Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Many Major League Baseball teams head into
the season with high hopes.
However, during the grueling 162-game schedule, all squads are going to face
some adversity and have some major questions they'll need to answer.
As the 2013 marathon gets under way, let's take a look at the most intriguing
question in each of the six divisions:
NL EAST: Will the Phillies' Roy Halladay regain his past form?
Halladay was the National League Cy Young Award winner in 2010 and the runner-
up to Clayton Kershaw in 2011. It was not so long ago the right-hander was one
of the game's elite pitchers, but he's coming off shoulder and back injuries
last season and will turn 36 in mid-May.
The most troubling sign has been that Halladay has generally averaged only in
the mid-to-high 80s with his fastball during spring training games, despite his
assurances that he is injury-free. If the velocity doesn't improve, he would
seem unlikely to be much better than what he was last year - an 11-8 pitcher
with a pedestrian 4.49 ERA in 25 starts.
The Philadelphia Phillies need Halladay to again be the Halladay of old if they
are to challenge the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves in the NL East. A
healthy and productive Halladay would give Philadelphia the ammunition to
compete with the Nationals rotation's big three of Stephen Strasburg, Gio
Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.
Right now, Halladay isn't inspiring much confidence, and it's possible he could
simply be in the declining phase of his brilliant career - something that has
happened to other pitchers when they've reached their mid-30s.
NL CENTRAL: Will the Cardinals overcome injuries to Chris Carpenter, Rafael
Furcal and Jason Motte?
It's always a blow to find out that your ace pitcher will likely miss the
entire season, but the St. Louis Cardinals last season proved they can be
successful without Carpenter. He was limited to just three late-season starts
in 2012 because of a nerve injury, and that ailment recurred during this
St. Louis' pitching was just fine without Carpenter for most of last season, so
the Cardinals should once again be able to make up for his loss. Top prospect
Shelby Miller will slide into the rotation to give St. Louis another quality
starter, albeit not nearly at a healthy Carpenter's level.
Furcal is also out for the season with an elbow injury that requires Tommy John
surgery. Pete Kozma, who filled in for Furcal last postseason, will take over
the job on a full-time basis. The former first-round draft pick has been a
major disappointment in the minor leagues, but he flourished with the Cardinals
last September and October, and looked great during spring training last month.
Motte, the Cardinals' dependable closer, opened the season on the disabled list
with what is being termed a mild elbow strain. It doesn't sound so bad, but,
then again, any kind of elbow strain isn't such a great thing for a power
pitcher to have. Luckily for the Cardinals, their bullpen is deep. Mitchell
Boggs will fill in until Motte can return, and St. Louis also has top prospect
Trevor Rosenthal as a late-inning bullpen option.
Despite the injuries, St. Louis ought to be fine and should remain in playoff
contention all season. There probably isn't another team in the majors with as
many versatile players on its roster.
NL WEST: Will the Dodgers' offense be good enough to be a championship team?
A torn ligament in Hanley Ramirez's right thumb will keep him sidelined until
about late May. The Los Angeles Dodgers were counting on the shortstop to be
one of their most significant offensive players.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez and center fielder Matt Kemp are both exceptional
offensive players, but the rest of the Dodgers' lineup, minus Ramirez, appears
to be mediocre at best.
Andre Ethier is productive, but really only against right-handed pitching. Carl
Crawford is coming off two forgettable, underachieving years with the Boston
Red Sox. Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis are pretty average hitters. Late bloomer
Luis Cruz had few highlights on his resume prior to his solid second half last
year with the Dodgers.
Offense - and defense, for that matter - won't likely be strengths for the
Dodgers. Pitching will probably have to carry the team, and L.A. certainly has
a solid starting rotation and quality depth. It's hard to imagine the
offense being any better than the middle of the pack, though, unless a couple
of people other than Gonzalez and Kemp step up and exceed expectations.
AL EAST: Will the Yankees be a non-contender for the first time since the early
The New York Yankees long had the majors' biggest payroll, and their lineup has
frequently resembled an American League All-Star team. Opening Day sure looked
strange in the Bronx on Monday.
A wrist injury is expected to sideline first baseman Mark Teixeira until at
least late May. Curtis Granderson's fractured forearm is expected to keep him
out of the lineup until mid-May. Alex Rodriguez's recovery from hip surgery
will cost him at least half of the season.
Additionally, Derek Jeter has opened the season on the disabled list as he
tries to come back from the major ankle injury he suffered in last year's
For a team that struggled to score runs during the 2012 postseason, these
injury-decimated Yankees could be even more offensively challenged this year.
The Yankees will eventually get their offensive stars back, and they still have
quality pitching. However, the team probably won't be able to contend in a
stacked AL East unless Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte stay healthy all season.
Since they're 38 and 40 years old, respectively, that's a risky proposition.
AL CENTRAL: Will the Royals make a big move up in the standings?
Because of a roster littered with young offensive talent, Kansas City was a
popular dark horse pick in the AL last season, but it stumbled to a 72-90
It would be easy to simply blame the pitching for the disappointing campaign,
but statistics show that the Royals' struggles were truly a group effort. Yes,
Kansas City's team ERA ranked only 10th in the AL, but their defense was 13th
and, surprisingly, their 676 runs scored ranked only 12th in the AL.
The pitching can only improve thanks to the acquisitions of James Shields, Wade
Davis and Ervin Santana. There weren't many changes to the offense during the
offseason, although an injury-free year from promising young catcher Salvador
Perez would help this time around.
Although the lineup will look a lot like the underachieving 2012 lineup, the
Royals could be expected to improve because young players like Eric Hosmer and
Mike Moustakas ought to be ready to take a big step forward.
Kansas City would be hard-pressed to compete with AL Central favorite Detroit,
but perhaps at least a .500 season could be in the offing. That hasn't happened
since the Royals were 83-79 in 2003.
AL WEST: Can the Mariners be what the Oakland Athletics were last year - a
It's not going to be easy to move to the top of the AL West standings, since
the Los Angeles Angels enter the season with one of the sport's best rosters,
and the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers are returning playoff teams.
Seattle went 75-87 last year, 19 games out of first place. In fact, the
Mariners were deep in the basement of the division because the Athletics,
Rangers and Angels won 94, 93 and 89 games, respectively.
The Mariners won't occupy the division basement again this year, thanks to
realignment that sends the woeful, rebuilding Houston Astros to the AL West.
Playing so many games against Houston should improve Seattle's record, but the
Mariners would realistically need to approach 90 wins to be a playoff
Improvement that drastic seems unlikely, but the additions of Michael Morse and
Kendrys Morales and the continued development of promising young hitters like
Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero and Kyle Seager should enable the offense to score
well over the AL-worst 619 runs it managed in 2012.
With a solid rotation anchor like Felix Hernandez, Seattle could be an
interesting team in the near future. Top pitching prospects Danny Hultzen,
James Paxton and Taijuan Walker are probably a year away, but when they
eventually arrive, this team could become a real contender.
Jeff Saukaitis has been a professional sportswriter since 1985.
The Sports Network