Major League Baseball Players Under the Most Pressure to Perform in 2012

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIFebruary 19, 2012

Major League Baseball Players Under the Most Pressure to Perform in 2012

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    With the 2012 Major League Baseball season closing in, each team will look for specific players to step up or bounce back from a season ago to help their team succeed.

    While some players and teams will be under more scrutiny than others, fan expectations are always present with the fresh start associated with a new campaign.

    Here’s one player (or group of players) from each MLB team that will face the most scrutiny, as well as the most pressure to perform throughout the 2012 season.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Miguel Montero

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    A season ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks surprised a lot of people (including their own fans) when they won the NL West.

    Behind a plethora of young talent, mixed with some valuable veteran leadership (NL Manager of the Year Kirk Gibson included), they captured their division by an eight-game margin over the San Francisco Giants.

    Last year, Justin Upton led the D-Backs offensively in nearly every offensive category—runs (105), batting average (.289), home runs (31), RBI (88), hits (171); the list goes on and on.

    However, a team with just one offensive producer can’t win a division.

    The D-Backs were the definition of “team effort” a season ago (mainly due to Gibson’s great coaching). For Arizona to succeed again this year, that mantra will have to continue.

    I believe this starts with catcher Miguel Montero.

    Montero was a late addition to the National League All-Star roster a season ago for his great play both at and behind the plate. He finished second on the team in RBIs, with 86 runs batted in. The Venezuelan catcher was an offensive force for Arizona, acting as Upton’s wingman.

    The fact that the D-Backs have that team effort going for them should take a bit of the pressure off of Montero. But at the same time, they need him to perform at a high level again if they hope to defend their division title. Especially since the Giants now have a healthy Buster Posey.

San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey

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    A season after winning the World Series four games to one against the Texas Rangers, the San Francisco Giants failed to make the playoffs in 2011.

    Injuries happen, and you hate for them to be the scapegoat of any lost season, but Buster Posey played in just 45 games in 2011 before he went down to a brutal ankle injury at home plate. The Giants only missed winning the NL West by eight games. It’s logical to think that with Posey healthy, they had a better shot to compete with the Diamondbacks down the stretch.

    I asked my friend Charlie (a diehard Giants fan) who he thought would be under the most pressure for his favorite team this upcoming season. He gave me the following response:

    “I’d say, in general, the Giants pitching staff. They’re always going to have to carry the load.” He added that unless Tim Lincecum and company perform at a high level, they won’t be competing because of their anemic offense.

    In my opinion, this is all the more reason why Posey is put under the pressure of being one of the key contributors on offense. The Giants pitching staff has been great on a consistent basis; the same can’t be said for their offense.

    Posey, along with teammates Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt, will have to put runs up on the board to help their great pitching win games.

    So yes, the Giants pitching staff will be under their constant pressure to be as good as they have been. However, with the expectations that stem from Posey coming back healthy this season, it’s hard to ignore how many eyes will be watching his performance in 2012.

Colorado Rockies: Starting Pitchers

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    There was certainly no shortage of offensive production for the Colorado Rockies a season ago. One would expect that—with them playing half of their games in the altitude of Coors Field—but they were really quite impressive.

    The Rockies ranked seventh in baseball in runs and on-base percentage, as well as ninth in batting average. Troy Tulowitzki had a fantastic year offensively (.302 average, 30 homers and 105 RBI), and although Carlos Gonzalez regressed a bit from his amazing 2010 season in which he hit .336 with 34 homers and 117 RBI, he was still an offensive force.

    The Rockies pitching was an entirely different story.

    The team’s best pitcher statistically a season ago was Jhoulys Chacin, who went 11-14 with a 3.62 ERA. Chacin was a pleasant surprise for the Rockies, but outside of his 2011 performance, the team truly struggled.

    Recently, the Rockies made a move to acquire Jeremy Guthrie from the Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately for Rockies fans, I don’t think that Guthrie will be the answer to the Rockies pitching woes going into the 2012 season.

    Overall, the Rockies will need more pleasant surprises like Chacin was last year if they are going to have a hope of competing with the Giants and Diamondbacks in the NL West.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Kemp's Supporting Cast

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    Matt Kemp was nothing short of outstanding in 2011. He hit .324 with 39 homers, 126 RBIs, 40 stolen bases and a .986 OPS—the guy was an absolute machine. In my opinion, he should have won the National League MVP award.

