MLB Power Rankings: Rating Each Baseball Team Heading into 2012

Matthew Dicker@@MattDickerContributor IIIJanuary 4, 2012

MLB Power Rankings: Rating Each Baseball Team Heading into 2012

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    It's still a long way off until the 2012 season begins, and with a number of talented players remaining in free agency, including the much-coveted Prince Fielder, assessing the relative strengths and weaknesses of each team is impossible to do with any degree of certainty.  

    Yet as fans of each ballclub revel in the fact that their team has a perfect record and a shot at postseason glory, it is never too early to start thinking about which teams are best poised to make a run for October glory.

    While many teams at the top of the list should come as no surprise to those who watched the postseason in 2011, several teams have improved due to big moves in free agency, developing young prospects or a combination of both.  

    Others have let some of their best players go, either in an attempt to rebuild or because they couldn't afford the price tag.  

    Though the remaining free agency period will significantly change the prospects of several teams, it's never too early to power rank the rosters as they currently stand.

30. Houston Astros

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    There's no sugarcoating it; the Houston Astros are a mess.  The team is coming off of a 56-win season in 2011, the worst in the franchise's 50-year history.  

    The team's top offensive producer in 2011, Hunter Pence, is no longer on the team, and Carlos Lee has sunken into mediocrity over the last two seasons, hardly earning the $19 million he is due next season.

    The Astros managed to get on base at a decent clip, but suffered in power, finishing 15th in the National League in home runs, 13th in slugging percentage, and 13th in OPS.  

    But where the team truly failed was on the mound.  The Astros had a league-worst team ERA of 4.51 and finished only ahead of the Pirates in batting average allowed. 

    The lone bright spot for most poor teams is their farm systems, but the Astros' system is mediocre at best, possessing few potential Major League prospects.  The Astros have a few players who could be called up midseason, but their deck is not stacked.

    While it's unlikely the Astros will match the level of futility they exhibited in 2011, this will be another long season in Houston.

29. Baltimore Orioles

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    The Baltimore Orioles haven't had a winning season since 1997, back when Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar and Cal Ripken Jr. manned the infield.  

    The current roster is void of such Hall of Fame-caliber players, and the team has won fewer than 70 games for five consecutive seasons, finishing last in the American League East division in the past four seasons.

    It doesn't help matters that the Orioles play in the notoriously difficult American League East division.

    There is little reason to believe the Orioles will be any better in 2012.  None of the Orioles starting pitchers had an ERA under 4.00 last season, and no one in the lineup cracked .300.  

    The O's got some power out of Mark Reynolds (37 home runs) and J.J. Hardy (30 home runs), but the pair batted .221 and .269, respectively.

    If the team lands Prince Fielder in free agency, they will jump up significantly on this list, and will go a long way towards bettering their poor roster.  But even with Fielder, the Orioles would still have a long way to go toward being even an average club, let alone a championship contender.

28. Seattle Mariners

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    The Seattle Mariners are rumored to be near the front of the Prince Fielder free-agency bonanza, but as the roster currently stands, the Mariners are one of the weakest offensive teams in Major League Baseball, and their pitching staff is only moderately better.

    The Mariners were dead last in the big leagues in batting average in 2011, earning a team batting average of .233, 50 points below the leading Texas Rangers.  

    Even Ichiro Suzuki, their one offensive bright spot, had the worst season of his career, posting a .272 average and .310 on-base percentage.  The Mariners almost as lacking in power, finishing second to last in the American League in home runs, hitting less than half the number of home runs hit by the leading Yankees.

    The Mariners have been aggressive in free agency, but unless they are able to convince Prince Fielder to sign on the dotted line, they aren't likely to be much better next season. 

27. San Diego Padres

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    The San Diego Padres were awful in 2011, and with the departure of dominant closer Heath Bell to the Miami Marlins, they aren't likely to be much better in 2012.

     The addition of Carlos Quentin will help the team's lineup, as he is good for 20-25 home runs per season, but his mediocre .252 batting average is a liability.  

    However, the Padres team batting average in 2011 was so low, a dismal .237, worst in the National League, that he will likely help the team even in improving their batting average.

