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2012 wasn’t kind to many players last season. But fortunately for them, 2013 is upon us and with it comes the opportunity to turn around their slump and help their team compete throughout the season. While ESPN recently posted an article listing the players they thought were most crucial to helping their team, we here at FB/CU thought the list focused too much on the big name stars who will likely produce as they always do. Instead, we decided to dive a little deeper and locate the bubble players whose performances should dictate the trajectory of their team’s season.

National League:

By: Ryan

East: Brian McCann (C) Atlanta Braves

The Braves have a couple candidates that could be listed here since both Uggla and Upton also had subpar seasons last year. While the Braves lineup will be able to tolerate another slumping season from one of them, two slumping Braves could prove costly. Upton will likely improve (since both Uptons will think they’re playing in the schoolyard), and if we assume Uggla slumps again (which has been the case up to this point in spring training), McCann will be the question mark. His 2012 BA and OBP were 50 points under his career stats, leaving him with a WAR of 0.6 for 2012. While most of this was due to nagging injuries throughout the season, McCann is likely to start out on the DL in 2013 because he is recovering from offseason surgery on his shoulder. If he returns to form after the DL stint, expect a high .200BA, 20+ homers, and a 3.0 WAR. These numbers would help balance the bottom of the Braves order, and prove a huge improvement over their backup catcher who averages a WAR of 0 over the last three seasons.

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Can one of these guys bounce back?

Central: Francisco Liriano (SP) Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates attempted to add some guys in the offseason that could help shoulder the brunt of a 162 game season, something they couldn’t do in 2012 (the team limped to October after being playoff contenders early, with a record of 20-39 in the last two months of the season). Liriano is the acquisition with the most uncertainty, since he has only had two great seasons in his career. He had a WAR above 4 in both of those seasons (2006, 2010) and a WAR under 1 in every other season (2007-2009, and 2011-2012). With that being said, this is his first season in the National League and Liriano should be able to take advantage of having one less bat in the lineup. Additionally, many batters will be facing Liriano for the first time, giving him an advantage that should keep ERA and WHIP numbers low. If Liriano finds a way to keep his walk count down, as he did in 2006 and 2010, he will prove to be a formidable back of the rotation starter, giving the Pirates something that the Cardinals don’t seem to have.

West: Brandon McCarthy (SP) Arizona Diamondbacks

McCarthy’s season was cut short last year when he was hit in the head by a pitch, requiring a 2 hour surgery to relieve cranial pressure. While his stats last season were impressive, there is no doubt that this incident had a psychological impact that could send his 2013 season off course. If this doesn’t happen, expect his transition to the NL to produce a drop in his ERA, which averaged 3.28 over the last two seasons, and an increase in his SO numbers. He’s a great ground ball pitcher who keeps his walks down, and his experience will complement the talented youth that comprises the rest of the rotation. A strong year from McCarthy gives the Diamondbacks an extremely talented pitching staff that could compete for the postseason, and more importantly, displays the strength and determination of McCarthy.

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Follow this guy on twitter. Now.

American League:

By: Matt

East: Melky Cabrera (OF) Blue Jays

The Jays acquired many new stars in their blockbuster with the Marlins, which we talked about here and also added a Cy Young Award winner to boot, but their success might depend on all of these star personalities gelling together. One potential impediment to that goal might be Melky Cabrera. Melky put up career numbers last year with the help of some herbal supplements but what was telling is that even after his suspension was up, the Giants management (to their credit) did not offer him a spot on their postseason roster. If Melky just does his job and stays out of trouble, then the Jays and all their talent should have a spot in October.

It’s hormone-free milk, I swear.

Central: Nick Swisher (OF) Indians

I like what’s going on in Cleveland. The management seems serious about spending money to win. They brought in a proven manager in Terry Francona and the lineup on paper looks like it could so some damage. However, they don’t have any starters that would be more than a 3 or 4 guy on most teams, so the lineup is going to have to produce. That production will have to start with the team’s biggest acquisition of this offseason Nick Swisher. Swisher has hit 20+ homers in every one of his full seasons in the big leagues and helps his team by drawing a lot of walks and getting on base. In New York it was easy for Swisher to draw a walk and let the superstar hitting behind him take care of business, but in Cleveland, Swisher might not have the same kind of protection, so it will be on him to hit in the clutch and be the guy there, whether or not he steps into that role and carries his team offensively might determine whether or not Cleveland is able to contend in a weak division.

