These predictions are more than just estimating who will be the most talented, because most teams are talented already. Instead, I will boldly predict who will be best primed for the postseason and will be playing their best ball in the fall.
The team that I think will finish on fire? The Tampa Bay Rays.
Here are my bold predictions for this team:
1. The Rays Will Secure a Wild-Card Spot, and then Win the Play-In Game
With the extra wild card now awarded in the MLB, teams don’t have the pressure to win at least 95 games and/or their division. In the intense grind of a major-league season, it’s difficult to dominate wire-to-wire in the regular season and then have to play even better baseball come October.
But I think the Rays are well-equipped for this. The middle of their lineup is in their prime (Zobrist, Longoria, Joyce), their pitching staff is both strong and young, and they acquired 4 prospects from one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, all which may not only challenge for a spot on the 25-man roster, but also make key contributions before and during the postseason.
2. Joe Maddon Will Win Manager of the Year
Joe Maddon is the perfect small-market manager. With less public scrutiny in Tampa, he has more flexibility to tinker, and more room to innovate. As his credibility grows as a manager, that leash gets even longer. He will shift even more against dead-pull hitters in 2013, and will put even more wrinkles into the way baseball is played both on the field, and in the dugout.
3. The Rays Will Sell Out Fewer Than 10 Home Games
It’s just hard to attract fans to the stands in Florida. Case in point. Even worse, the Rays will probably relocate before this decade is over.
4. Tampa Will Have No More Than 2 All-Stars
Move over Buccaneers, there’s a new ” Tampa 2 ” in town. The Rays are gonna get it done in modest fashion, and will be sending Evan Longoria and David Price to the Midsummer classic.
5. The Tampa Bay Rays Will Win The World Series
This team reminds me too much of the 2010 Giants, the 2011 Cardinals, and the 2012 Giants to not make this bold prediction. Strong starting pitching (look for Matt Moore to put together an 18-win season), an underrated bullpen (look for a clutch, yet brief resurgence from Kyle Farnsworth), and their potent middle of the lineup makes this team my World Series favorite before the season even begins.