Opening Day is officially here! Well, sort of. Technically, the first game of the season was last week, but Thursday is the first day with multiple games. As such, the staff here at SB Nation Dallas has made our fearless predictions for the 2012 baseball season -- picking each playoff team, award winner and crowning the 2012 World Series champion.
Robbie Griffin: New York Yankees
The Yankees have the best roster in baseball, and it will take some surprising overperformance or some rapid aging in New York for them not to have the best record. The Rays and Red Sox are not too far behind, though, and the Blue Jays have tremendous surprise potential; for a great team, New York has a relatively good chance of missing out entirely.
Willie Funk: New York Yankees
The boys in pinstripes have an excess of pitching, even without peg-leg Joba. Offensively, I look for A-Rod to have a bounceback year now that he's finally gotten that hip healthy -- he should be able to drive the ball more consistently now. The Blue Jays will fight the Red Sox for second for a while, but the Sox to limp back to the playoffs as the second Wild Card and save Bobby V's job.
John Stathas: New York Yankees
The Yankees take care of business in an AL East that is weaker than in past seasons. Robinson Cano will be the team MVP (and be in the running for AL MVP). Cano is arguably the best hitter in baseball right now. The usual suspects (Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira) will stay consistent and put up good numbers. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda dominate the top of therotation and Ivan Nova puts together a solid season as well. Joba Chamberlain's ankle injury will hurt the staff's depth, but with Mariano Rivera on the back end, the Yankees get to enjoy playing eight-inning games for another season. The Yanks lose to the Angels in the ALDS.
JP Starkey: Tampa Bay Rays
Are the Rays perfect? Nope, they're not. But a full year of Desmond Jennings will help the offense out, as should the return of Carlos Pena. If Evan Longoria stays healthy, he will be the American League MVP. David Price should continue to get better, and Matt Moore should be in the forefront of the Rookie of the Year race. Of course, the Yankees and Red Sox have a lot of talent, but with Michael Pineda's balky shoulder and turmoil in Boston's bullpen (and brass), I see the Rays winning the AL East.
Griffin: Detroit Tigers
The Royals have a nice potential ceiling, and it was not that long ago the Twins were actually good with a similar roster, but the Tigers are so clearly ahead of their division they are the most (relatively) comfortable team in baseball. That said, playing Miguel Cabrera at third threatens to totally un-do the addition of Prince Fielder. This team is being treated as possibly the class of the AL, but I think that tier is a long shot for them.
Funk: Detroit Tigers
Despite my urge to put Kansas City or Cleveland, I just can't do it. Verlander should repeat as Cy Young with even more wins behind an even stronger offense. Look for Miguel Cabrera to make mistakes at third, but figure things out by the latter part of the year. KC will have a nice run at some point in the year and flash their potential, but they don't have consistent pitching to stretch that into a full effort. Cleveland just has too many injuries and an innings eater banned for Julia Roberts in The Net-ing someone.
** Editor's note: This is a reference to a 1995 movie about identity theft I've never heard of before. Apparently Willie didn't find it too memorable either -- Sandra Bullock, not Julia Roberts, is the main star. Here's a taste of how long ago this was, from Roger Ebert's review: "The computer stuff will interest anyone into such things".
Stathas: Detroit Tigers
The Tigers flat out dominate this year, possibly winning 100 games. Miguel Cabrera wins the MVP and is a serious Triple Crown threat. Prince Fielder might not have quite as good of stats due to a more pitcher friendly park, but he still puts up great numbers. These two bats in the middle of the lineup are also going to help younger players like Delmon Young and Austin Jackson put together solid seasons. Justin Verlander challenges for another Cy Young and starters like Doug Fister and Max Scherzer put up solid numbers with much better run support this season. The Tigers are SCARY young (Verlander and Cabrera are the oldest stars at 29) so look for them to dominate this division for the foreseeable future. The Tigers run away with this weak division and ultimately win the World Series.
