As Spring Training begins for the 30 hopeful Major League Baseball teams, Braves Country Beat writers Chris Castle, Michael Lampert, and Scott Woodall have predicted which 8 teams they think will make the playoffs this year.
The Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, but that was largely overshadowed by Albert Pujols’ free agency. Pujols decided to leave St. Louis and head to Los Angeles to play first base for the Angels, but I think the Cardinals are still a good enough team to win a relatively weak NL Central. Hopefully Adam Wainwright can bounce back from Tommy John surgery to pitch beside Chris Carpenter and lead a rotation that’s pretty solid. The Cardinals still feature a lineup of Matt Holiday, Lance Berkman, and World Series hero David Freese. The loss of Pujols hurts, and I don’t see St. Louis back in the World Series, but they should beat out the Reds and Brewers to win the NL Central.
The Reds are by far the best and most complete team in the NL Central, With the Cardinals losing Albert Pujols and the Brewers losing Fielder to the Tigers and Braun getting a 50 game suspension, I think the Reds are the clear favorites to win this division. They gave up a ton of young talent to get Matt Latos but in the end this could be a great move for them come Postseason; With Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips these guys will dominate the NL Central. Reds win 95-99 games.
Went back and forth on this one between them and the defending division champion Brewers, but the Reds made huge improvements in the offseason trading for a top of the rotation ace in Mat Latos from San Diego and then stunningly signing Ryan Madson to a 1 year deal to close for them, replacing the always inconsistent Francisco Cordero. This lineup is loaded top to bottom with Phillips leading the way at the top with Votto and emerging stud Jay Bruce anchoring the middle of the order. With a rotation now projected to be Latos, Cueto, Leake, Arroyo, and now Aroldis Chapman (the Cuban Missile as I like to call him) moving from the pen to the rotation….the Reds are poised to return to the top after a disappointing 2011
The Phillies should win the NL East, but they could hit some rough spots playing in a very tough division. I love the Phillies starting rotation, but their bullpen is suspect, and they have a lineup that could be inconsistent. No body is quite sure when Ryan Howard will be back, or how long it will take him to get back in the swing of things. In my opinion, Philadelphia’s window is going to be closing in the next 2-3 years. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee is aging (though still pitching great), Cole Hamels could be a Free Agent after this season, and Chase Utley is 33 years old. If they want to win they need to do it now. The Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins could pose a big threat to Philadelphia, but in the end the Phillies win the division because of their strong starting staff.
This will be a very interesting division to watch, but I believe the Phillies with the best starting rotation will be the team to beat as they seek out their 6thstraight Divisional title. With Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels these guys can shut out the best hitters in the league on almost any given day. They Phillies will rely heavily on their pitching in 2012 with Ryan Howard possibly missing several months with a Ruptured Achilles and several of their hitters getting older and less productive. I look for this team to live and die by Chase Utley. Phillies win 94-98 games.
This is an aging team offensively with Rollins, Utley, and especially Howard who will miss the start of the season, but when you’ve got 3 Cy candidates in the same rotation….teams are gonna have a hard time scoring off you. Hamels is poised for a huge year as he will be a free agent at years end and while Halladay and Lee are pushing their mid 30’s, their still as dominant as you can get. Giving Papelbon $50 million over 4 years was an absolute joke, but he’s still one of the better closers in the game and is an adequate replacement to Madson, who left to sign a 1…yes 1 year deal with Cincinnati. This division might be the best in baseball right along side the AL East with 4 teams who have the talent to make the playoffs, but only 1 obviously can win the division and until the Braves, Marlins, and Nats can go out and show they can knock the Phils off the top spot, I’m sticking with Philly.
Chris-San Fransisco Giants
The Diamondbacks won this division last year, and I like their club a lot, but I see the Giants winning the West this year by a slim margin over Arizona. If San Fransisco’s can improve over last year, they have the best starting rotation in the division. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are two of the best pitchers in baseball, and the Giants have a solid bullpen. If the likes of Pablo Sandoval, Aubrey Huff, and Buster Posey can support the clubs pitching (in a very weak division), the Giants should hold off Arizona to win the division.
This was a difficult decision for me. This division will truly come down to the Diamondback and the Giants. I think the Giants have a slight edge in the pitching staff but not by much. Kennedy, Hudson and the addition of Cahill is going to match up very well against the Giants top starters. Where the Diamondbacks will win the West is in their offense; With Justin Upton, Chris Young and the powerful young Goldschmidt the Diamondbacks will outscore opponents on a regular basis. Diamondbacks win 92-95 games.
