preview columns for baseball and football are some of the most
fun for me. They can involve -- despite all likely appearances
and wiseass jokes -- A LOT of research and thought on my part.
And, since I love baseball and football, the research doesn’t
feel like work… it’s just time consuming.
there’s a funny result that comes from doing this every year.
You find out you don’t know anything. At least not anything that
you can trust. You can predict good teams and bad teams… and in
many cases you’ll even be able to say why they are going to be
good or bad… but realistically -- especially for someone like
me, with no locker room access and almost purely basing the final
opinion simply on my research and knowledge -- you just don’t
still… no matter how much work you do… no matter how much you
put into it… in many cases, when it comes to those surprises...
Boston Red Sox the past two years? Yeah… I don’t care who wants
to claim otherwise, NO ONE predicted they wouldn’t at least clear
70 wins for the 2012 season. (And if they did, it’s only because
one day someone from Dorchester stole their girlfriend… they dropped
their ice cream cone at Faneuil Hall… one time their flight got
delayed at Logan… or they’re just jealous of Easties. My money
is on the girlfriend getting stolen. But it was not because they
actually thought the Red Sox were going to fold.)
this is not intended to excuse anything. I’m not trying to say
that when my predictions go wrong it’s beyond my control. Instead…
this year more than any other I’ve attempted these efforts… I’m
a bit confused.
the Toronto Blue Jays really the best team in the AL East?
the Kansas City Royals really have a club that could time everything
perfectly and shock the expectations for their division when September
the Los Angeles Dodgers a playoff option… can the Boston Red Sox
really claim shooting for stability and improving the clubhouse
with safe choices while gaining salary flexibility when they are
going to be right back around the total dollars they spent in
2012… does anyone care about the Houston Astros or Florida Marlins…
and so many questions.
I don’t know.
I do know is baseball is heading into an interesting season. Very
interesting. Time will tell if it also manages to be exciting.
what I think about Major League Baseball in 2013… starting in
the National league East.
finish: 98-64, division winner
of note: This is an amazing collection of talent… especially
when you consider how quickly and how well it has been assembled.
changes: Hold on… the most balanced team in baseball
added Dan Haren, and realistically they aren’t even looking to
him to be one of their top three pitchers? Nice.
that’s not it. Rafael Soriano is a great addition to their bullpen,
and Denard Span should be a tremendous presence in the outfield.
(If for no other reason than allowing Bryce Harper to not kill
himself with his all-out approach being positioned in center.)
the sun shining and calm seas: This club is about as
perfect as it gets. As a matter of fact… let’s compare them to
their regional rival, Baltimore.
we get to the AL East, I’m going to talk about how the Orioles
were ridiculous in 2012 when it came to winning games decided
by one-run or in extra innings. I mean… 29-9 in one-run games?
Really? Make that a more realistic 19-19 and suddenly the Orioles
are at 83 wins, out of the playoffs, and still a feel-good story
that’s funny… because while I think the Orioles were way above
where you would expect, 95 or so wins feels just about right for
the 2012 Nationals. 98 isn’t outrageous. They pitched wonderfully.
They added players like Harper during the season. And things were
great from beginning to end.
other words… Washington is not a place where I expect much of
a change. In fact, they are better than they were in 2012.
starting pitching paired with what has every sign of being a strong
wonderful balance of defense and offense, with the club being
above average in both respects.
team has superstars along with depth.
for the most part… they are very young. (Meaning they’re good,
energetic and positive, and this club should be together for a
few more years.)
a lot of time has been given to Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann…
and you may have heard of Gio Gonzalez and Dan Haren… one pitching
name to watch is Ross Detwiler. I admit it… Haren is a worthy
experiment. But Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gonzalez have been very
strong. Detwiler has been very good… and his 2012 numbers seem
to show he could be one of the best back-end of a rotation guys
in the league. Still… his 164.1 innings last year was by far a
career high. He delivered a 3.40 ERA for those innings… with 105
strikeouts, 52 walks and 149 hits. He might be very, very good.
