Sports

Major League Baseball Season Preview

 

American League

East

1. New York Yankees

The Yankees bolstered their pitching rotation this year with the additions of Michael Pineda andHiroki Kuroda. Although Pineda is slated to open the season on the disabled list, the Bombers hold a slight advantage over the Red Sox rotation because of their ace, CC Sabathia. Despite the declining play of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, the Yanks have a few big bats with CurtisGranderson and Mark Teixeira, who hammered 41 and 39 HRs, respectively, in 2011.

2. Boston Red Sox

Forget about the collapse, this team is loaded with talent and is poised to make Fenway’s centennial memorable. The lineup features several power hitters in Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, andJaccoby Ellsbury. A healthy Carl Crawford should regain his All-Star form and put this team over the top. While not extraordinary, the starting rotation is respectable and enters the season with a chip on its shoulder. The same can’t be said about their mediocre bullpen, which will ultimately cost the Sox the division title.

3. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays won’t reach the post-season, but they will be in the thick of the wildcard race leading up to the final games of the season. Jose Bautista is a wonderful player but this team needs to surround him with some big name talent to stay competitive within this division. Brett Lawrie is set to become a household name by the end of the 2012 season and his success will be a testament to the depth of the Jays’ farm team.

4. Tampa Bay Rays

Contrary to popular opinion, the Rays will take a major step back this season. Their demise will be their season opening schedule, which features three series against powerhouses: the Yankees, Tigers, and Red Sox. Also, their matchup against the emerging Blue Jays shouldn’t be overlooked. If they falter early, the Rays will have a difficult time surmounting losses at the hands of divisional opponents.

5. Baltimore Orioles

The laughing stock of the AL East, the Orioles have done little to give their fans even a sliver of hope. This team will undoubtedly miss out on the playoffs yet again as they concentrate on rebuilding for the future. They have some nice pieces in Matt Wieters and Adam Jones, but those two aren’t enough to survive in this ubercompetitive division.

Central

1. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are coming off a solid season in 2011 and are the defending AL Central division champions. After scoring the fourth most runs in the AL in 2011, the team brought in big slugger Prince Fielder to further strengthen their batting. Look for Max Scherzer to compliment reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander in a young and talented pitching rotation.

2. Kansas City Royals

After more than twenty years of heartache, the Royals have assembled what may become one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league. Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakasform the young core of their offense. Don’t be surprised if the Royals are playing meaningful games come September.

3. Minnesota Twins

The Twins are coming off a horrible year that saw them finish 13th (out of 15) in the AL in both earned runs and runs scored, but a bouncebackyear isn’t out of the question. A healthy Joe Mauerand Justin Morneau will provide a much-needed offensive boost to an anemic offense.

4.  Cleveland Indians

The key to any success for the Indians in 2012 rests squarely on their pitching rotation. Justin Masterson is a legitimate number one, and the additions of Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe should help lower the earned runs against. Their offense boasts pretty good power, and catcher Carlos Santana is a bona fide star.

5. Chicago White Sox

An aging offense and a mediocre pitching staff should place the South Siders at the bottom of the AL Central for the first time since 1989. The biggest question marks are in their rotation, most notably Jake Peavy’s health and Chris Sale’s move from the bullpen, while their batting order is decrepit.

West

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The off-season additions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson make the Angels a World Series favouriteheading into the 2012 season. Wilson joins a pitching rotation that already includes All-StarsJered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana. Albert Pujols will solidify the offense, but the healthy return of Kendrys Morales may be equally as important.

2. Texas Rangers

After losing C.J. Wilson to the Angels, Texas signed Japanese phenomenon Yu Darvish to be the ace of the pitching staff. Their offense is incredibly powerful, but Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and Adrian Beltré all carry injury concerns. The Rangers will likely make the playoffs as one of the wild card teams, but a third consecutive trip to the World Series may be wishful thinking.

3. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners traded rookie of the year finalist Michael Pineda to the Yankees in exchange for catcher Jesus Montero. Though Seattle now has a middle of the lineup bat to pair with their ace pitcher Felix Hernandez, the rest of the roster looks very weak. Ichiro Suzuki is on the decline and sophomore Dustin Ackley may not be ready to make an impact.

4. Oakland Athletics

The A’s may have had the busiest off-season in the division, but with much less fanfare. Oakland signed exciting Cuban prospect Yoenis Cespedes, while they also traded starting pitchers Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez for a haul of prospects. The A’s are desperate for a new stadium, potentially in San Jose. Until then, they will be one of the worst teams in baseball.

 

National League

East

1. Atlanta Braves

With a lot of up and coming youngsters, the Braves were content to stay put this off-season. However, with a balanced rotation, bullpen, and lineup, the team should be able to ascend to their familiar place at the top of the NL East. A rejuvenated Jason Heyward and the continued dominance of the Braves’ flame-throwing pitchers should see the Tomahawk Chop performed late into October.

2. Philadelphia Phillies

When healthy, the Phillies are the best team in the division, but star sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are battling injuries. Combined with other aging veterans, the Phillies are looking vulnerable on offence, with Hunter Pence expected to carry the load. The Phillies’ playoff chances will rest on the dominance of top three pitchers—Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and ColeHamels. Winning is possible whenever any of these three pitch, so expect the Phillies to comfortably make the playoffs.

