MLB Preview Version 2.012

So the last time I wrote, I previewed the NFL season and the Packers.  But honestly, who actually writes about regular seasons as they go on?  Seriously, there’s nothing smart about that.

Ok.  You’re right.  It’s actually a very good idea.  And I got completely caught up in real life.  Good excuse?  Not at all, but it’s all I got right now.

But look over there!  What’s that light shining in the distance??? It looks like something beautiful!  Something like real-life, not-being-played-in-Japan Baseball!!!!!

So yeah, let’s just pretend I wrote lots of witty analysis about the football season, complete with an irrational love of the Packers defense, a completely rational love of Aaron Rodgers, plenty of bitterness towards the New York Giants, and everything else you’d expect from me.

So enough with the pointless introductions, let’s talk about Baseball.  In this post, I’ll be looking to preview the Dodgers season, as well as make some division picks, much like I did last year.

The Dodgers:

Last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers finished with a record of 81-80, which makes them a terrible baseball team.  At least according to the media.  But in case you haven’t heard, Magic Johnson Mark Walter bought the team, so now they’ll spend roughly a bajillion dollars and be the first team to finish the regular season with a record of 162-0.  Right?

Wait, you mean that’s not how it works?  Well that’s unfortunate.  Even with Cy Young Winner Clayton Kershaw and MVP Winner Best-Player-In-The-National-League-But-Apparently-Not-The-Most-Valuable-Player Matt Kemp, the Dodgers look to finish with about the same record as they did last year.  That tends to happen when you’re Ned Colletti, and you fill out your roster with a bunch of older players.   Kershaw is a stud, Chad Billingsley can bounce back if he can reverse his strikeout and walk rates, and Ted Lilly should (hopefully) pitch as well as he did last year, but Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano (who will now be referred to as “Capang”) won’t be good enough to carry the team day in and day out, especially in a division that has suddenly become loaded with pitching.  The Bullpen (on paper) looks to be one of the best and deepest in the league, fronted by Kenley Jansen (who struck out only 16 batters/9 innings last year) and Javy Guerra (who showed great stuff and a suddenly decent walk rate), and filled out with guys like Mike MacDougal, Todd Coffey, and Josh Lindblom.  But really, who knows what will happen with the Bullpen.  Last year, they looked to have 4 great relievers in Jonathon Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Vicente Padilla, and Kenley Jansen, and now only one of those remains.  Bullpens, and especially Middle Relievers, are some of the most inconsistent pieces in sports teams.  Always expect the unexpected.

The pitching should be solid, but not quite spectacular.  The hitting on this team wishes it could be that.  Ned decided to bet that Andre Ethier would bounce back (which he will), and he’s also betting that James Loney will continue to hit the ball like the monster that took over for him late last year.  James very well could have (finally) made the adjustments that can lead to him becoming a productive MLB First Baseman, but I’m still skeptical.  Dee Gordon will be the most exciting player in the league as he steals 70 bases, and Kemp will be Kemp.  But that barely fills half a lineup card, and one can easily be skeptical about all 4 of those guys’ ability to produce.  Which brings us the other half of the hitters.  Juan Rivera is a nice platoon piece/bench player.  Not a starting Left Fielder.  A. J. Ellis is a nice catcher who gets on base like it’s nobody’s business, but will he be able to hit when pitchers realize he has no power and just pound the strike zone?  I’m actually a big fan of Ellis, and think he’ll be fine, but there’s reason for doubt.  Which brings us to Mark Ellis and Juan Uribe.  Uribe can’t possibly be as bad as he was last year.  But because he’s Juan Uribe, he’ll probably be worse.  And Mark Ellis is just plain past his prime.  He’s not bad, but he’ll be making a lot of outs in the 2-hole of the lineup.  But hey, a Uribe-Gordon-Ellis-Loney infield will be one of the best defensive infields in the league.  So at least there’s that.

All in all, there isn’t enough hitting on this team to support the pitching, and the pitching on this team isn’t good enough to make up for the hitting.  This team is a superstar bat away from contention, which makes Victor Martinez’ stupid ACL that much more frustrating, as it had looked like Prince Fielder had nowhere to go but LA until Detroit decided to spend all that money.  I’ll say the deep pitching carries the Dodgers to an 82-20 record, as Ethier bounces back and Gordon provides excitement on the basepaths.

As for the rest of the league:

NL West: Diamondbacks – Yeah, they might regress a little bit, but they’ve got tons of pitching depth, and a complete hitting team.  If their bullpen holds up, the Giants won’t be able to keep up.  The Rockies don’t have any pitching, and the Padres don’t have any hitting. The Giants have a lot of question marks after they’re front 3 starters and they’re bullpen, such as “Who can actually hit the ball out of the infield?”

NL Central: Cardinals – Still the best hitting team in the National League, and despite losing Albert Pujols, Berkman, Beltran, Holliday, and Freese will make up for that loss.  Wainwright is back from Tommy John surgery, and people forgot just how good he was in 2010.  The Brewers are good, but Mat Gamel is no Prince Fielder, and neither is Aramis Ramirez.  The Reds are still a good pitcher away from October.  The Pirates and Cubs will be better than their usual standard, while the Astros will remain the Lastros.

