(Sports Network) - There are no better words to hear if you are a baseball fan
than "Opening Day." Amazing as it seems, the 2013 Major League Baseball season
is now upon us.
And as we head toward a new season, it's a familiar team that's still at the
top of the class in the American League.
The Detroit Tigers entered the 2012 campaign as huge favorites to win an AL
Central title. Well, they won their second straight division title, but it
wasn't easy, as the Tigers sat below .500 for most of the first half, and
never actually clinched the Central until the final week of the regular
Detroit then outlasted the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS before sweeping the
New York Yankees in the ALCS. But that offense that carried the Tigers for
much of the second half of the year and through the first two rounds of the
playoffs disappeared in the World Series and they were swept by the San
Francisco Giants in four games.
Now, if you are a fan of another team in the AL you may want to stop reading
because as good as the Tigers were a year ago, they may be even better this
season thanks to the addition of outfielder Torii Hunter and the return of
Victor Martinez, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury.
Of course, the Tigers are led by Triple Crown winner and reigning AL MVP
Miguel Cabrera, who had a season for the ages in 2012, leading the league with
a .330 average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI. His partner in crime, Prince
Fielder, enjoyed his first year in Motown, as he hit .313 with 30 home runs
and 108 RBI.
Speaking of Cabrera, there's really no reason to think he won't replicate his
average from last year and the lineup additions should net him close to his
RBI total from a year ago. If he's able to match his home run production, he
may very well repeat as a Triple Crown winner. Let that soak in for a second.
While Cabrera and Fielder hold down the fort from the offensive side, it
doesn't get much better on the mound than Justin Verlander, who followed up
his MVP and Cy Young season in 2011 with another typical great year in 2012.
There's also a little sidebar story to this year's Tigers. There have been
whispers that this could be the final season for 68-year-year-old manager Jim
Leyland. His team is better on paper than it was last season.
Is there a better way to end a career than with a championship?
For an insight into the season, here's a brief synopsis and a look at some of
the teams which will try to stop the Tigers from repeating as this year's AL
champion in power poll form:
2. LOS ANGELES ANGELS: The Angels were supposed to be the "it" team last
season, but were unable to overcome a slow start. The one good thing
to come out of last season was the emergence of Mike Trout. Now he, Albert
Pujols and newly acquired Josh Hamilton pose as intimidating a trio as there
is in the league. Pujols took a while to get going last year, but should be
better in his second year in the AL. As long as Hamilton doesn't have the same
growing pains, the Angels should be back in the postseason for the first time
in four years.
3. TORONTO BLUE JAYS: Everyone loves the Toronto Blue Jays. And why not? The
team added multiple All-Stars in that monster deal with Miami in addition to
the National League's reigning Cy Young Award winner in R.A. Dickey. Not to
mention it looks like it could be a down year in the AL East. On paper the
Jays look great. But, it's not often that the team who won the offseason
actually wins in the regular season. If you don't believe me, just ask last
year's Angels. Or better yet look at the Jays' dugout and ask the former
Marlins how it worked out for them last season. Point is super teams rarely
work. before any games are played, though, the Jays look tough to beat.
4. TAMPA BAY RAYS: Call me crazy, but substance usually wins out over style.
Over the course of a 162-game season the Rays just find ways to get it done.
Lose B.J. Upton? Big deal, go out and get one of the top outfield prospects in
all of baseball in Wil Myers. The Rays are so deep they were able to deal
James Shields and some think their pitching staff will be even better than it
was last year. I'm tired of picking against them and looking foolish. Evan
Longoria will win an MVP sometime in his career. It may very well be this
5. OAKLAND ATHLETICS: The Athletics came out of nowhere last year to win the AL
West thanks to a furious finish that saw them win their final six games and
overcome a four-game deficit with less than a week left in the season. The A's
rode a tremendous young pitching staff and a lineup full of mostly castoffs
that finished seventh in the majors in home runs. The core of the team is still
there, but the A's are hoping Brett Anderson can stay healthy and become the
ace they think he can be. Should that happen, there's no reason to think they
won't be a factor again in the West.
