19 March 2012
2012 MLB Season Predictions
1. New York Yankees
We know the Yankees are going to rake, they always do. Even as Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are coming off down years and Derek Jeter's bat does not have much pop, even with a great second half last year, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are absolute studs, Nick Swisher is very solid and works the count well and at the bottom of the order, Russell Martin has some pop at catcher and Brett Gardner is a great tablesetter in the nine slot.
But now they have the starting pitching through the brilliant acquisitions of Michael Pineda, even as they had to part with Jesus Montero, and Hideki Kuroda. Both are not locks, Pineda's moving to a hitter's park and never has had the spotlight on him, Kuroda changing leagues, but add the talent in the pitching staff that has been lacking outside of ace CC Sabathia and talented youngster Ivan Nova. Add in a tremendous bullpen led by the ageless Mariano Rivera and this is a legit World Series contender.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
How the Rays do it with such a small payroll speaks volumes about the front office and manager Joe Maddon. The key to this rotation is the starting pitching, which might be the best in baseball. David Price and James Shields are an excellent 1-2 combo and Jeff Niemann and Jeremy Hellickson are both very solid in their own right. Rookie Matt Moore is the youngest, and possibly the most talented, as Tampa's version of Stephen Strasburg has been dominant both in minor league play and in limited works in the majors. The Rays seemingly always have to patch together a bullpen but they get it to work as Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta both resurrected their careers with solid seasons.
The Rays' offense is not great by any means but there is plenty there in particularly third baseman Evan Longoria, no average but plenty of extra base hits Carlos Pena at first, the talented Desmond Jennings at the top of the order and the ever-inconsistent B.J. Upton.
3. Boston Red Sox
Yeah...about that collapse. Everything fell apart for Boston down the stretch and it culminated in what was once the best team in baseball home in October. Both Theo Epstein and Terry Francona are gone, in their place are Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine, respectively. The lineup will be great as always thanks to studs in center (Jacoby Ellsbury), second base (Dustin Pedroia), third (Kevin Youkilis) and DH (David Ortiz) although if Carl Craford can show up this year, all the better. The questions lie in the rotation. Jon Lester is a rock-solid ace and Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz are both great, however all three were a major part of the beer during games fiasco but after them, major questions. They need Daniel Bard to smoothly adjust to the rotation and are relying on either Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook or Vicente Padilla for the fifth spot. Andrew Bailey is not Jonathan Papelbon but is more even-keel.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
This is a team that could really contend in the Junior Circuit, although they are more likely one year away. Jose Bautista may have the best power bat in the bigs and if Adam Lind can provide more protection, he's even more dangerous. Yunel Escobar is a quality bat at short and third baseman Brett Lawrie looks like a star. J.P. Arencibia provides a home-run bat at catcher and Edwin Encarnacio, when he isn't striking out, is a fine DH. If Lind and Colby Rasmus step up, this could be a great lineup.
The pitching in Toronto looks to be good. Ricky Romero has taken major strides since his debut in 2009 and if Brandon Morrow can finally harness his prodigous stuff, this is a strong 1-2 combo. The acquired Sergio Santos has the stuff to be a really good closer.
5. Baltimore Orioles
And the rebuilding shall continue in Baltimore. The lineup for Buck Showalter's club is underrated, with solid bats in J.J. Hardy at short, Nick Markakis in right, Adam Jones in center, the rising star Matt Wieters at catcher and Mark Reynolds at first. The real questions for the Orioles come in the pitching staff and will keep this team from contention. After the trade of Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado, the team could really use a strong season from Taiwanese import Wei-Yin Chen. Jason Hammel will be expected to contribute innings with questions in the next three spots and no set closer following Kevin Gregg's disappointing 2011, possibly Matt Lindstrom who was acquired from Colorado with Hammel.
1. Detroit Tigers
This really is not that close at all, even before the Tigers boldly signed Prince Fielder. Even with the inevitable fielding woes at the corners, Fielder and Miguel Cabrera provide the best power duo in baseball as both combined for 68 homers. The rest of the lineup is not spectacular but Delmon Young in left came up huge for them late in the right and Alex Avila's bat at catcher was a major plus.
The AL MVP a year ago was Justin Verlander and his numbers show you why that was. 24 wins, 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts in 251 innings. The only concern for the best pitcher in baseball is wear. Doug Fister was awesome after the trade from Seattle and if Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello show more consistency, this rotation will be tremendous. Detroit has a great back-end of their bullpen in Jose Valverde closing and Joaquin Benoit setting him up.
