Excited for baseball season? So am I. Here are my annual, sure-to-be-wrong predictions to help you kill the time until Opening Day on Wednesday night. All opinions expressed here are strictly my own.
1. Tampa Bay Rays (#2 seed) - Just unbelievable young pitching. This could be the first year we see the Rays make a deadline deal for a big-name hitter, with a guy like Wade Davis as the centerpiece.
2. New York Yankees (WILD CARD #1) - Michael Pineda’s current shoulder status could realistically be a 5-win blow to the Bombers.
3. Boston Red Sox - Their health and pitching are highly questionable yet again. A major Carl Crawford resurgence is imperative if they’re to compete.
4. Toronto Blue Jays - An incredibly trendy pick, they would need too much progression from guys like Brandon Morrow, J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus to have a shot at the playoffs in their brutal division. I’m not saying those guys won’t progress, but the Jays need absolutely everything to go right to even reach 88 wins.
5. Baltimore Orioles - Remember when everyone thought they had enough young talent to compete before the 2011 season? Lolz.
1. Detroit Tigers (#3 seed) - By far the easiest divisional winner pick out there, and it has oh so much more to do with their weak division than their addition of Prince Fielder.
2. Cleveland Indians - I do like Ubaldo Jimenez to bounce back in 2012. I like the underrated addition of Derek Lowe, and fully expect guys like Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis to remain productive. That said, 2013 is a more realistic year to compete for a playoff spot for the Tribe.
3. Chicago White Sox - Fangraphs says they have the worst farm system in baseball. So why did you give a merely above average starter in John Danks a five-year, $65 million contract extension, GM Kenny Williams? You should be in rebuilding mode, since you have enough talent to stay out of the Central’s basement, but would need a huge amount of upside to be realized to go any higher than third.
4. Kansas City Royals - GM Dayton Moore’s incredible farm system of two seasons ago is starting to develop into an incredible major league team. Just starting, mind you. Expect upward of 90 losses in 2012, but steady improvements across the board.
5. Minnesota Twins - A healthy Twins team could compete for second place in this division. But because they’ll have the nearest hospital on speed dial, expect their inevitable injuries to guys like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Francisco Liriano to cost them at least 10 wins. They’d be a surefire 100-loss candidate if they didn’t play in the Central.
1. Los Angeles Angels (#1 seed) - Has there ever been a team to add as much probable WAR in one off season than the Angels did this winter? Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta and a healthy Kendrys Morales will morph the Angels into a bona fide 100-win contender.
2. Texas Rangers (WILD CARD #2) - Do Yu believe? Sorry, I had to do it. Japanese sensation Yu Darvish is much more of a wild card than mass media makes him out to be, but that’s actually quite irrelevant; even if Darvish comes through, the Rangers can’t top the Angels this year. Still a playoff team, though.
3. Oakland Athletics - The AL West is the most polar division in the game. Two elite teams lead the pack, while the horrible Athletics and Mariners keep up the rear. A’s fans have nothing to be excited about this year except for Yoenis Cespedes, Manny Ramirez’ antics, and a possible move to San Jose in 2014 or 2015.
4. Seattle Mariners - Mariners last? Athletics last? They’ll both be hovering near 100 losses come September's end, so who cares? GM Jack Zduriencik, please free Felix Hernandez, the most desirable yet tradeable player in the game right now, from the quagmire of Seattle baseball.
1. Philadelphia Phillies (#1 seed) - Not many times are as severely in decline vis-Ã -vis their last five years as the Phillies are. They’re old and injury-prone, but it’s still darn hard to pick against a team with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels on it. Still, this is the last year they’ll be the favorite to win this division, let alone a favorite to make the playoffs, in a while.
2. Miami Marlins (WILD CARD #1) - The second, third and fourth spots of this division are tremendously difficult to pick because of the Marlins’ and Nationals’ plethora of new members. All three spots can go either way, but I give the nod to the Marlins because of their incredibly versatile lineup and high probability of progression across the board. In the rare cases that Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson stay healthy all season, the Marlins should actually win this division.
3. Atlanta Braves (WILD CARD #2) - I think Brandon Beachy is baseball’s most likely major breakout candidate in 2012, even more so than Eric Hosmer and Brett Lawrie. Watch it happen. Anyway, the Braves’ whole season rides on the health of their starting rotation.
4. Washington Nationals - Their hype has made them very overrated. Their rotation went from weak to promising in one off season, but they won’t win a Wild Card until 2013, when I’m almost certain to have them in the playoffs.
5. New York Mets - A disaster. Contrary to the opinion of fellow football writer Dan Norton, the Mets will absolutely not post a loss total below 90 even if absolutely everything goes right for them.
1. Milwaukee Brewers (#2 seed) - I like to think I know a thing or two about baseball, but, for the life of me, I can’t understand the general skepticism of the Brewers’ chances in 2012. There isn’t a baseball pundit out there who doubts rotation mates Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo will compete for the NL’s strikeout title this year. Aramis Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez, replacing Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt, nearly make up for the departure of Prince Fielder. Ryan Bruan isn’t suspended. The Central is a weak division. I could go on all day. Frankly, I’d be surprised if the Brewers didn’t win the Central for the second straight year in 2012.
2. St. Louis Cardinals - The return of Adam Wainwright and the signing of Carlos Beltran will, at best, equal what Albert Pujols gives a ballclub. The reigning World Champs remain a solid team, but that’s all they are.
3. Cincinnati Reds - So, a fly ball pitcher (Mat Latos) moving from Petco Park to Great American Ballpark means the Reds are the favorites to win the Central? Oh!
4. Pittsburgh Pirates - The Pirates are slowly but steadily approaching .500. That milestone probably won’t be reached until 2014 or so, though.
5. Chicago Cubs - It must be awful to be a fan of a team that is just beginning to enter full-blown rebuilding mode such as the Cubs.
6. Houston Astros - Unabashedly the worst team in baseball, the Astros have almost no chance to finish the season with less than 100 losses. They won’t be good again, for a long time, and current National League contenders forlornly mourn their 2013 move to the American League.
1. San Francisco Giants (#3 seed) - Boy, this division stinks. The possibility that Buster Posey stays healthy for a whole season makes me give the Giants the nod here…
2. Arizona Diamondbacks - …but if the D-Backs repeat as winners, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit…
3. Los Angeles Dodgers - …and even if the Dodgers win the NL West crown, I wouldn’t gasp. This division can go to any of these three.
4. Colorado Rockies - Not much upside for the Rockies this year. Their offense is entirely made up of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, and Drew Pomeranz and Alex White are starting the year in the minors.
5. San Diego Padres - Trading Mat Latos was the nail in the coffin of terribleness for the Dads. There are only a few things to watch for on this team, and they all center around how the former Reds they got in the Latos deal perform.
ALCS: Angels beat Rays, 4-2
NLCS: Phillies beat Brewers, 4-1
World Series: Angels beat Phillies, 4-3
Cy Young: Roy Halladay
MVP: Troy Tulowitzki (it’s gotta happen one of these years.)
Rookie of the Year: Devin Mesoraco, Reds
Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen, Marlins
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Mariners (a la 2010, when he went 13-12)
MVP: Evan Longoria, Rays
Rookie of the Year: Matt Moore, Rays
Manager of the Year: Manny Acta, Indians