Thank the lord that baseball is back as of tomorrow! Predicting what will happen during the season is one of the most fun things to do before actual games begin. Its been a long offseason and a long Spring. As we know from last year, anything can happen during the MLB season. I will now give my predictions for my: Division Standings, Top 3 MVP Ballot, Top 3 Cy Young Award Ballot, Top 3 Rookie Of The Year Award, Comeback Player Of The Year, and lastly, 1 Bold Prediction for each club. Feel free to disagree, I know you will. Here we go…….
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
1) Tampa Bay Rays- I absolutely LOVE this team this year and am so excited to watch them pitch. First off, their pitching is outstanding. James Shields and David Price are both legitimate aces and Price still has not even hit his ceiling yet. Jeremy Hellickson may have overachieved in his rookie season but that does not mean he has hit his peak either. He will improve his K/9 despite a hit in ERA. Still a solid 3 in the rotation for now. And lets be honest, Matt Moore is an absolute stud. I do not expect a Cy Young this year, but he is going to hold his own. Evan Longoria is just entering his prime, Carlos Pena is back, Ben Zobrist is one of the most underrated players in the league, BJ Upton is on a walk year and Desmond Jennings is going to break out. They will find pieces to work for the bullpen too. Its going to be close, but this is the best Rays roster they have had probably ever.
2) New York Yankees- Many people have them winning the division but I see them taking a slight step back from 2011. Their offense is still terrific but I expect a bit of regression from Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter. Mark Teixeira is still a terrific first baseman but has had a declining OPS for the past 5 seasons. Alex Rodriguez will still be productive but he has to stay healthy as well. Robinson Cano is now THE guy in the lineup and Nick Swisher is on a walk year. This team is still going to score many runs. CC Sabathia will be himself and Hiroki Kuroda is going to be a solid #2-3. However, after that, the rotation is up in the air. How will Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia hold up? Michael Pineda’s spring is a concern and I think he will be fine long term but his contributions in 2012 may be marginal. Their bullpen is still damn good though. Guaranteed 90 wins and probably more.
3) Boston Red Sox- This team is so talented but just full of question marks. Adrian Gonzalez, Jon Lester, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are staples. But health is just the main concern. How will Kevin Youkilis hold up? What will Clay Buchholz be this season? Will Andrew Bailey even step on the mound? WTF is wrong with Carl Crawford? Josh Beckett is a classic case of a hot and cold and I expect a bit of a regression for Jacoby Ellsbury (still All-Star though). What will Daniel Bard bring to the rotation? If everything breaks right for the Red Sox, (Crawford rebound, good team health, Bard transition) this team has the talent to win 100 games. But when was the last time a team caught every break? This team is going to contend but I don’t expect them to be world beaters that they were for a span of 3 months last year.
4) Toronto Blue Jays- This is another transition and growth year for the Jays but I absolutely love their team going forward. Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie look to make a great duo in the middle of the order. Ricky Romero is coming off his best season and still has some room to grow. Kyle Drabek looks terrific this Spring and I expect Henderson Alvarez to be sneaky good this season. THey have the roster to compete in the NL, but still not the AL. Their farm system is tremendous and there are more re-enforcements on the way including top prospect Travis d’Arnaud, and a slew of pitchers. Toronto has money burning a whole in Alex Anthopoulos’ pocket and they could be players next offseason. I expect more wins than losses this season but still not enough to contend. Next year they could make some real noise. Still going to be a fun team to watch.
