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Picking division and award winners

3/28/2013

As usual, I've sketched out my win-loss predictions for all 30 teams and winners for the six major postseason awards. I've tried to include at least one thought on each team that explains my predictions, as well as notes on some key players or possible impact call-ups. Awards predictions follow the division picks.

AL East

The Toronto Blue Jays made headlines this winter, mostly for the right reasons, but their lack of depth behind the shiny front line of recognizable stars has already been slightly exposed with the demotion of Ricky Romero. As good as they could be, the Jays slide in behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays have a history of exceeding expectations, perhaps due to their lack of name value, and they have reinforcements sitting in Triple-A ready to help by June or so, including top prospect Wil Myers.

The Boston Red Sox's offseason scored low marks from me -- the Shane Victorino contract was the worst of the winter -- yet it's still a solid team and a much better one than last year, especially if the improved looks from Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester hold true into the season.

The New York Yankees' run of injuries -- funny what happens when your team's core gets old -- could drop them to last place or sub-.500 territory, although the team they'll run out there in April should keep them afloat until Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson come back.

The Baltimore Orioles' 2012 season was a great story but was built on an unsustainable foundation of luck and bullpen performance. They did nothing to upgrade the team this winter and may be overreliant on players who are likely to deliver less value this year. Their best hopes for a step forward are Chris Tillman, whose stuff was better in the second half, and Matt Wieters, who is about two years late on that big offensive breakout I had predicted for him.

AL Central

The Tigers should run away with this division, but they should have done so last year and won it by just three games, falling seven wins short of the 95 I predicted. This year's club is a little stronger on paper, thanks to Anibal Sanchez, Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez, with ninth-inning relief duties the only question mark -- and a wildly overblown one at that.

The Royals' pitching staff overhaul isn't likely to push them to the playoffs, but that plus a bounce back from Eric Hosmer could give them their second winning season in the last 20.

Cleveland overhauled its lineup, and its outfield defense could be a beautiful thing to watch. But the rotation is a major weakness, and the team doesn't have the in-house depth to help if one or more of its established starters goes down.

The White Sox are also looking at a lack of depth, with John Danks a disaster this spring and probable regression coming from Paul Konerko, Alexis Rios and Adam Dunn.

The Twins are in full rebuild mode as they wait for the arms in the farm system to start boosting the major league rotation, with Kyle Gibson likely the first arrival by the middle of this year. Watch out for former first-rounder Aaron Hicks in center field, a plus defender with a tremendous arm, above-average speed and the chance for power down the road but who has jumped to the majors straight from Double-A.

AL West

The Los Angeles Angels' pitching staff scares me, and I admit I'm out on a limb projecting them for 94 wins, but I do think their offense and defense are both among the top crews in the league. If nothing else, they've assembled a rotation that fits well in their ballpark, along with the gloves they'll run out there most nights in the outfield. Even Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton could post superficially better performances thanks to Anaheim's spacious park.

The Texas Rangers are taking a ton of heat for not doing anything this offseason, but shouldn't we at least praise them for not doing anything stupid? Zack Greinke was the one ideal fit, and they lost out on him to the Infinite Payroll. Eventually, they'll kick Ian Kinsler to first base, install Jurickson Profar at second and be at least the second-best team in the division.

I love what the Oakland Athletics did this winter, but I can't project their pitching staff to be that effective a second time around, even if the run-scoring side improves.

The Seattle Mariners will hit more homers this year, but their defense will take a hit with Michael Morse and perhaps Raul Ibanez or Jason Bay in the outfield, although the midyear arrival of Mike Zunino to catch could help.

The Houston Astros won't be as embarrassingly awful as they were last year, thanks to an improved, major league-ish rotation. But this division is brutal. They could field a better team than 2012 and still lose more games.

Wild card: Toronto over Texas

ALDS: Detroit over Toronto, Tampa Bay over L.A. Angels

ALCS: Tampa Bay over Detroit

NL East

The Washington Nationals are the best team in baseball, at least on paper, with a deep rotation, a hilariously deep bullpen and a strong offense that features a rising superstar in Bryce Harper, who looks primed for an even better sophomore campaign than his rookie year.

Atlanta's aggressive offseason brought in a potential MVP candidate in Justin Upton, finally healthy after an April hand injury ruined his 2012 season, although holes at third, maybe second and catcher until Brian McCann returns are all flaws that put it behind Washington.

The Philadelphia Phillies look old and slow, with the struggles of Roy Halladay, who's missing his fastball, blowing a major hole in what should have been the team's primary strength.

