2013 will be one of the most exciting seasons to watch in recent years.
With clubs upgrading and changing in every which-way, the coming season should give its fans much to anticipate:
With clubs like the Blue Jays and Dodgers emerging with seemingly new rosters, and other teams like the Nationals, Giants, Rangers, and A’s staying virtually the same, the match-ups this season are set to be one for the ages.
But who are the best teams in baseball right now?
As that is very hard to determine, what it comes down to is the blending of facts, and an open mind when taking into account personal opinion/preference.
Listed below are the Top-10 teams in baseball right now:
#1. Washington Nationals
1B – Adam LaRoche RHP – Stephen Strasberg
2B – Danny Espinosa LHP – Gio Gonzalez
3B – Ryan Zimmerman RHP – Jordan Zimmerman
SS – Ian Desmond LHP – Ross Detwiler
LF – Bryce Harper RHP – Dan Haren
CF – Denard Span
RF – Jason Werth
C – Kurt Suzuki/Wilson Ramos CL – Rafael Soriano
Led by Gio Gonzalez – team leader in wins (21), ERA (2.89), and strikeouts (207) – the Washington Nationals rank number one on my list because they boast the best starting rotation in not only the National League, but in all of the majors, save the Tampa Bay Rays. And I would actually say they’re better than the Rays – despite the slight ERA differential between the two clubs – because Washington’s starters earned a Major League best 72 wins, while Tampa Bay’s only produced 70. And that’s including the production from reigning AL Cy Young award winner David Price.
The swapping out of Edwin Jackson for Dan Haren greatly increases the team’s chances for success, as they already led all of baseball last season with 98 wins. Though they didn’t make too many moves this off-season, they were dominant against their division rivals, going 42-30 when playing the National League East.
The Nationals enter 2013 with high expectations, as they have upgraded both their starting rotation, bullpen, and outfield.
RHP – Dan Haren
CL- Rafael Soriano
CF- Denard Span
OF – Michael Morse
Sure, they lost some power by losing Michael Morse to Seattle, but bringing in Denard Span and putting him into centerfield compliments Werth and Harper perfectly. He’s actually been one of the best centerfielders in the game over the last 4 seasons, and is in the same boat with Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, and Shane Victorino. His addition makes Washington’s outfield that much more speedy and secure.
Last season in New York, Soriano was incredible for his Yankees, as evidenced while filling in at the closer’s role for the sidelined Mariano Rivera – he racked up 42 saves, and was tied for third in saves with Jason Motte and Craig Kimbrel, the best closer in the game. And not to take anything away from Tyler Clippard, who was very impressive with his 32-for-37 save opportunities last season, but it seems as though the position is all but assured to Soriano at this point. Clippard is much younger, however, Spring Training will be the deciding factor.
Aging vets like Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche could be a concern, but if they hit anything like they did last season, this team is set. Bryce Harper’s rookie campaign was right on the money, and Jason Werth – although missing June and July – started picking it up in the second half.
With super utility men like Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina, and Tyler Moore, the only somewhat major concern on this roster would be that of catcher Kurt Suzuki. Even by Suzuki’s standards, he had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2012, finishing the season batting .235 with a poor .605 OPS, which is bad even for a catcher. The upside is that he is more than trustworthy behind the dish, and given a full spring to become more acclimated with his new pitching staff, he should slowly begin to turn his hitting numbers around – at least hit league average – as he settles in to his new home. And should he not, there is always Wilson Ramos to back him up, as the rest of the squad should be able to pick up the slack from the lack of production out of the catcher’s spot.
Despite the bullpen getting rocked in the final game of Washington’s divisional series against St. Louis, their relief pitchers can definitely get the job done. I‘d like to see them trade for at least one more left handed relief pitcher (maybe a long reliever), as they do only have one on their roster in Zach Duke. It would benefit them because of the tough division they’re in. But, the additions of Soriano and Haren do nothing but make this team that much better.
# 2. Texas Rangers
1B – Mitch Moreland LHP – Matt Harrison
2B – Ian Kinsler RHP – Yu Darvish
3B – Adrian Beltre LHP – Derek Holland
SS – Elvis Andrus RHP – Alexi Ogando
LF – Daniel Murphy LHP – Martin Perez
CF – Craig Gentry/Leonys Martin RHP – Colby Lewis*
RF – Nelson Cruz
DH – Lance Berkman
C – A.J. Pierzynski CP – Joe Nathan
Leading all of baseball in Runs Scored (808), RBI (780), and tied for first in Hits (1526) with St. Louis and Colorado, the Texas Rangers are primed yet again for a monstrous season.
