Philadelphia, PA – Every year during spring training, it's fun to try to guess how many games major-league teams will win during the upcoming season.
The Atlantis Casino in Reno, Nev., was first to release projected win totals for the 2013 campaign. Using their over-under numbers, let's try to take a crack at picking four teams that will likely hit the over and four others that will probably hit the under in regular-season wins:
FIRST, THE OVERS:
ATLANTA BRAVES (over 86 wins): The Braves won 94 games last season, giving the Washington Nationals a run for their money in the National League East. Their longtime offensive leader, Chipper Jones, retired, and leadoff hitter Michael Bourn was lost to free agency. They also traded away versatile Martin Prado, who was their primary left fielder in 2012.
Still, Atlanta's offense may have even improved. The Braves added Justin Upton and B.J. Upton to an outfield that already featured young star Jason Heyward. They have five hitters in the lineup who are likely to hit at least 25 homers apiece. Young shortstop Andrelton Simmons will have to adjust to batting out of the leadoff spot, but even if that doesn't work out, B.J. Upton could be utilized there.
As for pitching, Atlanta doesn't have top-of-the-rotation talent to rival Washington and Philadelphia, but it should have five solid starters. If Mike Minor can build on his strong second half from last year, he could establish himself as one of the league's top young pitchers. The back end of the Braves' bullpen is elite, led by the best closer in baseball, Craig Kimbrel.
With so many young players either in or entering the prime of their careers, Atlanta isn't likely to finish eight games worse than it did last year.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES (over 76.5 wins): OK, this seems like a sucker bet, but it's too good to pass up. During their unexpected run to the American League playoffs last season, the Orioles posted 93 wins. How could they possibly drop to 76 or fewer in 2013?
They didn't really suffer any significant losses or make many major changes during the offseason. Mark Reynolds signed with the Cleveland Indians and Joe Saunders with the Seattle Mariners. Highly regarded prospect Manny Machado, who came up late last season, will now be the everyday third baseman.
So, why is the Orioles' over-under number this low? They were 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra-inning games last season, which are marks they are extremely unlikely to approach again. Also, they finished 93-69 despite scoring only seven more runs than they allowed.
There's no doubt about it: Luck did play a major role in the Orioles' 93-win season. If they finish plus-7 in runs this year, there's no way they'll get to 93 wins again. However, Baltimore has enough talented young players whose best seasons are likely still ahead of them (Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, etc.) that winning more than 76 games would appear to be a slam dunk.
DETROIT TIGERS (over 90 wins): Although the Tigers got to the World Series, they underachieved for much of the 2012 season. Expected to win close to 100 games in a weak AL Central Division, the Tigers settled for just 88 victories.
Toward the end of the year, though, Detroit began playing as well as advertised. The Tigers still have superstars like 2012 AL Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.
In addition, Victor Martinez, who missed all of the 2012 season because of a torn ACL, will be back in the lineup. The team also added outfielder Torii Hunter, who batted .313 with 92 RBIs for the Angels last season. Anibal Sanchez, acquired from the Marlins last July, will be on board all season as a solid No. 4 starter.
Kansas City and Cleveland are teams on the rise, but the AL Central still has to be considered one of the weaker divisions in the majors. Barring another slow start, the Tigers ought to get into the mid-90s in wins.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS (over 90 wins): En route to earning their first NL East championship, the Nationals won a major league-best 98 games last season. Injuries inevitably occur for every team, so betting on anyone to win more than 90 games can be considered a shaky proposition.
Look at Washington's roster, though. Unless Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper all miss significant time, how can the Nationals possibly fail to post more than 90 wins?
The Nationals' two biggest weaknesses last season were probably the lack of an ideal leadoff hitter or an elite defensive center fielder. The trade that brought in Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins eliminated both of those weaknesses.
Edwin Jackson was lost to free agency, but Dan Haren was acquired to be a capable replacement. New closer Rafael Soriano will solidify a tremendous back end of the bullpen, which also features Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. And, don't forget, Strasburg won't have a strict innings limitation this year.
NOW, THE UNDERS:
HOUSTON ASTROS (under 59.5 wins): Houston stumbled to a 55-107 record last season, and now it has to move from the NL Central to the AL West. With about a third of their games to be played against the Angels, Rangers and Athletics, it's tough to imagine the Astros not posting a worse record in 2013.
Houston ranked last in the majors in runs scored last season, and the additions of Chris Carter, Carlos Pena and Rick Ankiel probably won't prevent them from again being near the bottom in runs scored. Their anemic offense will be all the more detrimental in the American League, which is more offensive-oriented anyway with the presence of the designated hitter.
The Astros' opening-day payroll is expected to hover around $25 million. That's about $3 million less than injured Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez will be paid in 2013. In this case, you get what you pay for.
Houston is just beginning what will likely be a long, painful rebuilding phase. To expect much more than 50 wins would seem overly optimistic.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS (under 90 wins): Projected to have the highest payroll in the majors this year, the Dodgers are rightfully considered one of the favorites to land an NL playoff spot.
Going into spring training, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly were sixth-through-eighth on the Dodgers' starting rotation depth chart. When a team has that kind of pitching depth - as well as a 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation (former Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke) that could compete with anyone else's - it's easy to anticipate more than 90 wins.
For such a massive payroll, though, one would probably expect to field a better starting lineup. Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez have the potential to be among the best players at their positions. However, Kemp is coming off an injury- marred season and is a below-average defensive center fielder. Gonzalez's power numbers have been in steady decline for three years. Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford have been nowhere near the great players they were three years ago.
Throwing a bunch of big-name, high-salaried players together rarely seems to work as well as those teams hope. It's tough to buy team chemistry. It wouldn't be surprising if the Dodgers post a win total in the mid-90s, but it just seems more likely that their lineup will disappoint and limit them to something in the 85-89 win range.
MIAMI MARLINS (under 64.5 wins): As good as the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves are, and as good as the Philadelphia Phillies could be with the top three in their starting rotation, the Marlins figure to lose plenty of games to their NL East counterparts.
With a roster completely depleted after blockbuster trades with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and the Toronto Blue Jays during the offseason, Miami is probably going to lose a lot of games. The Marlins ought to be able to lose 100, which would make them a good under bet.
Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison are the only returning starters among the eight position players from last year's team, which had hoped to contend but went a disappointing 69-93. After subtracting the likes of Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, Miami should easily lose at least five extra games this year.
Stanton might be the best young player in the game, but he'll get little support in the lineup, and he might be issued twice as many intentional walks as the second-ranked player in that category this year. It's going to be a long year in Miami, but at least there won't be too many fans on hand to watch it.
NEW YORK YANKEES (under 86.5 wins): To be fair, the Yankees suffered long-term injuries to two key components of their offense - Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira - after this 86.5 total was installed.
Trivia question: When was the last time the Yankees failed to win more than 86 games in a 162-game season? It was 1992, when New York finished 76-86. That squad's home run leader was Danny Tartabull, its wins leader was Melido Perez and its primary starting shortstop was the immortal Andy Stankiewicz. The closer was Steve Farr.
Suffice it to say, it's been a long time since New York has not been a major contender. And the Yankees still could challenge in the AL East; they have the likes of CC Sabathia, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera on board, after all.
On the flip side, New York's offensive struggles were considerable during the last postseason. Now they'll have to play as much as a third of the season without Granderson and Teixeira and probably half the season without A-Rod, and it doesn't appear they will be willing to spend big money to fix any of their problems. This really looks like the end of a great era.