With the upcoming season fast approaching, baseball ‘experts’ everywhere are making their preseason predictions. Sports Illustrated is no exception, as they polled seven of their experts on the upcoming season. Each expert picked their playoff teams, AL and NL Champions, MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year candidates, as well as their surprise teams, breakout players, and who they expected to be the most disappointing free agent signings.
In what may be a bit of a mild surprise, each expert predicted that the Rays will make the playoffs, with four experts anticipating that the Rays win the American League East. Even more surprising is that the Rays joined the Detroit Tigers and the Washington Nationals as the only teams unanimously expected to make the postseason. Both the Tigers and Nationals would seemingly have advantages over the Rays in terms of their ability to make the postseason – the Tigers play in a much weaker division and the Nationals may be the most complete team in baseball. Yet, these are the three that are expected by the SI panel to be in the postseason.
Beyond making the postseason, the Rays appear to be expected to make some noise in the postseason, as four of those polled expect the Rays to win the American League title. Ben Reiter expects them to do more than make the World Series – he has the Rays as his preseason World Series Champions. The factors that Reiter mentions – the Rays deep pitching staff, their versatility, fielding and relentlessness – may be enough to propel them on a playoff run. It would certainly be more of a possibility with a healthy Evan Longoria for a full season, as well as a step forward by either Matt Moore or Jeremy Hellickson.
Speaking of Longoria and Moore, both players received votes as potential the potential American League MVP and the league’s breakout player, respectively. In fact, a case could have been made for Longoria as MVP last year, as the Rays were 44-45 without him in the lineup, yet 47-27 when he played. Moore had a stretch in the middle of the season where he was fairly dominant, going 9-2 with a 2.79 ERA and 80 strikeouts from June 3rd through August 19th. Another yuong starter, Alex Cobb, also received a vote for breakout player. Like Moore, he also had a period where he pitched quite well, as Cobb finished the season by going 7-1 with a 3.09 ERA over the final two months of the season. If either starter is able to build off that stretch, it would certainly help solidify the rotation and help their playoff aspirations.
Defending Cy Young Award winner David Price received a vote to win the award again this year. As Price has seemingly gotten better in each of the past three seasons, earning All-Star nods each time while decreasing the number of baserunners allowed and increasing his strikeout rate, it would certainly not be a surprise if he continued this trend. If Price was to win back to back Cy Young Awards, he would not only be the first American League pitcher to do so since Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000, but would also be the first left handed pitcher to do so in the AL.
Finally, when it came to the Rookie of the Year vote, Wil Myers received five of the votes, despite the fact that he will start the year in Durham. Yet, it is expected that he will be up to Tampa as soon as his arbitration clock would be pushed back a year, and that there will be a starting position awaiting him upon his arrival. Myers certainly has tremendous power potential, and if he ends up being the second power bat behind Longoria in the lineup, his four months of action may be good enough to capture the Rookie of the Year Award.
Based off the projections of the Sports Illustrated baseball experts, there should be a lot of reasons for optimism around the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. In fact, 2013 could be quite the memorable year, as this could be the year that the scrappy underdogs that have managed to compete despite their financial limitations end up winning it all.