Though they didn’t make the playoffs this time, they were only one game away from doing so if it hadn’t been for a driven – and frankly better at that point – Oakland squad. However, they do have plenty a reason to be excited and hopeful for the coming campaign, and reaching the World Series in two of the last three seasons is more than enough fuel for this tough Texas club. Offensively, they’re the best team in baseball. Pitching, on the other hand, could be a slight concern, as the fifth spot in the rotation is really up for grabs, with Colby Lewis still recovering from a torn flexor tendon. He has started throwing off of flat ground, but he isn’t expected to be back in the mix until the second half of next season.
Texas isn’t that concerned with Lewis’ absence for the moment, as they were more than able to accommodate his going down with the unexpectedly great rookie performance from former Japanese League superstar, Yu Darvish. He was excellent in 2012, and should continue to get even better. And though his walk rates could become alarming, his 16-9 record during his rookie campaign were a welcome surprise for the Rangers. His 221 strikeouts over 191.1 innings were just icing on the cake.
And luckily for the Texas Rangers, Josh Hamilton won’t be as sorely missed as one might think. Though they will miss the 43 long balls, Texas still retains much of its power that has been a constant for this club over the past few seasons, with regulars such as Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and Elvis Andrus still at the heart of the order.
They’ve also made a few solid acquisitions this off-season.
C – A.J. Pierzynski
DH – Lance Berkman
RP – Joakim Soria
C – Geovany Soto
The addition of Pierzynski is substantial for Texas, as Mike Napoli left the club in search of more playing time over in Boston, and though re-signing Geovany Soto – as capable as he is – was important, he isn’t much more than a backup. Not only is Pierzynski solid behind the plate, but he is a leader, and one of few Major League catchers to put up exceptional numbers at his position. And least season was no exception, as he and the Pale Hose enjoyed the catcher’s career year which saw him finish the season batting .278, with an OPS of .827, 27 homeruns, and 77 RBI.
Also joining the club is fellow veteran Lance Berkman, who has spent most of his career at first base. He will now spend most of his time as the DH, occasionally filling in at first. Between he and Pierzynski, the two should be able to fill the void left by Josh Hamilton.
Joakim Soria is also an intriguing sign. He missed all of 2012, and is still rehabbing from the Tommy John surgery he underwent at the beginning
of last season. But if he comes back healthy, it could mean great things for Texas’ bullpen:
Over five seasons (all in Kansas City), he’s amassed 160 saves out of 180 opportunities, and besides 2011 – where he had a bloated 4.03 ERA – he has never finished a season with an ERA over 2.48. That’s impressive, and that’s also around 32 saves a season. Not too bad for an under-the-radar pickup.
All through his career, Soria has been the model of consistency for a closer, but will now serve as the setup man to Joe Nathan, whose dividends paid off mightily last season while closing the door on opponents 37 out of 40 times.
Jurickson Profar looks like he is ready to be called up, and this spring training should give the Rangers a better look at what MLB.com’s number one prospect might be able to do to help his club in 2013.
Then there’s Mike Olt waiting in the wings, and with the Rangers’ outfield not looking as good as it did last season with Josh Hamilton around, the minor league superstar could potentially help his big league club, should his numbers translate.
Overall, Texas is loaded, and has more than enough pieces to make the playoffs this season. And with the Houston Astros being integrated into the AL West, the Rangers will undoubtedly take advantage of their 15 meetings throughout the season.
# 3. Cincinnati Reds
1B – Joey Votto RHP – Johnny Cueto
2B – Brandon Phillips RHP – Mat Latos
3B – Todd Frazier RHP – Bronson Arroyo
SS – Zack Cozart RHP – Homer Bailey
LF – Ryan Ludwick LHP – Aroldis Chapman
CF – Shin-Soo Choo
RF – Jay Bruce
C – Ryan Hanigan CL – Jonathan Broxton
Finishing last season with the second best record in the majors (97-65), the Reds enter 2013 looking to erase the bad taste that was left in their mouth’s after being eliminated by the current World Champions in last seasons NLDS. But Cincinnati should not be discouraged, as they are one of the most stacked teams in the majors, and with a 49-30 record, pummeled through a weak – excluding St. Louis – NL Central:
You’ve got first baseman Joey Votto, who’s managed to keep up an OPS of 900 plus over the last four seasons, while simultaneously being one of the best power hitters in the game.
