Welcome to the 2013 Major League Baseball season. With a 162-game schedule, it is a long grind that rewards continuity and consistency rather than amazing short bursts of performance. When picking which teams will most successfully navigate such a pulverizing experience, talent is important, but it might not be the most vital characteristic. Within reason, staying healthy is probably a greater key to making the post-season.
Here are my picks for the upcoming baseball season:
National League West
The Los Angeles Dodgers (1.85) are the hot pick for the division and why shouldn’t they be? Their line-up is stacked with All Stars like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez. The pitching staff, which already was led by top shelf ace Clayton Kershaw, was bolstered by the addition of another key starter in Zack Greinke. But I don’t see a division title happening for the club. The reason: they’ll struggle to stay healthy.
The upshot: look for the San Francisco Giants (2.70) to take the West. Their line-up and pitching staff remain stable enough to pull it off. With the bottom of the division pretty week (hello, Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres), I do see the Dodgers getting a Wild Card slot.
National League Central
The Cincinnati Reds (1.65) are the team to beat here. The pitching staff is underrated and young and a healthy Joey Votto solidifies a line-up that, even when he was injured last year, performed valiantly. The St. Louis Cardinals (3.50) may be a fashionable pick as they have some great young pitching, but offensively Carlos Beltran’s health is questionable. With other potential injury worries, I see the Pittsburgh Pirates (11.00) or the Milwaukee Brewers (8.00) as more likely contenders for this crown.
National League East
It’s hard not to love the Washington Nationals (1.95). They have power arms in their rotation led by Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. Their bullpen is even deeper this year with the addition of Rafael Soriano. Barring injuries, this is the team to beat. Right on their heels are the Atlanta Braves (3.50). Atlanta’s line-up will be potent. The brothers Upton (BJ and Justin) were both brought in during the off-season. Each player dealt with tons of drama with their old clubs that hurt their 2012 performances. The move to Atlanta should mean they’ll now both be more relaxed and put up better numbers. The result: a dynamic line-up to go along with an always strong pitching corps. The Philadelphia Phillies should be improved but I expect Atlanta to just nip the final play-off spot.
American League West
Following my injury rule, I should be wary of the Los Angeles Angels (1.65). So many of their big stars – Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Jered Weaver – could go down, damaging the club gravely. That said, their talent is just so great in this division that I’m going to swallow hard and pick them to come out on top. But the Texas Rangers (3.25) should still be in the running. The rotation is formidable, with Yu Darvish likely to have an improved year after a first season of adjustment in 2012. Matt Harrison and Derek Holland are also underrated. I expect Texas to return to the play-offs as a wild card. My surprise team here is the Seattle Mariners (15.00); if you want to take some long odds, this would be a team to consider.
American League Central
The Detroit Tigers (1.40) have to be a favourite to win the Central. Their line-up has only gotten better with the addition of Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez from injury. The pitching staff is excellent; while most eyes tend to be on Justin Verlander, it’s the consistent Max Scherzer who should be key. Looking for another long shot that could surprise? Have a look at the Cleveland Indians (10.00). They acquired two underrated players at below-market-value in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn and brought in a manager (Terry Francona) who knows how to win.
American League East
The Toronto Blue Jays (2.50) are the Los Angeles Dodgers of the American League. They’ve been rebuilt with high-end talent and should compete. While the Jays, like the Dodgers, have their fair share of players with injury records, I still see them deep enough to take this division, which is not as strong as usual. Look for the Tampa Bay Rays (3.50) to capture a wild card spot here. Their pitching is superb and the team’s manager, Joe Maddon, is just about the smartest in the game. He’ll figure out a way to get the most out of what isn’t a stellar line-up on paper.
If you’re keeping score at home, here’s how I see the post-season lining up:
NL West: San Francisco Giants
NL Central: Cincinnati Reds
NL East: Washington Nationals
Wild cards: Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves
AL West: Los Angeles Angels
AL Central: Detroit Tigers
AL East: Toronto Blue Jays
Wild Cards: Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays
World Series: Washington Nationals defeat the Detroit Tigers