(Sports Network) - There are no better words to hear if you are a baseball fanthan "Opening Day." Amazing as it seems, the 2013 Major League Baseball seasonis now upon us.
And as we head toward a new season, it's a familiar team that's still at thetop of the class in the American League.
The Detroit Tigers entered the 2012 campaign as huge favorites to win an ALCentral title. Well, they won their second straight division title, but itwasn't easy, as the Tigers sat below .500 for most of the first half, andnever actually clinched the Central until the final week of the regularseason.
Detroit then outlasted the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS before sweeping theNew York Yankees in the ALCS. But that offense that carried the Tigers formuch of the second half of the year and through the first two rounds of theplayoffs disappeared in the World Series and they were swept by the SanFrancisco Giants in four games.
Now, if you are a fan of another team in the AL you may want to stop readingbecause as good as the Tigers were a year ago, they may be even better thisseason thanks to the addition of outfielder Torii Hunter and the return ofVictor Martinez, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury.
Of course, the Tigers are led by Triple Crown winner and reigning AL MVPMiguel Cabrera, who had a season for the ages in 2012, leading the league witha .330 average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI. His partner in crime, PrinceFielder, enjoyed his first year in Motown, as he hit .313 with 30 home runsand 108 RBI.
Speaking of Cabrera, there's really no reason to think he won't replicate hisaverage from last year and the lineup additions should net him close to hisRBI total from a year ago. If he's able to match his home run production, hemay very well repeat as a Triple Crown winner. Let that soak in for a second.
While Cabrera and Fielder hold down the fort from the offensive side, itdoesn't get much better on the mound than Justin Verlander, who followed uphis MVP and Cy Young season in 2011 with another typical great year in 2012.
There's also a little sidebar story to this year's Tigers. There have beenwhispers that this could be the final season for 68-year-year-old manager JimLeyland. His team is better on paper than it was last season.
Is there a better way to end a career than with a championship?
For an insight into the season, here's a brief synopsis and a look at some ofthe teams which will try to stop the Tigers from repeating as this year's ALchampion in power poll form:
2. LOS ANGELES ANGELS: The Angels were supposed to be the "it" team lastseason, but were unable to overcome a slow start. The one good thingto come out of last season was the emergence of Mike Trout. Now he, AlbertPujols and newly acquired Josh Hamilton pose as intimidating a trio as thereis in the league. Pujols took a while to get going last year, but should bebetter in his second year in the AL. As long as Hamilton doesn't have the samegrowing pains, the Angels should be back in the postseason for the first timein four years.
3. TORONTO BLUE JAYS: Everyone loves the Toronto Blue Jays. And why not? Theteam added multiple All-Stars in that monster deal with Miami in addition tothe National League's reigning Cy Young Award winner in R.A. Dickey. Not tomention it looks like it could be a down year in the AL East. On paper theJays look great. But, it's not often that the team who won the offseasonactually wins in the regular season. If you don't believe me, just ask lastyear's Angels. Or better yet look at the Jays' dugout and ask the formerMarlins how it worked out for them last season. Point is super teams rarelywork. before any games are played, though, the Jays look tough to beat.
4. TAMPA BAY RAYS: Call me crazy, but substance usually wins out over style.Over the course of a 162-game season the Rays just find ways to get it done.Lose B.J. Upton? Big deal, go out and get one of the top outfield prospects inall of baseball in Wil Myers. The Rays are so deep they were able to dealJames Shields and some think their pitching staff will be even better than itwas last year. I'm tired of picking against them and looking foolish. EvanLongoria will win an MVP sometime in his career. It may very well be thisseason.
5. OAKLAND ATHLETICS: The Athletics came out of nowhere last year to win the ALWest thanks to a furious finish that saw them win their final six games andovercome a four-game deficit with less than a week left in the season. The A'srode a tremendous young pitching staff and a lineup full of mostly castoffsthat finished seventh in the majors in home runs. The core of the team is stillthere, but the A's are hoping Brett Anderson can stay healthy and become theace they think he can be. Should that happen, there's no reason to think theywon't be a factor again in the West.
