Compiled by: David Stein, Peter Laing, Mayaz Alam, Evan Horner, Steven Lampert, Adam Sadinsky
1. Toronto Blue Jays
You may or may not have heard, but the Blue Jays made a couple of significant moves in the off-season. Without a doubt, this team is the most talented in the AL East and looks poised to get back to the playoffs for the first time since they won the World Series 20 years ago. Jays fans might not want to plan the parade route just yet, though, as a couple of injuries could significantly harm those chances on a team lacking depth.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Who can bet against Joe Maddon? A cursory look at the Rays lineup leaves a bit to be desired, but this team will be saved once again by a solid pitching staff. Losing James Shields and Wade Davis won’t hurt the club, as Jeremy Hellickson moves up in the rotation, and Matt Moore and Alex Cobb take well-deserved places at the back of the rotation. This is a solid, consistent team, and they should be playing meaningful games in September.
3. Boston Red Sox
Red Sox fans will be asking themselves a lot of questions this year: Will their team return to relevance? Will John Lester return to his ace form? Were Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli worth the big contracts? Is this Jacoby Ellsbury’s last year at Fenway? Is Jackie Bradley Jr. the future of the franchise? How many more years can David Ortiz surpass expectations? Were the last two years just a very long and very bad dream?
4. New York Yankees
The Yanks and Sox are really interchangeable on this list, but we’ll put New York in fourth because of their long injury list. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texeira, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, and Michael Pineda are all reasons why this team should be good, but they’re all on the disabled list to start the year, so the Yankees will have to live with Vernon Wells, Brett Gardner, and Jayson Nix among others. This team is getting older and could miss the playoffs for just the second time in 20 years.
5. Baltimore Orioles
But the Orioles are basically the same team that nearly won the division last year… so why last place? Baltimore’s success last season had more to do with luck than talent. They went 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra innings—numbers that statistically should be difficult to duplicate. Baltimore did little to improve, making the playoffs for the first time since 1997 may have created a bit of complacency, and the team should fall back down to Earth, and the bottom of the division in 2013.
1. Detroit Tigers
Detroit Tigers — After winning the American League pennant in 2012, the Tigers will be motivated to have a strong 2013 regular season. With high-profile names like Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Justin Verlander on their roster, they have the talent to repeat as division champs and should challenge for a World Series title.
2. Chicago White Sox
Offensively, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko will be leaned on heavily to manufacture runs for the White Sox in 2013. However, with the likes of Matt Lindstrom and Matt Thornton in their bullpen, the White Sox have the necessary pieces in place to complement their starting pitchers. Jake Peavy, youngster Chris Sale, and the usually reliable Gavin Floyd should help Chicago compete in the American League Central.
3. Cleveland Indians
Despite adding Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds in the off-season, the Indians lack the necessary balance between good pitching and consistent run production. While there is certainly potential for improvement from last year’s 68-94 record, new manager Terry Francona has his work cut out for him if the Indians are to contend in this division.
4. Kansas City Royals
A perennial American League Central cellar dweller, the Kansas City Royals were unable to drastically improve themselves during the off-season. Although they acquired new ace James Shields from Tampa Bay, the Royals will struggle to score runs. Unfortunately for fans in Kansas City, this could spell another long season for the Royals.
5. Minnesota Twins
Even if the Twins receive solid production from sluggers Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, they lack depth throughout the rest of their roster. A lacklustre starting rotation, coupled with a mediocre bullpen will make things difficult for Minnesota. Unlikely sources will need to step up if the Twins have any chance in the Central.
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
For the second straight year the Angels landed the off-season’s biggest prize. Last year, it was Albert Pujols, and this year it’s Josh Hamilton. The former Texas Ranger joins an already stacked Los Angeles lineup that boasts the likes of Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, and Albert Pujols. Last year’s pitching problems were addressed with a complete overhaul of the back end of the pitching rotation. Look for these major off-season acquisitions to actually turn out into a playoff spot this year.
2. Texas Rangers
Once the tears dried over last year’s Wild Card loss to the Orioles, and the mass exodus led by the team’s poster boy—Josh Hamilton—the Rangers jumped into the free agent market, and acquired Father Time and his brother in Lance Berkman and catcher A.J. Pierzynski. After silencing his critics last year, Yu Darvish will once again be expected to lead a very strong Texas rotation. Barring another major injury to Berkman, the Rangers will no doubt keep it very close in this ultra-competitive division.
3. Oakland Athletics
How many more times will Billy Beane’s squad totally shatter expectations? The league’s lowest payroll pulled off another Moneyball miracle last year, and won the division crown. While it is tempting to pencil in the Athletics as underground kings, the question marks in their offence shadow their outstanding defence and pitching. All in all, expect some regression, but keep in mind that a lot is possible in the wild AL West.
4. Seattle Mariners
Unfortunately for the Mariners, there is no ‘most improved’ award in the MLB. Seattle had an excellent off-season—acquiring much needed power-bat Kendrys Morales, signing struggling Canadian Jason Bay, and adjusting the fences at Safeco field to better accommodate hitters. In addition, the Mariners locked up ace pitcher Felix Hernandez for another seven years. Despite these changes, the Mariners still remain boys among men in the AL West, and will find themselves out of the playoffs.
5. Houston Astros
Everybody’s favourite AAA team will suffer in their first season in the American League. On the bright side, the team has one of the strongest farm systems in the league. Astros fans would be wise to seek advice from their friends to the north about the importance of weathering the storm, while developing the team’s lower tiers. It will be a while before the Astros are relevant again.
