MLB – 2013 PRE-SEASON AL PREDICTIONS

AL EAST WINNER – Yankees

AL CENTRAL WINNER – Tigers*; Indians (wild card)

AL WEST WINNER – Angels; A’s (wild card)

*World Series Winner

AL EAST

1.     New York Yankees

The Yankees won this division 13 out of the last 17 years.  They’ve secured a wild card berth in every other year except 2008.

No other modern MLB team has come close to this type of dominance in their own division, except the Atlanta Braves who won the NL East every year from 1995-2005 (11 times).

But, the end of this era may be on its way.

The Yankees cost-cutting measures has them relying upon an abundance of aging veterans with injuries and short-term contracts.

Does that mean it’s over for the Yankees in 2013?  I say not just yet if that core team can stay healthy.

In my February 18 post, Why the Yankees Will Win the 2013 AL East Division”, I took a deep look into the current Yankees team.  My findings indicate that they just may be just a hair more talented than the Toronto Blue Jays, a team others predict will put an end to the Yankees sovereignty over this division.

That said, the recent injuries of the Yankees starters (Granderson, Texeira, Jeter, ARod) and the departure of key home run hitting members over the offseason highlights that the biggest problem now for the Yanks may be lack of depth.

Thus, it seems fair to suggest that the core team needs to get/stay healthy and produce, or this prediction will not hold up.

2.     Baltimore Orioles

Last season, the Orioles did something they haven’t done since 1997- they won over 90 games and made it to the playoffs.  A miraculous feat, considering the team’s payroll was the fourth lowest in the division.

But, somehow, with a middle of the road offense and 12 different pitchers used during the course of the season, the team had the 2nd most home runs in the majors and wound up with 7th most wins.

How did they do it?  Excellent coaching and a steady influx of great prospects.

Buck Showalter made great use of players promoted from the minors including positional players Nate McClouth and Manny Machado, plus pitchers Chris Tillman and Jason Hammel.

In fact, with the arrival of those players, the Orioles seemed to have received a turbo boost and went 38-18 in their last 56 games and outscored opponents by 69 runs in those games.

Now, at the start of a new season, Showalter’s second-half team from last year will be full-time.

In addition to Showalter’s exciting and promising young team, he has access to more depth below in the minors.  Check that, excellent depth in the minors.  Namely, Dylan Bundy, a 20 year old right-handed ace-caliber starting pitcher and the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball, among others.

The potential of this team looks the scariest in this division to me.  However, they will still need to contend with the Yankees and improved Blue Jays.  It will be interesting to see how things play out.

3.     Toronto Blue Jays

Would it be an understatement to say that the Jays have upgraded the talent on this ball club since last year?  The team has acquired so many new and talented players in trades during the off-season, they will see a jump in payroll of about $32.4 million in 2013 ($82.4 million spent in 2012 to an estimated $114.8 million).

With this new team, word on the street is that Toronto now has a good shot to win the World Series.  In fact, Vegas bookmakers rank their current odds at 8/1.

But, I’m not ready to jump on this bandwagon yet.

I think the Blue Jays have the potential be a very good club overall.  However, how good is their lineup, really?  Do they have enough power to compete?

Only 1 player currently on Toronto’s projected lineup hit over .300 last season.  And, that player was Melky Cabrera who in August 2012 was suspended for 50 days after testing positive for PEDs which he ultimately admitted to using.

It’s not clear if Cabrera’s recent surge in BA was due to the drugs, but during the 5 years that he played with the Yankees (2005-2009), he averaged .257 BA and 7 HRs.  He never came close to his 2012 stats (.346 and 18 home runs).  Assuming that close scrutiny and Cabrera’s conscious kicks in, he won’t bat over .300 this year.

I also have doubts about chemistry in this season’s Blue Jays club.  Many of the players new to this team include several former Miami Marlins who were suddenly cast-off in a monster trade none of them seem to have expected.  Jose Reyes, for one, has cited his anger publicly for the sudden trade.

This type of upheaval can be overcome, but it will take the likes of a good player’s coach to appease and uplift those former Marlins and bring the entire team together.  I am not so sure that Coach John Gibbons is that man.

