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Opening Day: Your MLB 2012 Preview

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Where were you on September 28, 2011?

If you weren’t in front of your TV watching Major League Baseball, then you missed out on the single greatest day in the history of the game. Let me refresh your memory: The Braves and Cardinals were fighting for the Wild Card, Atlanta having blown a 10.5-game lead. The Cardinals coasted to a win over the Astros while the Braves lost an extra innings heartbreaker to the Phillies. Braves fans contemplated hurting themselves while Cards fans were joyous following an amazing September run.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox were in the midst of blowing a cushy 9-game September lead (probably, as Boston papers would suggest, because they drank too much beer in the clubhouse). Following a rain delay, Jonathan Papelbon stepped on the mound to close out the hapless Orioles. Entering the game, the Red Sox were 77-0 when carrying the lead into the 9th inning. The postseason seemed inevitable. Not quite — the Orioles strung together three hits to score the game-winning run and forced the Red Sox to watch the results of the Yankees/Rays game down in Tampa. Almost immediately following the conclusion of the Red Sox game, Evan Longoria of the Rays snuck in a home run just to the right of the left-field foul pole to send the Rays to the postseason. How did we get to this point? Well, the Yankees had just blown their first 7-run lead after the 7th inning in nearly a half-century. If that is not enough to whet your appetite for this coming season, then you need to get your head examined.

And, to think, that this single day overshadowed the 7-game World Series victory by the Cardinals over the Rangers is pretty amazing. Just for emphasis, Albert Pujols hit three home runs in Game 3 to match Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth for the most home runs in a single World Series game. And how can we forget that the Rangers were one strike away from a title on two separate occasions in Game 6, only to lose those leads and allow the game-winning home run to postseason hero, David Freese.

Opening Day officially begins today, but let’s not forget that the season officially started last week in Toyko, which about four people in America watched. With 29 teams looking for a fresh start, I give to you the 2nd Annual Opening Day Baseball Preview.

AL EAST

1) New York Yankees
2) Toronto Blue Jays
3) Boston Red Sox
4) Tampa Bay Rays
5) Baltimore Orioles

The Yankees had a very good offseason, acquiring Michael Pineda in a trade from the Seattle Mariners for catching project Jesus Montero. Montero could end up being stud for the Mariners, but the Yankees picked up the better long-term prospect if Pineda can stop eating his way out of baseball. The kid reported to camp at a whopping 260 pounds — I guess he picked up the same diet as CC Sabathia. The additions of Hiroki Kuroda and Raul Ibanez provide this team with some much-needed pitching depth and a very reliable bat for the DH slot. This team has 95 wins written all over it.

People, please do not sleep on the Toronto Blue Jays. This team can hit with the best of them, and their lineup is anchored by the career rejuvenation of Jose Bautista. With the additions of young bats Eric Thames and Brett Lawrie to their everyday lineup, this Jays team could lead the AL in runs scored. Toronto has always been a hitters’ haven, and Encarnacion, Rasmus, and Arencibia combine to make a pretty scary back end of the batting order. And with Sergio Santos slated to close out games, look for the Jays to improve upon their AL low 56.9% save percentage.

As for the rest of the division, the Red Sox already had bullpen issues following the departure of long-time closer, Jonathan Papelbon. To make their bullpen matters worse, Andrew Bailey has gone down with a thumb injury, forcing Alfredo Aceves into spotlight. Their offense could carry them through the summer if Crawford and Youkilis have comeback seasons, but their lack of pitching depth will come back to haunt them. The Rays have the front-line pitching to compete with anyone in baseball, but the rest of the division (except for the Orioles) has taken a step forward while they have regressed. Also, Carlos Pena could break the single-season strike out record as he threatens to hit below the Mendoza line. And the Orioles you ask? This team is littered with $80M worth of rubbish and could easily lose 100 games.

