The conclusion of my 2012 MLB Preview ends with a prediction of who will take home the 2012 World Series. Here, we will go round by round to analyze who could walk away with the hardware come October.
Before we do that, here are the winners from the rest of my preview (aka who will play in October).
National League East Champion - Philadelphia Phillies (The experience and depth of this team will be too much for the others in the NL East to keep up with).
National League Central Champion - Cincinnati Reds (The one prediction I already wish I could take back due to Ryan Madson's elbow injury, but I'll follow through here).
National League West Champion - Arizona Diamondbacks (The Diamondbacks' young core gets even better in 2012 and finds their way into the postseason).
National League Wild Card No. 1 - San Francisco Giants (The return of Buster Posey should give the Giants some offense and they'll try to recapture some October magic).
National League Wild Card No. 2 - Washington Nationals (Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper lead the Nationals to their first playoff berth in Washington).
American League East Champion - Tampa Bay Rays (With questions in New York and Boston, the Rays may have the most stable organization in the division).
American League Central Champion - Detroit Tigers (The Tigers roar with the addition of Prince Fielder and breeze through the Central).
American League West Champion - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Albert Pujols helps the Angels nick the Rangers for their first division championship since 2009).
American League Wild Card No. 1 - New York Yankees (They're still the Yankees, and they're still better than the Red Sox. Sorry, Boston).
American League Wild Card No. 2 - Texas Rangers (The Angels and Rangers will beat on each other, but both teams will find a way into the playoffs).
On paper if this game happened, it would probably be an epic pitching matchup between Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg and San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum. In reality, it's more of an "Oh, wait." moment.
The Nationals will attempt to limit Strasburg's innings again in 2012 as he is in his second season after Tommy John surgery. In this scenario, it would be interesting if the Nationals would actually shut Strasburg down in a pennant chase. For the sake of a good argument, let's say they do.
Without Strasburg, the Nationals would likely lean on Gio Gonzalez to start a one-game playoff. While Gonzalez is a talented pitcher capable of winning such a game, Lincecum is better.
The Giants would have the better record and home-field advantage in my predictions so I would have to go with them to advance to the NLDS.
Prediction: San Francisco Giants
In what would be a rematch of the 2010 American League Championship Series, you could really go either way on which team has home-field advantage.
Because of the lineup and normal track record of success, we'll say that the Yankees come up just short of the Tampa Bay Rays who will have the second-best record in the American League. That would give them home-field advantage as I believe the Angels will have the third-best record in the AL.
With the game at Yankee Stadium, the matchup for the game would likely be CC Sabathia against Colby Lewis. This looks like an extreme mismatch on paper, but there's also the chance that Japanese rookie Yu Darvish impresses and gets the assignment. For now, we'll stick with Lewis.
The pitching seems to lean toward the Yankees, but the Rangers lineup could pose more of a threat to Sabathia than the Yankees could to Lewis.
Yes, the game is being played at Yankee Stadium where the Bronx Bombers crank home runs with wreckless abandon. However, I think Texas still has that bad taste in their mouth from the past two postseasons and advance to the ALDS to face the Detroit Tigers.
Prediction: Texas Rangers
The idea of having the Philadelphia Phillies as the top seed in the NL seems crazy right now, but I'm thinking of the team they could possibly have in October.
The Phillies are currently dealing with the recovery of Ryan Howard, an injured Chase Utley and Roy Halladay who hasn't been performing well in the spring. However, the World Series is not played in March.
With these three back and healthy in the Phillies lineup, they should be able to score more than the San Francisco Giants' meager lineup even with Buster Posey anchoring the middle.
Two years ago, the Giants stunned the Phillies by getting some production from unlikely sources en route to the World Series Championship. In 2012, I don't believe they'll be able to capture that same magic.
Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies over San Francisco Giants in five games.
The Cincinnati Reds are the one prediction I wish I could take back, but since I already picked them I have to ride things out here.
The reason I'm so down on the Reds is the loss of Ryan Madson. Sure, last year could have been a fluke in Philadelphia but what do the Reds do now that he's gone?
The loss of Madson shakes things down to the core as Aroldis Chapman now goes back to the bullpen to set up for Sean Marshall. Marshall is a pretty good setup man, but sometimes those players can't adjust to the pressure of the ninth inning.