    San Diego actually had strong pitching in 2011; their team ERA of 3.42 was third best in baseball.  Aaron Harang and his 14-7 record was the rotation's standout, and only one of the seven pitchers who started a significant number of games for the club posted an ERA over 4.00.  

    Still, the Padres offense was so weak that even Dustin Moseley, who earned a 3.30 ERA in 20 games started, earned only a 3-10 record.

    The Padres pitching will help them avoid complete humiliation in 2012, but playing in a slowly improving NL West division with almost no offensive production should keep them in the basement of the division. 

26. Oakland Athletics

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    If you run a struggling team with a microscopic payroll in a rapidly improving division, what's the one thing you don't want to do?  Trade away one of your brightest young pitchers in only his first year of arbitration.

    Yet that's exactly what the Oakland Athletics did, sending Gio Gonzalez (3.12 ERA with 197 strikeouts in 2011) to the Washington Nationals.  

    Things are tough in Oakland, as the team struggles to find a permanent home and hopes to compete with the free-spending Los Angeles Angels and defending AL champion Texas Rangers.  

    The pitching has been good recently, as the team had the third-best ERA in the American League in 2011, but Gonzalez's departure will likely drop them down the leader board.

    The A's offense was 20th in the MLB in runs scored in 2011, 24th in both batting average and home runs, and 26th in total bases.  The team's weak offense should keep them near the bottom of the AL West, battling only the even more offensively challenged Seattle Mariners. 

25. Chicago White Sox

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    The Chicago White Sox were by no means a bad team in 2011, finishing with a 79-83 record, but they were by no means a good team, either.  

    The Sox payroll grew bloated as the most significant players began to show signs of age, and as the season came to a close, it became obvious to South Siders that something had to change at Comiskey.

    The White Sox have spent the off-season looking to shed payroll.  The team allowed pitcher Mark Buehrle, the face of the franchise, to walk away, and they will seek to trade away some of their larger contracts for younger (and cheaper) alternatives.  

    This could benefit the Sox in the long term, but it will be painful in the short term.  The team has some talented young pitchers, but none who are ready to fill the shoes of Buehrle.   

    2012 could be a painful season for White Sox fans, but assuming the Sox can't find takers for some of their more expensive and older players, there will still be enough talent to keep the team from embarrassing itself.

24. Colorado Rockies

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    The Colorado Rockies of 2012 should look similar to the Rockies of 2011, as few players departed for free agency.  This will mean that unless some of the team's young talent have breakout seasons in 2012, the team is unlikely to improve much on its 73-89 record and fourth-place finish last season.  

    The Rockies will rely heavily on Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki for offense next year, and the team will hope that young outfielder Carlos Gonzalez can repeat his strong 2011 season.  

    The team's starting pitching looks to be spotty once again in 2012, though Jhoulys Chacin, who will be only 24 at the season's outset, showed promise last year.  The Rockies will likely get what is expected from the rest of the rotation, which will make it tough to win games.

    Unless the Rockies surprise everyone and make some moves during the remaining free agency period, expect the team to perform similarly to 2011. 

23. New York Mets

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    What did $118 million buy the New York Mets in 2011?  A 77-85 record and a fourth-place finish in the NL East division.  

    The only good news for the New York Mets this off season is that it won't cost them as much to have a disappointing season in 2012.

    The Mets lost their best player, Jose Reyes, and will struggle to replace his .337 batting average and 39 stolen bases.  The team has done little to improve itself in free agency, and since they are under tight financial limitations, are unlikely to improve much in the short term.

    The team has been rumored to be in pursuit of Ryan Theriot, who would provide some help but hardly replace Reyes's productivity.

    The Mets are currently in a state of transition, and it will be awhile before they are contenders again.  In the meantime, the team will focus on cleaning up their balance sheet and developing their young players, namely first baseman Daniel Murphy.

22. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    After six consecutive seasons in which the Pittsburgh Pirates failed to win 70 games, including a terrible 57 wins in 2010, the team showed signs of improvement in 2011, posting a record of 72-90.  

    The Pirates improvement has come as a result of a youth movement on the team.  Four of the Pirates' starters in 2011 were 25 and under, and each of their starting pitchers were 30 or under at the start of the season.  The team's star is Andrew McCutchen, whose power numbers jumped to a career high in 2011.