Starkey: Detroit Tigers
I was really tempted to pick the White Sox, largely because I believe Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham will take steps forward, and really, there's no way Adam Dunn can be that bad, but Prince Fielder's presence in Detroit's lineup will make them too much. Kansas City might flirt with contention, but in the end, it'll be the very top-heavy Tigers. If any of Detroit's three studs, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera or Fielder, hit the disabled list for an extended period of time, this could become a race.
Griffin: Texas Rangers
The Yankees have the best roster on paper, but the Rangers are not far behind, and have the highest ceiling. 96 wins a season ago despite bad luck and a bad bullpen. The bullpen is improved, and just think of what would happen with even more growth out of the rotation and some good luck with injuries. Texas will probably merely be very good, but there is real potential for them to be incredible. The Angels don't have that.
Funk: Texas Rangers
Provided the Rangers can get their rotation in order and Colby Lewis still has enough juice to junkball his way through another decent season, the firepower on offense should carry them to a 90+ win season. The Angels have a lot of nice pieces, but I don't like betting the farm on an overweight Central American in his thirties (we think) who can't run or field particularly well. I also don't like C.J. Wilson because he's a douche, so there's that too. Oakland is god-awful and I still can't believe they were a darkhorse pick by some baseball people before last year. All I'll say about Seattle is that Felix Hernandez is a monster.
Stathas: Los Angeles Angels
Free agent splashes (more like tidal waves) Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson push the Angels past the Rangers this year in the West. The Angels’ biggest problem: how to get their three best bats in one lineup. With the emergence of Mark Trumbo and a healthy Kendrys Morales, the Angels are now stuck with three true first basemen. Their solution this spring has been to move Trumbo to third base, which seems to be working out fine. Expect monster numbers from this trio in the middle of the lineup. Add arguably the best rotation in baseball to the mix and you have a serious contender. Jered Weaver wins the Cy Young this year. Dan Haren, CJ Wilson, and Ervin Santana all have great seasons as well. The Angels fall short in the ALCS at the hands of the Tigers, who win in seven because they’ll have home field advantage.
Starkey: Los Angeles Angels
The AL West has two very good teams. I'll take Los Angeles' pitching staff over the course of the season, and C.J. Wilson should improve pitching in Angels Stadium, along with having Peter Bourjos roaming centerfield, and eventually Mike Trout in left or right. Adding Albert Pujols to the lineup should make everybody better, and if Kendry Morales is healthy, they should be able to score enough. The bullpen is a bit shaky, but that can be addressed over the course of the season.
AL Wild Cards
Griffin: Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels
The Angels overpaid dearly for Albert Pujols, but in the short term it should be nice for them. The Red Sox collapsing down the stretch weirdly has people acting like they were never close, and lost the whole roster. They're still super talented. The Rays are right there with both teams, and someone from somewhere is going to make a run for this, too.
Stathas: Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers
I see Boston bouncing back from their awful collapse last season. Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury will put up MVP-caliber numbers and Carl Crawford will get back on track. Pedroia will have his usual solid season as well. But the Sox fall short of the division due to pitching. Lester is currently their only great starter and huge questions remain for Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Clay Buchholz may finally have a breakout season, but it won’t be enough. With Andrew Bailey out until at least mid-summer, the Sox have serious bullpen issues. A good hitting team here, but due to poor pitching depth they won’t rack up enough wins to win the division. They lose to Texas in the wildcard showdown
The Rangers fall short of their past two season successes. But the Rangers may actually be a better team than they have been the past two years. A healthy and motivated Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz will give the Rangers better hope of winning the division, but these two must play a full season. The loss of CJ Wilson won’t hurt if Yu Darvish turns out to be the ace the Rangers are hoping he can be. He will be, and he’ll win AL Rookie of the Year. Overall, the Rangers will be a solid team, one of the league’s best, but they fall short in the end after battling the Angels all season. Texas beats Boston in the wildcard, but loses to Detroit in the ALDS.