6. TEXAS RANGERS: It's a brand new era in Texas Rangers baseball, as Hamiltonand his Triple Crown-caliber numbers and enormous baggage will no longer beroaming the outfield in Arlington. Instead Hamilton is in Anaheim and theRangers have a huge hole in the middle of their order. Texas is hoping LanceBerkman can give it a little pop, but the Rangers are going to have tomanufacture runs in what is expected to be a tough AL West. It could all gowrong real quick for the Rangers, but then again, they could find themselvesback in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
7. BALTIMORE ORIOLES: The Orioles were the surprise of the AL last season.Nobody expected them to do anything and they were in the mix for a divisiontitle up until the final day of the season and reached the postseason for thefirst time since 1997. They return basically the same team as last year so theyshould once again be near the top in the AL East. Right? Well some people thinkBaltimore could take a step back. Why? Well, the Orioles were a stunning 29-9record last year in one-run games and even more remarkable was the fact thatthey rattled off 16 straight extra inning wins at one point. It's hard toimagine them being that good again in those situations.
8. NEW YORK YANKEES: How bad is it in Yankees land? Well the recentacquisitions of Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay instantly made them better. Yes,things don't look good on Opening Day. But everyone is forgetting this is a162-game season. For the better part of the year they are still going to put alineup out there that includes Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira,Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and Ichiro Suzuki. And maybe, just maybeAlex Rodriguez returns at some point in the second half. Yes, they are old, butit's essentially the same lineup that won 95 games a year ago. From top tobottom, there are few better pitching staffs in the league. They are a middle-of-the-road team on April 1. Something tells me they won't be on Sept.1. Whileeveryone seems to be licking their chops over the Yankees' demise, I need tosee the body before declaring them dead.
9. KANSAS CITY ROYALS: If you are looking for a sleeper team, look no furtherthan the Royals. For years we have heard how deep the Royals' farm system was.Little by little we have seen the fruits of their labors with the developmentof Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.General manager Dayton Moore realized the Royals were getting close and thisoffseason overhauled the starting rotation, acquiring righties James Shields,Wade Davis and Ervin Santana. That group combined with returning right-handerJeremy Guthrie and lefty Bruce Chen gives Kansas City as talented a rotation asthere is in the AL. The pieces are in place and if it's not this year it won'tbe long before the Royals are contending for a division title.
10. BOSTON RED SOX: This is a team a lot of people, including myself, could bereally wrong about. The Red Sox were absolutely miserable last season. DidBobby Valentine play a big part of that? Probably. But, John Farrell inheritsalmost the same team that ended last season with 93 losses. The one thing thatcould make this Red Sox team sneaky good is the fact that Farrell knows thispitching staff. That group was a mess last year. If he can work his magic andJon Lester, Clay Buchholz and a returning John Lackey get their acts together,the Red Sox might not be all that bad.
11. CHICAGO WHITE SOX: The Chicago White Sox probably overachieved last seasonin Robin Ventura's maiden voyage into the managerial seas. In first place for117 days and the better part of the second half, the White Sox crumbled downthe stretch and eventually lost control of the AL Central to Detroit with twoweeks to go in the season. Chicago should once again be in the wild card mixthanks to what is expected to be a pretty solid rotation headlined by breakoutstar from a year ago, Chris Sale. Offensively, though, the club is stillveteran heavy led by Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and boom-or-bust slugger AdamDunn.
12. CLEVELAND INDIANS: Fans in Cleveland likely won't recognize the team theysee on Opening Day. Gone are Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo,a trio that combined to play 25 seasons and 2,655 games in Cleveland. Inaddition to new manager Terry Francona, general manager Chris Antonetti handedout big money deals to outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, as well asinfielder Mark Reynolds and right-hander Brett Myers amongst others. If theIndians are going to do anything, though, they need righty Ubaldo Jimenez to bethe pitcher the Tribe thought they were trading for in 2011. Either way,though, this team should be better this year than they were last year.