West: Yu Darvish (SP) Rangers

In the wild west, the Angels on paper look primed to run away with things, but even though Texas missed the playoffs last year, counting them out would be folly. Texas this year is good, but not great. And what is separating them from that greatness is an ace starter. In his first year in the Majors, Darvish put up a 16-9 record with a ERA of 3.90 in 191 innings. He struck out 221 but walked 89. He has the stuff, but wasn’t able to put everything together last year. Darvish with a year of major league experience under his belt has the potential to be crazy good. If he can get his walk numbers down he won’t dig himself into holes like he often did last year and the Texas lineup will give him enough of a cushion to win a lot of games. If Darvish makes the ascension into ace status this year, Texas could easily find themselves playing October baseball yet again.

At least the Rangers won’t have to deal with this anymore. He’s with the Angels now.

2013 Projections

No baseball blog would be complete without an attempt by its authors to project the final results of the season. So, here they are, our season predictions:

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Ryan’s Picks

AL West: This division should have belonged to the Angels last season but they always seemed just a couple games out of contention. Expect a showdown between the top two teams this year, but don’t expect the Angels to let the division slip away from them. They’ve got a strong lineup and should be able have enough to top the A’s pitching and chemistry, the latter of which will be hard to replicate again. The Rangers will regret giving a great bat to a division mate, while finding solace in the fact that Berkman doesn’t have eye issues.  Meanwhile, the Mariners will win every five days while the Astros won’t count this season as a total loss; they got new hats.

Angels

Athletics (WC I)

Rangers

Mariners

Astros

AL Central: The AL Champs should have an easy time reclaiming the division with a dominant 1-2 pitching duo and 3-4 hitting duo. The rest of their lineup balances their stars, making the Tigers easy favorites. The White Sox and Indians fill out the second tier in this division, but the Indians outfield advantage trumps the Chi Sox pitching advantage, making Cleveland the better of these two otherwise average teams. The bottom tier gives the advantage to youth and the recent acquisition of James Shields, making the Royals the next best team. The division closes out with Joe Mauer & Co.

Tigers

Indians

White Sox

Royals

Twins

AL East: This division is going to be a toss-up, with each of the top four teams having a different strength but so many question marks. The Orioles are extremely dependent on a shaky starting rotation, and need a balanced production out of their lineup, similar to 2012, to make up for their lack of studs. The Rays always seem to be contenders and I expect them to call up future star Wil Myers at some point in the season to give them an added boost, but will it be enough to counter the loss of James Shields and unproductive bottom of the order. This leaves the Yankees and the Blue Jays. I don’t like putting the Yankees at the top of the division with their aging lineup and pitching rotation, and the holes in their lineup due to injury/free agency that they didn’t seem to replace, but their lineup appears to be the most reliable. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have a great team, if it were 2012. They paid an awful lot for a lot of question marks, but I think as a whole it was an improvement and a good one to make when there is so much in flux in the division. This should be enough to get them to the postseason.

Yankees

Blue Jays (WC II)

Rays

Orioles

Red Sox

NL West: All eyes will be on the NL West and in particular the Dodgers, but expect the Dodgers to do enough to seal the division. Their superior lineup and arguably superior rotation should be enough for them to edge out the Giants. While I do think that on paper the Dodgers should be able to enter the playoffs with a decent lead over their division rivals, the Giants have been blessed with some great team chemistry that will keep them close. The Diamondbacks will be a distant third without Upton, but their pitching will be enough to get them third place. The Padres are still young and still missing two top of the rotation starters to make them contenders. The Rockies will struggle to lose less than 100 games, but this might prove as an opportunity to Jamie Moyer, who is still better than half the Rockies rotation.

Dodgers

Giants (WC II)

Diamondbacks

Padres

Rockies

NL Central: The Cardinals were the favorites for the division but after losing Chris Carpenter for the season, proved too much for a rotation that is still morning the loss of Lohse. Their strong young lineup should be enough to earn the Cardinals second place in the division and a third place wild card finish. The Reds have a balanced rotation and lineup, making them the favorite for the division. Meanwhile the Brewers and Pirates will be in a tossup for third place, with the Brewers superior rotation giving them the edge over the Pirates. The Cubs and Theo Epstein, in a last ditch effort to rid themselves of their curse; will attempt to sign every member of the 2004 Red Sox lineup to the roster.

