Major League Baseball: Predicting the Winners
The baseball world got rocked and rolled this winter, as Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder both jumped ship from the NL Central to the American League. Those newfangled Florida Marlins of Miami drew up an ugly logo and then completely made up for it by spending loads of dough on the likes of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle.
Most recently, the Oakland A's of all teams dropped almost $40 million combined on Yoenis Cespedes and disgraced slugger Manny Ramirez (okay, so he only got a half-mil...). All of this is just one piece of the pie that went down over the offseason.
But with spring training finally upon us, it's time to see if all the moves paid off. Without further ado, here are my impossible-to-predict final MLB standings for 2012. Enjoy! And don't forget to hit up the comment section and tell me why I'm a genius and/or why you hate me and wish I'd disappear forever.
American League West
1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Texas Rangers
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Oakland Athletics
Warning—the following words are going to be a theme in this slideshow: This division was TOUGH to pick. The Rangers and Angels are absolutely elite teams. Back-to-back AL pennants tell you all you need to know about Texas, and the Angels got a big bat and a big arm in Pujols and C.J. Wilson.
Los Angeles now has one of the deeper rotations in baseball with Wilson, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver. And, of course, Pujols will give that offense a huge boost. The Rangers return a ferocious lineup and a rotation that is underrated, but not quite good enough to compete with the pitchers in L.A.
I see the Angels winning this division, but it's going to come down to the last week of the season. I'm a proponent of "defense wins championships," and their rotation is going to get it done when it counts. Texas will be in it for the Wild Card, but ultimately I see a very, very good team that would certainly be tops in the NL, falling short of the playoffs in 2012.
Don't worry M's and A's fans—you get a shout out too! Don't bother turning on your TVs this year. Just kidding. The Mariners are moving in the right direction for sure, adding Jesus Montero to a lineup that already boasts a rising star in Dustin Ackley. I worry about the loss of Michael Pineda, but Seattle's offense has been so inept for the past few years that the move definitely makes sense.
And oh, the Athletics. My dear, beloved A's. The only reason to go to games this season, aside from cheap tickets on Wednesdays, will be to see if Cespedes is the real deal. And to see how goofy Manny can be. It's not a stretch to think the A's will lose 100 games after trading away Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, but it will be a beautiful disaster to watch no matter what.
American League Central
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Chicago White Sox
The hardest part about choosing this division is who finishes at the bottom. Because the Tigers look like absolute locks to win the Central after picking up Fielder. A three-four of Fielder and Miguel Cabrera is by far the dirtiest combo in the big leagues. You could legitimately see a combined 85 home runs and 230 RBI out of those two guys.
Pair the new offense with reigning Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander, and you've got the makings of a deep playoff run. Then you can consider that the Tigers have some other pieces on offense and a very underrated starter in Doug Fister to pair with a pretty good one-two, and we may be talking World Series in a matter of eight short months.
The Indians and Royals are both looking real good for the future right now. I like both offenses (K.C.'s a little better, but that's cause I've got a man-crush on Eric Hosmer) and both pitching staffs could use a little work. But I really liked the Royals going out and getting Jonathan Sanchez. I think that will be huge to a potential playoff run over the next couple seasons.
I also think the Twins are sleepers. They aren't going to make the playoffs, but they could really ruin some teams down the stretch. You have to expect Joe Mauer will bounce back eventually, and I think this is the year.
As for the Sox, they confuse me beyond belief. They have potential to hang around in the race for a while, but I just have this feeling with all the offseason drama, that Ken Williams' club is going to have a rough go this year.
American League East
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles
I know, I know. How cliche. This looks familiar, doesn't it? The Yankees really upgraded their rotation by getting rid of Jesus Montero this winter. Michael Pineda may just be the next coming of Felix Hernandez if early indications are realistic. And of course they have an incredible lineup. But you have to like the moves Brian Cashman made to get Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda. It's a gigantic upgrade over the rotation they had last year. Paired with CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, New York is going to be a tougher club than ever.
The Sox are going to be better than last year. Which is a little scary, considering the planets aligned perfectly to oust them from the playoffs in 2011. Clay Buchholz will be back at full health, as will Kevin Youkilis. And there's no way that Carl Crawford will struggle so miserably again. With five legit MVP candidates in the lineup and a big three that can rival most in the majors, the Sox should take down the AL Wild Card in 2012.
Tampa will boast the deepest rotation in the American League, but unfortunately they didn't really do anything to upgrade their offense over the winter. You know how the Rays roll; they will be in it to win it until September, but I just can't see them not fading down the stretch when they are scoring two or three runs per game.
The Jays are much improved and has a really young, exciting rotation to work with. Fourth place in the division looks bad, but this won't be like every other season where they just flounder miles behind the big three. They are going to be tough this year and may play spoiler down the stretch. I wouldn't be surprised to see them within striking distance at the end of August.
Sadly for the O's, they aren't going anywhere again. They still have some good, young pieces. But it takes more than that to be competitive in this division. Baltimore might be on the same path as the Blue Jays, just a few years behind. The moves they make over the next few seasons will determine if they get out of the cellar anytime in the near future.
National League West
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres
This division is all sorts of whack-o as well. The D'Backs have an unlikely division title to defend, and luckily for them, they are the only team that really got stronger over the winter. They return a strong, young, but strikeout-prone offense to support Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and the big acquisition, Trevor Cahill. I think they will win this division again, but it won't be easy.
While the Giants upped their offensive mojo with signings of Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera, I still don't think it will be enough. Buster Posey returns and you'd like to count on him for a big offensive season but every other hitter in that lineup has a question mark about consistency, health or age. Luckily, they have one of the best rotations in baseball and that should keep them in the hunt until the end.
