The 2012 MLB season is now underway. So far, in not even a full week, a few surprising things have occurred. The Yankees and Red Sox both started 0-3, the Mets have gotten off to a 4-0 start and Ozzie Guillen has potentially damaged his reputation in Miami, which could last the entire season. Nonetheless, it will be a long season, and the contending teams will have to prove that they belong in the postseason by playing consistently well all year long.
When fans began making predictions for this season, the same top teams were widely picked to win the World Series. Those teams include the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, plus the Angels and Tigers, both of whom had amazing offseasons by signing marquee players. Of course, the favorites don't always make it, and a great example of this would be the 2011 Red Sox team that suffered the worst regular season collapse in baseball history.
Making predictions generally speaking isn't easy because no one can predict the future. No one will know whether someone plays well or if someone else gets hurt before it actually happens. If certain players either don't play well or get hurt, the end results will likely be a lot different without their presence. There are an infinite number of factors that could affect the success of a team, and that's why there are 162 games in a season in order to show which teams can really play well over a long period of time.
This may still be only the first week of the season, but here are five postseason favorites that will not make it to October baseball.
Sorry, Red Sox nation, but the Red Sox will not make the postseason again, simply because the AL East is stacked and they have too many issues to address.
With a new general manager in Ben Cherington and a new manager in Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox are certainly trying to begin a new chapter in their storied history. Offensively, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia are among the most elite players in the league at their respective positions. The numbers they will put up this year should be no different than their previous seasons.
The rest of the lineup, though, is rather concerning.
Longtime Red Sox players David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis are both declining and showing their age, while Carl Crawford has yet to really prove that he is worth the $142 million he signed last year. In addition, there will likely be revolving doors at shortstop and right field all season long. Jarrod Saltalamacchia also needs to prove that he can be one of the better catchers in the league by finally living up to the hype he has had since being a minor league prospect.
On the pitching end, the Red Sox will get a great season out of Jon Lester and a good season from Josh Beckett. They could also get a great season from Clay Buchholz, but Buchholz's health has not always been the best, so the Red Sox will need to hope that he stays healthy.
The back end, though, with Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront is not something the Red Sox should want to have if they plan on contending. Bard has converted from being the set-up man to the No. 4 starter, and this experiment could be a hit or miss for the team. As for Doubront, he has yet to prove himself as a major league pitcher, so the Red Sox may need to make rotation changes if Doubront for one struggles.
But if anything, it's the Red Sox bullpen that contains the most noticeable red flags. With closer Andrew Bailey likely out for at least half the season, the Red Sox need to decide on a definitive closer and stick with it. Whether it be Alfredo Aceves or Mark Melancon, the Red Sox will need a solid bullpen to close out the games, especially on days that Lester and Beckett don't pitch.
Unless the Red Sox really overachieve and certain players stay healthy, they will likely finish in third place with around 85 wins.
The five-time defending NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies will not get a sixth consecutive division title this year, mostly because their lineup is not the same and will not provide the same run support for their great pitching rotation.
The heart and soul of the Phillies right now is still their starting rotation, which is led by the three-headed monster of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. All three are expected to have tremendous seasons once again, although Hamels is also a potential candidate to not have as good of a season as 2011 due to his track record not being as consistent.
The back end of the rotation, though, should be concerning. Vance Worley may or may not pitch as well as he did last year. His performance could go either way. As for Joe Blanton, he is no longer a good pitcher, and there is a very good chance that the Phillies will try hard to unload him.
One area that the Phillies improved on in the offseason was their bullpen, which is rather unstable last year. They signed Jonathan Papelbon to close and also brought in Chad Qualls as a set-up man. While the Papelbon signing may have seemed essential with what the Phillies are trying to do, Papelbon is not as likely to pitch as well at Citizens Bank Park, compared to Fenway Park. Citizens Bank Park is a hitter's ballpark, and with the amount of walk-off home runs Papelbon gave up last season in Boston, look for him to give up even more home runs as a member of the Phillies.
For the past few years, the Phillies had one of baseball's best lineups. The lineup today, though, is a far cry from the 2008 championship team, for one. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the team's top two homegrown superstars, are both out with injuries, and each will likely miss at least half the season, if not more. As a result, the team is stuck with Ty Wigginton at first base and Freddy Galvis at second base.
Veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins was only brought back as homage to the leadership and clubhouse personality that he has been for years with the team. He is way past his prime now and cannot play like he used to. Placido Polanco is another player that is declining as well. Catcher Carlos Ruiz has never been a great hitter, but is great defensively, so it would be reasonable to expect more of the same from him this year.
In the outfield, Shane Victorino is the one consistent presence in the lineup that will continue to deliver great numbers, especially in stolen bases. Hunter Pence is now the heart of the lineup, and in order for the Phillies to win another division title, Pence will need to have a career season.
The Phillies still have what it takes to get to the postseason once again, but their offense will not score enough runs to help the pitching staff. In other words, the pitching staff will need to pitch shutout baseball at all times for the Phillies to have a chance at winning 90-plus games. They will likely finish second in the NL East.
The Miami Marlins are another favorite from the NL East to contend for the postseason this year. However, due to various issues and distractions, this simply will not be their year to go all the way.
In the offseason, the Marlins made many great moves by bringing in Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, Heath Bell and Carlos Zambrano. These moves were designed for the Marlins to become instant contenders. However, it still takes a full 25-man roster to get to the postseason, and some of the other members of the Marlins will need to really step it up in order for them to play in October.
With Reyes now the new shortstop, Hanley Ramirez has moved to third base. It will be interesting to see how he performs there this year and whether he can bounce back from a down year in 2011. Catcher John Buck, first baseman Gaby Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante should both be steady contributors as well.
