Major League Baseball: 2012 Postseason Prediction

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIJanuary 25, 2012

Major League Baseball: 2012 Postseason Prediction

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    Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder were two of the most sought-after free agents this offseason. With their signings, the Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers instantly become two of the biggest championship contenders.

    Now that most of the key free agents have signed contracts for the 2012 season, we begin to see a clearer picture separating pretenders from contenders. Although it's still early, here's a prediction of the 2012 MLB postseason picture with the added interest of a possible playoff expansion.

National League West: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The Diamondbacks surprised a lot of people last season behind National League Manager of the Year Kirk Gibson and their plethora of young talent. 

    All-Stars Justin Upton and Miguel Montero (not to mention All-Star snub Ian Kennedy) led the way for the D-Backs in 2011. Arizona finished with a 94-68 record, beating out the San Francisco Giants by eight games.

    However, the D-Backs were able to beat out a San Francisco Giants team without Buster Posey, who played in only 45 games before sustaining a gruesome ankle injury in a collision at home plate.

    Will the Diamondbacks be able to beat out the Giants if Posey is healthy for the entire season? It won’t be an easy task, but I think they can. 

    The D-Backs have one of the most talented young pitching staffs in all of baseball with Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter and the newly-acquired Trevor Cahill from the Oakland Athletics.

    With loads of up-and-coming talent, including young guns Paul Goldschmidt and Gerardo Parra, I believe the D-Backs will only get better from last season behind their savvy coach, defending their division title.

National League Central: Cincinnati Reds

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    Milwaukee defending their division title almost seems laughable at this point. 

    Losing Prince Fielder to the Detroit Tigers, added with the fact that the Brew Crew may be without defending National League MVP Ryan Braun for the first 50 games after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug really hurts this team’s chances.

    In addition, I don’t think that I need to remind St. Louis Cardinals fans that Albert Pujols will no longer be around to lead them to the Promised Land again next season. Oh wait...I just did? Sorry. 

    Certainly I’m by no means writing this team off, though; they still have a lot of talented players on the roster, and they did manage to add Carlos Beltran. However, Beltran is no Albert Pujols.

    That leaves the Cincinnati Reds, the only team of the three NL Central contenders not to lose a superstar talent in the offseason. Adding Mat Latos to the pitching staff is seen as a “win-now” type of move, which is why I think the Reds will win their division in 2012.

    Look for Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips to step up big this season to lead their team to a postseason appearance.

National League East: Philadelphia Phillies

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    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to assume the team with the most wins a season ago (102) that won their division by a 13-game margin will win their division again in 2012. Which is good, considering rocket scientists probably don’t have enough free time to watch sports.

    All kidding aside, the Phillies have a very high probability of winning the NL East again next season. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and adding closer Jonathan Papelbon…need I say more?

National League Wildcard: San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals

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    I really like the idea of an expanded postseason in Major League Baseball, even if it is just a one-game sudden death playoff. Watching a 162-game season just to see eight teams in the playoffs doesn’t make much sense in my opinion.

    With that said, I thought I’d have a little fun with the wildcard spots and assume that the MLB will add this new playoff format for the 2012 season.

    If they do, I foresee a matchup between the Giants (who will be in a tight race with the Diamondbacks in the NL West) and the defending champion Cardinals.

    Yes, the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols, but I think they still have enough to compete (David Freese, Chris Carpenter, Matt Holliday, etc.)

    Imagine the crowd for a sudden-death wildcard playoff game…the energy would be electric. I hope baseball does this.

American League West: Los Angeles Angels

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    Alright, before every Rangers fan on the planet starts showering me with hate, hear me out.

    Last season, the Rangers beat out the Angels in the AL West by a 10-game margin. That was an Angels team without Albert Pujols. 

    In addition, the Rangers had nearly 200 more runs scored (855 total runs) than the Halos did last season (667 runs scored), and they only won the division by 10 games. 

    You’re telling me that the best player in baseball can't improve the Angels by a measly 10 wins?

    The Angels had 86 wins a season ago while only scoring 667 runs. To put that in perspective, the Baltimore Orioles scored 708 runs and only won 69 games.

    Bottom line, Mike Scioscia knows how to put his players in the best situation to win games.  Adding Pujols to a team that won 86 games while scoring just 667 runs should be a scary thought for Rangers fans—or are you all in denial?

American League Central: Detroit Tigers

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    If you’re reading this you’ve no doubt heard that the Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal. If you haven’t heard yet, I would personally like to welcome you out from underneath your rock.

    Early conjectures from multiple analysts and sources, namely John Kruk of ESPN, have the Tigers as a lock to win the AL Central. 

    I agree.

    The Tigers won their division by 15 games last season, and now they have Fielder. Look for Detroit to run away with the Central barring an injury to a key component.

American League East: New York Yankees

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    As a Boston Red Sox fan, it pains me to say, but the Yankees will likely win the AL East.  If nothing else, at least I won’t jinx the Red Sox by saying they’ll win the division.

    The Yankees won the AL East last season by six games over the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that was basically gift-wrapped a trip to the postseason by the Red Sox during their historic September collapse.

    Despite winning the division, the Yankees starting pitching struggled last season. They really helped themselves by trading for 23-year-old pitcher Michael Pineda. 

    With a reliable pitching core of CC Sabathia, Pineda and Ivan Nova to go with decent starter options in A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia, the pitching appears very solid on paper.

    The only real knock on the Yanks is their age. 

    I chuckle when I see that 36-year-old Alex Rodriguez is set to make $30 million during the 2012 season, especially considering his injury troubles and declining power (just 16 homers last season). Combine A-Rod with 37-year-old Derek Jeter, and you have some pretty obvious question marks. It will be interesting to see how those two perform in 2012.

    Nevertheless, the Yankees always seem to find a way to win (I hope I jinxed them by saying they’d win the division, I really do).

American League Wildcard: Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers

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    The AL Wildcard will come down to two very talented teams that play in very competitive divisions.

    Even though I’m hoping for the Red Sox not to have to play in a sudden-death playoff, I will admit watching this type of game would be incredibly entertaining.

    With the prediction of the Red Sox narrowly missing a division title to the Yankees and the Rangers narrowly missing a division title to the Angels, I bet fans would tune in to watch a game of this caliber.