Apr 03, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Big names like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder switching teams. A PED suspension offered, and then overturned, on reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun. A (quietly attained) collective bargaining agreement and labor peace. The Marlins now have the Miami moniker and a real ballpark to play in.
One more playoff spot offered for each league, and a one-game playoff that pits the two wild cards, adding value to winning a division title. Magic Johnson fronts a group that wants to purchase the L.A. Dodgers.
Other than that, nothing much happened in the Major League Baseball offseason. And now that two games have been played in Tokyo, it’s high time to assess the scene again, division by division.
AL East – Strange times in the land of accumulated wealth. The Yankees mostly minimized headlines and focused on making sensible baseball trades based on need (what a concept!), while the Red Sox created far too many needless headlines and handed the keys to Bobby Valentine, which could prove to be genius or disaster, no in between.
Ironically, Tampa Bay might prove better than either of them, thanks to a strong rotation and rare lineup stability. Toronto stays close behind, always a player or pitcher away from a serious charge. Baltimore is much, much further away, the Orioles now turning to one-time Boston GM Dan Duquette as an architect of a possible turnaround.
AL Central – Even before getting Fielder, Detroit loomed above the division, but this only makes it more lopsided. Adding any extra pop was significant enough for the Tigers of Justin Verlander, but Fielder can give you 40 homers and 120 RBIs on a regular basis.
This happened as Cleveland had to settle for much smaller acquisitions and the White Sox started to dump some of its bloated payroll, the latter hoping that Adam Dunn resembles a competent hitter again.
Better health, especially from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, can make Minnesota relevant again. Kansas City’s long building project continues, closer to completion, and the Royals host the All-Star Game.
AL West – It can be argued that the league’s balance of power, long residing in the space between Gotham and Beantown, has shifted here. Texas has won the last two pennants, and that didn’t sit well with the Angels, who went all-in, snatching Pujols and, even more brazenly, C.J. Wilson from the Rangers.
One pitch from winning it all in 2011, Texas will need Neftali Feliz to make a smooth transition from closer to starter and Yu Darvish to live up to the hype. Yet the Angels still might be better because of the quartet of Wilson, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana on the mound.
This doesn’t leave much for Oakland or Seattle, who are wisely retooling. It’s difficult to imagine the A’s or Mariners offering any serious challenge to Texas or Anaheim.
NL East – Philadelphia, winners of five straight division titles, is under assault from at least two fronts. Concerned with injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Phillies will lean more on the Roy Halladay-Cliff Lee combo.
That might not be enough to fend off full-strength Atlanta, who still burns about last September’s meltdown, or the everything-is-new Marlins that spent the bank on Mark Buerhle, Heath Bell and Jose Reyes.
Even Washington can dream big dreams as Stephen Strasburg takes over as ace and Bryce Harper inches closer to his big-league debut. Finally emerging from the shadow of the Madoff saga, the Mets can turn its attention back to actual baseball, with actual funds to go after actual players. Whether that actually amounts to anything is another matter.
NL Central – Life goes on in St. Louis without Pujols and Tony LaRussa, and in Milwaukee without Fielder. At least the Cardinals won it all (dramatically) before their upheaval and are better suited to maintaining a winning form, especially if Adam Wainwright comes back at full speed.
The acquitted Braun and the acquired Aramis Ramirez means that the Brew Crew can still pop plenty, which gives them an edge over Cincinnati, who tries to retain its 2010 mojo. For the Cubs, now run by Theo Epstein, it will take two seasons (at least) to build a real winner, but North Side fans are well-known for their patience.
Pittsburgh is, finally, not a bottom-feeder, and though a lot of steps remain, the Pirates are well ahead of Houston, who goes to the AL in 2013 as a possible horror show.
NL West – Absolutely no one thinks that Arizona can repeat. Too many things went right in the Diamondbacks’ stunning worst-to-first turnaround in 2011, and the main powers are ready to reclaim their places.
San Francisco, after all, still has the best group of arms in the division, and the Dodgers are headed for rebirth with its new ownership and two big stars in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.
Colorado signed all kinds of old guys (Jamie Moyer? Are you serious?) for a short-term push, the opposite of young San Diego, where any sort of success must depend on good pitching because of its spacious home park, a contrast to the Rockies and its mountain air.
Now here’s the guaranteed-to-be-wrong Blackwell World Series prediction. I’ll throw a dart in the National League and land on….Atlanta, who will win one for the Chipper. And the $254 million given to Pujols, plus that great pitching, will help the Angels snatch the American League title.