Thursday, April 5, 2012

2012 MLB Predictions

Spring is the time of rebirth and hope. This is the most hopeful time of year. Baseball is Spring. Hope is in the air, unless you're a realistic fan of teams from Houston, Oakland, Chicago, or Baltimore.

In towns all over the U.S., baseball fans are cling to hope. We've talked about hope here a few times before. Since 1909, there's not much more that Cubs fans have been able to hold dear other than blissful, optimistic hope.

On the other side of the docket, fans of "good" teams have high expectations. With those expectations comes pressure. Professionals should separate pressure from their realities. Don't ever get too high or too low. Baseball will humble the best players in the world - constantly.

The world of making baseball predictions is as fraught with mistakes as hitting Major League pitching. Unlike the NBA, no-one can predict with confidence most of the teams that'll make the postseason. Very few things are clear, except that less than 50% of our predictions will probably ring true. Heck, predicting the postseason is virtually futile on the last day of the regular season, let alone the first. Yet, here we are, doing our best because predictions should be fun. Anything is possible; everything is possible.

Let's do this.

NL East
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
Miami Marlins
Washington Nationals
New York Mets

Let's start with what we do know. Sorry, Mets fans. The Mets will finish in last place. The top four teams in this division should all be in contention in August/September and could finish in reverse order as we have here. The Phillies have excellent starting pitching, next-to-no hitting, poor defense, and an expensive, unlikable hayseed closer. The Braves have one of the best bullpens in baseball, great starting pitching, and a balanced lineup with several players who should have better seasons than they did last season. Question marks around the health of Tommy Hanson, Chipper Jones, and Tim Hudson could derail their season, but in the meantime they look alright. The two most up-and-coming teams are in Miami and DC. Did the Marlins load up with enough free agents? I feel like their starting pitching could lead them to the promised land or finish with their best players on the DL. Overall, they may still be one or two pieces away from owning the East. The Nationals are an exciting, likable team with young starts are both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, I have this nagging feeling that they, too, are still a year away.

Continuing our tradition from last season, here is our Preseason NL East All-Pro Team.

C: Brian McCann, Braves
Here's the new kid in town
1b: Freddie Freeman, Braves
2b: Dan Uggla, Braves
SS: Jose Reyes, Marlins
3b: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
LF: Logan Morrison, Marlins
CF: Shane Victorino, Phillies
RF: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
SP: Cole Hamels, Phillies
RP: Craig Kimbrel, Braves

NL Central
Cincinnati Reds
Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals
Chicago Cubs
Pittsburgh Pirates
Houston Astros

Once again, the only lock here is the cellar dwelling Astros. They resemble a Triple-A team right now, and not an especially good one. All is not lost, though. Even though Keith Law has them down to lose 110 games this season, there is hope in the future because their franchise is now in the capable hands of Jeff Luhnow, their new General Manager. The Cubs and Pirates may compete by 2014, while the Astros should be a year or two behind them. The World Champion Cardinals are reloading. They're replacing Tony LaRussa with Mike Matheny and Albert Pujols with Carlos Beltran. They might be fine and win this division again. We placed the Brewers ahead of them, mostly with confidence in Zack Greinke. As you'll see in our postseason predictions below, we feel the Reds are the class of this division, with a stellar bullpen, a dynamic lineup, and enough Starting Pitching to approach 90 wins.

Preseason NL Central All-Pro Team
C: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Something's different
1b: Joey Votto, Reds
2b: Rickie Weeks, Brewers
SS: Starlin Castro, Cubs
3b: Aramis Ramirez, Brewers
LF: Ryan Braun, Brewers
CF: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
RF: Carlos Beltran, Cardinals
SP: Zack Greinke, Brewers
RP: Joel Hanrahan, Pirates

NL West
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers

The West should be wild again, as anything could happen this season. With little confidence, we feel the D'backs have the fewest holes, and our affinity for Kevin Towers extends to giving him the benefit of the doubt over everyone else. While we love the Reds this year, particularly with the acquisition of Mat Latos, we also love what the Padres got in exchange for their young ace. The Padres essentially traded one Opening Day starter (Latos) for another (Edinson Volquez). Plus, they received stud prospects Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal. Their bullpen is very good, with Huston Street assuming the Heath Bell roll. Andrew Cashner will get hitters out, while lighting up the radar gun in the 8th inning, not to mention the likes of Luke Gregorson and Anthony Bass will give Bud Black a dependable stable throughout the Summer.  Colorado could win the World Series or finish in last place. The Giants have been able to stay competitive in spite of Brian Sabean's archaic decision making skills because of their pitching. One of the reasons we have them this low is because we don't expect their two best relievers, Wilson and Romo, to stay healthy. The Dodgers will face the competition once again with arguably the best starting pitcher, relief pitcher, and hitter in the world, and little else.