2. Cleveland Indians
The team representing the factory of sadness that is Cleveland pleasantly surprised last year, improving from 69 to 80 victories. Unfortunately, that's around their peak this year. The Indians need Grady Sizemore to finally stay healthy for a season and need a healthy Shin-Soo Choo as well. Carlos Santana is a tremendous bat at catcher and Asdrubal Cabrera was tremendous last year. If Travis Hafner can show some more power and corner players Matt Laporta and Lonnie Chisenhall take steps forward, this offense could be really solid.
Even after the bold trade for Ubaldo Jimenez, who struggled in Cleveland, the ace of the staff was Justin Masterson, who was great a year ago. Josh Tomlin is fine but there are questions with Roberto Heredia, formerly Fausto Carmona, and Derek Lowe, acquired after the World Series. The "Bullpen Mafia" is the key to this club, notably closer Chris Perez.
3. Kansas City Royals
This is the year the Royals make a step forward, not quite to the playoffs but towards .500. There is plenty of talent in the lineup, particularly in left fielder Alex Gordon, designated hitter Billy Butler, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas. The lineup could really take a step forward if all take a step forward, and if Jeff Francoeur has another solid season.
The questions are in the rotation. Luke Hochever has had the team waiting for him to showcase his immense talent and he showed promise in the second half. Jonathan Sanchez, acquired from San Francisco, has a lot of talent as well and if he shows more consistency, he'll help this rotation mightily. Bruce Chen has been solid for KC for a few years now. Joakim Soria had an up and down 2011 and Jonathan Broxton will provide a push.
4. Minnesota Twins
The Twins got ravaged by injuries and inconsistency in a fall to 63 wins. Ron Gardenhire should have this team a little bit better but there are still plenty of concerns in the Twin Cities. They desperately need their cornerstones, catcher Joe Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau, to be fully healthy for the season if they want any chance. Denard Span in center needs to be healthy as well and they need Josh Willingham to provide much needed pop.
The rotation really struggled last season as Francisco Liriano fought injuries and inconsistency and Scott Baker was not fully healthy either. Carl Pavano was a workhorse again and the team needs him and the two I already mentioned to step up more. Matt Capps was inconsistent closing as well.
5. Chicago White Sox
It could really be a mess on the South Side with a rookie manager in Robin Ventura handling what could very well be a cellar dweller. The only consistent performer in the lineup is Paul Konerko, who brings it every year at first base. But questions abound everywhere else. Does Adam Dunn know how to play? Does Dayan Viciedo have any plate discipline? Can Alexei Ramirez, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham rebound?
The pitching is in worse shape. John Danks had a down year, Gavin Floyd took a step backwards, Phil Humber fell away down the stretch and Jake Peavy has disappointed since coming to Chicago. After the trade of Sergio Santos, Matt Thornton will get another chance to close.
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
I really love what the Angels did in the offseason, well anytime you can bring in an Albert Pujols and a C.J. Wilson you are doing something right, and I think they have the slight edge over the Texas Rangers in the division. Pujols is the best hitter in baseball and his signing means an assortment of riches at first base with Mark Trumbo, who will have to fight for at-bats now either at DH and at third after leading the Angels in homers and RBIs last year, and potentially Kendrys Morales, if he ever returns from his ankle injury from 2010. The rest of the lineup is talented with shortstop Erick Aybar, second baseman Howard Kendrick, right fielder Torii Hunter who had a great second half, Alberto Callapso who will likely share at-bats at third with Trumbo, and center fielder Peter Bourjos.
The Angels were very deep in the rotation, even before the C.J. Wilson signing. Both Jered Weaver and Dan Haren are absolute studs at the top of the rotation. Wilson is a workhorse and Ervin Santana is very solid as well. The Angels really need Jordan Walden, who blew 10 saves a year ago, to show more consistency.
2. Texas Rangers (Wild Card)
Even after all the Angels did, the Rangers are not going away and this rivalry may be the most competitive in baseball this year. Texas will always be able to rake and they have talent at every spot in the lineup, particularly in the heart with Josh Hamilton, who is coming back from injuries and a relapse in the offseason, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz, but with Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Michael Young and Mike Napoli, this offseason is very balanced and simply elite.
