Baseball is supposed to make sense. It’s why we count stats, to objectively quantify positive and negative performances. Of course we know there’s always some pesky team that comes along and spoils all the fun, the pageantry, the beauty of having the best teams on paper meet in a matchup for the ages. For example, in 2013 the Los Angeles Angels and the Dodgers are supposed to meet in the first ever Freeway World Series between the Southern California rivals. They’ve spent the money, they have the star power, heck they even have the red vs. blue theme. But there are twenty-eight other teams in baseball that are aiming to disrupt that beautiful plan. More specifically, there are a few teams that hardly anyone is expecting to knock off the Angels and the Dodgers, but also the Braves, Nats, Reds, Giants, Rangers, Tigers and Yankees. These are 2012 Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A’s. They’re the 2011 Virginia Commonwealth University Rams basketball team and the 1980 Men’s U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. They’re David Eckstein and Doug Flutie and they ruin everything.
Tampa Bay Rays. The Orioles were the surprise team in 2012 and look no worse in 2013. The Yankees are the Yankees and the Blue Jays shipped off their entire farm system for a bounty of superstars from the National League. The Rays should be competitive, but also an after-thought. This team probably shouldn’t be as good as previous Rays teams. No healthy Carl Crawford, no in his prime Scott Kazmir. They don’t even have James Shields anymore. Except there’s one little problem. They might be really, really good.
Despite losing James Shields and Wade Davis, the Rays pitching staff just keeps reloading with it’s unlimited supply of minor league talent. They’re younger and potentially better AFTER the James Shields trade. They’ve also upgraded their offense with Kelly Johnson (two years removed from 26 HR and .370 OBP), Yunel Escobar and potentially a middle of the order bat in Wil Myers. Not to mention Evan Longoria is coming back healthy, Zobrist is in a contract season and Desmond Jennings is coming off a 3-win season and will soon enter his prime.
Cleveland Indians. The Royals acquired all sorts of starting pitching in an attempt to be competitive in 2013. The Tigers were pretty good in 2012, but they caught fire at the right time and squeaked into the World Series before being pummeled by the Giants. They look even better coming into 2013 too. So what’s to stop Detroit from wrapping up the AL Central crown before September or Kansas City from returning to former glory?
Why, Terry Francona and his band of misfits, that’s who! The Indians added one of the most respected managers of this generation and Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher to an offense that already boasted bright young stars such as Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis. What’s more, they added Trevor Bauer, who destroyed minor league lineups last year and steady veteran Brett Myers to a young rotation. Their bullpen should be every bit as good as last year’s too, which was terrific despite not having very many leads.
Milwaukee Brewers. The Reds look extremely good on paper, especially after the Shin-soo Choo trade and Chapman’s move to the rotation and the Cardinals always seems to be competitive regardless of which pitcher is hurt or who is coaching. But it’s the Brewers that have caught my eye for the next season. Their offense is obviously dangerous with Ramirez, Braun, Weeks, Hart and Aoki, but after the Zack Greinke trade, they added shortstop Jean Segura to the mix.
Segura projects to be a shortstop that hits for average, steals bases and provides exceptional pop from an offensively starved position. The pitching staff is what will surprise fans the most though. Gallardo is unquestionably the staff ace, but Mike Fiers looks like one of the better mid-rotation starters after only one year in the big leagues and Wily Peralta will be in the back of the rotation with mid-rotation caliber stuff. Tyler Thornburg has been dominant in the minors and is ready to step in the Brewers rotation and they also have a couple of high upside arms in Ariel Pena and John Hellweg, who if things go right in AAA, could be valuable late season additions.
Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs added offensive stability in the absence of Justin Upton by acquiring Martin Prado (and subsequently signing him to an extension), Cody Ross, Eric Chavez and promoting promising young center fielder Adam Eaton (career .355 minor league hitter with a .456 OBP!). But they legitimately have a rotation that is eight starters deep. Normally when a team boasts about having a deep rotation, they mean they have a prospect or two that’s ready to step in if injuries occur. No, the D-Backs actually have eight pitchers who belong in a Major League rotation right now with Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy, Daniel Hudson, Wade Miley, Randal Delgado, Tyler Skaggs and Pat Corbin. Four of those starters belong in the middle or front of a rotation, and another (Skaggs) possesses the highest upside of them all is and only 21 years old.
San Diego Padres. The fences are coming in! Petco Park may not be so friendly to pitchers any more. Not that any of that matters, the Padres for some reason always find a way to boast one of the leagues top pitching staffs despite not having the star power other teams have. This year it’s the offense that might carry San Diego.
Yonder Alonso still recorded a .273 BA and 50 XBH despite slumping for a large part of the year. Chase Headley emerged as the only power hitting third baseman in baseball that also happens to be a switch hitter that plays good defense and hits for average. Carlos Quentin proved to still be one of baseball’s premier power hitters and Cameron Maybin covers as much ground in center field as any player not named Trout or Bourjos. The Friars are also strongly considering moving stud third base prospect Jedd Gyorko (.311 30 HR in AA/AAA last year) to second base and Alexi Amarista (career .312 minor league hitter with speed and pop) to shortstop. Once premier catcher Yasmani Grandal returns from his 50-game suspension, the Padres could suddenly boast one of the more feared lineups in the National League.
Watch out Dodgers and Giants!