Spring Training is in the books, so now it’s time for prognostication. Listed below are my predictions for the 2012 regular season standings as well as the major award winners. In addition, a capsule for each division is provided. For reference, the Captain’s Blog had a great year projecting the standings in 2010, but didn’t do as well in 2011. Hopefully, the pattern will hold in 2012.
|AL East||W||L||NL East||W||L|
|AL Central||W||L||NL Central||W||L|
|AL West||W||L||NL West||W||L|
ALCS: Yankees over Angels
NLCS: Brewers over Phillies
World Series: Yankees over Brewers
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young: Cole Hamels
AL MVP: Mark Teixeira
NL MVP: Mike Stanton
AL ROY: Jesus Montero
NL ROY: Drew Pomeranz
American League East
The reigning division champion Yankees return with an even deeper team in 2012. Not only is the pitching rotation bursting at the seams, but the bullpen and offense each project to rank among the league’s best units. However, the rest of the American League is also much improved, so the Yankees could see a game or two shaved off their league-leading win total from 2011. Having said that, if Alex Rodriguez can remain healthy and Mark Teixeira is able to rebound to his 2009 performance, the Yankees could easily become a 100-win powerhouse.
The Blue Jays ended the spring with an impressive 24-7 record, which was good for the second highest exhibition season winning percentage since 1984. Will the team’s strong March prove to be a springboard into the regular season? Recent historical precedents suggest Toronto could be in for a big season, but what really bodes well for the team is its emerging crop of impact players. In addition to Jose Bautista and Adam Lind, the team’s lineup also boasts promising young players like Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia, and Colby Rasmus, while the rotation is fronted by Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, one of the best young righty/lefty combos in the game. Granted, the bottom of the team’s rotation is untested, but if Kyle Drabek can emerge as a viable middle of the rotation starter, the depth in the bullpen, which now includes closer Sergio Santos, could be sufficient to make up for this deficiency.
The Rays and Red Sox could both easily win the division if things break right, but considering the overall improvement around the league, it doesn’t seem as if either one has kept up with the trend.
American League Central
The Tigers have almost unanimously been selected as the runaway winner of the AL Central. Considering the addition of Prince Fielder to what was already a 95-win team in 2011, that seems like a logical prediction. However, the consensus seems to be overrating the Tigers just a bit. Although I am also forecasting another division title in Motown, that’s as much a product of the relatively weak AL Central than the Tigers prowess.
The reason I am less optimistic about the Tigers is because the team has several candidates for regression, including Alex Avila, Johnny Peralta, Doug Fister, and Jose Valverde. Even Justin Verlander could be in line for significant step back (his 170 ERA+ in 2011 was easily the best of his career). Also, even though Prince Fielder will provide a big boost, he is replacing the injured Victor Martinez, who posted an OPS+ of 132. Finally, it’s worth noting that the team’s 2011 Pythagorean W-L% was only 89-73, so if some of that “luck” normalizes, the Tigers will have a tough keeping up with last year’s pace.
If one team can challenge the Tigers, it just might be the Royals. However, in order for that happen, just about everything has to go right, including the continued development of the team’s stable of young hitters, which includes Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, and an equally impressive stockpile of young arms. If one or two of the team’s highly touted starters can make a breakthrough, the Royals could be a part of the pennant race for the first time in a decade.
American League West
The additions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson will give the Angels a huge shot in the arm, but those aren’t the only areas of improvement. Chris Iannetta represents a big upgrade over Jeff Mathis, while the return of Kendrys Morales provides the team with another middle-of-the-order bat. Should Mike Scioscia also find a way to get more playing time for Mike Trout, the lineup would be even stronger, making it the perfect complement to a rotation that goes four deep.
While the Angels improved, the Rangers mostly maintained the status quo. Of course, as two-time defending A.L. champs, Texas didn’t have many holes to fill. However, it remains to be seen whether Yu Darvish can match C.J. Wilson’s 2011 output, and the conversion of Neftali Feliz back to the rotation is another experiment that could go awry. Because it doesn’t seem as if the Rangers have much room for improvement, and the competition has gotten stronger, Texas seems like a better bet for the wild card than the division.
National League East
As the rest of the division continues to improve, the Phillies seem to be slowly deteriorating because of injury. With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley both starting the season on the DL, an even greater onus will be placed on the pitching staff. Of course, if one group can shoulder the burden, it’s the Phillies. However, the margin for error could be extremely small.
If the Phillies run of five consecutive division titles comes to an end, the Marlins seem best positioned to take their place. The addition of Jose Reyes bolsters an emerging offense, which includes superstars like Mike Stanton and Hanley Ramirez to go along with solid performers like Emilio Bonifacio, Logan Morrison, and Gabby Sanchez. However, the team’s fortunes will likely ride on its revamped pitching staff, which now includes of Health Bell, Mark Buehrle, and Carlos Zambrano. Of course, the biggest determinant of the Marlins’ chance to overtake the Phillies will be the health of Josh Johnson. If the talented right hander can avoid injury (which is a big assumption), the Marlins are shaping up as the team to beat.
The Nationals and Braves also have enough talent to contend for the division, but each team has a few more holes than their division rivals, making the wild card a more likely goal. Being more established, the Braves may be a safer bet to make the post season, but if players like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper make a big impact in 2012, Washington will be the team playing in October.
National League Central
Every team but the Astros has at least an outside chance to win the division, but what sets the Brewers apart from the pack are the two aces atop their rotation. Yovani Gallardo has established himself as one of the best pitchers in the league, while Zack Greinke looks poised for a bounce back season in his contract year. All eyes will be on how the team adjusts to life without Prince Fielder, but the addition of Aramis Ramirez and emergence of Mat Gamel should more than fill the gap.
If the Cardinals can get Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter pitching together in the rotation, they’ll still be a threat, but otherwise, it will be tough to compensate for the loss of Pujols. The Reds could also challenge for the division, but to do so, the team will need Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto to anchor the staff, while rookies like Zack Cozart and Devin Mesoraco chip in on offense.
National League West
Like the Phillies in the East, the Giants strength lies with their pitching, which should be enough to catapult them back atop the division. In particular, Madison Bumgarner seems to be on the verge of taking the next step, which would give San Francisco three aces. Considering how weak the team’s offense remains, it will need all the pitching it can get, but the trio of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Bumgarner are a good bet to provide it. Having a healthy Brian Wilson also wouldn’t hurt.
The Diamondbacks overachieved last season, so a regression seems likely. The addition of Trevor Cahill could mitigate some of the slide, but otherwise, there are very few places where you can point to a likely improvement. The Dodgers and Padres could also flirt with contention, but a .500 season for either team is a more realistic goal.