The 2011 MLB Postseason kicks off with the American League Division Series tonight and the National League's tomorrow. Eight talented teams will be taking their shots at a World Series title.
For the rest of us and our 22 teams, well, at least we get to watch the playoffs, which are going to be hotly contested. And there's always next year.
And what about next year? Hey, it's never too early to take a look. Now of course there will be some big changes in the offseason...trades, free agent signings, firings, releases, call-ups, injured players returning, CBA discussions (the current agreement expires in December)...but for the most part, most teams' cores will be staying intact.
So, I took out my darts and took an early shot at seeing which teams might come out on top next season.
Here's your first look at all 30 teams' chances of winning the 2012 World Series. High five.
The Seattle Mariners are getting my vote for worst team in baseball next season. It's not their fault. They are rebuilding. They have some exciting young talent that needs a little more time.
Ichiro Suzuki, who will be 38 come April, had his worst statistical season in 2011. To be sure, it was still good - over 180 hits—but it's the first time he's dropped below .300 in the big leagues. Suzuki is slowing down. That being said, it will be the last year of Ichiro's contract. Will he bust it out for one more pay day?
Veteran catcher Miguel Olivo still has some pop—leading the Mariners this season and knocking out double figures in homers the past six years in a rowand provides an anchor to a team that will ride the waves all season.
That's mostly due to a weak pitching staff. Feliz Hernandez will still be good and Jason Vargas might improve, but after that the rotation's a disaster. Seattle would do well to find an arm or two in the offseason market.
Who's on the Houston Astros? There will be 14-year veteran Carlos Lee, who still kicked it a bit in 2011, but the ready-to-retire Lee looks to have an underwhelming 2012.
Who else? Um.
Well, they have a very nice core of young players around the horn—with Brett Wallace at first, Jose Altuve at second and Chris Johnson at third with six years of experience between them—that have potential...for 2013 maybe. Next year, they'll be still be climbing the learning curve.
You do have to like the Astros' own Bud Norris, who in his third year leads the team in strikeouts. He needs to get that control under hand.
The Astros will be good, just not yet.
At least they still have Todd Helton (and Troy Tulowitzki), and play in the National League.
But the Rockies are likely going nowhere, unless they pull something like 2007 out of their...caps.
You have to love left fielder Carlos Gonzalez, though, who is destined for some greatness (and already took the batting crown in 2010 at the age of 24).
With Ubaldo Jimenez gone, the pitching staff is woeful, but if Colorado can hold onto some leads, closer Huston Street's still one of the best relievers in the game.
A running theme for those teams dwelling at the bottom of the 2012 World Series odds list continues with the San Diego Padres. They are young and have a ways to go, but might be a treat to watch and the occasional spoiler.
The jury is still out on Chase Headley, but Cameron Maybin showed something this year, his best, and will be a player to watch.
Five of the six starters have bad records. But ERAs under 4.00? That's something to build on. The Pads have to sign Aaron Harang or get an equivalent on the market otherwise Heath Bell, who will be back, will have hardy any games to save.
Mat Latos might have something to say about that, though. In some ways he's a more important signing than Harang. Latos posted some fine ERA (3.47), WHIP (1.18) and K/9 (8.6) numbers.
The Baltimore Orioles have an automatic tough road to the World Series every year, having to play in the American League East. In fact, they haven't even made the playoffs in fourteen years, and the World Series in almost 30 (they won it in 1983).
And so as 2011 went, so, too, will 2012.
Hard to believe a lineup that starts with J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones will finish with over 90 losses in 2011. The O's won't lose as many in 2012, but not by much.
Zach Britton is a bright spot on a pitching staff that gives up a lot of hits and runs and is consistently over-matched.
Similar to the other teams dwelling at the bottom of the odds pile, the Oakland A's are a team in a rebuilding transition.
There's a trade off—often while these teams won't make the playoffs, their brand of ball is exciting. Young talent beings a pace to the game that is at times thrilling, albeit riddled with inexperience and, perhaps, the occasional err.
Jemile Weeks and Cliff Pennington, both under 25, will be players to watch in 2012, as the A's do improve on their 2011 record.
The improvement will be due to these young players' development and some solid young pitching in Gio Gonzalez (26) and Trevor Cahill (24). Gonzalez and Cahill recorded more than a quarter of Oakland's wins this season. Next year they could win at least 30 between them. Pretty good.
Alfonso Soriano is still playing? Until further notice, the Chicago Cubs get low odds, even if they do get Prince Fielder.
But that would be a game-changer in the N.L. Central and would, of course, improve Chicago's chances.