6. TEXAS RANGERS: It's a brand new era in Texas Rangers baseball, as Hamilton
and his Triple Crown-caliber numbers and enormous baggage will no longer be
roaming the outfield in Arlington. Instead Hamilton is in Anaheim and the
Rangers have a huge hole in the middle of their order. Texas is hoping Lance
Berkman can give it a little pop, but the Rangers are going to have to
manufacture runs in what is expected to be a tough AL West. It could all go
wrong real quick for the Rangers, but then again, they could find themselves
back in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
7. BALTIMORE ORIOLES: The Orioles were the surprise of the AL last season.
Nobody expected them to do anything and they were in the mix for a division
title up until the final day of the season and reached the postseason for the
first time since 1997. They return basically the same team as last year so they
should once again be near the top in the AL East. Right? Well some people think
Baltimore could take a step back. Why? Well, the Orioles were a stunning 29-9
record last year in one-run games and even more remarkable was the fact that
they rattled off 16 straight extra inning wins at one point. It's hard to
imagine them being that good again in those situations.
8. NEW YORK YANKEES: How bad is it in Yankees land? Well the recent
acquisitions of Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay instantly made them better. Yes,
things don't look good on Opening Day. But everyone is forgetting this is a
162-game season. For the better part of the year they are still going to put a
lineup out there that includes Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira,
Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and Ichiro Suzuki. And maybe, just maybe
Alex Rodriguez returns at some point in the second half. Yes, they are old, but
it's essentially the same lineup that won 95 games a year ago. From top to
bottom, there are few better pitching staffs in the league. They are a middle-
of-the-road team on April 1. Something tells me they won't be on Sept.1. While
everyone seems to be licking their chops over the Yankees' demise, I need to
see the body before declaring them dead.
9. KANSAS CITY ROYALS: If you are looking for a sleeper team, look no further
than the Royals. For years we have heard how deep the Royals' farm system was.
Little by little we have seen the fruits of their labors with the development
of Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.
General manager Dayton Moore realized the Royals were getting close and this
offseason overhauled the starting rotation, acquiring righties James Shields,
Wade Davis and Ervin Santana. That group combined with returning right-hander
Jeremy Guthrie and lefty Bruce Chen gives Kansas City as talented a rotation as
there is in the AL. The pieces are in place and if it's not this year it won't
be long before the Royals are contending for a division title.
10. BOSTON RED SOX: This is a team a lot of people, including myself, could be
really wrong about. The Red Sox were absolutely miserable last season. Did
Bobby Valentine play a big part of that? Probably. But, John Farrell inherits
almost the same team that ended last season with 93 losses. The one thing that
could make this Red Sox team sneaky good is the fact that Farrell knows this
pitching staff. That group was a mess last year. If he can work his magic and
Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and a returning John Lackey get their acts together,
the Red Sox might not be all that bad.
11. CHICAGO WHITE SOX: The Chicago White Sox probably overachieved last season
in Robin Ventura's maiden voyage into the managerial seas. In first place for
117 days and the better part of the second half, the White Sox crumbled down
the stretch and eventually lost control of the AL Central to Detroit with two
weeks to go in the season. Chicago should once again be in the wild card mix
thanks to what is expected to be a pretty solid rotation headlined by breakout
star from a year ago, Chris Sale. Offensively, though, the club is still
veteran heavy led by Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and boom-or-bust slugger Adam
12. CLEVELAND INDIANS: Fans in Cleveland likely won't recognize the team they
see on Opening Day. Gone are Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo,
a trio that combined to play 25 seasons and 2,655 games in Cleveland. In
addition to new manager Terry Francona, general manager Chris Antonetti handed
out big money deals to outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, as well as
infielder Mark Reynolds and right-hander Brett Myers amongst others. If the
Indians are going to do anything, though, they need righty Ubaldo Jimenez to be
the pitcher the Tribe thought they were trading for in 2011. Either way,
though, this team should be better this year than they were last year.
