Three up, three down
In the midst of the Winter Meeting Madness, we step back and look at three times that missed the 2012 postseason but are likely to bounce back from subpar seasons to the playoffs, and three teams who played October baseball in 2012, won’t be playing deep into October in 2013.
Everyone’s darling pick to represent the American League in the World Series did nothing short of a belly flop. But there were good reasons. Albert Pujols took a while to settle in and had his career worst in average and home runs. He’s only 32 (at least that’s the official age), he’s likely not to continue his downward trend. Mike Trout will be in his 2nd year. He’s likely to be better, although if he’s the same, that’s a 1/2 punch to be the envy of others. Their pitching will be solid, C.J. Wilson, Weaver, and Tommy Hanson make enough of a top end to contend. Kendrys Morales should be more healthy, with Trumbo’s power as a bonus.
2) Boston Red Sox
Of course things couldn’t have been more of a trainwreck than it was in 2012. The Bobby Valentine experiment crashed and burned, but let’s face it, they drew the short straw on injuries. A healthy Pedroia, Ellsbury, Ortiz, and now Napoli still make a fearsome lineup. And they’re probably not done. They need a little work on the rotation, but the bullpen should be solid with Andrew Bailey healthy. They’re likely to add some key fill in guys here before spring training and should have a new chemistry and vibe that thrusts them right into the AL East race.
3) Philadelphia Phillies
Another team that was snake bit from injuries. You could kind of see it coming with both Howard and Utley out to start 2012. They even unloaded Pence and Victorino and were still in the NL East race into September. They’ve still got Hamels, Halladay, and Lee at the top of the rotation and Papelbon at the back end of the rotation. And good talent/fill in guys for those lost. They’re still likely to add a couple of key pieces and should find themselves in the middle of the NL East race, especially if the Nationals stumble.
The rookie pitchers can’t do it again. Not in this division. If I held a gun to your head and asked you to name 3 of the 5 projected starters for the A’s in 2013 could you do it (can you name the pitcher to the right)? I’ve got a lot of questions about their lineup as well, outside of Cespedes, I’m not convinced they have a consistent force. There’s a reason Bob Melvin won 2012 Manager of the Year. Too many smoke and mirrors, plus the resurgent Angels and solid Rangers will keep them from repeating 2012 success.
2) Baltimore Orioles
Another team that won’t be able to replicate a bit of lady luck in 2012. This luck included 16-3 in extra innings (16 straight between April 11 and the postseason). They were also 74-0 when leading after 7 innings (unheard of). In the toughest division in baseball (the Blue Jays moves have more than ensured that) they’ll regress to the mean. If they’d regressed to a .500 record in extra innings they’d have finished 3rd in the East. Finishing .500 is a stretch for this team.
3) Atlanta Braves
The NL East is also a tough division, with the Phillies expected to bounce back and the Nationals seeming to hold all the pitching cards. The Braves were solid, but are suddenly having to fill holes from departures like Michael Bourn, Tommy Hanson, and lightning in a bottle Ben Sheets. And Chipper Jones, who seemed to will the team to the postseason. B.J. Upton may be an upgrade, but he’s been unplayable at times with the strikeouts and slumps (and the Braves have always thrived on a “put it in play and make things happen” philosophy.