Spring Spree

4 04 2012

That time has finally come.

Baseball season is upon us. Can you feel it in the air?

Teams will soon embark on a 162-game arduous season filled with player injuries at just the wrong time, winning streaks that cause teams to look impossible to defeat, and emotional games that will lead to an owner becoming livid.

The players on each team will attempt to win enough games to make it into the playoffs and beyond. As last season showed with the red-hot Cardinals, anything can happen when a ballclub comes together at just the right time.

So, who will come together in 2012 and be crowned as World Series champions?

Since you will be hearing my voice and my take for the majority of the year, I decided to bring in someone with solid knowledge of the game to give his outlook on what looks to be another great MLB season.

 

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Guest Writer: Josh McSwain

Baseball Predictions 2012

 

NL East

  1. Atlanta– Even with last year’s epic collapse in mind, this team will move to the top this season. Knowing that disappointment and that this is Chipper’s last season will fuel them to excel. Having Michael Bourn, and hopefully Brian McCann, for a full season and the experience for Freddie Freeman will help ignite an offense that ranked in the 20s in runs, OBP and batting average last season. The experience will help the bullpen, which wore down because of all the innings they logged last season, and as long as Tim Hudson can get healthy quickly and return to his previous level, they will be just fine.
  2. Philadelphia– They have more big names than the Braves, particularly in the rotation, but that doesn’t necessarily make them better players. Doc Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels as a trio are far bigger names than Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, but the collective ERAs of the two teams pitching staffs were not much different. I’d take Craig Kimbrel over the enigmatic Jonathan Papelbon at closer. The injury to Ryan Howard and the lack of durability of Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins will weigh them down. They will need Hunter Pence to jump into the elite group of players in baseball for them to get back to the World Series.
  3. Miami– This team has the talent to win the division. Jose Reyes is one the most dynamic players in baseball, and Hanley Ramirez is too when he is healthy and has his head on straight. Combine them with Gaby Sanchez, the powerful bat of Mike Stanton and the up and coming bat of Logan Morrison, they could field a pretty dangerous lineup. The question comes back to staff ace Josh Johnson. He has arguably the best stuff in all of baseball, he just cannot stay healthy. Adding Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell will help fortify their pitching, but won’t be enough to vault over the Braves and Phillies.
  4. Washington– This team is heading the right direction. Strasburg showed lights out stuff back in his few starts in 2010, and coming back this season he should be strong. Adding Gio Gonzalez from the A’s was one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. He was dominant last year in Oakland. Drew Storen is an all-star caliber closer. Mike Morse had a great season last year, and Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina are all good young players. If Ryan Zimmerman can stay healthy and Jayson Werth can live up to his contract, they will push for the playoffs.
  5. NY Mets– This team is an absolute train wreck aside from two players, David Wright and Mike Pelfrey. Losing Jose Reyes is huge, and they’re hoping Johan Santana can come back after missing all of last season. Fat chance. In order for them to get out of the cellar, Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis will have to become basically all star players and Jason Bay will have to start playing like he’s worth the money that they paid him.

 