There's not much else going on though with this team. The Brewers, at least, had a much better supporting cast. Makes you wonder if Fielder will take that into consideration.
There is second-year Starlin Castro, though, who has been quietly making a bid to be one of the more dynamic shortstops in the majors. He led the league in hits this year and threw in 22 stolen bases for fun.
One word on the Cubs' pitching situation: Awful.
The Miami Marlins are solid. Playing in the N.L. East doesn't help though.
Still, it will be great to watch 22-year-old Mike Stanton take it deep again for a third straight season. He's a monster, hitting 34 home runs this year and 22 the previous year—his rookie season—in under 400 at-bats.
Javier Vazquez may retire. Whether he does or not, the Marlins' best pitcher this year will test the market in 2012.
Miami will let him go, pin their hopes on a healthy Josh Johnson. But it won't be enough to dramatically improve the team, or whip them into postseason shape.
The Pirates had some very unlike-Pittsburgh moments this season. They were even over .500 for an extended period, winning 16 of 23 games at one point and commandeering first place for a bit midseason, however briefly.
Alas, the Bucs finished a typical 23 games out, and under .500 and out of the postseason for a 19th year in a row.
But things are looking up. They finished out of last for the first time in five years and have some of the better young, home-grown talents in the league in the exciting Andrew McCutchen, who has both power and speed, and the switch-hitting Neil Walker, who is a .300-hitter in waiting.
The won-loss records of the Pirates' pitching staff do not accurately reflect the talent on the mound. These guys are good and all should be back. Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Paul Maholm and Kevin Correia have three ERAs under 4.00 and two WHIPs under 1.30 amongst them.
Reliever Joel Hanrahan is one of the best closers in the league and saved more than 50 percent of the team's wins (40 of 73).
You have to love this Kansas City Royals team.
Kansas City had five players who banged at least 18 homers in 2010, and four guys with over 40 doubles. Five starters batted at least .280.
Jeff Francoeur and Billy Butler are signed through 2012 and the Royals should try and keep all three of free agents, Melky Cabrera, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon, who are relatively cheap. It's working.
It's hard to believe the Royals are perenially so bad. They have not made the postseason for an unfathomable 26 years now.
It's confounding. Kansas City always seems to have some above average pitching: Greinke, Meche, Redman, Byrd, Suppan. Not so in 2011, as the bats led the way. For 2012, Bruce Chen must be signed and Felipe Paulino is one to keep.
Gosh. What on earth happened to the Minnesota Twins?
Well, only three players on the entire roster could manage playing a minimum 100 games. Wow. Everyone was hurt. Literally. Superstars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau failed to play a full season in total.
They'll be back and healthy, but the Twins have other problems. Their pitching is not very good, including the bullpen.
The mysterious Carl Pavano leads a staff of "Who are these people?" Scott Baker might become known soonhe's the best pitcher in Minnesota, with an actual winning record, low ERA and WHIP and who leads the team in strikeouts. Joe Nathan, once a Twins staple, might not be on the team next year as Minnesota shakes it up entirely and goes with Glen Perkins out of the pen.
The cheapest MVP around, Joey Votto at $1.5 million next year, will anchor the Cincinnati Reds, but they need more. Brandon Phillips more? I think they'll sign him.
They also need that additional solid veteran to take the Reds' many talented youngsters under their wings. Drew Stubbs, Yonder Alonso, Juan Francisco, Jay Bruce and Zack Cozart will take over the team in 2012.
The Reds are strong at pitching, too, with the damn good Johnny Cueto, the cheap Bronson Arroyo and next year's ace, Mike Leake. There will be a hole in the bullpen, though, as Francisco Cordero walks.
Either way, the Cincinnati Reds will be a little better next year.
The Toronto Blue Jays don't just have leading-MVP candidate Jose Bautista and his 40+ homers and 100+ RBI. There's Adam Lind, who'll hit 30 next year and probably knock in near 100 at least. Then, there's J.P. Arencibia who'll give you 20 dingers minimum from behind the plate.
It's not all about pop, though. How about Yunel Escobar and rookie Brett Lawrie who will knock on the door of .300?
The most unassuming best pitcher in the league, Ricky Romero (13-9, 14-9 and 15-9 his three years in the bigs), is locked up for cheap through 2012 and beyond. Pair him with Brandon Morrow, if re-signed, and the Blue Jays have a nice one-two pitching punch.
Who's closing though? Got me.
The Washington Nationals are little-by-little, year-by-year building a nice contender. They'll be ready in 2013. 2012? Not so much.
