Has it really only been five months since that insane World Series which the St. Louis Cardinals won over the Texas Rangers in seven games?
Other than a two-game sojourn in Tokyo last week between the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners that marked the official start of the season, the 2012 campaign really kicks into high gear this week for the 28 other teams.
In fact, the opening game on this side of the globe takes place tonight in Miami as the freshly-rebranded Miami Marlins open up their new stadium (and debut their home run sculpture that clearly was designed by someone under the influence of LSD) against the defending champion Cardinals.
Nearly 12 months ago in this column, I tried to predict what would happen over the course of last season. And as it turned out, my prediction that the Philadelphia Phillies would defeat the Boston Red Sox for the title was a bit off-target.
However, I did nail my prediction that young Tampa Bay Rays’ hurler Jeremy Hellickson would capture the American League rookie-of-the-year award, so score one for me at least.
This year I won’t be doing as many who wins what-type predictions (well, at least until the very end) and instead will make a few general sweeping statements on what I think will happen over the next seven months.
When MLB first announced the new wild-card format for this season, where the two best teams that aren’t division winners will have a one-game, winner-take-all affair to get into the post-season, I was a little bit apprehensive at first.
After such an amazing finish to the wild-card races in both leagues a year ago, I didn’t quite see the reasoning of trying to tweak something that didn’t need to be fixed.
However, for teams that always are solid but are out of the playoff picture come mid-August, such as the Toronto Blue Jays, this concept works out greatly in their favour and could result in long-suffering fans of certain franchises to have a reason to head to the ball park once fall hits.
Speaking of the Blue Jays, optimism is pretty high right now for Canada’s team, especially with the team having the best record in spring training by a wide margin.
Okay, yes, it is exhibition play and a hot start doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things most of the time. But with talented hitters such as Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista knocking balls around the park for fun, and pitchers like Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow continuing to develop, Toronto could be a team that makes some noise if the cards fall right.
However, I’m not fully convinced this team will be a legitimate playoff threat for at least a couple of more years, especially with the N.Y. Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays looking to be strong squads yet again.
On the other hand, that excited optimism for the new season cannot be shared for the other favourite team of the region, the Minnesota Twins. While the roster itself is still pretty solid, the top players in the lineup (Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau) both are coming off injuries that sidelined them for significant portions of last year.
And if you look at the rest of the AL Central, the defending division champion Detroit
Tigers look nearly untouchable after their acquisition of star slugger Prince Fielder while teams such as the Kansas City Royals finally are starting to have their top prospects work their way onto the big-league roster.
After last season’s disaster, the Twins have nowhere to go but up, although the post-season may be a few years away.
Being a sucker for bad teams, I’ve been waiting for nearly a decade for a squad to come along that was as bad as the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who went 43-119 and only were saved from being the worst team of all-time by winning five of their last six games.
In 2012, it seems that we might have a team that could be as bad in the Houston Astros.
At one time a perennial threat to win the NL Central pennant, the Astros have been sliding down to the bottom of the baseball world record-wise, and also have traded their more well-known players in Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, and Hunter Pence.
Other than perhaps Carlos Lee, the team is made up of role players and unproven youngsters, which seemingly is setting the stage for an extremely long and trying season.
And with the team moving over to the American League in 2013, it could be a very horrific time to be a baseball fan in Houston.
But enough dilly-dallying. It’s time for my prediction on who will in this year’s World Series.
I suppose the smart pick would be to take the usual suspects in the Yankees and the Phillies, or perhaps to go with the L.A. Angels after they signed Albert Pujols to a monster contract during the off-season.
However, how often do those best teams on paper actually win the World Series?
Therefore, I’ve elected to go a bit outside the box this year and I will predict that the Miami Marlins will win it all, defeating the Detroit Tigers in the process.
I know that you, fair reader, probably are thinking that I must have been dropped on my head in picking the Marlins to win it all, but hear me out on this one.
In their previous title-winning seasons of 1997 and 2003, the Marlins made a big splash (no pun intended) in the free-agent market by bringing in players such as Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, and Ivan Rodriguez, who all meshed well with the younger talents in the system at that time, which included Edgar Renteria, Josh Beckett, and Miguel Cabrera.
Fast-forward to this season, and the Marlins have opened up the purse strings once again by signing Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle, and also have brought in a high-profile manager in Ozzie Guillen.
Those new additions, along with established stalwarts like Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez, and a potential break-out starter in Giancarlo Stanton, should make the Marlins a team that could make noise—and potentially be a team that can win.
Or, they could fall flat on their face and have a massive fire sale come July.
However, judging by previous history, the Marlins still could blow everything up even if they do win the World Series, which still would be highly-entertaining.
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