Semi-Educated Guesses for the 2013 Major League Baseball Season

Davey Johnson

Davey Johnson and the Nats should have a lot to celebrate in 2013. (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Every year since the first grade, I have written down my predictions for the upcoming Major League Baseball season.  Up until I  purchased my first computer, I kept these predictions in a journal, which has since been lost.  However, even without referencing my journal, I can still remember the teams that I picked to win the World Series each year from 1986 to 2000.  Looking back on my predictions, it’s quite apparent that I became more knowledgeable as I matured because although I failed to correctly guess the winner of the World Series from 1986 to 1995, I did predict four out of the five winners from 1996-2000.  Of course, the reason for my accuracy in the late 1990s (and the inaccuracy during my earlier years) is because I picked the New York Yankees to win the World Series each and every season. 

At this point, I no longer make my predictions solely with my heart.  Instead, I choose teams based on facts, analysis, and intuition.  So, without further ado, here are my predictions for the upcoming season:

American League

East:    Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays won 90 games last year despite the fact that the team’s best player, Evan Longoria, missed half the season.  Longoria, the criminally underrated Ben Zobrist, and Desmond Jennings – who will finally realize his potential with a breakout season – will lead the offense.  The rotation, anchored by David Price, will keep the team in most games.  Although Matt Moore will likely have an erratic season, Alex Cobb will build upon his impressive final two months of last season (9-2, 3.09 ERA, .224 BA, 1.08 WHIP) and once Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez reveals his ineffectiveness, Chris Archer will be summoned from the minors to bolster the staff.  The Rays’ bullpen does not have any obvious flaws – save for Farnsworth’s tattoos.  Sprinkle in the arrival of Wil Myers at some point in June, and the Rays are poised to have the best record in the American League.

Central:    Detroit Tigers

Despite having the most talent in the division last season, the Tigers managed to “only” win 88 games and barely edged its way past the White Sox to reach the playoffs.  However, it’s extremely telling that a team which won its division has been classified as underachieving.  This year, I think the Tigers run away with the division.  An offense led by Miguel CabreraPrince Fielder, and Austin Jackson is intimidating enough but the additions of a healthy Victor Martinez and a rejuvenated Torii Hunter make the offense downright scary.  (The subtraction of Delmon Young – and his -0.8 WAR – from the roster would have been a big enough boost to the offense.)  I fully expect Alex Avila to rebound offensively and put up statistics that fall somewhere between his 2011 breakout season and last year’s totals.  Finally given a starting role, Andy Dirks will also provide a solid offensive presence in the bottom third of the lineup.  Justin Verlander will continue to be Justin Verlander, and Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez are above-average options as second and third starters.  The wild cards are Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.  If he somehow manages to find some consistency, Scherzer has the talent to lead the league in strikeouts.  People seem to forget, but Porcello is still only 24 years old and possesses the pedigree and intelligence to have a successful campaign as a backend starter.  Having extolled the attributes of the Tigers, it must be pointed out that the team certainly has its share of flaws.  Notably, the lack of minor league depth and the questionable bullpen (no established closer, the presence of Octavio Dotel) are somewhat disconcerting.  Nonetheless, I just do not see the other teams in the Central having enough talent to overtake the Tigers.

West:    Texas Rangers

Given the talent the Angels have amassed (including the former Ranger Josh Hamilton), most assume that the Rangers do not have the horses to win the West.  Looking at the Rangers’ roster brings numerous questions to mind:  (1) how good is Yu Darvish? (2) Is Matt Harrison for real? (3) Does Derek Holland have the talent to take that next stop everyone thought he would take last year?  (4) How does the team replace Josh Hamilton’s offensive production?  (5)  Can Leonys Martin finally live up to the hype?  (6) Does Lance Berkman play a full season?

Well, let me answer those:  (1) Darvish is good, really good.  So good, in fact, that he will be a contender for the AL Cy Young this season.  (2) Matt Harrison is for real.  He is a solid, if not necessarily spectacular, pitcher who will throw close to 200 innings while consistently keeping the team in ballgames.  (3) Derek Holland takes a step forward this season.  He may not be an all-star, but he will maintain a sub-4.00 ERA all season.  (4) With Hamilton and Michael Young gone, David Murphy and Mitch Moreland will finally get the opportunity to play every day, and these players will combine to hit over 40 homeruns and drive in over 180 runs.  (5)  No, Martin will not be productive, but Craig Gentry will be.  (6)  No, Berkman will not stay healthy the full season, but the combination of Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar will make up the missing offense.  The depth of the Rangers will be the team’s biggest asset all season as they outlast the Angels to win the West.