NL Central

  1. Cincinnati– While I don’t agree with the notion that just adding Mat Latos gives them an “elite” rotation, Latos does provide another ace caliber pitcher. Johnny Cueto finally looked like player people thought he would be last season, and Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey round out a pretty good rotation. Sean Marshall takes over for the departed Francisco Cordero at closer. He has only seven saves his whole career, so we shall see how he fares as a full time closer. On the offensive side, Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips lead a lineup which is full of talent. Chris Heisley hit 18 homer runs in his second major league season in 2011 and Drew Stubbs stole 40 bases last season as well. This team looks to be very dangerous in 2012.
  2. Milwaukee– Even with the loss of Prince Fielder, they still have a potent lineup. Ryan Braun is the reigning MVP, Rickie Weeks had a good year last year and Corey Hart added 26 homers as well. Adding Aramis Ramirez will help offset the loss of Fielder, but losing Prince’s bat is not what they will miss most. Prince played every game last season- the durability and presence will be missed more. Mat Gamel has a huge job ahead of him. The pitching is solid. Yovani Gallardo has great stuff, but has not had a breakout year yet. Zach Greinke has been very average since his one great year with KC in 2009. Marcum is solid, but he will never be ace material. His lowest ERA was 3.39 in 2008 while with the Toronto Blue Jays. John Axford leads a solid bullpen. This team is still playoff material.
  3. St. Louis– Losing Peyton Manning ran the Colts into the ground last season. I don’t think losing Albert Pujols will produce the same result for the Cardinals, but knowing that the heart of soul of that team, as well as their best player, puts a huge burden on new manager Mike Matheny and the rest of the defending World Series Champions. Lance Berkman had a productive 2011 season, but I am not sure he will do it again after years of inconsistency and considering his age. Carlos Beltran did absolutely nothing for the Giants, which is why St. Louis got him so cheap. But with his age and health problems, don’t expect him to make up much of the lost production. Getting Adam Wainwright back will be a boost for the rotation, but it will not be enough to contend in an improving National League.
  4. Pittsburgh– I was rooting for this team last season. They did so well through the first half of the season and then tanked afterwords. I was hoping they could end their streak of losing seasons that now spans almost two decades. They have a talented rotation has been fortified by the addition of A.J. Burnett. I know Burnett caught a lot of flack in New York, but he was pitching in one of the most prominent hitters parks in baseball. Now, in the confines of PNC park, I expect Burnett to have a great year. In the 2009 World Series, he showed he can get the job done. On the offensive side, it’s too bad they can’t send Andrew McCutchen to the plate every time. He is one of the most complete players in baseball, even at his young age. If Garrett Jones, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez can get it together this season, expect not only a winning record but playoff contention. But, I think it’ll take one more year of growing pains before this group takes off.
  5. Chicago Cubs– This team is a collection of players that are either too old or too young. Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and David DeJesus give them the most washed up outfield in baseball. In the infield, Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney are both emerging players, but Geovany Soto is nothing special behind the plate, Ian Stewart is okay at third, and Bryan LaHair hasn’t played since 2008 with Seattle. Adding Paul Maholm was a decent move, and letting the headache of Carlos Zambrano go will help the rotation. But this team is a long ways away from contending.
  6. Houston– In their last NL season, they will more than likely have baseball’s worst record. Carlos Lee is the only name most baseball fans would be able to know on the team, and he’s well past his prime. Jed Lowrie is a solid young talent, but time will only tell if he can be a franchise cornerstone. Their rotation inspires no confidence whatsoever. J.A. Happ had an awful year last year, posting a 5.35 ERA in 28 starts. Wandy Rodriguez is the best pitcher on staff, and he’s a good 2/3 starter at best. Brett Myers moves into the closer role from the rotation. He has a lifetime ERA of 4.24, so I am highly skeptical about him succeeding in his new role. He seems best fitted for a 4/5 starter.

 

