Lost in all of the March Madness going on right now, is that the major league baseball regular season is quickly approaching, and before you know it teams will be playing for real. It’s about time! The World Baseball Classic extended this year’s spring training, and I think I speak for most baseball fans when I say we are ready for some real baseball to be played. With each new baseball season, hope springs eternal everywhere, even amongst the most skeptical of fanbases. I doubt very much that most Oakland and Baltimore fans like their chances going into the 2012 season. They finished as two of the American League’s playoff teams.
Baseball can be difficult to predict, but part of the fun of a new season is doing just that…predicting. So without further delay, I will put my predictions out there for all to see and make fun of starting with the American League East, which has long been the power division in all of baseball. Maybe not so much anymore…
First Place: Toronto Blue Jays
I know that Toronto is the en vogue pick win the division, mostly on the back of the massive off-season deal with the Florida Marlins, but they do appear to be the most well rounded team in the division. The starting rotation should be amongst the best in the American League after acquiring R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle to go with Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. There has to be some concern about Johnson and Morrow injury-wise, as both tend to have a bit of trouble staying healthy, but there is some depth in J.A. Happ, Sean Nolin, and potentially Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison later in the year.
Offensively, Toronto added Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Melky Cabrera, and Macier Izturis to what should be potentially the most dynamic offense in the league. It has all the elements, speed, power, and guys that can hit for average. Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion anchor the offense, and there is good depth as well. Bonifacio and Anthony Gose will provide a ton of speed off the bench, and young players like Moises Sierraappear to be on the verge of being quality contributors.
Second Place: Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
Tampa Bay is far from a complete team, but they have been that way for a long time. Offensively, they will still be challenged, but I think there is some improvement to be had. Desmond Jennings could conceivably be much better, and trade acquisition Yunel Escobar might be a real good fit for Tampa. Certainly better than Reid Brignac. The offense will largely depend on Evan Longoria much like it has in the past, but it got one of the best prospects in the game in Wil Myers in the James Shields trade. If the Rays need some offense, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Myers playing by the time June rolls around.
Pitching has always been the hallmark of the Rays contending teams, and this season will be no different. Current Cy Young winner David Price anchors a tremendously talented staff that still goes about seven or eight deep after the trade of James Shields, giving the Rays trade options at the deadline should they need a bat. Jeremy Hellickson doesn’t have fantastic peripherals but he is really good at not allowing runs. Matt Moore has a Cy Young type arm. Alex Cobb looks to be a quality back of the rotation option, and Jeff Niemann is a quality fifth starter if he can stay healthy. The bullpen is always top notch, and I personally believe that Joe Madden is one of the best managers in baseball.
Third Place: Boston Red Sox
Counting the Red Sox out because of their rough 2012 is a mistake in my opinion. Their starting rotation is going to largely depend on Jon Lester bouncing back, but I believe he will. They added Ryan Dempster in the off-season, and the trade from 2012 brought them the talented Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster in return. While the rotation is probably the team’s weak point, the bullpen should be a strength. The Red Sox acquired closer Joel Hanrahan and have quality arms like Alfredo Aceves, Daniel Bard, and Koji Uehara at the back end as well.
Offensively, I think the Red Sox could be one of the best in the American League. Veterans like Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz lead the offense. The talented Will Middlebrooks will be with the team all year, and the Red Sox added Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli to the clubhouse.
I think that is the last important part. The clubhouse will be different, and the Bobby Valentine disaster is over. That could have as big an effect as anything.
Fourth Place: New York Yankees
I think people have been wanting to write the Yankees off for the past couple of years. They are aging no doubt, but yet they still find ways to win and make the playoffs. I think this is the year we see the Yankees struggle. They are going to be without a big portion of the middle of their order early on in Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixera. Injuries have gotten so bad that the Yankees just took a flier on the ex-Tiger Brennan Boesch. Still, with Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano around, nobody can count the Yanks out.
The pitching is another story. I think the Yankees have a strong staff, albeit pretty reliant on two aging guys in Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, though neither of them looked like they slowed down much in 2012. C.C. Sabathia of course will likely be a Cy Young candidate, while Phil Hughes seems to be improving. The Yankees pitching might keep their heads above water until their offense returns. It’s going to have to.
Fifth Place: Baltimore Orioles
Truth be told, a good deal of Baltimore’s success last season was based upon luck. Their record in one run games was so good they outplayed their Pythagorean record by 11 games, which is almost unheard of.
Looking at the rotation Baltimore is going to start 2013 with, I struggle to see how it can repeat their success in 2013. Jason Hammel had an outstanding season, and I just don’t see that again. Same goes for Wei-Yin Chen. Chris Tillman was at one time a big time prospect, so he has talent, but guys with his K rate rarely sustain the kind of year he had last year. There is some depth here as Jake Arrieta, Steve Johnson, Miguel Gonzalez, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, and Tommy Hunter all got starts last year. Waiting in the wings are two fantastic prospects in Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, but they are more likely to stick out 2013 in the minors.
Offensively, the Orioles do have some talent in Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, who are amongst the best at their position in all of baseball. Third base future superstar Manny Machado came up and surprised last season when most thought he wasn’t ready. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of a sophomore slump. First baseman Chris Davis and RF Nick Markakis offer solid bats as well, but their is a lack of depth should the Orioles suffer some injuries. Defensively, I like their mix, especially at SS with J.J. Hardy, Wieters, and Markakis.
The A.L. East is still going to have a couple good teams, and while the Red Sox is a bit of a bold prediction at third place considering their pretty questionable rotation, I just think the Yankees have too many problems early in the season to bounce back, and the Orioles were far too lucky last season to have another year like that. I think Tampa and Toronto are clearly the two best teams in the division, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see separation that we don’t normally see from the top to bottom in the East.