Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Each MLB Team

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IFebruary 13, 2012

Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Each MLB Team

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    Yu Darvish might be the $112-million man the Texas Rangers bought right away in 2012. The team scouted Darvish exhaustively for the past 18 months, and they saw an ace when they did. From a decision-matrix perspective, they did as well as they could to sign him under the miserable posting system that brings Japanese ballplayers Stateside.

    On the other hand, Darvish also presents risk. He has never pitched in MLB, and many adjustments are necessary once he does. He will need to get used to pitching every fifth day, rather than every sixth. He will need to get used to a larger, heavier ball; stronger, more powerful hitters; and a game predicated far less on bunts and contact. 

    If Darvish is a major risk, so is Neftali Feliz. The converted closer has the upside of a solid co-ace for Darvish, but he has plenty of downside risk, too. His command might not be good enough for the rotation; his change-up might be insufficient.

    Derek Holland is inconsistent; Colby Lewis is vulnerable to external factors almost at all times. Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre are injury risks. Mike Napoli and Michael Young are regression risks. Though they're two-time reigning AL champions, the Texas Rangers face a wide range of possible outcomes in 2012.

    Some teams have more uncertainty; most have less. As Spring Training opens, there are some 21 teams with a real chance to make the playoffs in 2012. For most, it will depend on the performance of those in whom they invested most during this wild baseball winter, like the Rangers did in Darvish. What follows are the best- and worst-case scenarios for each team in 2012, viewed through the prism of their most important off-season addition.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Best Case: By platooning newcomer Jason Kubel with Paul Goldschmidt at first base, Arizona shores up its weakest position. Trevor Cahill takes to the National League and gets a boost from the strong defensive infield play the team should expect after re-signing Aaron Hill, John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist. Non-tender-turned-bargain Joe Saunders pitches well enough to keep pressure off possible stretch-run call-up Trevor Bauer, and the Diamondbacks run away with the NL West again. Record: 93-69

    Worst Case: The team goes through with its plan to play Kubel ahead of Gerrardo Parra in left field, weakening the defensive outfield. Goldschmidt gets exposed against right-handed pitching. After career years, Ryan Roberts and Ian Kennedy come back to Earth. Daniel Hudson's long, long arm action leads to injury, and the house-of-cards bullpen Kevin Towers has built goes kaput. Leading the way is Takashi Saito, a savvy signing but a very old pitcher with injury history galore. Record: 77-85

Atlanta Braves

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    Best Case: Jason Heyward rediscovers his rookie form, and gets better support from the Braves along the way. Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson stay healthy and have one last productive season each. Tyler Pastornicky, tasked with assuming shortstop duties almost on a full-time basis right away as a rookie, comes through. Record: 90-72

    Worst Case: Bullpen abuse catches up to Atlanta. Frank Wren trades Jair Jurrjens, only to find the young arms meant to replace him either unfit or unready to do so. No offense comes together, Tommy Hanson pitches fewer than 130 innings again, and the increased quality of the NL East disallows Atlanta from competing despite being one-dimensional. Record: 82-80


Baltimore Orioles

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    Best Case: Zach Britton and Brian Matusz get back on the horse, but are pushed to the back of the rotation by international imports Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada. Wilson Betemit, a career .277/.348/.469 hitter against right-handed pitching, rounds out an offense already better than many know. Brian Roberts stays healthy, Matt Wieters proves his emergence at the end of 2011 was no fluke. Record: 76-86

    Worst Case: Nothing works. Betemit proves unable to adjust to the DH role. Wada and Chen find getting tepid raw stuff past monstrous AL East lineups impossible. Luis Ayala, the prized bullpen addition of their winter, regresses to his norm, and Baltimore gets swallowed in a division as deep with good teams and talent as it has ever been (and it's been pretty deep before). Record: 63-99

Boston Red Sox

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    Best Case: Daniel Bard acts as the big starting pitching acquisition the Red Sox never made. He takes his big fastball to the rotation and shines, helping cover for two pitchers in incremental but very real decline. Platoons in right field, at shortstop and behind home plate hide each player's flaws nicely. Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkilis recover their form and stay healthy, while Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon make the bullpen a wash with the 2011 version, despite the loss of Jonathan Papelbon. Record: 97-65

    Worst Case: Jon Lester fails to recover the velocity he lost on all of his offerings in 2011, and never develops consistency. Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz combine for their usual 360 innings but no more, leaving a gaping hole where quality innings should go in the Boston rotation. Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Nick Punto and Kelly Shoppach display their warts as well as their strengths. Melancon fails to duplicate his success with the Astros against better competition, and the run-prevention blueprint the Sox drew up crumbles. Record: 80-82

