The 2013 Major League Baseball season opens Sunday night when the Texas Rangers visit the Houston Astros. Will the Astros make a turnaround after an abysmal 2012 season? Will the San Francisco Giants repeat as World Series champs? How will the Washington Nationals fare with Stephen Strasburg for the whole season? ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian joined Bill Littledfield to answer these questions and to make his pick to win the World Series.
BL: In 2012, the Houston Astros won 55 games and lost a staggering 107. They are moving to the American League this season and they have new uniforms. Will any of this help?
TK: Well I really like the uniforms, Bill. I really don’t like anything else about the Astros. And it’s discouraging in a way because they’re moving like you said, and this is a big deal, and they’re just not in a very good position to move, and I really do understand what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to build from the beginning, build from within, as many young players as they can get. But they are so far away from being competitive and this follows two 100-loss seasons that I’m afraid, in this great game that we cover where everyone has a chance to win every night, the Astros are gonna go into certain places this year, and it’s going to be considered an upset when they win a game or win two out of three. A big upset, and that’s just not right. This is gonna be a very, very rocky season.
BL: At the other end of the spectrum we have the San Francisco Giants. They’ll be trying to make it a dynasty with three championships in four years. Is that likely to happen?
TK: Well it could, Bill. They got everyone back from last year with the exception of a couple of bit players, so they really made an effort to re-sign the people that helped them win a World Series last year. We know how difficult it is to repeat. We know how hard it is to win three out of four. So I’m taking the field against the Giants. However, they’re going to make the playoffs with the team they have right now. They’re pitching is really good, as it always is, and there’s a certain chemistry on that team that’s a little different than the others, and I think they win the division and make the playoffs, but I think there are better teams out there right now than the Giants.
BL: Washington will apparently place no game limit on ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg. How will the Nationals do with him pitching without restrictions?
TK: They have the most talented team in the major leagues, and they were the best team that I saw this spring, and they are my pick to not only win the division, but win the pennant, and go even further than that. They are so loaded in their rotation. There are people will tell you that as great as Stephen Strasburg is, there are three other guys in the rotation whose stuff is comparable. That’s amazing. Their bullpen is loaded with 95-mile-an-hour guys, their everyday lineup is terrific, their outfield defense is great, and their infield defense is even better. And they have a 70-year-old manager Davey Johnson who’s here basically for one last year to win a World Series and then go home, and he knows how to win as well as any manager. I like this team more than any team in the big leagues right now.
BL: Is it safe to say that the days of the Yankees-Red Sox stranglehold on the American League East is over?
TK: Well, it’s over for this year, that’s for sure, but you never, ever, ever discount what the Yankees and the Red Sox have, and that is obviously resources that nobody else has. But I am amazed how most people, myself included, have picked the Yankees and the Red Sox in some form fourth and fifth in that division. I have never seen anything like this, certainly over the last 20 years or so. The Yankees have serious troubles right now, and the Red Sox are still in the middle of a serious rebuild.
BL: Cleveland had a miserable 68-94 record last year, but now they’ve got Terry Francona managing the team. Does that help?
TK: It’s gonna help a lot. I saw the Indians several times this spring, and I was really impressed with the attitude in the clubhouse because I think they all looked around and said, ‘Wow, the manager’s won two World Series. The manager is Tito Francona.’ They spent $48 million for this year alone to upgrade that roster — Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and others — things that had to be done, especially offensively, to get this team back into at least some sort of competitive state. I don’t think they’re making the playoffs, but I think they can finish second in their division, and if they can go from 68 wins to 81 wins, that’s a pretty nice jump, and I see that happening.