By: Travis Thayer (@TheTravisThayer, @HalfGameBack)
1. Toronto Blue Jays
I am a believer in the new look Blue Jays. With Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes at the top of the lineup, look for Jose Bautista to have a monster year. Also, the additions of R.A. Dickey (NL Cy Young last season), Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle at the top of the rotation will make the Jays are serious contender come October.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa has the arms to compete with anyone. If Evan Longoria stays healthy and provides some scoring punch the Rays will be in the thick of things at season’s end.
3. Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore was the surprise team in all of Major League Baseball last year, and Orioles fans should expect another good season. The AL East will be baseball’s best division, but the Orioles will come up just short of a playoff birth.
4. Boston Red Sox
Boston’s rotation should be much improved this year, and the back end of the bullpen has a chance to be terrific. If Ellsbury, Pedroia and company get the bats going Boston could rise to the top of the division. Still a lot of question marks to rank Boston any higher. On a bright note, Jackie Bradley Jr. has made the opening day roster and has huge potential.
5. New York Yankees
Yes, the Bronx Bombers will finish last because they aren’t the Bronx Bombers anymore. 75 percent of the Yankees home runs from last season came from those who are either hurt or playing for a different team. I see no way the Yanks overcome injuries to Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Granderson.
1. Detroit Tigers
Verlander, Cabrera, and Fielder. No other team in the Central has the star power of Detroit, and even without a true closer the Tigers win the Central with ease.
2. Chicago White Sox
This may be the last good run of the Paul Konerko era. The White Sox are a veteran team, and their pitching has a chance to keep them in the race. Chris Sale is a powerful lefty, and crafty veterans Jake Peavy and John Danks will be key to any success the Sox may have in 2013.
3. Kansas City Royals
James Shields and Wade Davis come over from Tampa Bay, but the Royals are still a few players away from finally breaking through. Alex Gordon will be the player to watch, if he has a monster year then the Royals may have a chance at one of the two wildcard spots.
4. Cleveland Indians
Cleveland has done everything it can to improve. They spent a ton of money on DH Mark Reynolds, first baseman Nick Swisher, and outfielder Michael Bourn. The problem is the Indians can’t pitch very well.
5. Minnesota Twins
Rookie Aaron Hicks is going to be fun to watch, but the Twins just aren’t anywhere near where they need to be to compete. This will be another tough season in the Twin City.
1. Oakland A’s
This may seem like a surprise to most, but may I remind you the A’s won the west last season. Their pitching is second to none in the division, and their defense will be improved with the addition of Chris Young. Pitching and defense wins championships and the A’s have both.
2. Anaheim Angels
The Angels will score a lot of runs with Trout, Pujols, and Hamilton, but who steps up in the rotation after Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson? If Tommy Hanson doesn’t perform well the Angels will have to make a move for another quality starter in order to win the division.
3. Texas Rangers
You know this is a tough division when the Rangers finish third. They may have lost Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, and Mike Napoli, but look for the Rangers to stay in the thick of things out west. They still have great power with Nelly Cruz and Adriane Beltre, but it could be two rookies (Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt) that gets the Rangers to the post season.
4. Seattle Mariners
Outside of Felix Hernandez, the Mariners don’t have much. They are just happy the Astros are now in the division so they don’t finish dead last.
5. Houston Astros
So Houston moves to the American League and they still finish last in their division. Fun fact, Alex Rodriguez makes more money than the entire Astros roster.
1. Washington Nationals
The Nats are the best team on paper in the entire MLB. Strasburg won’t be limited this year and his supporting cast makes up the best rotation in baseball. Rafeal Soriano gives the Nats a very strong bullpen, and oh yeah – they have that Bryce Harper guy that is pretty good. This pick is a lock.
2. Atlanta Braves
This team is good year in and year out. The Upton Brothers add some punch to a lineup that already includes Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. Having the best closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel also helps. Look for Atlanta to secure one of the two wildcard spots.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
Halladay has been awful this spring. If he doesn’t get right then the Phillies are in big trouble. Health will also be a big issue as the Phils have an aging roster. I sense the demise of a once dominate team in the NL East.
4. New York Mets
David Wright is supposed to be ready for Opening Day, but this team lacks the talent and pitching to compete with the Nats and Braves. It will be another long summer for Mets fans.
5. Miami Marlins
Now that the Astros have left the NL, the Marlins will take their place as the NL’s worst team. Giancarlo Stanton is the lone bright spot on this team, and has already expressed his displeasure with the front office. Come midseason tensions could be running high.
1. Cincinnati Reds
Aroldis Chapman is back in the closer role, and everything is well in the Queen City. Shin-Soo Choo will be an upgrade in the leadoff role, which means more RBI opportunities for MVP candidate Joey Votto. If the rotation stays healthy as they did last year the Reds will win this division for the third time in four years.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
What can you say about the Cards other than they contend every year. This will be a much different looking Cardinals team as a lot of younger players start to filter into the bigs. Health will primarily be a big factor in St. Louis. Bet on them being alive come September.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
Kyle Loshe’s recent signing gives the Brew Crew a legit number two behind Yovani Gallardo. This team can still score runs, but their lack of pitching depth will hold them down in the end. Ryan Braun must have a huge year in order for the Brewers to make it to the postseason.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates will be an interesting team. MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen is still searching for the Pirates first winning season in 20 years. Help may be on the way in the form of two highly drafted pitchers, Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole. Look for both guys to make an immediate impact around midseason.
5. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs have improved their starting pitching which ranked 24th last season in ERA. They are still in rebuild mode, and their primary goal should be to not finish last.
1. San Francisco Giants
With one of the best starting rotations in the game, and Buster Posey behind the plate the Giants have a recipe for success. The defending World Series Champs will be as strong as ever this season, and will have a chance to get back to the Fall Classic
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Angels weren’t the only team in Cali that spent some money this offseason. The Dodgers brought in Zack Greinke to go with ace Clayton Kershaw. The dynamic one-two punch along with All-Stars Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez should help the Dodgers challenge the Giants for the division.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
Pitching will keep the D’Backs competitive in a tough NL East, but losing Justin Upton to Atlanta may prove to be the biggest blow to the team.
4. Colorado Rockies
I put the Rockies fourth simply because they have star players Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. If those two are healthy and can produce in the middle of the lineup then they won’t finish last.
5. San Diego Padres
Bud Black has his work cut out for him. Chase Headley may be the only bright spot on the team, but he isn’t capable of putting the team on his back. The Fathers have too many glaring holes to not finish last.
MVP – Jose Bautista, OF Toronto Blue Jays
Cy Young – Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
ROTY – Aaron Hicks, OF Minnesota Twins
MVP – Joey Votto, 1B Cincinnati Reds
Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
ROTY – Julio Teheran, SP Atlanta Braves
Wildcard: Anaheim over Rangers
Division: Toronto over Anaheim
Detroit over A’s
ALCS: Detroit over Toronto
Wildcard: Dodgers over Braves
Division: Nationals over Dodgers
Reds over Giants
NLCS: Nationals over Reds
World Series: Nationals over Tigers