Then there’s right fielder Jay Bruce, who, in his young career, keeps getting better and better from each season to the next:
One hundred thirty-four homeruns and three hundred seventy-six RBI over five seasons, where he averages twenty seven long balls and seventy-five RBI a season. He probably won’t be a 30/30 guy – he’s doesn’t steal many bases – but he could easily become part of the next class of elite power hitters. And what’s really impressive, is the more games he plays in, the better his stats get, whereas usually, it is the other way around.
Brandon Phillips enters his eighth season with Cincinnati, and is probably the best second baseman in the National League. His defense has gotten better and better through the seasons, and now owns a career .988 fielding percentage. He’s good for around eighteen homeruns and seventy five RBI every season, which is great for a second baseman. So you know what you’re getting out of this guy, and he’s been a consistent part of this potent Reds lineup.
Rounding out the infield at third base is surprise rookie sensation Todd Frazier, who put together a solid full rookie campaign, batting .273 with nineteen homeruns and sixty seven RBI while slugging and impressive .498.
The addition of Shin-Soo Choo was a solid pickup for the club, because Drew Stubbs could just not put it together as a leadoff hitter in the time Cincinnati felt he should have been able to. It gives a boost at the centerfield position, along with creating more depth for other players off the bench.
A big part of 2013 for Cincinnati will be dependant on that of the success – or failure – of Aroldis Chapman’s conversion into the starting rotation. If it works, Jonathan Broxton will become the full-time closer, with Sean Marshall setting him up.
Chapman’s being brought into the fold leaves Mike Leake as the odd-man-out, but could conceivably give the Reds a quality long-reliever. It’s also a good – maybe not the best – move, because adding Chapman to the staff not only gives them an overall better pitcher in the fifth spot, but it gives their starting rotation a solid lefty. Something they do not have without Chapman.
Regardless of the Chapman situation, their rotation was as durable as any in 2012. In fact, their starters were second only to the Philadelphia Phillies in innings pitched, which was 1018.2, one of only four teams to get that much production from their starting rotation. Interestingly enough, they were also second to the Phillies in the least amount of walks issued. Those are some really good numbers.
Overall, the Cincinnati Reds have one of the best rosters in baseball, and there are only a couple question marks that remain to be dealt with over Spring Training.
# 4. San Francisco Giants
1B – Brandon Belt RHP – Matt Cain
2B – Marco Scutaro LHP – Madison Bumgarner
3B – Pablo Sandoval RHP – Tim Lincecum
SS – Brandon Crawford LHP – Barry Zito
LF – Gregor Blanco/Andres Torres RHP – Ryan Vogelsong
CF – Angel Pagan
RF – Hunter Pence
C – Buster Posey CL – Sergio Romo
Sweeping the Detroit Tigers in four straight World Series games, the San Francisco Giants are your reigning champions of baseball. And what a magical postseason run they had: from staving off elimination in six games throughout the NLDS and NLCS – sending the Reds and Red Birds packing – to taming what was being heralded as the best lineup on any team. They just kept coming at you, and there was nothing you could do.
San Francisco enters the new season ready to defend it’s crown, and manager Bruce Bochy has already set the rotation as such: Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Zito, Vogelsong.
With one of the best staffs in baseball (they rank 5th overall with a 71-49 record), the Giants are definitely one of the best teams out there. Even if on paper they don’t wow you with any names besides that of Matt Cain, or Buster Posey, that’s what makes this team so special. They’re a bunch of blue collar guys who hold their ground, do their work, and get the job done.
Three-time All-Star, two-time World Champion, Matt Cain became the first pitcher in Giants franchise history to record a perfect game on June 13th against the Houston Astros. Striking out fourteen, he set a new career high for strikeouts in a single season game, and has not looked back since. He finished the season with a 16-5 record, and – as fate would have it – a career high in strikeouts (193). Cain has emerged as the new staff ace, and should continue to be as he continues to improve season by season. He’s never injured, and has been one of the most consistent starters since the start of the 2006 season.
Tim Lincecum – a two-time Cy Young award recipient – is only one season removed from being considered one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. But he adds more depth to this already impressive staff because of his newfound ability to pitch out of the pen:
In five appearances as a reliever in the post-season, Lincecum was his dominant form as he allowed only three hits, one earned run, and two walks. But get this: in those thirteen innings as a reliever, he had an astounding seventeen strikeouts. That’s impressive, even for Lincecum.
Since making his return to the Giants in 2011, Ryan Vogelsong has evolved into a completely different pitcher. He topped his previous season’s performance – where he went 13-7 – by going 14-9 with a career high one hundred and fifty eight punch-outs. His ERA rose a bit, but he kept the walks almost exactly where they were the previous season.
