I can think of no better way to open up the baseball season than with one game on a Sunday night in March in Houston, home to the worst team in the whole league. Tough to take this “Opening Night” thing serious. Naturally, the Astros start the season with a win. But hey, the Yankees and Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers, and Phillies and Braves all kick off the true Opening Day on an April Monday for one of the most anticipated season kickoffs in memory.
On Friday I gave my season preview and projections for the AL East. Here are my predictions for the rest of the Major Leagues. Division standings are first and awards follow.
There is a lot of parity in the AL while the NL is pretty much the haves and the have-nots. With two terrible teams in both the NL East and West, the wild cards will come from both, while at least one wild card comes from from the AL West (possibly two), and it won’t be the Astros.
1. Blue Jays 89-73. Toronto New Jays bring winning back to Canada.
2. Orioles 88-74. Starting pitchers improve and the young nucleus of sluggers give opponents headaches as the Orioles get back to the postseason.
3. Yankees 84-78. Too many issues to overcome and the early hole they get into will be too deep to crawl out of.
4. Rays 83-79. Price will be dominant, one of Cobb, Hellickson or Moore will breakout, but not all three. Wil Myers won’t make much of a rookie impact as the Rays struggle to score runs.
5. Red Sox 80-82. Improvement is unavoidable but too much has to right and another team will have to fall apart for the Red Sox to finish above the bottom.
1. Tigers 97-65. In his second year in town Prince is settled in comfortably and V-Mart is back. Rotation is solid led by the horse of the AL. Even without a designated closer the bullpen is very strong. Look at what the Giants did last year without a “closer.” Tigers start the season much better and pull ahead instead of climb back.
2. Indians 81-81. It all comes down to pitching and if they play like last year Cleveland will be under .500. But if Francona can get Ubaldo and Masterson to pitch well the Indians could compete for a Wild Card. I like their lineup.
3. Royals 79-83. It’s an all-new rotation with James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana. That is still pretty mediocre with a mediocre lineup for support.
4. White Sox 77-85. I picked them to finish last in 2012 and they surprised by leading the way well into September before falling. Chris Sale and Jake Peavy are strong anchors for their rotation, but there’s not much upside on this team.
5. Twins 63-99. Mauer, WIllingham and Morneau could provide a little firepower but this is a 96 loss team last year that didn’t get any better. The whole rotation is a bunch of #5 starters.
1. Angels 93-69. Trout, Hamilton, Pujols and Trumbo with a clear ace in Weaver, along with a couple quality arms in C.J. Wilson and Tommy Hanson. Bullpen is a question mark, but barring injuries the Angels should have no trouble eclipsing 90 wins.
2. Athletics 91-71. They fooled me last year and won’t do it again. This young pitching staff will outperform expectations again and Yoenis Cespedes will lead a surprisingly competitive lineup. Playoffs again.
3. Rangers 85-77. This group is a disappointment candidate without Hamilton unless A.J. Pierzynski repeats his career year at age 36 and Berkman slugs for a whole season. I don’t trust any of the pitchers after Yu Darvish, and the bullpen is also highly questionable.
4. Mariners 82-80. The pieces are coming into place (Morse, Morales, Montero, Seager, Smoak, Ibanez on the bench) and King Felix will be around for a while. Are the Mariners ready to make the jump above .500? Perhaps, but not much above that.
5. Astros 46-116. Ask me how I really feel about them. It will be a long inaugural season in the AL as the Astros are completely starting over and doing so in the toughest division in all of baseball. The payroll of their entire active roster ($19M) is less than about a dozen individual players’ salaries.
1. Nationals 99-63. Best rotation, lineup and bullpen in the National League. Strasburg makes the next great step in his career as he plays the whole year and collects the Cy Young award while teammate Bryce Harper wins MVP.
2. Braves 92-70. Craig Kimbrel is the most dominating pitcher in the game, but for the first time in decades there are serious questions about the starting rotation. If the Upton brothers breakout together along with Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward, the offense will be explosive.
3. Phillies 86-76. Howard, Utley and Young looking for a big comeback campaign. A Halladay-like Halladay would get the Phils in the playoffs, but instead they will fall just short.
4. Marlins. 64-98. Giancarlo Stanton is on an island in Miami.
5. Mets. 65-97. David Wright is also on an island. Too many injuries already for a team that has such little talent to begin with.
1. Reds 93-69. Outstanding offensively, and Votto is back healthy. Strong bullpen and top of the rotation. Reds run away with the division.
2. Brewers 86-76. This changes if Braun gets suspended or injured. Brewers have an All-Star ace (Gallardo) and three great young pitchers. The solid core of Braun, Ramirez and (eventually) Hart will benefit with a rebound by Rickie Weeks and solid surprise production from Aoki, Segura and Gomez. Braun has another MVP-caliber campaign but loses votes because of PED suspicion. Brewers in the playoff picture all season long.
3. Pirates 84-78. On July 28, 2012 Pittsburgh was 16 games over .500. The previous year they were 7 over on July 19. In 2013 they contain the summer swoon and finish with a winning record led by a rising star in Andrew McCutchen.Russell Martin will help the starting pitchers step up their performance.
4. Cardinals 80-82. Losing Chris Carpenter, along with their closer, shortstop and third baseman to injuries already, plus their #2 starter to free agency, plus losing fifteen scheduled games against the Astros all make me question how successful the Cardinals will be this season. Will Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran each play 150 games again? I doubt it. I may be wrong but I’m just not excited about this team.
5. Cubs. 66-96. Starling Castro is your All-Star but the pitching is seriously lacking (both starters and relievers). Bottom half of lineup will put you to sleep.
1. Dodgers 91-71. The free-spending Dodgers are a bit of a wild card. There is so much talent on this team. The ceiling is very high if Crawford, Greinke, and Kemp are healthy, if Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett step up, and HanRam comes back after his injury motivated. The rotation is very deep. However, there are tons of injury flags and risks as well as possibly combustible clubhouse chemistry with this Fantasy Baseball All-Star construction. The Dodgers could win 100 games or 80.
2. Diamondbacks 87-75. There is not a single star on the team but still, surprisingly solid pitching with an offense that should score a ton of runs. Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero will emerge as All-Stars as the D-Backs sneak into the playoffs.
3. Giants 86-76. It is impossible to explain just how this team became champs last year other than that they snuck in and hung in there until the World Series started. Matt Cain and Buster Posey are crazy good and Giants still get a lot of wins, but they will just miss the playoffs unless Lincecum returns to form, and still, that may not be enough.
4. Rockies. 70-92. So much went wrong last year. Most of their sluggers and pitchers got hurt, the coach tried some creative managing that didn’t work, and it was back to the Old School Rockies Way (historically bad pitching). This year they get a little less unlucky but still struggle to win games in a competitive division.
5. Padres 64-98. One of the least-talented teams in baseball will play like it.
A’s over Orioles – Tigers over A’s – Angels over Jays
Tigers over Angels
Braves over D-Backs – Nationals over Braves – Reds over Dodgers
Nationals over Reds
Nationals over Tigers
MVP: Jose Bautista – Bryce Harper
Cy Young: Justin Verlander – Stephen Strasburg
Rookie: Jackie Bradley – Wily Peralta
Manager: Buck Showalter – Kirk Gibson
Comeback: Mariano Rivera – Ryan Howard
Batting Champs: Miguel Cabrera – Joey Votto
Home Run Leaders: Jose Bautista – Ryan Howard