One week from tonight the 2013 Major League Baseball season will open with the Texas Rangers visiting the Houston Astros. Though this isn’t the first time MLB has started their season on Easter, that doesn’t mean I find it any less tacky that such an event will take place on one of our holiest days of the year. However, that’s a discussion for another day. This post will focus on two teams that people may overlook for one reason or another. Either it doesn’t involve a team that made a big splash this offseason (think Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers) or a team that hopes to break decades of misery (think Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates). Rather, the two teams I will look at are vastly underrated and underappreciated and I would not be surprised if they won their respective divisions or crashed the playoff party as a Wild Card. You can hold me to these forecasts and come back to me in five months or sooner when they crash and burn. Heckle me all you want. You do so at your own risk.
Seattle Mariners To me, this is the most intriguing team of 2013. The M’s finally made a push to get some quality bats in order to make star pitcher Felix Hernandez not feel as though he has to throw a shutout in every start. Michael Morse arrived in a trade from Washington for his second stint in Seattle as did Kendrys Morales from the Los Angeles Angels. Raul Ibanez should help in a platoon role as might Jason Bay, who hopes a change of scenery can revive his career into one last payday. Second baseman Dustin Ackley should bounce back from his .226 sophomore season. It is now or never for first baseman Justin Smoak. He had 19 home runs in pitcher-friendly Saefco Field but hit a meager .217. If third baseman Kyle Seager and catcher Jesus Montero can improve even slightly from their 2012 offensive numbers, the Mariners will not be punchless at the plate.
The pitching staff starts with King Felix. The Mariners have given Hernandez only 3.5 runs of support per game over the past three seasons, unacceptable for any pitcher let alone a star like the King. Luckily, the team locked him up through 2019, a major victory for the franchise and its fan base. He has logged over 230 innings per year over the past four seasons. Hernandez is one of the best three pitchers in all of baseball. Seattle had to give up 14 game winner Jason Vargas to get Morales but the organization drools with young pitching talent. The trio of Taijun Walker, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen all will start the season in the Minors but don’t be surprised if one or all of them is with the big club by September. Until then, the rotation should hold up until the youngsters are ready. Hisashi Iwakuma had a good initial campaign with the M’s winning nine games with a 3.16 ERA. Joe Saunders returns to the American League West where he won 33 games in a two season span with the Angels. The bullpen is an unheralded bunch led by closer Tom Wilhelmsen who saved 29 games in his first year as closer.
Seattle could finish anywhere from first to fourth. I think the Rangers’ second half misfortunes from 2012 will continue. We know all about the Angels and their big moves and loaded lineup but I am not sure that after Jered Weaver their staff scares anyone. The Oakland A’s will again be formidable but I think at least one of their young arms will take a step back. Winning their division would probably require an 18 to 20 win improvement from 2012’s 75 but to make the Wild Card 12-15 more wins may get it done. I’ll take my chances and say the Seattle Mariners will win the American League West. Why not, it can’t be any worse than my prediction of New Mexico making this year’s Final Four.
Milwaukee Brewers: If you asked me who led the National League in runs scored in 2012, it would have been a while before I came up with the Brew Crew. Their 776 runs paced the NL as did their 202 home runs. Ryan Braun emerged from the cloud of PED suspicion by having an even better year than his MVP season of 2011. He led the league in homers with 41, OPS with .987 and runs scored with 108 to go along with 112 RBI’s and 30 stolen bases. This was even after he had a sluggish April. Even though his name once again surfaced in connection to PED’s, don’t expect a repeat of a slow April. The team can’t afford it as first baseman Corey Hart will be out at least the first five weeks of the season because of knee surgery. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez may have the quietest 342 home runs in baseball history. The team would love for him to match his 27 HR, 105 RBI, .300 performance of 2012. Expect catcher Jonathan Lucroy and steady second baseman Rickie Weeks to supply additional punch and outfielders Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki to be the speed on the base paths. The team will be just fine on offense.
The rotation will be improved in 2013 led by ace Yovani Gallardo. The right-hander has won 47 over the past three seasons and at age 27 is entering his prime. He has logged over 200 innings the last two seasons and is poised to post his first 20 win campaign. While the rest of the rotation is a still a mystery there is a lot of upside. Wily Peralta was near-dominat in a late-season audition going 2-1 in six games with a 2.48 ERA. Mike Fiers struggled late in the season but posted an impressive 2.85 ERA through August 31st. Marco Estrada was tremendous down the stretch allowing zero earned runs in five of his final eight starts. The bullpen is what killed Milwaukee’s hopes of returning to the playoffs. Closer John Axford saved 35 games but sported a sky-high 4.67 ERA and blew enough chances early that he briefly lost his job. Main setup men Francisco Rodriguez and Kameron Loe also posted ERA’s over 4.00. Jose Veras was the most dependable guy for a while last year but he took his services to the Astros.
After struggling much of 2012, the Brewers made a furious charge late that got them as close as two games behind the final Wild Card spot. From August 1st until the end of the season, Milwaukee was 36-23 and this was after they traded Zack Greinke. The bullpen can not possibly be as bad as it was last season. Axford’s stats are slightly deceptive as he was dominat early and then after he regained his closer’s role. The rest of the pen has been revamped with lefties Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez coming to the Crew. Despite Hart’s absence, the bats should cary this team as the rotation gets sorted out. I don’t think they will win the division but I predict they will grab one of the two Wild Card spots for 2013.
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