The first week of baseball is underway and overreaction to one or two games has begun (you know who you are). It’s officially baseball season. In the last two weeks, I gave you my AL and NL predictions, so now it is time to tell you who I think will win the World Series and who will win the various awards given out at the end of the season.
If you didn’t read my previous two pieces, here is how I have things shaking out in each league.
AL East: New York Yankees (97-65)
AL Central: Detroit Tigers (99-63)
AL West: Los Angeles Angels (98-64)
Wild Card #1: Texas Rangers (95-67)
Wild Card #2: Tampa Bay Rays (91-71)
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)
NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers (88-74)
NL West: San Francisco Giants (91-71)
Wild Card #1: Arizona Diamondbacks (89-73)
Wild Card #2: Miami Marlins (86-76)
First, let’s start with the American League….
Wild Card Play-in Game: Rays @ Rangers
This will be a game of pitching versus hitting, and with the Rays having guys like James Shields, Matt Moore and David Price, I don’t see the Rangers scoring enough runs to knock off the Rays in a single game. However, if Yu Darvish can somehow become an ace by the end of the season, then with guys like Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, the Rangers could easily use the home field advantage to defeat the Rays.
Rays @ Tigers
What a series this would be. The Tigers will have the best offense in baseball with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder leading the charge, while the Rays have a rotation that can throw four potential aces at you. We know Justin Verlander will step up when he gets the ball from Jim Leyland, but will Doug Fister and company have enough in their arsenal to hold off the Rays? Will the Rays pitching be able to contain the Tigers bats? Normally people like to pick the team with the best pitching, since it has been shown time and time again that some of the best hitters go cold in the postseason. I’m not so sure you can say that about the Tigers since there are so many bats in that lineup that can hurt you. This is a series I would love to see and I really hope it happens. The Rays will have the best staff in the majors, so I have to give them a slight advantage.
Pick: Rays in 5
Yankees @ Angels
Is the American League loaded or what? In one series, you have the Rays and Tigers, while the other will have the Yankees and Angels. The Yankees are a perennial fixture in the postseason, while the Angels are coming off one of the best offseasons ever, acquiring Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. For the first time in a few years, the Yankees have a legitimate pitching staff. When was the last time you could say that the Yankees are going to be just fine with their young pitching stud starting the season on the disabled list? Even without Pineda, the Yankees can rely on C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes to lead their pitching. On the other side, you have an Angels offense that is drastically improved with Albert Pujols and Kendrys Morales. If Morales stays healthy, this should be one of the best lineups in baseball. This offense should be too much for the Yankees staff to handle. My worry with the Yankees is the age of their big hitters not named Robinson Cano and Mark Teixiera. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez. The Rays are very similar to the Angels in regards to the potential of an amazing pitching staff, while the Yankees don’t have the offensive firepower that they used to have in the early 2000s.
Pick: Angels in 4
Angels @ Tigers
On one side you have Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and C.J. Wilson, while on the other is a deadly combo of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander. Two of the most talked about teams in the offseason could meet for the right to represent the AL in the World Series. The Tigers explosive offense and lackluster pitching staff will take on a powerful Angels pitching staff, and a lineup with a bunch of question marks come playoff time. Will Morales be healthy? Will Mark Trumbo make a clean transition from 1st base to 3rd base? Is Vernon Wells the guy from 2010 or the scrub from 2011? There are lots of uncertainties in this lineup. This will be a hard fought series and it ultimately might come down to the bullpen. I don’t like the youth of the Angels bullpen with Jordan Walden as the closer, but I do love guys like Scott Downs, LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen as veterans (It is worth nothing that the Angels have the 3rd oldest roster in the majors). Jose Valverde was great last year for the Tigers, but it’s difficult to have consecutive great years if your name isn’t Mariano Rivera (since writing this, Valverde blew his first save opportunity of the season). In the end, the Angels just have too much pitching for the Tigers to handle.
Pick: Angels in 6
Now, let’s break down the National League…..
Wild Card Play-in Game: Marlins @ Diamondbacks
The Marlins went out this offseason and acquired guys like Jose Reyes and Heath Bell to not only help them during the regular season, but to also give their team a stud leadoff guy that is huge in the postseason and a reliable reliever that could get you five or six huge outs. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks could be back in the playoffs for the second straight season after an unbelievable 2011 campaign. The Marlins will need Josh Johnson to be healthy when entering the postseason, because if he’s not, then their staff will not be able to send a guy out to counter a guy like Ian Kennedy. This is an intriguing game between one team (Miami) that relies on its speed and the big hit and the other team (Arizona) that prides itself on the long ball. Call me crazy, but I think Ozzie Guillen can lead this squad to the NLCS if the cards align themselves.
