Reds, Rays, Rockies Are Teams To Watch For 2013

Jim Callis' playoff predictions look into the future

CHICAGO—The Reds haven't been to the playoffs since 1995. The Rangers haven't played a meaningful October game since 1999, shortly after former managing general partner George W. Bush launched his Presidential campaign. After participating in 14 consecutive postseasons, the Braves haven't been back since 2005.

All those droughts are about to end. Perhaps as early as this season. Definitely by 2013.

At the start of each season, it is tradition in this space to forecast how the division races will play out—three years in the future. In 2006, we hit on three of the eight playoff teams for 2009, though the Dodgers didn't beat the Angels in the World Series as we projected.

Our three-years-early predictions for 2010 look much more prescient in the American League (Rays, Indians and Angels winning divisions, Yankees taking the wild card) than they do in the National League (Mets, Brewers and Dodgers as division champs, Diamondbacks as the wild card). Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton still might hit Game Seven homers to help win the World Series, but it may not come against the Dodgers.

Young Talent Drives Rays

Tampa Bay will lose many of its pending free agents over the next few years, a group that includes Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano and Upton. But the Rays still will have baseball's best player (Longoria), leadoff man (Desmond Jennings) and rotation (David Price, James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann). They can shore up their catching by trading Wade Davis to the Twins for Wilson Ramos, and build a formidable bullpen around Matt Moore and Alex Colome.

That will be enough talent to hold off the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East. Boston currently has a younger core and a better farm system, with righthander Casey Kelly and shortstop Jose Iglesias just over the horizon. But New York will gorge itself at the free agent trough, signing Crawford, Jose Reyes and Jered Weaver. That trio, plus slugger Jesus Montero, will be enough new blood to push the Yankees past the Red Sox for the wild card.

The Twins will hold off the Indians in the AL Central. Minnesota still will build around Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, with Aaron Hicks and Ben Revere teaming with Denard Span to form the game's most athletic outfield. Kyle Gibson and Davis will front a solid rotation.

The Rangers should be in complete control in the AL West. With Martin Perez, Derek Holland, Tanner Scheppers and 2010 first-rounders Jesse Hahn and Brandon Workman in the rotation, plus Neftali Feliz closing games, they'll finally have enough pitching. Julio Borbon and Elvis Andrus will run wild at the top of the lineup and Justin Smoak will drive them in, so Texas won't have any problems scoring runs either.

Strasburg + Harper = Playoffs

If the hype around Jason Heyward seems out of control now, just wait until he has three big league seasons of stardom on his résumé. With a lineup built around him and an enviable young rotation (Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Arodys Vizcaino, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor), the Braves will have the NL East's best-balanced club.

The Reds have an impressive young nucleus now, and by 2013 its best players will have hit their strides. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier will form the best 3-4-5 combo in any NL lineup, and Aroldis Chapman, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake will have the rotation in fine shape. Cincinnati will win the Central with ease.

The Rockies pulled off steals with their first three picks in 2009, and four years later, Tyler Matzek will be their ace, Rex Brothers will be their closer and Tim Wheeler will be their left fielder. Add them to a lineup with Dexter Fowler and Troy Tulowitzki and a starting staff with Ubaldo Jimenez and Christian Friedrich, and you get the NL West champion.

The wild-card race will be wide open. The Brewers, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Marlins and Pirates—yes, even the Pirates—all will have postseason aspirations. But in the end, the Nationals will claim their first-ever playoff berth, thanks to No. 1 overall picks Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010), first-rounders Drew Storen (2009) and Matt Purke (2011) and veterans Ryan Zimmerman and Jordan Zimmermann.

Price, Longoria Lead The Way

We previously projected that the Rays will beat the Marlins in the 2012 World Series—as well as Red Sox over the Dodgers in 2011, if you're getting your bets down early—and they'll get a chance to defend their title. Tampa Bay will prevail over the Rangers in the AL Championship Series, then meet the Rockies, who knock out the Reds in the NLCS.

Tampa Bay and Colorado will mirror each other in many ways. They will have developed their own talent rather than buying it, and they'll have cornerstone infielders (Longoria, Tulowitzki), electric center fielders (Jennings, Fowler) and power lefty aces (Price, Matzek).

Our crystal ball sees a World Series with two wins for Price and an MVP trophy for Longoria—just like it did a year ago when we gazed at 2011.