I already laid out my division/wild card/pennant winner picks for MLB.com, as did several of my colleagues. You can check those out here.
But I try to go into a little more depth here at the blog, so once again I’m giving more extensive picks in this space. Here are last year’s preseason predictions, which had mixed results, and here’s my roundup of how I fared at the end of the year.
So on with the show.
AL East: Rays, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles
I’m very high on Tampa Bay this year. I think their lineup is better than they get credit for, and of course they’ll do a great job of preventing runs. The Blue Jays have huge upside, but lots of questions in the rotation. If you could tell me Johnson/Morrow combine for 55-60 starts, I’d probably take them to win the division. I’m once again buying, relative to overall perception, on the Red Sox. I think they’ll be improved and a Wild Card contender. It’s really hard to write off the Yankees, but I’m just not sure they’re good enough even when they get healthy. They’ll need to ride their rotation if they’re going to be good. The O’s outscored their opponents by 7 runs last year. I think that is a much truer reflection of their quality than their record was, and they didn’t do nearly enough to get better this winter. They won’t be bad, but in this division, not-bad isn’t good enough.
AL Central: Tigers, Royals, Indians, White Sox, Twins
I was (relatively) down on the Tigers and up on the White Sox at this time last year. This time, it’s the opposite. I’m buying the Tigers much more than I was last spring. Sanchez and the emergence of Scherzer deepen their rotation. Martinez and Hunter deepen their lineup. This is a very good team, much better equipped to hold up over six months than last year’s Tigers, IMO. I’d buy any order on the 2-3-4 teams here, but the Royals were a bit better than they looked last year and I’m expecting their young hitters to step forward. Cleveland is definitely improved, but is still a couple of starting pitchers away from serious contention. I’m probably selling the White Sox short, but I see a lot more potential for implosion than improvement. The Twins are a ways off.
AL West: Rangers, Angels, A’s, Mariners, Astros
The Rangers had a frustrating winter, but for a combination of offense, defense, starting pitching and relief pitching, they’re the best this division has to offer. They also have depth and talent knocking on the door, enabling them to address needs in-season. The Angels are going to score approximately eleventy kajillion runs, but I just don’t like their rotation behind Jered Weaver. The A’s were better than people realized even at the end of the year last year, but I can’t shake the feeling that they take a step back. I think the Mariners are still a couple of years away; they needed OBP at least as badly as they needed power, and they didn’t address that need at all. I love the Astros’ plan, but 2013 is going to be a long year.
Wild Cards: Blue Jays, Angels
This part is pretty easy. I think there there’s a pretty decent gap between the top 5 teams and the rest of the AL. Sixth-best IMO is Oakland, and maybe Boston 7th.
NL East: Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Mets, Marlins
I know, me and everybody else. This is the division that it seems everyone agrees on. Now, of course, that means something weird is going to happen, and the Mets are going to win 90 games or the Nats are going to lose 90 or something.
Anyway, I’m buying Washington in a huge way. I’m buying their rotation and bullpen. I’m buying their lineup (though if there is a worry, I think it’s possible regression from LaRoche and Desmond). I’m buying their defense. Best team in baseball, IMO. And the Braves may well be the second-best team in the NL. I worry about their rotation, but it should still be good enough for serious contention. I can squint and see how it works for the Phillies, but I’m not buying it. I think they’re a .500 team again. The Mets I like a BIT more than some folks, but it’s not going to be a great year. And the Marlins, like the Astros, I like the future but the present isn’t pretty.
NL Central: Reds, Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Cubs
As with Washington, I love the completeness of the Reds. I just don’t see that weakness that will get exposed. I like their rotation, their bullpen, their defense, and their lineup (though the lineup is IMO maybe a bit overrated). The one worry is if something happens in the rotation; I’m not sure what Plan B is. But they seem like a heavy favorite to repeat. The Cardinals could be extremely good, but they have a very wide range of possible outcomes. They’ll score runs. The question is what they get from the rotation beyond Wainwright. Garcia’s health and the effectiveness of the other three guys are all, IMO, uncertain. If it all works, great year. But there are legitimate worries in my mind. The Brewers will score runs, and their rotation is better than you think (led the NL in starters K/9 last year). But the margin for error is SO narrow that even something like doing without Corey Hart will be a problem. I can see how it works for the Bucs — lots of young and talented hitters who could emerge at once, and if that happens, they’ll be better than 4th. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s another season around 75-80 wins. I like the Cubs’ offseason, but I still don’t think there’s enough improvement to contend.
AL West: Diamondbacks, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Rockies
Maybe the most interesting division in baseball. I hated the D-Backs’ offseason, and yet the more I look at the roster, the more I like it. Deep lineup, deep rotation, and Kevin Towers always puts together a good bullpen. They had a very good run differential last year. The Giants will have better offense than people think, not as good a lineup as people think (courtesy, in both cases, AT&T Park) and will be around all year. I just have too many questions about the Dodgers lineup. Love their rotation, don’t have any confidence at all in anybody beyond Kemp, Ethier and Gonzalez in the lineup. The Padres are a bit of a popular sleeper this spring (my friend Joe Sheehan is all over them), but I can’t get past what looks like a brutal rotation. The Rox have a glimmer of hope if all their promising starters take off at once. IMO they have the most hope of any of the presumed “bad” teams this year.
Wild Cards: Braves, Giants.
I won’t be one bit surprised if the Dodgers or Cardinals knock out one of the five teams I have in the playoffs. But question marks for both teams have me knocking them down a peg. I will say, in both cases, there’s a good chance of a midseason trade that changes how things look.
MVPs: Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper (yes, I had Harper even before today)
Cy Youngs: Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw
World Series: Nationals over Tigers
And, finally, the playlist:
Keith Richards, “Wicked As It Seems”
Four Horsemen, “Nobody Said It Was Easy”
Black Crowes, “Twice As Hard”
Danko Jones, “Lovercall”
Guns N Roses, “Locomotive”