Outguessing the Mayans: Our 2012 Baseball Picks

This Great Game's fearless forecasters sort out the ups, downs and sideways to deliver their picks for baseball's 2012 regular season.

By Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio, This Great Game
Posted March 28, 2012

This Great Game Opinion.

The part of our job at This Great Game that qualifies as a hazardous occupation is once again upon us. Spring is in the air, and so are our annual picks for the upcoming 2012 baseball campaign that will either soar with pride or crash and burn with embarrassment.

We saw much of both last year. On the bragging end of things, we presaged the upticks for the Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers while Ed’s crystal ball scored by sensing a Cy Young Award for Justin Verlander and a Rookie of the Year trophy for Jeremy Hellickson. On the other end full of repressed memories, we erroneously lauded the Colorado Rockies, a world title for the buzzed Boston Red Sox and an MVP for steamrolled San Francisco catcher Buster Posey. (To make amends, Ed is projecting Posey as the NL Comeback Player of the Year.)

So now comes 2012. Will our picks be better than the Mayans? Will the baseball season end with a bang, a whimper, a failure in the earth’s strata or a Himalayan flood? Will there be another exciting finish at the World Series, or will we have John Cusack racing through the crowd warning of impending doom?

Come back in the fall and see if any of us are still around to brag anew or wallow in our disappointment. —Eric

NL East: Eric's picks
NL East: Ed's rebuttal
NL Central: Ed's picks
NL Central: Eric's rebuttal
NL West: Eric's picks
NL West: Ed's rebuttal
AL East: Ed's picks
AL East: Eric's rebuttal
AL Central: Eric's picks
AL Central: Ed's rebuttal
AL West: Ed's picks
AL West: Eric's rebuttal
Postseason/Awards: Eric's and Ed's picks

NL East: Eric’s picks

Out with the old, in with the new? One look at the offseason action within the NL East, and it certainly seems that a changing of the guard is on the menu. Miami (nee Florida) Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who has made hoarding every last cent of his revenue an art form, suddenly went into splurge-and-splash mode, bringing in shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano, and closer Heath Bell; to lead it all, Loria tapped outspoken manager Ozzie Guillen. It’s little wonder that Showtime picked the Marlins to be the focus of their “Franchise” show this season. But for the Marlins to win, they’ll have to rely on star pitcher Josh Johnson’s health, an iffy bullpen beyond Bell and a new ballpark that may take them up to a few months to get a proper feel for.

The Marlins aren’t the only underling going for it; up the 95, the Washington Nationals have Stephen Strasburg healthy, phenom Bryce Harper on deck, Ryan Zimmerman reloaded and a highly improved rotation enhanced with Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, courtesy of the team’s aggressive offseason deals. The Nationals’ chances will depend on a bounceback year for high-priced outfielder Jayson Werth, as well as the continued maturation of catcher (and wintertime abductee) Wilson Ramos and closer Drew Storen.

While the Marlins and Nats have bulked up on the free agent buffet, the Atlanta Braves sat out—virtually standing pat and inviting ridicule from pundits who believed their inactivity was fraught with risk. But why mess with a lineup that looks solid on paper, a bullpen that’s lights out and a rotation that has potential (albeit with fragility)? The young relievers (led by closer Craig Kimbrel) did the stepping up in 2011, now the Braves are banking on the young hitters (Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and rookie Tyler Pastornicky) to do the same in 2012.

That leaves us with the Philadelphia Phillies. (Yes, New York Mets, I’ll deal with you in a minute.) The division’s dominant force of the last five years is vulnerable, with a generation gap between oft-injured veterans and underachieving up-and-comers struggling to move upwards. Yet the Phillies’ saving grace will continue to be its top-line rotation, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels; Vince Worley, after an impressive rookie effort, might adequately fill the void left by Oswalt.

Okay, onto the Mess—er, Mets. Actually, it is a mess in New York. Heavy debts, heavy contracts to injury-scarred former stars (Jason Bay, Johan Santana) and a complete loss of Mojo has made this organization one of the game’s most depressing. Moving the fences in at Citi Field will help the Mess’ hitting stats, but it’ll also help those of the opponents—unless owner Fred Wilpon has an ingenious device to move them back when the other team’s at bat. (He wouldn’t have the money to pay for it anyway.) GM Sandy Alderson’s next Tweet should be the one that caps the Mess’ chances: “s.o.s, s.o.l., d.o.a. :-/”

Eric's Predicted Finish:
Philadelphia 91-71
Miami 87-75
Atlanta 83-79
Washington 81-81
New York 67-95

NL East: Ed’s rebuttal

Since I’m picking Philadelphia to win the NL East and the National League, I obviously agree with my distinguished colleague. With a nice blend of everything a team needs—speed, power, defense and pitching—the Phillies will be tough to beat all year long. Chase Utley and Ray Halladay will have exceptional seasons and the team will play smart, selfless baseball. It’s a winning equation.