The rotation was solid a year ago as Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison were all very good but the move of Neftali Feliz to the rotation and the signing of Japanese import Yu Darvish could make this an exception starting five. Feliz has ace stuff and it will be key how he is handled in the rotation and while Darvish is coming in from Japan, his stuff is ace-caliber and pitching coach Mike Maddux must be drooling. The bullpen also was fortified with Joe Nathan being brought in to replace Feliz and the talent of Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando remain.
3. Seattle Mariners
There is talent in the Pacific Northwest but the Angels and Rangers are just too far ahead for the M's to make a significant impact. The offense was terrible last year but there is hope as youngsters Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp showed plenty of promise, Justin Smoak was hitting very well before a thumb injury and his father's passing, and the acquired Jesus Montero, who will DH, was the best hitting prospect in all of baseball and it took a steep price to acquire him, having to part with Michael Pineda. Outside of that core, there really is not much and it appears that Ichiro Suzuki at the top of the order is in decline. If Chone Figgins can actually contribute something this year, all the better.
Fortunately, Felix Hernandez, who is truly one of the elite pitchers in baseball, is still around to lead the rotation. Jason Vargas was solid last year and the team has high hopes for the Japanese hurler Hisashi Iawkumi. Brandon League came out of nowhere, seemingly, to have a great season closing last year.
4. Oakland Athletics
The offense in Oaktown was very mediocre last year and the top batters from a year ago, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui, are gone. With the exception of star-in-the-making second baseman Jemile Weeks, there are questions everywhere else, center fielder Coco Crisp struggled at the plate, first baseman Daric Barton took a step backwards by starting terrible and getting hurt, and there is not very much pop. The A's took a good risk in Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes, who has five tool capability, and are hoping that Manny Ramirez has something left when he returns from suspension.
The rotation will have to carry this club but the key starters from a year ago, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, are both gone. The A's need Dallas Braden to rehab well from shoulder surgery, Brandon McCarthy to replicate his surprising 2011, Bartolo Colon to somehow have more in the tank and Brett Anderson to return from Tommy John surgery at some point. The bullpen is in good shape, even after the Andrew Bailey trade, with Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour.
MVP: Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees (Runner-up: Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays)
Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers (Runner-up: David Price, Tampa Bay Rays)
Rookie of the Year: Jesus Montero, DH, Seattle Mariners (Runner-up: Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers)
Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays (Runner-up: Mike Scioscia, LA Angels of Anaheim)
2012 American League Playoffs:
Wild Card playoff:
Texas Rangers over Tampa Bay Rays
New York Yankees over Texas Rangers
Detroit Tigers over Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
New York Yankees over Detroit Tigers
1. Philadelphia Phillies
Even as this club is getting older and the rest of the NL East, particularly Miami and Washington, are getting better, still have to say the Phillies are the favorite. The rotation is simply elite as Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are all coming off exceptional 2011s and are all ace-caliber staters. Vance Worley was solid as a rookie and either Joe Blanton or Kyle Kendrick will round out the rotation. The bullpen should be just as good as it was a year ago with Jon Papelbon coming in to close and Antonio Bastardo having a great season last year setting up.
The lineup is where you are going to see the age show. Jimmy Rollins is still a solid shortstop and leadoff guy but his bat has been clearly declining of late. When Chase Utley is healthy, this lineup is all the more better. Nobody is sure when Ryan Howard will come back from blowing out his torn Achilles tendon in the NLDS so Jim Thome will get action in his place. Fortunately for the club, both Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino are coming off strong seasons.
2. Miami Marlins (Wild Card)
I tell ya, I love what the Marlins did this offseason, particularly in bringing in Ozzie Guillen to manage. He's a players' manager through and through and thus players love to play for him. The signing of Jose Reyes to play shortstop will do wonders for their offense, as he gives them an excellent and dynamic table-setter at the top of the lineup. The Reyes signing moves Hanley Ramirez to third base and after a down season last year, the pressure's on him and when he's on, this lineup will be fantastic. The power in the lineup is brought by talented corner outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison. First baseman Gaby Sanchez was up and down last year, with a marvelous first half and a subpar second.
The rotation is a good one but it really depends on if Josh Johnson, who was off to a great start before shoulder surgery kept him out of the rotation for the rest of the season. He's an elite ace when healthy. Guillen brought Mark Buerhle down to Miami and he's one of the most consistent workhorses in baseball. Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez are both talented but inconsistent with the prior having something to prove. And if the Marlins can get anything out of Carlos Zambrano, it's a plus. Heath Bell is an elite closer so paying him big bucks made sense.
