Looking ahead: Making predictions for the 2013 baseball season
The first game of the baseball season is underway, so it’s time to make some predictions.
As I’m sure you’re aware, making predictions for a 162-game season could be done about as easily with a Magic 8 Ball as through careful analysis. In 2011 nearly everyone had the Red Sox picked as a team that would rule the world. In 2012, many experts picked the Angels to battle the Tigers for dominance in the AL (before anyone had a clue how good Mike Trout would be) and they missed the playoffs. Yet nearly every expert missed on the A’s and Orioles making the playoffs.
So here are my predictions for how the 2013 season will play out, knowing that by the end of the season nearly everything I say now will be about as meaningful as running my finger up and down my lips.
Toronto – There’s no reason to not pick them at the top spot. Their off-season moves improved them tremendously at a time when the traditional powerhouses of the division are fading. The lineup is solid and the starting rotation is full of cagey veterans. If Brett Lawrie can stay healthy and play under control, he could be the star.
Tampa Bay – Their pitching is potentially the best in the American League. The lineup, outside of Evan Longoria, isn’t impressive but with their pitching they don’t need to lead the league in runs to be successful. But if Longoria gets hurt again, this could turn ugly on the offensive side.
New York – As a Yankee fan it’s hard not to pick them higher, but realistically I can’t see them finishing in the money this year. They’ll still be tough because of the pitching. Injuries – recovering from them and avoiding more – will be the key to whether they move up or down from third place.
Baltimore – Their 2012 success was more luck than skill. No one can expect them to be 29-9 again in one-run games. If they had simply been a bit above average in those games, say 20-18, they would have won only 84 games and finished well out of the post-season. I think that’s about what they’ll win this season.
Boston – The good news for the Red Sox is that they probably are better than they were last season. The bad news is that even if they improve by 10 games they’ll still have a losing record.
Detroit – The Tigers could play badly and still win this division, which is pretty much what they did for a large part of last season. They should have won more than 88 games. The pitching staff should be solid and perhaps verging on amazing. The top five spots in the lineup should produce a lot of runs, but unfortunately may have to produce most of the runs. There are still significant holes in this team.
Kansas City – This has become kind of a faddish choice but there is good reason. The Royals have improved their pitching and boast a lineup of young players with a world of potential. That comes with inherent risks, of course, but in this division second place is perfectly plausible.
Cleveland – The pitching sucks but they’ve built a lineup that could score a lot of runs, especially if Asdrubal Cabrera returns to his 2011 form and Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall live up to their potential. New manager Terry Francona will be a big factor in how this team fares.
Chicago – They could easily leap-frog Cleveland and Kansas City and finish second. They have decent pitching but their offense will be too inconsistent. When you’re relying on a 37-year-old (Paul Konerko) to be your major offensive threat, you still have some work to do.
Minnesota – The good news for the Twins is that with the Astros switching leagues, they’ll no longer be the worst team in the American League. The bad news is that the race for worst team will be uncomfortably close. A year ago they won 66 games and unless Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau put up numbers like they did four years ago, they probably won’t reach 70 wins.
Texas – Even with the off-season losses they had, this team is better than many people think. Their pitching staff could be quite good, and they still have enough pop in their bats to win a lot of games, at least at home. I think Elvis Andrus is poised for a big breakout season offensively and the Rangers will find a way to get Jurickson Profar into the starting lineup.
Oakland – Last year was a semi-fluke. They probably won’t be quite as good this season but will still be better than people expect. They play in a pitchers’ park and they’ve found a way to win in that environment. They have a deep bullpen and some scouts are beginning to compare Yoenis Cespedes to Willie Mays or Bo Jackson.
Los Angeles – I am not as high on the Angels as most people. There will be games when they bludgeon people and games where the pitching is awesome. But I think they’ll be far too streaky and the lack of consistency will hurt them. Mike Trout almost single-handedly saved them a year ago (although Albert Pujols came on strong in the second half) but I don’t know if he can do it this season. Last year they had 89 wins and that’s about where I see them being at the end of this season.
Seattle – The Mariners won’t finish last this year but I think they’ll also improve, probably finishing at .500 or slightly better. With the fences moved in and a few more sluggers, the offense will pick up. Whether they have enough pitching after Felix Hernandez will be the big question.
Houston – There are probably at least a half-dozen Triple A teams that would be more competitive than the Astros will be this year. They won 55 games a year ago in the weaker NL Central and have not gotten better. Jose Altuve is a legit star, so they’ll probably trade him for prospects mid-season. Winning 50 games will be a stretch.