He starts the season only 27-years old and has been around the
big leagues for the past four seasons. (Made a one-inning debut
in the show back in 2007.) If he turns the corner and stays near
the same or improves, then the Nationals are looking ridiculously
in paradise: Not much. I don’t know a great deal about
their minor league rosters, but there is plenty of flexibility
on the major league unit. Watch…
Soriano was signed as a free agent and named the team’s closer.
But… in Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, the club has their closers
from the past two seasons still in the bullpen, and capable of
not only helping shorten games but also stepping in to close if
there is even a whisper of trouble.
Haren… when he’s right, he can be one of the better pitchers in
the game. In Washington, he’s a luxury. They’re basically building
around Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and
likely either going to be really, really good, or positioned
very well to make a trade without weakening their playoff expectations
in any way.
expectations: In the offseason, the Nationals traded
with the Twins to obtain Denard Span… a centerfielder that likely
will lead off in the batting order.
Span does is allow the Nationals to not wear out Bryce Harper
by asking him to play center or hit first in the lineup. All Span
does is solidify one of the best defensive outfields in baseball.
All Span does is give the Nationals the ability to place their
batting order in some version Span, Werth, Harper, (Ryan) Zimmerman,
and then follow it up with Adam LaRoche and the others. And for
hitting sixth, seventh and eighth in a National league lineup,
the “others” on the Nationals roster are just fine.
leading the way? Davey Johnson.
no mistake… everything sounds like this is a club not only expected
to win, but loving every bit of the challenge while being fully
equipped to win games in just about any fashion.
got them at 96 wins… but honestly, the sky is the limit here.
They could crack 100 wins… they should have the best record in
the National League (if not all of baseball)… and realistically
I just wonder if they might ease off the gas heading into the
finish: 94-68, playoff wild card
of note: Wild card positions mean a one-game, winner-moves-on
scenario. And honestly, I don’t recall many years since the wild
card began that are as interesting as 2013. Think about this…
Washington is the class of baseball (and they are), and Atlanta
is a playoff team (and they are), then the Braves are a wild card
think San Francisco and Los Angeles will both be in the playoffs,
battling for the West crown and the second wild card position.
in the National League you would have the Braves facing either
last year’s champion or the new-payroll-legends in a one-and-done
finish the thought… the A’s won the American League West last
year and I have them on the outside looking in when the playoffs
arrive. Same with Baltimore in the East. The baseball world as
we know it is changing, and October is going to be very interesting
as a result… with September 2013 offering potential the likes
of which we’ve never seen ahead of a year’s beginnings.)
changes: After winning 94 games and making the playoffs
in 2012… plus being in the race until passed by on the last day
of 2011… the Braves have placed themselves into the annual gang
of playoff consideration again. They have youth, talent, and the
weight of all the expectations placed squarely on another squad
in the division. (Washington)
bringing in the Upton boys (Justin and B.J.)… accept the options
for players like Brian McCann, Paul Maholm and Tim Hudson… not
a bad offseason, and they weren’t looking for (or needing) a great
should be noted that Michael Bourn left. And I’m about to comment
on their need to have a rookie catching, so we should at least
mention David Ross heading to Boston.
the sun shining and calm seas: This is probably the second-best
team in the National League. They have a good balance of pitching
and defense to go along with offensive pop and youth. (They just
don’t have it on a level like the Nationals do with Strasburg
and Harper, supported by Zimmerman, Zimmermann and Gonzalez.)
Hudson brings that veteran leadership role to the rotation. But
in reality, the times have changed. You should be watching the
arms of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran (or even Paul
Maholm). (Teheran is young… but he’s got decent stuff.)
also expect them to be able to score more runs in 2012. That outfield
isn’t just there for defense… they give the Braves three solid
hitters in the order, with the potential of two MVP candidates
(Justin Upton and Jason Heyward).
in paradise: It’s hard not to like what they’ve done…
they are better than they were in 2013 and have several players
hitting their primes at the same time. Heck… again, Justin Upton
is likely to be an MVP candidate, and the outfield with him, his
brother B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward combine to make a trio that
virtually any other major league club would be envious of. (Again…
go figure… except maybe Washington.)
said… B.J. Upton comes with questions. His on-base percentage
last year was under .300, and he hasn’t exactly been setting the
world on fire for a couple of seasons now.
noticing two other problems: (1) Ok… probably the case with all
National League teams, since it usually is, but they have no real
DH. If you can hit, they’ve found a place for you in the lineup
already. (2) I can’t say that I see much depth here. If something
happens in the outfield, the difference between everyday players
and the bench is startling.
