It’s almost April, and you know what that means. The American pastime is ready to get under way. The first pitch will be thrown in a little over 24 hours. Major League Baseball features a grueling 162 game journey over a 6 month grind. And then the lucky 8 get to move on to the postseason. Which eventually will culminate at the end of October in the Fall Classic (World Series).
No team has repeated as World Champions since the New York Yankees won their 3rd straight title in 2000 over the Mets, in the Subway Series. And I will admit, I am not counting on a repeat champion this year. The Giants shocked me in taking home the title last year. I think they shocked the majority of America. They were a very deserving team though that won behind their great pitching, defense, and timely hitting. These are the keys to any world championship in my eyes. So what team will shock the world this year? Or will there even be a shocker?
NL West: Colorado Rockies
The World Champs came from this often overlooked division last season. And if it wasn’t for one of the worst late season breakdowns in MLB history, the Giants would probably not have even made the playoffs. But San Francisco was opportunistic and handled business. This year though, I am going with the Colorado Rockies to take the cake. If the Rockies had not ended last year on an 8 game losing streak, they would have been right in the hunt until the bitter end. Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are arguably 2 of the best in the League at their respective positions. I see this team starting to gel much earlier than in past years, and taking advantage of the Giants suffering from a World Series hangover, and lots of injuries over the first couple of months, while the Padres are still sulking from their unthinkable breakdown last year.
NL Central: Cincinnati Reds
I may be a bit of a homer, but I like what I see with the young and talented defending NL Champion Reds. St. Louis is already dealing with a plethora of injuries to their outstanding staff. The loss of Wainwright for the year will hurt St. Louis, plus Carpenter already is having some nagging issues. Now the Reds are not injury free themselves, with Johnny Cueto set to start the year on the DL. But this Cincinnati team has a little something that I like to call moxy. Also the addition of proven winner Edgar Renteria adds to the winning mentality that is being set in Cincinnati. They are young, talented, and exciting to watch. Not many teams pulled out more games in the last at bat than this team did last year. They loved keeping fans on the edge of their seats. And with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Arroyo, and others having signed contract extensions, the core guys should be able to just relax and play ball. I do see Milwaukee being a definite threat as well with their very strong staff and always dangerous lineup. But no team has the all around package like Cincinnati. The Reds will repeat and give the playoffs another shot.
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
This is the one division that probably over 99% of America has the same team tagged. How could you not like this team? I mean Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt, and Blanton? They have arguably the best starting rotation that the game has seen in over a decade. If they live up to half of the hype, there should not be too many issues in what appears to be a very winnable AL East. Sure Atlanta will be tough again, especially with the addition of Dan Uggla to an already solid lineup, and I do expect them to nab the Wildcard, but this team is not at the same level as Philadelphia. Expect a much faster start this year, as the Phillies put up the best record in the National League.
NL Wild Card: Atlanta Braves
Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, and a great pitching staff. Philadelphia may be the best team in the National League, but Atlanta very well might be the second best. Sadly for them, they are in the same division. Do not be surprised to see this team make the divisional race come down to the final weekend though.
NL Sleeper: Milwaukee Brewers
Every year there is a team that kind of comes out of nowhere and shocks the world with an amazing run. Now the Brewers great offseason pick ups are well documented, but not too many people are picking them to make any noise. This team is more than capable of shocking the Cardinals and Reds in route to an NL Central title. And you know as well as I do, once you make it to the postseason, anything can happen (Check out this year’s version of NCAA March Madness).
AL West: Oakland Athletics
It is hard not to pick the Rangers to repeat I will admit. I mean they are the defending American League Champions. But the loss of Cliff Lee really hurts. I know the guy was not stellar in the regular season last year, but he came up big in the postseason as always. And I think Oakland is a team that has been waiting to break loose for a few years now, having not appeared in the postseason since 2006. Trevor Cahill may be the best pitcher that you have never heard of, and he is poised for a big time year for the A’s. Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, and Dallas Braden are not too shabby themselves. And I also really like the pickup of Hideki Matsui, a proven winner. Look for Oakland to shock the dynamite Texas offense and win the AL West in a down to the wire divisional finish.
AL Central: Minnesota Twins
This is an extremely unpredictable division in my eyes with 3 very strong teams at the top. Minnesota, Chicago, or Detroit could easily take the crown. But there is something about the Twins, who have won the division each of the past 2 seasons. It is hard to ignore the talent on this team and their great manager, Ron Gardenhire. I would rank Gardenhire as one of the top 3 managers in all of baseball at this time. He is a skipper who really has confidence in his guys and has that contagious winning mentality. Look for the Tigers to make a good run at the Twins, but Minnesota will be too consistent over the course of the entire year.
AL East: Boston Red Sox
The AL East is without question the best division in all of baseball. Each of the 5 teams are more than capable of posting over 500 marks. Has there ever been a year where each team in a division put up a winning record? Well in this division, its possible. As hard as it is for me to say, the Red Sox have the best team on paper though, not only in the AL East, but probably in all of baseball. If it was not for a ridiculous amount of injuries last season, Boston would have been right in the hunt with New York and Tampa. Not only are the healthy at this point, but they have made some huge offseason pick ups. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are huge acquisitions for the Sox that will add to a lineup that was already arguably the most potent in all of baseball. But I will state, do not sleep on the Yankees. They have gotten better this offseason as well and are very hungry after they let a golden opportunity to repeat slip through their fingers last season. Boston will have the best record, but you better believe that the Yankees and Red Sox will meet again in postseason play.
AL Wild Card: New York Yankees
As if this was a question. The Red Sox and Yankees are the two best teams in the American League. Whichever does not win the division will nab the Wild Card. And whether you like either of these teams, you know that you love watching this rivalry transpire in postseason play.
AL Sleeper: Detroit Tigers
I will admit, I was very close to picking the Tigers to win the Central. But I could not quite bring myself to do it. This team is dangerous though without question. They are a team that has the big bat of Miguel Cabrera, who hopefully will not let off field issues affect his typical amazing output, and they have a top of the rotation guy in Justin Verlander that is poised to put up a Cy Young type of campaign. Do not forget about these guys entirely, because they definitely could make some noise in the AL Central.
NL Championship Series: Phillies over Reds in 6
AL Championship Series: Yankees over Red Sox in 7
World Series: Yankees over Phillies in 7
Maybe I am naive and do not understand that in baseball, there tends to be that surprise team that finds their way into the World Series. The Giants last year were that team, but there are 3 teams that are just all around too good to be denied this year. The Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Phillies are head and shoulders the best teams in baseball this season, barring too many major injuries. I give the Yankees the nod over the Sox just because in great rivalries, statistics and logic go out the window.
Jeter and Rivera still have one more title in them. Expect to see the Yankee Captain smiling at the end of October (World Series will end in October this year).
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.