Starkey: Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers
The Red Sox edge out the Yankees for one of the two wild cards. They're just a more well-rounded team -- the starting staff with Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz is simply better. Losing Andrew Bailey for a few months will hurt, but Alfredo Aceves and Mark Melancon should be able to shut the door until Bailey is back. Jacoby Ellsbury will likely regress, but Carl Crawford should bounce back in a big way. Boston's biggest offseason loss was Heidi Watney, who left NESN. How that will affect the team is unknown.
Texas should claim the second wild card spot. I'm fully expecting Yu Darvish to not only win Rookie of the Year honors in the American League, but contend for the American League Cy Young. The Rangers are not a perfect team, though. A lot could go wrong with the rotation as things stand. If Colby Lewis doesn't do a better job keeping the ball in the park, he's going to give up a lot of runs. Derek Holland needs to prove to me that he can be consistent, and Neftali Feliz will likely encounter some speed bumps this year, and has an innings limit. A lot of Texas' success this year could ride on the arms of Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman. Texas' lineup should be one of the league's best, and they just need to stay healthy on offense.
American League Rookie of the Year
Griffin: Yu Darvish
Stathas: Yu Darvish
Starkey: Yu Darvish
American League Cy Young
Griffin: Yu Darvish
Stathas: Jered Weaver
Starkey: Yu Darvish
American League MVP
Griffin: Miguel Cabrera
Funk: Miguel Cabrera
Stathas: Miguel Cabrera
Starkey: Evan Longoria
Griffin: Philadelphia Phillies
There is way to much kvetching over the loss of Ryan Howard, when Ryan Howard isn't even good. He's become the most overrated player in baseball by a decent margin, but that's good right now for Phillies fans (it's bad when his contract hurts the team in the off-season). Missing Utley, meanwhile, actually hurts, but with that rotation, a simply solid offense and defense is enough to top the East.
Funk: Philadelphia Phillies
I wanted to do something daring here, but there's just too much pitching. That's what wins and the Phils have it. After Philly, the race for the wild card is happening within this division. The Vice City Marlins made a lot of splashy signings, but Hanley Ramirez hit like .220 last year and I didn't like the Heath Bell signing one bit - I don't understand signing overweight closers in their mid-thirties with declining fastballs. Someone explain this to me please. So I'm gonna go with the Braves to take the first Wild Card. It's partially a sentimental pick for Chipper, but the rest of the very young team that should have made the playoffs was kept in tact. A year of progress later, I think they'll be better and march into the postseason behind a resurgent Jason Heyward. He's too good to suck again this year. As for the second, I think Washington is still a year away for me to make that ridiculous pick, so I'll say the Marlins' spending spree lets them sneak by the Giants despite their contentious division schedule.
Stathas: Miami Marlins
Even behind their abysmal color scheme, the Marlins emerge on top of the East after a season- long battle royale with Atlanta and Philadelphia. Hanley Ramirez bounces back after an awful 2011 and Jose Reyes feeds off that for a big year (if he stays healthy). Youngsters Giancarlo (formerly Mike) Stanton and Logan Morrison have big seasons too. Josh Johnson looks to have recovered from his 2011 shoulder injury. If he stays healthy, he puts together a Cy Young worthy season. I also think Carlos Zambrano finds himself again with the help of Ozzie Guillen (or they kill each other in a fiery lovers quarrel). Miami loses to Arizona in the NLDS.
Starkey: Philadelphia Phillies
I considered the Washington Nationals here, but they're just not quite better than the Phillies yet. Philadelphia's offense will likely struggle without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the lineup, so they'll need Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Jimmy Rollins to get off to hot starts. Philadelphia's staff is just too good, and once again boasts three Cy Young candidates in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Jon Papelbon should have an excellent year switching leagues, and it all adds up to yet another division title in Philly.