Chicago Cubs

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    Best Case: Ian Stewart hits 25 home runs. An overhauled, deeper starting rotation helps fix the team's run-prevention problem. In line with other medium-term, medium-money veteran Cubs signings in the past few years, David DeJesus performs well above expectations. Mark DeRosa and Marlon Byrd blazed a fine trial for him. Chicago gets contract-year pitching from Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, Matt Garza sticks around all season and the arrival of positional prospects Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo give the team a jolt in September. Record: 79-83

    Worst Case: Early struggles lead Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the front office to trade Garza, Marlon Byrd and Geovany Soto. Stewart, Travis Wood and Chris Volstad all prove to be projects at best, busts at worst. Maholm's 3.66 ERA of 2011 rises to meet his less impressive peripheral numbers. Bryan LaHair proves the existence of the Quadruple-A hitter, and fans wonder to themselves if Chicago ought to have signed Prince Fielder. Record: 62-100

Chicago White Sox

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    Best Case: As Adam Dunn quipped recently, the Sox hope they re-acquired Dunn and Alex Rios this winter, after the two had an historically awful 2011. They do recover, and so does Gordon Beckham. John Danks proves Kenny Williams right to have extended him and leads a strong rotation, while a strong bullpen and youth in the corner spots serve the Sox well. Record: 86-76

    Worst Case: Dunn and Rios reprise their 2011 roles as team anchors, in the drag-you-down sense. Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski prove to be almost completely past their utility, while risky corner outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo do not deliver. Record: 73-89

Cincinnati Reds

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    Best Case: Everything gels, and the Reds emerge as utterly the class of the NL. Mat Latos proves worth the prospect bounty Cincinnati surrendered for him. Sean Marshall and Ryan Madson make the Reds' the best bullpen west of Atlanta. Johnny Cueto and Scott Rolen stay healthy, Brandon Phillips plays his way to a free-agent payday and Joey Votto assembles a cogent MVP case for the third year running. Aroldis Chapman finds his best role during Spring Training and thrives all season. Record: 99-63

    Worst Case: The decision to sign Ryan Ludwick rather than Kosuke Fukudome or Johnny Damon looks silly when both Ludwick and co-left fielder Chris Heisey flail helplessly against right-handed pitching. Bronson Arroyo gives up a ton of homers again, only this time, so does Mat Latos. Madson, Marshall and/or Nick Masset succumb to the vagaries of random chance and the inherent brevity of a reliever's lifespan. Chapman either starts and gets hurt or relieves and never finds the plate. The Reds still contend for the NL Central title. Record: 88-74

Cleveland Indians

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    Best Case: Roberto Hernandez Heredia (nee Fausto Carmona) gains entry to the country and is allowed to pitch in 2012. Derek Lowe eats 180 innings, and the team never has to call on its eighth or ninth starters (which for them would be very ugly). Shin-Soo Choo avoids injury, eludes arrest and remembers how it felt when he hit .348/.412/.609 in August last season. Casey Kotchman saves Asdrubal Cabrera a handful of throwing errors and solidifies the infield defense. That's important, because four of Cleveland's five best starting pitchers are very partial to the ground ball. The bullpen holds up. Record: 91-71

    Worst Case: The choice to re-sign Grady Sizemore backfires, as Sizemore gets hurt early. Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall do not come through as first-time regulars. Closer Chris Perez takes the giant step back his peripheral numbers portend, Heredia gets the red light from either the United States or MLB, and Ubaldo Jimenez fails to round back into some facsimile of his 2010 form. Record: 74-88

Colorado Rockies

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    Best Case: Drew Pomeranz steps up and shows he's ready to lead the rotation during camp. Michael Cuddyer, Casey Blake and Marco Scutaro have as positive an impact on the lineup as they will have on the clubhouse. Senational depth helps the team offset its lack of true quality in the starting rotation, and the team goes as far as their elite bats will carry them. Record: 85-77

    Worst Case: Cuddyer doesn't hit 30 homers. Scutaro and Blake struggle to stay on the field. The Rockies get poor defense in right field, at third base and at second. Pomeranz, Tyler Chatwood and Alex White are not ready, and huge innings go to Jhoulys Chacin, Jeremy Guthrie and Guillermo Moscoso. A bullpen lessened by the losses of Matt Lindstrom and Huston Street finds life tough. Record: 77-85

Detroit Tigers

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    Best Case: Miguel Cabrera plays third base not at all, and he and Prince Fielder focus on obliterating baseballs. Dave Dombrowski sees his window wide open and leaps through it by trading for Matt Garza or a similarly talented hurler. Jose Valverde walks the tightrope again, but with a better safety net this time in Octavio Dotel. Fielder cranks 35-plus homers and walks 100 times. Record: 94-68

