It’s that time of year again, baseball is back for its third opening of the season. Last week we had the “Opening Series” in Japan that 99% of America missed, last night we had “Opening Night” in Miami for the christening of the ugliest ballpark in baseball, and finally today is “Opening Day” with a staggered schedule as usual. Cubs open at home today and the Sox in Texas tomorrow afternoon.
The offseason moved a lot of teams into contention this season, and with the extra Wild Card team from each league added drama exists. A lot of predictions are two teams from the East and West in the playoffs from both leagues or three teams from the East. Let’s not be too hasty about both Eastern divisions. I know it’s only one game but the Marlins looked a lot like the 2011 White Sox and the Phillies are getting old.
AL East Division Champions: Tampa Bay Rays
Well, last year I had the Red Sox in this spot and talked about the Toronto Blue Jays as a team on the rise. The Blue Jays are going to make some noise in the division again this year, but do they have enough to power through the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox. It’s almost unfair to be a team in this division. It’s a hard division to pick, but I’m going with the Rays because they are the most balanced and have younger players entering their prime. Of course, the Yankees need to also be considered and they were my original choice, but I’m thinking wild card for the mighty Yanks this season.
AL Central Division Champions: Detroit Tigers
Well, the White Sox still have “the makings of a World Series ball club” on paper, but until the move from paper to reality you can’t give them any credit after last season. Meanwhile, the Tigers have a solid returning nucleus, as well as adding Prince Fielder to help ease the blow of losing Victor Martinez for the season. Justin Verlander could be even better this season, which is a scary thought for opponents. The Tigers should win 93 games and the division. Everyone’s in love with KC, but I think it will be more of the usual from them and the Indians were still trying to change the team chemistry last week by adding Bobby Abreu, that’s not a good sign. If Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have bounce back years the Twins will be right there, which is the same story for the White Sox with Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham. All teams in the AL Central will be more of an annoyance for the Tigers than a real contender for the division
AL West Division Champions: LA Angels of Anaheim
“How you cannot pick the Rangers to win this division is beyond me?” That’s what I wrote last year, but I’m not writing it this year. The Angels have risen to glory again with a pitching staff that’s stacked, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren, need I continue. The Rangers did add talent also with Yu Darvish and Mike Napoli, but their rotation has some questions, as well as Josh Hamilton falling off the wagon and the oft-injued Nelson Cruz. It should be a battle, but the Angels will win it. The A’s and Mariners made some improvements also in the offseason, but not enough to be real competition for these two powerhouses, just a nice surprise.
AL Wild Card: New York Yankees and Texas Rangers
It matters even less if you win the division other than home field advantage, which seems to matter less and less each year with baseball. I have to put the Yankees in the playoffs because they find a way to do it every year, and the Rangers will definitely be the other team as long as they stay healthy and Hamilton can stay focused. If not look at the Blue Jays or a surprise team to sneak in.
NL East Division Champions: Atlanta Braves
An older Phillies team will plague them in the second half of the season, and the Braves will be there with their mix of youth and veterans to win the division. All the youngsters on the Braves are another year older and another year better. The Miami Marlins seem very talented, but I’m not sure how well they will play for Ozzie Guillen. His coaching staffs seem to lack the ability to teach teams fundamentals, which will hurt them in the standings. It’s definitely a three team race, but the Braves will not fade in the second half this year, they will shine.
NL Central Division Champions: Milwaukee Brewers
This division could be up for grabs, I’m not sure which way to go on this. I think Milwaukee has the most solid rotation, but all the other teams in the division aren’t that far behind. The Reds might have the best offense in the division, and I would not completely dismiss the Pirates and the Cubs. The Cubs rotation looks pretty solid as well, but they have as many question marks as the White Sox. A hot start could aid them into becoming a real contender for the division. Even though the Cardinals won their Opening Night game against the Marlins, I just don’t look at their roster and think serious contender, oh wait, I did the same thing last year. Still, with all injuries already on that roster I don’t see them winning the division. I think it’s between Milwaukee and Cincinnati and I will give it to the Brewers again this season. I didn’t mention the Astros by design.
NL West Division Champions: San Francisco Giants
The Giants made some great moves in the offseason, including signing their talent to long-term contracts. The addition of Melky Cabrera will be a huge boost for them as well as getting Buster Posey back. They do have some real competition in the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have a solid rotation and added the services of Jason Kubel in the offseason. The Giants will edge them out.
NL Wild Card: Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks
The Phillies have enough firepower and that rotation to keep them around for a Wildcard spot, and the Diamondbacks are a team on the rise. They could make some noise in the playoffs.
World Series: San Francisco Giants over the Detroit Tigers in 5
The Tigers are on the fast track to the World Series and the Giants will be waiting for them to win their second World Series in three years. The Giants pitching staff will tame the Tigers bats, and Tigers fans will asking each other why, why? Of course, they will take solace in the fact that V-Mart returns to their line-up in 2013 and they win the AL Championship and World Series in a laugher with some offseason starting pitching acquisitions.
AL MVP: Prince Fielder, Det
AL Cy Young: Jered Weaver, LAA
NL MVP: Joey Votto, Cin
NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, SF