Speaking of equations, the Miami Marlins are hoping that their recipe for success will pay off in 2012. Add a new stadium to a new manager and a bunch of high-profile free agents, and it might just work. Can Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle and Heath Bell complement a team that is already loaded with young talent? Count on it.

As for the rest of the division, it’s an assemblage of teams that are still a few years away from postseason play, even with the newly added second wild card spot. Atlanta lacks depth and they’re too young, although I believe Freddie Freeman will one day be a perennial all-star.

The Nationals have made some sage moves and they will gradually become a major contender. But, they have too many question marks, including Stpehen Strasburg’s arm, Bryce Harper’s maturity and Jayson Werth’s worth.

As for the Mets, Bernie Madoff sits comfortably in prison while this team will have to deal with the rabid New York press all year. References to the hapless 1962 Mets will abound and be much deserved. Watch a sell-off of all the Mets’ stars by the summer’s trading deadline, including third baseman David Wright and many of the bathroom fixtures at Citi Field.

Ed's Predicted Finish:
Philadelphia 94-68
Miami 88-74
Atlanta 82-80
Washington 81-81
New York 68-94

NL Central: Ed's picks

The St. Louis Cardinals said adios to Alberto and hola to Carlos Beltran, which is like trading Meryl Streep for Glenn Close. They’re both nice, but one is a multi-Oscar winner and the other gets the parts Streep turns down. The main power source for the Cardinals is Lance Berkman and he’s getting old and might make a good DH in the American League. Local World Series hero David Freese and Matt Holliday should improve and have great seasons. With an impressive pitching staff consisting of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia and backed by closer Jason Motte, the Redbirds will take the Central rather easily.

When you let your best player go to free agency and your other top performer experiences some trials and tribulations during the offseason, things can likely go awry when the games begin. The big question Milwaukee Brewer fans will ask in 2012 is this: Did Ryan Braun get off the hook or was he a fall guy? What did he know and when did he know it? Braun will still get his big numbers again this year and the team’s pitching will keep them in many games, but more question marks will surround players like second baseman Richie Weeks and outfielder Corey Hart. Emerging young stars like Nyjer Morgan and Jonathan Lucroy will keep the Brew Crew competitive, but without a Prince, they can’t be included in this year’s playoff dance.

The Cincinnati Reds are like a fast Indy race car, but the engine is missing a few key parts. Players like new shortstop Zack Cozart, Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs need to step up and be consistent at the Big Show level. With a pitching staff of Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Mat Latos and fireballer Aroldis Chapman, the Reds will look unhittable at times. But, the dam will break just enough to keep manager Dusty Baker and his crew mired around third place, right behind the Cardinals and the Brewers.

The Pittsburgh Pirates had a great start in 2011, but finishing is just as important (ask the Rangers and see: Last year’s Game Six). Future MVP Andrew McCuthen is a five-tool guy, but to help this team into the playoffs, he might need to pitch as well. With upcoming stars like second baseman Neil Walker, first baseman Garrett Jones, and stalwart young hurlers such as starters Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens and Kevin Correia and closer Joel Hanahan with a tiny ERA and 40 saves, the Pirates are improving, yet not ready for postseason participation.

The Chicago Cubs are still looking to shake two curses--one involving an old goat and another surrounding a fan that allegedly interfered with a baseball at a crucial time. Crucial times will be rare for this team in 2012, no doubt, because unless outfielder Alfonso Soriano and pitchers Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Paul Maholm step up, it will be a long season in Wrigleyville. Everyone is talking about the future and he is called Starlin Castro. (For more, see our previews in 2015).

Simply stated, the Houston Astros will play ugly baseball and lose a lot of games. The Astros adhere to the small market approach—let’s trade our good players and shuffle around the basement for another five years. What’s the point if you’re not In It 2 Win It and the Astros surely are not—once again. The few players on this team that are worth mentioning are pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, closer Brett Myers, shortstop Jed Lowrie, and old but steady first baseman Carlos Lee. Houston also has a few young stars, including outfeilder Brian Bogusevic. But don’t get to know him too much, Astros fans, because he’ll be gone in a couple of years.

