With the 2013 MLB season underway and heading into its first full weekend, we’ve all had a little time to get into a baseball mindset again. Thus, it’s the perfect time to have a look at what we can expect to see on Big League diamonds this year. What does that mean? Well, it doesn’t mean I’ll be making any predictions. That’s just nonsense that other people do to get various fan bases riled up and spark debate. What I’ll be doing is pointing out some of the more interesting stories that you’ll want to keep an eye on over the next six months.
Ready to get started? Then away we go…
Last year the Angels' Mike Trout had one of the all-time great rookie seasons, hitting .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI, 49 steals, and an insane WAR of 10.9. And he didn't even start the year in the majors. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Bryce Harper got off to a slower start, but finished the year on fire to record a line of .270/.340/.477 with 22 home runs and 59 RBI.
The sky is the limit for these two 20-year-olds. What will we see from them in 2013? MVP awards? Batting titles? Home run titles? We haven't seen two kids this good since Williams and DiMaggio, Mays and Mantle. Things could get downright historic.
13. The Super Sophomores
A lot of really great players either missed significant chunks of the 2012 season for had subpar years. Thus, one of the big questions this year, as always, is who will we see make big comebacks?
At the top of the list is the greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera. He's 43 years old, but after missing all of last season he's decided to come back for one last season with the Yankees. Will he go out on top, or is this going to be a rough year for the Yankees bullpen?
After Rivera there are guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Victor Martinez. Tulowitzki's Rockies may not do much even with him in the lineup, but in Detroit a team that made it to the World Series last year got a big addition to their offense in Martinez. And in Boston, if Ellsbury can be the player he was in 2011, the Red Sox might do okay.
Then there are players who weren't necessarily injured all year, but who had huge season-long slumps—guys like Carl Crawford (Dodgers), Tim Lincecum (Giants), and Ryan Howard (Phillies). If these guys can somehow return to the levels they used to play at, their teams will be hugely improved.
12. Big Comebacks?
Zach Greinke signed with the Dodgers in December for $147 million. David Wright got a new deal with the re-building Mets for $138 million. Josh Hamilton went to his former AL West rivals, the Angels, for $125 million. B.J. Upton moved to Atlanta for $75 million. And, most recently, Justin Verlander (a.k.a. Kate Upton's boyfriend) signed a record $180,000.
So who among these guys is a sure bet to actually earn that money? Hamilton? That guy has averaged 129.4 games a season over the last five years. Greinke? That guy hasn't been elite since he won the AL Cy Young award in 2009, and he has well-known anxiety issues. Wright? He just had a "comeback" season in 2012. Who's to say he won't have a "go away again" season this year?
The only guy I'd say is a sure thing this year is Justin Verlander, and even there you'd have to think a guy who throws in the mid-90s as is 29 years old is bound to hit the DL at some point in the next couple of years.
11. The guys with gigantic new contracts?
Both the AL and the NL have some highly touted young players on the verge of becoming big league stars.
In the AL there's 20-year-old shortstop Jurickson Profar, who was drafted by the Rangers and made his MLB debut last August. Then there's 22-year-old Wil Myers, who scouts say will be an All-Star hitter, and who the Royals traded to the Rays for James Shields.
Over in the NL, the Mets got 24-year-old catcher Travis D'Arnaud from the Blue Jays in exchange for 2012 Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Scouts are really high on his potential. And then there is 20-year-old Oscar Taveres in the Cardinals organization. The kid had an awesome spring, and pretty much everyone who saw him play said he could be an above-average hitter in the Big Leagues right now. However, the Cardinals are stacked in the outfield, so he won't get called up until Carlos Beltran gets injured—which will happen.
Are those the only young kids to keep an eye on? Obviously not. But they are the biggest ones, so make a note of it.
10. Breakout Year?
I don't mean to imply that there is any possibility that MLB will put the DH in the National League during the season. That would be insane. However, with the Astros switching from the NL Central to the AL West this year, the schedules for each league became unbalanced, which means that every single day this season we'll have one interleague game going on. In the past, the interleague games were confined to certain blocks on the calendar, so they came and went. With the constant interaction of the leagues, however, you have to wonder: how much longer can different sets of rules can co-exist?
When NL teams play at AL parks, their lineups simply aren't as powerful as their hosts because they have been built upon the fact that the pitcher has to bat. Then, when AL teams play in NL parks, they often have to sit their high-price sluggers because they cannot play in the field.
Teams are going to get tired of playing by two sets of rules. So the bigger picture question is, will the constant interleague matchups eventually lead to the DH in the NL?
9. Will we see the DH in NL?
When advanced stats guys run their models to predict the win totals of every team in the Major Leagues, most of them find one crazy fact staring back at them: the lack of 90-win teams. The only team that's a sure bet to win 90 games this season are the Washington Nationals, and even then we all know there is no such thing as a sure bet.