Marlins @ Giants
I just mentioned that the Marlins could get into the NLCS if the cards align themselves, and this might be the exact matchup that the Marlins want in the first round. The Marlins avoid playing the Phillies because they are in the same division; so instead, the Marlins take on a team in the worst division in baseball. Don’t count out the Giants quite yet though. This might be one of the best and underrated pitching staffs in baseball. Everyone knows about Tim Lincecum and some know about Matt Cain, but Madison Bumgarner could be the best of the three. I would not want to face the Giants in a best-of-seven series. The Marlins clearly don’t have the staff to match up with the Giants, but they do have guys like Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton that could rip through a pitching staff. I expect the Giants pitchers to carry them, but in the end, I don’t think the Giants have enough offense to support its staff.
Pick: Marlins in 5
Brewers @ Phillies
At first glance, this looks like a very easy matchup to choose. The first thought from everyone is probably, “Halladay, Lee, Hamels. How can you pick against the Phillies?” I don’t disagree with the incredible talent of those three guys, but just like the Giants have an underrated pitching staff, the Brewers have a top three that can match up with anyone. Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum all have the capability to give you a line of 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K’s. That would be more than enough to win a game when you have John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez in the pen. There is no need to go in depth on the Phillies rotation, because we all know how good it is. My main concern is the health of the Phillies studs. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard spend more time on the DL than on the field, while Jimmy Rollins is a pulled hammy away from giving this lineup Hunter Pence and friends. The Brewers may have lost Prince Fielder, but Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan, Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez are all studs. In playoffs, it’s all about depth and that’s why the Brewers might pull off the shocking upset.
Pick: Brewers in 5
Marlins @ Brewers
Before I even started writing this article, I could have never told you that I would put the two teams with the worst records in the NLCS. But like I previously said, it is all about the matchups when it comes to the postseason. If the Marlins faced the Phillies, the Phillies would win, but the Phillies have to face a team built similarly to itself. Call me crazy, but I think this Brewers team is very similar to the Cardinals team that won the World Series last year. There is a solid lineup with a few big boppers, a very good pitching staff and a reliable bullpen. As for the Marlins, I can’t get past the fact that Reyes, Bonifacio, Ramirez, Stanton, Sanchez has to be one of the best top five that anyone will face when it comes to speed and power. I just don’t like the bottom of this lineup, and if Stanton and Ramirez go cold, this team is in trouble. In a matchup that is so close like this one, I will always give the edge to the team that has the better pitching. In this case, the Brewers are deeper than the Marlins, especially if Josh Johnson is hurt.
Pick: Brewers in 6
Angels vs. Brewers
It’s teacher versus pupil. Mike Scioscia versus Ron Roenicke. Roenicke spent ten seasons with the Angels (six as 3rd base coach and four as bench coach) before accepting his first MLB managerial job with the Brewers in 2010. If the Brewers do make it to the World Series, it’s a heck of an accomplishment for Roenicke. Unfortunately, he will have to look at Albert Pujols in the opposing dugout.
The Angels brought in Pujols to get them to the World Series and if my prediction comes true, it won’t take very long for the Angels to get back to the place they were last at in 2002. This would be a tremendous matchup because of the individual matchups and storylines. The Brewers and Angels have a very similar pitching staff, while both teams will rely heavily on getting their first two guys on base (Aybar, Kendrick for LAA and Morgan, Weeks for MIL) for the big guy in the #3 spot (Pujols for LAA and Braun for MIL). The lineups look similar and the bullpens are both average with a slight edge going to the Brewers. The storylines will be numerous, with the big ones being Scioscia vs. Roenicke, Pujols vs. Milwaukee once again and K-Rod facing his former team.
It’s hard to pick a winner here because of how well these two teams match up with each other. I have one concern with each of these teams. The Angels scare me because of their bullpen and we all know how important a bullpen is for a team. The Brewers major issue is what would happen if Braun somehow has his numbers dip and the steroids issue takes over the locker room. These are both concerns that shouldn’t be taken lightly. In the end, this one will be a tough one to choose, but I have to go with my gut.
Pick: Angels in 7
AL MVP: Albert Pujols 1B LAA
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander SP DET
AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Moore SP TB
AL Manager of the Year: Jim Leyland DET
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Kendrys Morales 1B/DH LAA
NL MVP: Justin Upton OF ARI
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay SP PHI
NL Rookie of the Year: Mat Gamel 1B MIL
NL Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke MIL
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Hanley Ramirez 3B MIA