Cumberland Times-News

Local Sports

March 29, 2013

Hamilton, Angels ready to take on Tigers

Josh Hamilton joined forces with Albert Pujols and Mike Trout in Los Angeles, primed to pry the American League pennant from Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez in Detroit.

“They always say, ‘There’s always next year,’ and next year is here,” Angels ace Jered Weaver said.

Not so fast, big boys.

The Toronto Blue Jays want in, too, and they brought a bevy of All-Stars, led by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and shortstop Jose Reyes, north of the border for their shot.

Tampa Bay locked up Evan Longoria for six more years. The White Sox signed young ace Chris Sale for five. The AL West champion Oakland Athletics are hoping Yoenis Cespedes can keep them on top in a loaded division.

Heck, the Texas Rangers lost Hamilton and clubhouse leader Michael Young and they still think they’re armed to be the best in the West with Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison leading a deep rotation.

And never count out the New York Yankees. They may appear more brittle than bombers in the Bronx. But Mariano Rivera is back for one last season of sawing off bats and closing out wins.

One thing is certain: A bunch of swaggering bats are ready to give the Houston Astros a rude welcome to the American League.

A look at the AL in predicted order of finish:

EAST

TAMPA BAY RAYS


The spendthrift Rays opened their checkbook to keep Longoria for six more seasons and $100 million. Now, he must stay healthy if light-hitting Tampa Bay is going to make a run in this hefty division. Longoria missed 74 games last season because of a partially torn left hamstring and the Rays went 41-44 without him.

Led by AL Cy Young Award winner David Price and arrow-pointing closer Fernando Rodney, the Rays will be tough to beat no matter how many runs they score. Even with the departure of James Shields and Wade Davis, this staff is deep, and youngsters Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore are only improving.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Blue Jays proved this winter how they think the 20th anniversary of Joe Carter’s World Series-clinching homer in 1993 should be celebrated — with their first trip back to the playoffs since that dramatic win.

GM Alex Anthopoulos went on a trading spree that would make fantasy owners jealous, unloading spare parts and prospects for Dickey, the NL Cy Young Award winner, Reyes, All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera and former aces Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.

The dynamic Reyes and Cabrera, returning from a 50-game drug suspension, should set the table for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. How Bautista’s surgically repaired wrist responds to the rigors of everyday play and how Reyes oft-injured legs do on the turf will determine how potent this offense is.

Toronto’s revamped offense and rotation could be undermined by the back end of the bullpen. Casey Janssen, filled in nicely as the closer when Sergio Santos hurt his shoulder. But Janssen had offseason surgery and started slowly in spring training.

NEW YORK YANKEES

The aging Yankees came into camp in poor health and things quickly got worse. They’ll start the season with Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Phil Hughes on the disabled list.

New York will count on spare parts such as Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Brennan Boesch, oft-injured Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis to keep Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki zipping around the bases until the big hitters return.

But a top pitching staff led by CC Sabathia, who’s coming back from offseason elbow surgery, and closer Rivera, returning from a torn ACL for one last season, could help this club to their 18th trip to the postseason in 19 years.

BOSTON RED SOX

The one-year experiment with Bobby Valentine a bust, Boston turned to its old pitching coach John Farrell to guide the club out of last place (69-93).

The Red Sox brought in Ryan Dempster. They need Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz to return to form, and John Lackey to be effective after missing all last season because elbow surgery.

Boston was beset by injuries last year. A full season from Jacoby Ellsbury — not to mention another MVP-caliber season like he had in 2011 — would go a long way to helping an offense that could be without David Ortiz (heels) for a time at the start of the season.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

The Orioles under vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter made a stunning turnaround last season, going from a team that lost 93 games to winning a wild-card spot with a 93-69 record — Baltimore’s first winning season in 15 years.

And they did it with exuberance, racking up wins in 16 straight extra-inning games and going 29-9 in one-run games, taking the Yankees to a fifth game in the division series. The luck could run out, though, in the rugged East. The Orioles hit just .240 last year and they were 11th in runs scored in the AL. While Manny Machado should make strides, the Orioles didn’t make any major moves to upgrade their offense.

Jim Johnson’s 51 saves were a big reason why the Orioles won so many close ones. Can he repeat the performance in his second year as a full-time closer?

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