NL West

  1. San Francisco– Great pitching, enough hitting. They rode that motto to the World Series title in 2010. And, well, they are trying to do the same once again. Adding Melky Cabrera, who hit .305 in KC last season, will help the lineup, as will the return of Buster Posey. The Giants were at the top of the NL last season before Posey went down. Losing Jonathan Sanchez will hurt some, but he was expendable considering the rotation they have. Lincecum and Cain will anchor the rotation, Bumgarner and Vogelsong will hold down the middle and Zito is the most expensive 5th starter in baseball. The bullpen is solid, and if Brian Wilson returns to his 2010 form, they will have the best staff in baseball.
  2. Arizona– This is an all around solid team, but not a special one. Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill, Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter form a pretty good rotation. Adding Breslow will help the bullpen. J.J. Putz had his best season last year at closer. So we know they can pitch. Their lineup is not awe inspiring. Justin Upton has not shown he consistently will put up big numbers, having a great year in 2009, regressing in 2010, and then putting up big numbers again last season. Chris Young does nothing but hit homeruns. He can’t hit for average. Aaron Hill hit .315 in 33 games with the D’backs last season, after hitting almost 100 points lower in Toronto. Kubel will be a solid addition. He can hit for power, he hit 20+ homeruns from 2008-2010, and typically posts a pretty solid average. Injuries limited him to just 99 games last season, but he should be a boost for the club.
  3. LA Dodgers– New manager and the new ownership group have a lot on their plates right now. But fortunately, they inherit a club with talent. Matt Kemp has finally started to play up to his immense talent and is one of the five best players in all of baseball. Clayton Kershaw is young and coming off a Cy Young season. After that, there is a drop, but talent still remains. James Loney and Andre Either both have talent and have put up solid numbers. Dee Gordon hit .304 and stole 24 bases in 56 games last season. He should get better this year. I think they’re a year away, but watch out in 2013.
  4. Colorado– The team that always promises to do well then ends up disappointing. The rotation is nothing to write home about, only adding Jeremy Guthrie, who was average at best in Baltimore. Make no mistake, this team can hit. Troy Tulowitzki is one of the best players in all of baseball, Carlos Gonzalez has the talent to be as well, Todd Helton is a steady veteran, but it’s too bad they can’t play every game at Coors.
  5. San Diego– This team keeps shedding talent. After shipping away Adrian Gonzalez, they shipped away Mat Latos this offseason for an inconsistent Edison Volquez. Cameron Maybin seems to be coming into his own, and Carlos Quentin is okay, but he has not been terribly productive since his career year in 2008. They also let Heath Bell walk this offseason. It’ll a long year in San Diego, at least the weather is nice.

 

AL East

  1. Tampa Bay– Every year some think they’ll get back to the World Series, but they just don’t have the offense. Ben Zobrist is a nice player but no superstar, Longoria has all the talent in the world, but something just keeps holding him back, B.J. Upton has never been consistent, and who knows if Matt Joyce will be as good as he was last year. Their starting pitching is phenomenal, but their bullpen continues to be an amalgamation of cheap, washed up veterans. But I think they will have just enough to win the division.
  2. NY Yankees– Age is beginning to show in New York. Jeter has declined in recent years, Alex Rodriguez hit only 16 homeruns in 99 games last season, the first time he didn’t hit at least 30 since 1997. Good thing they have enough money to spend in Robinson Cano, the best 2B in baseball, Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and homerun masher Mark Teixeira. I’m not sold on Michael Pineda. He had a great first half and then cooled off in the second half last season. Now pitching in Yankee Stadium causes me some doubt. Kuroda is a solid addition, but nothing special.
  3. Boston– After their gargantuan collapse at the end of last season, last year’s paper champion has a new manager and a new focus. Bobby V has already voiced his hatred of the the Yankees, and while he may not be a better manager than Francona was, maybe his attitude will be just what this team needs to get this talented group of players to the place they were meant to go. When this team was hot last season, they looked unbeatable. However, losing Andrew Bailey for what is presumed to be a huge chunk of the season really hurts their bullpen.
  4. Toronto– They are a living embodiment of a hamster on a wheel. Just keep moving but not going anywhere. Jose Bautista is the best hitter in all of baseball (not necessarily the best all around position player, though), but he alone cannot take down the three teams above them. They Jays will have to make some major moves if they ever expect to compete with the big spending Yankees and Red Sox or the Rays.
  5. Baltimore– This is a once proud franchise that has been awful for the last 15 years, not having a single winning season in that time frame. Adam Jones seems to be playing at his talent level, but Nick Markakis has been declining, and he’s only 28. Mark Reynolds is exactly as advertised, 30+ homers but a terrible average. Matt Wieters had a good season last year, but they still don’t have enough in that lineup. It doesn’t help that they have no pitching. They had the worst ERA in the American League last season and Jason Hammel comes into the year as their #1 starter. Bleh.

