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It’s that time of the year when just two little words signal the figurative start of spring and the coming months of great weather and outdoor activities.

“Play Ball!”

The 2013 Major League Baseball season got underway on Sunday night with the Houston Astros making their American League debut after 51 seasons of play in the National League. Projected by the lines makers to win less than 60 games this season, Houston pulled the upset defeating in-state and now Division rival Texas 8-2 as nearly +150 underdogs.

Baseball is sports’ longest season with 162 games played over six months. With the revised playoff format begun last season, one third of baseball’s 30 teams will make the postseason with two wild cards joining the three division winners.

As we’ve done for many years, here is a capsule preview of the six divisions with our forecasts of which teams may surprise or disappoint their fans and backers this season. That’s followed by prediction for the playoffs.

NL East

This could be a three team race. Washington is deservedly the favorite with pitcher Stephen Strasburg and Las Vegan Bryce Harper – the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year – the cornerstones of a team that won 98 games last season. Atlanta and Philadelphia figure to contend with the Nationals.

Atlanta may have baseball’s best outfield with the Upton brothers joining Jason Heyward. The Phillies start the season much healthier than last season when both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley missed basically the first half of the season.

Miami and the New York Mets figure to finish way behind the top trio. The Mets have the better roster with some young players showing signs of developing, making them a team to watch over the second half of the season.

NL Central

Cincinnati is favored and, on paper, they are clearly the most talented team. St. Louis fared well in its first season without manager Tony LaRussa and star Albert Pujols but may drop back this season and contend with Milwaukee for second place.

Pittsburgh is still seeking its first winning season since 1992 and has shown signs of improvement the past two seasons, playing winning baseball for five months before fading in September.

The Chicago Cubs should be much improved this season with GM Theo Epstein putting his imprint on the organization. As Chicago rebuilds, they could be a team that shows significant progress although not enough to contend.

NL West

This should be a battle between the Giants and Dodgers. San Francisco has won two World Series in the past three seasons with manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged as one of the best in the game. They have a formidable starting pitcher duo in Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner and an offense that is better than generally perceived, anchored by reigning NL MVP Buster Posey.

The Dodgers have a huge payroll and an ownership that has shown it is willing to spend to field a championship team. This pair should distance themselves from the rest of the division with Arizona the best of the remaining teams, followed by San Diego and Colorado.

AL East

No longer are the Yankees or Red Sox the teams to beat. Rather, Toronto, largely due to its major trades with Miami and the Mets that has given them three new outstanding starting pitchers. The Blue Jays are now the team to beat with Tampa Bay right up there.

Baltimore won 93 games last season largely due to unrepeatable success in one run and extra inning games and should fall back, perhaps by a huge number. It would not be a surprise if the Blue Jays and Rays are the only winning teams in the division.

Boston is in better shape to contend than are the Yankees or Orioles. For old time Yankees fans, think back to 1965 when age and injuries caught up to the team than had been to five straight World Series. New York went from 97 wins in 1964 to just 75 the following year.

AL Central

Detroit is without a doubt the best team, if not in the entire American League. With as deep a starting rotation as any team in the game and an offense that is at or near the top as well, the Tigers should win the division in a runaway.

Of course that was the thinking last season. Although the Tigers were less than impressive during the regular season, they did win the division and made it to the World Series. Defense and an uncertain bullpen are concerns but enough to prevent the Tigers from winning the division.

Chicago and an improved Kansas City should contend for second place while Cleveland may be better but should still finish fourth, ahead of a Minnesota team that boasts a pair of All Star players, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, but little else.

AL West

On paper the LA Angels are the team to beat, especially with the addition of Josh Hamilton to an already potent offense. Pitching is a concern beyond Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson. Oakland had a great season with their young pitchers all maturing at the same time. A repeat effort from those pitchers is almost a necessity if the A’s are to make the playoffs considering an offense that was below average.

Texas has undergone major roster changes since losing in the 2011 World Series and could be primed for a major decline, much as many observers believe Seattle is poised for major advancement. Both assessments might be one season premature.

Almost everyone agrees that Houston will end the season with the worst record in the AL in its debut season with the game’s lowest payroll and a core of young talent still needing time to develop.


National: Washington, Cincinnati and San Francisco repeat their division titles of last season. Philadelphia and the LA Dodgers earn wild cards with Atlanta falling just short.

American: Toronto, Detroit and the LA Angels to be division winners with Tampa Bay and the Chicago White Sox earning wild cards just edging out Boston and Kansas City. That one game wild card playoff needs to be changed to a best of three series in the future.

Playoffs: Washington to defeat Philadelphia for the NL pennant and the L A Angels to get past Toronto for the AL flag.

World Series: It’s Washington to defeat the Angels on the strength of a deeper rotation in a matchup of the two 2012 Rookies of the Year, Nationals’ Harper and the Angels’ Mike Trout.

It should be a most entertaining and interesting season with many twists, turns and surprised along the way.

Here’s a look at four series for the season’s first weekend.

St. Louis at SF: These teams have won the past three World Series but the Giants are more likely to contend for the title this season with a roster that is still maturing while the Cardinals are more in transition.

Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner anchor a solid San Francisco rotation while the Cards’ ace will be Adam Wainwright. The Giants have the better depth and should be favored throughout what handicaps as a low scoring series.

Recommended plays: Giants -140 or less in starts by Cain, Bumgarner or Ryan Vogelsong; Cardinals +150 or more in any matchup; UNDER 7.5 or higher in any matchup.

Washington at Cincy: These teams might well meet for the NL pennant come October as each is heavily favored to win its division. Washington has the stronger top of the rotation but Cincy’s is deeper one through five. Both teams have plenty of speed and offense and above average bullpens.

This should be a well-played, competitive series that could see the pitchers dominate. A few games into the season means the back of the rotations will be in play and that gives the Reds an overall edge.

Recommended plays: Cincinnati as underdogs in any matchup; Cincinnati -125 or less in starts by Mike Leake or Homer Bailey; Washington as underdogs against Johnny Cueto; UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup not started by Washington’s Dan Haren or Ross Detwiler; OVER 8 or lower if Haren or Detwiler start.

NY Yanks at Detroit: The decline and fall of the Yankees empire might well have started in last season’s ALCS when the Tigers swept NY, holding them to just two total runs in the final three games. The Yanks are expected to struggle this season with a greater reliance than ever on their pitching.

The Yanks must compensate for a patchwork offense necessitated by numerous injuries to the starters that have nearly half the projected starting lineup on the DL. Detroit has as solid a 1-5 rotation as any team and this does shape up as a low scoring series.

Preferred plays: UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup; Detroit -140 in any matchup; Yankees +160 or more not facing Justin Verlander.

KC at Philadelphia: With 15 teams in each league there is now an Interleague series played throughout the season. This series matches a pair of teams with much upside potential, especially on offense. The weakness for both will be at the back end of the rotation which likely sees action in two of the three games.

The OVER is more likely than the UNDER to take at least 2. Should we get a Sunday matchup of aces we could see a pitching duel of James Shields against Cole Hamels.

Recommended plays: OVER 9 or lower in games not involving Shields, Hamels or Cliff Lee; Either team as a +125 or more underdog or more in any matchup; UNDER 7.5 or higher in a Shields vs. Hamels matchup.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

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About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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