Reds

Cardinals

Brewers

Pirates

Cubs

NL East: While the Nationals receive tons of press over their deep pitching staff, the Braves starting rotation proves to be equally as balanced, and their lineup, buoyed by bounce back seasons from both Uggla and McCann will take the NL East. The Nations will be right on their tails in a race that will come down to the wire, but wind up short and with the first wild card spot. The Phillies made a couple key acquisitions in the offseason, but further cemented themselves as the best team of 2005. The Mets will struggle this season, with a subpar lineup, forever thanking themselves that the Marlins are in the NL East.

Braves

Nationals (WC I)

Phillies

Mets

Marlins

Matt’s Picks

AL West: The AL West is turning into a top heavy division. The Angels, A’s and Rangers are all good teams right now, but the movement of the Astros and the permamediocreness of the Mariners keeps the division from getting too strong. The Angels certainly have the hitting to carry them through the season, but their pitching is a question mark. The A’s have the pitching, but their hitting may rely on the further development of Cespedes. Look for the A’s to squeak in with the second wild card and the Rangers to be surprisingly bad and finish close to .500 for the first time in years.

Angels

A’s WC2

Rangers

Mariners

Astros

AL Central: The AL Central has been described as the worst division in baseball by many, and I’m inclined to agree with them. The Tigers will cruise on their pitching and hitting, but the Royals, despite trading away their farm to go all out this year will finish a disappointing second. The rest of the division will fight tooth and nail for .500 and respectability.

Tigers

Royals

White Sox

Indians

Twins

AL East: Its going to be a strong division as usual, but not as strong as you might think. The Rays were surprisingly good last year and that was for the most part without their star player. Joe Madden is underrated look for Mike Montgomery and Wil Myers to make an impact during the stretch drive. The Blue Jays are stacked, but the clubhouse could be an issue, still they will easily take the 1st wild card spot. The Yankees are going to experience a fall off thanks to their aging stars (predicted last year, actually going to happen this year). The Red Sox are going to be very bad, and the Orioles were a fluke.

Rays

Blue Jays WC1

Yankees

Red Sox

Orioles

NL West: This division will be one that everyone is watching as it contains the defending champions, the team that is printing money who are coincidentally the teams that the writers of this blog follow (and three other unimportant teams). The Dodgers will win 95 games and change the way that owners think about the game, but are mortgaging their future successes for this season with bad contracts. The Giants are going to miss the playoffs thanks to injury troubles following an extended World Series season (sound familiar?) and 10 players in the World Baseball Classic and the failed notion of keeping the band together. The Padres youth movement will start to take shape but they are still a season or two away. Kevin Towers is a bad GM who willingly traded away his best players for mediocre ones. And even though Tulo will begin to return to form, the Rockies don’t have the pitching.

Dodgers

Giants

Padres

Diamondbacks

Rockies

NL Central: The Reds and Cardinals will duke it out all season, but the Reds are going to be the team to beat. Aroldis Chapman may or may not work in the rotation, but they have enough pitching and bullpen depth so that it will make no real difference. The Pirates will be decent, but I just kinda feel sorry for McCutchen at this point. The Brewers will be bad and the Cubs will be worse. It will be interesting to see if the MLB decides to take action against Braun and other suspected PED users, and the fate of the Brew Crew will hinge on that (non) decision. Epstein is starting to turn the Cubs around, and I expect strong play from Brett Jackson, but when the best player on your team is Alfonso Soriano there is a problem.

Reds

Cardinals – WC2

Pirates

Brewers

Cubs

NL East: Chone Figgins will hit .360, win a batting title, and spirit the Marlins to the Division championship!!! And then the Marlins one fan that’s left will wake up and shuffle to his $6 dollar seats and get drunk on $10 beer. The Nationals are the best team in baseball and the Braves are arguably the second best. This will be a fun division race, but the limitless Strasburg Nats will take it. The Phillies are old and bad. The Mets are a year or two away from their rebuilding and the Marlins are just a joke at this point. Bring back the Expos?

Nationals

Braves WC1

Phillies

Mets

Marlins