Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 11:01 AM
Go back the past 10 years and you'll recall that Major-League Baseball has had eight different champions during this time span - the Boston Red Sox (see 2004 and '07) and the now-defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals (2006 and 2011) are the only teams to have won it all twice since 2002 and we've had some franchises literally come out of the woods to win their titles including the 2005 Chicago White Sox and the 2010 San Francisco Giants (among others).
So, the $64,000 question entering this 2012 season that was jump-started with a pair of games in Japan last week (please don't ask why!) is will there be new blood winning it all this October/November in MLB?
And who will be the biggest surprise teams out there?
Just remember that last year the Arizona Diamondbacks were "supposed"to win right around 72 or 73 games and instead finished 94-68 while copping the National League West while the flip side said the Minnesota Twins were "supposed"to win around 87 games and instead flopped face first with a 63-99 record in the American League Central.
We'll delve into our Jim Sez crystal ball in just a moment but first this key reminder:
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THE MLB 2012 SEASON
Okay, so you know the deal.
Baseball has added an extra wild-card playoff team in both the National and American Leagues this year and so that means the two wild card teams in each league will stage a one-game playoff before advancing into the divisional round which has its own little twist just for this year with the lower-seeded teams getting the first two games at home and than the higher-seeded teams getting Games #3, #4 and #5 (if necessary) at home - hey, nobody's asking us but we think MLB is setting itself up for a disaster should that lower seed win the first two games and than only have to win once at the higher seed.
Folks can fret about that come October ... right now here's our quick-hitter division-by-division comments:
EAST - The Philadelphia Phillies won 102 games last year before imploding in the NLDS against St. Louis and now both 1B Ryan Howard (Achilles) and 2B Chase Utley (knees) are hurting worse than the team is letting on and so maybe Atlanta can make a push at the top spot providing that young bullpen stays in one piece. Count us among the folks who believe that Braves closer Craig Kimbrel is the most important figure in this division - yes, over Phillies RHP Roy Halladay, LHP Cliff Lee and new Florida Marlins SS Jose Reyes.
The Fish have a brand-new ballpark and their over/under wins total just jumped to 86 in the past 24 hours but is there enough high-quality starting pitching to make this a playoff team? We say nay!
Division Winner - Philadelphia
Wild Card(s) - None
CENTRAL - Will anyone really miss the Houston Astros when they pack their bags and head to the American League next year? Don't answer that!
In this final year of a six-team division all eyes are on the Cardinals who seem so different now without 1B Albert Pujols and manager Tony LaRussa except you don't want to rest against this lineup that still features LF Matt Holliday, OF Carlos Beltran and World Series MVP 3B David Freese - the Redbirds should slug their way to a 90-win campaign and edge out the Prince Fielder-less Milwaukee Brewers whose dynamic one-two punch of starters RHP Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo should win close to 40 games between 'em.
Division Winner - St. Louis
Wild Card(s) - Milwaukee
WEST - The truth of the matter is we could probably find five legit Cy Young candidates coming out of this NL West including recent winners Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and two-time winner Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants but odds are neither one of these clubs will hit enough and so look for the numero uno surprise team in the senior circuit to be the Colorado Rockies who have boosted the lineup surrounding keys OF Carlos Gonzalez and SS Troy Tulowitzki and have 49-year-old LHP Jamie Moyer ready/willing/able to give 'em 150 innings.
If the defending division champion Diamondbacks continue to get that great up-the-middle defense than they'll grab hold of a post-season berth (although our guess is SF will edge out the D-Backs by a game or two) and don't be shocked if Arizona's Justin Upton is in the thick of the MVP race all year long.
Division Winner - Colorado
Wild Card (s) - San Francisco
EAST - No doubt the New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox rivalry will be further spiced up by new Bosox manager Bobby Valentine but does the former ESPN analyst have real faith in his 3-4-5 pitchers in this rotation that stars LHP Jon Lester and RHP Josh Beckett ... probably not!