3. Washington Nationals

The Nationals are poised to make a playoff push this season. With a three-headed pitching attack led by Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals seem ready to shut down their opposing offences. A full season of Ryan Zimmerman and a bounceback year from Jayson Werth should also help place the Nationals in position to finally play meaningful baseball in September.

4. Miami Marlins

Yes, the Miami Marlins made a big splash this offseason, getting a new stadium, jersey, and some needed talent in the form of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. With the big bat ofGiancarlo Stanton and a returning Josh Johnson, there is a lot to be hopeful about. However, let’s not forget that this team was horrendous last year, winning just 72-games, and that a few splashy free agent signings won’t make up all the difference. Expect the Marlins to squeak over the .500 mark.

5. New York Mets

If there is any certainty in the NL East, it is that the Mets are going to struggle mightily this year. Their rotation is a mess led by a beat-up Johan Santana, who is expected to be the ace of the staff, and beside Ike Davis and David Wright, their offence is much below average. The only bright spot may be Lucas Duda, who should put up better than expected numbers in RF. The Mets will be lucky to crack 75 wins.

Central

1. Cincinnati Reds

The Reds offense looks to be loaded with JoeyVotto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips providing the power. Youngsters Drew Stubbs and ZackCozart should make an impact as well, but it’s the addition of starting pitcher Mat Latos that makes the Reds the division favourite. As long as Latoscan stay healthy, the Reds should be division champs.

2. Milwaukee Brewers

With the departure of Prince Fielder and the distractions surrounding Ryan Braun, most fans have dismissed the Brewers heading into this season. Their pitching remains very strong, led by Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo, and the addition of Aramis Ramirez at third base should help alleviate the departure of Fielder. At the end of the day, this is still one of the most balanced teams in the NL.

3. St. Louis Cardinals

The World Series champions lost their future Hall of Fame Manager Tony La Russa and future Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols. However, not all is lost in Missouri. The addition of Carlos Beltran, the healthy return of starter Adam Wainwright, and the emergence of playoff hero David Freese provide hope for the Cards. They are still a good team, but they won’t match their magical 2011 campaign.

4. Chicago Cubs

The Theo Esptein era is underway in Chicago, as the former Red Sox GM tries to end baseball’s longest World Series drought (103 years). The rebuilding process will be long, but Epstein knows what he is doing. Starlin Castro, Matt Garza, andGeovany Soto provide a decent core, but years of bad management have ruined this ball club for the short term.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

Signing outfielder Andrew McCutchen to a long-term deal was the first step towards becoming a legitimate franchise, but the Pirates have had 19 consecutive losing seasons and appear to be heading towards a 20th. Pittsburgh has a very weak starting rotation and has no offensive threat after McCutchen.

6. Houston Astros

The Houston Astros will be one of the worst teams in baseball in 2012. Trading Hunter Pence last season signaled the team’s commitment to a long-term rebuilding process, but there isn’t a lot of Major League talent on this roster. Second baseman Jose Altuve has some promise and pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris are dependable, but the Astros are a long way from the post-season.

West

1. San Francisco Giants

The Giants of 2012 resemble both their championship squad from two years ago, and the team that failed to make the playoffs last season—great pitching combined with mediocre hitting. While this problem still remains, the team should get a boost from a returning Buster Posey and an emerging Brandon Belt. They have the ability to win 90 games, which should be enough in the weak NL West.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks

Last season’s division winners should regress somewhat this season, although they will remain in the division hunt. Ian Kennedy and Ryan Roberts had uncharacteristically strong seasons last year, so don’t expect them to light it up once again. With a major star in Justin Upton and a slugging catcher in Miguel Montero, however, the D-Backs can’t be counted out.

3. L.A. Dodgers

Fresh off a new $2 billion ownership deal, the Dodgers are hoping to catch some ‘Magic.’ Anoffence bolstered by Matt Kemp and a healthy Andre Ethier should see them scoring runs in droves, however their playoff chances could be hampered by the lack of quality starters behind the amazing Clayton Kershaw. The X-Factor is their high-octane bullpen. If this strikeout-throwing crew can help the team pull out some close games, the Dodgers will vie for the division crown.

4. Colorado Rockies

There isn’t much to like about the Rockies this year. They were a poor team last season, and did not do much to improve in the off-season. Although the addition of Michael Cuddyer, along with proven stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez may help the club score some runs, the club’s awful pitching depth may ensure a lot of losses at hitter-friendly Coors Field. Expect the Rockies to struggle in this rebuilding year.

5. San Diego Padres

The Padres find themselves in the same boat as the Rockies—a weak team looking to rebuild for the future. The Padres have a laughably badoffence, with no real potential to generate any runs. Chase Headley, Cameron Maybin, and NickHundley don’t exactly scream Murderer’s Row. While the massive confines of Petco Park can help the Padres decent pitching crew keep the game close, the Padres will be lucky to crack 70 wins this season.

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