**Now, for the record, this slideshow is being made under the assumption that nothing changes about the baseball postseason. However, I will give two slides to what I call "the last team out," thus naming two additional teams (one from each league) who would be in if more slots should become available.**
That being said, the 2012 MLB season is right around the corner and I, for one, cannot wait. Baseball season is my favorite time of the year and with all of the blockbuster moves we've seen this offseason, the playoff picture has become quite crowded.
Amidst all the movement, who are the favorites for a spot in the postseason? This slideshow breaks down my predictions.
In 2011, the Los Angeles Angels were 86-76, finishing 10 games behind the division-winning Texas Rangers. While they missed the postseason, it wasn't a bad season.
The team's 3.57 ERA was tops in the American League behind incredible pitching by Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. Now, the team has C.J. Wilson to add to the mix. Tell me with a straight face that that's not a scary thought.
Offense was where the team struggled a bit, having only a .253 team batting average. However, that number was addressed, and oh how massively it was addressed.
The Angels just welcomed stud first baseman Albert Pujols to the team, fresh off a .299, 37 home run, 99 RBI season. Somehow, I just have a feeling that the offense got a huge burst of energy.
Pujols will join an offensive lineup that struggled to really put runs on the board last season to back up what was already an impressive pitching corps. With Wilson and Pujols joining the club, the Angels have no excuses to not make a run towards the World Series.
For most teams around the world of baseball, a 90-72 finish would be completely satisfactory. However, the Boston Red Sox were to the MLB in 2011 what the Philadelphia Eagles were to the NFL in 2011—a talented team that failed miserably.
Now, I say in 2012, the team turns it around. Why? Well, first of all, Carl Crawford is going to turn it around, I guarantee it. Secondly, the team still has big time offensive tools in Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. Finally, I don't see Tampa Bay and New York being as good this year.
I can elaborate more on that later, but the simple thing is that both of those teams got in behind certain performances that I don't see happening again.
The Red Sox have plenty of talent in their bats and on their pitching staff. Cody Ross was a good addition to the Red Sox's outfield and Andrew Bailey will be an excellent replacement for Johnathon Papelbon.
Now that the baseball's version of "The Dream Team" has a year under their belt, be prepared for triple-digit wins in Beantown.
I won't spend too much time on this one. Detroit didn't really lose anyone of note but added a huge bat by signing Prince Fielder.
Now, Miguel Cabrera will be joined by Fielder in an already impressive offensive lineup.
In addition, Justin Verlander is fresh off a Cy Young season, as he posted an amazing 24 wins in 2011. If none of this convinces you, look at the division the Tigers are in.
Cleveland and Chicago aren't too bad, but they've really not done anything to get substantially better. Unless the Tigers have some kind of epic collapse, they should skate to the postseason.
The signing of pitcher Yu Darvish certainly has the capability of replacing C.J. Wilson in the Rangers' rotation. He was one of the high-profile free agents in 2012, and the Rangers certainly continued to keep their great team alive.
Losing Wilson hurt, but other than that, this team looks to be as strong as ever. Granted, we have to consider Josh Hamilton's recent alleged alcohol relapse, but honestly, I don't see that affecting him performance-wise too much.
Offensively, Texas was the best team in the American League in 2011, helped out by Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre. Those three men combined to hit 87 homers and bat over .300.
There's no doubt that the offense will continue for the Rangers in 2012. The pitching, which wasn't bad in 2011, could really tank with the loss of Wilson, but should continue to flourish with the addition of Darvish to the rotation and Joe Nathan in the bullpen.
They'll keep up with the Angels until the bitter end, where the Rangers will fall by only a handful of games.
On paper, it does appear that the Yankees should, once again, be dominant. However, their lone bright spots in 2012 will be outfielder Curtis Granderson and pitcher C.C. Sabathia. Yeah, you'll notice neither of those names are Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
While those two have certainly had great careers, they're on the back nine and I don't see 2012 being incredibly productive for either of them. It's also worth noting that Jeter missed 31 games in 2011, while A-Rod missed 63.
In addition, Sabathia seems to be the only bright spot in the starting lineup. I'm not a believer in the oft-injured A.J. Burnett, and Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda aren't particularly special.
Mark Teixeira is coming off a mediocre .248 season and I guess it's feasible to say Robinson Cano should be included in the group with Granderson and Sabathia. The outfield is mostly a train wreck besides Granderson.
