Sports
Desmond Jennings of the Tampa Bay Rays during spring training.
courtesy Tom Hagerty/Lakeland Local

The boys of summer return

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With the NHL season only halfway through and winter weather taking a courageous last stand in Canada, it seems a little early to be thinking about baseball. However, in the southern United States the boys of summer are already warming up. With the Major League Baseball’s opening night slated for March 31, it’s time to preview the upcoming 2013 season. 


For the first time in nearly two decades, followers of America’s pastime can see a legitimate championship threat in Canada’s lone MLB team, the Toronto Blue Jays. After languishing in baseball irrelevancy once again in 2012, the Rogers Communications ownership group set Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous loose on a spending spree that saw the team acquire three new starting pitchers, including 2012 Cy Young winner R. A. Dickey. 


The Blue Jays also upgraded their batting order by adding shortstop Jose Reyes and disgraced all-star Melky Cabrera — suspended last year for testing positive for high levels of testosterone. How a cleaned-up Cabrera will perform is anybody’s guess, but he did record the highest batting average in the National League prior to his suspension. 


With this revamped roster comes tremendous expectations. Despite the new additions, the Blue Jays will need players like Ricky Romero, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus to reach their highest potential in order for the team to reach their championship hopes.


The rest of the American League should pan out much like last year. AL champions the Detroit Tigers have rid themselves of some troublesome contracts like Jose Valverde and Delmon Young while improving their roster with Anibal Sanchez and Torii Hunter. With the new additions combined with an already strong roster, the Tigers should be considered favourites to reach the World Series again in 2013. 


The Los Angeles Angels have added former Texas Rangers superstar Josh Hamilton to a batting order that already includes Albert Pujols and Mike Trout — expect them to bounce back from last year’s disappointment and smash their way to first place in the AL West Division. 


Meanwhile in the AL East, the aging but skillful New York Yankees continue to be a threat. While their roster lacks anything resembling young blood, a healthy Yankees club will make the playoffs.


In the National League, expect the Washington Nationals to dominate again. They’ve actually managed to improve their team, adding ex-Yankees closer Rafael Soriano and one of baseball’s top leadoff hitters Denard Span. With star pitcher Stephen Strasburg fully recovered from a lingering elbow injury, the Nationals should win more than 100 games this season. 


When it comes to playoff time, one can’t help but favour the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. The Giants are an exciting team with great chemistry who won it all last year despite asking Cabrera, the league’s best hitter, to stay at home once his 50-game suspension had expired. If pitcher Tim Lincecum can regain his starter-quality stuff, the Giants will beat out a surging LA Dodgers squad for first in the NL West. In the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds remain the team to beat.


MLB added two wild card playoff positions last year, making playoffs more accessible to middle-of-the-road teams that manage to put together a good season. One team to keep an eye on is the Kansas City Royals. Young bats like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas showed promise last year and management added some better players, including ex-Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields. The Royals might compete for the playoffs in the same way the Baltimore Orioles did last year.


Meanwhile, at the bottom of the standings, expect the Miami Marlins to be just as abominable this year as they were last but this time without the false hopes of a fresh start. The Houston Astros will present another squad that barely passes as a major league team. 


In the AL, the usually competitive Rays have added too many fringe-MLBers to be taken seriously and the Boston Red Sox are simply hoping that last season’s debacle was rock bottom.


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