3. Atlanta Braves
The other epic collapse down the stretch belongs to these Atlanta Braves, allowing St. Louis to slip into the playoffs and then win the World Series. The Braves have a fine lineup with Brian McCann at catcher, the speedster Michael Bourn leading off, the ageless Chipper Jones at third and with power coming from second baseman Dan Uggla, who needs to play like he did in the second half, and the youngster Freddie Freeman. Atlanta really needs bounce-back seasons from Jason Heyward and Martin Prado, whoever, as both disappointed in 2011.
The Braves' bullpen was awesome in 2011 with NL Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel working wonders at closer and Johnny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty killing it in the late innings. It will be key for manager Fredi Gonzalez to not overwork his bullpen again, though. The Braves' rotation can be very good but the keys will be Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjen's health, as both missed time down the stretch. Brandon Beachy has talent but needs to work deeper in games and the ol' workhorse Tim Hudson is coming off back surgery.
4. Washington Nationals
One can really feel the excitement in the District, even as a real push for the playoffs may be more likely in 2013. The pitching staff will be tremendous, particularly if young stud Stephen Strasburg can stay healthy, if Gio Gonzalez can become even better while changing leagues, if Edwin Jackson can pitch like he did a year ago and if Jordan Zimmerman can have a quality year like he did last year. The bullpen is very strong as well as both Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard were great last year.
The lineup is a talented one as well, and it will be really good when Bryce Harper comes up later this season as, he like Strasburg, is an all-world talent. The Nats got a great season from Mike Morse last year as well as solid years for Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond who finished really well, their stud third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who is coming off a season where he missed 60 games, and the talented catcher Wilson Ramos. If Jayson Werth steps up as well as Adam LaRoche, look out.
5. New York Mets
Ahh the Mets. Unfortunately for the beleaguered fanbase for the Metropolitans, this will be a trying year thanks to the shaky finances from ownership. But Terry Collins will have this ragtag unit trying hard in hopes of finding some diamonds in the rough. David Wright at third is the biggest name on the club and his power numbers should improve with the fences being moved in a little but he could very well be traded. Jason Bay has been a big disappointment but there is other talent in first baseman Ike Davis, who was off to a strong start that was stagnated by an ankle injury, and burly right fielder Lucas Duda, whose bat has some power. Josh Thole is a solid catcher and if Andres Torres is healthy, he'll provide an improvement over Angel Pagan.
Johan Santana, remember him? The Mets are desperately hoping that Santana can come back healthy for most of the season as this rotation could sorely use him. R.A. Dickey is a fine knuckleballer that gets no help while Dillon Gee, Mike Pelfrey and Jonathon Niese are all inconsistent. The Mets made some decent, and cheap, moves to upgrade their bullpen, bringing in Frank Francisco, Ramon Ramirez and Jon Rauch.
1. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds came off a great 2010 season that had a Central championship and disappointed in 2011. However with the rest of the division suffering huge losses (St. Louis with Albert Pujols, Milwaukee with Prince Fielder), the Reds made a shrewd move to acquire starter Mat Latos from San Diego to bolster their rotation. Latos is a really good starter who will help this rotation immensely. Johnny Cueto was really strong last year and could be their new ace, Mike Leake took steps forward, Bronson Arroyo still works a ton of innings and Homer Bailey improved last year. What will happen when Aroldis Chapman is considered ready for starting, nobody's really sure. Ryan Madson was a sound signing to close.
The Reds still have a great lineup, led by star first baseman Joey Votto, second baseman Brandon Phillips, right fielder Jay Bruce, who's talented but inconsistent, and center fielder Drew Stubbs, who strikes out too much. If the Reds can squeeze one more season from Scott Rolen, they are in great shape.
2. St. Louis Cardinals (Wild Card)
The loss of Pujols is devastating for obvious reasons. The retirement of Tony La Russa also hurts as well. The team is now in the hands of first time manager Mike Matheny, who does have some talent to work with. Lance Berkman had a huge season last year en route to Comeback Player of the Year honors and he should do the same as he is not in the outfield any more. Matt Holliday is also coming off a strong 2011 as is free agent acquisition Carlos Beltran. Rafael Furcal was solid down the stretch for St. Louis and returns as short and when completely healthy, October hero David Freese could make a serious impact on offense. Jon Jay played well in center and Yadier Molina was tremendous at the dish as well.