But they are going to be fun to watch. Don't be surprised if they make a wild card run. Surely they'll finish over .500 for the first time. Especially if Stephen Strasburg is back to himself (and it sure looks like it with his 10K, one-hit, six inning pitching performance to close out the season).
Only thing is, Strasburg can't do it by himself. After him you hear crickets until you get to closer Drew Storen who is key. Livan Hernandez? Jason Marquis? Chien-Ming Wang? All has-beens. The Nats need to go out and get a pitcher.
As for hitting, well, the Nats thank the baseball gods for Ryan Zimmerman and Mike Morse, who carried an overpaid Jayson Werth through the season. Werth will bounce back. Look out wild card race if he does.
Sigh. The New York Mets are good and will play better than they are on paper. But there are issues for sure.
First, everyone in their division is better than they are (or at least in Washington's and Miami's case might be). Second, I just don't think Jose Reyes comes back—and even if he does, he and, yes, even David Wright do not have that championship swagger. They alone can not take this team to the top.
A lot, of course, hinges on Johan Santana's return from injury, since New York will do almost nothing in the offseason. Does he have superstar fuel left in his tank? If he does, then the Mets are quite possibly on the way to a wild card berth. If not, I doubt they're going anywhere. Uh, just like this year.
R.A. Dickey? Look it's a wonderful story, but everyone knows knuckleballers never do that well. None of them. Dickey is a third starter, at best. It's over for Mike Pelfrey. How much longer will the organization give him?
Dillon Gee made a huge splash and if he Chris Capuano and Jonathan Niese click at the same time, this will trun out to be one of the best staffs the Mets have thrown out there in years.
But, one really big problem. No closer at all.
Who are these guys? They were almost unanimously predicted for last place and here the Arizona Diamondbacks took the N.L. West by eight games over the favorites, the reigning champion San Francisco Giants.
Snake fans can thank MVP-candidate Justin Upton and Cy Young-candidate Ian Kennedy for that. The D'backs can also thank super youngsters Daniel Hudson and Josh Collmenter who had another 26 wins between them.
Don't forget J.J. Putz, who came back strong, recording a career high in saves.
They'll all be back, but Arizona's record won't be, as they won't be able to top this magical season without additional upgrade.
What does help, though, is how bad the N.L. West is. Only the Giants will stand in the Diamondbacks way.
I don't see the Rays pulling another rabbit out of the hat in 2012. I didn't see 2011 coming either. Neither did the jaded Boston Red Sox who, well, are either probably pissed or will continue a downfall. There are apparently problems in the clubhouse. And, this just in, Terry Francona is getting canned.
That might leave an opening for the Tampa Rays to squeeze through.
Despite dumping some key players over the last few years (read: Carl Crawford), the Rays still have a very good team, even with B.J. Upton hitting the road. Evan Longoria (31 HR), Ben Zobrist (20 HR, 91 RBI), Matt Joyce (19 HR) and probably veteran Casey Kotchman (.306) will return in 2012. Add one more good hitter to replace Upton in the free market and that's a challenging five player block to get through.
Actually, the Rays could be great next year if their young pitching busts out. One of the cheapest staffs in the league, Tampa should be able to keep everyone of their current five starters: James Shields, David Price, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann. And look out for Jeremy Hellickson.
No one knows exactly what will happen with the L.A. Dodgers. Will they even be able to pay and keep their players? Bud Selig is threatening to throw the Dodgers out of major league baseball. You have to laugh at that one.
Expect, though, they will hold on to, or at least try to hold on to, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier (they have to sign someone). But, depending on the Dodgers financial situation, that may leave them with nothing left to ink other critical and solid role players.
They will squeeze every penny to sign Clayton Kershaw, for certain.
The Dodgers have some great young talent in Dee Gordon and James Loney who should be back, too.
There are a lot of American League teams that, with just one bad injury to another team or some other typical weird baseball oddity, could surprise with a playoff berth. If these teams gel, they can make it to the World Series. The White Sox are one of those teams.
So are the Cleveland Indians, who are stacked with a bunch of players coming into their own/prime and a pitching staff with three hurlers that can win 15 games a piece.
Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Matt LaPorta will anchor the lineup, but the Indians will be wise to get a veteran or two in the off season to shore up the team and provide some guidance.
The Indians stole Ubaldo Jimenez just before the trade deadline to add to Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin. That is a mighty fine top three that can surely compete.
