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2012 MLB Season Preview & Predictions

Will the Tigers run away with things in the American League after acquiring Prince Fielder? Or will the Angels make a trip to the World Series after adding Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this winter?

Are the Phillies due for a major letdown? Are the Giants ready to bounce back with a healthy Buster Posey back in their lineup? Who is the team to beat in the National League this year?

Below are our predictions for the 2012 MLB Season. Don’t like them? Then tell us who you’re picking, tough guy. All comments are welcome and this is meant to be fun, so enjoy the read and enjoy another season of baseball bliss!

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay walks off the field after warm ups before his team plays the Toronto Blue Jays in their MLB Interleague baseball game in Toronto, July, 1, 2011. Halladay is a former Blue Jays pitcher. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (CANADA – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

1. Braves
2. Phillies
3. Marlins
4. Nationals
5. Mets

I’m so used to sliding the Phillies into the No. 1 spot in the NL East that I nearly did it again this year. But even though Philly has the best starting rotation in the division, I like the Braves to ultimately take advantage of the Phillies’ injury problems. Losing Chase Utley and Ryan Howard for the first part of the year will cause the Phillies to start out slow and they could potentially miss the playoffs altogether if Roy Halladay carries his poor spring into the regular season. Atlanta’s starting rotation is solid and its bullpen is very good as well. There’s a good chance that no Brave will hit over .300 this year but they have speed in Michael Bourn, power in Dan Uggla, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward, and a couple of guys that can get on base. Assuming they don’t choke in pressure moments like in each of the last two seasons, I like the Braves to overtake the Phillies in this division… There’s too much talent on the Marlins’ roster for them not to be in the thick of things this year in the NL East. That said, what a combustible situation. Does anyone not think problems will arise with Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison and Carlos Zambrano in the same clubhouse? And with Ozzie Guillen leading them, no less? Maybe Guillen is the right manager to ensure the club stays unified and I do like the additions of veterans Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell to the pitching staff. But I just can’t see this team crossing the finish line before imploding first…I really liked what the Nationals did this offseason in adding Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to their starting rotation. Assuming Stephen Strasburg rebounds from his Tommy John surgery, the Nats won’t be pushovers thanks to an excellent rotation and a solid bullpen. I just don’t like the offense. There’s not a hitter in that lineup that’s projected to hit over .300 and there’s not a lot of speed past Ian Desmond at the top of the order. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nationals challenged for one of the two Wild Card spots but I think they’re still another hitter away (unless Jayson Werth somehow surprises)…The Mets remain in a hell of their own making. Until they get some of their bad contracts off the books, this team will struggle to compete in a good division. Of course, if Johan Santana and Andres Torres bounce back to what they were a couple of years ago, the Mets could surprise. But that would mean David Wright, Ike Davis and Jason Bay would have to produce big seasons and I just don’t see it happening. When stacked up against the rest of the division the Mets are the clear doormats.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

St. Louis Cardinals’ Skip Schumaker (L-R), Matt Holliday and Jason Motte celebrate their win over the Texas Rangers after game 1 of the World Series at Busch Stadium on October 19, 2011 in St. Louis. The Cardinals won 3-2. UPI/Brian Kersey