    Despite Kemp's stellar season, his supporting cast, outside of Clayton Kershaw, struggled around him.

    The most notable of Dodgers players who didn’t meet expectations last season were Andre Ethier and James Loney. Those two players combined to hit just 23 homers; Kemp alone hit 39. Ethier and Loney combined to knock in 127 runs; Kemp knocked in 126 by himself.

    Both of these players need to be a bigger part of the offense if the team is going to succeed. They have to step up and take some of the load off of Kemp’s shoulders.

    Ethier struggled by his standards last season with just 11 homers and 62 RBI, but he is no stranger to having impressive offensive years. 

    In 2009, he hit 31 homers while knocking in 106 runs. In 2010, he hit 23 homers and knocked in 82 runs.

    If he can return to having that type of performance at the plate, the Dodgers will be seen as a much better offensive team.

    As for Loney, performing well this season should help put his recent past behind him.

    The bottom line is simple; if the Dodgers want to be competitive with other teams in the NL West, Kemp and Kershaw can’t be the only two players to post impressive numbers.

San Diego Padres: Management

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    The 2012 San Diego Padres will look like a shell of the 2011 Padres.

    Heath Bell: Taking his talents to South Beach.

    Aaron Harang: Off to L.A..

    Mat Latos: Traded to Cincy.

    There's going to be a lot of changes in San Diego.

    The team leader in home runs for the Padres a season ago led the team with a pathetic 11 home-runs. Guess who held that team-high last season. Go ahead. I can wait...

    The answer: Ryan Ludwick. Ryan Ludwick! The guy was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates midseason! How did someone who played 101 games with a team lead that team in any statistic? Let alone in round-trippers!

    Things are bad right now for Padres fans.

    As a result, the "player" who's under the most pressure is General Manager Josh Byrnes.

    At this point, Padres fans have no choice but to trust the rebuilding process put forth by the front office.

    Maybe the players on the roster can thrive under low expectations.

Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun

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    Who would have thought that the reigning National League MVP would be under such intense scrutiny this season? Well, that was before Ryan Braun tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

    While Braun has appealed the positive test, whether or not he will be able to play come opening day remains a big question mark.

    If Braun's appeal is successful, he will be able to play on opening day for the Brew Crew. If not, he'll miss the first 50 games of the season. That would potentially cripple the Brewers' chances of competing in the NL Central in 2012.

    Braun is one of the few players on this list who faces both the scrutiny of fans and the pressure of leading his team with another MVP-caliber performance. 

    He faces the added pressure of carrying his team even more so than he did a season ago. This year, he won't have Prince Fielder shouldering some of the load, as he signed with the Detroit Tigers.

    Needless to say, Braun will have a lot on his mind going into the 2012 season.

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Beltran

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    As unfair as it is, Carlos Beltran will be under the added pressure of "replacing" Albert Pujols in St. Louis. Beltran knows that all he can do is play his game and try to contribute to an already talented team, but there's going to be that undertone of "we lost Pujols and gained Beltran" hanging over his head.

    I still think that the Cardinals have a great shot at making the postseason again, even without Pujols on the roster. However, a lot of that will depend upon the health of Beltran and the contributions he's able to make.

    Getting Adam Wainwright back from his elbow injury should help take the pressure off of the offense in the absence of the greatest hitter in baseball.

Cincinnati Reds: Pitching Staff

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    Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are going to perform at the plate. Jay Bruce is poised to have another big year after popping a team-high 32 homers last season. If Drew Stubbs can cut down on his whiffs (205 strikeouts a year ago) and raise his batting average along with Bruce, the Reds will have an even more formidable top of the batting order.

    The pressure to perform in Cincinnati falls on the pitching staff.

    Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto and new-addition Mat Latos will need to anchor the Reds starting rotation through quality starts in 2012.

    The offseason was kind to the Reds leading up to the 2012 season. Albert Pujols left the St. Louis Cardinals for the American League, while Prince Fielder also went the AL route, signing a deal with the Detroit Tigers. Those two events leave the NL Central wide open for the Reds.

    If Cincy can put all of the pieces together this year and play the way they're capable of playing, they should win this division.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates' up-and-down season a year ago can be summed up through the stats of Andrew McCutchen.

    In the month of June last season, McCutchen heated up with the weather, hitting .347 with a .447 on-base percentage. In September, he hit a paltry .171.

