2013 World Series Predictions
by Badger, Baseball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Pitchers and catchers have had a few weeks of workouts already (article written 3/5/13) and there are breaking stories of big-name players linked to PEDs dominating the sports page headlines, so this can mean only one thing … it's time for Major League Baseball.
Okay, maybe baseball is back in the headlines because we haven't made it to college basketball's Championship week and March Madness yet, but with teams dusting off the gear in the Florida and Arizona sunshine, what baseball fan (and sports gambling degenerate) isn't already looking ahead to Opening Day just over a month away on March 31st.
Since the MLB futures odds always get worse as Spring Training continues, when the injuries start adding up and ballclubs start making roster decisions, let's take an early look at the odds for the American League and National League pennant, as well as a look at all six Divisional races and make some predictions.
Changes Coming to MLB in 2013
Before you look to place any wagers this season you should make sure you are aware of all of the changes and issues in Major League Baseball this summer.
First and foremost, the Houston Astros have now been moved to the American League West and they'll host their first AL game against the now-rival Texas Rangers in the opener on March 31st.
With 15 teams in each league now we'll be treated to interleague play all season. Each team will play 20 interleague games this summer (four series home/four away), including back-to-back two-games series in late-May against each team's "Prime Rivals." All of this interleague play is likely to bring about some interesting daily "angles" and betting trends, and it will certainly affect the results for the teams in the National League West and NL Central, the divisions that have to play against the loaded AL East and AL West, respectively.
The new schedule also means 19 games against the rivals within the division, in the form of six series (three home/three away) for a huge total of 76 divisional games. Again, for the teams in the powerful AL East and AL West, that's a lot of beating up on each other (i.e. lower season win totals).
Finally, the 2013 MLB regular season will also be preceded by the third World Baseball Classic in early March. While most teams and big-name stars are sitting this year's version of the WBC out, there are some teams like the Milwaukee Brewers (who are sending 14 players to the WBC) that will have more players playing in the games than in Spring Training practically. Keep an eye on injuries and the potential for late-season fatigue as the WBC rosters get finalized in the next week and games get going.
All of this should be considered when predicting the pennant and divisional races this season. You can find most of the Divisional futures odds at 5Dimes, perhaps the best baseball betting sportsbook there is with their awesome 5-cent lines. For the pennant futures odds, I'll pick the best number I can get from a variety of the Web's best books including 5Dimes, Sportsbook.ag and Bovada.
Can anybody name the last time the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox weren't the favorite to win the American League pennant? Heck, neither of those teams is even the favorite to win their division, and the Red Sox management is already on record saying that their string of consecutive sellouts is likely to end as soon as their second home game of the season … these are certainly some topsy-turvy days in the AL.
American League East
Toronto Blue Jays (odds to win AL East: +160)
The Toronto Marlins err, I mean Toronto Blue Jays leapt from perennial fourth-place team to this year's trendy pick in the American League East thanks to being the recipient of the Miami Marlins generous trade last November. The Blue Jays became the East's deepest starting rotation in the offseason, getting Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson early from the Marlins and R.A. Dickey a little later in another trade with the New York Mets. The three new additions along with holdovers Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero (now one of MLB's best No. 5 starters) give the Blue Jays one of the most formidable rotations in the game.
The Blue Jays additions of leftfielder Melky Cabrera (free agent), shortstop Jose Reyes (Marlins trade) and now-2B Macier Izturis (free agent) should bring speed and help balance out a power-heavy lineup that featured Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Colby Rasmus. Toronto's biggest weakness, and it could be a big one, is the bullpen. Casey Janssen went 22-of-25 as the closer last year, and one-time closer Sergio Santos is back after only six appearances as last year's big free agent acquisition, but the Jays bullpen depth is gone and it could end up being their Achilles heel come September.
New York Yankees (odds to win AL East: +180)
For the first time since it seems like forever the Yankees didn't go out and buy any huge-name free agents this winter. That is, if you don't consider Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner big names, which I don't anymore. Youkilis will be relied upon to carry a big stick too, now that the Yankees will be missing Curtis Granderson until April. The Yankees still have plenty of offense with Ichiro Suzuki, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner coming off injury. The wild card for New York will certainly be the play of catcher Francisco Cervelli, who appears to be in line as the everyday starter despite just three games last year and only 490 at bats in five up-and-down years in the organization.