By far the easiest pick in the NL as far as picking a division winner. The defending NL West champs were also busy in the offseason trading for young stud Trevor Cahill from Oakland to solidify a solid top 3 of that rotation now with Ian Kennedy, coming off a banner year, and Daniel Hudson. Also re-signing Joe Saunders gives them the consistency that all rotations need. Justin Upton is poised to win the MVP this year in my opinion as he’s finally seem to come into his own as one of the best players in the game. They will hold off the Giants and Dodgers in this division as those two just don’t enough to match Arizona in my opinion: Giants are offensively challenged even with Buster Posey coming back and the Dodgers losing Kuroda to the Yankees is huge as reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw will now have to carry that rotation even more this year.
NL WildCard #1:
I struggled between picking the Braves or Reds here, finally choosing to go with Atlanta because I have faith that Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward are going to have big years. I should point out that we still don’t know if there are going to be two wildcards this year. If Heyward doesn’t bounce back this year this pick changes to the Reds for me; without Heyward producing in Atlanta’s lineup I don’t see a team that I like yet. The Braves have a lot of great young talent, but you never know how fast young players will adjust to the big leagues. The Braves rotation will also have to stay healthy; Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens have to pitch the way they did in the first half of last season, and hopefully Tim Hudson can come back from his back surgery sometime in May. I’ve said it a thousand times; there are a lot of questions surrounding this team, but I think if the young talent can play well this team will win the Wild Card.
The Atlanta Braves are stacked with young talent and plenty of veteran presence. As a fan of baseball just looking at this team it could be the most complete team in baseball as far as talent and depth. The Braves have 7 legitimate starting pitchers that could go at anytime Hudson, Jurrjens, Hanson, Beachy, Minor, Teheran and Delgado. They also could have the best bullpen in the National League with a bullpen with Venters, Medlen, Moylan and anchored by one of the best young closers in the game Craig Kimbrel. A lot of the Braves success will live and die by their offense as it did in 2011, They will need Uggla to produce all year instead of the 2nd half like in 2011. They will also be heavily depending on Heyward and whether he can turn it around and have a season like his rookie season. The Braves could honestly finish anywhere from 1st to 4th in this crazy division. Braves will win 92-96 games.
Yes, I’ll come out and say it….this is a biased pick but can we make one thing clear, this team had the 4th best record in all of baseball at the end of August before their unfortunate September swoon. It doesn’t take long to look around at this team and see talent….from the most consistent catcher since he came into the league in McCann to an emerging All Star at 1st base in Freddie Freeman, and there’s more. Acquired at the deadline last year, Michael Bourn now has the luxury of starting the year with them leading the way at the top of the lineup getting on in front of guys such as McCann, Freeman, Uggla, and yes the soon to be 40 year old Larry Wayne Jones Jr….or as we all like to call him (except Met fans of course) Chipper which should and hopefully lead to a lot of runs and as a result….more lopsided games. The questions do persist and it’s not hard to pick them out, both Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are coming back from late season injuries. JJ’s knee knocked him out and Tommy’s shoulder sidelined him the last 2 months which was a byproduct of losing the WC lead to the Cards, so we’ll know early on how effective those two are. Finally, after exploding on the scene in 2010 as a 20 year old and the number 1 prospect in all of baseball, Jason Heyward struggled in year 2 with the combination of a shoulder injury and mechanical adjustments in his swing because of said injury which screwed his swing up. However, the fact that’s he still only 22 years old and reportedly lost between 20-25 pounds in the offseason he’s feeling like the old Jason Heyward again with new hitting coach Greg Walker getting his swing back to his 2010 form…..ultimately he has to go show it on the field but the tools are there for Hey to be one of the best players in the game. Bottom line: this team has the talent to be one of the better teams in baseball, as long as they stay healthy and improve offensively….watch out
No one is sure yet whether there will be 2 wildcard playoff spots this year, but just in case..
It was tough for me to pick between the Reds and Atlanta Braves for the first wildcard spot, but I ultimately went with Atlanta because of I believe they have stronger starting pitching. But the Reds definitely deserve this spot, and they could also win the NL Central. They gave up a lot to get Mat Latos from San Diego, and they have one of the best power lineups in the league headed by Joey Votto. Their bullpen is questionable but the signing of Ryan Madson helps. The Marlins, Brewers, and Diamondbacks could also win this spot.