NL East: Phillies – This is where the division battle starts to get interesting.  The Phillies have had a stranglehold on the division for 5 straight years, but with their aging and injured hitters, it would appear that another team could step up and seize the crown.  Perhaps after this year, but the Phillies still have the best pitching staff in Baseball, and enough hitting to take the East.  I think people forget that this team won 102 games last year, and they have a full year of Hunter Pence to help the offense.  The Braves are solid up and down, but don’t have the pitching to match the Phillies (Although they could if Mike Minor or Julio Teheran are able to reach anything close to their ceilings).  The Marlins are the biggest wild card here in that they could surpass the Braves (and maybe even Phillies) if everything breaks right, but I don’t think their pitching is deep enough.  The Nationals are generating buzz, but give them another year, when Bryce Harper is an established major league player, and Stephen Strasburg doesn’t have an innings limit.  I’m gonna join the mainstream sports media and just say that the Mets are the Mets, and therefore won’t win, and we’ll leave it at that.

AL West: Rangers – Here’s what appears to be the closest division battle here between the Rangers and the Angels.  The Rangers lineup pretty much doesn’t have a free out, unless it’s Mitch Moreland hitting against a left-hander, while the Angels probably have the 2nd best pitching staff in Baseball, and also this Albert Pujols guy you may have heard of.  The Rangers pitching staff will quietly be quite good this year, with Yu Darvish stepping in for C.J. Wilson, and Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis consistently delivering good outings.  The Rangers also have a strong bullpen, filled with power-arms.  And while the Angels do have Pujols, they don’t really have any other great hitters besides Howie Kendrick.  Torii Hunter is good, but old.  Vernon Wells will be better, but not great.  Kendrys Morales at the DH spot will be a huge wild card, and Trumbo will hit a bunch of dingers, but do everything except get on base.  The A’s and Mariners are both too far away to make an impact, with the Mariners being much closer.

AL Central: Tigers – While the last two divisions have appeared to be quite close, this one looks to be just the opposite.  The Tigers have by far the best hitting, and by far the best pitching of the division.  The Indians have a deep pitching staff and a few likable hitters, but they’re a Miguel Cabrera or a Prince Fielder short of challenging the Tigers.  The Twins, like the Indians, appear to be a couple players short of a division title.  However, Morneau and Mauer could certainly morph back into the hitting machines they once were.  If they still had Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, I’d like their chances more.  The Royals have a ton of highly rated prospects, but they need to break into the majors first.  The White Sox are hard to figure out.  If a couple of their hitters bounce back, they could make things interesting, but they’re kind of doing this half-rebuilding, half-contending thing that rarely, if ever, works out.

Al East: Yankees – For a division that ESPN will tell you is the epicenter of baseball itself, the AL East doesn’t look to be incredibly close this year.  The Yankees will score a ton of runs, and try and pitch well enough to win 95+ games, and they probably will.  The Red Sox will try and recover from an epic collapse last September that you’ll probably hear about more than enough.  The Sox, like the Yankees, have more than enough hitting and while they appear to have deeper starting pitching, their bullpen is far shallower (Closer Andrew Bailey is already on the DL).  The Rays have more starting pitching than the rest of the division combined, but appear to be a hitter shy of a division title.  That being said, I’m a fan of the moves they’ve made this offseason, and leave it to Joe Maddon to get the most of his team.  Everyone loves the Blue Jays, but I think they’re a year (and a great pitcher) away from truly challenging for the division.  That being said, the Jays can hit with any team in the league, so they should be fun to watch.  The Orioles on the other hand, can’t do much of anything.  They’re about 5 good starters away from being competitive, and will be looking up at 4 teams all year.

As for the Wild Card(s): I think the Brewers and the Marlins take the spots in the National League, and the Angels and the Rays in the American League, with the Brewers beating the Marlins, and the Angels beating the Rays.

In the NL, the Cardinals and the Phillies will advance to the NLCS, with the Cardinals just edging out the Phillies.  While the AL will see the Tigers and the Yankees fight for the AL Pennant, with the Tigers advancing to the World Series.  In the World Series, both teams will trade blows, but the Tigers will win in 6 games, capturing their first World Series win since 1984.

Lastly, the AL MVP will go to Miguel Cabrera, the AL Cy Young will go to C.C. Sabathia, and the AL Rookie of the Year will be Yu Darvish.  The NL MVP will be Hunter Pence (the best hitter on a dominant Phillies team), the NL Cy Young will be Clayton Kershaw, and the NL Rookie of the Year will be Julio Teheran.

But let’s be real here.  As much as we all love to talk about real baseball, the best part of baseball season is getting excited about your fake baseball team.  Nope?  Just me?  Well alright then.  Enjoy the year everybody!  And may your team exceed expectations and play deep into October (unless your team is the Giants)!

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