The once dominant Yankee pitching staff is also getting old. CC Sabathia is still an ace, but the Pinstripes get really old and hittable (Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte) or very inconsistent (Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova) after him in the rotation. The Yankees let Rafael Soriano walk away this winter, so 42-year old Mariano Rivera coming off of knee surgery won't have as much help at the back-end of the bullpen.
Tampa Bay Rays (odds to win AL East: +475)
There are a few new faces in Port Charlotte, Fla., this spring where the Tampa Bay Rays train, namely SS Yunel Escobar, first baseman James Loney and veteran infielder Kelly Johnson, but the Rays made more news this winter with the longtime faces they sent away trading ace James Shields and center fielder B.J. Upton.
Trading away Shields means the Rays are committing to a really young pitching staff, with David Price the now "wise veteran" ace to youngsters Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb. All the Rays and manager Joe Madden need to do is get into the late innings with a lead, because the Rays boast one of the strongest bullpens in baseball with lefties Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos joining righties Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth in front of closer Fernando Rodney.
Boston Red Sox (odds to win AL East: +700 at Sportsbook)
It's a whole new beginning in Boston this year, who jettisoned manager Bobby Valentine after last year's turbulent year and bought back former bench coach John Farrell from Toronto. Once the prime landing spot for all of the top free agents, this winter the Red Sox were only able to lure mid-level guys like outfielders Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes and SS Stephen Drew. Boston will need Mike Napoli and David Ortiz to play like their days of old and drive in runs, a big risk considering their age and recent injury history.
The Red Sox rotation is homegrown at the top with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront all back from 2012, but if they can get a bounce-back year from veteran John Lackey coming off Tommy John surgery, their late free agent addition of Ryan Dempster gives them a competitive unit for the tough AL East. If all of the stars align and the Sox power-lacking offense scores runs, then the trade for closer Joel Hanrahan will pay off. With Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, the Sox should be able to hold onto late-inning leads.
Baltimore Orioles (odds to win AL East: +1000)
It takes more than 93 wins and a American League Wild Card appearance to impress the boys in Las Vegas, so the best value on the board in the AL East is the Baltimore Orioles. But the +1000 odds are only a reflection the public's perception, and I have to agree that I don't see an Oriole rotation with journeyman Jason Hammel in the No. 1 spot pulling off another surprise 90-win season in 2013. Baltimore added Jair Jurrjens for another "veteran" arm, but after that it's a host of young unproven arms in Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Steve Johnson. Closer Jim Johnson was lights out last year (51-of-54), and will have to have another unreal season for the Orioles to keep them in contention.
Offensively the Orioles only lost Mark Reynolds in the offseason, which means Chris Davis gets a shot at playing everyday at first base and youngster Manny Machado will get a shot at third. Baltimore's outfield of Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold and Nate McLouth may not have the star-power of other teams in the division, but with manager Buck Showalter pushing the buttons they always outplayed those higher-priced outfields last season.
American League East Prediction Baltimore Orioles +1000
For the first time in a long time both the Yankees and the Red Sox are very vulnerable in the division, which will open the door for a new team to take the AL East title this year. The Blue Jays went out and tried to buy it, but those teams almost always seem to disappoint and fail to live up to the lofty expectations. In a coin flip over the Rays, I'll take the Baltimore Orioles at a better value and with a better offense to pull off another surprise 90-win season and win the AL East.
American League Central
Detroit Tigers (odds to win AL Central: -250 at Sportbet)
The Detroit Tigers got off to a slow start last season and only won the American League Central by three games, but they were hot at the end of the year and went all the way to the World Series and by virtue of that run they are the heavy favorite to win the AL Central again this season.
Detroit adds Torii Hunter to the outfield and regains the services of Victor Martinez as the DH to make this year's projected offensive lineup deeper than just Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The Tigers starting rotation of Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello is as solid as any team in the division, or American League for that matter. The only question mark for the Tigers going into the season is the closer role, since they let Jose Valverde go in the winter. Detroit would like to give the job to rookie Bruce Rondon (29-of-32 in AA/AAA last year), but if Rondon struggles in Spring Training it could turn into a closer-by-committee approach with Octavio Dotel and Joaquin Benoit getting larger roles.
