2012 World Series: Ranking 10 Teams Most Likely to Win It All Next Season
What a series!
The 2011 World Series is over. St. Louis Cardinals fans can celebrate until Opening Day next season. The players and baseball fans have some outstanding memories that will last for ages. It was a fantastic postseason that will be remembered by baseball fans young and old.
For Cardinals fans, this was an improbable title. The Cardinals were for all practical purposes out of it as September approached. Yet no matter how perilously close they teetered on the edge of real mathematical elimination, the team hung tough.
The Atlanta Braves wilted under the pressure, and the Cardinals continued to push forward. Past the Braves and into the postseason. Past the Philadelphia Phillies and into the National League Championship Series. Past their divisional rival Milwaukee Brewers and into the World Series to face the Texas Rangers. And finally past two "one strike away from elimination" Game 6 situations.
They pressed through it all, and they got to Game 7, a game in which only one team would win and emerge as a champion. Once they got there, they didn't let up. If that sounds like a championship team, that's because it is, and the Cardinals—regardless of which baseball team you root for—were clearly the best "team" in the truest sense of the word in 2011.
So who's gonna win it next year?
Here are 10 teams that will have a shot. Keep in mind, Cardinals fans, that no team has repeated as World Series champion since the 1999 and 2000 New York Yankees. The point being—it will not be easy, but St. Louis will be in the running, as will several other teams.
10: San Francisco Giants
Beware, Cardinals fans, that the 2010 World Series champs didn't even make the postseason this year. To be fair, it was a very tough season for the San Francisco Giants.
They lost one of their team leaders, catcher Buster Posey, to a brutal injury on a home plate collision before the All-Star break. The offense never really clicked, even after the midseason acquisition of impending free agent Carlos Beltran.
In addition, their very good pitching staff seemed to have a few problems as well. Closer Brian Wilson was oft-injured and sporadically ineffective. The starting rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong was pretty good.
The Giants need offense and hitting. Their team batting average leader in 2011 was Aubrey Huff, and he only hit .246
If the Giants acquire some offense this offseason, then they're a threat next season. If they stand pat or make only tepid improvements, then they've got no shot.
9: Los Angeles Angels
The No. 1 starter. The "ace." It's important to have one of those. All one needs do is look at the gutsy effort of Chris Carpenter in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.
The Los Angels Angels have one of those guys. His name is Jered Weaver, and his presence is the best reason the Angels are on this list. It's not the only reason, though.
The Angels have a manager in Mike Scioscia who has his team consistently in contention. He's already led the Angels to one World Series title in 2002.
The pitching staff is more than just Weaver. Throw in Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, as well as a young closer in Jordan Walden, and the Angels are pretty loaded when it comes to pitching.
It's the bats that may cause concern. The Angels will be players in the free-agent market this offseason, but they may not be as far away as some naysayers would have you believe.
Veteran Torii Hunter is in the final year of his contract. Howie Kendrick, who had been pegged for stardom for years, finally seemed to catch on offensively this past season.
Then there are the young bats. Mark Trumbo, who smashed 29 home runs as a rookie, is back. So are young catcher Hank Conger and two dynamic outfielders, Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout.
The Angels are a team that has title potential. Will they be able to harness it? That's the big question.
8: Boston Red Sox
So, how about those Boston Red Sox? The Red Sox, with baseball's second-highest payroll, haven't made the postseason since 2009. They haven't won a postseason game since 2008. If you're of the opinion that that type of thing sits well with the fans or upper management, then you haven't been paying attention.
Theo Epstein is gone, replaced by Ben Cherington.
Terry Francona is gone, too, replaced by an as-yet-unknown manager.
Some players will probably be gone as well. JD Drew is almost a sure thing. Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, Jonathan Papelbon and maybe even David Ortiz might be out the door. The winds of change are blowing in Beantown, but no one yet knows the direction. People charged with the task of making predictions aren't especially fond of the unknown, and the state of the Boston Red Sox on October 29, 2011, is one big unknown.
If the Red Sox make almost no changes, then their current standing at No. 8 might even be a bit high. Then again, a few tweaks in the right direction might be enough to propel a 90-win team in 2011 into a 97-win team in 2012. Needless to say, it's a critical offseason.
7: Texas Rangers
The formula in Texas this offseason is simple: They can't lose C.J. Wilson.