Blue Jays GM, Alex Anthopoulos, must see something special in Gibbons by bringing him back this past Nov after firing him in 2008.  But his past record and controversial management style has been disastrous in the past.  I think this will be a liability for the club and keep the talent at bay.

4.     Tampa Bay Rays

Not many would have believed that a ball club with one of the lowest payrolls in the majors would finish 1st in this division in 2008 and 2010; come in 2nd in 2011; and finish 2012 with a 90-72 record.

So, what’s not to say that they won’t continue to defy naysayers and do it all over again in 2013?

Unfortunately, I feel the payroll (or lack thereof) will finally catch up with Coach Maddon’s team this year.

Not only has the division gotten better during the off-season with the rise of the Orioles & Blue Jays, but the Rays weakened the one area of the team which helped them to overcome a perpetually mediocre offense: the starting pitching rotation.

They traded away James Shields in the off-season, their ace and anchor, as well as pitcher Wade Davis.  David Price will now need to step up and be the leader and Moore & Niemann will need to provide consistency and be healthy.  Still, I don’t see this staff recovering from the loss of Shields.

Tampa   Bay Rays – 2012 Starting Pitching Stats

Player, Age

W-L

ERA

HR

BB

K

David Price, 27

20-5

2.56

16

59

205

Jeremy Hellickson, 25

10-11

3.10

25

59

124

Matt Moore, 23

11-11

3.81

18

81

175

Jeff Niemann, 30

2-3

3.08

2

12

34

Alex Cobb, 25

11-9

4.03

11

40

106

By looking at last year’s stats, what the pitching staff seemed to have suffered by was lack of run support.  How did Moore & Hellickson have all those losses with those kinds of ERA’s?

Well, it’ll be worse for the starting pitchers this season.  Their best hitter from last year, Jeff Keppinger, went to the Chicago White Sox (.325, 9 HR, 40 RBI, and efficient 31 SO).

What may help is the return of Evan Longoria who was out a chunk of last year after suffering a torn hamstring in April.  Looking back at previous years, Longoria is capable of hitting over 30 home runs and over 100 RBI.

But, in looking at the rest of the Rays projected 2013 lineup, it leaves me feeling very underwhelmed.

None of the other 8 hit more than 20 home runs last year or brought in more than 75 RBIs.  Additionally, the rate at which these Rays strike out is excessive.  At least 4 of the 9 struck out over 100 times last year (Jennings, Zobrist, Joyce, and Johnson) and one was on his way (Luke Scott).  He only played in 96 games, but struck out 80 times.

Tampa   Bay Rays – 2012 Player Stats

Lineup

Player, Age

BA

HR

RBI

SO

1

Desmond Jennings, 26

.246

13

47

120

2

Yunel Escobar*, 30

.253

9

51

70

3

Ben Zobrist, 31

.270

20

74

103

4

Evan Longoria^, 27

.289

17

55

61+

5

Matt Joyce, 28

.241

17

59

102

6

Luke Scott#, 34

.229

14

55

80

7

Kelly Johnson*, 31

.225

16

55

59

8

James Loney±, 28

.230

2

8

12

9

Jose Molina, 37

.223

8

32

60

*With Toronto 2012
^Played in 74 games in 2012 due to   injury
+From 2008 to 2010, Longoria had over   120 strikeouts in each year
#Played in 96 games in 2012
±Played in 30 games in 2012

Even with Evan Longoria back, this lineup needs a boost of production, possibly from prospects from the minors.  At least one prospect has shown promise in this early spring training: Leslie Anderson.

The bullpen seems mostly in tact from last year, but it is doubtful that the remaining Rays pitchers will be able to go as deep into games as Shields, which may be taxing on the starters.

Who knows?  These Rays might surprise us all and do what they’ve done best for the last several years – scrape together wins on the cheap.  I just don’t see it this time.

5.     Boston Red Sox

A few things bother me about the Red Sox at the start of the new season:  the Bobby Valentine hangover, many new recruits, injuries, and lack of a good starting rotation.

Bobby V may be long gone, but the debacle that was 2012 still looms over this club (69-93 record – worst since 1965).  And, many of their core veteran talent have been traded including: Papelbon, Youkilis, Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford, and Punto.  In their place, many new players were acquired to help patch the holes.

