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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.

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Top 5 2011 MLB All-Star Snubs

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen reacts after he caught a ball hit by New York Mets batter Jason Bay with a runner on base at the fence for the third out of the first inning of their MLB National League baseball game in New York, June 1, 2011. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Here are five players that deserved a trip to Arizona’s Chase Field next week, but instead will have to watch a couple of less-deserving players take their spot. Now let’s everybody pile on Bruce Bochy like the rest of the Internet world. Just make sure you stretch first.

1. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
I don’t know who deserves more blame here, the players or Bochy. The players selected the Reds’ Jay Bruce (who has more home runs than McCutchen but is hitting an earth shattering .230) as one of the outfield reserves and Bochy chose the Mets’ Carlos Beltran, another player with a lower batting average and OPS than McCutchen and whose defense is significantly worse. Somehow McCutchen was left off the “Final Man” vote that is decided by the fans, so Major League Baseball deserves a swift kick to the groin here as well. Seeing as how McCutchen and the Pirates are shaping up to be the feel good story of 2011, the players, Bochy, and MLB dropped the ball badly by leaving the sparkplug off the NL roster.

2. Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox
Apparently the AL players voted in Michael Young as a backup DH. Why would somebody feel as though a backup DH is needed for the American League roster? Outside of pitchers, THE ENTIRE FREAKING TEAM COULD BE DESIGNATED HITTERS. Konerko has a .954 OPS, which is fourth-best in the entire AL, and is among the league leaders in RBI (62, third), home runs (21, fourth) and batting average (.317, fifth). The problem is that teammate Carlos Quentin was a players’ selection and AL skipper Ron Washington needed to use four of his seven spots to ensure that every team was represented. He simply ran out of room for Konerko, which is a shame. But hopefully he’ll win the “Final Vote” and be on his way to Arizona next week anyway.

3. CC Sabathia, SP, Yankees
Seeing as how Sabathia is scheduled to pitch on Sunday, it’s kind of a moot point to discuss in detail how he was screwed. But a snub is a snub. Washington chose his own lefty C.J. Wilson over Sabathia, which isn’t that big of a deal. There’s a strong argument that Wilson should have made the team, but there were others less-deserving that took Sabathia’s spot. (Jose Valverde, anyone?) Again, in the end Sabathia would have been replaced anyway. But he at least deserved to be mentioned.

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CC Sabathia to opt out of his contract at the end of season?

New York Yankees’ pitcher CC Sabathia talks to the media as the Yankees prepare to take on the Texas Rangers in the ALCS at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas on October 14, 2010. Game one of the best of seven series will be on October 15, 2010 in Arlington. UPI/Ian Halperin

CC Sabathia has an opt-out clause in his contract that he can exercise after the 2011 season and while it seems unlikely that he would want to leave the Yankees, he told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that anything is possible.

Sabathia has an opt-out clause in his contract after this season and, in the past, he always definitively said he would not use that clause to negotiate another free-agent contract with either the Yankees or another team.

However, Monday, Sabathia did some dancing around the issue and, for the first time, opened the door that he might deploy the opt-out.

In a mass interview with reporters, Sabathia indicated he would not use the opt out without directly saying so, then shut down further inquiry by saying he was concentrating on this season and repeating the phrase, “I’m here.”

But in a one-on-one conversation with The Post afterward, Sabathia was given a few chances to definitively say he would not opt out — as he had previously — and did not. On one occasion he said, “Anything is possible in a contract.” In another, the big lefty said, “Who knows what is possible, but I am not thinking about anything beyond Opening Day.”

Rut-row. It sure sounds like Sabathia is setting himself up for a pay raise at the end of the year – and why wouldn’t he? The Yankees can ill-afford to lose him and would no doubt make him the highest-paid pitcher in the league if he threatened to walk out.

Cliff Lee is now making $25 million a year, so it stands to reason that Sabathia (who makes $23 million per season) wants to be paid at least as much as Lee, if not more. Barring injury or a disastrous season, Sabathia could probably squeeze a couple million more out of the Yankees, who desperately need him to anchor their starting rotation.

Sabathia tagged for 11 hits but Yankees survive in Game 5

CC Sabathia of the New York Yankee pitches to the Texas Rangers in the first inning during game five of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium on October 20, 2010 in New York.   UPI/Monika Graff Photo via Newscom

It wasn’t a picture perfect outing for CC Sabathia but the Yankees don’t mind.

The Yankees’ ace allowed 11 hits over six innings on Wednesday, but the Bombers managed to beat the Rangers 7-2 to stave off elimination in the ALCS. The series now shifts to Texas for two games, as the Rangers currently own a 3-2 lead.

Sabathia worked himself in and out of jams the entire game, as the Rangers stranded a total of eight batters on the night. He struck out seven and somehow managed to not issue a walk while throwing 112 pitches to pick up his first win of the ALCS (he got a no-decision in the Yankees’ come-from-behind victory in Game 1 of the series).

Offensively, Curtis Granderson finished with three hits and drove in two runs, while Nick Swisher scored twice and drove in a run as well. The Yankees built a 5-0 lead before catcher Matt Treanor hit a solo shot in the fifth off Sabathia to give the Rangers’ their first run of the game. They would add tack on another run in the sixth but that’s all they could muster as Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect 8th and 9th, respectively.

Game 6 will start at 8:07PM ET and will feature Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis. The Rangers are just 1-3 at home this postseason.

Are the Yankees finished?

Mark Teixeira (L), Robinson Cano, second left, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter (R) of the New York Yankees stand around as a new relief pitcher is brought in in the ninth inning during game three of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium on October 18, 2010 in New York.   UPI/Monika Graff Photo via Newscom

Things don’t look good in the Bronx.

A.J. Burnett retired the fist six batters he faced Tuesday night, but then remembered he was A.J. Burnett pitching in 2010 and the wheels started to fall off. The end result was disastrous, which is what most pundits figured when Joe Girardi appointed him his Game 4 starter.

Burnett allowed five runs on six hits in six innings of work as the Rangers crushed the Yankees 10-3 in Game 4 of the ALCS. Texas’ catcher Bengie Molina (a great midseason pickup from the Giants) went 3-for-4 with a go-ahead three run homer in the sixth off Burnett, while the eventual ALCS MVP Josh Hamilton also hit a pair of dingers and Nelson Cruz added a two-run shot in the ninth.

Compounding issues for the Yankees is that Mark Teixeira is now done for the season with a strain in his right hamstring. Twenty-three-year-old Eduardo Nunez hit .280 this year in 50 at bats with one home run, but he’s not going to keep pitchers awake at night like Teixeira will.

The Bombers face elimination this afternoon at 4:00PM ET. The good news is that they have their ace on the hill; the bad news is that CC Sabathia has a 7.20 ERA in this year’s postseason. C.J. Wilson will start for the Rangers and his ERA is a tad better (2.03), plus he flustered New York hitters for most of Game 1 before they got to him in the 7th inning. And even if the Rangers lose today, they’ll be at home for the final two games of the series and Cliff Lee (who’s pretty good in the postseason) would start Game 7 if necessary.

The Red Sox have proved this decade that being down 3-1 doesn’t mean a club can’t pull off a comeback. But the Yankees look old, tired and dare I say completely overmatched in this series. They look finished.

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