The Silly Season Ends: 2012 MLB Preview
Everyone who loves baseball should love Opening Day because it’s the end of the silly season where teams do things like commit thirty million dollars and a no trade clause to a forty-one year old first baseman in a league where the Tampa Bay Rays made the post season with a payroll of just forty-two million dollars.
It’s the end of the season where the games don’t matter and the start of the season where every game is more important than the health of your first born child.
But really, Opening Day is the silliest day on the baseball calendar.
All around America, people are angered because their team isn’t getting the respect it deserves from the preseason prognostications and in doing so give those prognostications more respect than they deserve.
That’s because the prognostications are just about the silliest thing in the baseball universe.
Case in point, the Boston Red Sox. They ended the 2011 in the most excruciating way possible, which is to be on the wrong side of the most exciting day in baseball history.
Prior to the 2011 season, ESPN made predictions and all forty-five of the prognosticators picked the Sox to win the AL East, 42 of them predicted the Sox to win the AL, and 33 of them predicted the Sox to win the World Series.
One might be tempted to look at the 2012 predictions and think they learned their lesson as only two pick the Sox to win the AL East and only one predicts the Sox to win the World Series.
That’s what happens when the season ends with a collapse like that, right? Well, yes, but it’s silly. The 2011 Red Sox missed the post season by one game due to an inordinate number of injuries and the 2012 version retains all the players that made the 2011 team so formidable on paper save Jonathan Papelbon.
Here’s the thing. The difference between the best outcome for a given team and the worst outcome for a given team is often much, much greater than the difference between the quality of the teams. As a result, predictions are, by and large, pointless, but they’re fun so let’s get to it.
The AL East has three very good teams and the one that wins is going to be the one that stays the healthiest.
My pick: Boston
The AL Central is one of the silliest divisions in baseball. The ESPN analysts all picked Detroit to win the division and with good reason, they were the only team in the division to finish above .500 in 2011 and one can reasonably argue that they got better when they effectively replaced the bat of Victor Martinez with that of Prince Fielder. You would, quite frankly, be an idiot to predict that any other team to win the division. Unless Justin Verlander gets hurt they are easily the class of the division.
That makes the Tigers, as of Opening Day, the team that is most likely to reach the post season and since they’ll be winning their division they will avoid the one game (ugh) playoff between the two Wild Card teams and they will still likely be the underdog to whomever they face in the Division Series.
My pick: Detroit
The AL West is much like the AL East in that there are two teams for which you can make reasonable arguments and two teams for which you cannot. The Angels may be paying thirty million dollars to Albert Pujols when he’s forty but in the here and now he’s 32 and liable to murder the baseball with regularity. They Angles also stole CJ Wilson from the Rangers. The Rangers responded by bringing Yu Darvish over from Japan. Darvish looks to be better than the other recent Japanese phenom, Daisuke Matsuzaka but still, I’m skeptical.
My pick: Los Angeles
And that brings us to the silliest revelation of the day. The entire AL season is going to be played to eliminate one team. There are six teams that have a reasonable chance and “only” five spots. The two teams that miss out on the AL East crown are probably better teams than the one that misses out on the AL West crown but they will play a tougher schedule. The only one of the six who can’t win the Wild Card is Detroit because if they don’t win the division they’re cooked.
My pick: New York and Tampa Bay
The National League is far more interesting because the difference between the haves and the have nots isn’t so clear.
The Phillies won the NL East by thirteen games but the Marlins and Nationals should both be vastly improved. The Marlins added Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, and Jose Reyes while getting Josh Johnson back from injury. The Nationals get Stephen Strasburg back from injury and added Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez.
My pick: Philadelphia
The NL Central lost Prince Fielder to the Tigers and Albert Pujols to the Angels. Whoever wins the division is probably going to be pretty mediocre and the division has no shortage of mediocre teams. It’ll be one of Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and St. Louis because Pittsburgh just doesn’t quite have enough, Chicago has to rip things apart before they get better, and Houston is just awful.
My pick: Milwaukee
The only reason someone is going to win the NL West is because someone has to. Justin Upton is a beast but the Diamondbacks rotation is almost the definition of nothing special. The Giants get Buster Posey back and return an excellent rotation. The Dodgers have perhaps the best player in the league and just escaped from the worst ownership situation in recent memory.
My pick: San Francisco
The NL has a plethora of mediocre-to-good teams so the Wild Card is as wide open as can be. Any one of the Braves, Nationals, Marlins, Phillies, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Giants, Diamondbacks, or even the Dodgers can win this thing if they don’t end up winning their division. My guess is Strasburg stays healthy while Josh Johnson doesn’t.
My pick: Washington and Atlanta