1. Washington Nationals
The Nationals shocked the world last season, as they proved they had the youth and talent to dominate for years. Bryce Harper should continue his meteoric rise in year two, and the other megastar, Stephen Strasburg, will be unleashed from his innings limit restriction. Moreover, the best rotation in the league added all-star Dan Haren. This lineup still has the power, speed, and versatility to rake their way to a divisional title.
2. Atlanta Braves
The Braves added not one, but two Upton brothers this offseason to join Jason Heyward in their incredible outfield. However, the team will sorely miss franchise cornerstone Chipper Jones, who retired after an illustrious career. The pitching is strong, as Kris Medlen and Tim Hudson should produce quality seasons. The key will be the emergence of highly-touted fireballers Mike Minor and Julio Teheran; these two could push this team into the game’s elite.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are definitely talented—the veteran core that led them to World Series appearances is largely intact. Their rotation is headlined by the three-headed monster of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay, but questions do exist as to whether all three can stay healthy. Offensively, the Phillies still have the firepower to succeed. Look for Domonic Brown to break out for a club that needs to get the jigsaw pieces to fit.
4. New York Mets
The Mets lost Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey over the off-season, and their record should take a hit as a result. The rotation offers some promise; young prospects Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler seem poised to take the next step. Offensively, the club ranges from abysmal to mediocre, with the lone bright spot being David Wright. However, he can only carry the club for so long, as the talent deficiency will doom the Mets over the entire season.
5. Miami Marlins
Jeffrey Loria may be the most hated man in all of South Florida after he organized another firesale. The team was stripped to the bare minimum after trades that moved Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and numerous others to greener pastures. What’s left is Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison, Ricky Nolasco, and not much else. Look for this team to struggle throughout the year, falling to one of the worst records in baseball.
1. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds won the division last year without a healthy Joey Votto—arguably the best first-baseman in all of baseball—which speaks volumes to the amount of talent on the roster. The Reds feature a dominant bullpen, and have added Shin-Soo Choo to an already dynamic offence. After being eliminated by the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series (NLDS), and gaining valuable playoff experience, the Reds look more dangerous than ever in 2013, and will likely repeat as Central Division champs.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards always find a way to win, no matter the situation they find themselves. With a great mix of veterans and up-and-comers, the Cardinals are poised to make another deep playoff run. However, they will have to overcome another hurdle, as staff ace Chris Carpenter’s career seems to be over, and serviceable Kyle Lohse signed with Milwaukee. Look for the Cards to challenge the Reds for the NL Central division crown.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers will once again have a loaded offence led by 2011 MVP Ryan Braun. The late addition of Kyle Lohse should bolster an already formidable rotation behind ace Yovanni Gallardo. However, they will have to deal with the loss of Corey Hart, who will be out until May with a recurring knee injury. The Brewers also have a very unreliable bullpen, making them an unlikely bet to make the playoffs in 2013.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
After 20 straight seasons with an under .500 record, the Pirates finally have what it takes to win more games than they lose. The addition of catcher Russell Martin will have a strong, positive influence on the pitching staff. The X-factor for the Pirates is Pedro Alvarez, who, with a little more discipline, could help propel the Bucs behind phenom Andrew McCutchen. Look for the Pirates to hover around the .500 mark all year.
5. Chicago Cubs
There is an optimism in the Cubs’ clubhouse that they can pull off the type of season that the Baltimore Orioles had in 2012. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro will be a dynamic duo for years to come on the North Side, and they are ready to break out in 2013. Everything would have to go perfectly for the Cubs to win the division, so the most we can expect is some minor improvement after a dismal 61 wins in 2012.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Spending money isn’t a problem for this franchise, as the Dodgers doled out almost $200 million in new free agent signings this offseason. Headlining the list are stud pitcher Zack Grienke, and Japanese import Hyun-Jin Ryu, who should both bolster the team’s staff led by NL Cy Young runner-up Clayton Kershaw. The offence looks promising, but the Dodgers will need Hanley Ramirez to play up to his ability if the team wants to win the division title. Our bets are on them doing so.
2. San Francisco Giants
The 2012 World Series champions barely touched their roster, but that probably isn’t a bad thing. The lineup is filled with overachievers, who show up in clutch situations. New $167 million man Buster Posey should also contend for another NL MVP award. With the young and established arms, if Tim Lincecum can somehow regain his old form, this team will be scary. The Dodgers’ acquisitions should be enough to win the division, but they also have the talent to claim a wild card spot. Then, anything can happen in October.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
After a very average 2012 campaign, the Arizona Diamondbacks underwent a pretty significant overhaul this off-season. Gone are once promising outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young, replaced by a bunch of MLB journeyman like Martin Prado and Cody Ross. The D-Backs’ pitching staff is filled with some intriguing young talent and will likely determine where the team finishes in the division. If all fails, keep an eye on Adam Eaton as a potential rookie of the year candidate.
4. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies enter 2013 without much in the way of expectations. The offensive talent is there, as all-stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez anchor a lineup that can produce a ton of runs. However, the team did little to improve its pitching staff, which allowed the most runs in the MLB last season. The top three of Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and Jeff Francis strikes fear in no lineup in the league, so expect the team to hover around the same 64-98 record as last season.
5. San Diego Padres
The Padres did virtually nothing to improve their roster this off-season, which doesn’t bode well for the struggling franchise. Their lineup is headlined by last year’s breakout star Chase Headley, but he will start the season on the disabled list after fracturing his thumb. The erratic Edinson Volquez leads an average pitching staff that likely won’t change the team’s fortunes. San Diego just doesn’t have enough firepower to compete in the division.