    McCutchen has all of the tools to be a fantastic player. A year ago, he sported a .364 on-base percentage for the season while hitting 23 homers and stealing 23 bases. But for the Pirates to succeed going forward, he needs to establish himself as a leader who can play with more consistency. Hitting .347 in June and .171 in September isn't going to cut it.

    I believe that if McCutchen can play more consistent baseball, it will rub off on his teammates and lead to stringing together more wins.

    While the Pirates certainly surprised a lot of people in 2011, it's evident that they're still a young team that struggled at times throughout the season.

    Nonetheless, if the Pirates keep doing what they're doing by adding talent around their young(ish) core of McCutchen, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones, they'll have some winning seasons in the near future.

Chicago Cubs: Starlin Castro

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    I know Starlin Castro tallied 207 hits last season. I know he hit .307 and made the All-Star team. But Castro needs to grow up.

    At one point last season, the Cubs shortstop was spotted facing the wrong way in the field while a pitch was being delivered to the plate. I haven't seen antics like that since watching my little brother's tee-ball games years ago.

    Someone needs to tell Castro that baseball is his job. He gets paid to take the field for every game and to perform to the best of his ability.

    While Castro impressed at the plate last season, his defense did the complete opposite. After committing 27 errors in 2010, Castro continued his woeful defense with 29 errors a season ago. That's not even good enough for a bronze glove in my opinion.

    He was a major contributor toward the Cubs committing 134 errors in 2011, 18 more than any other National League team.

    Don't get me wrong, Castro is a great baseball player, but I can only imagine how good he'd be if he actually cared (especially on defense).

    If you're a Cubs fan, and you aren't scrutinizing Castro at this point, you should at least be somewhat critical.

    Cubs fans can take solace in the fact that Theo Epstein is now the team's general manager.

Houston Astros: Everybody

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    The Houston Astros are at the bottom of the barrel talent-wise in the MLB. There simply isn’t a nice way of putting it. Short of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio coming out of retirement to take the reins once again, the Astros seem destined to finish in last place.

    The 2012 season will likely be the Astros' last in the National League. With new ownership, the team will move to the American League West division in 2013.

    I like the move on the basis of having each division in the MLB contain five teams.

    Regardless of league symmetry, however, no matter what division the Astros are in, it’s likely they’ll struggle as a franchise into the foreseeable future.

Philadelphia Phillies: Meet Expectations

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    We go from a team with pressure on everyone—from the players, to the coaches, to the front office—to a team that really isn't under any pressure... at least at first glance.

    If the Philadelphia Phillies can play the way they have been for years, they should have no trouble making the postseason again.

    Yet, in a way, that in itself is pressure. Everyone who watches baseball expects the Phillies to be one of the best teams, if not the best team in the majors—and for good reason. The Phillies did win 102 games last season (the most of any team in Major League Baseball).

    The solution? Meet expectations.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your viewpoint), the expectations for the Phillies far exceed success during the regular season. If the Phils don't succeed in the postseason as well, their season is viewed by many as a failure.

    Will they relish that pressure? Only time will tell, but I'd certainly like my chances with a roster that has Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward

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    Jason Heyward took the baseball community by storm his rookie year. If you remember, he hit a homer in his first MLB at bat. But since the Cinderella beginning to Heyward's career that included the majority of his rookie season, Heyward has struggled.

    He regressed in every offensive category in 2011 and a lot of that had to do with his inability to hit left-handed pitching effectively.

    In 2011, Heyward batted just .192 with only two home runs against left-handed pitching. Against right-handers, he hit .240 with 12 homers.

    Despite Heyward's noticeable decline a season ago, the Braves were still able to rely on Dan Uggla, Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman to lead the charge offensively.

    Heyward will no doubt be under the microscope again this season. As opposing coaches learn how to attack him, Heyward needs to be able to make adjustments, especially when facing left-handed pitching.

Washington Nationals: Jayson Werth

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    For the 2011 season, it would be extremely difficult to justify Jayson Werth's payroll.

    Despite making more than $10.5 million last season alone, Werth didn't lead the Washington Nationals in a single offensive category.

    Werth batted .232 (well below his career average of .264) and struck out a career-high 160 times in 150 games played.

    Overall, the Nationals seem to be on the right track toward becoming a contender. But with so much money invested in Werth going into the future, the pressure is certainly going to be on him to perform moving forward.