Chicago White Sox (odds to win AL Central: +700 at 5Dimes)
Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams went on record the other day saying he thinks the Sox will contend because they have enough pitching. Of course the only thing the White Sox did this winter was stay the same, resigning Jake Peavy and picking up the option on Gavin Floyd to team up with Chris Sale for a solid top of the rotation. Chicago also has one of the better back-end bullpens in the AL, with Jessie Crain, Matt Lindstrom and lefty Matt Thornton all in front of closer Addison Reed in the late innings.
The White Sox promoted backup catcher Tyler Flowers to the everyday role, so his adjustment to the role and handling a pitching staff will be crucial to the Sox in 2013. Chicago brought in Jeff Keppinger to play third base, but his lack of power (8 HR, 40 RBI in 115 games in '12) in a power position means more pressure on Dayan Viciedo, Paul Kornerko and Adam Dunn to pick up the slack. Last year the White Sox pushed the Tigers all the way through September even though SS Alexei Ramirez struggled (career-low 9 HR, .651 OPS), if Ramirez rebounds and improves just a little there's no reason why the White Sox aren't hanging around the Wild Card chase again this summer.
Kansas City Royals (odds to win AL Central: +700)
For the past two or three years the Kansas City Royals have patiently built their team with a piece here and there, and every season they have improved a little step at a time. But with the acquisition of ace righty James Shields from Tampa this winter, the Royals may have finally taken that final step from rebuilding to contender in 2013.
Shields joins a revamped Kansas City rotation that also has newcomers Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis competing for spots. Suddenly the Royals top two starters from last season, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen, are in a battle for the No. 5 spot, so the Royals have done a good job of getting better on the mound. The everyday lineup with Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Brett Butler should produce enough runs if all of the youngsters continue to progress. We've all been waiting for the Royals to take the next step on of these years, could this be the year?
Cleveland Indians (odds to win AL Central: +2000 at BetOnline)
With the Royals creeping up on everyone's radar this season as a potential sleeper in the division, it appears the team going the other direction is the Cleveland Indians. But the most interesting part of this tetter-totter, is that the Indians actually made a couple of interesting moves this winter by signing Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds, trading for OF Drew Stubbs, adding speedster Michael Bourn just before Spring Training and bringing in Terry Francona to manage the new look Tribe. All of those additions should help C Carlos Santana and SS Asdrubal Cabrera improve on offensive too, since now they are pieces of the puzzle and not the main run producers in the lineup.
The Tribe's pitching staff desperately needs a once filthy Ubaldo Jimenez to regain some of his stuff back. Cleveland is also committing to free agent Brett Myers as a starter, so a reformed Jimenez and Myers are key to helping ace Justin Masterson keep the Indians pitching in contention into September. Without even a kinda-filthy Jimenez, the Indians won't likely stand a chance.
Minnesota Twins (odds to win AL Central: +2500)
It wasn't long ago when the Twins dominated this division, with MVP candidates Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau carrying a scrappy lineup with a rotation full of players grown in your own farm system. The system is still the same, the Twins just aren't hitting on as many players and pitchers anymore with back-to-back seasons in the AL Central cellar and a projected third year there in 2013.
Lefty Scott Diamond enters the Spring as the No. 1 starter, but after him it's a bunch of journeymen starters and cast-off's including Kevin Correia, Vance Worley (from Phillies in Ben Revere trade) and Mike Pelfrey all brought in to fill out the Twins weak starting rotation. With Revere and Denard Span both gone, the Twins are married to the idea of two rookies in the starting outfield, with Darin Mastroianni and Chris Parmelee when they already have a rookie at shortstop in Pedro Florimon. Minnesota is starting over and it could be a season or two more of dismal before the Twins are back.
American League Central Prediction Chicago White Sox +700
If the White Sox can hang around with the Tigers again this year into September, the White Sox bullpen will prove to be the key unit that helps Chicago bring home the AL Central title. Chris Sale will pitch the White Sox past the Tigers down the stretch, and the bullpen will finish it to give half of the City of Chicago reason to celebrate.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels (odds to win AL West: -130 at GTBets)
One year removed from signing the big free agents on the market in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to mega-contracts, the Angels decided more money was the answer and the went out and signed Josh Hamilton to a big free agent deal, bringing over the former Ranger to their clubhouse. But Hamilton is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the changes Los Angeles made in the offseason.