In the outfield, Giancarlo Stanton will need to have an even better season in order to carry the offense, but the two key hitters in the lineup are Emilio Bonifacio and Logan Morrison. Bonifacio has always had tremendous speed and great defense at multiple positions, but his on-base percentage will need to improve dramatically to help create more runs for the Marlins. As for Morrison, he will need to really put together a great season to become one of the bigger bats in the lineup.
Marlins ace Josh Johnson, though, is the biggest X-factor on the team. If he stays healthy and pitches well, the Marlins can definitely contend, but if he gets hurt, they will have no shot. Buerhle, Zambrano, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez will all need to pitch well in order to ensure the Marlins of more success.
Furthermore, having Bell anchor the bullpen is a tremendous upgrade for the Marlins because their bullpen has always been one of their biggest weaknesses for years. Nonetheless, they will need their unproven middle relievers to step up as well.
So far, the Marlins have not been hitting well at all. To add insult to injury, manager Ozzie Guillen has been called out for his comments concerning Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. This has brought an unnecessary distraction to the Marlins, and being that most of the team is young, this could affect the whole team in a big way.
Unless the Marlins recover from the Guillen distraction and really start to hit, this could potentially be a long season for them. Speaking of distractions, some of the more noticeable areas of the new Marlins Stadium could become distracting for the team as well, and mostly because those areas just stand out compared to the rest of the stadium. Thus, the Marlins will likely finish in third place in the NL East this year.
Yet another team from the NL East that will fall short of postseason contention once again are the Atlanta Braves.The Braves have a solid rotation and a great back end to their bullpen, but their offense has too many issues right now for them to be considered a legitimate contender.
Centerfielder Michael Bourn is one of the better leadoff hitters, but he will need to improve his average in order to create more runs. Second baseman Dan Uggla is a streaky hitter and will need to improve his numbers from last year despite the amazing 33-game hitting streak he had. The Braves will also need better seasons from catcher Brian McCann, first baseman Freddie Freeman and aging third baseman Chipper Jones to have a shot at contending.
But the biggest question mark on the entire team is right fielder Jason Heyward. After having a great rookie season in 2010, Heyward had a terrible year in 2011 and will need to bounce back as soon as possible because he is a huge part of the Braves lineup.
The Braves pitching staff will not get ace Tim Hudson back until at least May, which will hurt their rotation unless Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrgens really pitch very well until Hudson returns. Brandon Beachy is another X-factor because he will need to prove that his 2011 season was not a fluke.
As for their bullpen, it's one of the best in all of baseball, especially with set-up man Jonny Venters and the reigning NL Rookie of the Year in closer Craig Kimbrel. However, if the Braves rotation does not pitch particularly well, having Venters and Kimbrel around would become rather irrelevant.
Coming off of their own disappointing collapse in 2011, the Braves have a lot to prove in order to get back to the postseason. Again, the offense and run support has to be there everyday so that the pitching staff will not have to be perfect all the time. And the starting pitchers will need to go six or seven innings a game in order to get the ball to Venters and Kimbrel.
Unless either they really overachieve or the other NL East teams struggle more, the Braves are likely to finish fourth in the NL East, and maybe even fifth if they play worse than the New York Mets.
And yes, this means that the Washington Nationals of all teams should really be the favorite to win the NL East.
Despite a third-place finish in the NL Central in 2011, the Cincinnati Reds are widely favored to win the NL Central. Not only that, but they are expected to do better than the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and the reigning NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers.
Despite re-signing their face of the franchise, first baseman Joey Votto, to a 10-year contract extension and bringing in a few other players to improve the team, the Reds will still have trouble competing with the Brewers and Cardinals.
Offensively, Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips will both put up great numbers once again.
However, the Reds lineup has a few other question marks to address. Centerfielder Drew Stubbs has become one of the top base-stealing threats in the league, but in order for him to maximize his base-stealing potential, he will need to get on base a lot more than he did last year. Despite stealing 40 bases, he only had a .243 average, a .321 on-base percentage and an alarming 205 strikeouts in 604 at-bats. Stubbs' strikeout rate will have to decrease significantly for him to become a better hitter.
Another Reds outfielder that will need to have a better season is right fielder Jay Bruce. He did hit 32 home runs and drive in 97 RBI last season, but he will need to improve upon his .256 average in order to make a more significant contribution to the team's success.
Yet another critical member of the Reds lineup is veteran third baseman Scott Rolen, who is nearing the end of his career. One shouldn't expect too much, though, from catcher Ryan Hanigan, shortstop Zack Cozart and left fielder Chris Heisey.
On the pitching end, the Reds upgraded their rotation by acquiring Mat Latos from the Padres. If Latos can stay healthy this year, he could turn into a great No. 2 starter behind ace Johnny Cueto.
The rest of the Reds rotation is solid, which includes Mike Leake, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo. If all can pitch the way they are expected to, the Reds will win a lot of games, although it will still be tough to compete with the Brewers and Reds.
But the difference between first and third place for the Reds will come down to their bullpen. They lost closer Ryan Madson for the year during spring training, and only time will tell whether Sean Marshall will become a decent closer or not. Marshall has never been a closer in the past, so he'll likely struggle at times and blow a few too many saves.
At some point, the Reds could possibly put the young fire-balling phenom Aroldis Chapman as the new closer. However, there's also the possibility that Chapman becomes a part of the rotation. Chapman's development and what the Reds ultimately decide to do with him could play a very critical role in how far the Reds go this season.
The Reds have a great team overall, but unless Stubbs and Bruce get on base more and the bullpen doesn't struggle, the Reds are almost certain to finish in third place once again. With the Brewers and Cardinals primed to be contending for at least another few years, this could be a tough time for the Reds themselves to compete. Anything, of course, can happen, but it will take a lot to go the Reds' way in order for them to make the postseason.