With Major League Baseball's 2012 season rapidly approaching, the time has come to forecast a playoff scenario. While predicting this all correctly is a bit of a difficult feat, this year's various divisional races may be a bit less competitive than they have been in recent memory.
While it seems as though some division races probably won't be close (see: AL Central), the race for AL West Champion may be closer than many are thinking.
Here are the clubs that will be playing October ball, and the damage they will do in the playoffs.
Captain Derek Jeter looks to lead his Yankees back to a pennant in 2012
The Yankees are coming off of an AL East Championship in 2011, though this may in large part be due to the historic collapse in Boston.
While this is a team that is aging, the veterans have shown that they can still play ball with some of the best. Combine this with second baseman Robinson Cano, who could easily be AL MVP this year, and you have the makings of an offense that is poised to do well.
The addition of Michael Pineda from Seattle and Hiroki Kuroda from Los Angeles will certainly bolster a rotation that was, at best, pretty shaky in 2011. With Cy Young candidate CC Sabathia leading the charge on the mound, this rotation will compete with Tampa's for the best in the AL East.
The Yankees play in a tough division, probably the most competitive in baseball. There's no doubt that the Red Sox will come out with something to prove this year, and Tampa will be pesky throughout the season as well, with its stellar rotation.
Then there's the issue of the aging lineup. Shortstop Derek Jeter isn't what he used to be, though it seems as though he can still play at an above average level.
The bullpen gives some cause for concern, as no one really stepped up last season to accompany David Robertson (who actually received an MVP vote or two) or Mariano Rivera.
The division race should be a close one, but the Yankees will prevail by a few games. While they won't be the top team in the American League—they'll probably finish with the third-record—they will be a formidable opponent in the 2012 playoffs with a strengthened rotation.
AL MVP Justin Verlander looks to keep the magic alive in Motown
The Tigers' Justin Verlander is probably the best player in baseball. Verlander was a freak last season, earning both the Cy Young and MVP honors in the American League. Closer Jose Valverde also had a monster year, making himself a long shot candidate for the Cy Young award.
Then there's that whole Prince Fielder thing.
With the acquisition of the power-hitting first baseman, the Tigers now have two elite home run hitters in their lineup, and carry three potential MVP's on the team in Verlander, Fielder and first baseman (or designated hitter/third baseman/left fielder) Miguel Cabrera.
This teams still has quite a few holes, starting at second base. Who will fill this spot is still a mystery, although it'll probably be a situation in which a few players split time.
The same can probably said for the fifth starter in the rotation. Although the Tigers have one of the best minor league pitching prospects in baseball in righty Jacob Turner, they aren't too anxious to pull the trigger on him just yet.
The bullpen is also a point of concern with this team, as the staff as a whole really didn't do much in the consistency department in 2011—that is, outside of Valverde, who was one of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball.
Despite the flaws, this team should win a substantially flawed division rather easily. While the Twins will probably improve a bit, the division will probably be a race for second place between Cleveland and Minnesota.
The signing of Albert Pujols gives Angels fans a lot to look forward to
This is probably the most improved team in baseball, and it didn't take much to get it done. First baseman Albert Pujols is going to have an instant impact in the lineup, and should give Los Angeles an edge over Texas in 2012.
The other acquisition, though less noted, is that of lefty pitcher CJ Wilson. Wilson was a pretty big part of Texas' success in 2011, and will be a great addition to a rotation that includes the likes of Cy Young candidate Jared Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
Perhaps one of the most underrated aspects of this team is Mike Scioscia, who many consider to be one of the best managers in baseball. It seems as though his teams perennially contend, regardless of how talented they actually are.
This is a team that still struggles to get on base, and that doesn't seem like something that can easily change. The Angels were in the bottom-half of the league in walks and on base percentage in 2011. While Pujols might create more walks for whoever is hitting in front of him, this is still a point Scioscia needs to address.
However, the biggest problem is something that the Angels cannot really control—that is, the Texas Rangers. The Rangers are still a really solid team, and will be a tough one to dethrone in 2012.
While the Angels and Rangers will probably trade the division lead on multiple occasions throughout the 2012 season, the only time that it'll mean anything is on the last day. And on that day, the Angels will have just enough of a lead to call themselves the 2012 AL West Champs.
Josh Hamilton looks to return Texas to the World Series in 2012
(Note: This is assuming that there will only be one wildcard team in 2012)
It's hard to pick against Texas. This is a team that's been to the last two World Series, though they failed to win either one. Still, it seems as though L.A. has moved itself forward, while Texas stayed dormant.
However, a dormant Texas team is still a very good one.
With Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz in the lineup, Texas is still potent offensively going into the 2012 season. Furthermore, the Rangers have one of the best bullpens in all of baseball, an extremely underrated commodity.
The loss of CJ Wilson has to leave a gaping hole in Texas' rotation going forward. Without an ace, it seems as though the Rangers could struggle from a pitching standpoint this season. However, as we saw last year when the Rangers lost Cliff Lee to free agency, an ace may not be all that necessary when you have the depth that Texas does.
As mentioned earlier, L.A. has taken huge strides this offseason. While offseason moves in no way guarantee a successful season, one would have to think that the Angels have the best chance of winning the AL West.
Meanwhile, Texas will have to worry about Boston—a team that was the best in baseball prior to its September collapse—as well as Tampa.
The Rangers are a team that could win the AL West, although it probably won't. The wildcard, however, isn't much of a reach for the defending American League Champions.
Roy Halladay looks to lead a stacked Phillies team back to the playoffs in 2012
The strength of this Phillies team starts with the rotation. Roy Halladay is arguably the best pitcher in the National League, and can dominate any game he starts. Combine his efforts with that of lefty Cliff Lee, and you have the makings of one of the best 1-2 punches in all of baseball.
Although Ryan Howard has fallen a bit out of the rankings of elite hitters in baseball, he is still one of the best first baseman in all of baseball. Statistically, this team was very middle-of-the-road in terms of hitting. However, with a pitching staff as great as this one, that really didn't matter too much.
Furthermore, this team played the best defense in the National League last year, leading the NL in errors allowed. Clean baseball is great baseball, and the Phillies know all about it.
The bullpen is still a pretty big question mark. While the rotation is impressive, it's important to be great on the back end of things as well. While the addition of closer Jonathon Papelbon may strengthen this bullpen, it by no means solidifies it.
Despite having the best record in baseball going in to the 2011 playoffs, the Phillies were unable to capitalize and found themselves watching the World Series from home. While it's a bit ridiculous to say that this team choked in the playoffs, they certainly underachieved, leaving one to wonder if they'll do the same in 2012.
Despite a postseason collapse (if you want to call it that) in Philly, the City of Brotherly Love will see its team return to the postseason in 2012. However, it'll take a bit more than it did in recent years, as Atlanta and Miami will both be on the prowl.
The return of Adam Wainwright should prove to be beneficial in St. Louis
It's hard to vote against a team that is coming off of a World Series championship. There's a great deal of talented youth on this team, which has to be a positive thing going forward.
While the Cardinals haven't made any huge free agent acquisitions in the offseason, they will be getting pitcher Adam Wainwright—one of the National League's most dominant pitchers—back in the rotation, after being out for the 2011 campaign.
The loss of Albert Pujols has to be one of the biggest free agency losses that a team has ever suffered. The loss of Tony La Russa has to be one of the biggest managerial losses that a team has ever dealt with. Combining the two of these things definitely sets the Cardinals back a bit.
If not for the loss of Prince Fielder and the suspension of 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun in Milwaukee, the Brewers would probably be the favorite to win the division. Furthermore, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent half of last season looking as though they could take the division by surprise. Look for a more experienced Pirates team to do the same in 2011.
Despite losing one of the biggest bats ever to put on a St. Louis Cardinals uniform, the Cards should still be able to take their division. Look for the Cardinals to be a big player near the trade deadline, possibly looking for a big bat in the lineup.
Arizona's young talent looks to lead the Diamondbacks to the playoffs in 2012
The Arizona Diamondbacks were one of the most surprising teams in baseball in 2011. Led by skipper Kirk Gibson, the D-Backs took a core of young talent into the postseason.
From an offensive standpoint, the team is led by Justin Upton, one of the best young hitters in the game—and a candidate for the 2012 NL MVP award.
The Diamondbacks also have pitcher Ian Kennedy, who had an exceptional 2011 season. If he can keep his surprising success going into the 2012 campaign, Arizona has a pretty good chance to contend for an NL Championship.
This team plays in an underrated division, no doubt about it. Arizona will be competing against the 2010 World Series champs in San Francisco, as well as a Los Angeles team that includes both Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp.
There's also a decent amount of uncertainty in the lineup. While this team did well last year, Gibson seemed to get his team to play above their talent level. This may translate to a few more losses in the 2012 season.
This was a tough division to call, as three teams could easily take the crown. However, when all is said and done, the Diamondbacks will do just enough to repeat as National League West Champions.
Jose Reyes is the key to the Marlins winning in South Beach
This is, without a doubt, the most improved team in baseball. At least, on paper they have improved. By adding Jose Reyes to the lineup, the Marlins automatically have another potent weapon with both speed and power.
