THREE STRIKES

THREE STRIKES

Micah Roberts, an analyst for The Linemakers on SportingNews.com and a former sports book director, makes three bold predictions for the baseball season:

■ Bryce Harper is set for his biggest year

Harper gets a lot of publicity in this stat-driven world for a slugger who has yet to top 22 home runs or 59 RBIs in either of his first two seasons. Last season, the Nationals outfielder cut down his strikeouts and drew more walks. Expect that maturation process to continue, and expect him to take better care of his body while playing close to 150 games.The LVH posted Harper’s hit total at 157½. Here’s a projected stat line for Harper: 171 hits, 27 home runs, 80 RBIs and a .287 batting average, all of which would be career highs.

■ Bet the Orioles over 81 wins

The number has been driven up from 80 up to 81 because Baltimore manager Buck Showalter has a talented team that is tightly united. The Orioles went 20-31 in one-run games last year but still managed to win 85 games. In their wild-card year of 2012, they won 93. Their weak starting pitching is improved, and a lineup that produced the third-most total bases in the majors last season is still intact, and maybe better with the addition of Nelson Cruz.

■ The Mariners will be a wild-card team

After a 71-91 season, with an American League-worst .237 team batting average, Seattle picked up Robinson Cano from the Yankees. While the Mariners have great starting pitching, their lineup still has plenty of question marks. However, during the spring, shortstop Brad Miller hit .417 and left fielder Dustin Ackley hit .394. Those two can help Seattle be a contender, and the AL West figures to be a little down.

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