Preseason NL West All-Pro Team
C: Miguel Motero, Diamondbacks
1b: Todd Helton, Rockies (!)
2b: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks
SS: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
3b: Pablo Sandoval, Giants
LF: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
CF: Matt Kemp, Dodgers
RF: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
SP: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
RP: Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

NL MVP: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
NL RoY: Zack Cozart, Reds
NL Mgr: Dusty Baker, Reds
NL Comeback PoY: Jason Heyward, Braves
NL Exec of Yr: Walt Jocketty, Reds

AL East
Tampa Bay Rays
Matt Moore is a star in the making
New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays
Boston Red Sox
Baltimore Orioles

The balance of power has suddenly shifted away from the AL East. For the first time in a really long time, a handful of teams from outside the division could theoretically compete with the giants of New York and Boston. Just in the American League, Texas, Detroit, and the Angels would be tough to beat in this division. We're going for the Rays because of pitching and defense. Their offense may not be world beaters, but they won't get themselves out. The Yankees, of course, will be there in the end. It'd be no surprise to see them win the division. Meanwhile, Toronto and Boston are going in opposite direction. The Blue Jays have outstanding starting pitching, a nice bullpen with a tough, young closer, and power throughout most of their lineup. Toronto also happens to employ the manager that Boston would prefer. Speaking of which, Bobby Valentine is off to a questionable start. His decision to use Alfredo Aceves in place of injured closer, Andrew Bailey is a head scratcher. First, it's a misuse of a valuable reliever who can pitch multiple innings. Second, the Red Sox have a guy well-suited for the roll in Mark Melancon. Lastly, and his reason for the decision was terrible. Bobby V said he likes that Aceves is familiar with the American League. Isn't that just the stupidest thing you've heard in the past few days? Why would you tout someone who the AL hitters are more familiar with? All you need is a pitcher to be familiar with his catcher and the strike zone. The Orioles have a nice lineup but with little pitching and the worst owner in baseball*, they don't stand a chance.

Preseason AL East All-Pro Team
C: Matt Wieters, Orioles
1b: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
2b: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
SS: J.J. Hardy, Orioles
3b: Evan Longoria, Rays
LF: Brett Gardner, Yankees
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
RF: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
DH: David Ortiz, Red Sox
SP: David Price, Rays
RP: Mariano Rivera, Yankees

*It's not easy to call someone not named Jeffrey Loria the "worst owner in baseball", but we just did it. The movement to #OccupyEutawStreet is one near and dear to our hearts.

AL Central
Detroit Tigers
Prince and Little Caesar's are
a perfect combination.
Kansas City Royals
Cleveland Indians
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins

Finally, we have a certain pick that isn't the last place team. The Tigers have the best chance of any team in baseball to run away with their division. Their only real concerns have to do with their infield defense and ability to score runs from players other than Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The times they are a-changin' in Kansas City. There homegrown talent is blossoming right before our eyes. Cleveland is sort of in no man's land. They don't have the cache to scare casual fans, but they play the game right, mostly as a reflection of their excellent manager, Manny Acta. The White Sox are going to try and compete for a few weeks, but don't be surprised if they're the first team to throw up a white flag in June. Minnesota has very little to offer. It's sad, but the best thing the Twins have going for them is that their fans are relatively friendly*.

Preseason AL Central All-Pro Team
C: Carlos Santana, Indians
1b: Prince Fielder, Tigers
2b: Jason Kipnis, Indians
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
3b: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
LF: Alex Gordon, Royals
CF: Denard Span, Twins
RF: Shin-Soo Choo, Indians
DH: Billy Butler, Royals
SP: Justin Verlander, Tigers
RP: Jose Valverde, Tigers

This seems as good a place as any to share a fabulous new Twins commercial, inspire by the Coen brothers' masterpiece, The Big Lebowski:

AL West
Texas Rangers
Los Angeles Angels of The O.C.
Seattle Mariners
Oakland Athletics

This division could have the two best teams in baseball. The Rangers have done just about everything right for the past three years, and consistently have shown the ability to groom pitchers for success in a way that maybe only Dave Duncan could surpass. This year, they even brought Greg Maddux into the fold. Practical jokes aside, that cannot hurt the ball club.The Angels and Marlins made the biggest splashes this offseason, but their offense may not be where it needs to be to be world beaters. Alas, that's why they play the games. At the absolute minimum, the Angels have excellent starting pitching and a very good manager. The Mariners won't be in the race at the end, but they are getting better. Oakland, unfortunately, is looking at 2015 and San Jose for the promised land.

Preseason AL West All-Pro Team
C: Mike Napoli, Rangers
Familiar faces in new places
1b: Albert Pujols, Angels
2b: Ian Kinsler, Rangers
SS: Elvis Andrus, Rangers
3b: Adrian Beltre, Rangers
LF: Coco Crisp, Athletics
CF: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
RF: Nelson Cruz, Rangers
DH: Jesus Montero, Mariners
SP: Jered Weaver, Angels
RP: Mike Adams, Rangers

We may not agree on all the Rangers listed above, but they sure have a great team again!

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
AL Cy Young: Jered Weaver, Angels
AL RoY: Yu Darvish, Rangers
AL Mgr: Joe Maddon, Rays
AL Comeback PoY: Kendrys Morales, Angels
AL Exec of Yr: Dayton Moore, Royals

AL Wildcard
Yankees over Angels

NL Wildcard
Braves over Marlins

AL Division Series
Adrian Beltre can hit 'em and pick 'em
Rangers over Yankees
Rays over Tigers

NL Division Series
Reds over Braves
Phillies over D'backs

Rangers over Rays

Reds over Phillies

World Series
Rangers over Reds

World Series MVP
Adrian Beltre

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