The 2013 Major League Baseball season got underway on Sunday with the newly arrived American League West team Houston Astros beating the Texas Rangers 8-2 on MLB’s Opening Night. With the vast amount of injuries to key players on multiple teams and several new faces playing for unfamiliar franchises, the next eight months of baseball will be something to treasure.
Without the aid of a crystal ball or advice from Miss Cleo, here are my predictions for this season’s Division winners.
The American League East will be one of the closest divisions in baseball, but the Tampa Bay Rays should win it by a narrow margin due to the depth of their starting pitching and shut-down bullpen. Evan Longoria is coming back from a partially torn left hamstring last season, but he has been hot this spring, batting .391 with two home runs. With the addition of lefty first basemen James Loney, the Rays already potent offense looks even stronger. If the injury-ridden New York Yankees and downward-spiraling Boston Red Sox both don’t make the playoffs, it would be the first time in 20 years.
From one of the toughest divisions in baseball to one of the weakest, the American League Central crown is almost certainly going to be worn by the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have almost the exact same personnel from last year’s World Series team with the addition of designated hitter Victor Martinez coming back from injury this season. With arguably the best hitter coming off a Triple Crown season, Miguel Cabrera and baseball’s most consistent starting pitcher in Justin Verlander, the Tigers are looking to win the American League pennant for the second straight year.
The American League West battle will be tight between the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels, but the Angels should take the division behind their star-powered offense. L.A. acquired prolific power hitter Josh Hamilton, who played for the division rival Rangers in the 2012 season, a year after signing first basemen Albert Pujols to a ten-year deal. A season after winning the American League Rookie of the Year, Mike Trout has been moved from center field to left. The Angels are looking for massive numbers from Trout, who put together one of the best rookie season in history, batting .326 with 30 home runs and 49 stolen bases. Although the Angels missed the playoffs last year, the players are now more familiar with playing together which could equate to great things.
The National League East has a wealth of talent but the Atlanta’s Braves young and inspired squad will win the division for the first time since 2005. Jason Heyward and brothers B.J. and Justin Upton make up the best and most athletic outfield in the MLB. Dan Uggla (210 career home runs) and first basemen Freddie Freeman (23 home runs last season) will provide power for the Braves’ offense, while catcher Brian McCann is on the disabled list until around mid-April recovering from shoulder surgery. With Atlanta’s starting rotation featuring Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen and Paul Maholm coupled with baseball’s best closer in Craig Kimbrel (42 saves last season), the Braves pitching staff could carry them far into the postseason.
The Cincinnati Reds look poised to win the National League Central for the second year in a row. The Reds’ ace, Johnny Cueto, finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting last season with a record of 19-9, striking out 7.1 hitters per nine innings with a 2.78 ERA. The rest of the team’s starters are an impressive bunch, including Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake. If the Reds’ pitching can get games into the ninth inning with the lead, opposing teams will have to face their fiery closer Aroldis Chapman, who frequently hits 100-M.P.H. on the gun. Cincinnati also has an impressive offense led by second basemen Brandon Phillips and the Canadian-born Joey Votto. If the Reds outfield can produce offensively (Ryan Ludwick, Shin-Soo Choo and Jay Bruce), they have one of the most balanced teams in all of baseball.
With many key offseason additions, the Los Angeles Dodgers will edge the World Series defending San Francisco Giants in the National League West. Their team’s veteran pitching staff should stifle hitters with the newly signed Zack Greinke and last year’s addition of seasoned pitcher Josh Beckett. These are a solid two and three behind their ace Clayton Kershaw who finished last season with a record of 14-9 with a 2.53 ERA and 220 strike-outs. The Dodgers were one of the busiest teams in the offseason, adding Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto in a blockbuster deal from the Red Sox. They still have a five-tool player in Matt Kemp who had a great 2012 season before getting injured, batting .303 with 23 home runs and 69 RBIs. Once Hanley Ramirez returns from a thumb injury within the next two months, the Dodgers will be a force to be reckoned with in the National League.
By Billy Felo