Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Opening Day!

Every year, I like to do my baseball predictions. As always, predictions are woefully random and inaccurate, but it is fun to do. I've been doing this online since 2006 or so - when I started blogging using Myspace. One year, I accurately predicted the World Series winner - 2009, when the Yankees won. Then again, I've predicted the Yankees to win the World Series every year that I've predicted. I might be a bit of a homer in that regards, because I'm going to do that again this year. Consistency is a virtue...

Last year was an amazing year for baseball. The entire month of September was compelling, culminating in an amazing, wonderful, ecstatic day at the end of the season that had four baseball games happening simultaneously to determine who was going to make the playoffs. Last year was the year for those, like me, that keep checking the score when my team is down by 10 runs, because you never know when a rally is in the works. The Braves and the Red Sox choked away huge leads in disturbingly small amounts of time and in improbable fashions.

From a Yankee standpoint, it was amazing to watch Curtis Granderson all year, returning to the MVP form in 2007. Brett Gardner, in left field, was absolutely artistic in his defensive prowess. He was probably the best defensive player on any position on any team. Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit in cinematic fashion, with a 5-5 day that included a home run for the magical number. I feel a strong connection with him as a fan - we are the same age (separated by two months), and his first year with the team was the first time I was really able to watch an entire season's worth of baseball. Mariano Rivera was again the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) in his quiet, dignified, brutally effective manner.

From a Pirates standpoint, it was also an amazing year. Up until July, the Bucs were in contention for first place in the division. They did it with a breakout season from Andrew McCutchen, lucky pitching, and a whole bunch of improbable wins. It was smoke and mirrors - the statistics showed that they wouldn't be able to sustain it for any length of time, but for a while, it seemed magical. Baseball is like that: every once in a while, every once in a blue moon, a team comes out of nowhere, gets Lady Luck to smile upon them, and rides that into the postseason. Unfortunately, their luck ran out in catastrophic fashion, after a 12-inning loss to the Braves caused by a badly, awfully, obviously blown call by the home plate umpire. Following that was an amazing and mystical collapse; they couldn't buy a win in the last two months of the season. Everyone stopped hitting, and everyone stopped pitching, and everyone stopped playing defense. It was two entirely different teams. They wound up with the record that they should have earned, but the way they got their was extraordinary.

This year, the Yankees look... like The Yankees. Barring catastrophic injuries, they're going to make the postseason again. They're really, really good, and they have the payroll to cover any mistakes made by management. Robinson Cano is going to contend for an MVP again. CC Sabathia is likely to throw a million innings again. A-Rod is going to get more back pages than anyone else, and he's probably going to say something stupid. The question marks on the team are the normal ones: how will age affect them? Can they stay healthy? Do they thrive, playing in baseball's toughest division, or do they get beaten down by the great Tampa and Boston and Toronto teams? Ultimately, I still think they'll win more than 95 games, and they're my perennial pick for world series champs.

This year, the Pirates look... like the Pirates. There are question marks about every non-McCutchen player. The rotation looks to be the best in a few years, but the top of the rotation includes the frequently-injured Erik Bedard and the already-injured and rarely effective AJ Burnett, who should thrive outside of the AL East and in a pitcher's park like PNC Park. First base is a giant black hole of suck, Third base is a strong concern, with Pedro Alvarez doing his best impression of a windmill. The corner outfielders hit with no power, and the shortstop and catcher are old and moving to PNC Park from good offensive ballparks. That said, there's the same ray of hope that they had at the beginning of last year: there's upside everywhere. There's upside in Jose Tabata in right field; he's still only 23, when it seems like he's been around forever. There's upside in Neil Walker at second base; plenty of upside in Pedro Alvarez, although it's not looking likely that it'll happen. There's upside in Andrew McCutchen, as weird as that sounds. There's upside in Joel Hanrahan, in the rest of the bullpen, in the other parts of the starting rotation. In the minor leagues, there is a whole bunch of really, really exciting ballplayers. Ultimately, I don't think they're going to win more than 72-73 games, but I think they might be more interesting than my favorite team.

So, for the record, here's my picks. Please feel free to laugh at me in September when I'm way, way, way, way off.

AL East:
Yankees
Tampa (Wild Card)
Boston
Toronto
Baltimore

AL Central:
Detroit
Kansas City
Cleveland
Chicago
Minnesota

AL West:
Texas
Anaheim (Wild Card 2)
Oakland
Seattle

NL East:
Philadelphia
Atlanta
Miami
Washington
New York

NL Central:
St. Louis
Cincinnati (Wild Card)
Milwaukee
Chicago
Pittsburgh
Houston

NL West:
Arizona
San Francisco (Wild Card 2)
Los Angeles
San Diego

World Series: Yankees over San Francisco
AL MVP: Robinson Cano; AL Cy Young: CC Sabathia; Rooke of the Year: Jesus Montero, Seattle

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