Ed's Predicted Finish:
St. Louis 90-72
Milwaukee 83-79
Cincinnati 81-81
Pittsburgh 80-82
Chicago 75-87
Houston 65-97

NL Central: Eric's rebuttal

The Cardinals caught lightning in a bottle late last year—boy, did they ever—but take away September and October and you had a fairly uninspiring team. Not only has the defending champions lost their king bully in Albert Pujols, but also gone is manager Tony La Russa and his 5,094 career games piloted—replaced by former Cardinal catcher Mike Matheny, whose own managerial experience adds up to one big fat zero. Matheny will have ace Adam Wainwright back, but now might lose Chris Carpenter to a stubbornly bad back.

St. Louis still has some of that championship Mojo in it, but as San Francisco proved last year, defending your title can be a bitch. The Cardinals will be part of a three-team race to win what has become a weakened division, and I’m once more going to lean on Cincinnati to top out at first place by year’s end. (If this sounds like my line from last year…it is.) Ed doesn’t think the Redlegs have the legs to leave everyone seeing Red, but (again) I like how this club is shaping up—even with the team losing newly-arrived closer Ryan Madson for the entire year. The hitting is already sharp with Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, and it’s a walk year (ka-ching!) for second baseman Brandon Phillips. But Cincy’s pitching, a sore spot of late, has been bulked in the rotation with former Padre Mat Latos. The Reds’ all-around strength will make it tough for anyone else in the division to outdistance them.

That is, unless the Brewers can absorb the offseason hit to their karma. Surprisingly, what’s going to best carry the Brewers is a pitching staff that’s the division’s strongest, thanks to a well-rounded rotation and a bullpen with two guys highly qualified at closing (John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez). But Prince Fielder is gone, as might be Ryan Braun’s confidence, shaken by offseason steroid accusations; good pop was maintained with the addition of third baseman Aramis Ramirez, but he brings a lousy glove to an already shaky defense. That could be the Brewers’ Achilles Heal and keeps them from repeating as divisional champions.

You know the Cubs are in trouble when some are projecting Starlin Castro to bat third and Ian Stewart to bat clean-up this year. The Cubs’ only star hitter outside of Castro (who really belongs in the one or two spot) is Alfonso Soriano, but if he can’t reclaim his early greatness—and if potential future star slugger Anthony Rizzo doesn’t fast-track to the rescue—then the Ricketts are going to hear the crickets at Wrigley Field and write the season off. Bleacher Bums, enjoy the dump the best you can, because what’s on the field may end up more depressing this year.

Hey, Pittsburgh Pirates, are you finally going to grow up or what? We keep hearing the future is arriving at PNC Park, but with the exception of Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, the promised talent has produced plenty of no-shows both on the roster and in the stands. Okay, so luck hasn’t smiled much on the Pirates of late after losing veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett to a broken face—performing bunting drills, of all things—but let’s face it: a healthy Burnett isn’t going to do much for this team anyway. It looks like 20 straight losing seasons and counting for the Bad News Bucs, and if a long-overdue evolution doesn’t take place soon, that record streak will be older than the guys in the next wave of alleged talent.

Jim Crane, the new owner of the Astros, must feel like a new recruit getting hazed at the college fraternity. Lose 100 games! Move to the other league! And dagnabbit, remove that pistol from your retro uniform! What’s next, orders from the commissioner to run naked through the hallways at the owners’ meeting? Crane’s got his work cut out in Houston, but the good news, if you can call it that, is that the Astros’ expectations are running pretty low—so low, some actually think they might give the 1962 Mets (40-120) a run for their money. Carlos Lee is the only established hitter on the team, but with his contract ready to expire, he probably won’t be around past July 31 after the team trades him for prospects. The pitching, too, is thin, as might be the patience of the Astro faithful—challenged to except a second straight 100-loss season.