The Angels remade the bottom half of their rotation after holdovers Jered Weaver and Wilson by getting lefty Jason Vargas (from Seattle) and Tommy Hanson (Atlanta) in the trade market and signing Joe Blanton as a free agent. Los Angeles is already getting burned for signing free agent closer Ryan Madson (already DL'd and likely to miss opening day), so the bullpen is a huge question mark for a team that everyone thinks will just hammer away with Mike Trout, Pujols, Hamilton and Mark Trumbo in the lineup.
Texas Rangers (odds to win AL West: +300)
The Texas Rangers didn't resign Hamilton and now the Angels are the favorites to win the AL West, but it could be argued the Rangers are a better team now without Hamilton. With the additions of catcher A.J. Pierzynski and designated hitter Lance Berkman, the Rangers offense should get production in other spots to make up for missing Hamilton.
The Rangers don't have the big names to be considered one of the top rotations in the division, but with Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Derek Holland sitting at the top the Rangers aren't struggling either. Texas is hoping that Alexi Ogando can go back to being a starter once again to give them four solid starters, but the rest of the MLB-ready arms (Colby Lewis, Martin Perez) are still hurt or rehabbing, so Texas has been one of the teams rumored to be interested in current free-agent Kyle Lohse. Unlike other teams in the AL West, the Rangers have Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz all sitting out in the bullpen to give them plenty of options in the final innings.
Oakland Athletics (odds to win AL West: +500 at 5Dimes)
While nobody was paying attention last year the A's won 94 games and took the American League West title from the much-heralded, but also much, much more expensive teams in the division. Due to an offseason trade with Arizona to get CF Chris Young, the A's suddenly have too many outfielders with Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes as well as Young all worthy of everyday status. Oakland made a splash by signing 30-year old Japanese rookie Hiroyuki Nakajima to a free agent contract this winter, but they've already gotten an insurance policy by trading for Jed Lawrie for middle infield depth.
On paper it's hard to imagine that a starting rotation with youngsters Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone teamed up with another year of Bartolo Colon can get the A's back to 90-wins again. A.J. Griffin, who went 7-1 with 3.06 ERA in 15 starts last year, will likely open the year as the No. 5 starter and could turn the A's rotation into a great one by midseason.
Seattle Mariners (odds to win AL West: +1400)
It was only a few years ago the Seattle Mariners were a trendy pick in the AL West, now they're struggling to stay relevant in the division now that they don't have a huge payroll. Seattle paid large cash to keep ace Felix Hernandez at the top of the rotation, but after him the Mariners are really iffy with veteran Joe Saunders and youngsters Hisashi Iwakuma, Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez. In a division with the Angels and Rangers, that staff might get hit around a little and they might not get to use breakout closer Tom Wilhelmsen as much as they would like to use him.
Offensively the Mariners should have a little more pop in the lineup, getting former National Michael Morse in a late trade to go along with getting DH Kendry Morales from the Angels in an early winter trade. Seattle also brought back former Mariner Raul Ibanez as a free agent, so the pitching should benefit from an increase in run production. But a DH-heavy lineup (Morales, Morse, Ibanez and Jesus Montero all best as DH) won't make the Mariners much of a defensive juggernaut.
Houston Astros (odds to win AL West: +10000)
Houston's new owner Jim Crane was given an extra 70 million to move the Astros into the American League this season, but I'm not so sure he got enough as the Astros take their no-name, 107-loss lineup in 2012 into the AL West where 110 losses this season is a strong possibility. To help ease the transition the Astros went out and signed Carlos Pena to be the franchise's first everyday designated hitter … yeah, that's sarcasm. With the exception of second baseman Jose Altuve, the Astros probably won't sport a single starter in their opening day lineup that would start in the same spot on any of the other 29 Major League teams.
Their young, homegrown starting rotation is lead by Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles, which no disrespect to Harrell, Norris or Lyles, but isn't even close to being a major-league ready top of the rotation. Former White Sox hurler Philip Humber was picked off the scrap-heap pile (waivers) and will join a host of other young pitchers trying to fill out the rest of the Astros rotation. Houston is also taking a major gamble on Jose Veras as their closer, a role he's never really taken too (1-for-9 in 2011 with Pitt.) or never been used in before throughout his seven years in the bigs.