AL CENTRAL

1) Detroit Tigers
2) Kansas City Royals
3) Minnesota Twins
4) Cleveland Indians
5) Chicago White Sox

Justin Verlander pitched out of his mind last season, winning a whopping 24 games with a 0.92 WHIP. I doubt he can match those numbers again this season, but if he can win 19 games the Tigers are in great shape to repeat as AL Central champs. The addition of Prince Fielder will have a profound effect on their ability to score runs, which was something they struggled with during last year’s playoff run. But Fielder’s weight continues to be an issue, and sooner or later his body is going to break down, making his 10-year contract a burden. Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera can continue to take grounders off his face at 3B since Fielder’s jelly donut figure cannot be displayed anywhere other than first base. Let’s hope they can score more runs to make up for all the errors that you will see from them this season.

The Kansas City Royals have just enough hitting to overshadow their mediocre pitching staff. Bruce Chen had a surprising season to lead the staff with 12 victories, but this is Bruce Chen we are talking about here. There is a 0.5% chance that he matches that win total, but that still gives him a chance, right? On offense the Royals feature three former first round draft picks who can absolutely mash (Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, & Mike Moustakas). If these young guns can remain healthy you could see something special develop in KC which is desperate for a winner.

If the Twins play Doumit at catcher, Mauer at first, and Morneau at DH then they could reasonably expect to be .500. But I am sure Mauer will throw a hissy fit and continue to claim he is a catcher. Management should step in and slap Mauer in the face while mentioning that his $184M means he will play at any position that will allow him to play more than 100 games. The Indians have developed good young talent in Cabrera, Santana and Kipnis, but this team is a far cry away from the playoffs. They also rolled the dice giving away two prospects for Ubaldo Jiminez which will come back to bite them in the ass. And don’t forget about the aging White Sox roster which features tens of millions of dollars invested in Alex Rios and Adam Dunn. If you are a Sox fan, you have to just shake your head and hope that the rebuilding faze of this franchise does not last more than 4 years. How does Kenny Williams still have a job as the GM?

AL WEST

1) Los Angeles Angels
2) Texas Rangers
3) Seattle Mariners
4) Oakland A’s

The Angels unloaded their wallets on the best available free agent pitcher and hitter on the open marketplace. C.J. Wilson solidifies what appears to be best starting rotation in baseball, while Albert Pujols finally gives the Angels the right-handed power hitter that they have desperately needed. Albert’s fearsome bat provides Howie Kendrick with protection and you can bet he is prepared to pepper fast balls all over the ball park. Expect a career year from him. Morales is coming back from a horrific leg injury following his grand slam celebration in 2010. If he can come back to hit 25 home runs then the Angels will have no problems making the playoffs.

The two time defending AL champions will feel disrespected throughout the season because they will be overshadowed by the sexy signings by their division rivals. But one thing that will remain constant this season is the Rangers ability to hit the cover off the ball. Top to bottom their lineup is the best in the majors and features a 30 home run man in the 7-hole by the name of Nelson Cruz. The RF will suffer through some injuries, but 145 games from him will keep the Rangers on the heels of the Angels all season long. Everyone is goo goo gaga over Yu Darvish, but this is the big leagues and we have not seen a truly successful Japanese pitcher since Hideo Nomo. The predictions are calling for Darvish to hit 18 wins, but 14 wins are a lot more reasonable, sorry Nippon Ham Fighter fans.

The Mariners and Athletics are years (and I mean many) from contending out west, especially with the Angels and Rangers dominating the scene. The Mariners still have a top-5 pitcher in Felix Hernandez, but they should use him as trade bait to get back some major projects to help them in their rebuilding process. The A’s have a steady number one pitcher of their own in the resurgent Brandon McCarthy, but beyond that they have nothing following the trades of Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill. Their lineup also leaves a lot to be desired and they may not have a single hitter who hits more than 20 homeruns this season. Maybe they should call up some little leaguers. Until they are able to move to San Jose, this team is going nowhere, with or without Moneyball.

Click Page 2 below for the NL picture, postseason awards and the playoffs.

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