I wanted to have one team that could surprise everyone and who better than the Pittsburgh Pirates? This is by far a huge stretch for the Pirates to reach the postseason but what helps them is they just signed AJ Burnett who could be an Ace on their young staff and they also have tons of young talent on both sides of the ball. The Pirates are also in the easiest division in baseball for 2012, So anything could happen. Pirates will win 81-91 games.
The NL Central will come down between Cincy and the Brewers IMO; gave the slight edge to Cincy but Milwaukee still has too much talent to not make it in as well. Losing Prince Fielder to Detroit will hurt as well as the potential 50 game suspension to reigning MVP Ryan Braun but besides that…….it’s not hard to find talent with this bunch. They added Aramis Ramirez during the offseason to be their 3rd baseman, replacing the average Casey McGehee who’s now with Pittsburgh. While their punting away offense by replacing Yuniesky Betancourt with Alex Gonzalez at shortstop, essentially carbon copies on offense, Gonzalez gives them an upgrade defensively. With a solid bench and a bullpen with Axford and KRod, once Braun gets back if his suspension is upheld then look for the Brewers to be back playing in October
With Justin Verlander anchoring the Starting Rotation and Sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the lineup, the Tigers are the clear favorite to win the weak AL Central. Look for the Tigers to win anywhere from 92-96 games in 2012 and win the division by 10 games.
I mean honestly, if the Tigers don’t win this division by at least 10 games…..it’ll be because of themselves. This lineup is now potentially the best in baseball with the acquired Prince Fielder to go along with the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Austin Jackson, and Delmon Young. Losing Victor Martinez for the year will still be a huge blow but fans fears were quickly calmed with the acquisition of Fielder. Led by reigning Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander, this rotation has solid guys behind him in Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello that just need to be more consistent and this team has the potential to win 100 games.
This was a tough choice between the RedSox and the New York Yankees, but I ultimately decided to go with Boston because I like their lineup a lot better than New York’s. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are aging fast, and Mark Texeira has been inconsistent. But Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Koukilis show no signs of slowing down. David Ortiz should provide a lot of power and run production, and Carl Crawford should play better than he did last year in this his 2nd season. I have much less confidence in Boston’s rotation; Josh Beckett is the most inconsistent ace in baseball. Still, I see Boston winning this division by 2-4 games over New York.
2011 is definitely a year the Red Sox want to forget, but with new manager Bobby Valentine and completely healthy starters in their rotation, I see no reason this team could not win 97-100 games in 2012. The biggest obstacle for the Red Sox to overcome is the 7-20 September of 2011 and all the off the field drama of the players drinking in the clubhouse.
Michael-Tampa Bay Rays
Surging at the end of 2011 to win the Wild Card on the final day of the regular season, Tampa will once again be in a dogfight this year to win the vaunted AL East. Offensively, they have the opportunity to be one of the best in the league with the with now the projected full season of Desmond Jennings leading the way at the top with potential MVP candidate Evan Longoria anchoring the middle of the order with the reacquired Carlos Pena as well as Ben Zobrist, and BJ Upton. The rotation, which is already loaded with guys like David Price, James Shields, and Jeremy Hellickson adds a potential Cy Young candidate year in and year out with lefty Matt Moore who came up at the end of last year and dazzled against Texas in the division series. Now in his first full season, we’ll get to see how he continues to develop into what should be an ace for years to come. The only question is their bullpen and how effective they’ll be…..but they have the talent and IMO the best manager in the game in Joe Maddon which gives them the edge over the Yankees and the Red Sox to win this division.
Chris-Los Angeles Angels
This is going to be a great division battle between the Angels and defending AL Champion Texas Rangers. I think this will be a very close race between two teams that I could see winning the AL Pennant this year, but I ultimately decided to go with the Angels. The signing of Albert Pujols was huge, but LA also made a splash in their rotation when they signed former Rangers Ace CJ Wilson to lead their rotation alongside Jeff Weaver. I’ll take the Angels by 3 games over Texas.
Scott-Los Angeles Angels
I expect the AL West to be a extremely close divisional race between the Angels and Rangers possibly even going into the last few days of the season, but with the offseason moves picking up Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson I think the Angels will do enough to win the West. The Angels also have a healthy Kendrys Morales coming back as well as excellent young talent in Bourjos, Trout and Trumbo. Angels win 94-97 Games.