Eric's Predicted Finish:
Cincinnati 86-76
Milwaukee 85-77
St. Louis 84-78
Chicago 72-90
Pittsburgh 67-95
Houston 59-103

NL West: Eric's picks

The San Francisco Giants’ offense was pretty scary last season—not to opponents, but to their fans. But here is what’s scary for opponents: The Giants were dead last in the NL in runs and still won 86 games. With little movement over the winter to upgrade the hitting, the Giants are crossing their fingers that key hitters absent from injury (Buster Posey, Freddy Sanchez) and adequate performance (Aubrey Huff) last year will rebound in 2012 while two talented yet green guys named Brandon (slugger Brandon Belt and dynamic shortstop Brandon Crawford) evolve fast. The Giants will be in the hunt regardless due to their pitching staff, which just happens to be baseball’s best.

And this time, they won’t be snuck upon by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the majors’ most surprising team last year—and one that’s tried hard to improve further for 2012. Yes, much has been made of a bolstered rotation thanks to ex-Athletic Trevor Cahill, but his ERA was 5.28 after May last year. The D-Backs will certainly make the West a two-team race, but it’s going to take a key acquisition at the trading deadline to, once again, overcome the Giants. The rest of the West shows no signs of imminent contention.

The Los Angeles Dodgers should have new ownership before the all-star break, but the Dodger Stadium parking lots and the lingering stench still belong to Frank McCourt, who all but ruined the franchise. There are jewels in the Dodger rough with Matt Kemp and reigning NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, but after that there’s a steep drop-off of talent that will burden the team’s chances.

Down south, new San Diego Padres general manager Josh Byrnes performed an active shake-and-bake on the roster with the result a fluid mix of character that could gel or simply fall apart. With closer Heath Bell, starting pitchers Mat Latos and Aaron Harang and set-up man Mike Adams all gone, the Padres aren’t so sure that low-scoring games at Petco Park will be a given this year—and to beef up the hitting (primped with veteran slugger Carlos Quentin and hard-hitting prospect Yonder Alonso), they’ve hired not one, but two hitting coaches. Yeah, that’ll do it.

If fans of the Colorado Rockies are yearning for the pre-humidor days of old when double-digit scores were a nightly occurrence, this may be your year. The batting order (anchored by Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki) is the division’s best, but the entire pitching staff has taken a hit over the last year with the departure of closer Huston Street, one-time ace Ubaldo Jimenez and a major injury to promising ace-to-be Jorge De La Rosa. Jeremy Guthrie is now considered the Opening Day man on the mound, but he only looked good in Baltimore because everyone else stunk; now he’s been asked to take his act a mile high. I’ve got just one word for the Blake Street Bleacher Bums: Duck!

Eric's Predicted Finish:
San Francisco 90-72
Arizona 85-77
Los Angeles 75-87
San Diego 73-89
Colorado 70-92

NL West: Ed's rebuttal

There is no doubt that the Giants should win this division rather handily. With a balanced and deep pitching staff, a solid pen with a nice variety of different arms for different situations, San Francisco will dominate at home and hold its own on the road. If Buster Posey can come back from injury and Brian Wilson’s arm can hold up during the long arduous season, San Francisco will be able to think about a return to the World Series.

By picking the Dodgers to finish second in the NL West and capture the second wild card slot, Eric will undoubtedly accuse me of playing favorites. Not the case. The Blue Crew had a great second half in 2011 and by adding two solid starting pitchers (Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang) and a couple of young up-and-comers (shortstop Dee Gordon and outfielder Jerry Sands), the Dodgers have a nice combination of pitching, speed, improved defense and enough power to get the job done.

The Diamondbacks were the surprise team in the National League last season, and they’ll be solid again this year. Kirk Gibson can motivate any team and the D-Bax have a strong pitching staff, with Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, newly-added Trevor Cahill and Josh Collmeter. Unfortunately, Arizona lacks offensive power. CF Chris Young and RF Justin Upton will have outstanding seasons, but they just won’t mesh enough to get to the playoffs, in my opinion.

I’ve got the Rockies sitting right behind the Diamondbacks. I picked them for glorious things last year and they did me wrong, so they’ll have to prove me different. Just like 80% of the teams in the majors, Colorado is pitcher hungry without any relief in sight. Sure, they have some great stars, such as Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, but they’re light on power and need more speed to contend.

The San Diego Padres are just a different version of a franchise that is dropping faster than Burger King. The Pads have some promising young players on this squad, but in the end they will occupy the basement most likely all season long. Notable S.D. stars of tomorrow are a lot of guys whose names I already forgot, and most of baseball will also forget this team by May.