But, most glaring to me is that several players in the new lineup (7 of the 9) did not put in full years in 2012 (Injuries: Ellsbury, Ortiz, and Napoli; Up from Minors: Middlebrooks).  Only Victorino and Pedroia were full-time contributors to their clubs.

To add to the confusion, David Ortiz and Stephen Drew will start the year on the DL.  In their places, two unproven young players from the minors will step in.

But, even with Drew & Ortiz in the lineup, 4 of the 9 players are new to the team entirely, including 2 in the infield and 2 in the outfield.  And, at least three of them will be free agents in the next offseason.  Check out last year’s stats of the Red Sox projected lineup (with Drew & Ortiz healthy):

Boston Red Sox – 2012 Player Stats

Lineup

Player, Age

BA

HR

RBI

Since

1

Jacoby Ellsbury*+, 29

.271

4

26

‘07

2

Shane Victorino, 32

.255

17

55

NEW

3

Justin Pedroia, 29

.290

15

65

‘06

4

David Ortiz>, 37(Out w/Achilles Pain – On DL)

.318

23

60

‘03

5

Mike Napoli, 31^+

.227

24

56

NEW

6

Will Middlebrooks¥, 24

.288

15

54

‘12

7

Stephen Drew, 29~+(Out w/Concussion indefinitely)

.223

7

28

NEW

8

Jonny Gomes, 32@

.262

18

47

NEW

9

Jarrod Saltalamacchia±, 27

.222

25

47

‘10

*Appeared in 74 games
+Free Agent at end of season
>Appeared in 90 games
^Appeared in 108 games
¥Appeared in 75 games
~Appeared in 79 games
@Appeared in 99 games
±Appeared in 99 games

Still, it was a smart move by the Red Sox to keep three core veterans of this club (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz) who will provide crucial leadership and help ground the new guys in their particular area of expertise:  Ellsbury in the outfield; Pedroia in the infield; and Big Papi for the offense.

As for the Red Sox pitching, question marks prevail, but we could be pleasantly surprised.

The Sox have retained veteran Jon Lester, 29, LHP, expected to be the ace of this club.  But, 2012 was his worst season since 2008 (9-14 record & 4.82 ERA).  If he can he rebound and be the highly effective pitcher he was from 2008-2011, he has the potential to lead this pitching staff and ground the starting rotation, which will be crucial for their success.

John Lackey, 34, RHP, could also help contribute to the pitching staff’s overall success.  But, he was out all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John Surgery.  And, while he had excellent years with the Angels from 2005-2009, he has not fared well with the Red Sox (2010: 14-11, 4.40 ERA) and (2011: 12-12, 6.41 ERA).  He has showed promise in the past- just who he will be this year is yet to be determined.

To sum up, there is a lot of unknown here.  I think the Sox could have a good year if the team gels together well.  Yet, it is worrisome to think of all the transitional players in the lineup and a starting pitching rotation that has shown to be lackluster in recent years.

AL CENTRAL

1.     Detroit Tigers

It’s been a long dry-spell for the Detroit Tigers since their last World Series Championship.  Twenty-nine years ago to be exact.  But, I think the wait might finally be over.

In 2012, the Tigers were good enough to win the AL Central, beat the Oakland A’s in the ALDS, and sweep the New York Yankees in the ALCS.  The only barrier in their pursuit for the World Series was the San Francisco Giants, a team destined for history and supercharged with extreme chemistry.

But, in the
off-season, the Tigers became an even better team and are now poised to make history themselves.  Namely, they’ve acquired outfielder Torii Hunter from the Angels.  He will provide veteran leadership and give an already powerful line-up a boost of warp-speed.

They will also see the return of Victor Martinez who spent the entire 2012 on the DL due to injury.  If he is as good as he was in 2011, then it’ll be another form of propulsion for that line-up.

