2013 previews

Dusty Baker

2013 Preview: The National League Central

12 Comments

For the past few days we’ve been previewing the 2013 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League Central.

The Reds got amazing consistency from their starting pitching and won 97 games. With a revamped outfield, can they maintain that pace?

The Cardinals lost Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal. But they have the best farm system in the game and an annoying ability to always, you know, be good. But good enough?

The Pirates haven’t finished over .500 since before a lot of you reading this were born. Is this the year they finally break through?

The Brewers had a frustrating 2012 and a quiet offseason. Is there any reason to expect a bounceback year?

The Cubs have Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer leading a rebuild. How soon can fans in Chicago expect their moves to pay some dividends in the standings?

Below are our team-by-team previews for the NL Central as well as our HBT Extra feature on the division. Enjoy.

Reds

Cardinals

Pirates

Brewers

Cubs

 

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

2013 Preview: The American League Central

Miguel Cabrera AP
10 Comments

For the past few days we’ve been previewing the 2013 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League Central.

It’s the Tigers’ world and everyone else is living in it. Of course we thought that last year too and Detroit didn’t truly wrest control of the AL Central until the last couple weeks of the season.  This year, however, we feel like that won’t be a problem.

The Indians have a whole new look with Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Terry Francona, but do they have enough pitching to challenge for the wild card?

The White Sox were in the race all year in 2012, but with few offseason additions and aging sluggers, is there another season of contention left?

The Royals had the best spring training record of anyone, but does that and fifty cents get them anything more than a bag of chips?

The Twins: another year in the cellar seems unavoidable, but is there any hope at all?

Below are our team-by-team previews for the AL Central as well as our HBT Extra feature on the division. Enjoy.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

2013 Preview: The American League West

Josh Hamilton
11 Comments

For the past few days we’ve been previewing the 2013 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League West.

For the second straight year the Los Angeles Angels have signed the biggest slugger on the free agent market. This time, however, we feel like it’s going to finally work.  Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, and Mark Trumbo form a potent core. Jered Weaver is an ace. There may be some issues with the rest of the pitching staff, but we’re liking the Angels’ chances.

Not to sell the Rangers short. They’re sort of retrenching this year, transitioning off of Josh Hamilton and preparing to integrate youngsters Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt into the lineup either late this year or as 2014 kicks off, but they’re still an insanely talented team that, for whatever reason, people always want to sleep on until, once again, they’re in the playoffs.

How did the A’s do it last year? We have no idea. But they’re trying to do it again this year and, as always, the proceedings will be an exercise in plate-spinning, smoke, mirrors and unexpectedly good performances from guys everyone else gave up on at some point.

The Mariners are on the right track, but still a work in progress.

American League newcomers the Houston Astros will pop champagne corks if they don’t lose 100 games. And given how thoroughly they’ve torn down in order to rebuild, it will be an accomplishment worth celebrating if it does indeed come to pass.

Below are our team-by-team previews of the AL West, followed by our HBT Extra feature on the division. Enjoy!

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

2013 Preview: The National League West

Buster Posey AP
6 Comments

For the past few days we’ve been previewing the 2013 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League West.

The National League West will be portrayed by many as two alpha teams (the Giants and Dodgers), a beta team (the Diamondbacks) and a couple of pretenders (the Padres and the Rockies).  This is, we feel, an unfair characterization.

The Giants are an alpha team as all defending World Series champions should be. Their pitching is great, their offensive leaders are young and in their prime and they are managed by one of the steadier hands in the game in Bruce Bochy. The Dodgers, due to all of their payroll expansion and star power, may very well be too, but there is a lot of uncertainty with that team in terms of injuries and in terms of how all of those disparate parts can come together. After all, much of that star power didn’t gel in Boston, so it’s not a given it will gel in L.A.

The Diamondbacks are a talented bunch, but they too are suffering from injuries and it remains to be seen if their focus on hard-nosed, gritty character guys like Martin Prado and the like will work as well as having insanely talented young sluggers in the fold like Justin Upton.

The Padres are being undersold, we believe. They lack star power but they have youth on their side and many players who can be expected to improve. Maybe not a playoff team, but not an also-ran either. We believe they may surprise.

The Rockies, well, OK. They’re the Rockies and probably don’t have the pitching to compete. It’s the same old story in Colorado now as it has always been.

