19 March 2013

2013 MLB Predictions

For the second time in three years, the San Francisco Giants were on top of the baseball world as they swept the Detroit Tigers to win the 2012 World Series, their seventh overall and their second in the Bay Area. Will their dominance continue and will they become the first repeat champs since the Yankeess won three in a row from 1998 to 2000? Or will someone else rise up and take the Commissioner's Trophy? It is time for my 2013 MLB Season Predictions.

East
1. Washington Nationals
The Nats had high hopes for 2012 but I am not even sure that they thought they would end the year with the best record in baseball. And it looks like things will be even better this year. The rotation should see a boost from more innings from Stephen Strasburg, as he is a legitimate Cy Young contender. The same can be said for Gio Gonzalez, although that PED cloud is lingering. Jordan Zimmerman is solid and I liked the signing of Dan Haren. The bullpen looks stronger with the addition of Rafael Soriano to Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. Plus a very good lineup finally got a much needed leadoff guy in Denard Span. And who is not excited to see what Bryce Harper can do this year?

2. Atlanta Braves (Wild Card)
Hey, who doesn't love an outfield featuring brothers? The Braves may feature the best outfield in baseball with Jason Heyward being joined by B.J. Upton and Justin Upton and that trio will lead an offense that does have some questions with Brian McCann coming back from shoulder surgery and the team struggling to find an adequate replacement for Chipper Jones at the hot corner. Atlanta also has one of the elite bullpens in the league as well thanks to closer Craig Kimbrel and fellow relievers Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty and Jordan Walden. The rotation will feature talented youngsters Kris Medlen and Mike Minor plus prized rookie Julio Teheran and solid veterans Tim Hudson and friend of the blog Paul Maholm.

3. Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies look like a .500 club to me. There is no question that the strength of their club is their pitching. Cole Hamels is a stud and while Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee were somewhat disappointing this past season, they are still top-level hurlers, and Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan are a solid end of the rotation. The bullpen should be much better in front of Jon Papelbon with the signing of Mike Adams to man down the eighth inning. However, the defense could be brutal, particularly on the corners, and the lineup is not getting any younger. Ryan Howard was miserable a year ago, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are on the decline and there is a lot of pressure on Michael Young and Delmon Young to contribute.

4. New York Mets
I really think that the battle between the Mets and the Marlins for last place in the NL East will be a fun one. The Mets do have an edge on Miami in that they have a solid pitching rotation even after the R.A. Dickey trade with Johan Santana, who looks to be a prime trade chip come midseason, Jon Niese, the talented Matt Harvey and the under-the-radar signing Shawn Marcum. The bullpen, though, is a mess with Frank Francisco still projected to be the closer. The team cannot wait for catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud enough considering how feeble their lineup is save David Wright. I mean, they have one of the worst outfields I have ever seen.

5. Miami Marlins
The Marlins are really going to be hilarious this year. With a depleted roster after that epic firesale with the Blue Jays, their pitching rotation is very lacking where it will be the inconsistent Ricky Nolasco leading the charge, and a lineup that will waste the awesome power, possibly the best in baseball, of Giancarlo Stanton and they hope will be a rebound season from Logan Morrison. They are almost like an expansion with the has-beens that litter the roster like Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Chone Figgins, Austin Kearns, Casey Kotchman and Kevin Kouzmanoff. Factor in a rookie manager in Mike Redmond and this should be fun.

Central
1. Cincinnati Reds
The decision everyone was looking for with the Reds regarding Aroldis Chapman resulted in him staying in the bullpen and even if we get to miss out on him making the transition, this is still a team that should be very good. The rotation should be good even without Chapman  thanks to Johnny Cueto and Mat Lato. Keeping Chapman as a closer gives the Reds one of the most electric closers the game has seen in years, with the rest of the pen in solid shape with Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall. And when you talk about the Reds, you have to love their offense. This is a very balanced lineup that finally has a good leadoff guy in Shin-Soo Choo and features plenty of power with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick as well as the always good second baseman, Brandon Phillips.