Barry Zito, however, was the surprise arm of 2012. With Lincecum seemingly dropping off the map, the veteran lefty really stepped up to give his club not only the first win of the regular season, but he pitched probably the most important games of the postseason in Cincinnati and St. Louis. With his nasty curve-ball, he remains an integral part of the one through five.
Bumgarner is so young, and so talented, that his drop-off towards the end of the regular season and into the postseason shouldn’t be counted against him too much, as he is still one of the better pitchers in the game. And at age 23, the skies the limit for this kid.
Re-signing with the club is NLCS MVP second baseman Marco Scutaro, and centerfielder Angel Pagan. Both players were invaluable during the Giants magical postseason run, as both are speedy defenders, and know how to get on base. Especially Scutaro.
The most important piece, however, is that of Buster Posey:
- 2010 Rookie of the Year / World Champion
- 2012 National League MVP / Comeback Player of The Year / World Champion
What does this teach us? Not only is Posey a tremendous hitter, but he’s the best hitting catcher in the game. He is in elite company with Johnny
Bench and Thurman Munson as the only catchers in MLB history to earn Rookie Of The Year, MVP, and be part of at least one World Champion team. Posey has played in less than four-hundred major league games, and is already a two-time world champion with the accolades to go along with it.
Hunter Pence was a great mid-season acquisition for the Giants in 2012. He wasn’t one of the best hitters, but he commands speed in the out-field – though he still needs to become more comfortable with the dimensions in AT&T Park’s outfield – and stepped up to become an inspirational vocal leader in the clubhouse during the Giants’ postseason run.
With Pablo Sandoval, you’ve got a ceiling on a third baseman that is still yet to be discovered:
He’s spent parts of the last two seasons on the DL for significant amounts of time. Both hamates now removed, the slugging Venezuelan could conceivably put together his most impressive season so far if he can stay healthy. Despite his size, he has exceptional range, and has a great arm. Going yard twice off of Justin Verlander proves that there’s a reason he was the World Series MVP.
But the pitching staff isn’t the only awe-inspiring part of this team. Their bullpen is one of the best in game, and with Sergio Romo slated to be the closer – at least for most of the time – and they have a tremendous amount of depth, with a healthy mix of lefties and righty specialists in:
Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez (who is healing his injured pitching hand), Jose Mijares, Santiago Casilla, a returning Ramon Ramirez, Jean Machi, and George Kontos. They also had a combined 0.00 ERA in the wake of last seasons championship run, which is astounding.
Letting go of World Series hero Ryan Theriot wasn’t a good move, but he’s looking for more playing time, and – should he have re-signed – would have served as only a bench/occasional starting role because of the presence of Marco Scutaro. Joaquin Arias is more than capable, however, and can slide easily into second base, at short, or over at the hot corner.
Analysts are projecting first basemen Brandon Belt to have a big year, and that would be huge for a team that has gotten below league average production from what is supposed to be a power position over the last three seasons.
If the Giants had one more big bat, and Brandon Crawford’s hitting production matched the excellence he displays with his defense, this team would probably be ranked at one or two.
Overall, the Giants should be able to take the NL West again, though it won’t be as easy as it was last year with both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks becoming significantly better. Despite this, they are just a different kind of team, and really know how to work together.
The Nationals may rank as number one, but the Giants are still the team to beat.
# 5. Detroit Tigers
1B – Prince Fielder RHP – Justin Verlander
2B – Omar Infante RHP – Doug Fister
3B – Miguel Cabrera RHP – Anibal Sanchez
SS – Johnny Peralta RHP – Max Scherzer
LF – Andy Dirks RHP – Rick Porcello
CF – Austin Jackson LHP – Drew Smyly*
RF – Torii Hunter
DH – Victor Martinez
C – Alex Avila CL – Bruce Rondon
Well, if the Tigers do get back to the World Series this coming season, you can bet your life that Jim Leyland will not accept any amount of rest for his club.
But losing was last season‘s failure, and it’s time to get to work for the reigning American League champs if they are going to improve upon last seasons 11th place, 88-74 regular season record.
The one glaring hole this team has is at it’s closer role:
Minor league superstar Bruce Rondon has stepped in to fill the void left by free agent Jose Valverde, who fell apart in the postseason so much so, he was left out of all but one game – where he pitched 0.1 innings surrendering two earned runs off of four hits – of the World Series. And its a shame, because in 2011, Valverde was the best closer in baseball, converting all forty-nine save opportunities. 2012 was almost as impressive, as he shut the door on opponents 35-out-of-40 times. But his postseason performance left the city – and front office – of Detroit scratching their heads, and the team has since elected to not re-sign the veteran relief pitcher.