    The Pirates have added Clint Barmes, Rod Barajas and Nate McLouth to the roster during the off-season, while keeping their payroll at the meager amount dictated by their financial situation.  

    The Pirates face the perpetual difficulty of competing with a tiny budget, but by focusing on their young, homegrown players, they are playing to their strengths.

    The Pirates still aren't a great team, but they are not likely to be the doormats of the NL East that they have been for the past decade. 

21. Minnesota Twins

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    The Minnesota Twins won the AL Central division in 2010 with a 94-68 record, and many had them as the favorites to repeat in 2011.  Instead, the team collapsed, posting a 63-99 record, dead last in the division.

    The Twins poor performance was due to a number of factors: losing players such as J.J. Hardy and Jon Rauch for inferior replacements, the improvement of the division rival Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians, and the midseason departures of Jim Thome and Delmon Young.

    But the most significant cause was the injuries of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Francisco Liriano.

    With the return of Mauer, Morneau, and Liriano in 2012, the Twins are instantly improved, and should see their record jump from 2011.  Still, the team will suffer from losing players such as Michael Cuddyer, Thome and Young.  

    The Twins team is quite different from the team that won the division in 2010, and they don't have the personnel necessary to get back to the top of the division next season.  Barring injuries, the team is much better than the 2011 squad, and the Twins should show great improvement next year.

20. Chicago Cubs

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    The arrival of Theo Epstein and Dale Sveum to Wrigleyville has Chicago Cubs fans dreaming of a broken curse and a parade down Michigan Avenue.  Though the new front office is an exciting turn for the Cubs, it shouldn't obscure the fact that the Cubs just aren't a good team.

    In 2011, the Cubs were 19th in MLB in runs scored, 13th in batting average, 20th in home runs, 25th in ERA, and dead last in fielding percentage.  

    Not enough has changed this off-season to put a significant dent in any of those figures, and the Cubs will most likely find themselves struggling to put runs on the board and keep opponents' runs off the board.  

    The Cubs are looking to deal Matt Garza, which would free payroll and provide flexibility in the long run, but his 3.32 ERA and 198 innings pitched in 2011 will be difficult to replace.

    The Cubs have made some good moves that could help them out in the long term, but the team still has a long way to go before they will worry their NL Central rivals.

19. Kansas City Royals

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    The Kansas City Royals had the lowest payroll in baseball in 2011, a paltry $36.1 million, yet the team passed the 70-win mark for only the second time since 2003.  The team is experiencing a youth movement, and the front office has filled the roster with youngsters.  

    All of the team's best and most promising players are under 30: Eric Hosmer (22), Alex Gordon (27), Jeff Francoeur (27), and Billy Butler (25).  Starting pitcher Bruce Chen is the only significant player on the roster over the age of 30.

    The Royals boasted a relatively potent offense in 2011, finishing 10th in MLB in runs scored, fourth in batting average, and fifth in total bases.  The team's pitching was their weakness, as they finished 27th in MLB in ERA and 23rd in strikeouts.  

    The Royals are rumored to be in pursuit of an additional starting pitcher in free agency, but as the roster currently stands, the pitching staff is likely to be the team's weakness once again in 2011.

    The Royals are in the rebuilding process, and their poor pitching will prevent them from improving too much in 2012.  Still, their offense is potent enough that they could surprise some folks and finish better than expected in the AL Central division.

18. Miami Marlins

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    The Florida Marlins had one of their worst performances in franchise history in 2011, earning the team's second-worst record of the 2000s.  The newly renamed Miami Marlins will be a very different club in 2012. 

    The Marlins have brought aboard four-time All-Stars Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and three-time All-Star Heath Bell, and former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen will lead the squad.

    One of the big issues the Marlins will face is how they deal with Hanley Ramirez.  He was the star of the team prior to the arrival of the new free agent crop, and because of Reyes's presence, Ramirez will have to move out of the shortstop position.  

    Ramirez is coming off of the worst season of his career, in which he batted .243, 63 points below his career batting average, and a career-low 10 home runs.

    The Marlins have a new name, a new stadium, and a new roster in 2012, and though the roster still has gaps, they promise to be a much-improved team in 2012.

