Part 3: The League
Once again, the same disclaimers apply:
1) Please feel free to bookmark them and come back later in September/October to see how I did — you know that if I hit on a few you’re going to hear about it.
2) Before you waste your keyboard clicks hating me, please know that I will be rooting for some of these predictions and against some others, but it wouldn’t be much fun (or very accurate) if I only predicted good things to happen this season.
AL East Standings:
1. Toronto Blue Jays (92-70) — A rotation with R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, and Ricky Romero has to win the division, doesn’t it? Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista all have major “If Healthy” asterisks next to their names, but Toronto’s offense should be pretty formidable as well. I’m always hesitant with a team that made so many additions, but on paper they are the most talented team in the division.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (88-74) — Very few teams have the pitching depth to give up starting pitchers like James Shields and Wade Davis and still contend. Tampa Bay is one of them. If they can keep Evan Longoria on the field and not the DL this season it’s hard to see them not being in the mix for the division and one of the Wild Card spots.
3. Boston Red Sox (85-77) — For a long time this would have been seen as a hopelessly pessimistic prediction for the Red Sox, but now projecting 85 wins will label me as a serious homer in some circles. As I covered in Part 1 & Part 2 I think that the starting pitching will be vastly improved from the miserable 2012 showing and do a lot better job of not over-taxing the bullpen. The lineup will not struggle to produce runs, and the bullpen looks like the strength of the team. John Farrell will put an immediate end to the circus atmosphere that Valentine embodied, and this team will be significantly more likable and fun to watch than what we endured last season. They’ll be in contention for one of the Wild Card spots, but will come up a bit short in the end.
4. New York Yankees (84-78) — The starting pitching is still far above average, but other than Robinson Cano where is the offense going to come from? I just can’t see how this lineup makes up a playoff team. And yes, I picked them to finish one game behind the Red Sox purely on principle.
5. Baltimore Orioles (76-82) — 2012’s luckiest team will likely come back down to earth in 2013. If you think they will go 29-9 in 1-run games or win 16 straight extra-innings contests again this season, you probably have an Oriole logo tattooed somewhere on your body. That’s not happening.
AL Central Winner: Detroit Tigers — In Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander the Tigers have the last two American League MVP’s and a boatload of talent after that. Who else is even going to challenge them for this division? Kansas City? Settle down.
AL West Winner: Los Angeles Angels — I don’t love the back end of their rotation (Joe Blanton and Jason Vargas) but their lineup is absolutely tantalizing. Having Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton in the same lineup is something that should only happen in your fantasy league.
AL Wild Card Teams: Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers — We already talked about Tampa Bay, and Texas is still a deep and talented team. Losing Hamilton and Michael Young won’t devastate this deep lineup. Hopefully they find a place in the everyday lineup for both Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, which would effectively lock them in as one of my favorite MLB.TV teams for the season.
NL East Winner: Washington Nationals — The National League’s most talented team got even more talented this offseason, adding Denard Span, Dan Haren, and Rafael Soriano without losing anyone of note (unless you’re a big fan of Edwin Jackson, and if so, why?). Plus, I hear that they’re planning to actually use their best players for the entire season this year! Feel the Natitude!
NL Central Winner: St. Louis Cardinals — This organization is absolutely phenomenal. They continue to lose quality players and respond by filling the holes and staying in playoff contention every single season. Most recently, with Chris Carpenter already out for the year, Shelby Miller is there waiting to take his place. You don’t have to like the Cardinals, but it’s impossible not to respect them.
NL West Winner: San Francisco Giants — Strong defense up the middle with Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Angel Pagan and first rate starting pitching. This is the team I daydream about the Red Sox emulating.
NL Wild Card Teams: Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers — Both of these teams made some high profile moves in the offseason (B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-jin), do they pay off with a spot in the playoffs? I say yes.
AL Rookie of the Year: Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers — Fresh off being named #1 on Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospect list on Tuesday, Profar will be undoubtedly honored to see his name pop up in this space. It’s been quite a week for young Jurickson.
(Note: If I wasn’t worried about Tampa Bay waiting to bring Wil Myers up because they like to screw around with their players‘ service times at the expense of winning baseball games, I would really be torn here.)
NL Rookie of the Year: Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals — Chris Carpenter’s loss is Shelby Miller’s gain. Much like Lance Lynn last year (18 wins in 29 starts) Miller will not have a problem putting up a solid win total on this perpetually contending team.
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers — He’s the best pitcher in baseball. I thought about Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, and David Price but this guy is the ace of the aces, and at 29 he shouldn’t be slowing down any time soon.
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals — This kid is phenomenally talented, he’s on a team with a great lineup and what looks like a solid bullpen, and don’t forget he’s still only 24!
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels — Trout posted a WAR of over 10 last year and the lineup around him just got even better. Is a sophomore slump possible? I guess so, but if the .289/.400/.500 that he put up in September and October last year was him slowing down, I’m pretty sure that everyone could live with that.
NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates — .327/.400/.553, 31 HR, 29 2B, 194 H, 107 R. Cutch’s stat line in 2012 was filthy. He’s another one of baseball’s great young stars, and still on the way up. Whether or not the team around him in Pittsburgh will be in contention long enough to get him the publicity and attention he deserves remains to be seen.
World Series: Washington Nationals over Los Angeles Angels