Mar 15, 2012
kosmo - See all 772 of my articles
It’s the opening day of the NCAA tournament. What better day to talk about baseball? It’s finally time for me to give my playoff predictions. The regular season is about twenty days away at this point, and temperatures in the 70s in Iowa are making the season seem ever closer.
There’s have been a lot of changes this year, and the future will bring even more changes, with new penalties for exceeding signing bonuses for draftees and international free agents … not the mention the Astros being kicked to the curb (forced to the AL) next year).
East – For the first time, there will be two wild card teams in each division. In theory, three teams from the same division could make the playoffs. I doubt that this will remain a hypothetical situation for very long. I fully expect the Yankees, Red Sox, and Devil Rays strongly content for the playoffs this year. The real question is which team will earn a bye by winning the division and which two will be forced to square off in the coin-clip game. I’m going to take the Red Sox. I fully expect Carl Crawford to snap out of his funk and return to being a very good all-around player. I also think this is the year that David Ortiz fixes his April/May problems and become a great hitter for all six months of the season. The Sox do have to find a way to replace the production of the underrated Marco Scutaro at shortstop, but overall, I think this is a team that should be better than last year’s version.
Central – A good Tigers team adds Prince Fielder. If they don’t have the division wrapped up by mid-September, I’ll be surprised. The question does remain whether or not Miguel Cabrera can adequately field the ball at 3B, or whether one of Cabrera/Fielder is going to have to DH.
West – This should be another great race. The Angels sign free agent C.J. Wilson away from the Rangers and also nab Albert Pujols – and they still might not win the division! The Rangers replaced Wilson with Yu Darvish and signed closer Joe Nathan – which should push stud closer Neftali Feliz into the rotation. If Hamilton can stay healthy this year, the Rangers will win the west.
Wild Card – OK, I’ll pencil in the Yankees one last time. I think they significantly strengthened their pitching staff by adding Michael Pindea and the underrated Hiroki Kuroda. I think this is the year when we see a notable decline from Derek Jeter, but I think Cano, Big Tex, and company can keep the wheels on for one more season.
The only wild card team has to be the Angels. While the Devil Rays have a lot of good young players, you can’t add an MVP caliber player and a Cy Young contending starting pitcher to a team and expect them to miss the playoffs (unless you’re the Mets).
The close-but-no-cigar award goes to the Devil Rays.
East – This division is going to shape up to be the best division in baseball in a couple of years. At the moment, however, I think the Phillies still control the East. Their ability to throw an ace at the opposing team nearly ever day means that they are a virtual lock for 90+ wins. There are definitely some footsteps to be heard – Washington is building a good young team and the Marlins should also be on the upswing.
Central – Albert Pujols is gone after leading the Cardinals to an improbable World Series run. That’s definitely a huge blow, but it is offset somewhat by the return of Adam Wainwright and the signing of Carlos Beltran (Lance Berkman will shift to first base). Would the Cardinals be a better team with Pujols AND Wainwright in the lineup? Definitely. But I think the Cardinals can tread water in the Central and allow the Brewers to get worse. This could also be the year when Matt Holliday re-emerges in the public eye after time in the shadow of Pujols? Remember those people who predicted that Holliday would turn into a mediocre hitter once he left Coors Field? It hasn’t happened so far.
West – I’m going to go out on a limb and pick my Colorado Rockies to win the west. Is it a homer call? Definitely. Do I think there’s an actual chance of it happening? Definitely. Some pundits have said that Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd is considering age to be the new market inefficiency when it comes to player valuation. I think they are correct in their beliefs, and I also believe that O’Dowd may have a point. The Rockies should be one of the more interesting stories in baseball as they attempt to add some aging vets (OF Michael Cuddyer, SS Marco Scutaro, and possibly Jamie Moyer) to a team that is also going to expect significant contributions from a number of very young players notably pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Drew Pomeranz and catcher Wilin Rosario, and perhaps even 20 year old 3B Nolan Arenado. If the veterans play well, and the kids avoid the mistakes of youth, this could be a very good team. If the veterans get old and the youngsters have trouble adjusting, this could be a very bad year.
I really expect Troy Tulowitzki to win an MVP award within the next 5 years, and this could be the year (after all, this is his age 27 season). I think Tulo and Cargo will be a real force in the middle of the Rockies order. On the mound, I expect people to finally notice Jhoulys Chacin. He’s really good and really young (just turned 24). He’s the mystery man at the top of the column.
Wild card – I think this is the year the NL East breaks through. Not just multiple teams in the playoffs, but I see both of the wild card teams coming from the East. The Nationals have been building a very good team, and I think this is their breakthrough year. Bryce Harper might make an impact this year, but my guess is that the return of Stephen Strasburg will have a bigger impact. And in Florida, the Marlins have added Jose Reyes at shortstop (pushing Hanley Ramirez to third base) and also Heath Bell in the bullpen. The new stadium opens with a bang – increased attendance (I hope) and a winning team.
Coin Flip round – The Nationals dump the Marlins and the Angels beat the Yankees. Zero confidence in this, since one game is too small of sample size.
Division Series Winners – Red Sox, Tigers, Phillies, and Cardinals
League Championship Series Winners – Tigers and Phillies
World Series – Tigers over Phillies. Rain thwarted the chances of the Tigers to fully utilize Verlander against the Rangers last year. In the World Series, Detroit will pitch him in games 1, 4, and 7 and also nab another win from someone.