New York Mets: David Wright

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    Now that two of the Mets top producers from a season ago (Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran) are elsewhere, the pressure will be on David Wright to step up in their absence.

    The timing could not be better for Wright, as the Mets are planning to shrink the gargantuan dimensions of Citi Field next season.

    (Sidenote: I never understood why they made Citi Field so comically huge to begin with. One of the Mets best players at the time of the move was Wright, a power-hitting right-handed batter. Not only was the outfield fence far away, but the fence was really high. Expecting him to pop 30 homers in that stadium is just plain unfair. You could even tell in video games... would you want to play a home run derby in Citi Field? I didn't think so.)

    Since the move to Citi Field in 2009, Wright just hasn't seemed like the same player. Here are some of his stats for reference; Citi Field stats are in bold:

    2006: .311 average, 26 homers, 116 RBI.

    2007: .325 average, 30 homers, 107 RBI.

    2008: .302 average, 33 homers, 124 RBI.

    2009: .307 average, 10 homers, 72 RBI.

    2010: .283 average, 29 homers, 103 RBI.

    2011: .254 average, 14 homers, 61 RBI.

    The new dimensions of Citi Field should cater to Wright's strengths next season. To be honest, I'm surprised it took this long to change them.

    Nevertheless, the Mets are going to rely heavily on Wright's offensive production next season, which should bounce back. If he doesn't produce, it will be another long year for Mets fans.

Miami Marlins: Hanley Ramirez

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    The new-look Miami Marlins have a shot at being really good this season. That's if Ozzie Guillen can get one player in particular to buy in to his plan—moving Hanley Ramirez over to third base.

    Recently, what seemed to be an issue heading into the 2012 season has taken a 180-degree turn. An article from chronicles Ramirez's response to a piece in a Dominican newspaper that took a shot at Ramirez's situation with the team. Basically, Franklin Mirabal's piece that started it all says that the Jose Reyes signing was a way to ostracize Ramirez and to eventually move him elsewhere.

    Ramirez tweeted a response to the Dominican writer, saying, "Trying to soil my image with lies. Third base with the Marlins forever, baby."

    In effect, Ramirez got a fire lit under him by one of the most unlikely sources—a writer for a Dominican newspaper. But if that's what it takes to get Ramirez to embrace his new role, I think Marlins fans will take it.

    That's a scary left side of the infield for the rest of the MLB to face.

Texas Rangers: Josh Hamilton

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    Josh Hamilton has shown during this offseason that even one of the most inspiring sports stories in baseball's recent memory is still a work in progress.

    Hamilton's recent relapse with alcohol has spread an early dark cloud over his 2012 season. So much of the Rangers offensive success can be attributed to Hamilton over the years; the Rangers would hate to have a moment of weakness ruin that.

    Regardless of what happens in the weeks leading up to the season, you can be sure that Hamilton has a lot of people in his corner. Rangers fans will undoubtedly show continued support for Hamilton as he continues his ongoing fight with addiction.

    Despite the negativity surrounding all Hamilton-associated news of late, he's still one of the best hitters in baseball. If he can focus on nothing but that, I expect him to have another great season in 2012. 

Los Angeles Angels: Vernon Wells

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    Although all eyes will undoubtedly be on Albert Pujols in his first season for the Halos, Vernon Wells has to be under the most scrutiny for the 2012 campaign.

    In 2011, Wells hit just .218 with an embarrassing .248 on-base percentage. Terrible numbers for a guy who made well over $26 million last season.

    Wells did manage to hit 25 homers, but he only tallied 66 RBIs.

    He joins the list of players in 2011 who underperformed in their first year with a new team (see: Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, etc.).

    With a lot of the pressure eliminated via the addition of Pujols, Wells should be able to relax this year and return to his usual form.

    He better, considering how much he's getting paid.

Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes

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    The jury is certainly out on Yoenis Cespedes. There is certainly no shortage of opinions regarding the Cuban outfielder at this point. Some teams felt he was too much of a gamble to give big money to; the A's felt he was worth the calculated risk.

    Oakland signed Cespedes to a four-year, $36-million deal. Apparently Brad Pitt... I'm sorry, I mean Billy Beane, saw enough of him to think he's worth that kind of money.

    However, I think there's something fishy going on when the big-market teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox aren't bidding on a foreign talent.

