Remember when the American League East used to be the best division in baseball? Heading into the 2013 MLB season, it may actually be the weakest, as former heavyweights - the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox - appear likely to fight it out for last place. I'll give the edge to the Yankees to reign supreme in futility, although the Red Sox could mount another epic late-season meltdown to retain their hold on last place in the East. The Toronto Blue Jays will be vastly improved, but still not quite playoff caliber, as they will likely battle the Baltimore Orioles for second place this time around. If the Tampa Bay Rays can keep Evan Longoria in the lineup for 150 games in 2013, they should be able to take the top spot in that once mighty division.
Remember when the National League East used to be owned by the Philadelphia Phillies and their great pitching staff and potent lineup? After winning a franchise-record 102 games in 2011, Philadelphia showed signs of age last year, barely playing .500 ball, while the upstart Washington Nationals and a very good Atlanta Braves team dominated that division - and seem poised for a repeat performance in 2013. If Philly can keep their big guns on the field for most of the season, they may still find their way to the top, but they'll need some major catastrophes to hit Atlanta and DC to get past those two powerhouses.
Remember when the American League West used to be totally dominated by the Texas Rangers for the better part of three seasons? Those days are long gone, as the teams actually located on the West Coast - LA Angels of Anaheim, Oakland A's, and even the Seattle Mariners - are poised to battle for the top spot this season. That's right; even the once-lowly Mariners could very well make a postseason run in 2013, while the two Texas teams (remember the Astros?) should be bringing up the rear.
Over in the revamped National League West, the World Champion San Francisco Giants seem content to bring back the same team that won it all last year, while the free-spending LA Dodgers have gathered an expensive and under-achieving core of players who were the stars of their previous (last place) teams and may not be much better in 2013. If they're able to challenge San Fran for the top spot in the West, they'll have to do it with their pitching - which should be significantly better with the addition of Zack Greinke to the rotation; assuming he doesn't experience some sort of weird psychological issues pitching half his games in front of those skeptical fans in Lala Land.
Over in the American League Central, the Detroit Tigers have a formidable team "on paper" but can they go all the way with a questionable closer, two overweight corner infielders, and MLB's greatest pitcher who serves up nothing but meatballs to National League hitters, who love feasting on his servings? The Kansas City Royals, who haven't made a return trip to the postseason since their shocking World Series Championship in 1985, seem poised to break that drought in 2013, after acquiring a couple of Tampa's reliable pitchers - James Shields and Wade Davis - assuming the offense can generate enough firepower. Even the Cleveland Indians spent a bunch of money to make a Swish-alicious run this year, led by former Red Sox skipper and best-selling author Terry Francona. They may grab a wildcard, but that's a stretch. Speaking of the White Sox, they're a decent team who could sneak in there, too; but don't count on it, Hawk.
Saving the best for last, the Cincinnati Reds ran away with the National League Central last year, but mysteriously failed to get past the Giants in the NLDS. They seem to have great pitching, but with a questionable offense, I don't think they'll get past the St Louis Cardinals this year - a team that is historically under-rated every season, but usually finds a way to win when they need to. Don't be fooled by last year's mediocre won-loss record; they had the second best run differential in the NL, and with their offensive firepower, should cruise to a division title - despite middle infield question marks. Look for the Milwaukee Brewers to suck, as a possible 50-game suspension looms large over Ryan Braun's fat head. Pittsburgh? I hope they can win more than 81 games, but don't count on it. The Cubbies? I have a strange feeling they won't finish in last place this year, despite losing Houston to the American League. Milwaukee should've been shipped back there instead, but their inevitable futility will be satisfying for the vast majority of Cardinal Nation. Yes, I hate them.
Without further adieu, here's Uncle Larry's Shocking 2013 MLB Pre-Season Power Rankings:
30 - Miami Marlins - You thought they were bad last year?
29 - Houston Astros - They have some young talent; just not enough of it.
28 - Minnesota Twins - Probably the worst team in the American League, again.
27 - Colorado Rockies - No pitching in a hitter's park spells disaster again.
26 - Chicago Cubs - No doubt under-rated here; maybe they'll avoid the cellar?
25 - New York Mets - Need more pitching and outfield help, to say the least.
24 - New York Yankees - 2013 about as bad as 1966 in the Big Apple? Very possible.
23 - Boston Red Sox - A change in culture may keep them out of the cellar?
22 - Texas Rangers - No Josh Hamilton; no chance for this team.
21 - Seattle Mariners - Improved, but will need some miracles to reach postseason.
20 - Pittsburgh Pirates - See above.
19 - Cleveland Indians - May hang in there; spent tons of money.
18 - Kansas City Royals - Maybe enough pitching this year? Probably not.
17 - Milwaukee Brewers - Last year's strong finish was a fluke. They suck.
16 - Chicago White Sox - A winning record is about all they can hope for.
15 - Arizona Diamondbacks - Trading Justin Upton accomplished what? We'll see.
14 - Baltimore Orioles - Did it with smoke and mirrors last year. Not sure about this year.
13 - Toronto Blue Jays - Expected to make a run this year, but I doubt it.
12 - San Diego Padres - Still under-rated, but not by me. They could get a wild card berth.
11 - Philadelphia Phillies - Aging but still dangerous.
10 - LA Dodgers - Like the Mets of the '90s, spent a lot of money, but that doesn't always work.
09 - Oakland Athletics - Love what they did last year; tough to repeat it, though.
08 - Tampa Bay Rays - Best team in a weak division; success depends on Longo's health.
07 - Cincinnati Reds - Great pitching; questionable offense. Always over-rated.
06 - St Louis Cardinals - Questionable defense; great offense. Always under-rated.
05 - LA Angels of Anaheim - Adding Josh Hamilton will help, as Albert continues to regress.
04 - San Francisco Giants - Marco Scutaro expected to carry the team again? Marco Scutaro?
03 - Detroit Tigers - Better win before weight issues attack the corner infielders.
02 - Atlanta Braves - Great defensive outfield; great bullpen; no Chipper, no problem.
01 - Washington Nationals - '12 NLDS meltdown motivated GM Mike Rizzo to use overkill in acquiring more bullpen help in Rafael Soriano (42 saves in '12); starting pitching should be even better with full season of Stephen Strasburg.