One Lucky Break All 2013 MLB Dark Horses Need to Make the Playoffs

Doug Mead@@Sports_A_HolicCorrespondent IMarch 9, 2013

One Lucky Break All 2013 MLB Dark Horses Need to Make the Playoffs

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    It seems like each year in Major League Baseball, a dark horse seems to rise from the ashes to suddenly become a playoff contender.

    The Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A's certainly rose from years of mediocrity last season. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been threatening to for the past two years as well.

    For any dark horse to become a surprise contender, they need a few breaks to fall their way.

    Here is one lucky break that each dark horse team needs in the 2013 season.

    Note: For the purposes of clarification, dark horse teams are determined by the odds given to them to win their respective pennants. We will use odds from Bovada as the determining factor, with odds for teams ranging from above 10-1 to lower than 40-1.

Cleveland Indians: Complete Rebound Seasons from Masterson and Jimenez

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    The Cleveland Indians were hurt by a variety of factors last season on their way to a 68-94 record. Not the least of those factors was their shaky starting rotation, led by sub-par years from top hurlers Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez.

    The Indians made some significant changes to their lineup, acquiring Trevor Bauer, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn. Offensively, they certainly figure to have some life.

    But it all starts with pitching. Masterson posted an 11-15 record and 4.93 ERA last year, Jimenez delivered a 9-17 record and 5.40 ERA.

    Complete turnarounds are needed from both if the Indians are going to have any chance to improve their 30-1 odds of winning the American League pennant.

    Luck definitely has to be involved, because expecting both of them to completely turn things around at the same time is a major stretch.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Find a Second Half Pick-Me-Up

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates have suffered the same fate over the past two seasons, imploding in the second half after appearing to be legitimate contenders in the early months.

    On July 25, 2011, the Pirates were tied for the lead in the NL Central Division. In fact, they had a half-game lead in the division just a week earlier.

    The day before the trade deadline that year, the Pirates picked up first baseman Derrek Lee. The following day they picked up outfielder Ryan Ludwick. They seemed primed for a pennant race for the first time in 19 years.

    Unfortunately, the two deals did nothing to lift the Pirates. After a debilitating 19-inning loss to the Atlanta Braves on July 26, the Pirates went into a complete swoon, losing 43 of their final 62 games to finish at 72-90.

    In the words of Yogi Berra, last season was "deja vu all over again" as the Pirates started even better than the previous year, with a 58-42 record on July 28. They again attempted to bolster their roster for a second-half push, acquiring starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, first baseman Gaby Sanchez and right fielder Travis Snider.

    Again, the Pirates faded, losing 41 of their final 62 games to finish the season with their 20th straight losing record.

    The Pirates face 30-1 odds in winning the National League pennant this season.

    Thus far, the Pirates have added Russell Martin and seem primed to at least put an end to their record of futility. They also feature a solid young core of hitters in Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Starling Marte.

    In order to contend, however, they're going to need to find a second half pick-me-up that can actually help instead of hurt.

    After all, that's what trade deadline pickups are supposed to do, aren't they?

Kansas City Royals: Moustakas and Hosmer Need to Play Like Brett and Balboni

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    The Kansas City Royals are staring at 28-1 odds to win the American League pennant.

    That is far better than most years in recent memory.

    The Royals haven't been to the postseason since winning the 1985 World Series. In fact, they've only had winning records in seven of the past 27 seasons.

    This year, they have an upgraded starting rotation with the additions of James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana. They also have an outstanding young core of position players.

    Two of those players need seasons similar to that of George Brett and Steve Balboni in that magical '85 season.

    Brett and Balboni combined for 66 home runs that season and then hit .346 to lead the Royals in a thrilling seven-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 World Series.

    Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer need to be that magical duo for the Royals this season.

    Hosmer went through the dreaded sophomore slump last year, hitting just .232 with 14 home runs and 60 RBI. Moustakas was only slightly better, hitting .242 with 20 homers and 73 RBI.

    If the present-day duo can match what Brett and Balboni produced in 1985, the Royals could well be seeing postseason play for the first time in 28 years.

Arizona Diamondbacks: A Full Season from Brandon McCarthy

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    Starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy knows frailty as well as any pitcher in baseball.

    Saddled with shoulder woes throughout his career, McCarthy nonetheless posted two stellar seasons with the Oakland A's, registering a 3.29 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.

    Still, McCarthy made his way to the disabled list each season, including three trips just last year.