    Worst Case: We all actually get subjected to the Cabrera-to-third experiment, and Doug Fister suffers most. Atrocious defense, a natural regression from Justin Verlander, a less timely bullpen and a top-heavy lineup doom Detroit. Fielder fails to figure the AL and Comerica Park as quickly as hoped. Record: 75-87

Houston Astros

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    Best Case: Bud Norris breaks out and fans 25 percent of opposing hitters. Livan Hernandez provides 200 innings at better than replacement value, which proves doubly valuable because Houston then avoids using a bevy of terrible pitchers for some 20 starts. Carlos Lee chases one last contract and clubs 30-plus home runs. New catcher Chris Snyder stays healthy and provides surprising value behind the plate. Record: 70-92

    Worst Case: Wandy Rodriguez finally finds a loving home, and the Astros send him off. A hodgepodge of a lineup without even much defensive upside turns in some of the worst positional play in decades. The 56-win 2011 Astros become a friendly memory. Record: 51-111

Kansas City Royals

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    Best Case: Jonathan Sanchez, who came over in the Melky Cabrera trade that kicked off the winter, strikes out a ton of hitters and watches a lot of fly balls land in the gloves of good fielders. Felipe Paulino breaks out. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain mature together and solidify both the offense and the defense. Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow provide rotational support, and newcomer Jonathan Broxton rounds out an elite bullpen. The weak AL Central helps the team rise quickly. Record: 96-66

    Worst Case: Sanchez and Paulino walk too many batters to become front-line pitchers. Cain, Johnny Giovatella, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez comprise a sensational defensive middle field but fail to hit their weights. Jeff Francoeur catches a broken bat to the chest and sees his return from the grave end the way it usually does for the undead. The youth movement stalls for another year. Record: 73-89

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    Best Case: Albert Pujols and Chris Iannetta fill what were yawning OBP sinkholes in the Halos' lineup. C.J. Wilson provides a sound complement to what was already a solid front half of the rotation, and the incumbents there repeat their excellent 2011 showings. Vernon Wells sees that it's an even-numbered year and hits, at least a little, and the Angels use their resources wisely. Record: 95-67

    Worst Case: Pujols, who had by far his worst season in 2011, continues his decline. Wilson, with just two years of starting experience under his belt, proves a lot of variance can still be found in a two-year sample from a pitcher. Wells stinks and Bobby Abreu stinks, but the team remains committed to them and costs itself runs and wins. The bullpen scuffles, ill-reinforced by the modest acquisition of LaTroy Hawkins. Record: 81-81

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Best Case: Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw reprise their non-pareil performances from 2011, accounting for 15 marginal wins between them. Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano do what they're meant to do by throwing a lot of innings and holding up the tail end of the rotation. Chad Billingsley takes the big forward step for which so many have waited so long. A motley crew around the infield manages to prevent enough runs to be worthwhile, even without producing many. Record: 84-78

    Worst Case: Harang and Capuano get hurt. Jerry Hairston, Adam Kennedy and Mark Ellis add up to one useful regular. The experiment whereby the team plans to play Tony Gwynn's son and Juan Rivera in left field fails as spectacularly as expected. Kemp and Kershaw are still great, though. Record: 76-86

Miami Marlins

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    Best Case: Josh Johnson stays healthy. Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano lend the team depth in the starting pitching department, with Alex Sanabia as a perfectly viable sixth starter. Juan Carlos Oviedo makes it Stateside, and pairs with Heath Bell to dominate at the back of the bullpen. Jose Reyes stays healthy and goes nuts, while the team signs Yoenis Cespedes and get s three good months from him in center field down the stretch. Record: 91-71

    Worst Case: Josh Johnson pitches too little to keep the team in contention. Buehrle begins an inevitable decline because of tepid stuff. Reyes gets hurt; Hanley Ramirez fails to bounce back from a rough 2011. The Heath Bell signing decides not to wait before turning sour. Signing and rushing Cespedes leads to a lot of strikeouts and a disappointing level of production in center field. Zambrano's head comes off or something. Record: 72-90

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Best Case: Ryan Braun plays a full season, saving the offense from derailment. New third baseman Aramis Ramirez swats 30 home runs in a relatively healthy campaign. Improved defense at first base and shortstop help out a solid pitching staff. Zack Greinke has a monster walk year. Record: 92-70

