy Van Slyke.
Andrew McCutchen is the franchise's shining star, but the front office simply hasn't surrounded McCuthen with enough of a supporting cast to compete with St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee at the top of the division.
Led by incoming general manager Jed Hoyer and President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein, Chicago's new front office has made incremental improvements, and the Cubs look to gain even more traction in the next few seasons.
Houston has gone to the AL. If they had stayed, Pittsburgh would have at least been assured to avoid the cellar in 2013.
The emergence of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon from the minor league system can push Pittsburgh past Chicago this year, but the dark days aren't over yet for Pirate fans.
American League Central: Minnesota Twins
In the face of contraction rumors, the Minnesota Twins began a ten-year run in 2001 that resulted in an average of nearly 89 wins per season, six postseason appearances and a trip to the American League Championship Series in 2002.
Their success in both tapping into international free-agent market and developing their own talent through the draft and their farm system led to sustained success, even when stars such as Torii Hunter and Johan Santana departed.
Minnesota went from the the brink of extinction to a model franchise in the blink of an eye. Opening Day 2013 took place at Target Field, a state-of-the-art outdoor stadium that was built and approved in large part due to the success of the Twins over the last decade.
Unfortunately, the run is over for the former AL Central leaders. Outdoor baseball in Minnesota may hearken back to the days of Harmon Killebrew, but the product on the field more closely resembles the Ron Coomer Era.
A declining minor league system, injuries to Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, and poor drafts can all be partially blamed, but the philosophy on choosing and developing pitchers haunts the Twins more than any other factor.
Outside of Francisco Liriano, who was traded to Chicago last summer, no Twins starter averaged more than 6.5 K/9 last season.
The projected starting five for 2013 collectively averaged a robust 5.6 K/9 in their last full season.
The rest of the AL Central—Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City and Chicago—can hit. Minnesota doesn't have the arms to throw it past them.
National League West: Colorado Rockies
A quick look at the history of the Colorado Rockies shows two glaring anomalies: 90 and 92.
Those were the win totals in 2007 and 2009, respectively. Outside of those two highly successful seasons—which represented two of the three postseason trips in franchise history—the Rockies history has been littered with losing records or slightly above .500 finishes.
2013 is much more likely to represent the norm rather than the exception.
Outside of Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, there isn't enough talent in Colorado to compete in a top-heavy National League West.
As always, the problem centers around pitching.
Colorado allowed 890 runs last season. In the Steroid Era, combined with playing home games in Coors Field, that figure wouldn't have been outrageous.
In 2012, it was dead last, by 45 runs over the majors' second worst staff, Cleveland.
Only four teams allowed over 800 runs last season. Colorado's makeshift staff and four-man rotation experiment allowed nearly 100 more than that figure.
The Rockies could hit their way to wins at home, but they won't be able to avoid the cellar in 2013.
If they pull the trigger on a complete rebuild, the win-loss record could turn into a franchise worst.
American League West: Houston Astros
New league, same rebuilding process.
Despite an Opening Day victory against their new American League West rivals in Texas, the Astros are a long, long way from winning consistently in any league.
The win-loss record in 2013 is insignificant to the front office, but probably won't be for mainstream media.
Expect the follies of the Astros to be replayed over and over throughout the summer. Losing streaks will be treated as must-watch events. Wins will be surprising, despite how well we understand that anyone can win a game or 40 during a 162-game season.
Moving to the AL West doesn't help the cause. Houston is coming off of 106- and 107-loss seasons in the NL Central.
Now they have the fortune of playing the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers at least 18 times apiece in 2013.
Nearly a third of their schedule will be against teams that each won at least 89 games in 2012.
Bud Norris will provide some K's, Chris Carter some power and Bo Porter will be a calming influence.
But there's just not enough talent to avoid another 100-loss season in Houston.
Who will be the worst team in baseball?