By Niles Pender: While quality starting pitching is important to the success of a baseball team, having a potent lineup is also very helpful. With a good middle of the order, teams are able to stay in many games that they otherwise have no business of winning when their starting pitching struggles.
Very few teams have a potent 1-2 punch in the middle of their order, which is why several teams are always near the top of the standings. Smaller market clubs have a difficulty affording the large contracts power hitters command, which is another reason why few teams have a lethal middle of the order combination.
Perhaps the best 1-2 offensive punch in the major leagues is Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder for the Detroit Tigers. When Prince Fielder joined the Tigers last season, many experts predicted the Tigers would make it to the World Series, which they ended up doing before being swept by the San Francisco Giants. However, after one season in the American League, Prince Fielder may be even better in 2013 than he was in 2012 as he has had time to learn the tendencies of American League pitchers.
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By Mitchell Jay
When the NY Mets completed a seven player trade sending reigning Cy Young award winning pitcher R. A. Dickey , C Josh Tole, and C Mike Nickeas to Toronto in exchange for C Travis d’Arnaud, C John Buck, RHP Noah Syndergaard and OF Wuilmer Becerra, it was perceived by anyone connected to major league baseball, that as far as the catchers in this deal, d’Arnaud was considered the cherry on top of the sundae. Here was a young “can’t miss” stud that even with his 2012 break out season cut short by injury, was still projected to be a top line MLB catcher for years to come. Toronto was well aware of that, but in the end had to make the deal to address their own pressing need for a front line pitcher. The Mets plans for d’Arnaud are to give him a couple of months in the minors to complete his recovery from last year’s injury and acquire some valuable playing time before being thrown under the microscope of being a professional athlete in New York.
John Buck is known as a solid catcher with good defensive skills and is good at managing a pitching staff, but not much of an offensive threat. He is thought to be the catcher that will hold down the fort until d’Arnaud gets the call to the big leagues, presumably in May or June. Then, Buck would step down to a backup catcher roll while mentoring the young d’Arnaud. Coming off a season where he batted .192, there wasn’t much doubt that Buck’s time with the Mets as their starting catcher would be measured in months and not seasons.
Fast forward 17 games into the 2013 season and for the Mets, John Buck has been nothing short of phenomenal. In those games, his line score reads more like John (Johnny) Bench. With a .290 BA, 7 HR, 22 RBI and a .303 OBP, he currently leads the NL in RBIs and is tied for second in HRs. Every player goes through hot and cold streaks during the course of an entire season and it’s for sure that Buck will cool down and start to hit more like the .236 lifetime hitter he is. However, what if he is becoming one of those “change of scenery” players and has found his comfort zone with the Mets? Maybe he doesn’t cool down all that much. If that becomes the case, what would that mean for the Mets?
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By Niles Pender: Despite the retirement of Chipper Jones and the trade of Martin Prado, Atlanta is a team to look out for in 2013. The outfield of Jason Heyward and the Upton brothers should be one of the league’s best, while the starting rotation of Hudson, Medlen, Minor and Beachy is as good as any. Craig Kimbrell is lights-out as a closer, while Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman are rising stars at SS and 1B.
High expectations last season proved wasted for Miami, and the team is essentially rebuilding in 2013. Fortunately, they still have Giancarlo Stanton, and the young slugger appears destined for stardom.
Unfortunately, he’s by far their top talent, and developing all the young prospects on the roster is all Marlin fans have to look forward to for a few seasons.
What was left of the recently contending Mets is now either elsewhere or abandoned, and the rebuilding process resumes.
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By Niles Pender: The Baltimore Orioles go into the 2013 season with a lot of optimism and deservedly so. Their strength is pounding the ball, and with speed atop the order (Nate McLouth, J.J. Hardy) and big bats following (Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Manny Machado), scoring runs shouldn’t be a problem. Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen are the 1-2 starting pitchers, with Jair Jurrjens an intriguing addition to the staff.
After finishing in the cellar for the first time since 1992, the Red Sox are undergoing serious changes, with their top priority being finding some reliable starting pitching to go along with Jon Lester and Clay Bucholz. Ryan Dempster gets the first shot, while it’s hoped that Joel Hanrahan can solidify the bullpen.
Injuries decimated the everyday lineup last season, and with better luck, plus the addition of Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew and Mike Napoli to the lineup, reaching .500 would be acceptable.
All eyes will be on the injury-ravaged Yankees coming out of spring training. With Jeter, Granderson, Rodriguez and Teixeira all out for awhile, it’s up to new additions Kevin Youkilis and Vernon Wells to try and keep the team above water until the wounded return.
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