17. San Francisco Giants

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    It was painfully evident last season that the Giants' downfall was their batting.  The team had perhaps the best rotation in baseball; three starting pitchers had ERA's below 3.00, with Ryan Vogelsong leading the way at 2.71.  

    Had the Giants had any offense, they would have been the team to beat in the NL West, but even with their anemic hitting, the Giants finished 86-76.  Pablo Sandoval and Carlos Beltran were the only players to demonstrate any offense, and with Beltran departed, the Giants will struggle to find run production.  

    The Giants will benefit from Buster Posey replacing the light-hitting Eli Whiteside in the lineup, and Brandon Crawford will hope to improve on his low batting average in his second season.

    There's not much hope for the Giants hitting much better in 2012 than they did in 2011, but with their dominant pitching staff, the Giants will keep games close, giving them plenty of chances to win games. 

16. Cleveland Indians

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    After two terrible seasons, the Cleveland Indians got hot in 2011, turning in their best record in three seasons.  Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was the leading offensive player, but the team's batting was only average in 2011.  

    The team's pitching was worse, finishing 10th out of 14th in the American League in ERA, and their fielding was no better.  Regardless, the Indians were able to win a decent number of games last season.

    Heading into 2012, the Indians are expected to have a performance similar to 2011.  The AL Central division will almost certainly be won by the Detroit Tigers, but other than the young Kansas City Royals, there aren't any real threats in the division.

    The Tribe brought back Grady Sizemore for a one-year deal, but Sizemore hasn't had much impact in years.  His 2011 performance, in which he batted .224 with 10 home runs, seems not to be an off-season, but the trajectory of his once bright career.

    Sizemore is a three-time All-Star, and much of his struggles are related to injuries.  If he can find his form and his health once again, he could help the Tribe greatly, but at this point the Indians can't count on much from him.

    The Indians are an average team with a few talented contributors, but if they find success in 2012, it will largely come from playing in a mostly weak division.

15. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers organization is a mess.  To say the ownership situation is uncertain is like saying Vin Scully has a pleasant voice.

    Attendance has dropped significantly, and no free agent in his right mind wants to join the team right now. Yet the absolute mess created by Frank and Jamie McCourt shouldn't obscure the fact that the Dodgers roster has a decent collection of players, including a couple of the best young players in the game.

    The Dodgers' decision to re-sign Matt Kemp to a long-term contract will keep one of the game's best young bats in Dodger blue for nearly a decade.  Clayton Kershaw lived up to his potential in 2011 and became one of the game's most exciting and unhittable young pitchers.  

    Andre Ethier and James Loney both hit for good average last year, though Loney has never been a power hitter and Ethier's power seems to have abandoned him.

    On the mound, Hiroki Kuroda's 13-16 record obscures his 3.07 ERA, and Javy Guerra is developing into a good closer.  

    The ongoing soap opera that is the Dodgers will likely continue to distract the team in 2012, and the team cannot truly begin to rebuild until the McCourt era is over and a new owner is found.

    But the team has two of the best young players in the game and a few other good role players, making up an excellent nucleus that will allow the team to play decently in 2012.

14. Toronto Blue Jays

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    The Toronto Blue Jays play in the fourth-largest market in Major League Baseball and are owned by a multi-billion dollar corporation, yet the team acts like a mid-market team.  The team's payroll in 2011 was $62.57 million, ahead of only seven teams and behind even the cheapskate Oakland Athletics.

    Yet despite their low payroll, the Jays have managed to be competitive almost every year despite playing in the toughest division in baseball, earning a .500 winning percentage or better in nine of the past 14 seasons.

    The 2011 Blue Jays had trouble getting on base, yet scored a good number of runs, in no small part due to Jose Bautista's monster season.  The team struggled on the mound, particularly in the bullpen, which has been the focus of the team in the offseason.  The Jays acquired closer Sergio Santos, an affordable and productive option for the team.

    The Jays missed out on the Yu Darvish bonanza, but are rumored to be hot in the hunt for Prince Fielder. He would, of course, be helpful to the Jays and would give them one of the best 1-2 punches in Bautista and Prince, but even without Fielder, the Jays should once again be competitive, but no real threat to win anything.

