American League East
Toronto Blue Jays: Much of the focus has been on the talented players GM Alex Anthopoulos acquired in the winter, but even before the team made a big off season splash with the likes of Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, and Josh Johnson, it was steadily building toward contention. If not for a spate of injuries even worse than what the Yankees are now enduring, the Blue Jays might have been able to contend last year (for disclosure, I picked them to win the wild card, and that was one of my better forecasts), so the combination of big name pickups and restored health promises to catapult Toronto above its dismal showing in 2012.
New York Yankees: If Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez all return on schedule, the overall strength of the Yankees’ pitching staff should be able to not only keep them in contention, but re-install the pinstripes as a World Series favorite. However, if the injuries linger, or other stumbling blocks emerge, it could be a long season in the Bronx. With so much uncertainty, the Yankees could win anywhere from 75 to 95 games, so somewhere in the middle seems like a fair compromise.
Boston Red Sox: If Boston’s rotation rounds back into form, and its own injury concerns, particularly regarding David Ortiz, are dispelled, the Red Sox could easily push the 90-win mark. A deep bullpen and bench give Boston more leeway when it comes to injuries, but there are still several question marks in the starting staff and everyday lineup.
Tampa Bay Rays: With the loss of B.J. Upton and James Shields, the Rays’ ceiling doesn’t seem as high, but Joe Maddon has been able to squeeze the most out of his roster, which, though not deep, does have high-end talent. If Evan Longoria can stay healthy and the bullpen continues to prove doubters wrong, the Rays would also be well positioned to make a run at the division title.
Baltimore Orioles: Although Baltimore did little to bolster its roster, organic improvements and contributions from an impressive core of young major league veterans and emerging prospects could help Buck Showalter prove that last year’s success was no fluke. Still, it’s hard to ignore the Orioles’ good fortune in 2012, so it stands to reason that some will run out on the team this year.
American League Central
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers are clearly the class of the Central division, but that was also true this time last year, and it still took a late season surge for Detroit to make the post season. With the additions of Torii Hunter and return of Victor Martinez, the Tigers will have a deeper lineup as well as arguably the best one-two punch with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the middle. The rotation depth, headed by Justin Verlander, is also impressive, with the most likely potential weakness being the back-end of the bullpen, but even though the team doesn’t have a titular closer, there are some talented arms available to Jim Leyland.
Kansas City Royals: If one team is capable of catching the Tigers, it’s the new and improved Kansas City Royals. Fresh off a historic spring training, the Royals, who boast additions like James Shields and Wade Davis in the rotation as well as a core of talented young position players, not to mention the emergence of Billy Butler as one of the game’s best hitters, could be poised to step up in class. A wild card still seems just out of reach, but if health and some luck are on their side, Kansas City should at least get a taste of pennant race baseball in 2013.
Chicago White Sox: A strong rotation and bullpen should help Chicago stay competitive, but the team did little to improve its below average offense, and probably took a small step back because of attrition. As a result, a mid-80s win total seems like a best case scenario for a team that seems stuck in limbo.
Cleveland Indians: The revamped Indians might be able to push the envelope toward contention, but even with key winter additions like Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Terry Francona, a questionable pitching staff probably makes Cleveland a .500 team at best.
Minnesota Twins: The Twins are one of only a handful of teams for which 2013 will strictly be a rebuilding season. Fortunately, the Twins boast several highly regarded prospects, including center fielder Aaron Hicks, so there may be light at the end of the tunnel…it just won’t come this year. That’s why GM Terry Ryan’s best strategy may be to sell productive sluggers like Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau to a desperate contender.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels: Will the defection of Josh Hamilton tilt the balance of power in the division? GM Jerry Dipoto had better hope so because, despite building an intimidating lineup, the Angels are still thin in the bullpen and rotation. However, having Jered Weaver at the top of the rotation provides stability, and being able to score a lot of runs should help compensate should the pitching staff disappoint.
Texas Rangers: The loss of Hamilton was a big blow, but the disintegration of the Rangers’ bullpen depth might prove to be just as important an off season development. Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish give the Rangers a nice one-two punch atop their rotation, but neither is a lock to cement their status as an ace, which is particularly notable because the rest of the Texas staff also has a lot to prove. Despite these concerns, the Rangers still have plenty of talent, both in the majors and knocking on the door, which should position them for at least a wild card.
Oakland Athletics: There was magic in Oakland last season, but as in Baltimore, that will probably be hard to recapture. However, that doesn’t mean the Athletics aren’t on the right track, at least when it comes to building a talented young pitching staff. Oakland figures to once again excel at run prevention, but it’s not hard to imagine the lineup being less productive.
Seattle Mariners: The Mariners off season had many scratching their heads, and when you take a look at their depth chart, it’s easy to see why. For a team in the midst of rebuilding, the number of DH-type players on the roster is a little bewildering, but perhaps GM Jack Zduriencik was trying to find strength in numbers. With additions like Mike Morse and Kendrys Morales, the Mariners should definitely be a more potent offense, but with little improvement elsewhere, that probably will only add up to a few more wins.
Houston Astros: The Astros hold no illusions about competing in their first year in the American League, but they will still play an important role in the pennant race. Thanks to the unbalanced schedule, other AL West teams will have the opportunity to fatten up when they play the Astros, which could prove to be a deciding factor in the wild card race.
Yankees beat Royals in game 163 and then win Wild Card game versus Rangers.
Yankees beat Tigers in ALDS; Blue Jays beat Angels in ALDS
Blue Jays beat Yankees in ALCS
Nationals beat Blue Jays in World Series (click here for NL predictions)
Regular Season Awards
Three Bold Predictions
1. Dylan Bundy will throw a no-hitter shortly after earning a midseason call-up.
2. Mariano Rivera will be selected to start the All Star Game at Citi Field.
3. Fernando Rodney will be replaced as Rays closer before the end of the season.