In fact, let’s take a quick look at the projected 2013 lineup.  Warning, it’s pretty scary.  6 of the 9 could hit over .300 this season:

Detroit   Tiger – 2012 Player Stats

Lineup

Player,   Age

BA

HR

RBI

1

Austin Jackson (26)

.300

16

66

2

Torii Hunter (37)

.313

16

92

3

Miguel Cabrera (29)

.330

44

139

4

Prince Fielder (28)

.313

30

108

5

Victor Martinez* (34)

.330

12

103

6

Andy Dirks (27)

.322

8

35

7

Jhonny Peralta (30)

.239

13

63

8

Alex Avila (26)

.243

9

48

9

Omar Infante  (31)

.257

4

53

*2011 Stats

If that isn’t enough, there’s always the Tiger’s outstanding starting pitching rotation. They will be mostly in tact from last year and will include their ace Verlander, followed by Scherzer, Fister, Sanchez, and Porcello.  Last season, the team’s pitching ERA rank was #9(3.75); #5 (strikeouts); #6 (least amount of BB give up); #11 (most wins).

They will likely be followed by a potential rookie phenom reliever in Bruce Rondon, a 22 year old who apparently throws over 100 mph and had an excellent three years in the minors.

Thus, to me, the Tigers look like the most well-rounded club in the majors and my favorite to win the World Series.  They have a perfect combination of veterans, youth, and mid-level players.  They also have the most potent middle lineup in the majors including the best offensive player in the league and their pitching is outstanding.  Finally, they are led by one of the most decorated and encouraging coaches in the business, Jim Leyland.

2.     Cleveland Indians

As I wrote in my very first article for this blog (“Prediction: San Fran to Win World Series”), chemistry can be a “magic elixir” for a ball club on the rise.  And, I think it just may be what gives this improved Indians club a chance to win a wild card spot in the American League this year.

It all starts with new Manager Terry Francona.  If you’ve watched any spring training coverage this season, you’ve seen smiles all around that Indians clubhouse.  And, that’s what he’ll bring as an asset:  a proven leader who is fun, knowledgeable, and likeable to the players and fans.

The next step is that rebuilt team.  The roster looks a lot different than it did this time last year with several new acquisitions.  $117 million worth of new players, to be exact.  Only four full-time players remain in the lineup from 2012.

One of those newly acquired players and a real coup for the team is Nick Swisher from the Yankees.  An excellent utility player who can play both the outfield and first base in a pinch, he also hits home runs and is a switch hitter. And at 32 years old and the oldest man in the lineup, he brings vital veteran leadership having won a World Series Championship with the Yanks in 2009.  He’ll help guide the youth of that team as Francona’s wing man on the field.

I also love the Indians’ acquisition of Michael Bourn, a 30 year old outfielder who will be their leadoff hitter with massive speed (42 stolen bases in 2012).  He led the National League in stolen bases from 2009-2011.  Drew Stubbs is also new for the Indians and speedy.  He is a 28 year old DH who took 30 bases last year.  That’ll just add to the already fast 25 year old Jay Kipnis, 2nd baseman who stole 31 bases in 2012.

In addition, the Indians added free agents like Jason Giambi, Scott Kazmir, Matt Capps, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ryan Raburn to minor league deals.

These players will have a positive effect on leadership for the team and help take the burden off the rest of the young players like Kipnis.  He’s already noticed a difference in the clubhouse from last year.  He said recently, “It’s more a stress-free environment”.

As for pitching, this is the only real weakness of the Indians.  They have right hander Masterson who had an 11-15 record last year and 4.93 ERA.  These numbers are a decline from 2011 when he was 12-10 and 3.21 ERA.  The second best pitcher is Ubaldo Jimenez who had a 9-17 record last year and 5.40.  It’s safe to say that these numbers need to improve to get this pitching staff off the ground.  Perhaps knowing that they’ve got a new lineup to back them up and better management will give them the confidence to do better this year.  And, they’ll need to if this team has a chance in this division, or to snag a wild card.

3.   Chicago White Sox

The 2012 White Sox were a good solid team finishing 2nd in the Division behind the Tigers with an 85-77 record.  They gave the Tigers a run in the end, but lost 11 of the last 16 games and missed their chance to make it into the playoffs.

During this off-season, the Sox failed to make any splashy acquisitions and in fact, lost productive veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the Texas Rangers.  This could be a huge problem for the Sox in 2013.  The Royals and Indians improved their rosters while the Sox seemed to have weakened slightly.