Gattis and Gerald Laird are the catchers to start the year… a
rookie and a player that was once much sought after and now is
making the rounds as a backup. Might be nothing… Brian McCann
is missing due to injury… but a rookie catcher on a team looking
to prioritize pitching is something to have written down.
scary thing is how damn young this club is. The Nationals and
Braves could be fighting in this division, without much competition,
for several years beyond 2013.
expectations: I like the Braves. A lot. They are good
just about every way you could be good.
trouble? In every way it’s one step behind the level Washington
of note: Old. Getting very old.
things go bad, this could become really ugly. (And I don’t think
it’s going to be even remotely pretty at its best.)
changes: In a regular offseason of recent years, bringing
in Michael Young and Mike Adams (and even Delmon Young) would
be interesting for Philadelphia. I mean, honestly, losing Placido
Polanco and Ty Wigginton and… and, are you seeing that? This club
really didn’t change much.
biggest problem for them is simple… did you read my previews of
Washington and Atlanta? And that’s the biggest problem because
the Phillies are getting old, seem to be breaking down, and don’t
have much coming in as support.
the sun shining and calm seas: This club could push for
a playoff spot. (Hold on for a second… I need to stop laughing
before I continue.)
Hamels… Lee… when things are right, that’s still the design of
a good rotation.
in paradise: The Nationals and Braves are the trouble
some sort of unpredictable and catastrophic misfortune, the Phillies
have one chance at the playoffs… the second wild card. They are
not as talented as Washington or Atlanta… they have zero room
for error, subpar performance or injuries… they will not finish
first or second in this division, regardless of how well they
play. And, in order to even earn the second wild card, a huge
chunk of their season involves games against what might just be
the two best teams in baseball… their division rivals.
Utley and Ryan Howard are not only providing less as they age,
there are also major concerns for either of them staying on the
things haven’t been perfect with Roy Halladay for a while now.
expectations: Let’s see… the catching dynamo Carlos Ruiz
is suspended for 25 games to start the year. And, we don’t really
have any answers about Roy Halladay and what he might bring to
the mound. Yeah… this is looking just spiffy.
even record is my guess, but that’s giving them credit for a pitching
staff led by Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Halladay. Let’s keep in
mind, Hamels and Lee are still a nice presence to be sending to
the mound. Very nice. Also, I kind of like the bullpen built around
Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams.
make no mistake… chances are that when we reach Labor Day weekend,
the only challenge facing the Phillies will be that of finishing
of note: Considering that this club is at least a couple
of years away from being relevant in a division with young and
loaded teams like Washington and Atlanta, I don’t get the David
player? Sure he is. I’d take him on my team.
the Mets have been bad and had organizational troubles with him.
(Not from or with him specifically mind you… he’s by all accounts
a good guy to have around. The point is the Mets haven’t been
a good or well-run club in recent years, and you can lose 88 a
year with him or without him. Heck… they lost with him and
Jose Reyes. I’m not sure the $120-plus million for him to possibly
play out his career in their uniform… especially with no DH slot
available… is worth it, regardless of the publicity nightmare
his departure might have caused.)
the way… they gave him a huge deal, Johan Santana continues to
struggle with his health, and I believe the Mets have yet to place
an outfielder on their 40-man roster. (Update… as I was finishing
this column, word came out that Santana could very possibly miss
the entire year. And that means the Mets will get nothing for
him… because they can’t trade him, and they definitely won’t make
any offer to him that would return a draft pick. The outfield
comment is sarcasm and, of course, a joke… but at least a decent
argument could be made that they would be better off playing seven
guys around the infield and placing no one in the outfield at
all instead of sending any combination of three outfielders that
they plan on using onto the field.)
changes: Shaun Marcum? Like him… don’t like his injuries.
Only made 21 starts for Milwaukee last year. Still… 20-plus starts
in five of six years since 2007. (And he’s already in line to
be on the DL to start the year.)
else you got?