It’s a good thing that besides Valverde, the club has plenty of options to close by committee – should Rondon not deliver – with: Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit, and Al Alburquerque.
Though Justin Verlander is considered the premiere pitcher in the game, last season’s World Series performance showed that he is indeed susceptible to being knocked around, just like everyone else.
Let’s see what Detroit has done so far to improve this off-season:
LHP – Drew Smyly
RHP – Anibal Sanchez
CF – Torii Hunter
DH – Victor Martinez
C – Brayan Pena
RHP – Jose Valverde
LF/DH – Delmon Young
C – Gerald Laird
The team will get a huge boost in power with Victor Martinez returning to the club. He doesn’t put up MVP caliber numbers, but if healthy, he’ll give you around twenty homeruns, hits for average, and drives in around a hundred each season. In fact, he hasn’t hit below .300 since 2008 when he was in Cleveland.
Veteran Torii Hunter was by far their best pickup this off-season, and is one of the more consistent outfielders in the league. Virtually replacing Delmon Young, he adds some much needed range/speed to the Tiger’s outfield, while simultaneously giving his new club some great run support.
Despite a 9-13 regular season record, Anibal Sanchez re-signing with the club is important not only because he is a quality arm, but as he has progressed in his career, he’s become an innings eater.
Newly acclimated Drew Smyly actually did better in his MLB debut than he did in his minor league campaign of the same year, which is odd, because he was very solid back in 2011. He’ll fight Rick Porcello – who just pitched two shutout innings with two punch-outs against Atlanta – for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Brayan Pena is a significant sign, and though his numbers don’t astound – he owns a career OPS of .635, and has driven in a total of ninety eighty rub over his eight year Major League career – he is nonetheless the backstop who will inherit the dish when Alex Avila needs a day off. Which he better hope is not often, as Pena doesn’t exactly entice with his sub-par numbers, even for a catcher.
One of the strengths this club boasts is its depth around the diamond and in the outfield, with the likes of: Brennan Boesch, Quintin Berry, Avisail Garcia, and Ramon Santiago.
Overall, this team is still a beast. While AL MVP / Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were virtual non-factors in the postseason, they represent some of the most dangerous power in the game, and will undoubtedly use last seasons failures as fuel to compete at the level they are capable of in this coming season.
For Detroit, it’s World Series or bust.
# 6. Los Angeles Angels
1B – Albert Pujols RHP – Jared Weaver
2B – Howie Kendrick LHP – C.J. Wilson
3B – Alberto Callaspo LHP – Jason Vargas
SS – Eric Aybar RHP – Tommy Hansen
LF – Mike Trout RHP – Joe Blanton
CF – Peter Bourjos
RF – Josh Hamilton
DH – Mark Trumbo
C – Chris Iannetta CL – Ryan Madson
The Angels missed the playoffs last season, and, despite an overhaul in payroll and talent, they have made some improvements compared to where they left off in 2012.
Let’s take a look:
RF – Josh Hamilton
LHP – Jason Vargas
RHP – Tommy Hanson
RHP – Joe Blanton
CL – Ryan Madson
RP – Sean Burnett
RHP – Zack Greinke
RHP – Dan Haren
RHP – Ervin Santana
CF – Torii Hunter
RP – Jordan Walden
1B – Kendrys Morales
So losing Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana is a hard hit to gut, but Anaheim still looks like a pretty good club. Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson will really need to put up the numbers they are capable of, as it will be important for the top two starters to be table-setters for an un-proven three fifths of the rotation.
The new starters might be unproven with their new club, but Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson bring some promising talent to Anaheim, as both finished last season with thirteen wins or better, and have both been consistently average to good starters over their short careers.
The big prize, however, is that of Josh Hamilton. The bell of the free agent ball. Hamilton brings average defense to the outfield, but his power numbers are staggering:
Back in 2010, he won the AL MVP blasting thirty two homers, and driving in one hundred. Last season, he topped his 2010 performance by
launching a career high forty three homeruns, and driving in one hundred and twenty eight. So why didn’t he win MVP this time around? Only because of a certain third baseman named Miguel Cabrera, who won the first Triple Crown since Ted Williams, and was just above Hamilton in both homeruns – forty four compared to Hamilton’s forty three – and RBI – one hundred thirty nine compared to Hamilton’s one hundred twenty eight. He should compliment Pujols and Trout very nicely.
The addition of closer Ryan Madson – though he is uncertain for Opening Day – was a sneakily great pickup:
He’s primarily a closer, but can be used as a spot starter. And even though he missed all of 2012, his peripherals show that he could conceivably pick up where he left off in 2011, where he was one of the best closers in the game amassing thirty two out of thirty four saves for his former club in Philadelphia.