13. Cincinnati Reds

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    The Cincinnati Reds looked very good in 2010, but they were disappointed by their 79-83 record and third-place finish in 2011.  The team is likely to lose a key piece in Francisco Cordero, one of the best closers in the game, but there is no reason the Reds can't be a decent team in 2012.  

    The Reds are anchored by Joey Votto at first base, who in a down season last year still batted .309 with 29 home runs and 103 RBI.  Brandon Phillips is also a very good hitter and excellent fielder at second base, and Ryan Hanigan was an effective catcher, though his platoon mate Ramon Hernandez will be missed.

    The Reds' pitching is a greater concern, and not just the vacant closer position.  Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto, both very young starting pitchers, looked good last year, but the rest of the staff struggled.  

    Bronson Arroyo's performance was particularly disappointing, and Edinson Volquez looked downright bad.

    The Reds offense should be good once again next year, and if Leake and Cueto continue to develop and a decent replacement for Cordero can be found, the Reds should be competitive, though far from dominant, in 2012. 

12. Washington Nationals

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    The Washington Nationals believe that with the Philadelphia Phillies growing older and the Atlanta Braves still in a period of transition, the NL East championship is wide open, and the team is determined to buy their way to a title.

    Last year, the Nats signed Jayson Werth, and this year they brought Gio Gonzalez on board.  The team is thought to be in active pursuit of the remaining big catch of free agency, Prince Fielder, and signing him would make the Nats one of the most talented, and expensive, teams in the National League.

    The Nationals have built a solid core of players, and if Stephen Strasburg is healthy and capable of pitching anything like he did in 2010, the Nats will have one of the more feared pitching staffs in the league.  

    The Nats also are hopeful that uber-prospect Bryce Harper proves himself to be ready for promotion to the big leagues, as they could use his big lefty bat.

    The Nationals are successfully building a team through a combination of player development and free spending, and if the Phillies falter in the NL East, the Nats could be a strong competitor for the division title.  

11. Atlanta Braves

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    After not missing the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons, the Atlanta Braves have made the postseason only once in the past six seasons.

    The team has looked better in the past two seasons, but still needs improvement if they want to compete with the mighty Phillies and the emerging Nationals in the NL East.

    The Braves offense was weak in 2011, finishing 26th in MLB in batting average and 22nd in runs scored. Dan Uggla, with all of his power, has trouble getting on base, and Chipper Jones is battling Father Time. 

    The Braves' success is due to having one of the best pitching staffs in the game, and the team finished fourth in MLB in earned run average in 2011.  The pitching staff looks strong for 2012, and the Braves should be similarly competitive.

    The team hasn't made the strides necessary to improve much, but if Freddie Freeman and Jayson Heyward continue to develop, the Braves offense could improve enough to give the team a good shot at the playoffs.

10. Milwaukee Brewers

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    Assuming Prince Fielder leaves Milwaukee for a bigger paycheck and Ryan Braun's suspension is not overturned, the Milwaukee Brewers will find their offense decimated in early 2012.

    In 2011, the Brewers ranked seventh in total bases, eighth in batting average, and sixth in home runs.

    But as the team will probably have to play their first 50 games without Fielder or Braun, their offense will be significantly weakened and will rely much more heavily on the bats of Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, and the rest of the team.

    There are still plenty of strong bats in the lineup without Fielder or Braun, but their combined 71 home runs and 357 hits won't be easily replaced.  

    Of course, if Fielder surprises everyone and returns to Milwaukee, the Brewers will only struggle to replace Braun for the first 50 games, a difficult but much less daunting task.

    Once Braun returns mid-season, the Brewers will again be a very good team, though the likely absence of Fielder would deprive the team not only of his statistics, but also the protection hit big bat offers.  

    The team has very good starting pitching, which should help keep the team competitive, but this will almost certainly not be the same team we saw last season, and the emotional toll a Braun suspension and a Fielder departure would cast over the team cannot be overstated. 

9. St. Louis Cardinals

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    It is impossible to predict just how much Albert Pujols's departure for Southern California will impact the St. Louis Cardinals, but the Cards will be a very different team in 2012.  While many are writing off any chance of the Cards competing for the NL Central crown in 2012, it's not impossible for the Cards to play successfully without Pujols.  