Washington – This is the best team in the majors. The lineup is solid top to bottom and the pitching rotation is phenomenal. The bullpen is just as good. Bryce Harper, playing his first full season, will have a superb year. Stephen Strasburg is the ace of the staff and will do well but may end up not even being the best pitcher on this team. I don’t think it’s a stretch to see this team win 105 games.
Atlanta – The key Upton the Braves acquired in the off season will be Justin, not B.J. Jason Heyward will have a big year. I expect the Braves to make the playoffs and possibly win 95 games. But even if the pitching staff falters and they only win 88 games, they should still finish second in this division.
Philadelphia – The Philadelphia story that looked so thrilling just two seasons ago looks like it might have a surprisingly horrible ending. Injuries have taken a terrible toll on them and the player who may be their best hitter right now (Carlos Ruiz) is serving a suspension for PEDs. The vaunted pitching staff seems to have imploded. Still, there is a lot of potential if just a few of those players resurrect their careers.
New York – The Mets may have benefited the most for Miami’s fire sale over the winter – it will keep them out of last place. But barely. They have almost no pitching and their offense starts and ends with David Wright, although Ike Davis could be one of those players with a world of potential who suddenly has his breakout season.
Miami – If Giancarlo Stanton could pitch and play ever position, this team would be unbeatable. As it is, he’ll probably hit a lot of solo homeruns and walk 100 times as pitchers pitch around him. Their 69 wins in 2012 will seem like a dream season compared to this one.
Cincinnati – If the Reds don’t win this division it’ll be a bigger shock than if the Nationals don’t win the East. Cincinnati shouldn’t have much competition here. Plenty of young talent that also has some seasoning under its belt. Look for Joey Votto to return to MVP-caliber form and Aroldis Chapman to save 50 games.
Pittsburgh – Have I lost my mind? Possibly. But I think in this division this year the Pirates could make good on the promise they showed early in the 2012 season. Few people realize that Andrew McCutchen had virtually identical numbers to Mike Trout last year without the star-studded supporting cast. I think this season he carries his team to 88 wins.
Milwaukee – Ryan Braun carried the Brewers last season and will again this year. The key will be what kind of support he gets. The pitching staff is also suspect. Still, in this division what they’ve got should be enough for a third-place finish.
St. Louis – The past couple of years the Cardinals have managed to find just enough magic to reach the playoffs. I think this is the year the smoke and mirrors disappear and they win 81 games like the .500 team that they are.
Chicago – The Cubs will miss the Astros. This will be a pretty bad team – Jeff Samardzija is the ace of the staff, which tells you all you need to know. Last year they won 61 games and should settle in at about that spot again. And still draw more fans than most of the other teams in the NL.
Arizona – The Diamondbacks have a good pitching staff that flies mostly under everyone’s radar. Manager Kirk Gibson has assembled a team that knows how to scrap for wins. Paul Goldschmidt will have a breakout season. Aaron Hill is not a bad hitter – until Robinson Cano had his out-of-this-world final nine games, the numbers between Hill and Cano were very similar.
San Francisco – Pitching will carry them. The hitting beyond Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval isn’t much, unless Hunter Pence becomes much more consistent. The good news is that in their ballpark, pitching is the key.
Los Angeles – This team has a lot of ifs. If they stay injury free they could be strong, but they have almost no depth behind the starters. If Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez play like they did a few years ago, they could win a lot of games. If anyone besides Clayton Kershaw can pitch well they could be contenders. Too many ifs for me to put them higher than third.
Colorado – Pitching is a huge problem, but they have exceptional hitters in Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, and enough offense to compete even away from Coors Field.
San Diego – They have the offensive potential to wrest fourth place away from the Rockies but they’re a long way from being contenders for anything else.
AL – Tampa Bay over Oakland
NL – San Francisco over Atlanta
AL – Toronto over Texas, Tampa Bay over Detroit
NL – Washington over San Francisco, Arizona over Cincinnati
AL – Toronto over Tampa Bay
NL – Washington over Arizona
Toronto over Washington
AL – Evan Longoria. Runner up – Yoenis Cespedes.
NL – Andrew McCutchen. Runner up – Bryce Harper.
AL – Justin Verlander. Runner up – James Shields.
NL – Ian Kennedy. Runner up – Gio Gonzalez.
Rookie of the Year
AL – Jurickson Profar. Runner up – Hiroyuki Nakajima
NL – Oscar Taveras. Runner up – Adeiny Hechavarria.
Manager of the Year
AL – John Gibbons. Runner up – Ned Yost.
NL – Kirk Gibson. Runner up – Clint Hurdle.