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Play ball! A 2013 MLB preview

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It's that time of year once again. The snow is melting and the grass is showing through. That whiff of spring is in the air.

Time for baseball.

The start of the 2013 Major League Baseball season is right around the corner and there's plenty of intrigue out there. Some teams went all-out in attempts to get over the hump (Blue Jays, Dodgers). We even saw a team switch leagues for the first time since realignment (Astros). And we saw the San Francisco Giants win their second title in three years. Last year, we saw the first Triple Crown winner in over 40 years with Miguel Cabrera and perhaps the greatest rookie season of all time with Mike Trout. How will they follow history?

So what's in store for this season? Here are a few thoughts on how 2013 might play out.

(x = division winner; y = wild card)

American League

AL East

  1. Toronto Blue Jays - x
  2. Tampa Bay Rays - y
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Boston Red Sox
  5. Baltimore Orioles

Over the course of a single offseason, the Blue Jays have turned themselves into a real contender. They already had Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Morrow; they added shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in a trade with the Marlins, then landed reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. But as we've seen in the past, building a team this way is no guarantee of success. In this case, however, Toronto's talent should win out. In Tampa Bay, the name of the game is pitching. The Rays have perhaps the best overall rotation in baseball, led by Cy Young winner David Price. And Fernando Rodney had one of the best seasons for a closer ever last year. But scoring runs has been a problem it's up to Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist to lead the way offensively. If young slugger Wil Myers steps up and plays like everyone thinks he can, the lineup could be solidified. From there, the Rays will ride their arms to victory. The Yankees are packed with once-elite talents that are showing their age. Injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will hurt as well especially at the start of the season. Other than Robinson Cano, there's no one to really count on in the lineup. C.C. Sabathia is still an ace, but the rest of the rotation looks more solid than spectacular. And closer Mariano Rivera is coming off a lost 2012 season; it's hard to say what he's got left. New York will finish above .500, but that won't be enough for October. It pains my heart to rank the Red Sox so low, but they've left me no choice. This is a team that needs everything to go right to even have a chance. They need David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury to be fully recovered from injury. They need Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to revert to the form of a couple of years ago. They need questionable signings like Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino to turn out successfully. It won't all happen; they've got some bright prospects in the pipeline, but expect a losing 2013. Finally, the Orioles were the surprise team in baseball last year, making a shocking playoff run. Unfortunately for them, it was a season built on smoke and mirrors. It was team that rode unprecedented luck to the postseason they're due for a pretty serious regression. Players like Matt Wieters and Adam Jones and prospects like Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy give Baltimore some hope, but they're likely doomed to head back to the cellar. 

AL Central

  1. Detroit Tigers - x
  2. Cleveland Indians
  3. Kansas City Royals
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins

It's tough to pick anyone other than the Tigers to win this division. Not only do they have the last two AL MVPs in ace pitcher Justin Verlander and Triple Crown winner Miguel Tejada, but there's a wealth of talent to go with them. Guys like Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez in the lineup and Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez on the mound will make them tough to beat. If they solve their closer situation, they'll have smooth sailing. Cleveland added a pair of quality free agents in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn; Swisher hits wherever he goes and Bourn makes the Indians outfield one of the best defensive units in the league. If prospect Trevor Bauer can step up to augment the slightly-better-than-decent rotation, Cleveland will be dangerous. The Royals sport a ton of young hitting talent Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are already stars; Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain could become stars that looks to be on the verge of exploding. If the big trade for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis pays off, the Royals could surprise. The White Sox are going to need big years from their aging stars to compete. If guys like Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn can't get it done, it's going to be a long summer on the South Side of Chicago. Good years from starters Chris Sale and Jake Peavy could bump the Sox up, but they need everything to go right to have any hope for a playoff run. Things look to be bottoming out a little in Minnesota. Their two biggest stars are Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, former MVPs who have proven a bit fragile in recent years. They've got a lineup mostly starved for power and a mediocre-at-best pitching staff. Don't expect anything other than the cellar for this year's Twins.

AL West

  1. Los Angeles Angels - x
  2. Texas Rangers - y
  3. Oakland A's
  4. Seattle Mariners
  5. Houston Astros

There are three teams that have a legitimate shot at this division. The Angels are the frontrunner, due in large part to their offensive firepower. Mike Trout had a season for the ages in 2012 and he's joined in the lineup by Albert Pujols and free agent acquisition Josh Hamilton. If everyone stays healthy, that's a dynamic middle of the lineup. Plus they've got Jered Weaver, one of the best starters in the league, heading a strong pitching staff led by an excellent manager. The Rangers are the team that lost Hamilton, punching a huge hole in their lineup. However, guys like Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz are still around this team will hit. Yu Darvish had a great first season in the majors; the Texas pitching staff as a whole is pretty strong. And with future stars like Jurickson Profar on the horizon, the team's just going to get better. Oakland has pulled together a scrappy collection of talent, led offensively by outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick. On the pitching side, there is an embarrassment of young pitching riches; Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker look like the real deal. There aren't a lot of name players here, but the A's still have real potential to succeed. The Mariners are struggling to regain some relevancy. For the most part, their vaunted prospects the Dustin Ackleys and Justin Smoaks have underwhelmed. But if they, along with catcher Jesus Montero and first baseman Kendrys Morales can step up, they can eke out a few extra wins behind all-world ace Felix Hernandez and the otherwise unremarkable pitching staff. This is Houston's first year in the American League after being the worst team in the National League last season. With few bright spots, they'll likely earn that dubious honor in their new home as well.