Ed's Predicted Finish:
San Francisco 90-72
Los Angeles 88-74
Arizona 82-80
San Diego 77-85
Colorado 71-91

AL East: Ed's picks

While the New York Yankees always compete, this year they may be ready to dominate the American League once again. By adding a few arms to their arsenal (notably Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda), the old steady crew consisting of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Mark Texeira, Curtis Ganderson and El Yanqui Superior Mariano Rivera in the pen, the Bronx Bombers have just too much talent to not win the East and possibly the World Series.

Getting better every day, the Tampa Bay Rays are loaded with more young talent than American Idol. From Evan Longoria to Carlos Pena and onto guys like B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist and a mound staff with names such as David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and with Kyle Farnsworth emerging as a proven closer, the Rays will be a ray of sunshine all season long and, once they get into the playoffs as a wild card selection, anything can happen.

The Boston Red Sox drank beer and ate fried chicken while they watched their embarrassing collapse in 2011. With their new enigmatic manager Bobby Valentine, the Bosox will be competitive—but without a reliable pitching staff, their potent offense, led by Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and my Comeback Player of the Year candidate Carl Crawford, the Red Sox will survive but won’t flourish in the mega-tough AL East.

The Toronto Blue Jays might contend in another division (see NL Central), but the Canadian Imports of the Big East are going to struggle after playing 54 games against the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox. (One advantage is they get to play Baltimore 18 times!) With offensive talent like Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus, the Jays can play with the big boys in the run-scoring category. But, unfortunately, Toronto is pitching-challenged and will lose a lot of games by scores of 11- 9. Starters Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow with Sergio Santos coming out of the bullpen aren’t going to scare any of the Big Three Beasts in the East.

The Baltimore Orioles are an intriguing team with just enough to take a few series here and there. I predict they will have three two-digit losing streaks and at least one on the winning side. They’re young and untested, so they’ll win games 2-1 and then get beat 14-2 or 9-1. If the Orioles can rein in their talent and Feel the Force, Baltimore might surprise a few critics this year, but not many. Hopeful stars of the Birds’ future are players whose names you don’t know right now, but they’re Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters, for example. Toss in seasoned performers such as Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy and things could get interesting. Reality sets in with Baltimore, however, when you take a close look at their pitching, with names like Zach Britton, Jason Hammel and Brian Matusz.

Ed's Predicted Finish:
New York 98-64
Tampa Bay 90-72
Boston 86-76
Toronto 83-79
Baltimore 74-88

AL East: Eric's rebuttal

I hate to kill the suspense, but I tend to lean with Ed on the basic placement of this division. But then again, a two-year old could predict this group given how predictable this group has been for over ten years (save for Tampa Bay’s recent ascension). Any drama will come in yet another battle between David’s Rays and Goliath’s Yankees; my head says Yankees, but my heart says Rays. I think I’m going to go with my head on this one, but it nevertheless should be a good race to the finish.

The Yankees simply have too much talent, even if much of it is long in the tooth. Yankee bats will undoubtedly produce; but there’s less stability on the pitching side with many questions: Will young ex-Mariner Michael Pineda rebound from a rocky latter half of 2011? Can Hiroki Kuroda absorb the tension of playing in New York? Will Andy Pettitte’s comeback make a difference? Can closer Mariano Rivera still deliver at age 42? And how many more relievers (after David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain) will endanger their season with domestic pratfalls? If the staff holds up, the Yankees are on top and in.

Tampa Bay may not be as well-rounded as the Yankees (it certainly isn’t as well-funded), but the upside on this ballclub is dangerous—all the more so under the tutelage of manager Joe Maddon, the game’s best. What could put the Rays over the top is starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, last year’s AL Rookie of the Year, and fellow rotation hurler Matt Moore, a definite candidate for this year’s honor. If these two stop growing or hiccup, all bets are off. But if they continue to fulfill their destiny and the reliable (if not overpowering) lineup admirably chips in, the Rays have a damn good shot at the Yankees.

Yes, Red Sox Nation, I haven’t forgotten about you. Boston’s swagger of a year ago is a distant memory, clouded by the sordid, embarrassing tales of how this club blew up late in the season. The Red Sox are still highly talented and a force to be reckoned with, but as with last year, their toughest foe may continue to be themselves—and the hubris-loaded Bobby Valentine, replacing the taciturn Terry Francona in the pilot seat, could make things worse. Nothing could be better for the Red Sox than to pull a 180 and rise about the tabloidsphere, but the combination of stiff divisional opposition, belated season starts from key members (including Carl Crawford) and some newly developed holes in the roster will make this coming season as challenging as it certainly will be interesting.