If the Yankees lineup stays whole - 3B Alex Rodriguez must play more than 99 games this year and RF Nick Swisher needs to be a 100-RBI guy - than Joe Girardi's club probably wins this AL East by a minimum of six games. The real drama comes when LHP Andy Pettitte returns sometime in May (or early June) because he could stabilize a rotation that isn't quite as strong as the Yanks envisioned.
P.S., some late spring training nagging injuries could hurt Tampa Bay out of the starting gate but it says here LHP's David Price and Matt Moore win close to 40 games between 'em.
The surprise team here is Toronto as the Blue Jays - who finished ½00 last year - will get big years from kid starters Kyle Drabek and Joel Carreno.
Division Winner - New York Yankees
Wild Card(s) - Tampa Bay, Toronto
CENTRAL - The aforementioned Fielder is now in the AL Central while long-time Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is gonzo (to Miami) and we're wondering if the Detroit Tigers will now clinch this division before Labor Day. No doubt RHP Justin Verlander - last year's AL Cy Young and MVP - can't be that awesome again but who's to say RHP Rick Porcello can't be a 17- or 18-game winner here?
The chase for second place should be fierce with Cleveland and ever-improving Kansas City on the up-tick and look for Tribe OF Shin-Soo Choo to produce biggie stats while KayCee OF Alex Gordon might wind up being the "toughest out"in this division save for Fielder and fellow Tigers star Miguel Cabrera.
Division Winner - Detroit
Wild Card(s) - None
WEST - Sorry to say that the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners split a pair of games in Tokyo last week and hardly anyone noticed ... but folks will sit up and take notice of this 2012 Los Angeles Angels squad starring 1B Pujols (we've seen his over/under home runs total be 35 or 36, in case you're interested in "biting") and new hurler C.J. Wilson.
However, could the Halos be getting too much "pub"considering division rival Texas is coming off back-to-back World Series appearances? The Rangers lost Wilson via free agency but signed import RHP Yu Darvish - we'll call that a wash - but that Texas bullpen that melted down in last year's Fall Classic should have folks in the Lone Star State worried.
Division Winner - Los Angels Angels
Wild Card (s) -- None
2012 World Series - Tampa Bay over Colorado in 7 games
HAIL AND FAREWELL, KENTUCKY WILDCATS
The Kentucky Wildcats' 2011-12 team may have been a "one-and-done"squad starring Player of the Year Anthony Davis but give the NCAA hoop champions all the credit in the world. They entered this year's NCAA Tournament as the clear favorites to win it all and squashed their six tourney foes by a per-game average of 11.8 points a game. Not bad!
John Calipari's first-ever national title may have featured a whole slew of future NBA first-round draft picks but the fact of the matter is this team did it with defense - as Calipari told anyone willing to listen these last three-plus weeks - and note that only one team (see Indiana) scored more than 71 points in a "Big Dance"game against Kentucky and that decision to run-and-gun merely proved the 'Cats could play and win at any speed.
In Monday's 67-59 national championship game win in New Orleans, there was Kentucky holding albeit offensively-challenged Kansas to 35½ percent shooting from the floor and forcing a slew of turnovers/unforced errors/altered shots - typical Kentucky for this year and this tourney.
Well, sure as the sun rises in the morning both Davis (16 rebounds with 6 blocked shots against Kansas) and sidekick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (a quiet 11 points in the title game) will declare for the NBA but word has it that "Coach Cal"already has six or seven future pros coming onto next year's Wildcats roster and so who says Kentucky won't repeat?
It could well be that Louisville gets some #1 preseason votes next year, but Kentucky's the king till further notice.
Note: One final bookkeeping item, NCAA Tournament Betting Favorites finished at 31-33-2 with one pick 'em game ... just thought you'd like to know that!
KENTUCKY'S NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP RUN IN THE TOURNAMENT
|3-15||Kentucky||-26½||Western Kentucky||Kentucky 81-66|
|3-17||Kentucky||-12||Iowa State||Kentucky 87-71|
NOTE: Get more MLB and NBA Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.