Wild Card:    New York Yankees

Everything about the Yankees screams, “They stink!”  In fact, just thinking about Eduardo Nunez playing shortstop or the sight of Vernon Wells in pinstripes made me throw up in my mouth a little bit.  The combination of an aging roster of players with diminishing skills, lack of major-league ready talent in the minors, and early season injuries (Curtis GrandersonMark TeixeiraDerek Jeter) give the distinct impression that the Yankees are on the cusp of an unmitigated disaster.  However, to paraphrase Ed Harris from Apollo 13, I believe this season may be the Yankees’ finest hour. Through some creative last minute bargain hunting, Brian Cashman brought on board Brennan BoeschBen Francisco, and Lyle Overbay.  Certainly, these players are no one’s idea of murderer’s row, but they may be enough to keep the team afloat until the reinforcements arrive.  The starting rotation is more than solid, and will be even better once Phil Hughes returns and David Phelps (and his 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings) overtakes Ivan Nova for the final rotation spot.  After missing virtually all of last seasons, the diminutive Brett Gardner will have a coming out party at age 29, and will vie with Coco Crisp and Michael Bourn for the league lead in stolen bases.  The Yanks won’t come close to the last season’s home run total – a proposition that appears to anger some spoiled Yankee fans – and the team will likely have to steal some of the Orioles’ magic in one-run games from last season.  But, anchored by the starting rotation and bullpen, the Yankees will have enough in the tank to capture one of the two Wild Card spots in the American League.

Wild Card:    Cleveland Indians

Why am I picking the Indians to make the playoffs?  Honestly, I am not totally sure.  There is just something about the team that I can’t quite put my finger on.  First, the starting outfield (Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, and Michael Brantley) could steal close to 100 bases.  The Indians have the best offensive catcher in the American League (Carlos Santana).  Jason Kipnis continues his upward climb and, although he is rarely discussed as a top prospect, Lonnie Chisenhall will open some eyes this season.  The two biggest attributes the Indians have are flexibility and Terry Francona.  The team is loaded with players who can play multiple positions (Nick SwisherMike AvilesMark ReynoldsRyan Raburn).  Terry Francona will utilize this flexibility to put his players in positions to consistently succeed.  The biggest knock on the Indians is their rotation.  In order for this prediction to come to fruition, both Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez must rediscover the 2011 versions of themselves.  Brett Myers should be a steadying force in the middle of the rotation, and I believe that Zach McAllister’s season will look closer to his minor league stats (17-5 over 36 minor league starts in 2011-2012, 218 IP, 214 hits, 1.211 WHIP, 7.4 SO/9).  The rotation should also get a major boost when the prize of the Indians’ offseason maneuvering – Trevor Bauer – makes his debut sometime in June.

American League Champion:  Tampa Bay Rays

NATIONAL LEAGUE

East:    Atlanta Braves

This is a team where a bunch of players should all be hitting their strides at the exact same time.  Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward are both legitimate contenders for the NL MVP.  Put it in the books:  Heyward goes 30-30 and Freeman hits 30 home runs while driving in over 100 runs.  The emergence of Freeman and Heyward should take the spotlight – and, consequently, the pressure – off the talented Justin Upton, and allow him to play with more confidence.  The rotation should also be a bright spot.  Tim Hudson is the “ace,” but Mike Minor and Kris Medlen will be the stars of the staff.  Paul Maholm will quietly put together his best season since 2008, and Brandon Beachy should return sometime after the All-Star break to give the team an added boost.  Even with Jonny Venters’s injury and a slight regression for Craig Kimbrel, the bullpen should remain a major strength with arms like Eric O’Flaherty and Jordan Walden.