American League West Prediction Texas Rangers +300
In my mind the AL West race comes down to the top three teams in the division, the Angels, Rangers and A's. After pulling off the surprise of 2012, I just don't think Oakland can catch lightning in a bottle again this season. I don't like taking the favorite if I can avoid it too, and an overwhelming majority of the time teams like the Angels that are built around high-priced stars always seem to disappoint. By elimination I'm taking the Texas Rangers, who will pitch and get enough bullpen help to win the title just to remind everyone that in baseball you don't need the big-name star in your clubhouse.
American League Pennant
Based on my divisional winners from above, I'm going to put a unit on one of the favorites to hedge a little and have at least a little money on one of the short favorites. So in the American League I'm going to wager:
Short - Los Angeles Angels +425 - If the Angels do find some chemistry with all of their mercenary players, there's no denying they are stacked in just about every phase of the game but the bullpen.
Middle - Texas Rangers +1000 - I still think the Rangers win the West, and then with all of their experience play themselves back into another World Series.
Long - Chicago White Sox +2200; Baltimore Orioles +2500 - I have both of these teams winning their divisions in a topsy-turvy American League this year, so I have to throw them in as duel long shots to win the AL with a breakout season in 2013.
The National League has won three straight World Series titles and four of the last five, so the momentum is certainly on the side of the senior circuit these days. Los Angeles was the hub of offseason news for the National League too, as new Dodgers ownership (including Magic Johnson) broke open the checkbook and spent some of the money they've been sitting on while the team was getting divorced from the McCourts.
National League East
Washington Nationals (odds to win NL East: +130)
Expectations are high in Washington D.C., this spring, especially since the Nationals made a few additions to their Major League-best 98-win team last season coming into the 2013 campaign. Not only do the Nationals get to pitch ace Stephen Strasburg again after shutting him down before the playoffs last year, but with Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler all back too the Nationals addition of Dan Haren in free agency moves Haren to the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
Washington also added Rafael Soriano into a leaded bullpen that already had Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, so getting into the seventh inning with a lead might be good enough for the Nationals this year. The addition of Kurt Suzuki at catcher and the trade for Denard Span to leadoff and play centerfield should balance out the Nationals everyday lineup too. On paper, it's hard to argue that the Nationals haven't gotten better where they were weak a year ago, making a 100-win season a realistic goal.
Atlanta Braves (odds to win NL East: +190)
The Atlanta Braves decided to go all-in with the Upton's in 2013, first signing older brother B.J. Upton to a free agent deal then trading for younger brother Justin Upton to put the two in the same outfield with young Braves slugger Jason Heyward. With the Uptons, Heyward, Dan Uggla, Brian McCann and Freddy Freeman the Braves will certainly have power galore and should hit homeruns, the big question will be how will they score runs when they ball isn't flying out of the yard.
Veteran Tim Hudson is still at the top of the Braves rotation, but youngsters Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy will all have to get better for the Braves to hang in contention with the Nationals into September. Atlanta still has one of the best bullpens with Craig Kimbrel backed up by Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters.
Philadelphia Phillies (odds to win NL East: +400)
Perhaps no team in Major League Baseball needs to stay healthy and avoid injuries more than the Philadelphia Phillies the past few years. All-Stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have all missed considerable time to injury, and in the case of Utley, have yet to really fully recover as time is catching up. Offensively the Phillies decided to replace Shane Victorino with Ben Revere, a wash in my book. The addition of Michael Young from Texas to play third and signing Delmon Young to play RF should give the Phillies more offense, but it also makes them a really old and fragile lineup too.
Word out of Philly is that the Phillies would like to breakup the lefties Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the rotation, so expect one of them to move into the ace role while Roy Halladay takes a step back to the No. 2 spot in 2013. If the Phillies can just get anything out of projected No. 4 starter Kyle Kendrick and No. 5 starter John Lannan, Philadelphia is one team that can still pitch with the top teams in the NL East. Philly also added Mike Adams in the bullpen, giving them another late-inning option in front of closer Jonathan Papelbon.
