Category: MLB

Terrible Liar

Chicago Cubs super prospect first baseman Anthony Rizzo may soon be coming to the MLB level.  Rizzo has dominated at the AAA level with the Iowa Cubs, hitting .367 (.426 OBP and 1.173 OPS) with 22 home runs and 57 RBIs through 60 games.  Cubs fans have been clamoring for his promotion for months; however, there is one obstacle remaining:  Epstein’s lie.

Theo Epstein reportedly wants Rizzo to play 162 games at the AAA level; his reasoning was because the MLB experience is 162 games.  That is a load of bull and anybody with a brain knows it!  Rizzo played 93 games in AAA last season; therefore, he would need 69 games this season to reach that magical 162-game number.  What kind of fools does Epstein take the fans to be?  Everybody knows the MLB experience is not 93 games, an offseason, then 69 more games.  His 162-game rationale is nothing but a smokescreen which masks the real reason Rizzo has yet to be called up:  money/control.

Theo Epstein pretending that 2017-or-2018 free agency has nothing to do with the Cubs’ decision to keep Rizzo in AAA for now.

By waiting until after June 23 this season to call Rizzo up, the Cubs would maintain control to Rizzo’s rights and he would not become a free agent until 2018; if the Cubs had called him up prior to June 23 and kept him there, he would have become eligible for free agency in 2017.

Anybody with a brain knows Rizzo has been MLB-ready for a while now.  Rizzo is not only MLB-ready, but also gives the Cubs their best chances of winning baseball games.  Rizzo’s upside is also much greater than that of fellow first baseman and outfielder Bryan LaHair and also greater than that of the aging and overpaid outfielder Alfonso Soriano.

Remember:  the Cubs can maintain control of Rizzo for an additional year if they wait until after June 23 to call him up.  Coincidentally (or rather not), if Rizzo were to play every AAA game from this point forward, he would reach 162 career AAA games on Sunday, June 24 (one day after the June 23 Super-2 cutoff date for Rizzo).

Do not be fooled by Epstein’s lies.  General managers lie about their reasons for taking certain actions in dealing with Super-2 prospects.  They are cheapskates who wish to hold off as long as possible before having to pay their future all-stars the big bucks.  It is my sincere hope that one day, a Super-2 prospect will realize this and refuse to sign with said club in the future when he reaches free agency.  General managers are always alienating players in that manner, and it is despicable.

If I were a general manager of a Major League Baseball club, I would not care about Super-2 status whatsoever.  My sole concern would be doing my job to the best of my ability to build a winning organization.  If I felt a Super-2 prospect was MLB-ready and could handle the MLB experience, then I would call him up without hesitation and give him his shot.  If he proves to be an all-star, then he will be worth the big bucks and I would gladly pay him.  More importantly, I would establish that I am a general manager with whom players can negotiate in good faith.

Let us pretend we can gaze into a crystal ball and see the future.  In the future, Rizzo becomes a perennial gold-glover and silver-slugger.  He becomes a perennial MVP candidate and his name is uttered in the same sentence as Albert Pujols in the history of MLB greatness.  But he is not doing this in a Cubs uniform; rather, he is performing to MVP standards in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform because he chose to leave the Cubs when he became a free agent in 2018.  Rizzo felt jilted by how Epstein and the Cubs organization toyed around with him in 2012.  The Cubs’ World Series drought continues as Cubs fans everywhere curse the name of Epstein and how he alienated Rizzo.

If I were a general manager, that is not a future I would want to create for myself or the organization I am employed by.  By doing what he is doing, Epstein is running the risk of creating such a future for himself and the Cubs organization.  Let me ask you, Mr. Epstein:  was it worth it?  Was risking the future worth one extra year?  If Rizzo indeed becomes a superstar, then you better hope he has a very short memory.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

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Santana Pitches First No-hitter In Mets History

June 1, 2012:  history was made.  Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in New York Mets history in their 8-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.  What made this feat especially impressive is that the Cardinals are arguably the best hitting team in baseball today.  Santana threw a career-high 134 pitches (77 for strikes), struck out eight batters and walked five.

The 134 pitches and five walks are not no-hitter records.  Edwin Jackson threw 149 pitches in his no-hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks and walked eight (June 25, 2010).  A.J. Burnett walked nine batters and threw 129 pitches in his no-hitter for the Florida Marlins (May 12, 2001).

The no-hitter marked the second consecutive complete game shutout for Santana, who improved to 3-2 on the season with a 2.38 ERA.  In his previous start, Santana pitched a shutout against the San Diego Padres.  Like all no-hitters, Santana had help on the side.  His defense made spectacular plays when necessary; left fielder Mike Baxter robbed Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina of a hit in the seventh inning and injured himself in the process.  Santana was also fortunate not to have lost the no-hit bid in the sixth inning as Cardinals outfielder – and former Mets player – Carlos Beltran hit the foul line on the third base side.  Much of the ball was in foul territory; however, it was a fair ball for the imprint of the ball could be seen on the foul line chalk.