Below are our team-by-team previews for the NL West as well as our HBT Extra feature on the division. Enjoy.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

2013 Preview: Why Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and other big stars could face suspension this season

braun getty
70 Comments

As we approach Opening Day, HarballTalk will be spending the next few days previewing all 30 teams, all six division races and looking ahead at the major issues and storylines which will impact the 2013 season. This morning we look at the Biogenesis scandal, which could lead to the suspension of several high-profile players.

Some of baseball’s biggest stars including Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal, Bartolo Colon and many, many more enter the 2013 season under a cloud. Or a threat, if you will.  The threat of suspension for their association with a now-closed Miami clinic called Biogenesis, which is alleged to have supplied these players and as many as 90 more with testosterone, human growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs which violate baseball’s rules against performance enhancing drugs. It is unknown if those suspensions will come. It is unknown when. But all teams with a player named in the documents of the Biogenesis clinic face uncertainty as Opening Day approaches.

The Biogenesis news broke in late January, when it was reported by multiple outlets that Major League Baseball was investigating the clinic and its operator, Anthony Bosch, under the suspicion that the clinic represented “ground zero” for performance enhancing drugs in Florida, where a disproportionate number of major leaguers grew up, played amateur and college baseball or where they currently make their offseason homes. On January 29, the Miami New Times obtained and published a large portion of the Biogenesis clinic’s records which contained the names of several major leaguers accompanied in many cases by notations which suggested that the players were given performance enhancing drugs. The documents were not conclusive of any player’s use and, in some cases — like with Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez — no connection could be found between the player and any substances which are banned by Major League Baseball.

source: APImmediately after the Miami New Times report came out all of the players involved either denied any involvement with Biogenesis whatsoever or denied that they obtained banned substances.  For example, Gonzalez claims that his father was a patient of Anthony Bosch’s. Ryan Braun claims that his attorneys used Bosch as a consultant in his successful 2012 appeal of his PED suspension. Despite the denials, the report and the documents set off a media firestorm which caused Major League Baseball to step up its investigation of the players named therein.

The biggest problem: Major League Baseball doesn’t actually have the Biogenesis documents. The Miami New Times and other media outlets which have seen all or part of them are unwilling to share them with the league and, at present, Anthony Bosch is nowhere to be found.  Last Friday Major League Baseball sued Biogenesis in an effort to obtain the documents, but it is not at all clear that they have any viable legal claims against the clinic. More significantly, many doubt that the original documents still exist at all.

What is clear is that Major League Baseball is stopping at nothing to investigate the matter with a clear eye towards suspending the players named in the clinic’s records if at all possible.  MLB is reported to be particularly interested in suspending 2011 NL MVP Braun, who they see as having evaded justice in prevailing on his appeal last year and Rodriguez who many in baseball believe lied to MLB investigators in 2009 when he admitted to past, but not present drug use.

MORE: The Rise and Fall of Alex Rodriguez

source: APCan Major League Baseball suspend these players without a positive drug test? Yes, it can. Pursuant to the Joint Drug Agreement which governs these matters, baseball can suspend players for “just cause” if there is non-clinical evidence suggesting that they have used performance enhancing drugs. Most believe that conclusive documentary evidence of past use, as may appear in the Biogenesis records, would provide such grounds. Baseball’s inability to obtain these records, however, is preventing almost all action at present. So far, all baseball has been able to do is to suspend one minor leaguer  — who happens to have been a college teammate and who is still a close friend of Braun’s — who was implicated based on the league’s belief that he was not cooperative when questioned. Major league players have not yet been questioned, but they almost certainly will be.  They will have greater legal and union protections from discipline than their minor league counterparts, however.

That’s where we are as the season dawns. Several players, including two former MVPs, in the crosshairs of a Major League Baseball investigation, the outcome of which and endpoint of is uncertain. At literally any time between today and, well, forever, baseball could suspend Braun, Rodriguez, Gonzalez, Cruz or any of players named in the Biogenesis documents for 50 games.

To put that in context, the most big leaguers Major League Baseball has ever suspended in a season for performance enhancing drugs is six, which occurred last year.  In most years it’s two or three.  Now dozens upon dozens of players may face a 50-game suspension for a first offense of the Joint Drug Agreement, with some facing 100-game suspensions for a second offense. Suspensions of this magnitude could conceivably tip the pennant races. And for that reason, even if you don’t care a lick about performance enhancing drugs in baseball, the Biogenesis matter is worth watching.

MORE: Team-by-team previews for 2013