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2012 Season Preview
March 31, 2012

Seattle and Oakland already played a couple regular season games that no one seemed to show any interest in, so before it gets too late in the season, it's time for the annual Season Preview.  The focus this year will be on one weakness that WON'T affect each team as much as the majority may believe.

AL East
Tampa Bay
lack of solid closer will prove sabermetricians correct thanks to great SP
New York
old age won't hamper team too much thanks to so many solid options
dugout drama won't add any losses while solid lineup still keeps team in hunt
worries about Morrow's consistency will subside as he has breakout year
strikeout hitters in lineup won't hurt team as much as lack of pitching

AL Central
questionable fielding will be forgotten as Cabrera and Fielder battle for MVP
young pitching ready for prime time as Sale, Humber, Reed prop up team
scoring runs will be easier than '11 with revitalized Choo/Hafner and star Santana
the two "M"s won't be great, but they won't be the reason for the Twins poor season (it will be the surrounding lineup and middling pitching)
Kansas City
losing Soria will have little negative effect (having a team of DHs not named Cabrera and Fielder will)

AL West
Wilson won't be missing with Darvish on board
Los Angeles
Pujols proves that he is NOT declining just yet
lack of pop in lineup offset enough by McCarthy and young pitchers to stay competitive
the pitching behind Felix is better than expected (but can't fix the anemic offense)
NL East
Howard's absence is hardly missed as Thome keeps lineup intact
Freeman and Heyward put an end to lineup's lack of power
Hanley thrives at 3B thanks to a resurgent offensive season
Werth proves last year was a fluke and team flirts with WC contention
New York
Wright rebounds and  thrives and Davis proves he is borderline All-Star caliber

NL Central
St. Louis
old-timers overachieve and Wainwright's health is a non-issue
worries about Latos pitching outside of Petco subside after he wins 17 games
Gamel not exactly Fielder, but by June, he does stop fans from worrying about 1B
part-timers Byrd and DeJesus adjust fine to full time duty
scoring runs will improve vs last year
team w/worst ERA last year will move up a couple notches

NL West
San Francisco
offense won't kill division title hopes
Upton and Goldschmidt shine to help prevent letdown from last year's big upswing
Los Angeles
Loney solidifies his career with a Grace-like season and calms Dodger fans
rotation improves with experience and lowers overall ERA vs last year
San Diego
hard to put a positive spin on a weakness here - lineup is anemic but versatile with several left-handed and switch-hitters?

AL Playoff teams:  Tampa Bay, Detroit, Texas, New York (WC), Los Angeles (WC)
ALCS:  Texas over Tampa Bay
NL Playoff teams:  Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Fran, Atlanta (WC), Miami (WC)
NLCS:  Miami over San Francisco

World Series:  Texas over Miami

Looking at the potential playoff teams, it is quite apparent that much of the talent has found its way to the American League.  Pujols and Fielder tipped the scales, but even many of the best pitchers are making their home in the AL.  Still, someone from the National League must show up in the World Series, and just as last year's unlikely scenario unfolded, the hottest, not necessarily the best, team can win it all.  It's near impossible to judge in March who will be hot in October, but the talent points toward Texas giving it one more run at a World Series title.  The Yankees, Angels, and Rays will give them a run for it though.  The additional Wild Card team means another talented AL roster will taste a game in the postseason, but it also means one more potentially undeserving team in the NL will sneak in with the possibility to wreak havoc.

In the American League, look for Albert Pujols to carry the Angels past the silly one-game playoff, but I still don't see Tampa Bay figuring out a way to get past Texas should they meet, so expect the reloaded Rangers to be center stage again once the October Classic begins.

In the National League, the Phillies are the only playoff team with some offense to help match the dominant pitching, but there are too many question marks with Howard and Utley to rely on them for the long haul.  I see the Marlins putting together a couple streaks during the season and sneaking into the playoffs, then a healthy Josh Johnson offsets the other rotations while Stanton, Ramirez, and Reyes do the rest. 

In the end, the erratic but talented Miami Marlins will attempt to make yet another Wild Card run to a championship, but the Rangers will continue to combine speed, power, and solid pitching en route to a Texas title in six games.
Baseball Express