Opening Day 2013 for the Major League Baseball season is tonight when the Houston Astros, playing their first game in the American League, will face off against their in-state rival, the Texas Rangers. There was true surprises in the major leagues last season as the Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles came out of nowhere to land playoff spots in the loaded American League. It’s prediction season and fresh off my NCAA Basketball Tournament picks (no, I didn’t have Wichita St. going to the Final Four or winning a game, for that matter), it’s time to gaze into the crystal ball. I’m looking at three teams that were under .500 last season that will go over .500 in 2013, and three teams that will take a step back in 2013.
ON THE RISE:
The first team that I think is going to go over .500 is a team with a long suffering fan base, the Pittsburgh Pirates. It looked like 2012 was going to be the year but another cool finish left the Pirates at 79-83. The Pirates have possible Triple Crown candidate Andrew McCutchen anchoring the offense, and they will benefit from a full season of Wandy Rodriguez as the No. 2 starter. They also fortified the C position by bringing in Russell Martin, from the New York Yankees. The second team is also in the National League, the San Diego Padres. A young team, the Padres got stronger as the season went on finishing 47-36 after July 1st. All the offseason talk is about the heavily favored Dodgers and Giants, but the Padres come out of Spring looking like the third best team in the N.L. West. They were quiet in the offseason, but the Padres have put together a solid core of players in Chase Headley, Cameron Maybin, Edinson Volquez, and Clayton Richard.
The third team is obvious, driven by a lot of surrounding media hype, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays, realizing they were the best division in baseball, pushed all their chips into the middle of the table for 2013. They acquired Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle. Their upgrade in the rotation alone will put them in prime position to make their first postseason since 1993. Since that season, the Blue Jays highest finish was 2nd in 2006, and that 2006 finish was their only one in the top 2 of the A.L. East over that time span. Toronto will finish over .500 but it’ll be a grueling march to the playoffs in a division with the Orioles, Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox.
A STEP BACK:
Or, will it? The first team that I think will take a step back in 2013 is the New York Yankees. The Yankees lost Russell Martin, Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher, and Raul Ibanez, yet they were, by their standards, relatively quiet in the offseason adding Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis. After CC Sabathia, the starting rotation is either old (Kuroda and Pettitte) or inexperienced (Ivan Nova and David Phelps). Plus, the Yankees will need a full season from Mariano Rivera in his final season, with Soriano signing with the Nationals. And, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter won’t be available Opening Day due to injury. A playoff trip for the Yankees, right now, seems like a stretch.
Another playoff team from last year who I think will fall back is the Texas Rangers. Besides losing Josh Hamilton from last season, the team that lost the A.L. West on the last day of the season also lost clubhouse leader Michael Young, Ryan Dempster, and Scott Feldman. The Rangers got older in their lineup adding veterans Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski. Like the Yankees, the Rangers are untested in the back of their rotation with Alexi Ogando, coming back from the bullpen, and Nick Tepesch. My third team came from nowhere in 2013, but they have a tough division to keep their spot: the Baltimore Orioles. I have the Blue Jays as one of my three teams to plunge over .500, and the Red Sox seem destined to improve upon a down 2012. The Orioles have a lot of youth in their rotation, and they need them to pitch just as well as they did last season to keep near 2012’s finish (93-69). Baltimore had a quiet offseason losing Mark Reynolds and adding Jair Jurrjens, hoping he could rebound from a miserable 2012 (3-4, 6.89 with Atlanta) but he’ll start the season in the minors.