Andruw Jones is old, Brett Gardner is good on the bases but mediocre with a bat, Nick Swisher will never post anything spectacular and I watched Chris Dickerson play in Cincinnati—there's nothing there.
They won't be cheering in October in the Bronx.
I don't care who won the World Series—the Philadelphia Phillies are the National League's best team, if not the best in baseball.
They choked in the postseason, true, but they'll be back in 2012 with a vengeance. They're returning a fierce starting rotation, which is now missing Roy Oswalt, but I don't think he'll really be missed. Jose Contreras, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick are good options to fill the fifth start.
The team has great players on the field in Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco. That's without mentioning Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, both of whom are struggling with injuries—Howard probably will not start the beginning of the year.
In the bullpen, they add a terrific closer in Jonathan Papelbon. Everything about this team still screams championship.
The defending World Series champions are going to step out this year without Albert Pujols. That's a big loss to this offense.
However, I admit that I'm not about to write them off for that. While it is a big loss, it's really been their only one.
St. Louis will be fielding one of the league's best outfields, consisting of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and John Jay. While Beltran and Holliday are household names, Jay is one of the league's more underrated players. He batted .297 in 159 games last season, and only had three errors.
As for the rest of the field, Rafael Furcal will be a good player up the middle, Lance Berkman still has some gas in the tank to play first base and Yadier Molina is one of baseball's better catchers.
On the pitching staff, Adam Wainwright returns to the rotation after missing 2011 because of Tommy John surgery. He'll join a rotation with Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse—that's quite a rotation.
The bullpen could supply some issues, but not enough to destroy what should be another good Cardinals' season.
The biggest issue the 2011 Giants had was offense. They were near the bottom of the National League in just about every offensive category.
This year, they've added outfielders Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera, each of whom had respectable seasons with the Mets and Royals (respectively). That'll help offensively, but there's one thing that will be the big addition—the return of Buster Posey.
In his first full season with the Giants in 2010, Posey posted an impressive .305 batting average with 18 home runs and 67 RBI. His presence was sorely missed last year as Eli Whiteside took the majority of the starts and was able to bat .197—ouch.
As for pitching, this team had no issues there. Most of the starters had decent ERAs, but their records were around .500 because of their lack of offensive help. Tim Lincecum should return to top shape in 2012, making a case for his Cy Young spot once again.
The bullpen will be strong, led by closer Brian Wilson.
Jose Reyes, Carlos Zambrano, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Aaron Rowand are all big additions the Miami Marlins made this offseason. Talk about a quick turn around.
I guarantee that last season's subpar team had guys that most of the country probably couldn't name. Now, they've got a team full of studs and new manager in Ozzie Guillen.
To top it all, the Marlins will be playing in a new stadium in 2012.
Everything points to a Marlins' turning point this season. Their last postseason appearance was in 2003 when they won the World Series, but they'll get back this year behind good pitching by Buehrle and Josh Johnson, as well as stellar offense by Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Emilio Bonifacio.
After a division-winning 2010 campaign, the Reds dropped off in 2011, finishing only 79-83.
Most of this was caused by both pitching and hitting not answering the call. The team's numbers were down in both categories, despite not suffering any losses.
Now, the Reds have traded away dead weight in Edinson Volquez and dropped more in Francisco Cordero. They've been pretty active this offseason as well, adding Ryan Madson and Sean Marshall to the bullpen, while adding Mat Latos to the starting rotation.
The team also signed outfielder Ryan Ludwick and utility man Willie Harris.
Injuries played a big role in 2011 for the Reds, but they'll get their left side of the infield back. Scott Rolen should be in full health by Opening Day, and Zack Cozart—who batted .324 in 11 games before having to undergo Tommy John surgery—should return to shortstop. These two will compliment All-Stars Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto well.
The big question mark for the Reds will be the outfield. Left field was a mess in 2011, but the starting job should wind up in the hands of Chris Heisey. Jay Bruce continues to show a great glove in right field, but he's a very streaky hitter. His mediocre .256 average last year was largely helped by a .342 month of May.
Finally, Drew Stubbs mans center field, fresh off a season in which he led the league in strikeouts. These guys will have to come together to support a decent pitching staff and good infield for the Reds to have a chance. Unfortunately, I think they're still a year away from realizing their real potential.