Griffin: Cincinnati Reds
I actually think this is the best division in the NL this season. The Reds have their work cut out for them, but I think they're simply the most talented team in the division. They have potential big rookie performers in Devin Mesoraco and Zack Cozart giving them a boost from 2011. Neither is on the sexy list of young studs, but both look prepared to contribute immediately, and that's all that matters in the short term. That said, this is also the most unpredictable race in baseball, I feel.
Houston Astros Cincinnati Reds
Houston Astros -- NOT! HA! That was fun. I like Cincinnati. They've made serious moves in getting Matt Latos, who's my semi-unreasonable out of the blue pick for the Cy Young, and overpaying Joey Votto to lock down the homegrown star. With another big year from Brandon Phillips, this team will narrowly edge out a still talented St. Louis Cardinals squad. PS: The Astros are total garbage.
Stathas: Milwaukee Brewers
The loss of Prince Fielder hurts the Crew, but Ryan Braun and the boys can still score plenty of runs in that ballpark. Braun has a big season and Rickie Weeks and Cory Hart contribute their usual numbers. Zack Greinke puts together a great season, and the rest of the staff will be serviceable enough. The Brewers benefit from a very weak division, especially because they get to play more games within their large division. Through attrition, they win the Central. But the Crew loses in the NLDS to Atlanta.
Starkey: St. Louis Cardinals
The defending World Series champions lost two franchise icons this offseason, as Albert Pujols signed with the Angels and Tony La Russa retired into the sunset. Still, the Cardinals are a very, very good baseball team and might be even better this year than last year. A full year of Rafael Furcal (or, however long he doesn't spend on the disabled list), plus Carlos Beltran certainly helps out the offense. If David Freese can stay healthy all year, he too should help make up for the loss of Pujols. Adam Wainwright is the team's best pitcher -- and he didn't throw a pitch last year. When Chris Carpenter returns from the disabled list, a top three of Wainwright, Carpenter and Jaime Garcia will be tough to beat.
Griffin: San Francisco Giants
The NL West looks awful on paper. Really, really awful. The Giants appear to be the most likely team to reach the mid-80s in wins, and that should be enough. The return of Buster Posey could be huge. Provided he can be healthy, he has the ability to be elite right this second, and serves essentially as a massive roster addition for a year ago. I don't fully believe the Diamondbacks were a fluke, but there is a large enough chance that I'm not picking them.
Funk: Arizona Diamondbacks
I can't lie. This is about 70% because I really don't like Tim Lincecum. I don't know why, but luckily I don't need to. Their lineup is filled with AAA hitters and 300 pounds of Pablo Sandoval. The Diamondbacks are young, and it'll be interesting to see how they handle success. If Ian Kennedy can recreate his success from last year, then this is a smart pick. That's really what it hinges on for them in my opinion -- pitching. Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp are really good for the Dodgers, but the rest of this division bores me.
Stathas; Arizona Diamondbacks
The young Diamondbacks stars build on their great 2011 season and take it a step further this year. Justin Upton challenges Matt Kemp for the NL MVP. But the D’backs will have their pitching staff to thank for winning the division. Ian Kennedy wins the Cy Young this year. Daniel Hudson and Trevor Cahill round out the young staff with solid seasons. Trevor Bauer is called up around early summer and pitches his way to a Rookie of the Year award. Arizona easily wins a weak division. They beat Miami in the NLDS, but lose to Atlanta in the NLCS.
Starkey: San Francisco Giants
The sun shines on Brian Sabean's ass once again. Tim Lincecum contends for yet another Cy Young, and Brandon Belt gets enough playing time to make an impact. The return of Buster Posey is quite significant as well, as is Brandon Crawford being the everyday shortstop. Just too much pitching in San Francisco, and just enough offense to return to October.
NL Wild Cards
Griffin: St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves
In a land with two wild cards, we have no last day drama. Both teams get in! And then they have to play each other. I'm fully prepared for one or both of these spots to belong to the Brewers or Diamondbacks, as well. The Pujols loss is not quite as big as people make it out to be, particularly if you believe the Cardinals were better than their actual record last season (I do) and Adam Wainwright will come back healthy.
