MLB Predictions 2012: Oakland A's and Dark Horse Playoff Contenders
Each year, an MLB team comes out of left field (not literally) to make a run, competing for a place in October baseball—here are some clubs to watch to do just that.
Amid an attempt by owner Lew Wolff to move the team to San Jose, the Oakland A's don't have a chance at playing late into the year, right?
Not so fast.
The A's have surprised people before (see 1999) and could do it again. With a shipment of young talent like Collin Cowgill and Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland could utilize the new second wild card.
Both the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves performed monumental collapses last year, allowing the Tampa Bay Rays and eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals to squeak into the playoffs on the final day of the season.
Well, Bud Selig liked what he saw, spearheading the change in format to a one-game playoff between two wild cards for the chance to play the divisional winners.
The window is wider for more teams with that change, and these are five teams who could jar it right open.
The Oakland A's May Be No-Names, but They Can Win
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The Oakland A's are just plain known for coming out of nowhere.
Even in 1999—their first winning season since 1992—Oakland's two best pitchers (13-game winner Gil Heredia and 11-game winner Tim Hudson) didn't make significant contributions the year before. From 2000 to 2004, Hudson led the A's to four straight playoff seasons.
That puts the offseason trades of Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez as far less significant than has been speculated.
Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon and Dallas Braden can help heal the supposed wounds of losing those hurlers; plus, the A's have a new crop of prospects, including heralded outfielder Collin Cowgill.
Cowgill is one of six—count 'em, six—capable outfielders on the roster, along with Coco Crisp, Jonny Gomes, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith.
Oh ya, and that guy from Cuba. The A's signed five-tool Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes and his "mentor" Manny Ramirez will join the team after 50 games.
Plus, Bay Area-native and former Manager of the Year Bob Melvin will get a full season in the dugout.
Look for them to surprise some people and make a late summer push at the postseason.
The Cleveland Indians Could Be the Comeback Kids
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The Cleveland Indians made dramatic progress in 2011, probably in part because of the return of Carlos Santana.
With a less heralded knee injury than the one sustained by Buster Posey of San Francisco Giants last season, Santana was out in 2010 but hit 27 dingers a year ago. He could lead a group of comeback kids.
There's Shin-Soo Choo, who played just 85 games last year and fell steeply off of the above-.300 average he held for three years prior. His .259 average should push back up this season if he gets more at-bats.
There's the man we thought went by the name of Fausto Carmona, but was outed as Roberto Heredia, three years older than previously known. The righty added nearly a run and a half to his ERA last year from the season before, but with fewer distractions this year he can get back on pace.
The Indians also have former stud pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, ace Justin Masterson and infielder Asdrubal Cabrera for support in a surprise playoff run.
With Career Years, the Washington Nationals May Shock the Marlins
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Young guns dominate the headlines for the Washington Nationals, beginning with super-prospect Stephen Strasburg.
The Nationals' 2009 first overall pick opens the season for Washington, followed by two other talented young hurlers.
Gio Gonzalez, 26, arrived via Oakland this offseason, and 25-year-old Jordan Zimmermann returns to the rotation after his first full season last year.
The three create a solid core for the pitching rotation that could extend for years to come, and help a squad which hasn't had an above-.500 record since moving to the capitol.
But another Zimmerman(n) has to be a factor. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman must return to his .307-average and 25-home-run form from 2010.
The Nationals also need newcomers Mark DeRosa, Steve Lombardozzi and outfielders Michael Morse and Jayson Werth to produce.
Plus, another super-prospect by the name of Bryce Harper is coming back up to the bigs soon.
The Nationals might shock the newly minted Miami Marlins out of the wild card picture.
For the Milwaukee Brewers, Pitching Is More Important Than Losing Fielder
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Many have counted the Milwaukee Brewers out now that Prince Fielder is a Detroit Tiger.
But those people forget that the Brewers still have the NL MVP and that they relied more heavily on their deep pitching staff than their bats in winning the division last season.
Outfielder Ryan Braun surpassed the steroid ban placed on players who have tested positive, to the chagrin of most.
For Milwaukee fans, however, Braun needed to play so he can be solid after losing Fielder.
The Brewers brought in the bat of Aramis Ramirez, who hit .306 and 26 homers last year, and Braun will have the help of fellow outfielders Nyjer Morgan and Corey Hart.
The strength of the team is with the rotation, though. All five return, and all five finished with winning records in 2011. Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo will be great again, and Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson close out a great five.
With the league's second best strikeout-to-walk ratio last year (2.9-to-1), the hurlers will determine the run Milwaukee can make at the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Dodgers Will Capture Magic Behind Johnson
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Magic Johnson & Co. just bought the Los Angeles Dodgers, and magic will follow.
Despite all kinds of distractions last year via the ownership problems, the Dodgers finished with a winning record (82-79). Now Los Angeles is free of that mental strain, and a year further into the management of Don Mattingly.
The skipper has a decent crop of newcomers, from infielders Mark Ellis and Adam Kennedy to pitchers Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano.
All are veterans who will only add to a solid lineup that includes NL MVP runner-up Matt Kemp.
The outfielder had a career year in 2011, smashing 39 home runs and batting .324—his best in a full season in the majors.
Joining him in the outfield is Andre Ethier, who leveled out at a .292 average (both of the past two years), but dropped his homer total by 12, from 23 in 2010 to 11 in 2011. If he improves, the Dodgers will get the run production they need.
Then, of course, there's the pitching staff, beginning with NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.
The lefty posted a 2.28 ERA last year, but the rest of the staff will have to learn to lower theirs this year.
Harang and Capuano will help that, as the Dodgers will push the likely division winners—either the Giants or the Diamondbacks—and make a run at the two wild card spots.