Toronto is going 81-81, and that’s the end of it. The Jays are the ultimate .500 team with one proven star (slugger Jose Bautista) weighed down by players with iffy promise (Colby Rasmus, J.P. Arencibia) and they-are-what-they-are veterans (Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, Adam Lind). Here I’ll differ with Ed on the Jays’ pitching, which looks to be well improved—especially in the bullpen. But the rotation continues to lack depth, and the lineup in general will experience as many cold days as hot with their output. That means, they’ll win as many as they lose. It’s 81-81, baby.

That the Orioles are celebrating their 20-year anniversary in Oriole Park at Camden Yards will only just make it more painful for the few fans still showing up to remember the good ol’ days, when the team was actually good. Folks, don’t expect a throwback performance this season, because it’s going to come down to the same old problem: Rotten pitching. As of this typing (a week before Opening Day), the Orioles haven’t named an Opening Day starter because, frankly, they have no clue who’s worthy enough to take the role. The odds rest on Jake Arrieta, he of a 5.05 ERA last season. A couple of Asian imports might help, but all in all the Orioles are thrilled that the Pirates keep running up their record streak of losing campaigns—because it’s taking the spotlight off Baltimore’s own current run of woe, which could (and will) increase this year to an AL record-tying 15 seasons. Count on it.

Eric's Predicted Finish:
New York 98-64
Tampa Bay 96-66
Boston 93-69
Toronto 81-81
Baltimore 65-97

AL Central: Eric's picks

If the Detroit Tigers can’t pile it up on the rest of this division this season, then something is really wrong—or one of the other four teams has an ultra-secret weapon stashed away, ready to break out. (Sorry, Royal fans, we’re not thinking Bubba Starling.) Victor Martinez is done for the year even before it begins thanks to a torn ACL, but Detroit owner Mike Ilitch—never one to shy from the pocketbook—has turned a negative into an expensive positive by signing Prince Fielder. If opposing pitchers can’t neuter Fielder and Miguel Cabrera—an even better one-two punch than the Fielder-Ryan Braun combo at Milwaukee—and an impressive pitching staff led by reigning Cy Young winner/MVP Justin Verlander doesn’t collapse, the Tigers should walk away with the Central.

The Cleveland Indians might give the Tigers more fits than the other pretenders in this division, but first they’ve got to shake themselves loose of the obsession that oft-injured Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner can still save their club, because they’re beyond repair at this point. However, the Indians have one of baseball’s most underrated pitching staffs (you won’t make me look like a fool saying that, won’t you, Derek Lowe) that makes up for a underwhelming offense, so the offset is likely a .500 record.

Every year of late, we’ve been hearing that the Kansas City Royals’ time is almost here. It certainly is long overdue, but such is the problem of a small-market club owned by a small-minded owner. Well, the Royals’ bats are showing signs of major progress with the maturation of Alex Gordon and sophomores Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas and Johnny Giavotella, who could evolve quick and put genuine fear into opponents. And while the Royals can hit their way past the .500 mark, they can’t pitch their way there—not when Luke Hochevar is your “ace” and Jonathan Sanchez (who the Giants wanted no more of) is walking into trouble every other inning. Because of the mound, the future in Kansas City still isn’t now.

Ozzie Guillen is gone, as is Mark Buehrle, as is Carlos Quentin, as is any hope of the Chicago White Sox winning on the South Side this season. What remains is a kinder, gentler manager (Robin Ventura) with no previous coaching experience, aging veterans (Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski), lost former stars (Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, Jake Peavy) and a suspect bullpen. The White Sox are said to be in refresh mode, but it all looks stale from this viewpoint.

The Minnesota Twins will find it tough picking themselves off the canvas after being knocked down to the tune of 99 losses in 2011. The one guy who the Twins really need a bounceback from is the one who’s still flat on his back: Former MVP Justin Morneau, whose likeness might as well be inserted on the Operation game board with issues related to his brain, wrist, knee and foot. Unless Morneau somehow miraculously mends, the Twins will be looking at another long year with only catcher Joe Mauer (should he stay healthy) and a handful of other talents sparsely qualified to keep the ship afloat.