The most underrated signing, though, is that of pitcher Mark Buehrle, who will provide an instant veteran boost to an already solid rotation, led by Josh Johnson.
The biggest acquisition, however, is that of manager Ozzie Guillen. While his personality may be too robust for some, there is little doubt that the guy can manage a baseball game at a very high level. Guillen utilized an average team in Chicago by taking it to a World Series.
There are still quite a few question marks on this team, the biggest being Hanley Ramirez. While no one can realistically question his ability, Ramirez could be a bit of a clubhouse distraction this season, and may do negative things for his team off the field.
The competition level will also be pretty high for Miami. With Philly being the consensus favorite for the NL East crown, Miami will have to compete with Atlanta, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Milwaukee for a wildcard spot.
With everything that Miami has going against it, the Marlins have one big check mark that every great team needs: talent. If they can start the season on a good note, this could be a formidable playoff team.
2012's AL Wildcard could see a rematch of last year's championship
AL Wildcard series No. 1 will see the Detroit Tigers—owning the best record in the American League—take on the AL Wilcard winner in Texas. As opposed to last year's AL Championship series, in which these two faced-off, the Tigers will have both a shorter series and home field advantage.
This is where the loss of CJ Wilson will hurt Texas. Detroit will have the upper-hand in terms of pitching, and, as opposed to last year, may have the advantage in terms of hitting as well.
Detroit over Texas 3-1
Los Angeles should have the pitching staff to keep the Bronx unhappy
The Yankees are always a scary team to see in the playoffs, and there's little doubt that their rotation will be improved going into this season.
That being said, Los Angeles has one of the best hitters in baseball, as well as one of the best rotations in the game. While this series could—and probably will be—very close, Los Angeles will be able to utilize its home field advantage by winning the best-of-five series over New York.
Los Angeles over New York 3-2
The Diamondbacks look to play the part of upset team in the 2012 postseason
Definitely a bit of an upset, but there's something intriguing about this Arizona team. While Philly will probably have the edge in terms of rotation, Arizona might be slightly better offensively.
The Phillies will probably pitch Halladay twice, but Arizona has a Cy Young candidate of its own in Ian Kennedy.
This series will be close, but Arizona will pull off the upset and come out on top.
Arizona over Philadelphia 3-2
Johnson looks to lead the new-look Marlins to postseason glory in 2012
While Miami is a young team—not to mention a team that will probably be fueled largely by emotion—the Marlins should be able to take care of business against St. Louis.
While the Cardinals have a great pitcher in Chris Carpenter, Miami has the better staff overall, as well as a much better offense.
The Cardinals will contend, but the loss of Albert Pujols will prove to be too much to overcome this season.
Miami over St. Louis 3-1
Justin Verlander looks to take the Tigers to another World Series
Last season's premier pitching matchup in the regular season was one in which L.A.'s Jared Weaver faced Detroit's Justin Verlander.
Tensions were high.
After JV lost his potential perfect game on a bunt, tempers began to rise from both he and Weaver, who was eventually ejected from the game.
While players may say that they leave that sort of thing behind them, there's no doubt that the memory of situations like that always sticks around.
This series will probably be close. L.A. has a slight advantage in starting pitching, although Detroit probably carries the advantage in the bullpen.
From an offensive standpoint, though, Detroit has the clear advantage. With Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera batting back-to-back—not to mention the potential of Victor Martinez potentially coming back from his injury by that point—the Tigers are in good shape to outhit the Angels.
Although this series will probably be extremely suspenseful, the Tigers should be able to take care of business in less than seven games.
Detroit over Los Angeles 4-2
Kirk Gibson looks to lead his team to a World Series in 2012
This matchup is without a doubt a battle between two underdogs. While either of these teams may have been considered by some to be playoff contenders, not many are picking them over the Phillies or Cardinals.
With a matchup like this, one has to look at the managers to decide a winner. In this case, you have to give the edge to Kirk Gibson, who has gotten the most out of his team in Arizona thus far.
Furthermore, the whole "letting your emotions get in the way" thing in Miami may be a bit of an issue. With tempers from Ozzie Guillen and Hanley Ramirez, it's hard to believe that a level head will be kept if things go bad.
This series will be competitive, but probably not particularly close.
Arizona over Miami 4-1
The Tigers have enough offensive power to make a run at a World Series title in 2012
Going into this game, Detroit should be a huge favorite to beat Arizona for the World Series title.
They will not disappoint.
The fact is that Arizona will just be too outmatched to beat a powerful Detroit team. While they may be able to take a few games from the Tigers, the Diamondbacks just don't have enough depth to beat a Detroit team that has fire power in the lineup and the rotation.
Detroit over Arizona 4-2