Heading into the 2013 Major League Baseball season, focus has been on the major deals and big spenders.
Quietly standing firm were the San Francisco Giants, the reigning champions. San Fran kept their offence intact under 2012 World Series Most Valuable Player Pablo Sandoval and maintained an elite pitching staff, featuring the likes of Tim Lincecum.
Consistency goes a long way during a lengthy regular season, so the Giants seem in good shape to win the National League West division, earn a playoff berth and make it back to the World Series. Their biggest divisional threat should be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have spent heavily to get talent like Hanley Ramirez on the squad and are playoff hopefuls.
Both California teams will take centre stage on Monday, 1 April, when they square off in the season opener at 4.10pm on ESPN. Most clubs will be playing their debut on Monday, including the St. Louis Cardinals (at 10.05pm against the Arizona Diamondbacks) and Philadelphia Phillies (at 7.05pm against the Atlanta Braves).
The Cardinals are a fundamentally sound team behind Matt Holliday and should be the Giants’ biggest challenge once again. Philly, which lost a step thanks to Ryan Howard’s low numbers, is poised to bounce back and overtake Tim Hudson’s Braves in the NL East, especially if Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee can pitch well.
Pitching will have to be the Giants’ calling card to repeat as champs because many American League teams boast powerful offences. It would be easy to write off the Detroit Tigers after last year’s World Series debacle but elite hitters Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder should power the offence back to the American League Championship Series.
A number of squads can halt Detroit such as the Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees. The Angels have the offensive clout with Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout to match Detroit. Toronto are heavy favourites to win the AL East with new recruits, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.
When healthy, New York have the talent to match any club in Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. The real key will be how C.C. Sabathia and Mariano Rivera deal with an injury-riddled line-up. Their first test will be against arch rivals the Boston Red Sox on Monday at 1.05pm on ESPN.