Twenty-twelve will be a season of tempered expectations for the Cubs and Sox who are in varied states of rebuilding—the Cubs are a gut rehab and the Sox are in a hazy state of limbo. Things couldn’t be more opposite in Motown with the Tigers coming off an appearance in the ALCS, having the reigning AL MVP, Cy Young and Batting Champ in Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera respectively on the roster, plus the huge (literally) acquisition of Prince Fielder. It’s tough to contain the excitement coming out of Detroit these days.
When it comes to my predictions, I think I’m of the same mindset as the Cubs’ new front office—I’d really rather not dwell on the past and would much rather look to the future. I only predicted 2 out of 8 playoff teams in 2011 and while batting .250 would be like making the Hall of Fame to Adam Dunn, that’s simply not good enough. I was overly optimistic in 2010 and too pessimistic in 2011, so I think I’ve found the happy medium this year.
AL East Division Champions: Tampa Bay Rays
It’s still baffling to me how the Boston Red Sox could completely dismantle their proud organization just because of a three-week slump in September. Just think, If they had won only ONE MORE GAME, Theo Epstein wouldn’t be in Chicago, Terry Francona wouldn’t be working for ESPN and I would be picking the Sox to win the AL East for the second year in a row. It’s amazing how much crap a few beers and some KFC can create—believe me, I know. The balance of power has shifted away from the aging Yankees as most of their core is over 34 years old and now Andy Pettite is their savoir? I don’t think so. That power shift has headed straight south to Tampa. The Rays have the deepest rotation in the division and more than enough offense to take their third division crown in five years. I didn’t forget about the usually forgettable Toronto Blue Jays. They won’t win the division, but I’ll have more about them in a minute. As for the Orioles? You can definitely forget them.
AL Central Division Champions: Detroit Tigers
Of course I’m picking the Tigers, but I don’t think it’s going to be a 15+ game runaway as most have predicted. The Tigers certainly made a splash with the aforementioned Fresh Prince, but he’s just replacing Victor Martinez in the lineup so I’m not expecting a 10-game improvement over last year. The rest of the division isn’t just going to lay down and die. Sadly, the White Sox aren’t going to be as bad as many have said—there’s just too much dormant talent there. Dunn can’t be as lost as he was last year, can he? Will the real Alex Rios please stand up? Jake Peavy can’t really be this fragile? Cleveland was a beast for most of last season. The Twins still have Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau (remember those guys?) so they are still another potential thorn in the side. Kansas City is the team that intrigues me the most. Losing closer Joakim Soria to Tommy John surgery is tough blow, and the rotation is thin, but the offense could be special this year with the bats of Billy Butler and everyone’s favorite fantasy league sleeper, Eric Hosmer.
AL West Division Champions: Texas Rangers
I love how everyone is wetting themselves over how the aging Albert Pujols is going to revitalize their #10-ranked offense in the AL. The 10-year, $240 million deal for a 32 (ahem… more like 34) year old who’s numbers are already in decline will go down as the worst deal is the history of baseball. Say what you will about similar deals to A-Rod and now Fielder, at least those guys were/are young enough to have their best years in front of them. The Rangers are just way too strong in every facet of the game for anyone else in the division to compete with.
AL Wild Cards: Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees
The additional Wild Card might cause some logistical issues this first season since it was implemented after the schedule came out, but it will prove to be as successful as the original Wild Card has been and a welcome change placing much greater emphasis on winning your division. The best division in baseball will take two more spots in this year’s playoffs with the Yankees making a big trade deadline deal for the final push and a very talented, yet overlooked Jays squad clawing their way in.
NL East Division Champions: Miami Marlins
I have to admit I could make arguments for four of the five teams in the NL East winning or losing the division, but I settled on the Marlins (much to my blogging counterpart’s chagrin, I’m sure). This is a watershed year for Miami as they have not only stolen the White Sox’ manager and ace, but also their “ALL IN” mentality. The gaudy new rebranding, the audacious new stadium and massive new payroll are all part of owner Jeffrey Loria‘s last ditch effort to make baseball work in south Florida. Despite last night’s inauspicious debut, Miami has just too much talent across the board and too much on the line not to get it done. The Phillies are battling injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley so they are coming back to the pack despite their dominant rotation. The Braves are always in the mix somehow and maybe this is finally the year when all those #1 draft picks finally pan out fo the Nats. I guess the only thing you can bank on is the Mets will suck (and still be in debt).
NL Central Division Champions: St. Louis Cardinals
I’m giving the hated Cardinals the nod only by default. The Brewers have taken too many steps backwards to contend and Dusty Baker is sure to ruin a couple more young, promising arms in Cincinnati. Of course I’m not expecting anything from the Cubs this year (but I’m looking forward to 2014) and I can’t even remember who else is in this shitty division.
NL West Division Champions: San Francisco Giants
It’s hard not to pick the Dodgers with Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw on the roster and the dark cloud of the McCourt debacle lifted, but it’s going to be another year before Magic Johnson and Co. can turn things around completely—and then look out! Pitching is obviously the key to my choice here as SF has more than just about anyone in the league. A healthy Buster Posey will anchor an offense just good enough to get it done. Arizona will make another run at the division under the tutelage of my childhood hero, Kirk Gibson, but they will fall just short. Lucky for them, there’s an extra Wild Card now.
NL Wild Cards: Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks
With stalwarts like Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee at their disposal, it’s impossible to keep the Phillies out of the playoffs no matter what offensive obstacles they may face. The D-backs proved they were for real last season and won’t disappoint this year with my annual NL MVP pick, Justin Upton leading the way.
World Series: Tampa Bay Rays over the San Francisco Giants in 5
It kills me not to pick the Tigers, but this won’t be their year. Now 2013 will be a totally different story with V-Mart returning to Motown to create one of the greatest 3-4-5 combinations ever. But I have to curb my enthusiasm for now and realize this is Tampa’s year to finally break through and make their journey from perennial doormats to world champions complete.
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, DET
AL Cy Young: David Price, TB
NL MVP: Justin Upton, ARI
NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, PHI