 

AL Central

  1. Detroit– They may win this division by 20 games. They are that much better than everyone else. Having Doug Fister for a full season will strengthen an already strong rotation that includes Rick Porcello, who had 14 wins last season, and Max Scherzer, who had 15; as well as reigning league MVP and Cy Young Justin Verlander. Andrew Oliver comes in as the 5th starter. On the offensive side, Prince Fielder adds 35-40 homeruns and adds lineup protection to Miguel Cabrera. Defensively moving Cabrera to third is risky. But who knows, they might have a powerful enough lineup that it won’t matter.
  2. Minnesota– Joe Mauer should be healthy this season, and hopefully shouldn’t be forced to play at first base. Because, if Moneyball taught us anything, it’s very hard. But Justin Morneau looks like the bigger question mark. After all his problems with concussions, will he be able to return as an elite player? I doubt it. They do have a solid rotation though, even without a real star. Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Jason Marquis are all decent players, but a bunch of 2-4 starters. But simply having Mauer and Gardenhire will keep them around, at least for a while.
  3. Kansas City– At least it will be a step forward for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1985. Jonathan Broxton will help solidify the bullpen, but I am skeptical of Jonathan Sanchez. He never bloomed into a great pitcher while in San Francisco, which is a great hitters park. Hopefully the young offensive talent lead by first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and out fielder Alex Gordon will come together and give the KC faithful something to cheer about.
  4. Cleveland– The darling of the first half of last season faded badly in the second half of last season. The rotation should still be okay, with Justin Masterson, who broke out last season and Ubaldo Jimenez, who can hopefully recapture his 2010 form. Derek Lowe came over from the Braves this offseason, where he posted an ERA over 5 in 2011. Josh Tomlin is still figuring it out, but he was alright last season, winning 12 games. Kevin Slowey is a journeyman. Their lineup isn’t anything to write home about. Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera are the only two players worth fearing in their lineup. Shin-Soo Choo regressed last year, dropping from a .300 hitter to .266 hitter.
  5. Chicago White Sox– Robin Ventura is gonna feel like he’s still in Nolan Ryan’s headlock most of this season. Adam Dunn flopped in a big way last season. He looks done. Alex Rios looks done too. He regressed to only 13 homers and a .227 average last season. Alexei Ramirez is average. Paul Konerko is the only consistent performer on the team. Jake Peavy has done nothing since coming over from the Padres. John Danks and Gavin Floyd have never blossomed into the elite pitchers they were supposed to be. We will see how Matt Thornton adjusts from holder to closer.

 