5) Baltimore Orioles- After falling flat on their faces last year, I expect the same for the O’s this season. Matt Wieters is still going to be a star and Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado are slowly cooking in the minor leagues. But other than that, there is not much to like about this team. Adam Jones may finally take a big step forward this year, but he is going to be a free agent after 2013. Brian Matusz’ returning velocity is also a positive sign. But until ownership changes, this team is going to be in last place. Brian Roberts may be finished and Nick Markakis has been a disappointment for a few years now.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
1) Detroit Tigers- After signing Prince Fielder, this team has basically wrapped up the division before they even play a game. Miguel Cabrera is arguably the best hitter in the game right now and they have a top 5 pitcher in Justin Verlander (hes still not the best though). Their rotation beyond Verlander is strong with Doug Fister (who I love) and Max Scherzer capable of being a competent #2 and #3. I expect Rick Porcello to do a bit better this year as well. Top pitching prospect Jacob Turner may be able to make an impact this season as well when he gets healthy. I don’t like the bullpen as much as other people but it is good enough to get the job done. This team is going to score plenty of runs and pitch very well. They might have hideous infield defense with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera at the corners but that is besides the point. They are going to beat up on the weak AL Central.
2) Kansas City Royals- Any baseball fan has to be rooting for the Royals this season. They have a future (and present) monster at 1st base in Eric Hosmer and many other terrific complimentary pieces. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon will make nice middle of the order bats and Mike Moustakas showed in August and September that his bat is the real deal. I am excited to see if Lorenzo Cain can produce at the plate after a terrific spring as well. The Royals have a few studs in the minors waiting for the call up that can contribute some time this season in Wil Myers and Mike Montgomery. Their bullpen will still be great despite losing Joakim Soria for the season. The only weakness is their rotation, which will only improve after prospects are graduated and given time to develop. This team is going to win 80 games in 2012, but they are still a season away and an arm away from competing.
3) Minnesota Twins- Third place in this division is not saying much but the Twins will have a healthy Joe Mauer this season and a hopefully healthy Justin Morneau. I expect Francisco Liriano to have a great, bounce back season after a tremendous 2010 and disappointing 2011. But other than that, the Twins just have a bunch of average players, a mediocre rotation and weak bullpen. This team will lose more games than win but will still be slightly competitive in a poor division. Not much help coming from the farm either for at least a few years and a few things will have to break just right for this team to even win 81 games.
4) Cleveland Indians- I kept saying that the Indians would fade after a smoking hot start in 2011 and I was right. There are a few bright spots on this team in future star catcher Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera. I expect a bit of regression from Cabrera this season but he should still be above average offensively. Justin Masterson was a surprise last season but his peripherals indicate he could be due for a regression as well. Lonnie Chisenhall struggled at third and will start the season in the minors and Grady Sizemore is just a walking injury. Not sure what this team will bring to the table this season due to so many question marks. They may end up regretting the Ubaldo Jimenez trade after a terrible spring. If things break their way and a few players step up, this team could take a step forward this year, but if not, they are going to be bad like the second half of last season.
5) Chicago White Sox- This team just has the recipe for disaster this season. The worst farm system by far in the league has zero re-enforcements coming up during the season and the team is full of disappointments and older vets. Paul Konerko is sneaky great and Alexei Ramirez is an underrated shortstop on both offense and defense. But other than that, this team is just average. John Danks and Gavin Floyd are both solid but neither are aces. Jake Peavy’s health will always be in question and will Adam Dunn be absolutely atrocious again? I think Dunn will return to about career norms but that is not enough to put this team into contention. Is Gordon Beckham a bust? This team could turn from bad to awful in the next calendar year.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
1) Texas Rangers- The two time defending AL champs have a great chance to be the 3 time defending champs. They lost CJ Wilson and replaced him with Yu Darvish who has looked tremendous this spring. The offense is arguably the best in the league and they are going to score runs with or without Josh Hamilton in the lineup every day. I love Derek Holland this year to take that next step and Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison are pretty decent compliments in the rotation. This team really does not have a major flaw with a great offense, good rotation, and strong bullpen. Could you imagine if Texas added a power hitting first baseman? It is going to be a tight race to the finish but I feel like the Rangers are a much more rounded team and can hit their way out of any problem. They can afford to experiment with Neftali Feliz in the rotation and worst case scenario, they more him back and bolster the bullpen even more.