Eric's Predicted Finish:
Detroit 94-68
Cleveland 81-81
Kansas City 78-84
Chicago 74-88
Minnesota 69-93

AL Central: Ed's rebuttal

The Tigers are so stacked with talent that they will start their run on Opening Day and go right up until late October. By adding Prince Fielder to a cast of Miguel Cabrera, Delmon Young, Austin Jackson and Alex Avila, Detroit will be scoring an average of five-plus runs per game, I predict. Throw in a staff of awesome arms, led by Cy Young winner Justin Verlander and backed by Doug Fister and Max Scherzer, el Tigres will dominate the division paws down.

The rest of this division consists of teams on the rise or others trying to hide. The Royals are definitely an improving team, and it took a lot for me to not pick them as my big surprise in 2012. Starting stopper Luke Hochnevar can win 20 games this year and offensive stars like Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer (along with budding centerfielder Lorenzo Cain) will excel, but I hate to say it’s wait until next year Kansas City—and I really mean it this time!

The Chicago White Sox need a whole lot of just about everything and mostly what the Tigers have. Pitchers John Danks and Gavin Floyd will win their share, but Chicago’s subpar offense—with aging stars like Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski—will not provide enough run support to contend.

The Indians are a mishmash of players from the Island of Broken Toys. Casey Kotchman, Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera will help this team score a modicum of runs and they also have some promising arms on the pitching staff, notably Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe. It’s a nice group, but too many parts aren’t working and consequently Cleveland will struggle and finish around the middle of the AL Central.

I agree with Eric that the Twins will be abysmal, with more issues than Readers Digest. I like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, but the team got sidelined a few years back when they still had enough in the tank for one more run. That run never happened, so they’ll be a distant runner up once again in 2012.

Ed's Predicted Finish:
Detroit 94-68
Kansas City 84-78
Chicago 80-82
Cleveland 74-88
Minnesota 70-92

AL West: Ed's picks

Hail Albert Pujols and say hello to the World Series! By adding a marquee future Hall-of-Famer with enough power to suffice, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have guaranteed a Disneyesque playoff appearance every season for the next decade. With a sage combination of grizzled veterans and fresh-faced newbies, the Halos will roll through the West and overtake the mega-talented Texas Rangers during the final week of the season. With stars like Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Howie Kendrick, coupled with promising prospects such as Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos, this supporting staff will nicely supplement El Alberto at the plate and in the field. With a pitching staff manned by Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and new addition C.J. Wilson, who cares who’s in the pen? (It’s Jordan Walden if you want to know.)

The Texas Rangers were one strike away from capturing their first world title, but this year I don’t see them getting past the powerhouse Angels. With solid stars like Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Jeff Hamilton, Mike Napoli, and pitchers like Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and closer Joe Nathan, I envision the Rangers making it into the playoffs as a wild card winner.

The Seattle Mariners didn’t hit much last season and this team isn’t going to frighten anyone either. With the fading Ichiro Suzuki, lights-out pitcher Felix Hernandez, super scrappy Chone Figgins and mega-talented rookies such as Mike Carp, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and team closer Brandon League, Seattle will be semi-competitive but solidly behind Anaheim and Texas.

Once again without fail, the Oakland Athletics traded away any of the stars they still had while embarking on a wild chase to get unproven Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes. The A’s should best be viewed as a superior minor league team, because every year they ship off their top players and promising prospects to stock other teams in major markets. Hurry up and get your new stadium in San Jose, because this is getting embarrassing—and speaking as a northern Californian, it’s getting exceedingly old. I should at least mention a few of their better players here, including starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy, second baseman Jemile Weeks and outfielder Coco Crisp.

Ed's Predicted Finish:
Los Angeles of Anaheim 97-65
Texas 95-67
Seattle 82-80
Oakland 79-83

AL West: Eric's rebuttal

Sorry folks, the expected point-counterpoint drama between Ed and I is laying an egg this year. But while the two of us pretty much agree on the West’s order of finish, I gotta look at Ed’s projected records above and wonder if he thinks this division is the class of baseball. Seattle, 82-80? The A’s, 79-83?

I’m also not as bullish on the top tier here, but here’s why I agree with Ed and expect the Angels to triumph: Competition. There’s a lot of it within the roster thanks to a glut of talent both old and young. Where do you play Kendrys Morales now that Albert Pujols is at first? And what about Bobby Abreu now that Morales may be the DH? Whither Mark Trumbo, the 29-homer rookie of 2011 who’s also a man without a position? One thing is definitely for sure in Anaheim: No one is going to be lying down on the job, and that’s got to be a blessing for the Angels in general. Throw in a top-notch rotation upgraded with the arrival of former Texas nemesis C.J. Wilson, and the Angels are the team to beat in the division—and very possibly, the American League. Only injuries and a weak bullpen (yes, Ed, it does matter that Jordan Walden—ten blown saves in 2011—is your closer) could lead to disappointment in Los Angeles of Anaheim across from Disneyland near Fullerton etc.

