Monday, April 9, 2012

MLB Season Preview

The 2012 baseball season has its work cut out for it as 2011 delivered twists and turns from the very start, providing all kinds of drama and excitement all the way to down the last, possible day of the MLB season, with game 7 of the World Series.

If 2012 can give us even half of madness (and chicken and beer) that we got last season, we'll all be in for quite a treat. The new season has already brought plenty of change in the form of brand new ballparks to managers and players alike in different uniforms, which is just enough to get us excited for the beginning of what can at times, feel like an endless season.

But with the new, comes the old, more-of-the-same cast of characters who never seem to let the little guys in the game. Let's take a look at the top 10 teams listed by ESPN's Power Rankings:

1. Yankees (Color me shocked)
2. Rangers (Oooh, what a bold choice!)
3. Angels ($240 million… for ONE guy)
4. Tigers (Verlander, Cabrera and Filder, oh my!)
5. Rays (Props for ranking the Rays ahead of the Sox)
6. Red Sox (The talent is there, but does this roster have the heart? How will they handle Bobby Valentine?)
7. Diamondbacks (Reigning NL West champs)
8. Phillies (Always in the hunt with this roster & rotation)
9. Cardinals (No Pujols? No problem, according to many analysts as St. Louis is still strong on many levels)
10. Giants (He's baaaack!!! Losing Buster Posey on opening day last season sucked. The kid is a difference maker)

As you can see, all of the usual suspects top ESPN's list and on paper, yes, these teams should all be playoff contenders with the addition of a second wild-card in each league as a part of the expansion of the post-season.

But the real fun comes with the surprises, the teams that, every few years, shouldn't make it into the playoffs, but miraculously do, as we saw with both the Rays and Cardinals last year. The difference is that neither Tampa nor St. Louis is an underdog so even though the suspense of the playoffs being decided by the last game of the regular season was riveting, the "lovable loser" factor was missing.

Well, the Tigers pulled it off, taking the Yankees to a full five games in the ALDS and winning the series. Remember when the Twins won the AL Central on the last day of the regular season back in 2006? That was the first day of the season in which they alone led the division… the last day of the season. They made for a good underdog, although the Cinderella was short lived as Minnesota lost to the Oakland A's in the ALDS.

But that's the kind of thing we want to see. The best we can expect is to wind up with the unexpected. Can you imagine if the Royals made the playoffs? Speaking of which, let's continue with the rest of ESPN's Power Rankings and see if we can find any silver linings amongst the anticipated middle-of-the-road and seller dwellers of the league.

11. Marlins (What's not to like? The Marlins got quite the makeover, including a colorful new logo to match the personality of the squad's new Skipper, Ozzie Guillen. Oh ya, there's a guy named Hanley Ramirez on the roster too…)
12. Blue Jays (Analysts are singing praises about these birds from the north as the Blue Jays offense, led by Jose Bautista has potential.)
13. Brewers (I'm still wondering how leaving pee in a cup in some dude's refrigerator for the weekend explains off-the-charts levels of testosterone.)
14. Braves (If they can keep injuries to a minimum and squander a massive lead down the stretch, Atlanta certainly has a chance.)
15. Reds (Despite losing closer Ryan Madson for the year, the dynamic duo of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce will keep the machine running in Cincinnati.)
16. Nationals (Stephen Strasburg needs to prove his worth and hopefully we'll get a glimpse of Bryce Harper. Then again, if the Nats have to bring Harper up, that probably means they are in trouble.)
17. Indians (If Ubaldo Jimenez can get back on track and help the rotation, that would be a good start as Cleveland needs a big chunk of the roster - ie: Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana - to step it up if this team wants to contend.)
18. Rockies (The pitching staff is…. wait…If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.)
19. Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Dee Brown, James Loney. In his second year as manager, Don Mattingly should be able to capitalize on a roster comprised of top-notch talent and "unknowns" who have potential.)
20. White Sox (Boy, it's going to be a rough one on the South Side of Chicago. The Sox just don't have the pieces of the puzzle to be competitive season, plus, no Ozzie to at least keep us entertained from time to time.)
21. Royals (Pundits claim the Royals have some of the best prospects around, but until those guys make it to the majors and find success, the team is in trouble. KC did sign a group of young guns from the farm system in the off season, so we'll see how they fare this year.)
22. Twins (Should Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau stay healthy, it probably wont be enough to overcome Minnesota's pitching woes.)
23. Pirates (Yet another team touted for its young, talented roster. The Pirates led the NL Central for a time last year, so I'm sayin there's a chance!)
24. Cubs (We've seen Theo Epstein work his magic before. He did it with the Red Sox, so his tenure with the Cubbies should at the very least keep us intrigued this season.)
25. Mariners (It's a shame that players as tremendous as Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki don't have much to work with. Supposedly this roster has hope, but I'll believe it when I see it.)

As for the bottom five, I can't really disagree with ESPN's rankings and thus unable to find many redeeming words. Sorry guys, I hope you all prove the naysayers wrong and surprise us!

26. Padres (Young prospects. The Padres lost a LOT when they let go of Mat Latos and Adrian Gonzalez but with the loss came plenty of hope for the future. Not sure how long it will take before San Diego has anything to show for shipping those guys out of town.)
27. Mets (Unfortunately, my crystal ball seems to malfunction and crash anytime I say "Mets," or any word that sounds similar. I wonder if that's a bad omen?)
28. Orioles (I hear Camden Yards is the best ballpark in America…)
29. Oakland (Hopefully the sideshow that is Manny Ramirez will eventually make it up to the majors, even if to just put some butts in the seats in Oakland.)
30. Astros (When your best pitcher has a career record of 73-75, and a 4.05 ERA, the team is in deep trouble. I hope they can find a way to make their last season in the NL bearable before making the switch to the AL next season.)

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