Stathas: St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves
The Cardinals suffer from the loss of Pujols, but the return of Adam Wainwright levels out the wins/losses. Matt Holliday leads the bats as he bounces back from a somewhat subpar 2011. David Freese and Lance Berkman provide the rest of the run production. Wainwright leads a no-name staff, but makes a run at the Cy Young if he can stay healthy. The Cards fall short of the division, but snag a wildcard seed due to the weak division. They lose to Atlanta in the wildcard showdown.
The Braves bounce back from their horrific collapse this season in a big way. Jason Heyward recovers from his sophomore slump and assumes his role as the team’s future. Freddie Freeman reminds Atlanta fans that he is a part of that bright future as well by posting huge numbers. Dan Uggla and Brian McCann put together All-Star campaigns as well. Tommy Hanson stays healthy and anchors a solid pitching staff. Brandon Beachy has a stellar second season as well. Craig Kimbrel secures the back end of enough games for the Braves to secure a wildcard berth. After a tough season of trading blows with Philadelphia and Miami, the Braves beat St. Louis in the wildcard round, beat Milwauke in the NLDS, beat Arizona, in the NLCS, but lose to Detroit in the World Series.
Starkey: Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds
The Bravos will make the playoffs, somewhat atoning for last year's collapse -- but only if Tommy Hanson's shoulder holds up. If Hanson goes down, so will Atlanta's season. Jason Heyward will be one of the better players in the league, and Atlanta's offense with Heyward, Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla should be one of the league's very best.
Cincinnati lost Ryan Madson to start the year, but luckily, relievers are easily replaceable. Sean Marshall should prove to be a capable closer, and Aroldis Chapman will likely be dominant out of the bullpen -- so I'm not worried there. Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto is a nice 1-2 punch, and I believe Jay Bruce will take a major step forward and turn into an MVP candidate this year. The Reds will get to pad their win total this year, feasting on the lowly Cubs and Astros.
National League Rookie of the Year
Griffin: Zach Cozart
Stathas: Trevor Bauer
Starkey: Devin Mesoraco
National League Cy Young
Griffin: Clayton Kershaw
Stathas: Ian Kennedy
Starkey: Tim Lincecum
National League MVP
Griffin: Joey Votto
Funk: Jason Heyward
Stathas: Matt Kemp
Starkey: Troy Tulowitzki
Stathas: Detroit Tigers over Atlanta Braves
Funk: Texas Rangers over Atlanta Braves
I see the Braves getting hot at the right time and making out of the Wild Card in a weak NL. The Rangers are stacked, and since I'm from Dallas, and to a lesser degree because the Yankees are old and a 162 game season should wear on them and thin them out with injuries, the Rangers will eliminate the Yankees in a 6 game ALCS. In the series, the Rangers will overpower a less talented and less mature Braves team 4-1.
Griffin: Texas Rangers over Philadelphia Phillies
The Rangers and Yankees seem to clearly be the class of baseball to me -- which means one of them will fall hard -- and the Rangers have fewer good teams to deal with in the division. Boston, Detroit, Anaheim, Tampa, and Philadelphia all look very good, and then it's the rest of baseball. I'll go out, though, and say that at least one of Toronto, Cleveland, Kansas City, Minnesota, Washington, and Colorado will seriously contend.
The Rangers may be my World Series pick, but I know being the favorite doesn't mean being likely. I don't think I'm braced anymore for anything less than a pennant. This could be rough.
Starkey: St. Louis Cardinals over Tampa Bay Rays
The Cardinals will become baseball's first repeat champions since the Yankees won three in a row between '98 and '00. If the Cardinals stay healthy, they're the best team in the National League, and they should get a boost toward the end of the year from Shelby Miller -- either in the rotation or out of the bullpen.
Be sure to keep checking out SB Nation Dallas for Rangers coverage all year long, as well as Lone Star Ball.