Tim Kurkjian has high expectations for Washington Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg in 2013. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Tim Kurkjian has high expectations for Washington Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg in 2013. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

On March 31, baseball fans will turn their attention to Texas, where the Texas Rangers will visit the Houston Astros to open the 2013 season. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian joined Bill Littlefield to discuss the outlook for the Astros in their inaugural season in the American League, the possibility of a dynasty for the San Francisco’s Giants, and the future of Stephen Strasburg.

BL: Let’s get the worst of the bad news out of the way early. Thanks to an investigation of an anti-aging clinic in Florida, the offseason was full of more performance-enhancing drug news. Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, Ryan Braun, and Melky Cabrera were among the players allegedly involved as customers. Were you surprised that MLB’s testing hadn’t put that all behind them and behind us?

TK: I’m no longer surprised, Bill, by anything that concerns PEDs. I think there are still so many players that think they can get away with something here. Are we past the worst of it? Absolutely. But then when you see a story like this, I think we all better be, you know, aware that these stories are gonna keep coming out.

BL: Though they were beaten by the Cardinals in the postseason last fall, the Washington Nationals had Major League Baseball’s best record last season. Before the playoffs they opted to bench ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg to protect his arm. If they return to the postseason, are they going to make that choice again?

TK: No, Bill, that was a one-time thing, thank goodness. And the Nationals made the decision in February, “We’re not gonna hurt this kid. He’s going to throw 160 innings and that’s it.” And they stayed to the plan, whether you liked the plan or not. And I can tell you, Bill, I was there the day they officially shut him down, and he was furious about the whole situation, missing the playoffs, and I promise you he is one of these guys who’s got a chip on his shoulder now that he’s gonna go out and show everyone that he’s durable enough to go more than 200 innings. I fully expect him to be really good and starting game one of the playoffs for the Nationals.

BL: MLB has not been doing dynasties lately, Tim, but if the San Francisco Giants win another World Series, that’ll be three out of four. What’s the likelihood they’ll do it?

TK: The Giants are very good again. They’ve basically brought back everybody that they had on their team last year, at least all their critical guys. Plus, Tim Lincecum gained 10 pounds in the offseason, and he cut his hair, and he got a personal trainer to try to get himself in shape. So I sense from talking to him in the spring that he is determined to be a much better pitcher than he was last year. I think the Giants are going to make the playoffs, but to say they’re the favorite to win the World Series, I’m not going that far.

BL: The Houston Astros made a big move in the offseason: they switched over to the American League, the first team to change leagues since Milwaukee went over to the National League back in 1998. Are the Astros better off or worse for the move?

TK: I don’t think it matters, Bill. They needed to move to the Pac-10 or something if they were going to have a good season. The Astros, sorry, are just not very good. They lost over 100 games last year. It doesn’t help their case that they’re going to the American League West, which includes three of the best teams in the American League: the Angels, the Rangers, and the A’s. I think the Astros are going to spend the majority of their inaugural season in the American League getting their brains beat out.

BL: All right, Tim, I know you knew that it was coming. It’s prediction time, so we’re going to keep it really simple this time around. Which teams make it to the World Series, who wins, and how many games does it take?

Well I’m gonna tell you, Bill, the Yankees are not going to the World Series. I usually say that. I’m gonna say that Nationals are gonna go to the World Series, and the Tigers are gonna go to the World Series, and I think the Nationals are gonna win the World Series and when you replay this tape in October, we’ll all have a really big laugh.