My Dodgers made a fanbase-saving move when they re-upped Matt Kemp early in the winter. What that means is no matter the disastrous ownership situation, we have a bona fide star in the middle of our lineup for the next eight years. I really like the re-signing of Juan Rivera, but now that the rotation essentially consists of Clayton Kershaw and a bunch of average, boring pitchers the Dodgers are in trouble. I think the only chance L.A. has to sneak in is if the rest of the West struggles and Andre Ethier rebounds to have a monster season.
Everyone's all excited about the moves the Rockies made this offseason, but I just don't see it. They got Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Casey Blake and Jeremy Guthrie so they were the most ambitious team in the division. Good move getting Cuddyer, but he's not a superstar. Scutaro and Blake I had the pleasure of watching with the A's and Dodgers, respectively, for years. They are consummate professionals, but they aren't going to change that team. And until Guthrie really puts it together, he's a waste of an acquisition. Will he put it together at Coors Field? Doubt it.
Finally, the Padres. They lost Heath Bell and Mat Latos, which I think San Diego fans are fretting about a little too much. They got an immediate impact replacement closer in Huston Street and got a whole haul of solid prospects from the Reds in the Latos deal. Don't expect anything out of the Padres in 2012, but I love the moves they made and I expect a run in 2014 if this team stays intact.
National League Central
1. Cincinnati Reds
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Houston Astros
Again, I'm not a huge fan of Mat Latos. I think he'll do well for Cincy, but it's hard to justify his worth when they traded half the farm system for him. The rotation should be good enough to get the Reds to the top of this division. Their lineup is still stacked with Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and company. It won't be a run-away title, but I think they hang on and beat out the Brew Crew on the last weekend of the season.
Milwaukee is minus one very large, very good bat after this offseason. They still have a pretty good rotation, but aside from one or two seasons each throughout their careers, I've never been blown away by Yovanni Gallardo, Shaun Marcum or Zach Greinke. If they all have a good season a the same time, this is an easy choice for winning the Central. Assuming Ryan Braun and company can keep it together without Fielder in the lineup. I think they will have a shot at the Wild Card, but ultimately fall short in 2012.
Now the Cardinals losing Albert Pujols is a much bigger deal. Sure, they get Adam Wainwright back, but Pujols was the absolute soul of that team. I just can't see Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and David Freese being an intimidating enough lineup to contend past August. St. Louis management did all they could to keep the Cards competitive this year, but it just won't quite be good enough.
What the Pirates did under the radar last year was nothing short of miraculous. You've got to love some of the guys they have in that clubhouse like Andrew McCutchen. The offense is getting better with the maturity of some of their prospects like Pedro Alvarez. The staff is still lacking a bit, but they have some potential. I was not a fan of the A.J. Burnett trade at first, but if he is an above-average pitcher in Pitt, they won that deal. I see them staying in it for about three-fourths of the season, then fading. But the Pirates have a good thing going there.
The Cubs finally got the hint. It only took a century. Just kidding, but it's nice to see them clean up the front office and actually bring in a guy who knows what he's doing. Losing Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano will hurt them this season, but it had to be done. I like some of the youngsters in their system and if we know anything about Theo Epstein, it's that he can build a winner. Look for the Cubbies to contend again by 2014.
Well, the Astros are a sorry bunch, huh? Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez are stuck on a team that is essentially trying out their minor leaguers to see who fits and who doesn't before they move over to the AL in 2013. They will come around eventually, but this is not a team that will be fun to watch for another couple years at the least.
National League East
1. Washington Nationals
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. Miami Marlins
4. Atlanta Braves
5. New York Mets
This is my boldest prediction, in the most unsure division in baseball. I love what the Nats have done, being so aggressive in free agency and with trades the last couple seasons. I still hate the Jayson Werth move, but they have more than made up for it. Getting Gio Gonzalez was a straight coup, and that's the move that I think will push them over the top this year. Their offense is young and solid and the rotation with Gio and a healthy Strasburg is going to be shockingly good in 2012.
You've gotta love Philly's pitching rotation, but Halladay, Lee and Hamels can't carry a team by themselves. Ryan Howard is going to be recovering from a torn Achilles, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins will both likely spend time on the DL, and the Phillies also lost Raul Ibanez. This offense is a shell of its former self, and unless Shane Victorino hits about .350 this year, I don't think they'll win the division. Lucky for Phillies fans, the other two divisions are so weak that I think they snag the NL Wild Card.
Miami is doing the right things, just in the most obnoxious ways. They will open their new stadium and they will make a run early. They are going to play some good ball, but I don't think they are ready yet. They are missing one piece. Ozzie Guillen will whip Hanley Ramirez into shape and if Josh Johnson stays healthy, the Fish will challenge for a playoff spot for sure. But even with all their big hitters and new lockdown closer, I think the Marlins are one good starter away from the playoffs. Hopefully they still have money left to spend next winter.
When a team I'm predicting to finish fourth in a division also has a legit chance at winning the division, you know we're in for a wild ride. I just don't think Atlanta has the offense this year to compete with the three teams ahead of them. That doesn't mean they are bad by any means, just not good enough. If they finish this low, it will still be close. I wouldn't be surprised to see these top four teams separated by less than 10 games at season's end. The young pitching for the Braves should be fun to watch, but they won't have enough offensive firepower, even if J-Hey returns to form, to make the playoffs.
The only thing I'm sure about in the NL East is that the Mets will be in dead last. They've had their share of bad luck, and with Johan Santana returning and David Wright hoping to bounce back, there are some things to look forward to at Citi Field. But this year will be another one in which they just take the loss and try to build from where they are at.
This is how I have shaking out, just to recap:
Wild Card: Red Sox
Wild Card: Phillies
Thanks for reading. Comment below to tell me who you think will make it to the postseason in 2012, and who will bring it home! Happy baseball season!