2. St. Louis Cardinals
While I don't think the Cardinals will reach the postseason again, I do think that it has more to do with a stronger field for the NL Wild Card because this does look like a quality team once again. Their lineup was the strength of the club this past season and they return pretty much everybody, but one key hole will be at shortstop as it looks like Rafael Furcal is done for the season due to undergoing Tommy John surgery. A strong outfield returns in Carlos Beltran, Jon Jay and Matt Holliday, plus the talented Oscar Tavares is waiting in the wings, and David Freese and Allen Craig are a solid combo on the corners. Yadier Molina is without question one of the elite backstops in the game. Save for Chris Carpenter, who is on the disabled list, and Kyle Lohse, who is still a free agent, the rotation returns as well and it is a solid crew. Adam Wainwright is the ace, even after a somewhat disappointing 2012. Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and All-Star Lance Lynn all return and all are solid, and many are excited to see what the talented rookie Shelby Miller can do. The back-end of the bullpen is not elite but is also solid with Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates
Once again, the Pirates looked to be on the cusp of cracking .500 last year but a late fade extended the streak another year. I do think the team will finally get over .500 again and the biggest reason why is star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who is awesome and can do everything really well. While he is the face of the lineup, there is still more to like with the power of third baseman Pedro Alvarez and first baseman Garrett Jones. I really like second baseman Neil Walker. The rest of the lineup is okay at best, although Russell Martin should bring some pop. Speaking of Martin, the reason why the club brought him in is to work with the pitching staff, which has struggled for years. A.J. Burnett was tremendous last year but when have we ever been able to rely on him? Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald are above average but the rest of the rotation is a real question. Another question is if Jason Grilli can adequately replace Joel Hanrahan in the closer spot.

4. Milwaukee Brewers
The lineup in the Brew City is certainly not the problem. Even as the team never replaced Prince Fielder at first base, Ryan Braun is a beast (although those PED problems are not going away), Aramis Ramirez still has plenty left in his bat, Jonathan Lucroy is a quality catcher and Carlos Gomez is solid in center. The concerns are in the pitching staff. John Axford was a big disappointment last year but with how the rotation looks right now, it may be a mute point. Save for Yovani Gallardo, there are serious questions with the other guys and the questions there are why the team will fall to fourth.

5. Chicago Cubs
It will not be easy for the Cubbies in the North Side but the fans should take solace that the club is not looking for a quick fix and remain committed to a painful yet necessary rebuilding process. I loved the Edwin Jackson signing and I think he and Jeff Samardzija could make a solid 1-2 in their rotation. Beyond those guys, there are questions and I do not know many that have confidence in Carlos Marmol in the ninth. The lineup looks like a mess again but we do know how talented Starlin Castro is and I like young first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

West
1. San Francisco Giants
The Dodgers went nuts during the offseason, but I still think the Giants are the favorite to win the NL West. Their rotation looks to be elite once again, with Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner leading the charge at the top of the rotation, Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum, who I think will have a bounce-back season, filling out the middle and Barry Zito rounding it all out. Brian Wilson was inconsistent last year and is gone, thus Sergio Romo will be the closer and he looked great last year, particularly in the postseason. The lineup isn't as good as the rotation but they can get the job done, particularly star catcher Buster Posey, a legitimate MVP candidate. And can you ever count out a Bruce Bochy club?

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (Wild Card)
Los Angeles may have been all over the place in 2012 but with new ownership and a brand new television deal, the club is looking to spend their way into contention, and in a huge way. With the surprising acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford late in the season from Boston and an offseason spending spree that brought in Zach Greinke, Brandon League and Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers are one of the bigger question marks in 2013 but I think they are a playoff club. The Dodgers are loaded in the rotation with Clayton Kershaw and Greinke leading the way and if Beckett and Chad Billingsley stay healthy, and Ryu adapts to the league well, it will only get better. League will be the closer with Kenley Jansen waiting in the wings if need be. The lineup has its fair share of firepower and is led by the awesome Matt Kemp. There are questions there as well, particularly what to expect from Gonzalez, who had a noticeable power shortage last year, shortstop Hanley Ramirez and Crawford.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks
They may not have the pedigree of the Giants or the starpower of the Dodgers, but the Diamondbacks are a threat in the NL West this year, even though I have them coming up shy of the postseason. They have a deep and talented pitching staff led by Ian Kennedy, who was a bit disappointing in 2012, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley. Brandon McCarthy is a rock solid No. 4 and many are high on talented rookie Tyler Skaggs. J.J. Putz resurrected his career as the closer the past two years and he will get some assistance from Heath Bell, who came from Miami. The lineup does not look as good without Justin Upton but Jason Kubel, Paul Goldschmidt, Cody Ross and Aaron Hill should supply some solid power and Martin Prado is a great contact guy and fills a big hole at third.