Still, I think this Sox team will be as solid as last year and has the potential to do better with less.

For one, I like the spread of ages in this team.  They have a nice balance of youth, mid-career players, and veterans.  This could only help to create a nice chemistry for coach Robin Ventura, a former player who had the reputation for being “perceptive” and “a good influence” last year.

Also, I feel this offense has above average potential.  Even without Pierzynski’s bat, they could be potent if they kick it up a notch.  Only question marks here include Konerko’s age (37) – can he continue with success at the bat in 2013?

And, then there’s 26 year old Gordon Beckham.  Most of his batting numbers improved in 2012, but he needs to give more production to help anchor that lineup.

Finally, there’s Pierzynski’s replacement, Tyler Flowers.  He was mediocre with the bat in the 50+ games he played last year and, how good he will be as a catcher remains to be seen.

Chicago   White Sox – 2012 Stats

Lineup

Player, Age

BA

HR

RBI

SO

1

Alejandro de Aza (28)

.281

9

50

109

2

Jeff Keppinger (32)>

.325

9

40

31

3

Alex Rios (32)

.304

25

91

92

4

Paul Konerko (37)

.298

26

75

83

5

Adam Dunn (33)

.204

41

96

222

6

Dayan Viciedo (24)

.255

25

78

120

7

Alexei Ramirez (31)

.265

9

73

77

8

Tyler Flowers *(27)

.213

7

13

56

9

Gordon Beckham (26)

.234

16

60

89

>Played in 115 games in 2012
*Played in 52 games in 2012

As for Sox pitching, I see the staff to be good and solid and better than the Indians pitching staff for sure, but not stellar.  They’ll need ace Chris Sale (24 year old brought up from the pen to start in 2012) to be excellent again in 2013.  He had a good year last year and will help to set the table for the rest of the pitchers (Peavy, Floyd, Quintana, Axelrod).

In my opinion, the Sox are only one or two players away from being a real rival to the Tigers and improved Indians.  With the current staff, the Sox won’t get much respect – that is, unless they surprise and turn it on bigger in 2013 which they have the potential to do.

4.     Kansas City Royals

The Royals haven’t finished better than 2nd in the division since 1995.  The last time they came in 1st place was 1985 when they went on to win the World Series (the only year they’ve ever won it).

The problem?  Royals’ owner David Glass seems convinced it has been the pitching that has been holding them back.  Towards the end of last season, he announced that the team was going to make a push to get into the post-season by building up the starting rotation.

And, Glass held to his word – he cracked open his pocketbook in the off-season to acquire first-class right-handed pitchers James Shields & Wade Davis from Tampa Bay and Ervin Santana from the Angels.  The club’s opening payroll went from $60.9 million in 2012 to a record $79 million this season.

Of course, getting Shields was a great move for the Royals – his record speaks for itself and he’s a veteran leader who’ll help ground and teach this very young team.  He’ll be a much needed boost to the bullpen that has been consistently excellent and powerful.

The lineup looks solid, but strikeouts appear to be somewhat of a concern amongst this young team.

Chicago   White Sox – 2012 Stats

Lineup

Player, Age

BA

HR

SB

SO

1

Alex Gordon (28)

.294

14

10

140

2

Alcides Escobar (26)

.293

5

35

100

3

Billy Butler (26)

.313

29

2

111

4

Mike Moustakas (24)

.242

20

5

124

5

Salvador Perez^ (22)

.301

11

0

27

6

Eric Hosmer (23)

.232

14

16

95

7

Jeff Francoeur (29)

.235

16

4

119

8

Lorenzo Cain* (26)

.266

7

10

56

9

Chris Getz+ (29)

.275

0

9

17

^Played in 76 games in 2012
*Played in 61 games in 2012
+Played in 64 games in 2012

In the end, while leadership is sorely missing from this club, I’m not so sure that Shields is the singular player to pull all of the components together.  I’m also not buying that a rebuilt starting pitching rotation will give the rest of the team the boost Mr. Glass seems to think it needs.

In my opinion, these Royals need one or two real veterans in the regular rotation to help get them motivated real fast.