    Worst Case: Braun's suspension holds up, crippling the lineup. The outfield comes to include two of Carlos Gomez, Nyjer Morgan and Norichika Aoki on a daily basis. Alex Gonzalez flops as the new shortstop, his athleticism and range fading and his OBP skills null. Ramirez misses his customary 30 games. A team that got 155 starts from its top five pitchers in 2011 gets 125 in 2012. Record: 79-83

Minnesota Twins

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    Best Case: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau stay healthy, or something like it. Josh Willingham makes it three lethal J-men in the heart of the order. Jamey Carroll finds the clear, cold water of the Upper Midwest to be a fountain of youth, and stays useful. The addition of Jason marquis keeps the team from scraping the bottom of its minor-league barrel often for pitching. Joel Zumaya stays on the mound and wins the closer's job by mid-season. Record: 82-80

    Worst Case: Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Denard Span, Zumaya, Mauer and Morneau have their usual health problems. Willingham suffers the ravages of age, while a number of Twins rookies suffer the ravages of not being all that talented. Record: 66-96

New York Mets

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    Best Case: Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch make the bullpen really, really good. Andres Torres defends center field with sparkling aplomb. Ike Davis and David Wright stay healthy, and Ruben Tejada proves his success filling in for Jose Reyes in 2011 was no fluke. Johan Santana gets healthy and pitches substantial innings. Jon Niese continues to grow into a very good pitcher. Record: 81-81

    Worst Case: Francisco and Rauch are just okay, so they make poor values. The bullpen can't save a starting rotation loaded with uncertainty. The offense, though solid in OBP, never finds a consistent power source. Reyes' presence atop the lineup weighs heavily. The new powerhouse that is the NL East crushes the Mets. Record: 64-98

New York Yankees

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    Best Case: Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda join CC Sabathia in the rotation, and the Yankees rank near the top of the AL in starters' ERA again. Their three-headed monster of right-handed relief shortens games for opponents. The position players create the runs, despite several of them having to fight off age to do so. Record: 101-61

    Worst Case: Pineda finds fly balls much harder to keep inside Yankee Stadium than they were in Seattle. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Kuroda and/or Mariano Rivera go around the bend because of age. Ivan Nova makes predictable steps backward. Record: 85-77

Oakland Athletics

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    Best Case: Run prevention remains Oakland's forte. Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden lead the way, but get plenty of help. Coco Crisp and Jemile Weeks form a strong table-setting duo, though neither will have much behind them for help. Record: 77-85

    Worst Case: A number of non-durable arms in the starting rotation compromise the team's efforts to keep teams off the scoreboard. The bullpen becomes a vacuum after losing Craig Breslow, Brad Ziegler and Andrew Bailey within the last year, and the offense continues to spin its wheels. Record: 67-95

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Best Case: Jonathan Papelbon makes the bullpen slightly better. A full year from Hunter Pence in right field offsets the loss for some stretch of Ryan Howard. Losing Roy Oswalt doesn't dent the team's standing as the best pitching club in the NL, and Domonic Brown wins the left field gig by the All-Star break with great results. Record: 100-62

    Worst Case: Chase Utley, Placido Polanco and Joe Blanton prove their decline and fragility are irrevocable. Papelbon fails to effect much change in what was already a sound relief corps. The improved competition in the division helps drag an aging team back to the pack. Record: 83-79

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Best Case: James McDonald takes a long-awaited step forward. Erik Bedard takes the ball 25 times or more, pitching substantial innings. Clint Barmes hits enough to make his solid shortstop's glove very valuable. Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens sustain success despite being heavily reliant on batted-ball fortunes. Record: 80-82

    Worst Case: Karstens and Morton regress. Bedard gets hurt. The defense fails to cover for pitchers who pitch too much to contact, and the corner infield spots produce nothing offensively. Record: 68-94

San Diego Padres

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    Best Case: Loaded with young talent, the Padres flash their upside. Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, Chase Headley and Yonder Alonso lead an offense that will be very good by PETCO Park standards. Cory Luebke and Edinson Volquez use good stuff to get strikeouts, but pitch boldly enough to avoid walks with the safety net of the ballpark's dimensions at their backs. Record: 84-78

    Worst Case: A large number of the team's best young players turn out ton be a year away from productive contribution. The offense sputters and the middle infield suffers from its age and declining health. Sheer turnover spells a painful transition year. Record: 69-93

San Francisco Giants

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    Best Case: Brandon Belt establishes himself. Buster Posey re-establishes himself post-injury. Pablo Sandoval keeps up his mashing, and newcomers Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera set the table for that trio. Meanwhile, the pitching staff does its thing. Record: 97-65