The Rangers have tons of offense, and while it's possible that they could use another outfielder, aside from that there's no reason for the Rangers to pursue too much offense in the upcoming winter months.
Losing Wilson could be a major problem, though. True, last year they lost Cliff Lee and were for the most part unfazed. That being the case, I'm not so sure that the "let's let our No. 1 starter walk this offseason" formula is one any team wants to enact annually.
Derek Holland and Colby Lewis are solid, and perhaps one will emerges as an even better pitcher next year. But either could also have a year of decline. Alexi Ogando proved himself to be a fairly fragile pitcher this past season.
The bullpen will remain solid, and the lineup lethal, but the starting pitching? That's the big question.
6: Atlanta Braves
Lost in the all-out hysteria surrounding the collapse of the 2011 Boston Red Sox was this little fact: The Atlanta Braves did almost the exact same thing.
Big lead on September 1? Yep. A bunch of injuries to their starting pitchers? Yep, that too. Seemingly good, consistent baseball players making inexplicable decisions leading to painful losses? Check. What about blowing up their team in the aftermath of their collapse? Think again.
This is where not being surrounded by a totally consumed and rapid fanbase can come in handy. Sure, there was outrage in Atlanta following the Braves' implosion, but not at the same maniacal level found in Boston. But forget the collapse. Here's what matters:
Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, and Jair Jurrjens, three of the top arms in the National League, are all back.
Chipper Jones is also back, and so are Brian McCann and Dan Uggla. The offense isn't great, but the pitching should be more than adequate. Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, the odds-on favorite to win 2011 National League Rookie of the Year Award, will anchor what should be a very good bullpen as well.
Veteran starter Derek Lowe is a free agent who may not return, but the Braves have a habit of producing a never-ending stream of top pitching prospects. Mike Minor and Julio Teheran both struggled in limited appearances last season, but Minor will be only 24 and Tehran just 21 next season.
The future is bright in Atlanta, and they'll be in the running for baseball's top prize once again in 2012.
5: St. Louis Cardinals
Okay, nice work 2011 Cardinals! Let's get started on 2012.
Not really, of course, but trust me, men like Tony LaRussa don't get to the World Series six times and win three of them by spending lots of time reflecting on past successes. Nope, it's about moving forward, trying to improve on what went wrong and trying to retain what was right.
This prediction is based on my feeling that superstar Albert Pujols will return to St. Louis after he signs a long-term deal this offseason. Somewhere around eight years and $200 million should get it done.
That would be great for the city and franchise, but there are some legitimate concerns on this team, the first of which is age.
Rafael Furcal, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday are all either well into or past their primes. Furcal and Holliday may have started to fade a bit already, and Berkman may or may not start that process next season.
In addition, the starting pitching staff will have some holes. Carpenter returns, as does Jaime Garcia, but Edwin Jackson is a free agent. Can a rotation of Carpenter, Garcia, Jake Westbrook, Kyle Lohse, and one more get the Cardinals back to their 2011 destination? Probably not, but then again this team wasn't even on the World Series radar until late in the regular season.
The Cardinals will once again compete at a high level next season, but some question marks, combined with the added burden of being the defending World Series champs, will add a degree of difficulty to the season that could be too much to overcome. Then again, I'm not telling Carpenter, Pujols and David Freese that.
4: New York Yankees
That's right, his eighth World Series appearance. Not bad, right? Derek Jeter is back, and so is Mariano Rivera. By the end of next week, it's possible that the Yankees will have locked up C.C. Sabathia for the next six or seven years as well.
American League MVP candidate Curtis Granderson will return, and a bright young prospect named Jesus Montero will likely make an impact in the lineup this coming season as well.
The Yankees won the American League East and finished with the best record in the American League in 2011, and they did it while enduring down years from Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. They also did it using a patchwork starting rotation that was anchored by Sabathia but also included perennial disappointment A.J. Burnett and oft-injured Phil Hughes. The Yankees mixed in better-than-anyone-expected seasons from potential American League Rookie of the Year Ivan Nova and veterans Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
If the Yankees can win 97 games with that type of pitching staff, then any moderate improvement could make the Yanks the team to beat.
The question, of course, isn't whether they want to improve their pitching. Rather, can they?
