Spring Training is in the air, fantasy baseball leagues are organizing, and the football crazies have gone into hibernation. What can that possibly mean? It means it’s time to make my radical preseason playoff predictions.
A year ago at this time I predicted a Giants versus Angels world series. I felt like we would see a wild and dramatic rematch of the 2002 series. I turned out to be 50 % right. In fact I had predicted the Giants to make a World Series appearance in the years 2010 – 2012, finding success two out of the three campaigns. This year marks change in the playoff races. I like to say teams have windows. They open slowly, and they close really fast. There are not many New York Yankees caliber teams that can play at a highly competitive level for decades at a time. Baseball is the ultimate roller coaster ride. It’s a 162 game season in which one series can be the difference between the ultimate success of a playoff birth, or the failure of finishing one game back in September.
The importance of every game, every pitch, and every at bat in Major League Baseball has become magnified in recent years. Teams competing in power divisions like the AL West and AL East are forced to win 92 + games for as much as a wild card position. While other divisions in years passed have had qualifiers with 85 to 89 wins. Making predictions isn’t always about who is the BEST team, but who is the most logical. The Detroit Tigers got hot at the right time last year to back door into the playoffs. They then caught the ultimate fire leading to a league championship. To this day you still can’t tell me they were better than the Los Angeles Angels.
What about the other divisions? Will the Los Angeles Dodgers’ $225 million dollar payroll pan out? Will the Cardinals, Giants, Reds, and Nationals continue their reign as tough competitors? Will the Tigers prove that their season last year wasn’t a fluke? 2013 is going to be a tricky season, with so many good teams all lumped together. Without further ado, I present you my 2013 predictions.
Division Champion: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (95 Wins)
The Angels pitching depth remains suspect. The Halo’s come back with a strong top of the rotation which includes, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. However, they will leave some performance to be desired on the back end. They also will have to solidify the back end of their bullpen. Last year their 4.02 team ERA ranked 8th in the league. However, the Angels won 90 games in a tough AL West that appears weaker to me this season. If Josh Hamilton stays healthy batting behind Albert Pujols, and Mike Trout is Mike Trout of 2012 in front of Pujols… look for the Prince to have a historic season. The Rangers appear to be an 85 win team as their possible championship window has closed for the time being. The Athletics are young, fun and are going nowhere. However I predict a sophomore slump in Oakland, giving the title to the Angels.
Wild Card: None
Division Champion: Detroit Tigers (95 Wins)
The Tigers found themselves in the American League Championship Series last year versus the Yankees. They looked like the team we all thought they could be for a 162 game sample. Detroit won 87 games last year, and quite frankly didn’t look like a playoff team. They benefited from a White Sox collapse, and an easy division. This allowed the Tigers to perhaps relax a little bit. Their excellent pitching staff, lead by horse Justin Verlander finished 3rd in the AL in ERA. The offense chimed in with 726 runs scored, but showed an inability to play small ball. Omar Infante will become a key player for the Tigers being able to score the tight runs when they count. Look for Detroit to be more of a front runner this year. Oh yeah, did I mention Victor Martinez is back?
Wild Card: None
Division Champion: Tampa Bay Rays (94 Wins)
There are a lot of power teams in the AL East, but this year is the Rays’ season. 94 wins is a modest number for the AL East, but with the caliber of the competition I expect these teams to beat each other to a pulp. The Rays have the greatest baseball attribute, they find ways to win games. Joe Maddon is hands down the best manager in the game, and he will show why in 2013 when he beats out the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles. Tampa Bay will have to find more offense to compete for a playoff spot. Look for James Loney to put up stronger numbers this season within the Tampa Bay system. Is it too early to nominate David Price as a possible MVP candidate? Yes he can be that good.
Wild Card: Toronto Blue Jays (93 Wins)
Good news Blue Jays fans, the wait is over! The last Blue Jays playoff appearance was in 1993, when they won it all. The Jays made a flurry of acquisitions this year. The big names include, Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Jose Reyes. A lot of change usually means a lot of growing pains. Toronto will struggle early on, but I feel they will become dominant by July thus claiming a Wild Card position. I love their lineup depth with a rare combination of speed and power. If Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera bat 1-2 all season, they could be one of the best duos in the league. It is possible to think Jose Bautista could drive in 130 runs (if healthy).