That could doom the Reds even if they do manage to win the NL Central.
In this matchup, the Diamondbacks and Reds could put on a decent show. However, the Diamondbacks are a team that should continue to get better. They added Trevor Cahill over the offseason and that gives them one more arm to compete in a playoff series.
(I haven't mentioned Trevor Bauer who should be up by the time October rolls around.)
The Diamondbacks are a team on the rise, and a team that has experience from last year's crushing defeat against the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS. They should be wiser, and they should defeat the Reds in the NLDS.
Prediction: Arizona Diamondbacks over Cincinnati Reds in four games
The Rangers would go from a 2010 ALCS rematch to a 2011 ALCS rematch in this scenario as they would travel to Detroit to face the Tigers.
The Rangers rotation remains suspect heading into this matchup. Even with Lewis pitching the Wild Card Game, the Rangers would need either Neftali Feliz or Yu Darvish to step up and pitch Game 1 vs. the Tigers.
It would be a huge challenge no matter who the Game 1 starter would be, as they would have to face Justin Verlander twice. In a five-game series, the two losses to Verlander would be very hard to overcome.
As of right now, I don't see the Rangers having the pitching to keep up with the Tigers, and Detroit would wind up winning in four games.
Prediction: Detroit Tigers over Texas Rangers in four games.
What propels the Tampa Bay Rays to the No. 2 seed? Pitching...and lots of it.
When you look at the team, the Rays have the same closer problems as the Cincinnati Reds do. There's one huge difference in this: It's the guy pushing the buttons.
Joe Maddon has gotten the Rays from a toiling franchise into one of the best systems in baseball. The players there know what to expect from Maddon, and Maddon knows how to get what he wants out of the players. It's a great relationship.
Their postseason test in 2012 would be Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels lineup should have some pop in it with Mike Trumbo and Pujols providing great anchors in the middle of the lineup.
However, the difference for the Rays is again the pitching. A matchup like this could provide some very solid duels as David Price would take on Jered Weaver, James Shields would face C.J. Wilson and so on.
It would be very entertaining to see this play out, and the Rays are just deep enough to squeak out in a five-game classic.
Prediction: Tampa Bay Rays over Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in five games.
Sometimes youth can take a torch and run with it. That's what I see happening with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Phillies are that juggernaut team that the entire National League will have a target on in 2012. The Diamondbacks would love to be the team that takes them out, and they actually have the talent to do it.
With the Phillies' three aces (Halladay, Hamels and Lee), they'll be tough for any team to beat them in October. However, the Diamondbacks have that growing offense that's very intriguing. Justin Upton is one of the biggest rising stars in baseball, and Paul Goldschmidt could crank 40 bombs this season.
The Phillies would make this interesting, but the Diamondbacks have the ability to seize the moment and their second National League Pennant.
Prediction: Arizona Diamondbacks over Philadelphia Phillies in seven games.
The Detroit Tigers will have the most feared lineup in all of baseball next season. There's a good chance that the Tampa Bay Rays will have the most feared rotation in baseball as well. Something has to give here.
To determine a winner, you have to go rotation vs. rotation as both teams are deep in that aspect.
With the way the rotations would be set up here, the Rays wouldn't be able to match up James Shields with Justin Verlander due to a five-game win over the Angels. The bottom half of the Rays rotation has the potential to outduel Verlander's supporting cast and could pick up another clutch victory.
This time the Rays would need six games, but would get the job done.
Prediction: Tampa Bay Rays over Detroit Tigers in six games.
That brings us to what would be an interesting World Series as expansion brothers Arizona and Tampa Bay would collide in the Fall Classic.
Both teams are capable of winning the World Series, but I'm going with the Rays once again.
The Rays don't have the look of a juggernaut, but they have the pitching to go deep into October. As the San Francisco Giants proved a couple years ago, sometimes that can be all you need to bring a World Series championship home.
So there you have it, my prediction for the 2012 World Series Champions is the Tampa Bay Rays. To the fans of the organization, I'm sorry because now this probably means bad things are going to happen to your local nine.
However, that's the fun part about the beginning of baseball. Wild predictions can sometimes come true, and maybe this may be the chance for a team to come out of nowhere and prove me horribly wrong. It's time to enjoy the season, folks.