Fellow bullpen addition Sean Burnett was a smart move, but the Angels were already set with Ernesto Frieri: In 2012, he stepped up and did what was asked of him by compiling twenty three out of twenty six saves, and split time with Scott Downs – who converted nine out of twelve save opportunities.
Joe Blanton, on the other hand, is the weakest link of the bunch, as he was 10-13 in 2012 with an ugly 4.71 ERA.
And then there’s twenty one year old rookie sensation Mike Trout, who won last season’s Rookie Of The Year award by a landslide, and almost took home the MVP as well. His rookie campaign was one of the best in baseball history:
He hit .326, slugged .564, smacked thirty long balls, and drove in eighty three. In addition to those great numbers, he stole a surprising forty nine bases, showing that he is the complete athlete.
Overall, the Angels have a new look, but they are a safe bet to be a contender down the stretch, as they have capable starting pitching, an unbelievably stacked lineup with Hamilton, Pujols, Trout, and Trumbo, and their bullpen ranks as one of the better in baseball.
# 7. St. Louis Cardinals
1B – Allen Craig RHP – Adam Wainwright
2B – Daniel Descalso RHP – Chris Carpenter*
3B – David Freese RHP – Jake Westrbook
SS – Rafael Furcal RHP – Lance Lynn
LF – Matt Holliday LHP – Jaime Garcia
CF – John Jay RHP – Shelby Milller
RF – Carlos Beltran
C – Yadier Molina CL – Jason Motte
First off, I would like to say that Mike Matheny did and incredible job in his first year as manager at taking this club as far as they did. Only one year ago, they won it all against a Texas Rangers squad that seemed as though it was destined to finally capture its first title in their second all-time appearance in the Winter Classic, but were denied in by a hungry Cardinals team that had clawed their way into the playoffs via the Wild Card.
With names like David Freese, Albert Pujols, Matt Holiday, Allen Craig, and Yadier Molina, it looked like this team was headed towards becoming the team of the decade.
Fast forward to 2012, when the St. Louis Cardinals were on the brink of success during the NLCS, where they had a commanding lead against the San Francisco Giants. Unfortunately for them, San Francisco pulled out all the stops, and won three straight games of elimination to send the previous season’s World Champions home.
World Champions in 2006 and 2011, the Red Birds are one of the best teams in baseball. However, some recent makeovers to the starting rotation leaves some question marks as the club heads into 2013:
Who will step up now that Kyle Lohse is gone, and Chris Carpenter has been placed on the sixty-day DL – all but assuring an end to his season before it can even start due to spine and right shoulder irritation – ? I mean, those are two quality arms the team will definitely miss, but they do have a surprise arm in right handed pitcher Lance Lynn, who put together an impressive 2012 rookie campaign :
He went 18-7 with a 3.78 ERA, with an impressive one hundred eighty strikeouts through one hundred seventy six innings. Which is really excellent, considering he’s spent more time in the minor league system than the majors. However, its not that surprising when you look at his numbers over his short career, so St. Louis really got a break here.
And let’s not forget about Yadier Molina, considered – by a small minority – to be the overall best catcher in the game, more so than Buster Posey.
But let’s see how the team upgraded and downgraded during their off-season:
3B – Ty Wigginton
LF – Justin Christian
LHP – Randy Choate
RHP – Kyle Lohse
1B – Lance Berkman
RP – Brian Fuentes
2B – Skip Schumaker
Needless to say, their off-season comings and goings are not at all what the team would have liked, and with Lohse and Carpenter out of the picture, it makes things that much worse.
Jason Motte is still an elite closer, but the rest of their bullpen isn’t too hot, as they rank twentieth (right behind Boston) in the league in ERA. They were great in the postseason, but they’ll need to return to form if they’re going to win the division over a Reds team teething with talent.
Overall, St. Louis has a deep bullpen, great pitching – with what’s left of it – solid power, and some super utility guys. But with veteran leader Chris Carpenter sidelined, and injuries looming heavy over the club, Adam Wainwright will have to step up and lead this staff in clinching a playoff berth, whether it be through their division, or a third consecutive time through the Wild Card spot.
