The A's and Mariners played games that counted last week in Japan, and the Marlins debuted that home run thing in their new ballpark last night. But today is "Real Opening Day," and with it comes six months of joy and despair for 30 sets of fans (well, 29 sets of fans and Astro fan).
I polled the AN front page writers to get some predictions on the division races, playoffs, and award winners. I've also expanded on my predictions, so that I give you plenty of material by which to make fun of me. The standings you see below are my own foolish choices, and the AN group predictions are described below each division. Feel free to mock/predict away in the comments.
This seems pretty easy to me. What did the Red Sox do to get better? They're already hurt (Crawford, Bailey) and there are a bunch of questions about the pitching staff. Plus I don't entirely trust Bobby Valentine. The Blue Jays are an intriguing sleeper, but the problem for Toronto is that three of the best five organizations in baseball are in the same division. Soon, I'm going to write a post about how much the division a team plays in affects their record. It's mostly pointed at the Blue Jays, who I expect might be a 87- or 88-win team in a different division. The Orioles are still really bad. The AN staff had votes for all three of the top teams to win the division and take a wild card. No one had all three teams making the playoffs, and the consensus was that they Yankees and Rays would make the playoffs (in fact, everyone had the Rays in with either the Yanks or the Sawx missing the playoffs).
Another easy one. The Tigers of 2012 will look a lot like the 2011 Tigers at-bat; Prince Fielder is an upgrade over Victor Martinez, but not a huge one. The infield defense is significantly worse than it was, and it will show up in the form of higher ERAs for Justin Verlander and Doug Fister. The Indians overachieved last year and didn't make a significant move to upgrade this year's team. Full seasons from Jason Kipnis and Ubaldo Jimenez will help, as would Shin Soo Choo forgetting about 2011 altogether and reverting to 2009-2010 form. The Royals are a hot pick to take second in the division, but I think their pitching will hold them back. I mean, Bruce Chen is their Opening Day starter. The lineup is playoff-worthy, but the pitching staff should be in Triple-A. And I'm expecting long seasons in Chicago and Minneapolis. The consensus among AN staff was that the Tigers would take the division; there also were no votes for another AL Central team to make the playoffs.
Man the American League is boring. Here's a division of haves and have nots. The Rangers and Angels will likely put the A's and Mariners in the rear view mirror by June. The disparity is only likely to grow when the Astros arrive next season. The Rangers and Angels were two of the busiest teams this offseason. The Angels now boast three "aces" after the acquisition of C.J. Wilson. If they don't shoot themselves in the foot by committing too many at-bats to Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu (FREE MIKE TROUT), the offense and, just as importantly, the defense could be really good. The Rangers added Yu Darvish and Joe Nathan, and now boast the deepest rotation in the American League, with the exception of maybe Tampa Bay. I suspect that the while they don't have a starter as good any the Angels have, they might have seven of the next eight, which will play great over 162 games. You know all about the A's and the Mariners still can't hit. AN staff has the Rangers winning the division and the Angels making the playoffs as a wild card; every voter had both teams making the playoffs.
Finally some dissention. Everyone has the Phillies winning the division, which is less of a lock than the unanimity would suggest. They have injuries around their infield and a big question mark in the leftfield. They're not exactly young and sprightly any more either. There were votes for each of the following three teams to make the playoffs as a wild card, and one voter even had both the Nationals and Marlins in the playoffs. Remember that this would on aggressive timelines for the Nationals and even the Marlins to make the playoffs. Both teams are still young and have holes. The Mets are better off than they were at this time last year, but they're still three or four years from being good again.
More disagreement. There were votes for the Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers to win the division, and all but one voter has a second wild card coming from this division. The Reds are the most talented team in the division, and so long as their starting pitching holds up (not a given), they should win 90+ games. I think Mat Latos was a big addition for them. Despite the loss of Albert Pujols, the Cardinals were smart to add Carlos Beltran, plus they get Adam Wainwright back in their rotation this year. The Brewers are in a weird spot; I'm not sure they're good enough to win the division, but they have a good pitching staff and a couple of marquee players that will keep them around. There might be a tough decision come the summer regarding the future of Zack Greinke. Pittsburgh will get their 20th straight losing season, and every opposing team will love their trips to Houston this year. I think they're more likely to lose 110 or more than double digits. This was a bad team last season that made itself worse in the offseason.
As long as the Giants don't win, it's fine with me. I don't think I'd feel that way if they weren't so insufferable about playing 38-year olds over talented youngsters. Also if their fans didn't think it was their birthright to win World Series now. My annual man-crush on the Rockies is as strong as ever, and I'm sure they'll win 78 games this year. The Diamondbacks upgraded the rotation and bullpen, but signed Jason Kubel to PLAY EVERYDAY IN THE FIELD. I'm betting we see a lot more of Gerardo Parra than is planned right now. Of all teams that are in better shape this year as compared to last year, I'd pick the Dodgers if only because the ownership situation was basically a gigantic Dementor for the last few years, sucking out all happiness from Chavez Ravine.
I'm picking the Rays and Braves to meet in the World Series, with Tampa Bay taking home the trophy. There were also votes for the Tigers and Rangers in the American League, and the Rangers were the consensus. In the National League, votes were split between the Phillies and Diamondbacks, with most expecting the Phillies to represent the NL in the World Series. For the championship, everybody thought the American League representative would win, and again the Rangers were the most popular pick.
For the award winners, I'm taking Evan Longoria and Joey Votto as my MVPs, Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels for Cy Young, and Yu Darvish and Zack Cozart for Rookies of the Year. AN Staff selected Longoria in the AL, with votes for Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto in the NL, with one dissenting vote for Troy Tulowitzki. The Cy Young favorites are Hernandez and Roy Halladay, with votes for Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum as well. Apart from me, everyone picked Matt Moor for AL ROY and the favorite for NL ROY is Devin Mesoraco, with a vote for Drew Pomeranz as well.
I'm just glad baseball's back.