New York Mets (odds to win NL East: +2500)
There's not too many recognizable names left in Queens anymore, at least when we're talking about the New York Mets. The offense is still powered by third baseman David Wright and 1B Ike Davis, and the rotation is still topped by big-money starter Johan Santana, but the rest of the Mets might as well be anonymous. New York took some heat for "dumping" Cy Young pitcher R. A. Dickey in the offseason, but in reality the Mets offense that will rely on journeyman catcher John Buck and solid role player 2B Daniel Murphy to be major contributors just isn't going to score enough runs.
New York may have scored a bargin by signing changeup specialst Shaun Marcum to slide into the rotation behind Jon Niese and in front of Dillon Gee. Marcum will benefit from the spaciousness of Citi Field, but it's still a question about how many runs the Mets can score on offense in support. Frank Francisco gives the Mets a reliable closer, if they get to use him more than 25 times in 2013.
Miami Marlins (odds to win NL East: +10000)
The only thing more embarrassing than the way the Miami Marlins played in their inaugural season in a new ballpark in 2012 is what owner Jeffery Loria and management did to dismantle it - and then some - in the offseason. By trading away last year's free agent prize SS Jose Reyes and their top two starters to the Blue Jays, the Marlins essentially guaranteed their brand new stadium will go empty all summer.
Giancarlo Stanton is going to lead all of MLB in intentional walks this year, going completely unprotected in the lineup unless you count the potential of a healthy Logan Morrison or an aging Placido Polanco as protection. Heck, the Marlins pseudo ace Ricky Nolasco is due 11 million in the last year of his deal, so his days in Miami are likely due to change come the July trade deadline. Some of the young arms the Marlins got back in all of the trades (Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez) has been knocked around a lot already, so it will be at least interesting to watch how they respond to their elevated roles in the rotation.
National League East Prediction Washington Nationals +130
I'd almost guarantee that the Nationals won't win 98 games again this season, but I still think they are the best, most balance hitting, pitching and deepest bullpen team in the East or the National League for that matter. If you're still going to give me +130 odds with this year's Nationals, I'll take that value and take the favorite.
National League Central
Cincinnati Reds (odds to win NL Central: -105)
There were plenty of people picking the Cincinnati Reds to win the NL Central last season, but I highly doubt any of them expected the Reds to win 97 games in taking the title. Thanks to solid rookie seasons from the left side of their infield (3B Todd Frazier and SS Zach Cozart), a rebound year out of Ryan Ludwick in the outfield and solid pitching from their entire pitching staff from ace Johnny Cueto all the way down to the fifth-guy Mike Leake.
The Reds tinkered a little with the engine in the offseason, dealing Drew Stubbs to Cleveland in order to obtain a leadoff hitter in Shin-Soo Choo, but essentially they'll be the same team led by Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips. Cincinnati withstood injuries to the bullpen last year, but with smoke-thrower Aroldis Chapman being moved into the Reds starting rotation this summer they won't have a safety net if new closer Jonathan Broxton struggles to finish games in 2013.
St. Louis Cardinals (odds to win NL Central: +180)
The St. Louis Cardinals chances took a major blow when GM John Mozeliak announced in February that ace Chris Carpenter is still not over the nerve issues in his arm and would be lost for all of 2013. While it's not a hole the Cards can't climb out of by any means, but considering they were already worrying about the health of No. 5 starter Jaime Garcia, news that two spots in the rotation are in flux is not good in St. Louis.
The heart of the Cardinals lineup still has Matt Holliday, David Freese, Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran, so they should generate plenty of offense to back a rotation that still features Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn. If St. Louis can win enough of the games that one of those three pitchers isn't starting, they still have enough pieces to make things interesting in the NL Central all the way into September.
Milwaukee Brewers (odds to win NL Central: +500)
The Milwaukee Brewers went into the winter with some needs, especially at starting pitcher, but when the market for veteran free agents went past their budget constraints the Brewers decided to promote from within in 2013. What that means is that last year's No. 5 starter, Marco Estrada, is now the No. 2 guy with youngsters Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and Mark Rodgers all getting the first chance to see if they can survive in a big league rotation.
The Brewers blew an MLB-high 29 saves last season, so they did address and remake their bullpen by adding Burke Badenhop, Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez to setup in front of closer John Axford. Losing first baseman Corey Hart to a knee injury until May will force the Brewers to scramble at the start of the season to find runs, but a lineup featuring Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks should be good enough to keep them alive until they can figure out if their young pitching is going to make it or not.