Thus, I’m not going with the experts on this pick. I don’t think the Royals will stack up well against the other teams in this division.  Their real chance for viable wins may be playing the AL East teams who seem to be of lesser quality this season than the other teams in this division, but that’s as far as success goes for me with this Royals club.

5.     Minnesota Twins

With franchise players like Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer in the lineup, how could it be that several MLB experts pick this team to finish last in the division and potentially have 100+ losses?

Unfortunately, those two players seem to be the only bright spots.  Despite their potential, the team had a dismal 2012 and finished with a 66-96 record for last place.

Much of the blame for continued failure stems from lack of offense and particularly, an abysmal starting rotation which finished third from the bottom in all of MLB in 2012.

Not much has changed during the off-season for this team, so more failure is predicted for this club, particularly in light of the improved rosters in all other teams in the division.

However, if the team can acquire a decent starter or a prospect emerges, that could help bolster pitcher Scott Diamond, who finished 12-9 last year and 3.54 ERA and Vance Worley who had a lackluster year in 2012, but proved to be a decent starter for Phil in 2011.

AL WEST

1.     Los Angeles Angels

Last year, this division was very tight. The A’s won it by only 1 game over Texas and 5 over the Angels.

But I think that the Angels, who finished (89-73), were only 1 or 2 great players away from winning the division.  And, Josh Hamilton was just what they were looking for.

In the off-season, the Angels picked up this veteran from the Rangers, giving them more firepower in the lineup which already includes Albert Pujols and 2012 rookie sensation Mike Trout.

Los   Angeles Angels – 2012 Stats

Lineup

Player, Age

BA

HR

SB

SO

1

Mike Trout (21)

.326

30

49

139

2

Erick Aybar (29)

.290

8

20

61

3

Albert Pujols (33)

.285

30

8

76

4

Josh Hamilton (31)

.285

43

7

162

5

Mark Trumbo (27)

.268

32

4

153

6

Alberto Callaspo (29)

.252

10

4

59

7

Howie Kendrick (29)

.287

8

14

115

8

Chris Iannetta* (29)

.240

9

1

60

9

Peter Bourjos+ (26)

.220

3

3

44

*Played in 79 games in 2012
+Played in 101 games in 2012

As for the starting pitching staff, the Angels retained Jered Weaver, their 30 year old ace and C.J. Wilson, the 32 year old lefty for the second starter.  New to the club is Jason Vargas, 30 year old lefty from Seattle, who will be the third starter.  He finished last year with a 14-11 record, 3.85 ERA.  He may benefit by the added firepower and improve upon his record this year.

The pitching staff will be rounded out by Joe Blanton, 32 year old veteran and Tommy Hanson, 26 year old righty.

The team also brought in reliever Ryan Madson who should help the bullpen, again another area of the team that was probably 1 person short of being complete.

For these reasons, (and because of Manager Mike Scioscia), I think the Angels will take this division from the A’s.

2.     Oakland Athletics

One thing you have to like about this organization is that they’re not afraid to bring in reinforcements and try new things, albeit- heavily based in General Manager Billy Beane’s saber metric statistical data.

And while, this year’s projected lineup shows that 4 of the 9 players will be new to the team (Lowrie, Young, Jaso, Nakajima), and 3 are only entering their 2nd season (Reddick, Cespedes, Moss), there seems to be a method to their madness.

Last season, despite the naysayers and injuries, the A’s rose up to the win the division.  Coach Melvin did an excellent job of working with setbacks and his lineup is even better this year by the addition of the new players.

Notice the consistent home run totals, batting averages, and ages:

Oakland   A’s – 2012 Stats

Lineup

Player, Age

BA

HR

SB

SO

1

Coco Crisp (33)

.259

11

39

64

2

Jed Lowrie* (28)

.244

16

2

65

3

Josh Reddick (26)

.242

32

11

151

4

Yoenis Cespedes (27)

.292

23

16

102

5

Brandon Moss+ (29)

.291

21

1

90

6

Chris Young# (29)

.231

14

8

79

7

Josh Donaldson~ (27)

.241

9

4

61

8

John Jaso> (29)

.276

10

5

51

9

Hiroyuki Nakajima (30)(Numbers from Japanese League)

.311

13

7

76

*Played in 97 games in 2012
+Played in 84 games in 2012
# Played in 101 games in 2012
~ Played in 75 games in 2012
> Played in 108 games in 2012

And, then there’s the potential of Yoenis Cespedes, which some believe hasn’t fulfilled his potential yet.  Cespedes, 27, was a star in Cuba.  Last year, Beane made one of the richest deals in A’s history for him based on his statistical data and not much else.  If he fulfills all the promise, look for a breakout year from this centerfielder some compare to Willie Mays.

