With the 2013 MLB season completed, a look back at pre-season predictions and projections shows that very little went as expected. Prior to Opening Day, prognosticators looked into their crystal ball and picked the Los Angeles Angels in the American League and the Washington Nationals of the National League as the teams to beat. Given the Angels off-season acquisitions (Josh Hamilton, Tommy Hanson) and the return of Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Mike Trout, it was hard to argue with the choice. However, Hamilton went through a horrific slump and Pujols was shut down in mid-summer to injury. As for Washington, their breakout 2012 season made them pre-season favorites, but a slow start and injuries (Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper) plus sub-par performances by 2012 standouts (Steven Strasburg, Adam LaRoche) kept them behind the curve for most of the season.
Other teams that fell short after being predicted to at least capture their divisions were the Texas Rangers, who did manage to earn a wild card tie-breaker (which they lost) to Tampa Bay. 2012 World Series champs San Francisco, despite staying relatively the same personnel-wise, saw their talented pitching staff virtually fall apart (with the exception of Madison Bumgarner) and finished 16 games out in the NL West. The New York Yankees suffered an almost unbelievable string of injuries (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixiera) which forced a slew of changes and scrambling to fill key positions. To their credit they managed to stay in the playoff hunt up to the final weeks. Jeter and A-Rod’s futures are still up in the air, but it’s certain that long-time aces Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte won’t be back. The Yankees are facing an off-season filled with more questions than answers, especially the future of free-agent 2B Robinson Cano. The Yankees hated rivals, the Red Sox, were one of the season’s more pleasant surprises, winning the AL East by five games and tied with St. Louis for the major’s best W-L mark at 97-65. Boston improved an amazing 28 games from 2012, with new acquisitions Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and perennial standouts Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury stellar from start to finish. The long-suffering Cleveland Indians were another big surprise in 2013, with manager Terry Francona pushing all the right buttons to guide the Tribe to a wild-card berth, helped by a season-ending nine-game winning streak. Cleveland’s dream season was abruptly ended with a loss in the play-in game at home versus Tampa Bay however.
Two teams that more or less met expectations were the Detroit Tigers (AL Central champs) and the NL Central champion Cardinals. Miguel Cabrera of Detroit flirted with becoming the first major-leaguer in history to win back-to-back Triple Crowns only to be slowed late in the season by nagging injuries, although he did win his third consecutive batting crown and wound up with 44 HRs and 137 RBIs to go along with his .348 BA. Baltimore’s Chris Davis edged out Cabrera with 53 HRs and 138 ribbies. The always strong St. Louis pitching staff remained so, and a new star emerged in 2B Matt Carpenter. Heading into the playoffs, their key power hitter, 1B Allen Craig, may or may not be available, which could pose a stumbling block. Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and pitchers Adam Wainwright and rookie Shelby Miller all played key roles. The big surprise in the NL was the Pittsburgh Pirates, who snapped a 21-year playoff drought by finishing 94-68 and advancing to face the Cardinals by virtue of beating Cincinnati in the NL’s wild-card playoff game.
Also surprising was the domination displayed by Atlanta in the NL East. The Braves held first place for all but one day and finished 10 games ahead of the Nationals. The Braves led the NL in HRs, with five players slugging 20 or more, while both the rotation and bullpen remained consistently strong all season, especially closer Craig Kimbrel, the most dominant finisher in MLB. The Dodgers struggled mightily with several injuries, and had been essentially written off by early June. Instead, sparked by the call-up of rookie OF Yasiel Puig, the team turned things around and won the West going away. Puig was a nightly SportsCenter fixture with his freakish athleticism and exuberance, off-setting the extended absences of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Clayton Kershaw and fellow starters Zack Grienke and Hyun-Jin Ryu form an outstanding rotation, posing a challenge for playoff opponents.
Individual AL standouts included Detroit’s Cabrera and Ps Max Scherzer (the major’s lone 20-game winner) and Anibal Sanchez, Baltimore’s Davis and Adam Jones, Mike Trout of the Angels, Oakland’s Bartolo Colon and Josh Donaldson, Tampa’s Evan Longoria, Matt Moore and rookie Wil Myers, and Texas’ Yu Darvish and Adrian Beltre. In the NL, St. Louis’ Carpenter, Craig, Molina and Wainwright turned in sterling seasons, while Atlanta’s Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson and Kimbrel all had career years. Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt drove in 125 runs, Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutcheon and Pedro Alvarez were the Bucs batting leaders while Francisco Liriano won 16 games. Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting crown, and young pitchers Matt Harvey of the Mets and Jose Fernandez of Miami gave notice of future greatness.