Since the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series, there has been a great bit of activity in the baseball world. Any idea of the National League being stronger than the American League has completely shifted with two franchise first basemen now playing elsewhere. Also with the expansion of playoff teams going from eight to 10, there are a few more teams thinking playoffs going into 2012 . Let’s see where they all rank.
1. Texas Rangers (96-66) – The Rangers made it to the World Series last season with the deepest lineup in baseball, a strong bullpen and no legit ace on their staff. Can Yu Darvish be what C.J. Wilson wasn’t?
2. New York Yankees (97-65) – Career years out of Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano got the Yankees regular season success but a suspect rotation got them a first round playoff exit. Add Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda and potentially Andy Pettitte and pitching will be the least of their worries this year.
3. Detroit Tigers (95-67) – The Tigers have arguably the AL’s best pitcher (2011 MVP and Cy Young) in Justin Verlander and hitter in Miguel Cabrera, and now they add Prince Fielder to hit behind him. But, unless a breakout year is ahead for Max Scherzer, the pitching will keep them behind the top two teams.
4. Boston Red Sox (90-72) – The catastrophic collapse for the Red Sox last season made many forget how good this team really was. They will once again score a ton of runs, but the health of their pitching staff over a full season is a big question mark.
5. Los Angeles Angels (86-76) – The Angels added the NL’s best player in Albert Pujols and their division rival Rangers’ best pitcher in Wilson, and as a result, have their fans thinking championship. In order for that to happen, Kendrys Morales must return to form to hit behind Pujols.
6. St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) – So, how can there be five AL teams better than everyone in the NL despite having the World Series champs? Subtract Pujols, add an injury-prone hitter (Carlos Beltran) in his place and the only place you can go is backwards. However, Adam Wainwright‘s return will be huge.
7. Philadelphia Phillies (102-60) – It’s hard to say anything bad when your pitching staff has names like Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and now Papelbon. Names not expected to play opening day include Howard, Utley and Polanco. I’m sure at some point you can add Rollins and Victorino to that list as well.
8. Tampa Bay Rays (91-71) – There are some great rotations around baseball but none are deeper than the Rays. And it only helps that they defend better than everyone as well. The problem is they can’t hit with the Yankees and Red Sox and really don’t have a strong bullpen.
9. Milwaukee Brewers (96-66) – The loss of Prince Fielder is huge for the Brewers. Aramis Ramirez is a solid replacement but not quite the same protection for Ryan Braun. Luckily, this team has a solid rotation and a lockdown bullpen.
10. Atlanta Braves (89-73) – The Braves have a young, deep rotation and the best bullpen in all of baseball. They just don’t hit enough. In order to challenge the Phillies, they need a bounce-back year from Martin Prado and for Jason Heyward to finally tap into his potential.
11. Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68) – The NL West won’t likely provide much competition for the Diamondbacks. Ian Kennedy leads a solid rotation that added Trevor Cahill in the offseason. Justin Upton is a star, but in order for this team to go anywhere, they need another hitter to emerge. Will that be Paul Goldschmidt?
12. Cincinnati Reds (79-83) – The biggest weakness last season for the Reds was pitching. The addition of Mat Latos will help but Ryan Madson‘s season-ending injury hurts. Somebody is going to have to step up in the pen if Joey Votto and company are to make any noise this in 2012.
13. Washington Nationals (80-81) – The additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, as well as having Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg healthy have Nationals fans excited. Bryce Harper isn’t likely to make an impact this season, but it won’t be necessary if Michael Morse repeats 2011 and Jayson Werth forgets 2011.
14. Florida Marlins (72-90) – The Marlins have a new stadium, new jerseys, a new manager and three big-time players added to the roster. Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell are reliable pitchers and Jose Reyes is seen by some as the best shortstop in baseball when healthy. But this team is going nowhere unless Ozzie Guillen gets Hanley Ramirez back on track.
15. San Francisco Giants (86-76) – The Giants don’t have one guy capable of hitting 25 home runs (not a Brandon Belt fan just yet) and won’t likely have one 100 RBI guy. They can, however, pitch with any team in baseball. That should keep them in the NL West division race for a little while, but that’s where things end.
16. Toronto Blue Jays (81-81) – I think no team in baseball was happier than the Blue Jays to hear MLB will be expanding the playoffs to 10 teams. Unfortunately, the Angels did what they did in the offseason. Jose Bautista should lead a pretty solid offense but I just don’t see the rotation pitching well enough.
17. Chicago White Sox (79-83) – The White Sox season depends solely on bounce-back years. There is no way Adam Dunn repeats 2011. Gordon Beckham, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy, on the other hand, I’m not so confident in. And all this sits on the shoulders of a first-year manager who has never coached grown men.
18. Cleveland Indians (80-82) – The Indians were a good story during the first half of last season. This season, I don’t see much happening. Their pitching isn’t bad, but their offense, once again, demands healthy seasons from Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore (already hurt). Good luck with that.
19. Kansas City Royals (71-91) – The youth movement of the Royals is starting to come alive on offense. Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon looked great last season. Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas are up next. I think this team will surprise many, but it lacks the pitching to make a major leap.
20. Los Angeles Dodgers (82-79) – The Dodgers have two franchise players in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. Unfortunately there isn’t much else on the team. At the least, it would be nice to see Andre Ethier‘s power come back from the dead.
22. Baltimore Orioles (69- 93) – The Orioles have an impressive lineup and no pitching. It will be yet another season where they ask for any combination of Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman to take a step forward for the rotation instead of backwards.
23. Colorado Rockies (73-89) – It doesn’t seem like that long ago when the Rockies were atop the NL West. The offense is still there, but the pitching has regressed. To go from Ubaldo Jimenez to Jeremy Guthrie (17 losses in 2011) as your ace will do that.
24. New York Mets (77-85) – This season will be all about Johan Santana and David Wright auditioning for other teams. Santana has been solid thus far in spring training, while Wright has yet to play. The Mets are hoping both men return to form so they can be sold to the highest bidder at the trade deadline.
25. Pittsburg Pirates (72-90) – The Pirates were the surprise of the NL last season. In the end, neither their offense or pitching was good enough to maintain success. Their two big acquisitions are A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard. Big names, but neither have been productive enough lately to be considered difference makers.
26. Seattle Mariners (67-95) – I have been waiting five years for someone to allow Ichiro Suzuki to hit third. I think it will bring the Mariners offense a little more success, but the lack of power and pitching depth on this team will be the death of them.
27. Chicago Cubs (71-91) – The rebuilding process has begun for the Cubs. I was amazed to see someone take Carlos Zambrano off their hands, but they should have traded Matt Garza as well. Now if they can just unload Alfonso Soriano.
28. San Diego Padres (73-89) – Even without Mat Latos, the Padres will still be able to pitch this season. Their hitting hopes sit on the shoulders of Carlos Quentin (out till May) and Yonder Alonso. If they can’t produce power, it might be time to bring those fences in a few feet.
29. Oakland Athletics (74-88) – The A’s pitching staff is respectable, but their offense will be the worst in the AL. Even if Yoenis Cespedes hits and Manny Ramirez gives them something post-suspension, it won’t be enough.
30. Houston Astros (56-106) – Quickly, name me one player off the Astros team? Most of you probably said Carlos Lee or maybe even Wandy Rodriguez. Outside of that, there really is no one. They have the league’s worst farm system and worst major league roster. It’s going to be a long year in Houston.