The pitching staff seems to be somewhat untested- a lot of youth outside of Bartolo Colon, but all signs seem to point towards a good year from Brett Anderson (25 year old lefty) and Jarrod Parker (24 year old righty).

Not to worry, however, their bullpen is one of the best in the MLB with Grant  Balfour who had 24 saves last year, Ryan Cook (14) and other power arms.

So, while I think the Angels’ raw firepower and speed on the bags will give them an edge over these A’s, don’t count this team out just yet.  Billy Beane may just have more surprises up his sleeves.

3.     Texas Rangers

I think it’s going to be too tough for the Rangers to compete in the division this year.  They seem to have major holes in every area making it too much for the club to overcome, especially if unexpected injuries creep in on this aging team.

What will carry them through is the firepower of the offense, this team’s major asset.  Very impressive home run totals and explosiveness potential with Adrian Beltre and David Murphy in the lineup, especially.

But, the loss of Josh Hamilton will hurt.  Ok, it’s one guy.  But, there’s no question that the Rangers’ offense is that much weaker this year without him.  Last year Hamilton had 160 hits, 43 home runs, and 128 RBIs.  How do they plan to replace him?  With Lance Berkman?

On the other hand, getting A.J. Pierzynski from the White Sox was a nice addition for the Rangers.  He may be 36 years old, but the catcher had a great year last year and hit 27 home runs.  He will also be an asset to the pitching staff, who will need the help.  It’s the area that has the most holes.  They may have Darvish & Matt Harrison, but they are lacking a fifth starter, which means relievers Robbie Ross and Alexi Ogando kick up to the rotation from the bullpen until one is found.

I also don’t have a lot of confidence in the Rangers bullpen.  Except for Joe Nathan, they’ve completely rebuilt this area of the team with lesser known, unproven relievers.

4.     Seattle Mariners

What sticks out to me when I look at this Mariners club going into the new season: Lack of depth, speed, and the inability to compete in this division.  For those reasons, I don’t really see this Mariners club contending.

With that said, it’s not all bad.  The Mariners have a nice looking improved lineup and potential.  Namely, from Kendrys Morales, Mike Morse, and Raul Ibanez, a clutch veteran from the Yankees with serious firepower.  They could help motivate and pick up the younger players who looked lackluster during last season.

The starting pitching rotation seems stable enough with Felix Hernandez as the ace (13-9, 3.06 ERA in 2012).  He will be followed up by Iwakuma, 31 Japanese righty (9-5, 3.16 ERA in 2012).  Joe Saunders and Blake Beavan will give them a chance to win some games if backed up by the offense, but the fifth starter, Erasmo Ramirez is untested and green.

If anything, this Mariners club will provide a nuisance factor to those powerhouse clubs in the division and the AL.

5.     Houston Astros

Certain phrases have been used to describe the situation in Houston since Jim Crane bought the Astros franchise in late 2011:  “In transition”; “Rebuilding”; “New Look”.

However you wish to phrase it, the club is in trouble at the moment and Mr. Crane’s inability, or unwillingness to spend money on franchise players while the farm system comes to fruition creates an ugly scene down on the field and bad taste in the mouth of the fan base.

What the team is left with at the current moment are a lot of young cheaper and less quality players, the likes you’ve never heard of.  But, that’s what you get for slashing your payroll almost in half from the previous year.

Still, there are some legitimate players on this team like Chris Carter who the Astros received from the A’s and Jose Altuve who was an All Star in 2012.

The only thing we should concern ourselves with now regarding the Astros is how many losses they will actually have in 2013.  Over/under?

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