Pittsburgh Pirates (odds to win NL Central: +1500)
Through May and June last season the Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the great stories in baseball, and for the first time in over a decade the Pirates were actually buyers instead of sellers at the trade deadline. But a lack of pitching depth caused the Pirates to fade away in August and September, and it will be interesting to see if the Pirates can again rise above expectations, get above .500 for the entire 162-game season and stay in a pennant chase into September.
Pittsburgh is going to have to decide whether to play Garrett Jones at first base, or in right field in order to clear a chance to get former Marlin Gaby Sanchez in the everyday lineup. Otherwise the only significant upgrade the Bucs made was to bring in Russell Martin at catcher, so young players like Pedro Alverez and Andrew McCutchen have to continue to improve for the Pirates do contend in 2013. An area of weakness that could turn into a huge problem is the bullpen, where Jason Grilli is in line to be the closer even though it's a role he's never had in his major-league career and there's not a whole lot back there if he fails to make the conversion.
Chicago Cubs (odds to win NL Central: +2000)
After dismantling this club the past few years the Chicago Cubs are still firmly stuck in rebuilding mode, as players like catcher Welington Castillo and 1B Anthony Rizzo are finally starting to filter into the Cubs everyday lineup. Those young guns are surrounded by overpriced (Alfonso Soriano) or questionable talent (David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz, Ian Stewart), which is why the Cubs are expected to once again sit at the bottom of the National League Central.
With Matt Garza and former Twin Scott Baker (coming off Tommy John surgery), two-fifth of the Cubs planned rotation in 2013 already sitting it out in Spring Training with arm issues, Jeff Samardzija becomes the Cubs ace and the Opening Day starter. Veteran Edwin Jackson was also brought in to try and stabilize the Cubs rotation, a rotation that may be forced to include former Ranger Scott Feldman and lefty Travis Wood if Garza and Baker aren't back on time. Closer Carlos Marmol is still around, but the Cubs might look to move Japanese rookie Kyuji Fujikawa into the role before the year is out.
National League Central Prediction Cincinnati Reds -105
I really don't want to take the chalk Reds here, and I think they'll struggle to even win 90 games this year, but I'm taking them because they don't have nearly the amount of flaws every other team in the division has going into the season. The Reds offense is still there, the pitching is still there … and worse case scenario is that Chapman doesn't transition into a starter. Instead the Reds get back one heck of a back-end bullpen reliever and it could make them even more dangerous in October.
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers (odds to win NL West: +100)
After making late-season trades last year to get Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Josh Beckett last year, the new Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group plunked down big cash to sign pitcher Zach Grienke as a free agent and complete the club's transformation into a new era. Combined with the leftovers of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston and A.J. Ellis, the new-look Dodgers will have little problem scoring runs this season. With veterans like Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker on the bench, this Dodgers team is built with the playoffs in mind.
Greinke joins Clayton Kershaw to give the Dodgers a top-notch one-two punch at the top of the rotation, but after those two there are a lot of what ifs. Los Angeles paid a lot of money to get Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, so I suspect he'll get every opportunity to try and beat out any of the other Dodgers veterans in camp (Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly) for the remaining three spots in the rotation. Brandon League is back as the closer after filling in for Kenley Jansen, but Jansen should be back after surgery to correct his irregular heartbeat to give L.A. innings as the set-up role.
San Francisco Giants (odds to win NL West: +160)
The defending World Series champs didn't need to do a lot of messing with their ballclub this winter, so as a result San Francisco did very little. With 21 of the 25 players on the World Series roster last year under contract still, the Giants could actually afford to sit on their hands at the winter meetings and play with their World Series rings.
It's not to say the Giants don't have questions coming into 2013 as they try to repeat. Can former Cy Young hurler Tim Lincecum regain his shutdown form? Is Sergio Romo really as dominant a closer as his was during last year's playoff run? There's no reason why the Giants couldn't win it all again if everything goes perfect, it's just something that doesn't happen a lot in baseball.