4. San Diego Padres
Since being built in 2004, Petco Park may have been the best pitcher's park in baseball but with the fences being moved in for the 2013 campaign and creating what looks to be more of a neutral field, the expectations are on the long-stagnant Padres offense to show more life. Third baseman Chase Headley and outfielder Carlos Quentin were the team's only real power threats a year ago and they really need first baseman Yonder Alonso to greatly improve his power output. The team does fortunately have a solid output of speed with shortstop Everth Cabrera, center fielder Cameron Maybin and right fielder Will Venable. The biggest questions brought on by the moving in of the fences will be on an inconsistent rotation, which needs Edinson Volquez, Jason Marquis and Clayton Richard to step up their game.

5. Colorado Rockies
Listen, I am all for innovation in baseball. And you know what, could the Rockies' pitching really get that worse? That said, I think that their pitching experiment with pulling their starters after 75 pitches, moving to a "piggyback" long reliever and going forward from their is bizarre at best and very flawed at worst. If they want improvement from their pitching, they need quality and healthy seasons from Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, Drew Pomeranz and Jeff Francis, among others, and that looks like a stretch. At least they still have their core of their lineup intact with Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, but is it safe to say that Todd Helton is done?

2013 NL Postseason
Wild Card
Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
I think the Braves' imposing lineup will power them through to the NLDS.
Pick: Braves

NLDS
Washington Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves
Washington may have just as good of a lineup as the Braves do, and their deeper pitching staff will be the difference.
Pick: Nationals in 4

Cincinnati Reds vs. San Francisco Giants
It is hard to pick against San Francisco in the postseason considering their track record, but I think the Reds have what it takes to pull off an upset.
Pick: Reds in 5

NLCS
Washington Nationals vs. Cincinnati Reds
What will hurt the Reds and hinder them from making the World Series will be late-inning troubles with their bullpen. In a pressure situation, I do not have much confidence in Jonathan Broxton. Plus, I consider the Nationals to be deeper pretty much across the board.
Pick: Nationals in 5

East
1. Toronto Blue Jays
I think the new-look Jays are the team to beat in what I consider to be a much weaker division than we have seen in years. There is no question that Toronto was one of the most aggressive team this offseason with big trades with the Mets for R.A. Dickey and with that absurd firesale with the Marlins, which netted them Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Mark Buerhle. I love their rotation with Dickey, Johnson and Buerhle joining Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero but there are some questions, particularly if Dickey can adjust to the AL and if Johnson can stay healthy. The bullpen is a bit of a curiosity with the unheralded Casey Janssen at closer and with Sergio Santos coming off an injury-plagued 2012. The lineup looks to be solid but there are questions there as well. Can Jose Bautista stay healthy? Was Edwin Encarnacion a fluke? Can Brett Lawrie build off a solid rookie campaign? And what should we expect from Melky Cabrera? All of those questions in hand, this looks like a playoff club to me.

2. Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
Tampa may not have the most resources but boy do they find a way to get in the hunt regardless. It starts with their fantastic rotation, which may have been the best in baseball last year. David Price is tremendous and a true ace and even without James Shields and Wade Davis, who were traded to Kansas City, the rotation still has plenty of depth with the talented youngsters Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. Fernando Rodney turned into Mariano Rivera last year, but can he keep it up? If not, nobody mixes and matches better in the pen than Joe Maddon. Speaking of mixing and matching, he is one of the best at utilizing different lineups to take advantage of the matchups. One mainstay he never has to change is third baseman Evan Longoria. The rest of the infield with James Loney at first, Kelly Johnson at second and Yunel Escobar isn't that intimidating, though, although I think Loney can have a bounce-back year. Ben Zobrist can play anywhere and has a solid bat and I think Desmond Jennings will have a better 2013.

3. New York Yankees
I think this will be the year in which the Yankees will slip a little. I don't think they are going to lose 100 games, but I don't see them as a playoff team. The age is starting to catch up with them and thus we saw key guys like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera suffering from serious injuries a year ago. Both should be good to go, but that can't be said for Alex Rodriguez, who has developed into a national joke. Kevin Youkilis was brought in as a short-term replacement but he was not very good at all last year. Mark Teixiera has been a disappointment and will miss the start of the season. Fortunately, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano are still around, but could the contract situation become a distraction for Cano? Their rotation starts and end with CC Sabathia, and for good reason, he's a true ace. Andy Pettite was strong last year but he's also on the south side of 40. I'm a Hiroki Kuroda guy but Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova have to be more consistent.

4. Baltimore Orioles
Buck Showalter and the O's really surprised folks last year, even making it a race for the division crown, but I think they are bound for a step backwards after winning so many close victories. Their pitching is why I think they will take a step back closer to .500 as Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen are solid, but little more. The key for them will be when, not if, elite prospect Dylan Bundy joins the pitching staff and he will be a game-changer if he comes as advertised. Jim Johnson came out of nowhere to be a quality closer, but can he do it again? Fortunately, the lineup looks strong again and is led by catcher Matt Wieters, stud center fielder Adam Jones, right fielder Nick Markakis, first baseman Chris Davis and the talented third baseman Manny Machado.