Central:    Cincinnati Reds

This may wind up being the most hotly contested division in baseball because, with the exception of the Chicago Cubs, a compelling argument could be made for any of the teams to finish in first.  Nonetheless, the Reds are the choice due in large part to the team’s offense.  The big three (Joey VottoBrandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce) will provide plenty of thunder in the middle of the lineup.  However, the key to the team’s success will likely be Shin-Soo Choo.  Last season, the team’s leadoff hitters combined to have a .254 on-base percentage, good for last in the Major Leagues.   Insert Choo and his career .381 on-base percentage, and all of a sudden the aforementioned big three will have significantly more chances to drive in runs.  Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos are the one-two punch in what should be a very good pitching staff.   Homer Bailey must prove that last season was not an outlier but, instead, was the first step in fulfilling the lofty expectations that come with being named one of Baseball America’s top five prospects in 2007.  With Aroldis Chapman remaining the closer, Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall can be used in the middle innings to help bridge the gap to Chapman and shorten games.

West:    Los Angeles Dodgers

On paper, the Dodgers are clearly the most talented team in this division.  Even without Hanley Ramirez to start the season, the offense (led by Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez) should be just good enough on most nights.  Additionally, any rotation with Clayton Kershaw in it has the chance to be great.  Provided Zack Greinke’s early season injury concerns do not linger, the rotation will be decidedly above-average, which should be good enough in the West.  An obvious concern for the Dodgers is the lack of quality bench players.  If, for example, one of the outfielders (ahem, Carl Crawford) were to miss time due to injury, the potential replacements are Jerry Hairston and Skip Schumaker.  While the lack of a deep bench may not be an issue in the American League, it can be much more problematic in the National League.  Just picture the Dodgers having to pinch hit for the pitcher late in a close game and Don Mattingly is forced to decide between Schumaker, Juan Uribe, or Nick Punto.  Probably the biggest argument in favor of picking the Dodgers is because the other teams in the division are fatally flawed.  Colorado can’t pitch and San Diego can’t hit.  The San Francisco Giants and the Arizona Diamondbacks will likely put some pressure on the Dodgers, but I have no confidence in the Giants’ offense and the lack of a premier middle-of-the-lineup hitter (ahem, Justin Upton) will haunt the D-Backs all season.

Wild Card:    Washington Nationals

The Nationals have all the earmarks of a tremendous baseball team.  They have a fantastic mixture of young homegrown talent (Ian DesmondDanny EspinosaRyan ZimmermanBryce HarperStephen StrasburgJordan Zimmermann) and productive veterans (Denard Span, Jason Werth, Adam LaRocheDan Haren).  Additionally, the rotation features a bona fide ace (Strasburg) and the offense will be led by a twenty-year-old budding superstar in Bryce Harper.  (He was born in 1992!)  Harper may not replicate Mike Trout’s 2012 season, but he will definitely come close.  Although I cannot stand Rafael Soriano‘s post-game “untucking,” he is a steady closer and his signing enables Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard – two pitchers who have the talent to rival most top-end closers – to work earlier in games, which is typically where most games are actually won or lost.

Wild Card:    St. Louis Cardinals

This team has talent, depth, and versatility.  The predominant reason the Cardinals are my choice for one of the two wild card spots is the pitching.  Adam Wainright is now one full season removed from Tommy John surgery, and I think Wainright’s statistics will compare favorably to his near Cy Young season of 2010.  Throw in two young arms (Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller) and a return to form for Jaime Garcia, and the rotation looks terrific.  Further, should injuries strike the rotation, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal, who are currently members of the bullpen, would be able to jump right into the rotation.  Matt Holliday will continue to do what he always does (hit).  And Allen Craig will burst into the national spotlight while leading the league in hitting.  Critics of the Cardinals point to the fact that the team is weak up the middle.  However, I think this criticism is a little overblown.   While Pete Kozma may be closer to Rafael Belliard than Cal Ripken from an offensive standpoint, Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay proved last year that they both can be productive at the plate.

National League Champion:  Washington Nationals

World Series Champion:  Washington Nationals

Individual Awards

AL MVP:                              Evan Longoria

NL MVP:                              Ryan Zimmerman

AL Cy Young Award:        Justin Verlander

NL Cy Young Award:        Adam Wainright

NL Rookie of the Year:     Jedd Gyorko

AL Rookie of the Year:     Chris Archer

AL Manager of the Year:  Terry Francona

NL Manager of the Year:  Fredi Gonzalez

AL Batting Champ:            Billy Butler

NL Batting Champ:            Allen Craig

AL Home Run Champ:      Jose Bautista

NL Home Run Champ:      Giancarlo Stanton