2) Los Angeles Angels- A very close second place. The Angels have the best rotation in baseball with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, CJ Wilson and Ervin Santana. Oh yeah, adding Albert Pujols and getting Kendrys Morales back will help a previously mediocre lineup. Howie Kendrick is poised for a true All-Star season and Erick Aybar will make for a solid shortstop both offensively and defensively. Peter Bourjos is a very nice young player as well in center field and Torii Hunter will still provide at least average offensive production. The Angels have the pieces to be a playoff team and are going to be difficult to beat in a 7 game serioes with their pitching. They also have the best prospect in baseball, Mike Trout, waiting in the wings. A shoe-in for a Wild Card spot.
3) Seattle Mariners- Their offense won’t be as anemic as last year but still well below average with the addition of Jesus Montero. Having Dustin Ackley around for a whole season and a healthy Justin Smoak will provide some support. But looking at this team, other than Felix Hernandez they are going to be pretty bad. Any rotation with Kevin Millwood in it is a complete joke. There are some nice young arms waiting in the minor leagues but their impact for this year will be marginal. This team needs more offense before we even talk about them getting back towards .500 ball. With a healthy farm system and solid finances, this team will not wallow in misery for too long, but they are at least 2-3 years away from contenting.
4) Oakland Athletics- Moneyball or not, this team is going to be god awful. They are in the process of blowing up a rebuilding effort that made them a trendy pick to win the AL West just 12 months ago. But Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill are gone and Brett Anderson’s elbow was been consumed by sliders. Who is this teams best offensive player? Jemile Weeks? Yoenis Cespedes will add some power but I am not convinced that he will even hit above .220. A’s fans should look forward to some young players emerge from the farm system this year, Brandon McCarthy’s reinvention, and Brett Anderson’s return from Tommy John. But other than that, theres nothing to get excited about.
1) Evan Longoria- This is his year. After coming back from injury last season he was tremendous. I can’t imagine him hitting anywhere near .240 again. Legit 30+ HR power who will easily drive in 100 runs, score 100 runs and at the least bat .275 with an above average OBP. He is a gold glove defender at the hot corner and is poised to truly elevate his game from talented young player, to super star this season. Longoria is only 26 years old and still has plenty of terrific years left in him. He is “the guy” in the middle of the lineup and is going to carry the Rays on his back to the playoffs this season. His rise to superstardom and the obstacles the Rays face will help him collect this award.
2) Miguel Cabrera- I cannot believe this guy has not won an MVP yet. He is about as consistent as it gets and is in my opinion, the best pure hitter in baseball today. Sure he’s as mobile as a bowling pin at third base, but Cabrera is an automatic 30 HR, 100 RBI, 100 R, .320 AVG every single season. I think he even surpasses a few of those numbers this year. His .448 OBP last season was truly absurd and he is going to exceed .400 again in that department. As elite of an offensive player as it gets. I just think Longoria beats him because of the weakness in the AL Central and the competition in the AL East. Voters don’t always vote for the best player. Cabrera will get his MVP one day, just not this year.
3) Jose Bautista- What a story this guy is. He backed up 2010 with an even more impressive 2011 campaign and there is no reason to think that he will not repeat his performance this year. Bautista has risen to be the most powerful hitter in the big leagues with fantastic on-base skills to match. You could have made a serious case for him to win MVP last year but voters may have ignored him due to the Jays 4th place finish. That may happen again this year so it is hard to see Bautista winning the award without a truly remarkable offensive performance in 2012. But it is for certain that he will still be a tremendous player this season.
CY YOUNG BALLOT
1) David Price- To the naked eye, David Price seemed to take a step backwards last year from his outstanding 2010 season, but in fact, he had his best season in his young career. That being said, Price now has the experience and skill to become a top 5 pitcher in the entire league. His stuff is off the charts and he has more than held his own in the very competitive AL East. He increased his K/9 rate while cutting down on his BB/9 rate and lowering his WHIP. Don’t let the 12-13 record fool you, Price is going to be tremendous this season. He may be a bit of an odd pick, but would anybody be surprised if this guy wins 20 games this season with a sub-3 ERA and 225 K’s? Because thats what I see Price doing this year, turning his game up a notch. He’s only going to get better.