5. Boston Red Sox
So much for the Bobby Valentine experience. General manager Ben Cherington finally got his man in John Farrell to run the club and honestly, it can't get much worse last year. I do think the team will be improved but not enough for a playoff run as they begin a quasi-rebuilding process in which they are building around some young guys but they brought in some veterans like Shane Victorino, who will lead off, Mike Napoli, who should bring some pop to first base that Adrian Gonzalez, and shortstop Stephen Drew. Fortunately for them, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz are still in town. The rotation is the same as last year's, save for the acquisition of Ryan Dempster, but that's not necessarily a good thing considering how much the unit struggled last year. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholtz need to have bounce-back seasons. Andrew Bailey was awful as the closer last year so Joel Hanrahan was brought in to seal the spot down.

Central
1. Detroit Tigers
Once again, the Tigers are the clear class of the Central and with largely the same crew as last year, this team is a favorite in the AL to get back to the World Series. Any lineup that features a core of Miguel Cabrera, the reining AL MVP as well as the first Triple Crown winner since 1967, and Prince Fielder is excellent. Adding to that a healthy Victor Martinez at DH as well as Torii Hunter in right, who still has something left in his bat, this is a deep lineup. And their rotation is not too shabby either. They only feature one of the elite aces in the game in Justin Verlander. And he is far from alone as Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez are all quality starters. The one thing that could hold this team back is at closer as Jose Valverde fell apart last year as the team is hoping that rookie Bruce Rondon can hold down the job.

2. Cleveland Indians
Let me say this, I really liked what the Tribe did this offseason and I think they will take a few steps forward after an awful 2012 and who knows, maybe sneak into the postseason? First off, they made a great hiring in Terry Francona, and he is here for the long haul. The lineup was much improved with the acquisitions of leadoff guy Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds joining Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana for a solid core. The pitching will be the key for Cleveland as Ubaldo Jimenez was awful last year and Justin Masterson took a step back. I think Masterson will bounce-back but Jimenez is an uncertainty considering how he has struggled away from Denver (imagine that). The rest of the the rotation is a mess, although rookie Trevor Bauer has excellent stuff, but fortunately, they have themselves a sound bullpen with Chris Perez at closer to make it interesting and a solid set-up crew led by Vinnie Pestrano.

3. Kansas City Royals
No matter which way you spin it, the Wil Myers deal was a loss for the Royals. Yes they desperately needed pitching help and while Myers is no lock to be a star, if you are dealing him for James Shields and Wade Davis, that's no good. But even with the questions regarding whether or not Ervin Santana can pitch well in a hitter-friendly park and if Jeremy Guthrie can pitch like he did down the stretch, the rotation is much better than it was a year ago. Kansas City also has an underrated bullpen with Greg Holland becoming the new closer and Aaron Crow developing into a good setup man. And even with the team bringing back Jeff Francouer for no reason, an exciting young lineup should lead the way for improvement in the standings. It will be key for Eric Hosmer to find his groove but I think he will in a big way this year.

4. Chicago White Sox
Chicago came very close to getting into the postseason but a collapse down the stretch ended any hopes of a surprise postseason run. I think the team is prone for a disappointing year in 2013 and I am not feeling this club. The rotation is full of questions, save for ace Chris Sale, who is a stud, as some wonder if Jake Peavy can stay healthy again and if Gavin Floyd and John Danks can put it all together. However, I do like their bullpen and it is full of power arms, including their closer Addison Reed. The lineup is led by Paul Konerko and Alex Rios but considering Konerko's age and Rios's history, one should not be surprised if either take a step back. The keystone pairing of Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham is consistently inconsistent and there is a lot of pressure on left fielder Dayan Viciedo. I also think they will miss A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate.

5. Minnesota Twins
What happened to the Minnesota Twins? It seems like it was only yesterday that they were one of the more consistent franchises in the league and a mainstay atop the AL Central. But now they are a mainstay in the cellar, which is tough for the loyal fans up north. The lineup is really lacking outside Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau, who is a shell of himself at this point. Minnesota was once known for having rock-solid pitching but their pitching was at the bottom of the league a year ago. I mean, who is scared of Vance Worley, Scott Diamond, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia?

