How sweet it is. Baseball returns tonight, meaning we can all finally stop feigning interest in basketball and move on to our summer pastime. Games every day, new things to talk about every day (beneficial for the sports radio business). We’ve waited awhile, but baseball is finally here.
*notices Mariners and A’s are 1-1 this season*
Moving right along…
Our stateline teams have a very different array of storylines as the 2012 campaign gets underway. It’s pretty simple for the Brewers as they begin their defense of the NL Central, how does the void left by Prince Fielder get filled? The answer: it doesn’t. Not fully anyway. Aramis Ramirez playing in a dome should help combat the usual slow starts that plagued him on Chicago, and provide a decent security blanket for Ryan Braun. But he won’t make up the production that Fielder provided.
Frankly, they won’t need him to for the Brewers to be successful. The offense, up and down, is still one of the best in the National League. But it’s the pitching that will keep this team winning ballgames. The starting rotation is one of the best in baseball, and the back end of the bullpen can match-up with anyone’s. They may not score as many runs as last year, but they’ll be pretty darn good at not letting their opponent score many, either.
When it comes to the Cubs, let’s be real, this year is irrelevant. Next year is, too. The Theo Epstein reclamation project isn’t for now, but later. And what a refreshing line of thinking that is with the Northsiders. Season after season of hoping the overpaid elderly get the job done, the reset button is being pushed. And Cubs fans, who are notorious for blind optimism, finally have a reason to be optimistic. Just not yet.
This year will be that awkward transition from the Jim Hendry era to the Epstein era, with some youngin’s sprinkled in amongst the veterans hoping to stay healthy. For me, this season is all about the steps forward Starlin Castro makes. He’s the leader of 2014 Cubs being thrust into the leadership role of the 2012 Cubs. It’ll be a lot to take on with the losing ways that are coming, and while he was pretty good at withstanding the nonsense of last season, this year will test his mental resolve more than his ability to hit the ball.
A strange new era of baseball is beginning with the White Sox with Robin Ventura running the show. Ozzie is gone, taking Mark Buerhle with to Miami, leaving many a question to be asked on the South Side. But the questions are there because Kenny Williams is still there, bringing his lack of a direction back for another year. Unlike their brethren, what is the White Sox future? Are they rebuilding, shipping out Sergio Santos and Carlos Quentin in the offseason? Are they contending, signing John Danks to an extension and opting not to trade Gavin Floyd?
The Sox are in a position they don’t want to be in. Nearly every aspect of this team is a question mark. Dunn. Rios. De Aza. Viciedo. Beckham. Morel. *insert closer here*. Name one sure thing on this team aside from Alexei Ramirez and Paul Konerko? All of this could lead to a nightmare, albeit quieter, 2012 season for the White Sox.
As far as the rest of baseball, everyone will be focused on the East. The NL East will be a war, with the Phillies’ injuries allowing the Marlins, Nationals and Braves to make viable runs at them. A solid Yankees’ offseason brings them up against the always impressive Rays squad, with the Blue Jays and Red Sox not too far behind. But keep your eyes on the West, fans. The revamped, Pujols-led Angels are ready to challenge the Rangers, and the Diamondbacks ready to fend off the Giants and the suddenly rich Dodgers.
The AL Central shouldn’t be a contest, with Detroit swiping up Fielder seemingly out of the blue. But there’s always a team in this division that creeps up out of nowhere to make a run. It was Cleveland last season, and if only the Royals hadn’t suffered massive spring training injuries. Kansas City was poised to make a charge, but not anymore.
Thanks to the Crew and Cardinals losing pivotal parts of last year’s playoff teams, the Reds are back in the fold. It will always be a question of pitching with them, and with Mat Latos on board, it should be better. But early warning signs are creeping into the bullpen with Madson done before he could get going, and more uncertainty surrounding how to use Aroldis Chapman.
My 2012 predictions:
AL East: Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Orioles
AL Central: Tigers, Indians, Royals, Twins, White Sox
AL West: Angels, Rangers, Mariners, Athletics
AL Wild Cards: Rays, Rangers
NL East: Phillies, Marlins, Nationals, Braves, Mets
NL Central: Reds, Brewers, Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, Astros
NL West: Diamondbacks, Giants, Dodgers, Rockies, Padres
NL Wild Cards: Marlins, Brewers
World Series: Angels over Reds
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