The Rangers will once again emerge from the AL West, but not without a fight from the Angels who hit the jackpot in the offseason by getting both Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson who pairs with Jared Weaver to form a solid 1-2 punch. Bottom line though, Texas has IMO the best lineup in baseball and it’s not even close. From Hamilton, Cruz, Beltre, Kinsler, and Andrus…this team should score runs left and right night in night out. The other big acquisition talked about this offseason landed in the Lone Star State in Japanese import Yu Darvish, who has the potential to be an ace as he was in Japan. He joins a solid staff with Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, and Neftali Feliz who is attempting to move to starter after closing the last 2 years in his career. If they can stay healthy which has been a problem for them the last few years, especially with Hamilton….they should win 100 games as well
Whoever doesn’t win the AL West should win this first wildcard over the team who doesn’t win the AL East. The Rangers could repeat as AL Champs, and will definitely make the playoffs barring mass injuries. A power lineup featuring Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, and Nelson Cruz will hurt pitchers all year, and All-Star closer Neftali Feliz moves to the rotation along with Japanese sensation Yu Darvish to form a solid rotation. This is the perfect example of a solid team top to bottom in baseball, and the Rangers will find themselves in the playoffs again.
The Texas Rangers will finish 2nd in the West behind the Angels but do not count the Rangers out. This team could very well shock the Angels and win their 3rd straight Divisional Crown. The Rangers lost one of their key pitchers in CJ Wilson but they signed one of the top pitchers on the market in Yu Darvish, If he lives up to his hype, he could very well be their Ace on the staff. With guys like Hamilton, Cruz, Napoli, Kinsler, Andrus & Moreland pitching is definitely something these guys don’t have to focus on, as they will be scoring runs in bunches. Rangers win 93-96 games.
Their coming off the worst collapse in baseball history, it’s been well documented by now. But with new blood at the managerial position in Bobby Valentine as well as a new GM….this team I believe will be more motivated than ever to put last September behind them. Their lineup when healthy is filthy…..Pedroia, Ellsbury, Ortiz, Gonzalez, Crawford, and Youkilis is as good as your gonna get. Their gonna score runs, question is can their starting pitchers get them deep into games and be effective from April to September. Jon Lester is a Cy Young candidate every year, Josh Beckett is a bulldog who you don’t want to face when he’s on, and Clay Buchholz who is coming off an injury is also very good when effective….so all the ingredients are there for them to win. Acquiring Andrew Bailey from Oakland to close for them should work out for them as he replaces the departed Jonathan Papelbon. This team should of made the playoffs and were penciled in by almost everyone to not only make the World Series, but win it as well last year….it didn’t happen and now we get to see who they respond from what was just a train wreck of a September
Chris-New York Yankees
As stated earlier in this post, I don’t really have a lot of faith in this aging Yankees team, but they’re the best option for this 6th and final AL playoff spot. I love the top of their rotation with CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, but I’m not sure about aging Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda looks great but he (like Nova) is only in his 2nd season. Their lineup is OK; Robinson Cano is on my list for possible MVP candidates, but I don’t see New York going far in the playoffs.
Scott-Tampa Bay Rays
This could possibly be my favorite team in the American League, They are stacked with excellent young talent on both sides of the ball. With David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson & Matt Moore you could argue that this could be the best rotation in the American League. The offense is the weakest part of the Rays, but with Superstar Evan Longoria anchoring 3rd base and the return of Carlos Pena, I expect the Rays to be extremely competitive this year. Rays win 89-95 games.
Michael-New York Yankees
Yes, I’ve got 3 teams from the AL East making the playoffs….that’s how loaded the division is. Bottom line, the Yankees had to improve their pitching in the offseason and boy did they make a splash when on the same day they not only signed Hiroki Kuroda who has been a steady guy for the Dodgers the last few years but acquired young flame throwing right hander Michael Pineda from Seattle for their top prospect Jesus Montero. Pineda burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2011 with a fastball consistently hitting between 95-98 plus a wicked slider, he struggled in the 2nd half especially against lefties which he’ll have to fix going into the softball field they call Yankee Stadium. But now with him and Kuroda serving as the 2nd and 3rd starters behind CC Sabathia, this staff now has some teeth to it, especially just recently trading AJ Burnett and some of his contract to Pittsburgh. While their lineup isn’t young by any means, it’s still pretty lethal with Cano, Teixeira, and Granderson leading the way….they should score enough runs and with the greatest closer in baseball history still going strong in Mariano Rivera, this team should still win 90-95 games.
Other teams to watch: Angels, Blue Jays
Contest: The first person to correctly answer the question below wins a free Braves T-Shirt. Answer the question in our comments section toward the bottom of the page.
Question: The Braves won the NL East in 2003..which team finished 2nd?
By Chris Castle, Scott Woodall, and Michael Lampert