The rotation gets a big boost from Adam Wainwright returning from Tommy John and if he is completely healthy, the troika in the rotation of Chris Carpenter, Wainwright and Jaime Garcia is really good. Kyle Lohse was a pleasant surprise last year and Jake Westbrook rounds out the rotation. The bullpen really came together in October with Jason Motte settling in as the backstop.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
With the loss of Prince Fielder, the Brew Crew is going to have to rely on their great starting pitching to contender in the wide open Central. Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke would be aces on most clubs and before falling apart in the postseason, Shawn Marcum was having a very good season. Randy Wolf is Mr. Consistent and Chris Narveson is a very capable five. John Axford was great at closer last season, going 43 of 44 in save opportunities, and Francisco Rodriguez, after getting freed from New York, was lights out once again.
What saves the offense from falling into shambles was the fact that Ryan Braun, the 2011 MVP for the NL, found his steroids suspension overturned on his appeal. If he had been suspended, this offense would have been in serious trouble. Now the middle of the lineup is pretty solid with Braun, the acquired Aramis Ramirez, who is coming off a great 2011, and Rickie Weeks. Corey Hart excelled when moved to the leadoff spot and the mercurial Nyjer Morgan is the team's burst of energy and speed. All eyes will be on Fielder's replacement, Mat Gamel, who is unproven in the majors but put up big numbers in the minors.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
It had the potential to be a breakthrough season, finally, in Pittsburgh a year ago. The Pirates sat after 100 games at 53-47, in first place in the National League Central. Unfortunately, they went 19-43 the rest of the way to finish at 72-90 but there is hope and promise in the Steel City. The star of the franchise is center fielder Andrew McCutchen and he has all the talent in the world and has showed it the last couple of seasons. The rest of the outfield is filled with talent in Jose Tabata and Alex Presley, who have shown flashes in the bigs. Neil Walker provides a good bat for second base and Garrett Jones has plenty of pop at first. Clint Barmes was a solid signing to play short but the key to the infield is the talented Pedro Alvarez, who was pitiful last year after a promising rookie campaign. He has to step up.
The problem for years with Pittsburgh has been the pitching and it will remain that way. Erik Bedard is the de facto ace and while he is coming off a solid 2011, he is always an injury concern. Both Charlie Morton and James McDonald are talented but need to be more consistent, although Morton is more consistent than McDonald. Kevin Correia was not terrible last year. The bullpen is nasty and led by closer Joel Hanrahan.
5. Chicago Cubs
Have to hope that folks on the North Side are not hoping for immediate results from the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer-Dale Sveum brain-trust because it will take a few years. The star if the club is definitely Starlin Castro, who was brilliant last year in batting over .300 and leading the NL in hits. He and Darwin Barney make for a talented middle infield. The corners will be manned by Ian Stewart at third, who they hope can hit like he did a few years ago, and Bryan LaHair, who led the minors in homers last year and is keeping the seat warm for Anthony Rizzo. David DeJesus was a fine signing to play right as he is a decent leadoff guy. Marlon Byrd was hitting well before a face injury slowed him down in May while Alfonso Soriano is a clear shell of himself.
The best pitcher for the Cubs is Matt Garza, who if he is not traded is still one of the better pitchers in the league. The team needs better seasons from Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells and the acquired Chris Volstad. Carlos Marmol throws gas at closer but needs to cut down on his blown saves.
6. Houston Astros
It is the 50th anniversary of the franchise and their final year in the National League but do not expect anything special out of this downtrodden team this year. The team is in the process of a major rebuilding project and thus do not have much in terms of proven players. The only proven player in the lineup is the aging Carlos Lee, who can still hit but is a shell of what he once was. Houston is hoping for positive seasons for center fielder Jordan Shafer, second baseman Jose Altuve, left fielder J.D. Martinez, right fielder Brian Bogusevic and third baseman Jimmy Paredes. The club is hoping that shortstop Jed Lowrie can find his stroke after arriving from Boston.
The Astros have a couple solid starters in Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris as both had solid seasons a year ago. The club is hoping that J.A. Happ can pitch like he did in his last several starts. Brett Myers, who has not closed since 2007, will be the replacement for Mark Melancon, who was traded to Houston on the Lowrie deal.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks surprised all of baseball to go from 65 wins in 2010 to 94 and a division title in 2011. Kirk Gibson hit the right chord with this young team that is in position to defend their West crown. Justin Upton is a legitimate star and is only 24, turning 25 in August, and he is a top contender for MVP. He is joined in the outfield by the inconsistent but very talented Chris Young and the solid power bat of Jason Kubel. The infield found some under-the-radar performers in Ryan Roberts and Paul Goldschmidt at the corners and Aaron Hill resurrected his career by playing well once he joined the D-Backs. The key will be if shortstop Stephen Drew can stay healthy.
