Wednesday marked the first day of 2012 for me. It marked the return of America’s greatest pastime and tradition, the Major League Baseball season. There is no greater way to spend an afternoon than relaxing in a ballpark, watching the world’s best duel on the diamond.
While I will spend most of the season focusing my efforts on fantasy leagues (if you have not drafted yet, take Konerko, Hosmer, Cargo, Hamilton, Crawford, Kershaw, Bumgarner, Moore and Greinke to assure victory in your league), I thought it appropriate to make a few predictions for how this season will turn out come Rocktober—I mean October.
Predictions for 2012:
AL East: Tampa Bay Rays
With arguably the best rotation in baseball in David Price, James Shields, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Jeff Niemann, the Rays have what it takes to compete in the best division in baseball. Behind Evan Longoria, they will win their season series against New York, Toronto and (fourth-place) Boston en route to the postseason.
AL Central: Detroit Tigers
After Verlander’s stunning Cy Young season, I think he falls off a bit this year, regressing more to career numbers. Still, I like the Tigers in a weak division behind an incredibly solid lineup made stronger with the addition of Prince Fielder. The Royals will fall just short of Detroit and the wildcard teams in a breakout year.
Al West: Texas Rangers
After winning the AL championship and losing in the World Series the past two years, the Rangers will come back with a vengeance, running away with the AL West ahead of second-place L.A. Their injury-prone lineup will crack in the postseason with Wash sitting Yu Darvish after 150 innings.
Wildcards: L.A. Angels, New York Yankees
With the new two-wildcard format, the AL East will be a true dogfight right through Sept., but the Yankees will prevail ahead of third-place Toronto to lock up the second wild card spot, and the Angels, second in record only to the Rangers, will lock up the first wild card spot and defeat the Yankees in the play in game behind eight innings from C.J. Wilson, who out-duels fellow lefty CC Sabathia.
Champions: L.A. Angels
L.A. has the depth in the rotation and the field that will push them ahead of Detroit in the conference finals and into the World Series.
NL East: Atlanta Braves
The Marlins will flounder in the late part of the season behind a sidelined Josh Johnson and a slumping Jose Reyes, and the Phillies will finish fourth in the division, even with the best rotation in baseball. Hamels flees to L.A., Worley goes to a team in a playoff race, and the team starts clearing veterans to rebuild. Atlanta stays steady throughout the season and charges into the playoffs.
NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers
A vindicated Ryan Braun leads the Brewers into another division championship, even after the loss of Prince Fielder. Behind the 1-2 combo of Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke and the addition of Roy Oswalt midseason, they finish the year with the best NL record.
NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks will feed off the success they had last year and come out atop the most competitive division in the NL behind another strong season from Upton, Young, Montero, Parra, Drew, Roberts and a breakout year from Paul Goldschmidt.
Wildcards: Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies
The Reds have one of the most solid lineups in baseball after offseason acquisitions and will make moves in the NL central if they can click and stay healthy. They will finish just short of Milwaukee but take down Colorado in the play-in game. Colorado will emerge from a tough race in the NL West for the second wild card spot and even with a veteran lineup, will not have the strength to push any further.
Champions: Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee will maintain the level they set all season long and will win the NL pennant behind an incredible postseason from Braun and Mat Gamel.
World Series Champion: L.A. Angels
The Angels simply have what it takes this year and will surprise no one with a World Series title, even after giving up the division to the Rangers.
AL MVP: 3B Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Longoria pushes beyond his 2011 form to hit 40 home runs and drive in 120 runs to lead the Tampa Bay offense to the AL East Title. He will edge out Pujols, Cabrera and a bounce-back Josh Hamilton for the MVP award.
NL MVP: LF Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Cargo has all the tools to be the NL MVP and will put them all on display in 2012 after missing parts of last season with a wrist injury. He will bat .330 with 35-40 home runs and 40 steals to edge out Braun, Upton and Votto for the trophy. Early MVP favorite Matt Kemp will slump in the second half, ruining his chances.
AL Cy Young: RHP Jered Weaver L.A. Angels
Weaver finally puts it all together and emerges as the best pitcher in the AL behind a 25-win season with the Angels. The fans will call for Matt Moore to be crowned but recognize Weaver as the true recipient.
NL Cy Young: Zack Greinke Milwaukee Brewers
All three Phillies aces will have disappointing years, the Giants staff will perform as usual, but not stupendously, leaving Greinke in a race for MVP with last year’s winner Clayton Kershaw. Greinke will win it, but the fans will be left wondering if it was only because Kershaw already took one home last year.
AL Rookie of the Year: LHP Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays
Matt Moore will prove to be the ace of a staff full of aces to lock up the AL ROY award with no question. He will pitch a full 200 innings to earn 20 wins and set rookie records for K/9 and WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched).
NL Rookie of the Year: LHP Drew Pomeranz, Colorado Rockies
Pomeranz will oust Harper and Yonder Alonso for the award after an impressive rookie campaign in which he will help lead the Rockies to their late season push for the playoffs. Cleveland fans everywhere will start wondering why they ever traded him for Ubaldo Jimenez.