There aren't too many arms out there that the Yankees can add who would be automatic positive additions. The Yankees will sign a free-agent pitcher this offseason. C.J. Wilson? Edwin Jackson? Mark Buehrle? Any of them could flourish or implode pitching in Yankee Stadium with the Yankees' intense fan base, unrelenting media and short right-field porch.
Then again, perhaps one of them could flourish under that type of pressure. If General Manager Brian Cashman can figure out which starting pitcher will be a positive addition, then it could be title No. 28 in New York City. If not, then that path becomes much more difficult.
3: Tampa Bay Rays
Is it possible to have too much starting pitching? The 2012 Tampa Bay Rays might find out. In a league in which just having one "ace" type of pitcher can catapult a seemingly mediocre team into realm of contender, the Rays will enter the 2012 season with a five-man rotation featuring two guys who could be legitimate No. 1 starters in James Shields and David Price.
The other three guys? They might all be No. 2s or No. 3's. Jeff Niemann can dominate, Jeremy Hellickson is coming off a rookie season with 13 wins and a 2.95 ERA, and then there's the fifth starter. Will it be Wade Davis or fireballing rookie Matt Moore? It's likely to be Moore, and that means that Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman will have some high stakes chips to deal this offseason.
What will Friedman look for? Offense. Not just power, but also hitting skills and discipline. The Rays' lineup has the league's best third baseman in Evan Longoria. They also have a dynamic young leadoff hitter in Desmond Jennings. Then it gets a little dicey.
BJ Upton still hasn't fulfilled the promise and potential he has shown flashes of. He's not patient at the plate and often swings at bad pitches and digs himself holes he can't escape. With impending free agency on the horizon, Upton could be dealt this offseason.
It's easier to get a few bats than it is to get arms. The Rays have the arms, and as they proved last season, they don't need too many more bats. After winning 91 games, Tampa may only be a few key offensive acquisitions from returning to their 2008 glory of reaching the World Series.
Could they win it all in 2012? They're already in the running.
2: Detroit Tigers
When your roster features the best pitcher and also possibly the best hitter in the American League, then you start off with high expectations. Add in a manager like Jim Leyland, who has experienced success at nearly every stop in his lengthy managerial career, and it's tough not to set high expectations.
Welcome to Detroit. The Tigers will return to the field in 2012 having made it to Game 6 of the 2011 American League Championship Series. Led by American League MVP candidates Justin Verlander, winner of pitching's triple crown in 2011, and Miguel Cabrera, baseball's best hitter at .344, the Tigers are loaded from the outset.
The Tigers also have a veteran hitter Victor Martinez at designated hitter and a collection of offensive players that can put up runs on most teams.
The pitching starts with Verlander, but he's not a one-man team. Doug Fister emerged as a legitimate top-tier starter in the 2011 playoffs, and young arms Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello could easily emerge as reliable starting arms this coming season.
The bullpen will return Jose Valverde, who was the American League's best relief pitcher in 2011, as well as top setup man Joaquin Benoit.
The Tigers could use some speed in the lineup and need guys like Scherzer and Porcello to continue their development. They were close in 2011, and 2012 looks good from this viewpoint.
1: Philadelphia Phillies
I know that Ryan Howard will start and spend a considerable amount of time on the disabled list next season. I also know that it's likely that Roy Oswalt will not be back. Philadelphia declined to pick up his option earlier this past week.
Being ranked No. 1 doesn't mean you have a perfect team that can't lose and will automatically win the 2012 World Series. What it means is that when you have a rotation featuring Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, and you couple that with a franchise that has the money and ability to enter and compete in the free agent market to shore up some holes in the lineup, those are good places to start off 2012.
What about the terrible finish to the 2011 season? Twenty-nine teams ended 2011 with a final result they didn't want, and the Phillies weren't the only one to end it on a very tough loss. Philadelphia has an experienced manager, experienced starting pitchers and a general manager with money to spend and some pieces he can deal.
This team isn't far from being World Series caliber, and they did win 102 games in 2011. They probably won't win that many in 2012, but this could be a season for Philadelphia in which they start slow and gain momentum and cohesiveness as the season progresses.
Had Philadelphia topped the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, then they may have ended up 2011 World Series champs. To say they've got a good shot in 2012 isn't a bad bet at all.