2012 MLB Season Preview



Before you even get a chance to think about it, I want you to name to yourself the top team in the NL. Alright, who’d you go with? Philadelphia, I’m guessing? Well, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are majorly banged up. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco are all start-ing to get pretty old and are coming off mediocre years. Finally, Roy Oswalt’s de-parture makes baseball’s big four now a big three. Halladay, Hamels and Lee are going to get theirs, but the 2012 Phillies success hinges on the health of Utley and Howard and the ability of back-end start-ers Joe Blanton, who was hurt for most of last year, and Vance Worley, a promising but inexperienced rookie, to make mean-ingful contributions. The Phillies still have to be the favorite to come out of the NL, but they are not the offensive jugger-naut they once were. Hunter Pence was a nice trading deadline addition last year, but he doesn’t bring quite the pop that a guy like Jayson Werth did back when he remembered how to hit.

If not the Phillies, who? The defend-ing World Champion St. Louis Cardinals? They, like the Phillies in the East, deserve to be the favorites in the Central, but are far from a sure thing. Obviously, the loss of Pujols is huge, but it could send ripples throughout their whole lineup. Lance Berkman, who was thought to be seri-ously on the decline going into last year, submitted a monster year with the privi-lege of hitting behind Pujols and generally coming up in favorable spots. Carlos Bel-tran, who was brought in to try to plug the gaping hole Pujols’s absence leaves, should do a decent job of getting on base, but as far as power goes, unless he goes on a Ryan Braun diet, he won’t be sniffing 30 homers ever again. Injury questions also surround the front end of their rotation, with ace Chris Carpenter experiencing lingering shoulder troubles and number two man Adam Wainwright not having thrown a meaningful pitch in 17 months after coming off Tommy John’s surgery. If one of those two can be their usual selves and not go John Lackey on them, the Car-dinals should be fine, but everybody’s go-ing to have to step up their game a little in Albert’s absence.

Looking at the rest of the league, Arizo-na definitely outplayed their potential last year with guys like Ian Kennedy forgetting they’re guys like Ian Kennedy. Milwaukee is down a short, stout ball-masher but gained longtime Cub (oh boy!) Aramis Ramirez, and must have invested about 50 percent of their payroll in Ryan Braun’s lawyers, because otherwise they’d be dead in the wa-ter. San Francisco still can’t hit and though Washington and Miami are trendy but le-gitimate sleeper picks, anytime you’re deal-ing with those two organizations, the proof is in the pudding. It’s not as if the National League is suddenly Double-A baseball com-pared to the AL with the departures of Pu-jols and Fielder, but there is suddenly a lot more parity across the board, which should undoubtedly make for an exciting race to the finish.

There’s parity in the AL as well, but only at the top, with New York, Boston, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Texas and Los Angeles all having fair claims to being the team to beat. The thing to look for is how the indi-vidual divisions set up this year. While the Yankees, Sox and Rays and a solid Toronto team all beat each other up, Texas and Ana-heim will get to bully Oakland and Seattle and the Tigers will get to pound the Cen-tral into submission. How big of a differ-ence this is can’t be overstated because the Rays will have to play 54 games against the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays where, comparatively, the Tigers get 54 against the Twins, Royals and White Sox. It’s go-ing to be a bare-knuckles fistfight to win the AL East, whereas the Tigers, Rangers and Angels all have a far better shot to win their respective divisions. This gives these guys a huge advantage over their adversar-ies in the East because they have a much better shot at both avoiding the new play-in game and getting to host a divisional round matchup.

So who’s the pick then to come out of the AL? The Rangers have undoubtedly put themselves in position to make a run at a three-peat, but I think it’s got to be their divisional foe to the west, the An-gels. You never want to sign a guy just to take him away from the enemy (see Carl Crawford), but the Angels got C.J. Wilson for his fair value and managed to elevate their rotation to elite status while seriously thinning the Rangers. C.J. is no ace, but they don’t need him to be, they’ve got Dan Haren and Jered Wever. So, if he eats in-nings and throws strikes, two things he does quite well, and Ervin Santana submits another solid year, suddenly the Angels have a rotation arguably on level with the Phillies, whereas starting pitching for the Rangers remains a serious question mark. Colby Lewis as your horse in the playoffs? Oh yeah, and the Angels have some Pujols guy now too. That doesn’t hurt.

Contact Pete Koehler at [email protected].