2) Felix Hernandez- King Felix might just have the most filthy stuff in the entire league. His repertoire is outstanding and he has shown time and time again that he can shut down even the most elite offenses. If Felix has a “typical” season, he is going to be a top 5 pitcher in all of baseball. Its a shame that he has to pitch for that terrible offense that will probably cost him some wins this year but Hernandez will be just fine on the mound. When right, he’s unhittable.
3) Yu Darvish-Yes you’ve read that right. Yu Darvish should not be compared with any other Japanese players who have come to the United States to play in the MLB, because he is better than all of them. Darvish throws so many different pitches and even though he will simplify his repertoire, he still will have so many weapons. Spring Training stats are basically irrelevant, but he has shown that he can dominate. Not the typical Japanese pitcher, he is going to attack hitters and strike a lot of batters out. Playing for Texas will help him out too. He is going to receive some votes and show everyone that he is the real deal.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Note- Even though Darvish is technically a rookie, I do not consider him for this.
1) Jesus Montero- You don’t just casually draw comparisons to Miguel Cabrera. As of right now, it looks like the Mariners are winning the Montero/Pineda trade and Montero is going to get his 500+ at-bats this year. Montero is going to hit in the middle third of the Mariners lineup and is going to rake like he has done in every phase of his professional career. Seattle has found their future #4 big bat. A .280 average with 25 HR’s and 75+ RBI seem pretty attainable, even on a pretty poor team.
2) Matt Moore- I absolutely love Moore. But I am not a member of the group who think he is already the next Sandy Koufax. He is going to dominate some lineups this year with his off the charts stuff that misses bats. But he has to show the ability to locate the fastball and throw his deadly off-speed stuff for strikes. There are going to be a few starts where he gets smacked around too. With a likely innings cap, I do not see the future ace winning the award this season, but he will be in the conversation.
3) Jarrod Parker- The main piece in the Trevor Cahill trade will get his chance to pitch in the big leagues sometime this season due to the rebuilding process in Oakland. At the very least, the stadium should help his numbers quite a bit. I can see Parker being a sneaky candidate this year with hardly any talk about the Athletics. He has the potential to be a top of the rotation pitcher and I think we can expect some impressive performances from Parker this year.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Adam Dunn- This guy does not go from a consistent 30 HR, 100 RBI player with 100 BB’s to absolutely atrocious overnight without some freak reason. Not to say that Dunn will completely return to career averages but no player falls off that tremendously in one season. A whole offseason off will have done him some good and his Spring has been encouraging. I expect Dunn to save his reputation this season as a power threat in the middle of the White Sox lineup. A .250 average with 30+ HRs and 85 RBI as a floor for Dunn, with 80+ BB’s.
MORE BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR EACH TEAM
-Carlos Pena hits 30 HR’s and drives in 100 runs
-Carl Crawford will be a 5+ WAR player
-Brett Lawrie has a solid, not great season. Expectations way too high
-Brian Matusz will win 14 games with a sub-4 ERA
-Mariano Rivera will announce that he is retiring at the end of the season
-Doug Fister is yet again, a 5+ WAR pitcher
-Lorenzo Cain steals 30+ bases
-Francisco Liriano will be on some writers Cy Young ballots
-Carlos Santana will finish the season as the best offensive catcher in the league
-Jake Peavy will make 30 starts, win 15+ games and finish with an ERA under 3.50
-Yu Darvish: 18 W, 3.10 ERA, 190 K’s, 200 IP,
-Vernon Wells: .250/.320/.440, 25 HR’s, 80 RBI, screws Mike Trout
-Ichiro has 200 hits and bats well over .300 for the season
-10 Wins for Jarrod Parker