1. Cardinals
2. Reds
3. Brewers
4. Cubs
5. Pirates
6. Astros

Why the Cardinals? Because they always find a way to compete and despite losing Albert Pujols, their roster remains balanced. Matt Holliday is the key to whether or not this team will make another World Series run but he’ll have help thanks to Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, David Freese and Yadier Molina. This team also has a couple of complementary pieces in Jon Jay, Rafael Furcal and Allen Craig as well. The starting rotation took a hit when Chris Carpenter was shelved this spring with nerve damage in his back/shoulder. But if Adam Wainwright (who has had a tremendous spring) bounces back from Tommy John surgery, the rotation should be fine. (Kyle Lohse remains underrated, Jake Westbrook is coming off a nice spring, Jaime Garcia has very good stuff and the club is high on youngster Lance Lynn.) The question is: Can the Cards stay healthy all year? World Series teams tend to break down the year after appearing in the Fall Classic and the Cards already have a ton of injury questions heading into the year…The Reds are viewed by most pundits as the favorites to win this division and I can’t argue too much with that line of thinking. Landing Mat Latos in a trade with the Padres was a massive upgrade to their starting rotation and you know Joey Votto will mash again this year. But I just think the Cardinals have more balance from top to bottom and if they stay healthy, they’ll win the Central. That said, if St. Louis breaks down, then Cincinnati should run away with the division…Even though the starting rotation is very good (especially the 1-2 punch of Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke), the Brewers are poised to take a step back without Prince Fielder in the middle of their lineup. Ryan Braun will still be Ryan Braun but he doesn’t have Fielder protecting him in the order and who knows how he’ll handle playing on the road in the wake of his PED fiasco this past offeason. Still, Aramis Ramirez was a nice get if he can stay healthy and this lineup has plenty of pop. I just think the Brew Crew will eventually fade down the stretch…If Cubs fans can stay patient, new GM Theo Epstein will bring a winner to the Windy City (although I use the term “winner” very loosely). Until then, they’ll need to enjoy watching youngster Starlin Castro play because that’s about all the 2012 Chicago team will offer. It was huge of Epstein to unload Carlos Zambrano and get a promising young pitcher in Chris Volstad in return, and landing Anthony Rizzo in a deal with the Padres was solid as well. But this team is devoid of talent right now and it’s going to take Epstein a few offseasons to beef up the roster…The Pirates were a feel good story before the All-Star Break last season but their youth and lack of overall talent eventually caught up to them. I love Andrew McCutchen and their lineup features some nice players in Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones. But the starting pitching is weak and McCutchen can’t carry the team by himself. Maybe Pittsburgh will make things interesting for its fans again this year but eventually, the Cardinals, Reds or Brewers will overtake them in the division…It’s downright cruel of the Astros to ask their fans to pay for tickets, parking and concessions. The games should be free given what kind of product management will put on the field this year. There’s not a 20-plus home run player in their lineup and their starting rotation is weak outside of Wandy Rodriguez. Even in a weak division Houston doesn’t have enough to compete and I can’t envision a scenario in which the Astros surprise. They’ll be out of it by the All-Star Break.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey doffs his hat to the fans on introductions before the World Series Champion Giants’ home opener at AT&T Park in San Francisco on April 8, 2011.

1. Giants
2. Diamondbacks
3. Dodgers
4. Rockies
5. Padres

I don’t agree with some of the decisions that Brian Sabean made this offseason (or in prior offseasons for that matter), and I remain perplexed as to why the Giants are so hesitant to start Brandon Belt when they’re a club in desperate need of offense. But I like the Giants to re-claim the NL West this season. Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval have never been healthy and productive in the same season but I think that all changes this year. Melky Cabrera was a nice addition to the lineup and once he’s healthy, having Freddy Sanchez back in the mix at second base will be huge as well. Of course, the Giants will win because of their pitching. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Volgelsong are fantastic and will cover up the weaknesses of the offense (and Barry Zito, who is horrifyingly bad). Assuming they don’t suffer any big injuries, I like the Giants to make a run this year…That said, if the Giants slip then the Diamondbacks will be there again when they fall.Arizona was very good last season and it went out and improved its pitching staff with the additions of Trevor Cahill and Takashi Saito this offseason. The lineup also offers plenty of power thanks to Justin Upton, Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Young, so why am I not picking the D-Backs to repeat as NL West champs? Because I think they’ll have more competition this season than they did last year. The Giants are healthy again, while the Rockies, Dodgers and Padres all improved in some areas. I see a slip coming for Arizona, although I do like the Snakes to claim one of the Wild Card spots…The Dodgers have been a mess off the field the past couple of years but their on-field product isn’t as bad as some think. Led by ace Clayton Kershaw, the starting rotation is underrated and the lineup features star Matt Kemp. That said, the Dodgers have a tendency to underachieve and while I firmly believe that they have enough to compete, I think they’ll eventually slide to the middle of the pack in the National League…Some folks are high on the Rockies’ potential and I can see why looking at their lineup. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are studs, and the additions of Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez will only help an offense that also features nice complementary pieces in Dexter Fowler and Todd Helton. But their pitching scares me. They don’t have that bona fide ace that will go out and stop the bleeding in the middle of a losing streak and I think over time, their bats will be silenced by teams like the Giants and Diamondbacks, who do have the arms to make a postseason run…I like what the Padres are doing but they just don’t have enough weapons to compete this year. Trading Mat Latos and Anthony Rizzo may help this club in the future, but for now San Diego will have to make due with what it has. And outside of Jesus Guzman and Yonder Alonso, “what it has” simply won’t be good enough.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Tampa Bay Rays center fielder B.J. Upton (2nd bottom left) and Evan Longoria (3rd-R) look on from the dugout with teammates in the bottom of the ninth inning of play against the Texas Rangers in Game 4 in their MLB American League Divisional Series baseball playoffs in St. Petersburg, Florida, October 4, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