The New York Mets may field the worst outfield in recent history, although they could have a pretty good rotation once Zack Wheeler arrives in June or so.

The Miami Marlins are a joke, more off the field than on it, but are fielding something akin to a Triple-A club around Giancarlo Stanton, including a very shaky rotation.

NL Central

If the Nationals aren't the best team on paper, I'd like to nominate the Cincinnati Reds, even though they're trying to dance in the outfield with three left feet. The lineup is mostly deep -- made worse by Dusty Baker's insistence on batting Zack Cozart second -- and the rotation and bullpen are among the best in the league.

The St. Louis Cardinals aren't far behind, short in the middle infield but deep in the outfield, rotation and bullpen, where potential replacement starters Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly will start the season.

I would have had the Brewers sub-.500 before they signed Kyle Lohse, and I still think they have a higher collapse potential than any of the other teams I've projected to have winning records, with a strong lineup but big questions in the bullpen and no great options if they have to replace a starter.

The Chicago Cubs are an unbalanced team, but I'm cautiously optimistic about their rotation. They could deal Matt Garza or Alfonso Soriano midyear, making the team worse than this projection would indicate.

The Pittsburgh Pirates look like a mediocre offense with a weak pitching staff, desperate for a big breakout from Starling Marte or Travis Snider or a huge impact from Gerrit Cole midyear, none of which seems that likely.

NL West

The San Francisco Giants brought the same crew back for 2013, usually not an ideal strategy but likely to prevent enough runs to at least win one of the wild-card spots with just an average offense. Tim Lincecum could be the difference between a division title and a spot in the play-in game. (In case you missed it, I discussed Lincecum's outlook on this week's podcast with Giants beat writer Andy Baggarly.)

The Los Angeles Dodgers have pitching depth, with seven viable starters if you believe Chad Billingsley can avoid Tommy John surgery (I don't), and when their lineup is healthy, it's one of the better ones in the league. However, Hanley Ramirez was probably the position player they could least afford to lose other than Matt Kemp.

The Arizona Diamondbacks will grit and scrap their way to the most hard-nosed third-place finish ever, but their run-scoring (especially the outfield) and run-prevention sides look short relative to the Dodgers and Giants.

The San Diego Padres might be sneaky good this year, but losing a month of Chase Headley, and possibly losing his power potential for longer than that, hurts their offense. The rotation has a lot of fourth-starter types with nobody likely to be above league-average.

The Colorado Rockies are a mess, with awful starting pitching foiling an interesting plan to use those guys, a staff built around pitch-to-contact guys in a ballpark where that is the last kind of pitcher you want.

Wild card: Atlanta over St. Louis

NLDS: Washington over Atlanta, Cincinnati over San Francisco

NLCS: Washington over Cincinnati

World Series: Tampa Bay over Washington

Player awards

AL MVP: Mike Trout

I mean, he did deserve the award last year, and it would be less than shocking to see him win it a year later even if he doesn't have as great of a year, especially since the specific group of voters changes each year.

NL MVP: Jason Heyward

I would love to say Andrew McCutchen, but the voters are still resistant to the fact that the MVP can be on a bad team.

AL Cy Young: Josh Johnson

Going out on a limb, but he's apparently healthy, in a walk year and playing in front of a good defense. Justin Verlander has been the best pitcher in the AL in each of the last two years and is probably a safer bet.

NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg

This assumes the Nats don't shut him down on Labor Day because he has "a code in his dose." Clayton Kershaw was deserving in 2012 and has to be among the favorites again.

AL Rookie of the Year: Brandon Maurer

If all the major candidates for this had full-time jobs on Opening Day, I'd take Wil Myers, who is both major league ready and likely to rack up impressive counting stats if given the playing time. He, Jurickson Profar and Dylan Bundy will all start the year in the minors, so Maurer, Aaron Hicks and Jackie Bradley Jr. are the top candidates for now. Maurer has an out pitch (the slider) to miss plenty of bats, and his home park should keep his superficial numbers strong.

I love Hicks as a prospect but am concerned about his history of slow adjustments after promotions, with this year's promotion a two-level jump. Bradley is talented but has just 61 games above A-ball. Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin has a job but lost his rookie eligibility last year.

NL Rookie of the Year: Jedd Gyorko

Gyorko has a solid grip on a job and gets to start the year at his better position, third base, although I expect he'll move to second once Chase Headley returns. I would have gone with Adam Eaton, but he's injured and will lose maybe 100 or so at-bats. Shelby Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Julio Teheran are strong candidates, and if Billy Hamilton comes up in the first third of the season, he could post a huge stolen base total that wins him the award.