Wild Card: New York Yankees (91 Wins)
The Yankees will find a way to slide into the playoffs this year. It’s what they always do after all. However, this season will be seen as an utter disappointment by many Yankees fans and could lead to the departure of Joe Girardi. The pitching staff no longer scares anyone, and the lineup is aging by the second. The loss of Nick Swisher will be enormous, along with Alex Rodriguez‘s injury. I do believe Kevin Youkilis will return to a respectable state, but his health is very questionable. Look for the Yankees to be boringly successful this year in terms of wins, and that’s about it.
Division Champion: San Francisco Giants (102 Wins)
The Giants will have the most wins in Major League Baseball in 2013. They will come in on fire at the top of 2013, with an amazing pitching staff. It is just sick to have to face Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, and Madison Bumgarner, in a short series. Did I forget to mention there is a goofy guy named Tim Lincecum on the same staff? This could be a historic year for pitching in the city by the bay, with Bumgarner breaking out. The Giants aren’t just all pitching anymore though. They have serious offensive contributors in Sandoval, Scutaro, Pence, Pagan, and Posey. The Giants finished sixth in runs scored last year and with their pitching that is plenty. Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence will greatly benefit batting ahead of and behind Buster Posey for a full season. This team lacks any holes on paper. However, does the best team really ever win the World Series these days? Oh and for those heavily overrated and overhyped Dodgers? Look for about 83 wins and a third place finish.
Wild Card: None
Division Champion: Cincinnati Reds (95 Wins)
The Reds will bring back a very similar team that won the NL Central crown last year. They will also have a very similar season, falling just two wins short of their 97 total from last year. A full season of Joey Votto will be key to have success in the postseason. I truly believe if he had been firing on all cylinders in the ALDS last year, the Reds don’t choke away three games in a row. Cincinnati has many offensive weapons, along with emotional leader Brandon Phillips. The pitching will have to mature pressure situations to get through the long haul. However, I’ll take my chances with Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Matt Latos, and that whacky veteran Bronson Arroyo. I have extremely high hopes for the Reds in 2013.
Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers (89 Wins)
The Brewers don’t exactly strike fear into opposing teams like they used to. However, they may like playing the underdog role. The Brew crew will struggle to find consistent pitching in 2013, and it will lead them to hover around .500 most of the year. They have proven offensive weapons that can steal wins to make up for the lack of pitching at times. I believe the Brewers will have a top three offense in the National League. Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez will promise to be dangerous in the middle of the order. Rickie Weeks, I expect to come back, and Corey Hart will be out until mid season. The adventures of John Axford in the closer position will probably be the make or break for the Brewers. If he can close out games, I expect the rest of the bullpen to at least remain league average. Milwaukee will be a surprise Wild Card team, but probably not much else.
Division Champion: Atlanta Braves (96 Wins)
What a disappointing finish to the season last year for the Atlanta Braves. They were locked in looking towards to the playoffs most of the year. They got the top Wild Card spot, and then butchered the inauguration of the Wild Card play-in game. This year they will be the most determined team on the market. Justin and BJ Upton will provide an upgraded defensive attack, joining Jayson Heyward in the outfield. They will need to step up offensively to give the Braves a more fierce middle of the order. Atlanta certainly has the fire power to hit the long ball up and down their order. Can Dan Uggla get back to his 30 homer ways? Will Brian McCann find a way to limit the nagging injuries and play 130 – 145 games? If so, this Atlanta Braves team has one of the deepest lineups in the business. The Braves pitching is top fleet with the best bullpen in the majors. If Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, and the veteran Tim Hudson post solid years they will be an awfully tough playoff team to face.
Wild Card: Washington Nationals (91 Wins)
The Nationals were the best team in the NL last year, compiling 98 wins. I look for that win total to drop a bit, as they will struggle out of the gate. I typically predict younger teams to fall back after one big season. Luckily for the Nationals their top fleet pitching led by Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, and Jordan Zimmerman, will be back in full force. With Strasburg set free in his innings limit, he will probably be the horse of this young rotation. The Nationals offense has a lot of balance and a lot of injuries. Keeping Ryan Zimmerman healthy could be the key between a Wild Card play-in game elimination, and a World Series run.
This year will be tightly contested with teams all hovering just over and under the 90 win mark. Two teams will prevail to make it to the top. Your World Series will consist of two new teams. The Cincinnati Reds versus the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Mark it down and say I told you in February! As for the Astros? I say they finish 29th in the Major League standings. Come on they can’t be worse than the depleted Miami Marlins!