By Brad Fauber
April is right around the corner, and with the promises of some warmer weather and the fact that the 2013 MLB season officially kicks off tomorrow night, it is time to talk baseball.
I -- like many other baseball fans -- have been in baseball mode since the turn of the new year, and while spring training baseball and the MLB 13 The Show videogame have done an OK job of quenching my undying thirst for America's pastime, nothing can compare to the real thing.
The 2013 season should provide plenty of exciting baseball for fans throughout the valley, as the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles are both coming off exciting 2012 campaigns that saw both teams reach the playoffs.
As an Orioles fan, last season was a pleasant surprise and a much-needed break from the seemingly endless irrelevancy coming out of Baltimore over the previous 15 years.
As soon as Baltimore fell to the hated Yankees in the ALDS, I couldn't wait to see what type of offseason moves would be made as the Orioles attempted to build off last year's momentum. I waited and waited, and waited some more. But the Orioles barely made a ripple this offseason, let alone the big splash that I felt confident was coming.
I watched as Orioles Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette passed on big name free agents such as Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton, while instead choosing to continue to stockpile young pitchers and keep the core of Baltimore's lineup intact.
It remains to be seen whether that strategy will pay off for the Orioles. On the one hand, the 2013 version of the Orioles is nearly an exact replica of the team that reintroduced October baseball to Charm City last year, so why can't it happen again?
But I'm also skeptical about whether or not Buck Showalter can rework some of the magic that made Baltimore a success last season. Showalter excelled at piecing together the perfect lineup for any given game, even if that meant making an insane amount of roster moves (the Orioles made 178 moves in 2012). Can he do it again?
On the bright side, Baltimore will be getting a full season from rising star Manny Machado, and pitching phenom Dylan Bundy could very likely find himself in the starting rotation at some point this season. Combine that with the continued rise of young sluggers Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis, the potential of a young pitching staff and a solid bullpen, and the Orioles could have just as good a shot to make the playoffs as any team in the American League East.
The Blue Jays are favored by many of the "experts" to win the division this season, and perhaps rightfully so. On paper, Toronto's lineup is terrifying, with the additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera to go along with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and up-and-comer Brett Lawrie. The Jays' rotation also looks nice, with R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson headlining a star-studded staff.
But we all know that monster payrolls don't necessarily lead to success on the field. Just ask the Miami Marlins.
The team to really look out for in the AL East is the Tampa Bay Rays, who seem to always play above expectations. The Rays once again have a stout starting rotation, although the lineup remains a question mark behind slugger Evan Longoria.
But the potential is there, as newly-acquired shortstop Yunel Escobar could have a career resurgence with his new team, and highly-touted prospect Wil Myers could provide some extra pop to Tampa Bay's offense when he finally cracks the big leagues, which could happen at any point this season.
Boston is a tough team to judge at this point, as the Red Sox are coming off an implosion that saw them sink to the division basement last season. But Boston has a new manager this year in John Farrell, and a rotation that struggled in 2012 has appeared revitalized throughout spring training.
The Red Sox also added Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew during the offseason to help strengthen the lineup, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Boston in the playoff hunt come September.
A lot of people have already written off the Yankees, as the team has finally begun to show its age. Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson will all start the season on the disabled list, and New York could find itself out of the division race early.
The AL East appears to be as wide open as ever, and it probably wouldn't be a surprise to see any of the five teams sitting atop the division at season's end.
Hopefully Showalter still has some of his mojo left and can return the Orioles to their second straight postseason appearance. We will find out over the next six months whether the Orioles are for real, or if last season was in fact just "Orioles Magic."
But one thing is for certain -- baseball in Baltimore is fun again. For now.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com