As pitchers and catchers report to camps in Florida and Arizona, here are two predictions for each of the local nines: Zach Britton will be the Orioles’ fifth starter and the Nationals will not trade Drew Storen, the closer who has been unseated by Rafael Soriano.
The first four in the Orioles’ rotation will probably be Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez, with the No. 5 spot up for grabs.
Britton, who was injured last season, will win the job because all he needs is health to rise to the top. The job should probably, though, go to Steve Johnson, who last season earned his stripes as a top-notch candidate. Johnson, though, is more versatile than Britton and his role will be that of a swingman.
Jake Arrieta has good stuff, but has to stop trying to be perfect. Brian Matusz is too valuable to leave the bullpen, as is Tommy Hunter.
If all pitch well, the Orioles will be swamped with trade offers in mid-March.
Soriano signed to be the Nationals’ closer, but as last season showed, a contending team can never have enough bullpen pitchers. Storen and Tyler Clippard will set up Soriano, and Clippard’s workload is a question. He didn’t look strong in September.
Other pitching story lines that will crop up in the next few days:
* San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum, a starter with Cy Young awards on his resume, was relegated to the Giants’ bullpen with a 5.18 ERA last season. Will a winter of rest help him re-establish the fastball and the command he lost? If so, that would be a big help as the Giants take aim at their third World Series title in four seasons.
* Kansas City has a chance to be a contender after adding James Shields and Wade Davis, each capable of throwing 200-plus innings, to their rotation. The Royals have the defense and the offense, and if the pitching comes around, look out.
* It seems silly that with a weak rotation, Cleveland signs center fielder Michael Bourn for $48 million, giving them three center fielders. Perhaps Drew Stubbs or Michael Brantley will get traded for pitching help.
* Aroldis Chapman of Cincinnati was a lights-out closer with a near 100-mph fastball and a double-digit strikeout ratio per nine innings. But now that Chapman is joining the Reds’ rotation, he won’t be able to blow away hitters with consistent heat. The Reds say he has developed his secondary pitches. Time will tell.
* The New York Yankees’ ageless wonder, 43-year-old closer Mariano Rivera, is returning after pitching only nine games last season because of an injured right knee. If Rivera comes back strong, and the Yankees win with an aging lineup that includes Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda, it could be the best story of the season.
* Boston’s John Lackey, a World Series hero for the Angels in 2002, is coming back from elbow surgery, and since he’s 34 and hasn’t pitched since 2011, he’s a question mark. The Red Sox season will depend on Lackey and bounceback seasons by starters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Imagine how excited Red Sox fans in New England, after being dumped with record amounts of snow, are about the start of spring training.
* In a way, the Red Sox and Philadelphia are a lot alike. The Phillies are relying on 35-year-old Roy Halladay to stay young and regain the dominating fastball he once had.
* The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Tigers’ Justin Verlander are the obvious choices for Cy Young Award winners in 2013, but the surprise candidates could be Toronto’s Josh Johnson and Cincinnati’s Matt Latos.
* The mid-Atlantic’s best chance to win a Cy Young this season will be the Nationals’ Jordan Zimmermann.