West
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
One year after going ham in the offseason and then coming up short of the playoffs, the Angels made another big splash this offseason and I think it is enough to put them over the top and win the crown. An already strong lineup added Josh Hamilton from Texas, which really weakened that club but strengthens this one even further. Mike Trout should only get better if at all possible while center is a question mark, even as I like Peter Bourjos. Albert Pujols was disappointing by his standards and at 33, can he revert? Mark Trumbo adds even more power to the mix. The rotation disappointed last year but I'll take Jared Weaver any day of the week. C.J. Wilson and Jason Vargas but would should the club expect from the enigmatic Tommy Hanson, acquired from Atlanta? Finding a closer was a challenge last year but Ernesto Frieri appears to have knocked down the job.

2. Oakland Athletics (Wild Card)
Tell me you saw the A's winning the West last year. And while many will consider this club to be a fluke, I am a buyer and I think they will return to the postseason in 2013. The bullpen was Oakland's strength a year ago and they look strong there once again with Grant Balfour, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Pat Neshek all returning. The rotation has a lot of potential as Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Millone, A.J. Griffin and the talented Dan Straily as well as Bartolo Colon but there are still concerns with Anderson's health and whether the young guns, particularly Griffin, can avoid a let-down. There are not many big names in the lineup but all conversations starts and ends with a very good outfield with Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick. I also really liked the Jed Lowrie signing.

3. Texas Rangers
Expect the Rangers to take a step back this year. Losing Josh Hamilton to the Angels was big and it will be hard to replace his production, especially when he is being replaced by David Murphy in left. The team also saw losses in Michael Young and Mike Napoli and they are relying on a pair of aging veterans in Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski to replace their production, which I am not sold on. The PED distractions with Nelson Cruz could potentially result in some sort of suspension, which would really hurt the lineup. I do like the rotation with Derek Holland, Yu Darvish and Alexi Ogando but none of those guys is an ace. The back of the bullpen should be good with Joe Nathan and a good signing in Joakim Soria. But when you factor all that in with some nonsense regarding Nolan Ryan's role in the front office, I think the team will fall out of the postseason and into third place in the West.

4. Seattle Mariners
As always, the Mariners were really lacking in power in 2012 with only one player hitting more than 20 homers and thus they made a bunch of movies to address the issue. I really liked the Michael Morse trade but the team, after acquiring Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez, now have a nice logjam at first base and DH with Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero in the mix. They also took a flyer on Jason Bay, which Mets fans will enjoy. The strength of the club will once again be the pitching as Felix Hernandez is just elite and Blake Beavan and Hisahi Iwakuma, plus a solid bullpen led by the unheralded Tom Wilhelmsen. However, I do not see enough upgrades in the lineup to result in a real push for the postseason, or at least not yet.

5. Houston Astros
Let's be honest, the Astros are going to be really pitiful as they continue on their rebuilding project as well as move into the American League. New manager Bo Porter, who I like a lot, will have his hands full as he will be outmanned pretty much every night with a pretty no-name roster. A casual baseball fan will have trouble naming anybody on their roster. Their pitching staff is pretty thin and they are looking at Jose Veras to be their closer (I'll let that sink in for a moment). All of that said, their new logo is awesome, the new uniforms are nice and Jose Altuve is a good second baseman.

2013 AL Postseason
Wild Card
Athletics vs. Rays
You need strong pitching to survive and advance in October, particularly in this silly one-game playoff, and that favors Tampa.
Pick: Rays

ALDS
Tigers vs. Rays
The Rays may have a strong rotation, but the Tigers' is not that far behind and they have a much more imposing lineup. I'm feeling a sweep here.
Pick: Tigers in 3

Angels vs. Blue Jays
Toronto has a club that looks to be pretty talented, but much of it has little, if any, postseason experience. That will fault them against the Angels.
Pick: Angels in 4

ALCS
Tigers vs. Angels
This should be labeled the battle of questionable closers as neither team seems to really have locked down their closer spot. Both clubs feature strong and deep lineups but a deeper Tigers rotation will be enough to carry them to the Fall Classic once again.
Pick: Tigers in 7


Washington Nationals vs. Detroit Tigers
I must say, I really love this Nationals club. They are an exciting team with a strong lineup, a quality rotation and a deep bullpen. That said, this will be the year in which the Tigers break through and send Jim Leyland into the sunset the right way. 
Pick: Tigers in 7

Awards
AL MVP: Mike Trout, LF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
NL MVP: Matt Kemp, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
AL Rookie of the Year: Trevor Bauer, SP, Cleveland Indians
NL Rookie of the Year: Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
NL Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers

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