National League

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals - x
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. Philadelphia Phillies
  4. New York Mets
  5. Miami Marlins

As of this season, it has been 80 years since Washington, D.C. has hosted a World Series. This Nationals team might just change that. They've got two of the most exciting young talents in the game outfielder Bryce Harper and pitcher Stephen Strasberg surrounded by strong players such as the Zimmermans (no relation), Ryan and Jordan. There's breakout potential across the board; Washington will be very exciting to watch. The Braves made a splash in the offseason by acquiring the Upton brothers. B.J. and Justin are each capable of monster seasons. They're joined by the excellent Jason Heyward and Brian McCann in the lineup. The rotation looks strong and the bullpen sports Craig Kimbrel, currently the best closer in baseball. Despite the departure of franchise icon Chipper Jones, Atlanta will thrive. In Philadelphia, the biggest issue is age. All of the team's offensive stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins are fading as they get older. The rotation is still star-studded, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. If the aging Phillies stars can defy Father Time and bounce back, they'll be in the thick of things. Unfortunately, the odds appear to be against them. The Mets are a mess, with third baseman David Wright one of the lone bright spots. They've got a rotation filled with third and fourth starters, a mess of a bullpen and perhaps the worst outfield in the majors. Fans are going to want to add an h' when talking about New York's CitiField. And yetthe Marlins will still be worse. Miami has once again gone into fire sale mode, much like they did after their 1997 and 2003 World Series wins. The roster has been stripped almost bare of talent; the high-priced free agent spending spree of 2012 is a distant memory, with most of those players shipped away. This team is slugger Giancarlo Stanton and nothing else.

NL Central

  1. Cincinnati Reds - x
  2. St. Louis Cardinals - y
  3. Milwaukee Brewers
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates
  5. Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati looks like its 2012 success is set to carry over to this season. They added talented outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to a lineup that already featured Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and 2010 MVP Joey Votto count on a fair amount of run scoring. And the pitching staff is excellent across the board, although the wisdom of bringing lights-out closer Aroldis Chapman back into the starting rotation is yet to be determined. Until the Cardinals prove otherwise, they are a playoff team. They just find ways to win. There's no one on this team that leaps out at you, but they're a great group for maximizing their collective talents. Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright and Carlos Beltran are consummate pros they'll find a way to lead St. Louis into contention. The Brewers are a team with a ton of talent, led by perennial MVP candidate Ryan Braun. But there are prominent lineup flaws and the pitching rotation isn't much beyond Yovani Gallardo. If players like Rickie Weeks, Carlos Gomez and Aramis Ramirez play like they're capable, Milwaukee's got a puncher's chance. Don't count on it though it'll be another not-quite-good-enough season. We're always rooting for Pittsburgh to end that streak of consecutive losing seasons last year made it 20. There have been flashes of hope, but the Pirates always manage to fizzle out in the end. They've got an MVP-caliber center fielder in Andrew McCutchen, but the rest of the roster is mostly filled out on the cheap. They've found ways to overachieve in the past, but it's a safe bet to expect the streak to extend to 21. And once again, the sad denizens of Wrigley can look forward to another lost season. The only thing keeping them out of the division cellar was the abysmal play of the Astros. Now that Houston's an American League city, the Cubs will find themselves on the bottom looking up.

NL West

  1. San Francisco Giants - x
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers - y
  3. San Diego Padres
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. Colorado Rockies

The Giants are your reigning World Series champions; there's no reason to think they won't make their way back to the postseason. They've got the MVP in catcher Buster Posey leading a lineup that is short on sexy names but gets the job done. Their pitching staff is elite, led by Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner; if Tim Lincecum can regain his All-Star form, they'll have a top three that matches up with anyone. This is a good team poised for a good season. The Dodgers have made headlines with unprecedented spending, picking up the monster contracts of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford among others. They've got elite talents like Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp. They've got Cy Young winners like Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Still, they're up against the champions and bear the added pressure of that massive payroll. They'll need a few breaks to come out on top. In San Diego, the struggle is as always to score runs. PetCo Park is the best pitcher's park in the league and the Padres rotation, led by Edison Volquez, is well-suited to take advantage of it. However, with the exception of third baseman Chase Headley and a few up-and-comers, the lineup is largely devoid of run producers. Expect another season of mediocrity. The Diamondbacks traded away their biggest star in Justin Upton, leaving them with an unexciting lineup. However, their rotation looks strong behind Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill. They'll struggle in slugfests, but Arizona's pitching will win them quite a few games. Things look to be bottoming out in Colorado. The Rockies lineup is rife with players who are brittle (Troy Tulowitzki) or old (Todd Helton) or both. If healthy, this is a powerful offense, but that's a huge 'if.' The rotation is filled with gamers, but it's safe to assume that Coors Field will play host to plenty of 10-9 games.

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