1. Rays
2. Yankees
3. Red Sox
4. Blue Jays
5. Orioles

I’m picking the Rays to win the East because they simply have the best rotation in the division. The Yankees will be in lockstep with the Rays the entire year but at the end of the day, I like James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann better than New York’s collection of starters. And if Tampa Bay can get an MVP season out of Evan Longoria then there’s no reason the Rays can’t challenge for the American League Pennant…The loss of Michael Pineda will hurt the Yankees and while I liked the Hiroki Kuroda signing, let’s not forget that he’s used to pitching in the NL West – the most pitching-friendly division in all of baseball. Of course, thanks to the Bombers’ stacked offense, they will challenge for another postseason berth this season. The core of Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter is too good for the Yankees to be left on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason…It’s hard not to like a lineup that features Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz at the top. The Red Sox will score plenty of runs, especially if Carl Crawford can ever get healthy and bounce back from his brutal 2011 campaign. (I also love the addition of Cody Ross.) But the pitching will make or break Boston this season and this staff has so many question marks right now. Who knows how Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront will perform as starters and Josh Beckett is still dealing with a thumb issue. I’m certainly not counting Boston out this year but I’m hesitant to believe in the BoSox after they burned me last season. (I predicted that they would win the World Series)…Every year the Blue Jays are an intriguing dark-horse and every year they come up just a little short. I like Toronto’s chances to challenge for a Wild Card spot but this division is as nasty as it’s ever been. Jose Bautista and Ricky Romero are studs but I just don’t see the Jays competing with the Rays, Yanks and Sox without more impact players…Remember that hot start the Orioles got off to last season? Boy did that fade quickly. As always, I’m intrigued by guys like Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, but the fact is that Baltimore doesn’t have enough to compete. Not one of the O’s starting pitchers is projected to have an ERA south of 4.0, which is a problem given how good New York and Boston’s offenses will be again this season.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Prince Fielder answers questions from reporters during a press conference announcing Fielder has agreed to a $214 million, nine-year contract with the Tigers in Detroit, Michigan January 26, 2012. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