# 8. Los Angeles Dodgers
1B – Adrian Gonzalez LHP – Clayton Kershaw
2B – Mark Ellis RHP – Zack Greinke
3B – Luis Cruz LHP – Hyun-Jin Ryu
SS – Hanley Ramirez RHP – Chad Billingsley
LF – Carl Crawford RHP – Josh Beckett
CF – Matt Kemp LHP – Chris Capuano
RF – Andre Ethier RHP – Aaron Harang
C – A.J. Ellis LHP – Ted Lilly
CL – Committee
One of the big favorites to win the National League West this season, the Los Angeles Dodgers enter 2013 ready to show what $300MM in payroll can do to a club and it’s rivals. Mainly, the Giants, whom L.A will play a total of nineteen times this coming season.
Even though L.A. finished eight games behind their arch rivals – and current World Champions – in San Francisco, there is much for the Dodgers to be excited about for the coming season.
For one, they have what looks like by far the deepest pockets out of all MLB franchises, thanks to Magic Johnson, and a television deal the ownership recently worked out that is worth upwards of seven billion dollars.
But will spending all of this money on names alone be enough for L.A. to compete?
I think, to a certain degree, the answer is yes. Though L.A fell off the map at the end of 2012, the team has an opportunity in spring to become more acquainted with one another -for some a new league as well -, and, with some of the most depth at every position, it looks like the Dodgers are no joke:
Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford will be the table-setters for getting this offense going.
But chemistry counts for a lot, and it is very hard to come by in today’s age of baseball. However, it can be developed, and if there was ever a team who had extra incentive to do so, it has got to be the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers.
With the addition of Zack Greinke, the Dodgers now boast what could be the best one-two punch in all of baseball. But that’s about where the assured pitching ends, as the rotation is still very much up in the air at this point. Spring Training will be much needed in concocting the right rotation for a club that is jumping to get started.
And this might not be bad, but L.A. does not have anyone slated to be their closer. Kenley Jansen was superb for a good portion of last season – he finished 2012 with a 5-3 record, an ERA of 2.35, converted twenty five of thirty two save opportunities, and collected an astounding ninety nine strikeouts through only sixty five innings of work.
So what happened?
Well, he began to drop off towards the end of his season, but more importantly, an irregular heartbeat caused him to sit out the rest of 2012. He’s recovering steadily, but will have to out pitch Brandon League to secure a closing role. Which might be tough, consider League’s value as both a reliever and starter:
Over the last three seasons, he’s gone 12-18 while collecting fifty eight saves, with one hundred forty fives strikeouts over 212.1 innings of work. So he’s not the most efficient at punching opponents out, and his walks are about average for a reliever, but – in his nine years of Major League service, he has only allowed thirty three homeruns. That is an elite stat.
With utility men such as Skip Schumaker, Jerry Hairston, Nick Punto, and Dee Gordon, the club has plenty of options when it comes to giving their regulars a day or two off.
Now like the rest of the lineup, their bullpen is loaded. And though their starters were third to only Washington and Tampa Bay in team ERA (3.41), the starting staff had a major problem in getting wins (besides Clayton Kershaw) last season. Ranking a poor 18th in wins amongst starting pitchers, the Dodgers staff only amassed fifty six wins in 2012. So with three fifths of the rotation virtually up for grabs, L.A. will need to sort out who stays, and who goes.
Overall, the Dodgers are probably the best team on paper, but the real test remains to be seen.
# 9. Oakland A’s
1B – Brandon Moss RHP – Brett Anderson
2B – Scott Sizemore RHP – Bartolo Colon
3B – Jed Lowrie RHP – Jarrod Parker
SS – Hero Nakajima LHP – Tommy Milone
LF – Yoenis Cespedes RHP – A.J. Griffin
CF – Coco Crisp RHP – Dan Straily
RF – Josh Reddick LHP – Andrew Werner
DH – Seth Smith
C – Jon Jaso CL – Grant Balfour
No one expected the A’s to be much more than seventy win team last season, but expectations were thrown out the window when Oakland showed the baseball world what they’re capable of by going deep into the playoffs.
Expectations now mounting, the A’s are starting to look more and more like one of the better clubs in baseball.
They now boast a rotation full of rookies, including: Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, and Dan Straily, who amassed thirty five wins between the four young starters.
Their outfield is solid with Yoenis Cespedes – who was phenomenal in his Major League debut season – , Josh Reddick – who had a career year in Oakland – , and Coco Crisp, who will most likely split time with Chris Young and Seth Smith, as Crisp is an aging vet after all.
And with Brett Anderson and Bartolo Colon – who is still being re-acclimated to the club following his PED mishap – rounding off the rotation, Oakland’s staff could be set for an equally impressive year. Though some drop off is expected from their rookie arms – who will be entering their sophomore season – , the team should still be able to compete with an upgraded American League West.