    When Alex Rodriguez departed from the Seattle Mariners after the 2000 season and the Texas Rangers 2003 season, both teams improved the following season.  However, the Cardinals' identity is so wrapped up in Albert Pujols that the team will face a great challenge in learning to live without Albert.

    Of course, Pujols was not the only significant departure from St. Louis.  Manager Tony La Russa will no longer lead the team, and the Cards will look different without La Russa's notorious in-game strategizing.

    Yet even without Pujols and La Russa, the team is loaded with talent.  Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman both put up big numbers in 2011, and Yadier Molina was a rock at catcher.  

    Youngsters David Freese, Allen Craig, and Jon Jay each had breakout seasons, and a repeat of their 2011 production would go a long way toward helping the team put up runs without Pujols.  

    The Cardinals are perhaps the biggest question mark in baseball in 2012, but there's no reason that the Cards can't be competitive next season, even without the greatest player in the game today.

8. Boston Red Sox

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    Depending on who you ask, the Boston Red Sox collapsed in epic fashion at the end of 2011 due to uninspired play, poor management, over-entitled players or beer and fried chicken.  

    Whatever the cause, Sox management hit the panic button and dramatically changed both the roster and management.  The Sox look very different in 2012, and Sox fans hope that the changes will inspire their players to play with a greater sense of urgency.

    Clubhouse distractions aside, the Sox still have plenty of talent to win games, both in the lineup and on the mound.  What will decide the team's fate is new manager Bobby Valentine's leadership and how the players respond to him, and if the aging team can remain healthy.

    The Sox have a recent history of starting off slowly, and Valentine will have to light a fire under his players and instill a greater sense of urgency so that the team doesn't spend the summer playing catch up.

    The Sox have no excuse if they don't win games in 2012, but many of the players who reportedly caused problems last season are still on the roster, and team chemistry will be largely determine the team's success. 

7. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks came out of nowhere in 2011 to win the NL West division, led by an outstanding young pitching staff, including Cy Young candidate Ian Kennedy, and the bat of Justin Upton.

    It is quite possible that the Diamondbacks could be even better in 2011.  The Diamondbacks are the only team in the NL West division that doesn't have significant roster concerns, and the team's youngsters will benefit from the experience gained in the postseason.  

    Ian Kennedy had a breakout year last year, and Justin Upton found his 2009 form.  If the two stars, as well as the squad of young starters, continue their progress in 2012, the Diamondbacks should win the NL West division quite comfortably and contend for the pennant.

6. Tampa Bay Rays

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    In 2011, Evan Longoria's batting average dropped 50 points, B.J. Upton once again batted below .250, and David Price's ERA jumped 0.77 points.  Yet despite all of this, the Tampa Bay Rays still won 91 games, third-best in team history and good enough to win the American League Wild Card.

    There is no reason to believe that Longoria and Price won't improve in 2012, and if the emerging James Shields can build off of his 2011 season, the Rays will have every chance to contend for the AL East crown.  

    The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will, as always, stand in their way, but with the Red Sox in a state of transition, the Rays are the favorite to finish second in the division and to be a serious contender for the Wild Card.

5. Detroit Tigers

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    The 2011 Detroit Tigers boasted the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player award winners, the batting champion, and pitching Triple Crown winner.  

    Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera had career-best seasons in 2011, allowing the team to cruise to the division championship by a 15 game margin, the biggest of any division in 2011.  

    Yet the team was more than just Verlander and Cabrera.  Designated hitter Victor Martinez batted .330, shortstop Jhonny Peralta batted .299 with 21 home runs, young pitchers Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello turned in 15-9 and 14-9 records, respectively, and closer Jose Valverde earned 49 saves.  

    The Tigers are a deep team, and after their disappearance in the American League Championship Series, they should be hungry to redeem themselves in 2012.

    The danger facing the Tigers is how they will adapt if the seasons had by Verlander and Cabrera are unrepeatable, and the team is forced to rely on its other players to a greater extent.  

    Still, the Tigers have no legitimate contenders in the American League Central division, and should cruise to another division title.  With the experience gained in the 2011 postseason, the Tigers are a dangerous team in 2012.

4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    The Los Angeles Angels were tied with the San Francisco Giants for the 11th best record in the Major Leagues last season, but the team that will be taking the field in 2012 is entirely different than the team that finished 10 games behind the Texas Rangers last season.  