It's not that teams aren't good. It's actually the opposite: there are so many good teams. There are only so many games played, and thus a finite number of Ws to be accumulated. The competitive balance between the teams means that very few might win 90 games.
In the National League, for example, the Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals, Reds, Nationals and Braves all have excellent chances of making the postseason. Of those six teams, only five will make it, and one will be eliminated by the "play-in" game. Then you have teams like the Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Pirates, who could also contend if everything goes right for them.
Now look at the American League. The Angels, Rangers, Tigers, Blue Jays, and Rays are probably the favorites to make the playoffs. But you could also see the A's and O's making another run, and the Indians and Red Sox are much-improved.
In short, you might see some of the closest playoff races ever.
8. How close will the playoff race be?
Last year the Angels bought Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and failed to make the playoffs. This year they bought Josh Hamilton and simultaneously weakened (in theory) their biggest rivals in the AL West. And of course, they've still got Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. So they've got to make the playoffs now, right?
Well, we'll see. Offensively they look set, especially after getting rid of Vernon Wells. But their pitching might still be a little iffy, especially after Zack Greinke decided to head from Orange County to Los Angeles County to join the Dodgers.
If their high-priced veteran sluggers faulter or get injured, this could be another disappointing year for the Halos.
7. Hamilton & the Angels
The World Series Champion San Francisco Giants won their division and the World Series thanks to their deep pitching, Buster Posey, and some role players who got hot at the right time. This year, however, the Dodgers could be the class of the division, with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke leading the rotation and Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Carl Crawford in the lineup.
If the Dodgers do win the NL West, obviously there are still two Wild Card spots up for grabs. But there will be serious contention for those, too, in the Braves, Phillies, Cardinals, and Reds. So good luck to the champs. They're going to need it.
6. Do the Champs even make the playoffs?
Last year the Nationals had the best record in baseball, but lost the NLDS to the Cardinals in five games. This year they should be even better, having added Dan Haren to the rotation and Denard Span in center field. They should be the best team in baseball by a long shot; however, we know now that the best team in baseball doesn't always win the World Series. So the question for the Nats is, can they put it all together at the right time?
5. Can the Nats take next step?
Don't look now, but there is a very good chance that neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox will make the playoffs this year. If so, it would be the first time this has happened since 1993. That's 19 seasons with Sox or Yanks playing in October.
This year, however, the Yankees actually look bad. With guys like Jeter, A-Rod, Petit, Rivera, Youkilis, and Wells, their average age is about 52. Even their best player, Robinson Cano, is 30. At a time when Major League Baseball is overflowing with hot young players on the rise, the Yankees have none of them.
As for the Red Sox, they've actually improved a lot since last year. However, they still aren't a powerhouse. The offense won't be what it used to be, especially with Ortiz out, and the pitching situation is still iffy. With so many other good teams out there, it's just not looking good for the old guard.
4. Will the Sox or Yanks make the playoffs?
Last year the Athletics came out of nowhere to win the AL West, and the Orioles came out of nowhere to win a Wild Card birth. So what are the chances these clubs make the playoffs again? Not good.
This is especially the case with the Orioles. This team actually scored fewer runs than their opponents in 2012. That had only happened five other times in the history of baseball. Five. What that means is that they were just really lucky to have an inordinate amount of one-run games.
So, sorry to be a downer, but the A's and O's probably won't make it this year. However, here's some good news: every year a team makes the playoffs who had a losing record the season before. So that means...
3. Who Comes Back Down to Earth?
The Pirates and Royals have been the two most pathetic franchises in baseball for over the last 20+ years. Together they've accumulated 37 losing seasons since 1992. That is just insane.
However, both teams look like they're ready to reverse that trend. The Pirates almost did it the last two years, having found themselves in first place in the NL Central at midseason both times. The Royals, meanwhile, haven't come that close yet, but they've got a lot of young talent that is ready to blossom.
Will either of these teams make the playoffs? Probably not, though the Pirates might be a dark horse. However, I do think both teams have a very good chance of winning more games than they lose. And, when you've been this bad for this long, that's not nothin'.
2. Do the biggest losers finally win?
Speaking a team that has had a rough 20 years...
Actually, the Blue Jays haven't really been bad at all since they last made (and won) the postseason in 1993. They just haven't been good enough to eclipse the mighty Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.
This year might be different. The Jays already had a solid core of players last year in Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Brett Lawrie. Then, realizing that they had a window of opportunity with the Yankees and Red Sox in decline, they went and added Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson from the Marlins, singed Melky Cabrera as a free agent, and traded for NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Now all of a sudden this looks like a team that could be very good.
But will it? The Angels were supposed to be juggernauts last year, and they missed the playoffs. Only time will tell if the 2013 Jays are a championship calibre team. So stay tuned.
1. How does the megatrade work out?
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