Dickey traded away… and…
let’s just stop this right now. Travis d’Arnaud. The Mets added
a potential star catcher as he begins his career. After that it’s
bandages and space fillers.
the sun shining and calm seas: There is not a lot of
sun in New York in 2013. Please prepare for that.
it won’t be raining… mostly cloudy and possibly a drizzle… but
it’s not going to be a fun year filled with high-lights.
will be watching Matt Harvey though. And he’s a great example
of where the sunshine in New York might be found. Young (24)…
local (Connecticut)… and not a lot of press about him. Watching
him succeed is a real treat.
in paradise: I won’t make fun of them for getting rid
of Dickey. If anything, they should be applauded for turning an
aging knuckleballer… regardless of his results last season… into
a potential franchise catcher.
I’m going to say this… given what we see in place, the Mets will
need a ton of help and perfect organizational moves in order to
be challenging for the postseason while David Wright is still
under contract. (Sarcasm again. There is some talent and potential
for pitching. We could have something here in 2015 or 2016. But
most of it is not ready yet.)
expectations: The Mets will host the midsummer coin flip
other than that… they will cross days off the calendar because
2013 should just be passing the time.
up above… the Mets do not have good defense… they do not have
a regular batting order sorted out… they will struggle to score
runs… they will struggle to prevent runs from being scored. Heck…
they are about as close as possible to literally not
having an outfield.
said… the pitching staff could develop into a decent group in
the next year or two. Jon Neise and Dillon Gee are both around
26… kind of old when you check out what the Nationals will be
dominating with… but young enough that along with Matt Harvey,
they could have a decent trio in place to build around. If Zack
Wheeler ends up developing as expected, there is a core being
assembled. And… well… they’ll be better than the Marlins.
yeah… the Marlins.)
of note: Have you ever seen the classic version of The
Bad News Bears?
that movie, Walter Mathau plays the role of Coach Morris Buttermaker.
And, at one point he delivers a line that keeps coming back to
me as I consider the Marlins: “At least he'll try.”
not a perfect sentiment… especially when you start comparing context…
but it does do a decent job of explaining why I’m not completely
sure what to think of the 2013 Florida Marlins.
has done a job tearing this club apart and… from what I know of
the situation… treating the city of Miami and the fan base terribly.
And the players? Yeah… just about any player with a decent second
alternative is no doubt steering clear of the Marlins after the
latest fiasco. (Which involved trading players that had been basically
told they wouldn’t be traded and more.)
is no reason to think the Marlins will do much in 2013. And then…
least he'll try.”
strange things can happen when professional ballplayers take the
field, even in a lousy situation. Maybe it’s an audition to be
traded during the year or signed by another club after the season.
Maybe it’s just personal pride. Like I said, it doesn’t match
up with The Bad News Bears perfectly in context and situation…
just consider the sentiment.
Mets have no outfield… but they have a few glimmers of excitement
and youth, and at least they’ll try. That could get them to the
Marlins might be drained of all desire… or… they might try. That
could get them to the mid-60s.
team loses all 162 games. I don’t think the Marlins will be the
worst team in baseball this season. (I do think they have the
worst ownership group though.)
changes: Please. Said Buh-bye to Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle
and Jose Reyes. Said buy-bye to their fans… buh-bye to any reason
for someone to respect them… buh-bye to credibility… buh-bye to
looking like anything more than a double-a team in 2013. (And
yet they still have more interesting pieces than Houston. Yeah
if any organization can claim the ability to successfully dump
players and start over, Florida would be the place. But wow… this
one is ugly.
did get someone to take Heath Bell though. That’s kind of a stunner.
there is always Giancarlo Stanton.
the sun shining and calm seas: At least they’ll try.
in paradise: The club could decide to strip everything
to the bare ground and trade Stanton too.
want you to consider this… if it weren’t for John Maine and Kevin
Slowey, there’s a good chance I could challenge you to name two
pitchers on this roster and you wouldn’t even come up with one.
(Not even starters. I’ll give you relievers too, and heck, you
can even use Maine or Slowey as one of your picks.)
the pitching is that good.
expectations: I’ve got nothing. I don’t expect much.