Now we're getting to some contenders, and in the Milwaukee Brewers' case the worst of the best. Prince Fielder might be gone, but with this pitching, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, the Brew Crew will contend again for a playoff slot. Most likely a wild card this time, though.
To start, the Bombing Brewers had six other starters with double figures in home runs.
And that pitching. Wow. Five starters with double figures in wins, four with ERAs in the three-point range and two with over 200 strikeouts. Randy Wolf, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Grienke and Chris Narveson all should be back.
Hmm. Maybe they can take the central again. Fielder? Who needs him?
The Angels have some home run hitters that may have something to say about that. Four will have 100+ in total just by themselves in 2012: Mark Trumbo, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and the returning Kendrys Morales.
The Angels' pitching is almost as good as the Rangers' too, especially if C.J. Wilson slips from Texas. Los Angeles has their top three - Dan Haren, Jered Weaver and no-hitter hurling Ervin Santana returning. They had 45 wins between them. One more solid pitcher picked up in the offseason (a sleeper, has to be cheap) will help L.A. overtake Texas for the first time in three years. Until then, it's the Rangers division to lose.
The Atlanta Braves are one of two teams that are going to have very large chips on their shoulders in 2012.
You'd think that may spur them to the postseason. I don't think so. They may have fallen short in the final game of the season, but they really played a little beyond themselves, all year.
Chipper Jones is old and Dan (.233) Uggla is overrated and overexpensive.
The question will be can the young role-playing talent pick up for these guys? It's possible. Freddie Freeman, Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn and whoever Atlanta sticks in at shortstop might be able to overachive.
The Braves are in between very good and rebuilding. Next season may not be the one, but look out in the the coming years.
The Chicago White Sox are stacked and will be again in 2012. Expect them to be one of the most improved (in terms of record) teams next season.
So what happened in 2011 that finished them 16 games out? Well a bit of injury infused with some mass underachievement.
Adam Dunn hit .159. That is unspeakably bad, and just missed out on being the worst official batting average of all time. Unless his career is over, which it isn't, the 31-year-old will definitely have a better year in 2012.
Pierzynski's power has dwindled to Jose Reyes like levels, but he's still good. Paul Konerko has been tearing it up the past couple years and will continue in 2012. Alexei Ramirez and Juan Pierre shore up a potentially potent offense.
Pitching? Strong. The Sox will sign their ace Buerhle, but it is possible a desperate team looking for a high end middle-priced starter will make him a high end high-priced starter with an overpaid contract.
Then you have John Danks (who they also should sign), Philip Humber and Jake Peavy. Nice.
No wonder Ozzie Guillen was traded.
Of course, they will sign him.
And, if he's healthy the whole year, Albert Pujols, along with a resurgent (and let's face it, one of the best hitters in the game) Lance Berkman and healthy Matt Holliday will form one of the more fearsome Big Threes in the N.L. Central. They have some excellent role players, too, like catcher Yadier Molina and up-and-coming Jon Jay, who can play all the outfield.
Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse still got it on the mound and they'll be around. Then there's the young Jaime Garcia. The Cardinals made a smart move picking up Edwin Jackson at the deadlinea move that will pay dividends this postseason, and next year.
You can never count Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals out (just look at your TV this week).
It's hard to repeat. Often, even champions have an off year the following season. Such is the case with the 2010 San Francisco Giants. They left their heart in 2010, and their offense. Across the board—average, homers, RBI—the 2011 Giants performed worse. Losing Posey, of course, had a lot to do with it (and the team's psyche).
But then you look at the rest of the team and have to ask yourself the question: How did this team win the World Series? It's a bunch of ragtags, stitched together with a little perky enthusiasm—Aubrey Huff (.246), Cody Ross (.240), Andres Torres (.221), and not one of their three or four shortstops can bat over .230.
There is Pablo Sandoval, though, who San Fran should definitely lock up.
But the real story is how the Giants' pitching came back to Earth. To be sure, it suffered thanks to that awful offense. Tim Lincecum, for example, had a better season in 2011—lower ERA, better WHIP, and fewer hits, runs and homers in more inningsbut still finished 13-14. Cain suffered a similar fate. And Madison Bumgarner. And...
Sorry, but without a coherent offense, the San Francisco Baseball Giants were a one-hit wonder. It does help to play in the weak N.L. West though and that could pave the way to the postseason for the Black and Orange again.
Carlos Beltran might help, but he's not a big improvement.
Why is this team so good? Because they are. They're a complete five-tool team (OK, maybe four-tool, their fielding actually is below average).
But who cares when you've got Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler. Are you kidding? Hey, Nelson Cruz had 29 homers too. Did I mention a reborn Michael Young who had 213 hits and batted .338? They'll all be back.
