MLB Predictions 2012: Tampa Bay and Dark Horse Contenders for the World Series

Brandon Taylor @@btthechamp Correspondent IMarch 28, 2012

MLB Predictions 2012: Tampa Bay and Dark Horse Contenders for the World Series

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    The MLB season officially kicked off this morning in Japan, so it is time to start talking about who will be playing deep into October. This offseason was one of the most intriguing in years, and it has left baseball fans with a lot to discuss.

    As far as the World Series goes, the Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Angels are probably the favorites in the American League. In the National League, you have the Phillies (if they can stay healthy) and the Braves as top contenders.

    There are a lot of teams that could potentially make a deep run into October. Here is a look at five teams that are just below the elite level, but could shock some people and make it to the World Series.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Rays have four pitchers on their staff with All-Star-level stuff. That alone makes them a threat to win the American League.

    They have one of the best players in baseball in third baseman Evan Longoria and other All-Stars in Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist. The key to this team is if B.J. Upton can have a career year and what they get out of free-agent signings Luke Scott and returnee Carlos Pena.

    There are also questions about their bullpen, but they could address those at the trade deadline.

Chicago White Sox

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    This sounds crazy, but if fading stars like Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy and Alex Rios can turn back the clock for one season, the White Sox have a chance.

    Robin Ventura will give players a fresh voice to listen to. Maybe he can get Rios and Dunn out of their respective funks.

    Chris Sale is the wild card. If he makes the transition to starter effectively, the White Sox could have a guy who, stuff-wise, can compete against anybody.

    Gordon Beckham needs a bounce-back year, and Dayan Viciedo needs to have a good season so fans can forget about Carlos Quentin.

Washington Nationals

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    The best pitching staff in the National League East may not be the Phillies this season. The Nationals could send three or four pitchers to the All-Star Game.

    Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez could be two of the 11 or 12 best starters in the league this year. On top of that, you throw in Edwin Jackson and Jordan Zimmermann.

    Tyler Clippard is the best setup man in the National League, and closer Drew Storen could be elite this season. The Nationals signed Brad Lidge for insurance.

    This team will be very dangerous if Ryan Zimmerman can stay healthy for the entire season and Mike Morse backs up the season that he had last year. Oh yeah, then there is the fact that some kid named Bryce Harper should be an everyday player by July.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    The defending World Champions are dark horses? Yes, if Chris Carpenter is injured for most of the season. The Cards also lost some guy named Albert Pujols.

    Yeah, I know it shouldn't be that big of a loss, but seriously, the Cardinals' season is dependent on a lot of question marks.

    Can Adam Wainwright become that guy again who was a 20-game winner? Do Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran have enough left to replicate their seasons from last year? Is the bullpen good enough?

    The National League Central is wide open, so if a few of those questions get answered with an emphatic "yes," then the Cardinals could make another run.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    No team stands to gain more from the new wild card rule than the Blue Jays, who, if they were playing in another division, would be a perennial playoff team every year.

    Ricky Romero is an ace, and there are other good pitchers behind him. Sergio Santos could become a top closer, and the Jays signed Francisco Cordero just in case things don't work out with Santos.

    The Blue Jays have a potential All-Star catcher in J.P. Arencibia, who hit 23 home runs last season, but his average was only .219. Brett Lawrie could be one of the best players in the game by the end of this season.

    It's going to be tough with three other playoff teams in their division, but the Blue Jays have enough talent around Jose Bautista to finally break through and get to October.