    Only time will tell with Cespedes. At least A's fans have someone to look forward to watching next season. 

Seattle Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki

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    The Seattle Mariners ranked dead last in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 2011. Although it's totally unwarranted and unfair to blame the poor production on the face of the franchise, Ichiro struggled by his standards a season ago.

    Last season marked the first year in Ichiro's major league career where he didn't hit over .300 (and he missed it by a wide margin at .272).

    It's hard to figure why his batting average dropped over 30 points from a season before when you take into account he only struck out 69 times. Maybe it was just a case of getting unlucky and hitting the ball right at guys for the majority of the season.

    Regardless, if the Mariners want to have any shot at playoff contention, Ichiro will have to carry (and I do mean carry) the load offensively.

    I wouldn't be shocked to see the Mariners trade Ichiro at some point in 2012 to continue the rebuilding process. Of course, they'll only pull the trigger if they can get adequate value in return.

    Even though the Seattle faithful would be sad to see him go, Ichiro deserves a shot at playing for a championship contender at this point in his career.

Detroit Tigers: Prince Fielder

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    I wouldn't exactly call this "pressure." It's more just a case of the fans' lofty expectations. And why shouldn't there be? 

    The Detroit Tigers won their division last year by 15 games without Prince Fielder. With Fielder? This division could turn into a bloodbath.

    I expect the Tigers to waltz to a division title this season.

    The real pressure will come to fruition come playoff time. There's certainly no lack of talent in the American League, but the Tigers have to be among the favorites with their stacked offense and Justin Verlander leading the pitching charge.

Cleveland Indians: Carlos Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez

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    No, not the famous guitarist.

    Carlos Santana quietly had a very impressive "rookie" year (I guess you could call it his rookie year, although he did play 46 games in 2010).

    He hit a team-leading 27 homers last season, and although he didn't hit for a solid average (just .239), I'll look for him to build off of last year's effort and improve.

    If Santana can continue his success next year as the lineup's power threat, the Cleveland Indians may shake things up and stay competitive like they did last season. If he regresses and has the infamous sophomore slump, the Indians will probably struggle.

    There's also a lot of question marks for the Indians starting pitching staff. Justin Masterson was the only consistent starter for the Tribe last season. Hell, I don't even know what Fausto Carmona's name is anymore...

    The Indians did trade for Ubaldo Jimenez last season, but after being so dominant for the Colorado Rockies, he hasn't been able to find his game of late.

    If Jimenez can return to his All-Star form, it will vastly improve this team's starting rotation.

Chicago White Sox: Adam Dunn

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    The Chicago White Sox seem to be stuck in limbo between trying to remain competitive in the AL Central and a full-blown rebuilding mode (although they'll just deny that). 

    Two moves in particular that exemplify this limbo from the offseason: they re-signed John Danks and traded All-Star outfielder Carlos Quentin to the San Diego Padres in exchange for prospects.

    The White Sox are certainly one of the biggest enigmas going into the 2012 season.

    With that said, perhaps nobody in the majors needs a bounce-back year quite like Adam Dunn.

    The Chisox will be relying upon are stuck with Dunn for another season. After the worst season of his career by far—.159 average, 11 homers, 42 RBIs—it appears that things can’t possibly get worse for the big lefty.

    Dunn is going to strikeout a lot (he’s been called out on strikes over 150 times in every season since his rookie year). But usually Dunn counters that by sporting a huge on-base percentage, threatening opposing pitchers to walk him.

    Last season was the first in his 11-year career where he didn’t have an on-base percentage over .350; his was only .292, that's a colossal drop in production.

    Dunn is certainly going to be a player to watch going into the 2012 season. Can he overcome the scrutiny from fans after an overall terrible year? You can be sure that White Sox fans would love to see him back to his usual form of smacking 40 homers.

Kansas City Royals: Starting Pitchers

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    You wouldn't know it by the Royals overall record of 71-91 (fourth in the AL Central), but KC had a very solid offensive team in 2011.

    The Royals were fourth in the league in batting average (.275), eighth in on-base percentage (.329) and tenth in runs (730). Unfortunately, the Royals' anemic pitching rotation prevented them from competing a season ago.

    When your team's ace is Bruce Chen (no offense to Chen), it's evident that your starting rotation lacks some gusto.