Pitching wise, where did these guys come from? Holy Nolan Ryan, Batman. It's very possible the Rangers will lose their ace, C.J. Wilson, to free agency, but the whole rotation is so good that Texas could lose one and still have one of the best quartets in the American League—like an amphibian that grows its tail back.
They even steal (five players in double digits) and were fourth in the A.L. total.
Here's the other team with a big chip on their shoulders.
They have the firepower for revenge, too, assuming they sign David Ortiz who had a bigger year than anyone expected. The first six positions in the 2012 lineup will be: Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Carl Crawford. That's sick.
If Carl Crawford just gets his average (.255) up a bit and Youk returns to his old healthy self, there's nothing left to fix for these six. I say keep Marco Scutaro, too, and spend the money the Sox save on pitching.
Because it's pitching that did in the Sox (and clubhouse dissent?).
Tim Wakefield, it's time to retire, or at least from the Red Sox. Clay Buchholz and Andrew Miller...eh. John Lackey: a mess with a 6.41 ERA.
If Josh Beckett, John Lester and Buchholz can stay healthy (and don't break down down the stretch) and the Sox add one other fine arm, they'll vie for the American League East and the World Series.
But there's something funny going on in the clubhouse, and it resulted in Terry Francona's exit.
The "Detroit Tigers" really sounds like one of those MLB teams that are always in the playoffs. Say, don't look now, here they are...again? Not really and actually not at all practically.
The Tigers, one of the oldest teams in baseball, have just made the postseason for the second time in 24 years. Still, they've been knocking on the door the past few, finishing second a couple of times and third once, until finally taking the division handily in 2011.
So, why? And will it continue in 2012?
Well. Justin Verlander for one thing. Duh.
Verlander is an animal. That's all there is to it. He just pitched one of the best seasons ever and earned the pitching triple crown for it: 24 wins, 2.40 ERA and 250 Ks.
But that's not all. Max Scherzer (15-9), Rick Porcello (14-9) and Jose Valverde (49 saves) are no slouches and it looks like Doug Fister (8-1, 1.79) is the man to replace Brad Penny.
With a pitching staff like that, I barely have to mention batting champ Miguel Cabrera.
Well, it's all about pitching they say and here are the Philadelphia Phillies. They have all the pitching and quite a bit of the hitting, too.
This rotation (or at least the top three in Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels) can emulate the old 1990's Atlanta Braves' staff (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz). There are many similarities including solid team and finesse pitching. But first, Philadelphia needs to decide if they will sign Hamels. They should. Roy Oswalt has been a bust so far and it's possible he will be bought out or even retire.
But even without Hamels and Oswalt, the Phillies can turn to the out-of-nowhere, 11-3 Vance Worley. Who knows if we'll see a repeat performance from him, but if so, the Phillies might just be a cinch to win the N.L. again.
Jimmy Rollins, though. What to do? What to do? He may not be a Philly next year and for that alone, I'm shaving little bit off Philadelphia's odds to get back to the World Series.
But it's the Yankees who will be the A.L. and baseball favorites. They are beyond stacked and are good enough to win the World Series this year and next, second and third starters notwithstanding. They'll take care of that.
What's even crazier? The Yankees have to do almost nothing this offseason to be a favorite for the 2012 title. But they will anyway, and it will make them better. They could use some help on the mound for one thing.
Pitching has plagued New York all season. C.C. is automatic, but there have been whispers he will opt out. That make no sense without re-signing, which he'll do. Then, there's A.J. Burnett, who the Yanks can't wait to get rid of. There will be a taker, even if the Yanks have to throw in some cash to make it happen.
So, the Yankees will look for a DH, some bench depth and of course pitching. C.J. Wilson anyone?
Sad to say, but the Bombers will have an instant, cheap, serious upgrade behind the plate with new fan favorite, homegrown Jesus Montero. Jorge Posada is pasado and Russell Martin just doesn't hate the Red Sox enough for the Yankees to keep him, I feel, even at DH.
It also appears Derek Jeter isn't dead yet. And Yankee fans are no longer asking themselves: Why did we get this guy Granderson?
There you have it. The early bird look at who will win the 2012 World Series.
To be sure, things change in the offseason. Bleacher Report's got you covered all winter long. Keep up on everything, including more season previews, at B/R's MLB hub.
In the meantime, for the absolute best and most 2011 MLB Playoffs coverage—from previews to live game blogs to postgame on the web—I'm serious, stay tuned to Bleacher Report.