With the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros kicking off the 2013 MLB Season tonight, we embark on a 7-month journey that should feature some great baseball. Just like every year, there are predictions and expectations. Whether or not the teams and players live up to these will be decided in the coming months. I thought I’d offer my opinion on the 6 things to watch this MLB season.
1. Third time the charm for the Pirates? In 2011 and 2012 the Pittsburgh Pirates entered the All-Star Break as not only playoff contenders, but NL Central Pennant contenders. Both of those years the Pirates failed to finish .500, extending their streak of consecutive losing seasons to 20 after the collapse last season. They were 16 games over .500 with only 54 games remaining in the season last year. My question is: will Pittsburgh be able to start and finish strong this year, or will it be another year of despair for Pittsburgh? Unfortunately I think it will be the latter. The Pirates were 12-5 against the Houston Astros last season, and this year they will not have the opportunity to earn more than three games against a dismal Astros team that has moved to the American League. Obviously a few wins over the Astros are not the only thing keeping the Pirates from getting over the .500 mark, but this division seems too strong for the Pirates at this point. I’m pulling for them this year, but it will be tough, and it is certainly something to watch for.
2. Can they live up to the hype? No, I’m not talking about Mike Trout or Bryce Harper (they will come later), I’m talking about the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg. Two seasons ago, this team finished with a record of 80-81. Last year, they improved it to 98-64 and now everybody is jumping on the bandwagon with the World Series predictions. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Nationals are a great team and have a good shot at playing deep into October. The starting rotation is perhaps the best in the game, and they have some bats that can produce runs. However, this is a lot of hype considering that the Nationals are coming out of nowhere. They will have a lot to prove this year, and there will be pressure on the team to produce. One of the players under the microscope will be Stephen Strasburg, who will have to demonstrate why Nationals GM Mike Rizzo made the right decision in shutting him down by having a dominant season. Both the Nationals and Strasburg are capable, and their run towards October will certainly be one to watch.
3. Can they live up to the hype II? Yes, this is the part about Trout and Harper. Obviously after last season both players will have a lot to live up to, especially Trout. Both had great rookie seasons, but Trout’s was more noted for his performance, whereas Harper was known for his entertainment. I don’t think Trout will live up to the numbers that many are expecting. It will be a good season, but somewhat of a sophomore slump for Trout who has to come back down to earth sometime. As for Harper, his season will be decent as well, just not as scrutinized.
4. Who wins the AL East? Come September, this division could still be a five-way race for first place. The usually dominant Yankees clubhouse has turned into a hospital for the elderly. The Red Sox look to come back after a disappointing 2012 under Bobby Valentine. The Rays look to contend with a healthy Evan Longoria and a solid pitching staff. The Orioles came in second last year and look to build on that with one of the youngest teams in baseball. Finally, the Blue Jays had perhaps the most productive offseason in baseball, and look to contend with new names like R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera. I think it will be the Rays who will emerge as pennant winners in this division, but the title is completely up for grabs at this point, and the race will certainly be something to watch.
5. Who can stop the Angels’ lineup? Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo will all be featured in the Angels lineup this season, talk about star-studded. If this group clicks with the addition of Josh Hamilton, the bats could be unbeatable. In my opinion, however, this certainly does not guarantee them the division title. The reigning AL West champs from Oakland will certainly have something to say about that, as well the Texas Rangers, who made consecutive appearances in the World Series in 2010 and 2011. My prediction: both the A’s and the Rangers will compete, especially the A’s with their young and talented pitching staff. But, the Angels will go on to win the West and I’m saying advance to the ALCS. No matter which way it goes, this division and team will be a fun one to watch this season.
6. Baseball. Of course you should watch baseball this year, it is America’s pastime. Looking back on past seasons, nothing is totally predictable, and the next seven months could be an incredible journey that gets better with every minute. Take my advice, watch baseball, it will be great no matter what happens. At the current moment, the Astros are leading the league with wins, making just about anything possible.