    Now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, McCarthy figures to help upgrade a starting rotation that's already pretty good. But if McCarthy can battle his way through the regular season without a DL stint, the Diamondbacks' 25-1 odds of winning the National League could get a whole lot better.

    Considering McCarthy's history, a little luck wouldn't hurt.

Chicago White Sox: Flowers Blooming

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    One of the big question marks for the Chicago White Sox this upcoming season is the uncertainty concerning their situation behind home plate.

    With A.J. Pierzynski now playing for the Texas Rangers, the White Sox will see if 27-year-old catcher Tyler Flowers is capable of stepping up as the everyday backstop.

    The Sox have Paul Konerko, Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo in place to provide production for their offense. They have a strong rotation with Jake Peavy and Chris Sale leading the way.

    The Sox's 20-1 odds of winning the American League pennant would be greatly enhanced if Flowers picks this season to finally blossom.

    Sometimes all it takes is one player to make the difference. The White Sox will be challenged in the AL Central Division with both the Detroit Tigers and improved Kansas City Royals. Even the Indians could threaten.

    Flowers' growth could be just the fertilizer the White Sox need.

Baltimore Orioles: The Maturation of Machado

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    In just 51 games last year, 20-year-old prospect Manny Machado gave a glimmer of hope for the future, hitting .262 with seven home runs and 26 RBI. He also handled the switch to third base with aplomb, registering just five errors in 151 chances.

    This season, Machado will be the Orioles' everyday third baseman right from the start. If he continues maturing and developing, the Orioles might just have another postseason to look forward to.

    Facing 18-1 odds to win the American League pennant, the Orioles certainly have a hill to climb in repeating last year's success. However, if Machado matures into the terrific hitter that experts have long projected, the American League East will be one fun division to watch in 2013.

Milwaukee Brewers: Youth in Rotation Is Served

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    The Milwaukee Brewers will feature a starting rotation in 2013 with five starters all under the age of 30. Of those five, only Yovani Gallardo has pitched more than 200 innings in a season.

    Many experts point to the relative inexperience of that rotation as the reason they're likely looking up at the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central.

    While there may be validity in that thought, consider that all five starters registered ERAs under 4.00 last season.

    Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers and Wily Peralta all showed flashes of stability and reliability last year. While their overall experience might be lacking, consider the fact that back in the early 2000s the Oakland A's also featured a young and inexperienced starting rotation with Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson.

    That seemed to work out pretty well for them.

Oakland Athletics: A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

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    The Oakland Athletics captured the AL West Division in surprising fashion last year and took the Detroit Tigers to a fifth game in a hard-fought ALDS.

    Yet Las Vegas oddsmakers still aren't giving them a whole lot of love with 16-1 odds of winning the American League pennant.

    The A's offense will likely be led by superstar-in-waiting Yoenis Cespedes, and he'll have a decent supporting cast around him.

    One of those supporting members will be first baseman Brandon Moss.

    After five years of stumbling his way through the majors, Moss broke through last year with Oakland, hitting .291 with 21 home runs in 265 at-bats. The 3.46:1 K/BB ratio was a bit troubling, and Moss won't have the protection of Chris Carter as a potential platoon mate this season.

    The old proverb "a rolling stone gathers no moss" applies for the A's. If Moss proves that the 2012 season was not an aberration and he can continue rolling through the 2013 season, the A's chances of success are that much more enhanced.

Boston Red Sox: First-Year Manager Farrell Repeats History

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    With all that has happened in Boston over the past two years, it's no surprise that they're considered a dark horse this year to win the American League pennant.

    The magic that produced two World Series championships ran out on the Red Sox starting back in 2011. The epic collapse in September of that season led to a host of drama-filled issues that spilled into last season.

    One-and-done manager Bobby Valentine is gone, replaced by a familiar face and franchise friend. John Farrell was widely respected by all in Boston during his tenure as pitching coach under Terry Francona. He's now in charge of righting a dysfunctional ship.

    As a first-year manager, Farrell certainly has a lot on his plate. However, previous first-year managers in Boston have had success.

    Dick Williams came in as a rookie manager before the 1967 season, promising that the team would win more than it would lose. He surpassed that prediction and more—the Red Sox bucked insurmountable odds that season to come out on top in one of the greatest AL pennant races in history.

    Ditto for Francona, who came aboard in 2004 and reversed the curse.

    Farrell could use that kind of first-year luck for the 2013 season.

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.