    Chen led the Royals pitching staff in wins last season with 12 despite starting just 25 games. Chen's 3.77 ERA was also the best among Royals starters.

    Luke Hochevar (11-11, 4.68 ERA) and Jeff Francis (6-16, 4.82 ERA) both struggled and, as a result, so did the team.

    Adding Jonathan Sanchez is a step in the right direction toward fixing the team's woeful pitching. 

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau

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    Injuries totally derailed the Twins' chances a season ago. The AL Central team that's seemingly always in the playoff hunt finished their division in last place in 2011 with a 63-99 record.

    Joe Mauer played in only 82 games last year. Not only that, but in those 82 games, he only had 18 extra-base hits (three of them homers). It was obvious that Mauer was suffering through a down year.

    Justin Morneau played just 69 games and hit .227.

    Both of those players will be under the pressure of returning Minnesota Twins baseball back to relevancy in 2012. Mauer and Morneau certainly have the talent to do that, but a lot of it will depend upon how healthy they'll be.

New York Yankees: Alex Rodriguez

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    A lot can be said about the New York Yankees pitching woes a season ago. However, I think the Yankees did a good job of addressing that this offseason.

    Alex Rodriguez is the Yankee who should no doubt be under the most scrutiny heading into the 2012 season.

    Rodriguez's 2011 salary was $30 million. Despite the injuries A-Rod had, he wasn't even worth half that amount last season. He batted .276 and hit only 16 homers.

    J.P. Arencibia, Danny Espinosa and Miguel Olivo are just some of the players who hit more homers than Rodriguez a season ago. The total 2011 salary for those three players combined was $3,332,400. A-Rod made nearly ten times that amount.

    For a guy who is getting paid more than anyone else on the Yankees roster, underperforming shouldn't be an option. He'll be under a lot of pressure to perform in 2012 after a down year last season.

Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria

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    As Evan Longoria goes, so go the Tampa Bay Rays.

    Longoria is a huge reason for the Rays' recent success. Although they were basically gift-wrapped a trip to the postseason by the Boston Red Sox in 2011, Longoria continued to thrive in his leadership role despite his own bout with injury.

    I guess you could argue that Longoria had a down year a season ago—at least by his standards. He hit just .244, but sported a .355 on-base percentage and bombed 31 homers. I bet that every player in Major League Baseball would love to call that a "down year."

    Getting Carlos Pena back may help take some pressure off Longoria, but he'll still be expected to lead the charge if they're going to make it back to the playoffs.

Boston Red Sox: Carl Crawford

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    Were you expecting anyone else?

    Scrutiny doesn't even begin to describe the scope of what Carl Crawford will be under in 2012.

    After signing a huge contract with the Boston Red Sox prior to the 2011 season, Crawford had pretty lofty expectations—and for good reason. He made a living with the Tampa Bay Rays by torching the Red Sox every time he played them.

    Crawford had a career-low .255 batting average in 2011 and only stole 18 bases. In 2010 for the Rays, he stole 47 bases, and the year before that, he stole a whopping 60 bags. He simply wasn't the same player in 2011 for the Red Sox.

    The worst part for Crawford is that he may not even get a chance to redeem himself on opening day after undergoing wrist surgery in the offseason. What a mess.

    Maybe Bobby Valentine can turn his fortunes around.

Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista

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    Jose Bautista is the Toronto Blue Jays offense.

    The face of the franchise led the team offensively in batting average, homers, RBIs, on-base percentage, hits and walks—overall, another gargantuan year for Bautista.

    If the Blue Jays are going to have any hope of competing in the stacked AL East, Bautista will have to carry the load offensively yet again.

    I just don't think the Jays have enough talent around him to make a playoff push.

Baltimore Orioles: Pitching

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    Last in the majors in ERA, last in quality starts, last in WHIP—the Baltimore Orioles were just plain bad on the mound last year.

    The problem seems to have been magnified recently in the eyes of fans with the trade of last year's opening day starter Jeremy Guthrie.

    To be honest, I don't understand the outrage from some fans after the trade. It's not like Guthrie was a proven ace last season. He lost 17 games for the O's with a lackluster 4.33 ERA.

    Were the Orioles going to make the playoffs with Guthrie? No. Will they make the playoffs after the trade of Guthrie? No.

    The O's seem to be trapped in the MLB cellar along with the Houston Astros, and it certainly doesn't help that they're stuck in one of the league's most potent divisions.