    The addition of Albert Pujols, the finest player of his generation, and C.J. Wilson, an outstanding young pitcher capable of putting up big innings while allowing very few runs, makes the Angels an immediate World Series contender.

    The Angels are far more than just Pujols and Wilson.  Aside from Wilson, the Angels boast two starting pitchers with more than 15 wins in 2011, Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, the latter who earned a 2.41 ERA on an 18-8 record.  

    The Angels offense in 2011 was middling, but Pujols's presence in the lineup not only adds the best bat in the game to the lineup, but also takes some of the pressure off Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter and Mark Trumbo.

    The Angels are still an unproven entity, and it is far from a foregone conclusion that they will win their division in 2012.  But in a single week, the Angels went from a pretty good but unspectacular team to one of the most feared teams in Major League Baseball. 

3. Texas Rangers

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    After the Los Angeles Angels went on their offseason spending spree in which they acquired Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, many were quick to bestow the AL West division crown on the Angels, ignoring the fact that the Texas Rangers have won the pennant twice in a row.

    While the Angels are much better than they were in 2011 and are one of the most talented teams in baseball, the Texas Rangers are still a talented and deep squad, and they have the proven track record of success that the new-look Angels do not yet possess.

    Aside from the rise of the Angels, the biggest question mark facing the Texas Rangers this season, assuming the team is able to come to contractual terms with Yu Darvish, is how Darvish will fill in for the departed C.J. Wilson.  

    Wilson was very good last year, turning in a 2.94 ERA and a 16-7 record, but he is not irreplaceable. Wilson's WAR in 2011 was 5.0, only 1 win above fellow starter Matt Harrison and 1.5 wins above Alexi Ogando.  

    The Rangers possess an exceptionally talented young pitching staff, and the addition of Darvish will make them one of the more feared rotations in the league.

    It's possible to win a pennant through a well-timed streak, but the Rangers back-to-back pennants were no fluke, and they are still the team to beat in the AL West.

2. New York Yankees

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    The New York Yankees are at the top of preseason rankings every year, and for good reason: the boys in pinstripes have missed the playoffs only once in the past 17 seasons, and haven't turned in a losing record since 1992.  

    Despite the increasing age of many of their most important players, there's no reason to think the Yankees won't return to the playoffs again in 2012.

    The Yankees were at or near the top of the big leagues in every offensive category last year: second in runs, seventh in batting average, first in home runs, and third in total bases.  

    The team was nearly as strong in pitching, finishing fourth in the American League in ERA, first in the American League in strikeouts, and second in the American League in saves.

    The team has been relatively quiet in free agency, an unusual position for the team to be in, and the opening day roster is expected, by and large, to be similar to today's projected roster.  The Yankees have all the talent and experience necessary to play into the fall of 2012.

1. Philadelphia Phillies

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    The Philadelphia Phillies collapsed to a surging St. Louis Cardinals team in the 2011 National League Division Series under a weight of exhaustion.  

    Though the team was quickly written off as past its prime, the team's 3-2 series loss to the eventual champions shouldn't obscure that they are still an immensely talented team.

    The Phillies won 102 games in 2011, five games more than the American League-leading New York Yankees.  The team's success is largely due to their unrivaled pitching staff, featuring stars Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.  

    Though Oswalt had a disappointing record, finishing 9-10, he earned a 3.69 ERA.  The team also was pleased to get a surprisingly strong performance out of young Vance Worley, who posted a 11-3 record with a 3.01 ERA.

    It was thought that Jimmy Rollins might leave Philadelphia, but his decision to stay with the Phillies adds to the likelihood that the team can win the World Series in 2012.  

    Though Rollins batted only .268 in 2011 and didn't hit the ball with the power he is capable of, his fielding was back to the level he has exhibited throughout his career.  

    The addition of Jonathan Papelbon to the roster also should help the Phillies.  Ryan Madson served ably as the closer for the Phillies in 2011, but Papelbon is a proven entity, and should give the starting pitchers greater confidence.

    The Phillies are undoubtedly growing older, but though many believe their time has come and gone, the roster is filled with some of the finest players in the game, and they are the team to beat in the National League.