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

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

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

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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Will the American League return to dominance in 2012?

For three of the past four seasons the National League has owned Major League Baseball. But after collectively opening its wallet this past winter, the American League could see a return to dominance in 2012.

The American League bought two of the National League’s biggest stars this offseason when the Angels signed Albert Pujols and the Tigers added slugger Prince Fielder. The Halos also kept C.J. Wilson (the top pitcher on the market) in the AL West while the Yankees beefed up their starting rotation by acquiring promising young right-hander Michael Pineda (now injured) from the Mariners and signing the underrated Hiroki Kuroda (formerly of the Dodgers).

Granted, there are still plenty of quality teams in the National League. The Phillies, Giants, Brewers and Braves all have solid starting rotations and the Marlins bolstered their roster with the additions of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle. The Reds and Diamondbacks have plenty going for themselves as well.

But all of the teams listed above have significant question marks heading into the season, which includes the defending World Series champion Cardinals. Ace Chris Carpenter, outfielder Allen Craig, and second baseman Skip Schumaker will all miss significant time this offseason and there’s added pressure for guys like Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and David Freese to produce without No. 5 in the lineup.

When you factor in Pujols and Fielder have jumped leagues, it’s no wonder the odds currently favor AL teams like the Tigers, Yankees, Angels and Rangers when it comes to winning this year’s World Series. The American League rosters are simply more talented right now than their National League counterparts.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that the American League is a shoe-in to win the Fall Classic. Get into a seven-game series when pitchers reign supreme and you cannot count teams like the Phillies, Braves and Giants out of contention. If you think offense overpowers pitching when it comes to the postseason, then you haven’t been paying attention the last two years.

But as of April 1, there’s no question that the balance of power has tilted in the American League’s favor. There’s a lot of baseball to be played but it’s hard not to look up and down the Tigers’ roster and not think, “Wow, this is a potential World Series winner right here.”

The price of a World Series title? For Cardinals, it may be Chris Carpenter.

There’s always a price to pay in life. Success doesn’t come without failure and often times, elation doesn’t come without desolation.

For the St. Louis Cardinals, the price of their miraculous 2011 championship wasn’t losing Albert Pujols (like many had thought), but perhaps ace Chris Carpenter.

You could certainly make a case for Pujols or World Series hero David Freese being the most valuable player on last year’s Cardinals team. But in my eyes, it was hands down Chris Carpenter. Nobody threw as many innings in the big leagues last year than Carpenter, who was marvelous in the postseason. He won five of the six games he pitched, with his only loss coming in a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Rangers in the World Series. In that game he pitched seven innings of two-run ball while striking out four and allowing just two earned runs. He wound up pitching just four days later and beat the Rangers for the second time in the Series, limiting Texas to two runs on six hits over six innings while helping St. Louis win its 11th championship.

Now, with just two weeks before the start of the 2012 MLB season, Carpenter is dealing with a nerve issue in his right shoulder. The initial diagnosis was that he had a bulging cervical disc in his back and there was actually some positive news on his condition earlier this week. But it has been discovered that the discomfort he has experienced in his shoulder is actually nerve damage and nobody knows how long it’ll take for him to recover – or if he even will.

The word “retirement” and Chris Carpenter don’t really go together. He’ll be 37 years old at the end of April but it would take an army to pull him off the mound. But it really isn’t up to him on how his body will react over these next couple of days, weeks, and months. He rejected surgery on Wednesday because quite frankly, it wouldn’t help. It’s not like he has a tear – he’s dealing with nerve damage. All he can do now is wait for the nerve to heal itself (which could take some time), test his arm out, and then go from there. The nerve could essentially heal itself next month but then become damaged again when he attempts to throw. It’s just hard to predict what will happen next.

For the Cardinals’ sake, hopefully the nerve does regenerate quickly and he can get back on the mound at some point this season. But the news out of St. Louis right now isn’t good and there’s a chance that 2011 was the last we’ll see of Chris Carpenter in a baseball uniform. And if that is indeed the case, at least he and Cardinal fans will remember him for being the warrior he was in the 2011 postseason.

The Giants paid their World Series debt in the form of losing Buster Posey, Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval and Brian Wilson for extended periods of time last season, which prevented them from qualifying for the postseason. Now the Cardinals are paying the price for theirs and it’s a shame that it has to come in the form of Carpenter.

Carpenter to start for Cardinals, Cruz and Holliday both expected to play in Game 7

St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher Chris Carpenter pitches against the Texas Rangers during the first inning of game 1 of the World Series in St. Louis on October 19, 2011. UPI/Brian Kersey

Following their epic extra innings victory in Game 6 on Thursday night, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa announced that ace Chris Carpenter would start Game 7 of the World Series against the Rangers tonight.

It was a move that has been anticipated since David Freese hit a walkoff home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Cardinals a 10-9 win on Thursday night. Carpenter last pitched on Monday and has worked on short rest before in this postseason. While technically it’s Kyle Lohse’s turn in club’s postseason rotation and Edwin Jackson would be working on a normal rest period, La Russa has to turn to his workhouse in this situation.

In related news, both Matt Holliday (finger) and Nelson Cruz (groin) are expected to play in Game 7. Holliday suffered what Joe Buck called during the broadcast a “severely bruised little finger” when he dove back into third base during a pickoff attempt Thursday night. He jammed his hand into third baseman Adrian Beltre’s foot and was subsequently called out on the play. Holliday didn’t return to the game, leaving some to speculate whether or not he would play in Game 7.

Cruz strained a groin muscle on his final at-bat in Game 6 and was shown limping down the clubhouse steps. But as long as he can still walk, one would expect him to be in the lineup. This is Game 7 of the World Series, after all.

Cardinals take game 1 over Rangers

St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Holliday (7) hands relief pitcher Jason Motte (30) the ball he caught to make the final out after game 1 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium on October 19, 2011 in St. Louis. The Cardinals won 3-2. UPI/Brian Kersey

The St. Louis Cardinals won game one of the World Series 3-2 over the Texas Rangers. Tony La Russa seemed to have the magic touch as each of his moves worked perfectly in a tight game. In the sixth inning, La Russa sent out pinch hitter Allen Craig to hit for starter Chris Carpenter, and Craig got the game-winning RBI single.

From there, the Cards’ bullpen took over, and now they have game one.

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