Arizona Diamondbacks (odds to win NL West: +575)
After taking about the Giants and how they will open play with just about the same team they had at the end of last season, make sure you buy a program in Arizona on Opening Day because the Diamondbacks have changed a lot of faces since last September. The D-Backs will have a whole new left side of the infield after trading for 3B Martin Prado and SS Cliff Pennington. Former A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy was brought in to help to rotation and Cody Ross was brought in to play right field in place of Justin Upton, so Arizona is definitely a different team on the field and in the clubhouse.
What makes the Diamondbacks an interesting proposition in 2013 is the young pitching they have stockpiled. Ian Kennedy, rookie of the year runner-up Wade Miley and Trevor Cahill join McCarthy to form a rotation that is low on salary and big names, but still pretty high on potential despite the fact they compete in the now pitching-heavy NL West. The addition of Heath Bell to the bullpen gives the D-Backs options in the late innings as well.
San Diego Padres (odds to win NL West: +1200)
The San Diego Padres went into Spring Training with a rotation free-for-all, with all sorts of guys like Anthony Bass, Tyson Ross, Eric Stults, Casey Kelly and Jason Marquis battling for the spots behind assumed top guys Clayton Richard and Edison Volquez. In fact, stockpiling arms and bodies to find out who the best 25 players are seems to be the Padres approach to 2013.
Chase Headley has turned into the Padres best player in the lineup, but with a declining Carlos Quentin and underachieving Will Venable and Kyle Blanks there's nobody around to offer Headley protection. Huston Street and Luke Gregerson give the Padres some decent arms in the bullpen, but how often they get used will be the biggest question.
Colorado Rockies (odds to win NL West: +2500)
The Colorado Rockies brought in former player Walt Weiss to manage the team this season, the problem is they did little to nothing to address the problems they had during last year's 98-loss campaign, almost setting him up to fail. Of course so much of the Rockies fortunes revolve around the health of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. With Tulo healthy and productive, the Rockies order of Carlos Gonzalez, Tulo, Todd Helton and Michael Cuddyer is probably still good enough to score runs and contend. They just might not score more than their pitching staff gives up.
When Jhoulys Chacin, the 25-year old who gave up 80 hits in 69 innings (14 starts) last season in his call up, is your pseudo ace you know you're in for a long summer. The Rockies still have Jorge De La Rosa and Jeff Francis too, but there is really no way to disguise how weak the starting rotation at Coors Field will be this year. Closer Rafael Betancourt blew seven saves last year (31-of-38), so even the Rockies bullpen looks stuck in time while the rest of the NL West gets better around them.
National League West Prediction Arizona Diamondbacks +575
It's rare that teams repeat in baseball, so with nowhere to go but down I eliminated the Giants from the start. The Dodgers at even money is tempting, but I'm going to go for a long shot value and take the Arizona Diamondbacks to win a competitive AL West race at the wire. The D-Backs aren't as reliant on the homerun anymore, and the addition of Prado and Ross will give them personalities that mesh better with manager Kirk Gibson's style. Speaking of the HR, look for 1B Paul Goldschmidt to hit a TON this season.
National League Pennant
Based on my divisional winners from above, I'm going to put a unit wager on:
Short - Washington Nationals +375 - The Nationals got their first taste of playoff baseball last year, and this year they won't shoot themselves in the foot by shutting down their ace Strasburg down the stretch.
Middle - Cincinnati Reds +600 - The Reds always seem to fizzle out before October, maybe this year they finally develop the staying power to win in the playoffs and get into the World Series again.
Long - Arizona Diamondbacks +2700 - A true long shot pick, the D-Backs will need 15-win seasons from all of their young arms in order to make this 27-to-1 shot cash with a pennant banner.
2013 World Series Prediction
With all of my AL and NL futures taken into consideration, my three World Series futures wagers will be based around a World Series between the Washington Nationals and the Texas Rangers.
Short - Washington Nationals +800 at 5Dimes - Washington has all of the pieces for a title run, and a little bit of experience from last year to learn from their mistakes.
Middle - Texas Rangers +2000 at Sportsbook - Texas has come so close so many times, and since nobody really expects them to win it this season, the timing seems about perfect for a title run.
Long - Arizona Diamondbacks +5000 at Bovada - Out of all of my long shot candidates (White Sox, Baltimore, Arizona), the D-Backs have the best pitching with the most potential for a deep playoff run. It's a long shot alright, but it's worth a unit for the chance to say I predicted an Arizona World Series title.
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