13. SEATTLE MARINERS: Now the Royals are going to be a sleeper team this
season, but if you are looking to pick a team really out of the box, check out
the Mariners. Yes, we know they have scored the fewest runs in the league the
past four seasons. But scoring runs may not be a problem this year, as
youngsters Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders
continue to progress, coupled with the additions of veteran boppers Kendrys
Morales, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez and even Jason Bay. Now if the Mariners are
going to do anything in the AL West, they are going to need someone, anyone, to
step up after Felix Hernandez in the rotation. It may not be this year for the
Mariners, but they are coming.
14. MINNESOTA TWINS: If you are a fan of the Minnesota Twins, there are a few
things you can do this season. One, enjoy the play of your rookie center
fielder, Aaron Hicks. Two, appreciate the fact that Justin Morneau is healthy
and still playing for your club. And, three, give manager Ron Gardenhire a
standing ovation every time you are at a game because he won't be there next
15. HOUSTON ASTROS: The Astros are set to make their AL debut. If you can name
two players in their lineup, you are probably in the minority and the biggest
fantasy baseball nerd in your family. This is not a good team. Houston was a
last-place team in the NL Central and it will remain a last-place team in the
SOME OTHER PREDICTIONS
BREAKOUT PLAYER: DAYAN VICIEDO, OF, CHICAGO: There is not much youth in the
White Sox lineup. The one player who could make an impact is Cuban import
Viciedo, who swatted 25 home runs last season. Like most young hitters, he was
a little over aggressive at times and managed just 28 walks and a .255 average.
However, with a year under his belt, he should be more patient at the plate.
Plus, it doesn't hurt that he is surrounded by a couple members in the 400-HR
club in Konerko and Dunn.
BREAKDOWN PLAYER: DAVID ORTIZ, DH, BOSTON: This is a lazy prediction. Ortiz is
37 and already going to start the year on the disabled list. But, when healthy,
he is still the most feared hitter in the Red Sox lineup. Before he suffered a
season-ending Achilles injury in July (though he did come back for one game in
late August), Ortiz had been on pace to swat 41 homers with 108 RBI. Sluggers
like him tend to lose it over night. Call it a hunch, but it could be a long
year for Ortiz.
FIRST MANAGER FIRED: RON GARDENHIRE, MINNESOTA: Now Houston's Bo Porter is the
easy choice here. But, not even the Astros think he is going to win this year.
Texas' Ron Washington and Joe Girardi of the Yankees could be candidates as
well, but we are going to go with Gardenhire, who is in the final year of his
contract. And barring a miracle, the Twins are headed toward their third
straight last-place finish in the AL Central. Gardenhire is so good and has
had such a great track record, Twins GM Terry Ryan likely wouldn't fire him
midseason. But if he does, Gardenhire will be out of work for about a minute,
provided he doesn't want to rest a little. Prediction. Gardenhire manages
the New York Mets next season.
PLAYER MOST LIKELY TRADED BY DEADLINE: JUSTIN MORNEAU, 1B, MINNESOTA: When it
was learned that Teixeira would miss the first two months of the season with a
wrist injury, the knee jerk reaction was that the Yankees would go out and get
Morneau from the Twins. He is the ideal candidate to be moved. The Twins are
going to be bad and he is in the final year of a six-year, $80 million deal
that pays him $14 million this season. There's going to be a lot of names
that become hot as the season wears on, but none will be hotter than the
former AL MVP.
HOW IT WILL EVENTUALLY BREAK DOWN
WILD CARD: N.Y. YANKEES over KANSAS CITY ROYALS
ALDS: DETROIT over N.Y. YANKEES; L.A. ANGELS over TAMPA BAY
ALCS: DETROIT over L.A. ANGELS
AL MVP - ROBINSON CANO (NYY); AL CY Young - JERED WEAVER (LAA); AL Rookie of
Year - WIL MYERS (TAM); AL Manager of Year - NED YOST (KAN); AL Comeback Player
- MARIANO RIVERA (NYY)
The Sports Network