Arizona got great performances from their rotation last year and adds the very talented Trevor Cahill from Oakland. Ian Kennedy won 21 games with a sub-3.00 ERA while both Daniel Hudson and Joe Saunders were very solid last year as well. J.J. Putz was another to resurrect his career with a great season closing.
2. San Francisco Giants
You know what the Giants are going to have: great pitching and mediocre offense. The starting rotation is one of the elite in baseball and are led by their electric ace Tim Lincecum and he's joined by the tremendous Matt Cain and the talented Madison Bumgarner. Ryan Vogelsong came out of nowhere for a great 13-7 campaign and the hope that Barry Zito can be at least average in the fifth spot. Brian Wilson had a bit of a down season for him but was still very good and set-up man Sergio Romo was awesome last year.
The offense is hoping that the return of Buster Posey and Freddie Sanchez from injuries will help their offense. While Sanchez has a history of injury problems, Posey has injury troubles as well but his bat is just too good. The Giants need strong efforts this season from Aubrey Huff, Pablo Sandoval and Melky Cabrera and they hope Angel Pagan can provide a spark at the top of the order.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
Definitely a bizarre season for the Dodgers and skipper Don Mattingly a year ago as both Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw had brilliant seasons but the disaster that is the ownership situation killed much chance of contending. Finally the McCourts are on the way out in Chevez Ravine so the future is bright after the quality job Mattingly did. Kemp was the star after a monster year with 39 jacks, 40 steals and a .324 average. He's joined in the outfield by a pair of solid bats in Andre Ethier and Juan Rivera. James Loney is not an imposing presence at first but the infield is highlighted by the speedy Dee Gordon at short.
Kershaw had an absolutely brilliant season last year en route to the Cy Young. If Chad Billingsley can finally have a breakout year, that's a dangerous top of the rotation. The rest of the rotation is decent but unspectacular with Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. There are questions in the bullpen as Javy Guerra looks to remain the closer while fighting off Kenley Jansen.
4. Colorado Rockies
You are going to hit well in Denver and that the Rockies do very well. Troy Tulowitzki is the premier shortstop in baseball as he is fantastic at the dish and with the leather. Carlos Gonzalez is an excellent outfielder with a great bat as well. Michael Cuddyer was a quality signing as he brings another capable bat to the Mile High City. For the offense to be even better, Dexter Fowler, the leadoff guy, needs to cut down on his K's and Todd Helton needs to find some more power.
The Rockies are not so great in the rotation, or at least until Jorge De La Rosa returns at some point from Tommy John surgery. For now, the pressure's on Jhoulys Chacin, who needs better control, Guillermo Moscoso, who needs to give up fewer homers, and Drew Pomeranz, who was really good in September. The club also made a solid acquisition for innings-eater Jeremy Guthrie. Rafael Betancourt was very strong as the closer last year.
5. San Diego Padres
The Padres are still looking to work the rebuilding process but they made some strong moves in the offseason to help bolster the lineup with bringing in Carlos Questin from the White Sox, who will pair with the exciting Cameron Maybin in the middle of the order, and first baseman Yonder Alonso, a player the Reds were very high on but had no room for. Outside those three, the lineup will struggle as there is not much pop outside them, with the exception of catcher Nick Hundley.
The rotation took a hit with the trade of Mat Latos, who was sent to Cincy for Alonso and Edinson Volquez, but both Tim Stauffer and Cory Luebke remain after solid years in 2011. Volquez is a talent that probably needed a change of scenery to a pitcher's park. Huston Street is still a good closer and Luke Gregerson is a very good set-up guy.
MVP: Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (Runner-up: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds)
Cy Young: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies (Runner-up: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants)
Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals (Runner-up: Drew Pomeranz, SP, Colorado Rockies)
Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen, Miami Marlins (Runner-up: Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals)
2012 National League Playoffs:
Wild Card playoff:
Miami Marlins over St. Louis Cardinals
Philadelphia Phillies over Miami Marlins
Cincinnati Reds over Arizona Diamondbacks
Cincinnati Reds over Philadelphia Phillies
2012 WORLD SERIES:
New York Yankees over Cincinnati Reds