Texas will remain strong and certainly contend for the wild card if not the divisional crown, but there’s too many if’s to stomach within the pitching staff. Wilson is gone, star Japanese import Yu Darvish is present—but both he and closer-turned-starter Neftali Feliz bring unproven risk to the rotation. Even less secure is the closer spot, vacated by Feliz for Joe Nathan, still trying to find his former greatness following reconstructive surgery in Minnesota. Perhaps all of the above turns up roses for the Rangers with a shot at a third straight AL title, but from this vantage point it looks too much to ask.

All it takes is a simple joke by the Giants to sum up the A’s for 2012, and it goes something like this: “Why move to San Jose? We’ve already got a minor league team there!” Give Moneyball guru Billy Beane credit for enlivening up a moribund entity during the winter by bringing in Cuban émigré Yoenis Cespedes and two-time steroid cheat Manny Ramirez (who has to sit out through late May), but with an otherwise no-name, thoroughly unexciting lineup (excepting second baseman Jemile Weeks and outfielder Coco Crisp, assuming he stays healthy) and a depleted pitching staff, it’s going to be a long, long climb back to respectability for the A’s.

Forbes Magazine recently suggested that only one major league franchise saw its value increase at a higher rate than the Mariners last year. Your guess is as good as mine as to why. The proverbial stockholders must have cold feet over the state of the M’s. Ichiro Suzuki is starting to show rust, Chone Figgins continues to be an unqualified bust, and the rest of the lineup is astonishingly undisciplined; on the mound, the rotation beyond staff ace Felix Hernandez is thoroughly unintimidating and the bullpen is shaky at best. Overall, the young power hitters (Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, Mike Carp) do bring a bit of upside so a growth spurt is possible, but that still doesn’t explain Forbes.

Eric's Predicted Finish:
Los Angeles of Anaheim 94-68
Texas 88-74
Oakland 70-92
Seattle 68-94

Postseason/Awards Picks:

The Angels appeal to us for different reasons, but we agree that they’re the best bet to hoist the World Series trophy in October (or is it early November?). Who we expect Los Angeles of Anaheim to beat is more a point of contention between us; Ed believes the Phillies, pitching, warts and all, will survive the NL battles and cop their third pennant in five years. I believe that the Giants, should they win the West, will have the advantage of dominant pitching to ride them to another pennant. —Eric

Eric's picks:
NL: Philadelphia Phillies (East), Cincinnati Reds (Central), San Francisco Giants (West), Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks (wild cards)

NL Champion: San Francisco Giants

AL: New York Yankees (East), Detroit Tigers (Central), Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (West), Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox (wild cards)

AL Champion: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

World Series Champion: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit

NL Cy Young Award: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco

AL Cy Young Award: David Price, Tampa Bay

NL Rookie of the Year: Zack Cozart, Cincinnati

AL Rookie of the Year: Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Johan Santana, New York

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Adam Dunn, Chicago

Ed's picks:
NL: Philadelphia Phillies (East), St. Louis Cardinals (Central), San Francisco Giants (West), Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers (wild cards)

NL Champion: Philadelphia Phillies

AL: New York Yankees (East), Detroit Tigers (Central), Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (West), Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers (wild cards)

AL Champion: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

World Series Champion: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

NL MVP: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles

AL MVP: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles of Anaheim

NL Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

AL Cy Young Award: Justin Verlander, Detroit

NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, Washington

AL Rookie of the Year: Jesus Montero, Seattle

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey, San Francisco

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Carl Crawford, Boston

The 2012 Midseason Report Card Our annual look at the best, worst and most unexpected during the first half of the 2012 major league season.

Fun Facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders So you think you're smarter than the next trivia buff when it comes to major leaguers at the top of numerous hit lists? Here's 22 questions for you to prove it.

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Other Opinions from TGG

The 2012 Midseason Report Card
Our annual look at the best, worst and most unexpected during the first half of the 2012 major league season.

Fun Facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders
So you think you're smarter than the next trivia buff when it comes to major leaguers at the top of numerous hit lists? Here's 22 questions for you to prove it.