13. SEATTLE MARINERS: Now the Royals are going to be a sleeper team thisseason, but if you are looking to pick a team really out of the box, check outthe Mariners. Yes, we know they have scored the fewest runs in the league thepast four seasons. But scoring runs may not be a problem this year, asyoungsters Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Michael Saunderscontinue to progress, coupled with the additions of veteran boppers KendrysMorales, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez and even Jason Bay. Now if the Mariners aregoing to do anything in the AL West, they are going to need someone, anyone, tostep up after Felix Hernandez in the rotation. It may not be this year for theMariners, but they are coming.
14. MINNESOTA TWINS: If you are a fan of the Minnesota Twins, there are a fewthings you can do this season. One, enjoy the play of your rookie centerfielder, Aaron Hicks. Two, appreciate the fact that Justin Morneau is healthyand still playing for your club. And, three, give manager Ron Gardenhire astanding ovation every time you are at a game because he won't be there nextyear.
15. HOUSTON ASTROS: The Astros are set to make their AL debut. If you can nametwo players in their lineup, you are probably in the minority and the biggestfantasy baseball nerd in your family. This is not a good team. Houston was alast-place team in the NL Central and it will remain a last-place team in theAL West.
SOME OTHER PREDICTIONS
BREAKOUT PLAYER: DAYAN VICIEDO, OF, CHICAGO: There is not much youth in theWhite Sox lineup. The one player who could make an impact is Cuban importViciedo, who swatted 25 home runs last season. Like most young hitters, he wasa little over aggressive at times and managed just 28 walks and a .255 average.However, with a year under his belt, he should be more patient at the plate.Plus, it doesn't hurt that he is surrounded by a couple members in the 400-HRclub in Konerko and Dunn.
BREAKDOWN PLAYER: DAVID ORTIZ, DH, BOSTON: This is a lazy prediction. Ortiz is37 and already going to start the year on the disabled list. But, when healthy,he is still the most feared hitter in the Red Sox lineup. Before he suffered aseason-ending Achilles injury in July (though he did come back for one game inlate August), Ortiz had been on pace to swat 41 homers with 108 RBI. Sluggerslike him tend to lose it over night. Call it a hunch, but it could be a longyear for Ortiz.
FIRST MANAGER FIRED: RON GARDENHIRE, MINNESOTA: Now Houston's Bo Porter is theeasy choice here. But, not even the Astros think he is going to win this year.Texas' Ron Washington and Joe Girardi of the Yankees could be candidates aswell, but we are going to go with Gardenhire, who is in the final year of hiscontract. And barring a miracle, the Twins are headed toward their thirdstraight last-place finish in the AL Central. Gardenhire is so good and hashad such a great track record, Twins GM Terry Ryan likely wouldn't fire himmidseason. But if he does, Gardenhire will be out of work for about a minute,provided he doesn't want to rest a little. Prediction. Gardenhire managesthe New York Mets next season.
PLAYER MOST LIKELY TRADED BY DEADLINE: JUSTIN MORNEAU, 1B, MINNESOTA: When itwas learned that Teixeira would miss the first two months of the season with awrist injury, the knee jerk reaction was that the Yankees would go out and getMorneau from the Twins. He is the ideal candidate to be moved. The Twins aregoing to be bad and he is in the final year of a six-year, $80 million dealthat pays him $14 million this season. There's going to be a lot of namesthat become hot as the season wears on, but none will be hotter than theformer AL MVP.
HOW IT WILL EVENTUALLY BREAK DOWN
WILD CARD: N.Y. YANKEES over KANSAS CITY ROYALSALDS: DETROIT over N.Y. YANKEES; L.A. ANGELS over TAMPA BAYALCS: DETROIT over L.A. ANGELS
AL MVP - ROBINSON CANO (NYY); AL CY Young - JERED WEAVER (LAA); AL Rookie ofYear - WIL MYERS (TAM); AL Manager of Year - NED YOST (KAN); AL Comeback Player- MARIANO RIVERA (NYY)