13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013: #4
In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!
#4: Changing of the Guard
For years, the American League East has been looked at as the gold standard among baseball’s divisions, often stacked three or four deep with postseason-caliber clubs. Last year, the Baltimore Orioles laid claim to a Wild Card spot behind the New York Yankees, and the Rays remained in contention until late in the season.
This season, the Yankees are facing a number of injuries to key players, including back-to-back 40 home run-hitter Curtis Granderson and three-fourths of their starting infield in Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. The Red Sox traded away star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and free agent acquisition Carl Crawford along with veteran rotation mainstay Josh Beckett. Tampa Bay sent stalwart starter James Shields to Kansas City in return for top prospect Wil Myers, who will start the year at Triple-A Durham. Baltimore made few improvements to a club that many believed overachieved last season. Really, only Toronto, a 73-win club a year ago, made significant improvements. Given all that, can the AL East really be considered the class of the sport anymore?
One need look no further than its National League counterpart to find a good argument that the power has shifted. The Nationals return a young, potentially improved team from the version that won an MLB-best 98 games in 2012. Atlanta, itself a 94-game winner, plugged the holes created by losses of Chipper Jones and Michael Bourn by acquiring both Upton brothers to complement their young core. Even Philadelphia, coming off a disappointing season, is primed for some measure of return to the form that saw the Phillies win five straight division crowns prior to last season. The Mets still have David Wright and some talented young arms emerging. Only the Marlins seem destined for a true rebuilding year.
That being said, a Nationals-Yankees matchup still offers plenty of intrigue. More still, when one looks at the starting pitching matchup, a duel of two likeable, workmanlike stars in Jordan Zimmermann and Andy Pettitte.
While Roger Clemens garnered many more headlines in his heyday, it was the quiet, affable Pettitte who was so universally admired and who thrived consistently in the background. He was content to succeed without the hype, much the same way that Zimmermann continues to progress into one of the best young pitchers in the game, despite the shadow cast by fellow rotation-mates Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.
Consider Zimmermann’s accomplishments to this point in his career: the Nationals hidden ace has posted a lower ERA (3.47 to 3.75) and WHIP (1.208 to 1.358) with a substantially better K/BB rate (3.50 to 2.05) than the often more heralded Pettitte over their same aged seasons.
And so, as the two teams and starters meet Friday afternoon in our Nation’s Capital, one could say it will mark a symbolic changing of the guard. The defending champions of their respective divisions, a quiet ace and his veteran squad coming face-to-face with their ascending, youthful counterparts.