There are some new faces in camp, however:
OF – Chris Young
SS – Jed Lowrie
SS – Heroyuki Nakajima
C – Jon Jaso
RHP – Brandon McCarthy
With Jon Jaso, the team gets a veteran catcher who will split time with proven newcomer Derek Norris.
Jed Lowrie comes over from the Astros, and will compete for the shortstop role with international signee Hero Nakajima.
Brandon McCarthy is now in Arizona, but the rotation looks to be in fine shape.
Overall, Oakland has done a good job at keeping their rotation, bullpen, and position players in tact, and have some solid depth in many places. The only thing for this club to worry about is the improved clubs in the Anaheim Angels, and Texas Rangers.
# 10. Toronto Blue Jays
1B – Edwin Encarnacion RHP – R. A. Dickey
2B – Maicer Izturis RHP – Brandon Morrow
3B – Brett Lowrie LHP – Mark Buehrle
SS – Jose Reyes RHP – Josh Johnson
LF – Melky Cabrera LHP – Ricky Romero
CF – Colby Rasmus LHP – J. A. Happ
RF – Jose Bautista
DH – Adam Lind
C – J.P. Arencibia CL – Casey Janssen
Forget the Dodgers. This team is the best on paper. But I have a feeling the mass overhaul might actually pan out in Toronto, whereas it did not for Miami in 2012, and may or may not happen for L.A.
What this club did could potentially be huge. Acquiring Buehrle is more than a sound investment, as he has been one of the best starters in the game during his whole career..
There’s not much you can say about a club that is basically 75% different from that of last season’s. If Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Josh Johnson, R.
A. Dickey, and Mark Buehrle can mesh well together with their new teammates, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be considered the team to beat in the American League East. I mean, there is not one place you can look at this club and say “gee, I don’t know about that position.” Because you cant.
The only area you could consider not very good, would be their bullpen. But if Sergio Santos comes back to form, Casey Janssen will be able to pitch without as much pressure on his back.
The outfield is brimming with talent. The infield is speedy, powerful, solid, and holds the leadoff hitter they’ve been looking for in Jose Reyes. And behind the dish, Arencibia looks to continue in his second half numbers he put up in 2012.
Overall, if the names on paper translate for this club, the rest of the MLB is going to have a tough time getting around this powerful looking Blue Jays crew.
Now, as this was a Top-10 list, not every team could make it. There were a handful of teams that JUST missed the cut, but, as this list is subjective, not everyone is going to agree with the way I ranked these teams. And, to be fair, there is no perfect way to rank them. But some stats used more than proved the dominance some teams hold over the others, regardless of opinions.
So, here are the five teams that just missed out.
# 11 Philadelphia Phillies – Philadelphia boasts three elite starters in Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay (who had a down year in 2012), and Cole Hamels. Michael Young, Delmon Young, and Ben Revere add good depth to the team that now has a healthy Ryan Howard and Chase Utley back. Carlos Ruiz is out for 25 games, so the catcher’s spot is a question mark.
# 12 Arizona Diamondbacks – They are the sneaky underdog in the NL West. With solid off-season pickups in Brandon McCarthy, Martin Prado and Cody Ross, look for Arizona to be have a solid shot in the National League West.
# 13 Atlanta Braves – The additions of B.J. and Justin Upton make Atlanta’s outfield probably the best in baseball. McCann is a top five catcher, and Craig Kimbrel is the National League’s (maybe all of baseball’s) best closer.
# 14 Tampa Bay Rays – Solid pitching, but the void left by James Shields might be a problem. And besides Evan Longoria and Wil Myers, they don’t have much power in their position players. Great, consistent team, however, with 4 out of last 5 seasons with 90+ wins.
# 15 New York Yankees – It’s time, but the Yankees are finally starting to age, and they do not have as good a rotation as other in their division. A-Rod and Derek Jeter are major question marks, despite the duo’s intentions on playing in 2013.
Now I’m sure there will be some Orioles fans that dislike my decision in keeping Baltimore off of the list, and even though they deserve to be on it somewhere, there were just too many other teams that ranked above them for one reason or another.
I do feel, however, that they are definitely a team on the rise, and should be viewed as a solid club.
With 2013 fast approaching, one thing is for sure:
Even though many teams have made big splashes in attempts at fortifying their clubs, all it takes is an underdog to come out of nowhere and upset the mainstream.
Tags: Arizona Diamondbacks Atlanta Braves Buster Posey Cincinnati Reds Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers New York Yankees Oakland Athletics Philadelphia Phillies Popluar R.a. Dickey San Francisco Giants St. Louis Cardinals Tampa Bay Rays Texas Rangers Toronto Blue Jays Washington Nationals