I Like the Tigers and Nationals in the Fall Classic

Justin Verlander

 

Justin Verlander
I expect Verlander and the Tigers to get over the hump and win the World Series.

In most parts of the country right now the last thing on anyone’s mind is Spring. After all, parts of the Midwest and Eastern portions of the United States were dumped on again by old man winter. Pittsburgh for example is supposed to host opening day in less than a week but the diamond at PNC Park was covered with snow yesterday.

Because the snow is still flying doesn’t mean I have to be relegated to discussing March Madness or the NBA right now because baseball’s Opening Day is within sight and it’s now time for my fearless predictions that you may or may not want to take to the bank.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

East Division Champions – Tampa Bay Rays

The Yankees are in trouble as are the Red Sox. I expect Toronto to make a more serious run with added pitching and the Orioles will present challenges but I don’t see them making it past Toronto and Tampa. The Rays have pitching, defense and solid hitting which means a division title.

Central Division Champions – Detroit Tigers

This is a mediocre division that I actually expect to be over by Mid-August. Kansas City will be better as will Cleveland but the Tigers are all-in with the addition of Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez back in the line-up to go with that pitching. Anything less than a World Series appearance for this team is a failure.

West Division Champions – Texas Rangers

Popular opinion says take the Angels with offensive prowess and I believe they’ll challenge Texas but I still like the Rangers’ pitching a little better in terms of winning the division. Don’t completely count out the Athletics simply because we never should. This could be a CY Young type year for the Rangers’ Yu Darvish.

Wild-Cards – Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Angels

AL Championship – Detroit over Tampa Bay

AL Most Valuable Player – Miguel Cabrera, has too much protection around him to not have another huge year.

AL CY Young – Justin Verlander, until he proves otherwise, he is still the man to beat.

 

Stephen Strasburg
Look for Strasburg to make a run at the NL Cy Young Award in 2013.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

East Division Champions – Washington Nationals

Most pundits and myself expect a big year from Bryce Harper. I’m not ready to say an ‘MVP-type’ season yet, but it should be a big year. The pitching staff in D.C. is excellent and should keep the Braves at bay.

Central Division Champions – Cincinnati Reds

Aroldis Chapman will stay in the closer’s role and I like that. Let Joey Votto and company get the lead and Chapman can lock down games. I expect the Cardinals to be competitive but I’m not sure they have the man-power to hang with Cincy.

West Division Champions – Los Angeles Dodgers

For the first time in many years, there is finally stability in the organization and the ownership group has shown they will spend any amount to field a winner. I like Arizona to challenge but they just won’t be to hang in with the talent and spending power of the Dodgers.

Wild-Cards – San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves

NL Championship – Washington over Cincinnati

NL Most Valuable Player – Joey Votto, only a knee injury kept him from winning it last season. If he stays healthy in ’13 the award will be his.

NL Cy Young – Stephen Strasburg, I believe there will be serious motivation to prove he should have never been shut down last fall.

World Series – Detroit over Washington in 6 games, last fall the Tigers’ bats fell silent against the Giants. They will face tough pitching again this fall but they are now better equipped to handle it from 1-9. I also expect the experience of last year’s World Series trip to pay dividends for the Detroit.

Washington Nationals On The Cusp Of…What?

On Wednesday night, the New York Giants host the Dallas Cowboys in the 2012 NFL curtain-raiser. While both team’s division rival Washington Redskins doesn’t begin play until Sunday – at New Orleans (1:00 PM ET) – plenty will be switching the channel from baseball to football come kickoff time.

This could spell bad news for the Washington Nationals, who for the entire season have thrilled spectators with a true Cinderella story. If D.C. audiences do in fact shy away from baseball in favor of the Redskins, part of the problem will lay squarely at the feet of the Nationals front office and their impending decision to sit pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

Take your pick: the Redskins kickoff (in New Orleans) at 1:00 (ET) on Sunday whilst first pitch at Nationals park is 1:35.

Washington has historically been a football city. The Redskins have won three Super Bowls and two NFL championships since relocating from Boston in 1936, the last of which came in 1991. Since ’91 things haven’t been all that rosy for the Skins. The team’s last division championship came in 1991 and its last playoff appearance was 2007. Still, FedEx Field sells out each and every game.

In fairness for Washington sports fan, it’s not hard to see why the Redskins are the city’s biggest draw – despite being outside of the city, in Landover, Md.

In the NHL, the Capitals have won nothing. The team’s only Stanley Cup appearance came back in 1998 when the Detroit Redwings made short work of a 4-0 finals series. Even the appeal of Alex Ovechkin hasn’t translated to success.

In the NBA, the Wizards have been a doormat for the past decade. The team – then known as the Bullets – won the NBA championship in 1978, and since it’s been all downhill. A brief flirtation with Michael Jordan saw interest pique, but today’s Wizards team is hardly a draw.

That leaves the city with the Nationals.

The impending Stephen Strasburg shutdown could alienate fans.

Arriving in 2005 from Montreal, the Nationals sparked a mild interest in Capitol baseball finishing the inaugural season with a respectable 81-81, good enough for last place in the NL East. Last? Things got a lot worse. The six seasons that followed all ended with a losing record, with last season’s 80 wins being the high mark. 2009’s 103 losses was the low water mark.

But this season, the Nationals have surprised everyone. Behind a solid starting rotation which includes Stephen Strasburg (15-6, 2.94 ERA), Gio Gonzalez (17-7, 3.10) and Jordan Zimmerman (9-8, 3.01 ERA), the Nationals have already secured 83 wins, the most since arriving in D.C.

It’s not just about great starting pitching either. Tuesday’s 11-5 victory over the pitiful Cubs saw Washington bats light-up. A team-record six homers in one game were recorded as the Nationals tallied 19 hits and first baseman Adam LaRoche went 4-4 with two runs, two RBIs and a walk. Sure it was the Cubs, but this was the sort of performance that fans want to see, and in many ways have become accustomed to.

Currently 7 ½ games ahead of second-place Atlanta in the NL East, the Nationals are looking good for the city’s first postseason baseball berth since 1933 and something for D.C. fans to cheer about. For all intents and purposes, the Nationals should be a threat to keep Washington sports fans watching baseball instead of their beloved Redskins.

But, things could take a horrible turn by the end of this week. Stephen Strasburg is currently penciled in to pitch on against the Marlins on Friday. Having pitched 156.1 innings heading in to play, any kind of decent start will have him exceed the 160 innings limit that has been earmarked for his shutdown – a precautionary move following Tommy John surgery last offseason.

The Nationals front office is adamant that this shutdown is happening, even if the Nationals are not only in the thick of things but looking good to make some serious noise throughout October. That same front office shut Zimmerman down last season, and isn’t looking like baulking just yet.

If Strasburg is removed from the lineup, they have a solid set of players to rely on, but the loss of one big arm can make the difference between getting dumped early in October and making it to the later postseason rounds. It might also be considered a kick in the teeth to Nationals fans that are so close to enjoying the team’s success, yet so very skeptical.

One thing’s for sure, if Strasburg is shutdown, there’s a good chance that a lot of fans may well be watching the Redskins on Sunday afternoon and not the Nationals.