Three Teams to Watch in ‘13
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 20:02
Every year, in virtually every sport, all it takes is a chance at the postseason to come away with a title. While college basketball’s March Madness remains the most salient example — with the likes of VCU and Butler advancing to the season’s final weekend in recent years — the trend also exists in professional sports, with the Baltimore Ravens, the AFC’s fourth-best team, winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy Sunday night.
Likewise, in MLB, each of the individual leagues’ third-best teams, the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers, ultimately reached the Fall Classic. While it has become easier to rationally predict the course of a 162-game season with the continued development of advanced sabermetrics, baseball’s playoffs continue to prove that all it takes is a ticket for anything to happen. Last year, the Nationals and Orioles both had the opportunity, but look for the playoff landscape to change in 2013. Here are three teams I expect to supplant three of last season’s playoff teams in the Promised Land this year.
Toronto Blue Jays replacing the Baltimore Orioles
Sorry, DMV baseball fans. The 2012 Orioles were one of the luckiest teams in recent memory, compiling a miraculous 29-9 record in one-run games (including a 16-2 record in extra innings). With Baltimore ultimately advancing to the postseason by just three games over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles were fortunate to reach the playoffs. Furthermore, when examining teams based on runs scored and allowed over the course of the season, the Orioles were ultimately projected to amass an 82-80 record. With their only significant change the promotion of top shortstop/third base prospect Manny Machado, expect an underwhelming 2013 for Baltimore.
Although the AL East appears to once again be a bloodbath, one team has grabbed all the headlines with massive changes this winter. The Blue Jays swung two aggressive trades, first landing hitters Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck as well as pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the Marlins and later acquiring reigning NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets. With their other pieces — most notably hitters Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie — the Blue Jays are my pick in the AL East in 2013.
Los Angeles Angels replacing the Oakland Athletics
Like the Orioles, the Athletics certainly surprised in 2012, ultimately edging out the heavily favored Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. While I like Oakland’s collection of young talent, a starting infield of Chris Carter, Scott Sizemore, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Josh Donaldson will not get a team to October, even with a collection of young arms as impressive as theirs.
True, the Rangers were dealt a serious blow this winter in losing star Josh Hamilton and catcher Mike Napoli to free agency, but the arrival of top prospect Jurickson Profar will at least partially limit the damage, along with the arrivals of A.J. Pierzynski and designated hitter Lance Berkman. I still expect them to at least hold onto one of the two wild card positions.
In 2013, however, the division will be the Angels’ for the taking. Los Angeles stole Josh Hamilton from Texas to form the league’s most lethal batting core alongside Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo. Likewise, the Angels mitigated the loss of ace Zack Greinke by adding Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton and Jason Vargas this winter to still maintain one of the league’s best rotations.
Los Angeles Dodgers replacing the St. Louis Cardinals
I was tempted to claim that the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants would not have the opportunity to do the same in 2013, but the revamped Dodgers appear poised to replace the Cardinals in the postseason come October. The National League is set to be top heavy, with six quality clubs — the Nationals, Braves, Reds, Giants, Dodgers and Cardinals — that could all conceivably win the World Series, but one of them will not have the opportunity to compete in the postseason.
The Dodgers stole headlines as early as August by swinging a move with the Red Sox for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Josh Beckett and outfielder Carl Crawford — only to add an even bigger piece this offseason with the aforementioned Greinke from the Angels. Likewise, the Braves, Reds and Nationals all made important acquisitions, landing outfielders Justin Upton, Shin Soo Choo and Denard Span, respectively, while the Giants retained their core that brought them the world title in 2012. The Cardinals, on the other hand, are set to lose starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, and they’ll likely fail to land an appropriate replacement.
With surprises aplenty in 2012, it remains a possibility that more will come this year. But — at least for now — the Blue Jays, Angels and Dodgers are, on paper, the most likely candidates to supplant their conference rivals in the playoffs in 2013.
Preston Barclay is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. TURNING TWO IN THE 202 appears very Tuesday.