1. Tigers
2. Royals
3. Indians
4. White Sox
5. Twins

There’s nobody in this division that will get in the Tigers’ way this season. Dave Dombrowski built a championship team this offseason and now all the Tigers have to do is go out and execute. Adding Prince Fielder made everyone forget about the loss of Victor Martinez, which was absolutely crushing at the time. With Fielder protecting Miguel Cabrera in the lineup (and vice versa), both plays should have huge years at Comerica. Justin Verlander might not be able to re-produce the performance he had a year ago but he heads a solid rotation that also features potential 10-plus game winners Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello…The Royals continue to be the best up-and-coming team in baseball thanks to youngsters Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Luke Hochevar, but they’re just not there yet in terms of being a playoff contender. They have a couple of intriguing arms down in their farm system but their pitching hasn’t caught up to the offense’s potential, which will probably leave KC on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason. The club was excited to add lefty Jonathan Sanchez to the starting rotation, but he remains one of the most erratic starters in the game…The Indians won’t challenge the Tigers in this division but I really like what Cleveland is doing with its lineup. Carlos Santana is a future star, Shin-Soo Choo is a solid three-hitter, and if Asdrubal Cabrera can build off the season he had last year then the middle of the Tribe’s lineup will be solid. I also love the potential of Jason Kipnis and while he may only hit .240, you know Shelley Duncan will pop 15-plus home runs. That said, the starting pitching will fail this team unless Ubaldo Jimenez can figure out where he left the stuff that made him a Cy Young contender two years ago…I put the White Sox and Twins in the same category in that they’ll be better than some of the other doormats in baseball, but they won’t compete this year. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have to stay healthy and, just as importantly, rake for the Twins to be successful, while the White Sox are counting on players whose best days are behind them (i.e. Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy). You could make an argument for one of these two teams being a sleeper but this is the Tigers’ division to lose and the White Sox and Twins simply don’t have Detroit’s talent.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Members of the Texas Rangers talks to pitcher Darren Oliver (C) on the mound during the 10th inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during game 6 of the World Series in St. Louis on October 27, 2011. The Cardinals defeated the Rangers 10-9 and the series is tied 6-6. . UPI/Kevin Dietsch

1. Rangers
2. Angels
3. Mariners
4. A’s

No, the Rangers don’t have Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, a true ace or a prototypical leadoff hitter. But I still think they’re the team to beat in this division. The Angels certainly have a better starting rotation than their AL West rivals, and Pujols remains the best pure hitter in the game. But the Rangers’ have the better bullpen and fewer question marks surrounding their lineup. Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Adrian Beltre will all hit for average, while Hamilton, Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli should all finish with 20-plus home runs. Need stolen bases? Elvis Andrus will net you 40 while Kinsler should swipe another 25. The starting rotation isn’t perfect and the loss of Wilson hurts, but the Rangers can mash with anyone – including the new-look Halos…The Mariners should be better than they were a year ago but that’s not saying much. I like the addition of Jesus Montero to the middle of their lineup but he’s not going to be the club’s saving grace when it comes to offense. The M’s will battle the A’s for last place in the West again, but at least fans can still watch Felix Hernandez every fifth day…Outside of adding Yoenis Cespedes (which surprised nearly everyone in baseball), the A’s didn’t do anything to upgrade their roster this past offseason. I thought with their pitching they would surprise everyone and make the postseason last year, but their lineup is a disaster and Billy Beane traded all of their good arms this past offseason. This is just yet another small-market club that is completely devoid of talent and will sink to the bottom of the league once the season revs up.

POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Los Angeles Angels’ Albert Pujols drives hits a fly ball to centerfield for the second out of the first inning during the Angels’ Cactus League spring training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, March 12, 2012. UPI/Art Foxall

NL WILD CARD: Diamondbacks over Phillies
AL WILD CARD: Angels over Yankees

NLDS: Diamondbacks over Cardinals; Giants over Braves
ALDS: Angels over Rays; Tigers over Rangers

NLCS: Giants over Diamondbacks
ALCS: Angels over Tigers

World Series: Angels over Giants
Yes, I do think the Rangers are still the team to beat in the AL West but I also believe that the Angels will win the postseason – where pitching is king. It’s the same reason I’m taking the Giants; in a five or seven-game series, Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner and Vogelsong will be difficult to beat. (Much like Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana will be hard to take down in the American League pennant chance). As far as the other teams are concerned, I’m not completely convinced the Phillies will even make the playoffs, the Braves have a habit of choking under pressure and while I like the D-Backs, I like the Giants a little bit more. The Tigers are loaded but I think they’ll shrink in the postseason after not being tested during the regular season, while the Yankees (pitching) and Rays (offense) will be undone by their weaknesses.

AWARDS SECTION

NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy, Giants
AL Manager of the Year: Jim Leyland, Tigers

NL Rookie of the Year: Yonder Alonso, Padres
AL Rookie of the Year: Jesus Montero, Mariners

NL MVP: Joey Votto, Reds
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

NL Cy Young: Matt Cain, Giants
AL Cy Young: Jered Weaver, Angels

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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