    Worst Case: Injury bites. Brian Wilson proves to have been a flash in the pan as an elite closer. The back end of the rotation gets rather ugly when Ryan Vogelsong comes back to Earth. Record: 86-76

Seattle Mariners

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    Best Case: Jesus Montero's arrival pays immediate dividends, as he steps up to slug from Day One. Hisashi Iwakuma and Kevin Millwood serviceably hold down rotation spots, and Danny Hultzen is ready to be a mid-rotation guy by July. Dustin Ackley grows into a star. Record: 78-84

    Worst Case: Montero has a painful first trip around the AL. Justin Smoak permanently stalls. Ichiro's alarming decline proves permanent, too. The thin rotation crumbles and the offense remains abysmal. Record: 68-94

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Best Case: Carlos Beltran becomes this year's Lance Berkman, while Berkman maintains his success. Adam Wainwright pitches all season healthy, Chris Carpenter stays healthy and the bullpen repeats its dominance. Record: 91-71

    Worst Case: Beltran and Berkman break down. Matt Holliday misses major time again. The Rafael Furcal signing backfires. Carpenter misses more than 10 starts after a grueling workload in 2011, and the risk-loaded bullpen goes bust. Record: 77-85

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Best Case: Matt Moore emerges right away as a front-line starter, rounding out the AL's best rotation. Carlos Pena beefs up a lineup in which six players could hit at least 20 home runs. The defense continues to make the pitching staff look good, and youth is served. Record: 95-67

    Worst Case: Wade Davis continues his backslide. The holes in the lineup's bottom third pose serious problems, and no rookies arrive to plug them in time. Years of patchwork bullpen construction finally end with a thud. Still, the Rays are deep, and have great top-tier talent. Record: 89-73

Texas Rangers

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    Best Case: Yu Darvish is exactly what the Rangers think eh is. So is Neftali Feliz. The rest of the starting rotation settles into an acceptable rhythm of alternately great and poor starts. The offense mashes, led by Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton. Mitch Moreland proves his second-half slump didn't mean he's a lost cause. Record: 103-59

    Worst Case: Darvish and Feliz look more like back-end starters, putting more pressure on Derek Holland. Napoli struggles in a full-time catching role. Hamilton and Nelson Cruz battle injuries. Michael Young and Joe Nathan prove everyone ages. Record: 83-79

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Best Case: The bullpen overhaul works. A team that blew nine of its 72 ninth-inning leads in 2011 seals up those leaks. Brandon Morrow harnesses his stuff and becomes a co-ace for Ricky Romero. The young Jays' offense gets breakout seasons from Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus, and runs wild. Record: 89-73

    Worst Case: Jose Bautista has a very good year, but no replica of his 2011. The choice to forgo free-agent pitching additions backfires as the rotation collapses. Rasmus never rediscovers the form that made him a top prospect and elite young center fielder in 2010. Record: 73-89

Washington Nationals

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    Best Case: Jordan Zimmermann becomes an ace in the mold of Matt Cain. Stephen Strasburg gives the team his best 160 innings. Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Chien-Ming Wang are so good as to give the Nats the best rotation in a division filled with good ones. Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse carve out enough offense to get by until Bryce Harper arrives at mid-season. Record: 93-69

    Worst Case: Bullpen abuse catches up to Washington, and the addition of Brad Lidge proves insufficient relief. Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond remain stalled and unimpressive. Strasburg uses up his innings early, and Harper never makes it to Washington. Record: 80-82

Split the Difference

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    It's unscientific, but for fun, take the midpoint of each of those ranges. Here are the projected standings based on that system:

    AL EASTAL CENTRALAL WEST
    Yankees- 93-69Royals- 85-77Rangers- 93-69
    Rays- 92-70Tigers- 85-77Angels- 88-74
    Red Sox- 89-73Indians- 82-80Mariners- 73-89
    Blue Jays- 81-81White Sox- 80-82Athletics- 72-90
    Orioles- 70-92Twins- 74-88 
       
    NL EASTNL CENTRALNL WEST
    Phillies- 92-70Reds- 94-68Giants- 93-69
    Nationals- 87-75Brewers- 85-77Diamondbacks- 85-77
    Braves- 86-76Cardinals- 84-78Rockies- 81-81
    Marlins- 82-80Pirates- 74-88Dodgers-80-82
    Mets- 73-89Cubs- 71-91Padres- 77-85
     Astros- 61-101 

    Technically, not enough games are lost in this layout, though it's actually fairly close. The league goes 2,442-2,398 in this scenario, so by changing 22 wins to losses, the scales could be balanced. That's where it's good to know which teams are more likely to reach their best-case scenario for 2012, and which are going to have pretty much the worst season they could.