my predictions for individual award in the upcoming season
. Today we turn our attention to larger matters. Team matters.
This season actually promises an entirely new level of intrigue, due to the presence of an extra wild card team from each league. Whether you like the new development or not (I most definitely do not; I think the regular season is already watered-down enough, and the fact Bud Selig and his ilk continue to make stupid changes in areas that don't need changing is more than enough proof for me the game is on the slow boat to hell), the fact is it's going to be a very different environment moving into the final stages of the season this year than it has been in the past. More teams still in contention will spell an entirely different kind of stretch run in 2012.
All that being said, let's move straight on to the predictions, shall we? We'll start off with the National League, move over into the American, and then finish up with the unnervingly accurate playoff picture I see in my mind this first week of April.
National League Division Winners
NL East -- Philadelphia Phillies (91 wins)
Just like my pick of Roy Halladay yesterday, I'm not exactly going off the path with this pick, but there's a reason. I think the Phillies' run of dominance in the National League is coming to an end; an aging team and plenty of short-sighted moves have put the future of the Phillies in jeopardy. Even with an offense on the downside of its life, though, the Phillies are still the class of the NL East for this year. Their pitching is still just too good to pick against them. Ask me the same time next year, though, and there's a pretty good chance I'll give you a different answer.
NL Central -- St. Louis Cardinals (94 wins)
The trendy pick seems to be the Cincinnati Reds, and I think they and the Brewers will both give the Cards a decent run for their money this season. However, even after losing Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa during the offseason, I still believe this Cardinal team is actually better than the one we saw for most of last season. I am concerned about the weaker half of the bullpen and the overall age of the team, but I still think the Cards are the best team in the division. John Mozeliak has done some remarkable work the last two offseasons building this team to win in the short terms without sacrificing the future at all, and all that work will pay off with another central crown and another wave of prospects approaching.
NL West -- Arizona Diamondbacks (92 wins)
I considered the Giants here, but even with Buster Posey coming back I don't believe in their offense. I also thought of going with the Rockies, who have a tremendous offense, but their pitching is awful. (Jamie Moyer is their number two starter. That's 49 year old Jamie Moyer.) So it's the DBacks again, with the strongest combination of weapons, taking the NL West. Bonus prediction: Trevor Bauer will be the runner-up for the NL Rookie of the Year award, and the guy everyone actually remembers in five years.
Wild Cards -- Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves
The Reds will finish second in a very competitive NL Central with 89 wins, and the Braves will hold off a charge by both the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins (I don't think I'm ever going to get used to typing that, by the way), to grab a wild card spot. That NL East is going to be a monstrous division this season, and even more so next year.
American League Division Winners
AL East -- Tampa Bay Rays (93 wins)
The Yankees are the easy pick here, but I think the age of the Bronx Bombers is going to really start catching up with them this season. They still have a tremendous amount of offensive talent, but an awful lot of it is of the mid-30s or older variety. The Rays, on the other hand, have perhaps the most talented pitching staffs in all of baseball, and I think they get just enough offense to pull out the division. I considered David Price for my AL Cy Young pick, and James Shields is one of the more underappreciated starters in the game. Matt Moore will win the AL ROY, and the Rays will win 3-1 games all year long.
AL Central -- Detroit Tigers (98 wins)
Easiest pick in baseball this year. The Royals are on the come but not there yet, the Indians are no better than average, and the Chicago White Sox are an unmitigated disaster. The Tigers, on the other hand, are loaded for bear and will likely destroy the rest of the division.
AL West -- Texas Rangers (96 wins)
If the Tigers out of the Central was the easiest pick, then the Rangers coming out of the West was the toughest. The Angels made some rather serious noise this offseason -- you may have heard about it -- and are primed to make a run at the top spot in the division despite the Rangers also coming into Opening Day an improved team over the 2011 iteration. Both teams have titanic rotations, and both have plenty of offensive firepower. In the end I'll go with the team that isn't paying Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells. I like the Rangers' bullpen better as well, giving them a thin edge over their Anaheim challengers.
Wild Cards -- Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees
That's right, folks, I have the Boston Red Sox missing the playoffs for the second year in a row. As loaded as they looked going into last season, their flaws were on display for all to see late in the year, and I don't think beer and fried chicken is the real reason they failed to qualify for the postseason. The Yankees are just slightly stronger than the Sawx, and the Angels will place a close second to the Rangers in the West with 94 wins.
NL Wild Cards -- Reds beat Braves
NLDS -- Cardinals over Phillies, Diamondbacks over Reds
NLCS -- Cardinals over Diamondbacks
AL Wild Cards -- Angels over Yankees
ALDS -- Tigers over Angels, Rays over Rangers
ALCS -- Tigers over Rays
World Series -- Tigers over Cardinals, six games
Congratulations to the 2012 World Series champion Detroit Tigers, who will take down the defending champs in a grueling revenge match in which the ghosts of 2006 will be banished and Jim Leyland will become the third manager in baseball history to win titles in both leagues, joining Sparky Anderson and Tony La Russa. Congrats to Leyland and the Tigers and the people of Detroit.
So it is written, and so shall it be. Hell, I don't know why we're even bothering to play the games now.
Yesterday I gave