AL West

  1. Texas– After two straight trips to the World Series, and in light of last year’s heartbreaking World Series loss, this heart of this team will be tested once again. They have baseball most complete and powerful lineup 1-9, and have a good rotation. I was skeptical of the Yu Darvish move at first, but do you really think Nolan Ryan, one of the best pitchers of all time, would have brought him over for Japan and paid all that money if he didn’t think Darvish could play? I think he’ll be an upgrade over C.J. Wilson, who never got it done in the postseason. Derek Holland is on his way to becoming really good. Harrison and Feliz are both very talented, and round out the rotation. Joe Nathan is a relatively low cost addition to the bullpen, and if he can be anything like his old self, look out. With a bullpen that already includes Alexi Ogando, an all star last season, and solid veteran Mike Adams, this team is all around loaded.
  2. LA Angels– Adding Albert Pujols will be big for a team that finished 10th in runs scored in the AL last season. But I don’t think he will produce the same way he did in St. Louis, playing in the hitter friendly Busch Stadium. Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter, two big names, are aging and have moved down to the 5/6 slots in the batting order. Kendrys Morales has missed the majority of the last two seasons with injuries, and is in the cleanup spot. Will he be anything like he was in 2009 when he hit 34 homers and batted over .300? The odds seem long. The Angels reeled in the biggest offseason prize, but it won’t jump them over the Rangers in the division.
  3. Seattle– This team finished last in the AL in runs scored last season, and may very well be there again this season. Ichiro, who had been a staple of consistency for the last decade, regressed considerably last season. Now young players like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero and Kyle Seager will have to ignite the offense. They’re a couple years away from that. They dealt away Michael Pineda in the offseason, but with King Felix and Brandon League leading the rotation and bullpen, respectively, their pitching should be okay. Not great, but okay.
  4. Oakland– They have a lineup with absolutely nobody who will scare any opposing pitcher. Jemile Weeks has a lot of speed and hit .300 last season, but had only a .340 OBP. Coco Crisp hits 3rd, Colorado washout Seth Smith hits cleanup and Kurt Suzuki hits 5th. Not exactly an imposing heart of the order. Yoenis Cespedes is the only glimmer of hope for this team. The team was 3rd in ERA in the AL last season, and return starters Dallas Braden and Brandon McCarthy, as well as most of the bullpen. But after dealing Trevor Cahill to Arizona and Andrew Bailey to Boston for a bag of chips, that should go down. Bartolo Colon couldn’t crack the Yankees rotation, and young guys Tommy Milone and Tyson Ross round out the rotation. Billy Beane will need more magic than Hollywood can provide to get this team to the playoffs.

 

 

Playoffs

 

Wild Card round

Arizona beats Philadelphia– If this was a series, Philadelphia would win. Their star studded rotation will be nullified by the fact it is one game, and like game 5 of the NLDS last season, their declining lineup fails to score off Ian Kennedy, and squanders a great performance by one of their aces.

LA Angels beats NY Yankees– In a low scoring game, Jered Weaver stifles the Yankee hitters, and C.C. Sabathia shuts down the Angels. It goes to extra innings and Albert Pujols validates his contract by giving the halos the win.

 

Division series

Cincinnati beats Arizona– This will be a good series, going the distance. Both teams have a great lineup with lots of power, but Johnny Cueto delivers a gem for the Reds on their home field to give them their first playoff series win since 1995.

San Francisco beats Atlanta– Much like the series between the two teams two years ago, there will be great pitching and the team that gets timely hitting will win. Buster Posey delivers for the Giants once more and leads them to a four game series win.

Detroit beats LA Angels– Verlander and Fister both pick up wins for the Tigers in the first two games, but the Angels take games three and four, and it comes down to game five in Detroit. Verlander channels his inner Cliff Lee and shuts down the Angels once again, giving them a return trip to the ALCS.

Texas beats Tampa Bay– For the third year in a row, these two teams meet in the ALDS. Once again, the Ranger’s lineup does just enough against the starting pitching of the Rays to get them a four game series win.

 

Championship series

Cincinnati beats San Francisco– The Giants rotation dazzles again, but the powerful lineup will be just enough to squeak out a win in six games, after getting great performances from Cueto and Latos, and Arroyo and Leake do just enough to get the two other needed wins.

Texas beats Detroit– Like last year, this will be a close series throughout, but Prince Fielder alone won’t be enough to make the difference for the Tigers in this series, as the completeness of the Rangers lineup shows itself once again, and the rotation does enough to advance to the World Series for the third straight year.

 

World Series

Texas beats Cincinnati– Third time’s a charm right? As a Rangers fan I hope so, and I also realize this probably looks like a homer pick, but I just don’t see a team that can match both the Rangers‘ pitching and lineup. I think the experience will help the Rangers jump the final hurdle, because they have made the last two World Series‘, while the Reds have made the playoffs once in this century. With the experienced Joe Nathan in the fold, the end of games will become easier to watch (for Rangers fans) as the Rangers take home the trophy in 7 games in what may very well be the highest scoring World Series in history. Two very hitter friendly ball parks and two very potent lineups.

 

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