Let's forget about the idea of 'surprise' teams
More clubs enter season with realistic postseason hopes than ever before
Who are your surprise teams for 2013? Indians? Royals? They're both better. They're both confident. The Pirates? They've shown us the last two summers that they're close. The Mariners had an impressive offseason, so they have to make the list. Don't forget the Padres, who were extremely impressive down the stretch last season.
On the other hand, it seems silly to talk about any team surprising us anymore. After all we've seen the last couple of years, after all the parity and all the teams that have emerged, can there even be a surprise team anymore? Maybe that's the most significant story line of this Opening Day.
Yes, the Nationals appear to be baseball's best team. They don't have a single weakness, and with Davey Johnson putting the finishing touches on a great managerial career, the Nationals are poised for a fun summer.
Then again, so are the Dodgers and Angels, the Tigers and Reds, the Blue Jays and Rays. Any one of perhaps a dozen teams would win the World Series and no one would blink an eye.
The Giants? All they're trying to do is win the World Series for a third time in a four-year stretch. They can do it, too, if those starting pitchers stay healthy and if the Giants can get another productive season from Pablo Sandoval.
The Giants begin this season in a good place. They're the defending champions, and they might be the most admired organization in the sport thanks to maybe baseball's best ballpark and a front office that gets it. In general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy, the Giants stand atop a lot of lists.
OK, enough about the Giants. We've mentioned eight teams without getting around to the Yankees and Red Sox, which tells you how significant the balance-of-power shift has been. For the first time in recent years, neither team seems to be a lock for the postseason.
Both appear to enjoy their underdog status, and both believe they're good enough to win it all despite the doubts. Recent history says it would be a mistake to count any team out.
Last Sept. 15, there were still 17 teams within three games of a playoff berth. And some of us thought there'd never be an ending as crazy as the one we witnessed in 2011.
So if you're surprised by a team this season, you may not have been paying attention. Every team has a chance: big-market teams, small-market teams, most likely your local team, too.
In just the last two seasons, 13 of baseball's 30 teams have made at least one postseason appearance, even if you don't count the extra wild-card berth. In the last 12 seasons, nine different franchises have won a World Series, and their average payroll rank has been 10th.
So we begin the 2013 season by outlawing surprises. This offseason, the Angels and Blue Jays made some splashy moves. But a long list of other teams, including the Pirates and Brewers and Mariners, got better, too.
It's getting more difficult to look at the standings and find a surprise team. At least 24 teams could go to the postseason and surprise very few people. There has never been an era when the championship races seemed so wide open. Every team -- that is, every team -- has a chance to compete.
It's no longer about revenues or payroll size or any of that stuff. Those things aren't insignificant factors, but they're not deal-breakers the way they once were. It's a special time to be a baseball fan because there's no way of predicting what's going to happen.
"There's no need to try and predict anything," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the other day. "All our curiosity will be satisfied."
Indeed it will.
Welcome to Opening Day.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.