The Mayans were wrong, the New Year has arrived, and pitchers and catchers report in less than six weeks. It’s time to think about the 2013 baseball season as something more than an abstraction. Here are 10 things I most want to see during the coming year. — Jon Paul Morosi
The Pirates halt their streak of 20 straight losing seasons
This is on my checklist every … single … year. I didn’t grow up as a Pirates fan. There’s no cheering in the press box. But I say the good people of Pittsburgh deserve an 82-win season, after two decades of futility. They came so close in 2012 — they were over .500 on Sept. 18! — but fell three wins short. And so the quest continues. The Pirates hope the rotation fix will be Francisco Liriano and a full season of Wandy Rodriguez. We’ll see.
The Orioles and A's prove that they weren't flukes
The AL East chatter has centered on the Blue Jays’ dramatic remake, the Red Sox effort to reboot and the Yankees’ supposed spending limit. Little attention has been paid to the Orioles, who won 93 games and came within a play or two of eliminating New York in the ALDS. The A’s have been similarly overlooked. The AL West race is billed as L.A. vs. Texas — even though Oakland is the defending champ. It won’t be easy for the Orioles or A’s to make the 2013 playoffs, but they will contend at the very least.
James Shields starts Opening Day for the Royals
At last, the Royals stopped talking about how deep their farm system was and made a deal aimed at winning now. Yes, the blockbuster trade with Tampa Bay cost them prospect Wil Myers. But the Royals can hand the ball to Shields for the season opener and believe they have a chance to make the playoffs. Was Bret Saberhagen the K.C. ace the last time that was true?
The unrestrained Stephen Strasburg throws 200 innings
The debate is closed in Washington — on this matter, at least. Strasburg will presumably begin the 2013 season without an innings limit, so the Nationals can dream about him fronting their postseason rotation. The question is whether the team around him will be as dynamic as it was in 2012 — when the rival Phillies conveniently had a disappointing year. It’s far from certain that Strasburg will have postseason games to pitch, given the Braves’ overall depth.
Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke take on the defending champs
The Dodgers have been on such a dizzying spending spree — a hundred million here, tens of millions there — that it’s easy to forget the archrival Giants actually are the defending champions. The Dodgers’ blockbuster with Boston clearly didn’t bother the Giants down the stretch in 2012. And it’s highly questionable whether the Dodgers — even with Greinke — have a better rotation than San Francisco.
Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter return from their injuries
The Core Four is down to three active players, and it’s an open question just how “active” Rivera and Jeter will be throughout the 2013 season. Rivera, coming off knee surgery, is 43 and hasn’t pitched since April. Jeter, 38, is iffy for Opening Day after breaking his ankle during the ALCS. They will be measured against the Yankees’ standard of excellence and their own career résumés, neither of which is very forgiving.
The Red Sox test their latest chemistry experiment
Meet the new Red Sox: Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara, Joel Hanrahan, Stephen Drew, David Ross and Mike Napoli, if the issue with his physical exam ever gets resolved. That’s a lot of new faces in the clubhouse, not to mention a new manager, John Farrell. How will they coexist with a core that collapsed in 2011 and underperformed in 2012? Fine, I think. But the playoffs don’t look like a strong possibility.
Miguel Cabrera’s encore after winning the Triple Crown
Despite a 45-year wait between Triple Crown winners, our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sports fandom is certain to put pressure on Cabrera to do it again. That’s unfair, yet entirely within his capability. It would be absurd to predict that he will win another Triple Crown, but he should contend for the lead in all three categories and the MVP — as usual.
Josh Hamilton returns to Arlington as an Angel
Hamilton will be at the Texas Rangers’ home opener after all — as an Angel, in a highly anticipated April 5 reunion. For a player unfairly booed in his last game as a Ranger, the reception probably won’t be very warm. But now Rangers fans must ask themselves: With Hamilton and Michael Young gone, who is the new face of the franchise?
R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball flutters through the AL East
The Blue Jays acquired the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, but it’s seen as a risk because of the unorthodox pitch that has become Dickey’s livelihood. While the top-hitting division in baseball will test Dickey, his performance the past three seasons speaks for itself. He will be excellent for Toronto in 2013.