In his second consecutive shutout, Johan Santana threw a career-high 134 pitches in pitching the first no-hitter in New York Mets history.

Santana’s detractors will likely state that this no-hitter should be marked with an asterisk; however, it is not going to happen.  Get over it!  Missed calls DO happen in baseball.  Major League Baseball did not reverse any calls or place an asterisk on the game in which a blown call by the first base umpire cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game on June 2, 2010.

Those who own Santana in fantasy baseball leagues must be pleased with his efforts this season.  Santana last lost on April 17; since then, Santana is 3-0 in his last eight starts with a 2.06 ERA and two shutouts.  While Santana does not have the velocity he once had, he is clearly showing this season that he can still pitch at a high level.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Kendrick Keeps Cardinals Grounded

Kyle Kendrick led the Philadelphia Phillies to a 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals while having pitched his first career shutout.  The 4-0 victory marks the fourth consecutive victory for the Phillies, and their third consecutive victory over the Cardinals in this series.

If Charles Dickens wrote Kendrick’s bio, it would be entitled “A Tale of Two Pitchers” due to Kendrick’s lack of consistency.  When Kendrick pitches, you never know if you will see the erratic pitcher who struggles to find the strike zone and then manages to throw the fattest strikes you will ever see, or if you will see the ground ball wizard who throws strikes and minimizes his pitch count.  Lately, the Phillies have been seeing the latter form of Kendrick.

Kendrick needed only 94 pitches (70 strikes) to get through his first shutout.  Although the Cardinals are currently without Allen Craig and Lance Berkman, they are still a very formidable hitting team.  Kendrick kept the Cardinals offense grounded, as he amassed 14 ground balls and nine fly balls in his nine innings of work.  In addition to his first career shutout, Kendrick notched his first win of the 2012 season (1-4, 4.10 ERA).

In his last three starts, Kyle Kendrick is 1-1 with a 1.23 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and he has thrown strikes on 67% of his pitches.

Although Kendrick’s overall numbers are unimpressive on the 2012 season, he is pitching to his potential recently.  Through 22 innings in his last three starts, Kendrick is 1-1 with a 1.23 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 12 strikeouts and two walks.  In his past three starts, Kendrick has been a strike-throwing machine, having amassed 195 strikes and 96 balls (67% strike rate).  In those three starts, Kendrick amassed 34 ground balls and 19 fly balls for an impressive 1.79 GB/FB ratio!  Among Phillies starters, Kendrick’s 0.88 GB/FB ratio trails only Cliff Lee’s 1.27 this season.

As for the offense, Shane Victorino hit an RBI double to take the 1-0 lead in the 4th inning.  John Mayberry Jr. hit a two-run double in the sixth, followed by a Freddy Galvis RBI groundout (also in the sixth).

In my Phillies 2012 preview, I made a bold statement:  I said the Phillies offense would be better off without Howard.  While I cannot say I have been right thus far, I cannot say that I was wrong, either.  While the Phillies have lacked in run production at times this season, they are indeed a better hitting team than last season.  In the 2011 season, the Phillies ranked 16th in the MLB with a .253 AVG.  The Phillies currently rank fifth in the MLB with a .266 AVG.

In addition to the improved contact hitting, the Phillies are seeing a recent surge in their run production.  During their current four-game winning streak, the Phillies scored 23 runs (nearly six runs per game).  Over their past 11 games, the Phillies are 7-4 with 55 runs scored (five runs per game).  This recent surge in run production is especially impressive in spite of the continuance of Jimmy Rollins’ season-long slump (Rollins did miss several games recently as he was on paternity leave).

The Phillies will attempt to sweep the Cardinals in this four-game series as Roy Halladay (4-4, 3.58 ERA) pitches against Adam Wainwright (3-5, 4.78 ERA).

Notes

  • Although this was Kyle Kendrick’s first career shutout, it was his second career complete game
  • Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright pitched a complete game shutout in his latest outing against the San Diego Padres
  • Congratulations to Jimmy Rollins and his wife on the birth of their first child!

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Chapman Bringing The Heat

Remember a time when there was a lot of hype surrounding a Cuban defector named Aroldis Chapman?  When Chapman was reportedly being pursued by the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and a handful of other MLB teams, fans of those teams were filled with immense hope and joined in on the hype.  To everyone’s surprise, Chapman signed with the Cincinnati Reds and has not been as highly talked about since then.  Chapman’s performance thus far in the 2012 season should revive the hype that once surrounded him.

At present time, Chapman is owned in 84% of Yahoo fantasy baseball leagues, and I expect that number to rise soon.  I am one of his owners, as I drafted him in every league I participated in.  Although the Reds signed Ryan Madson to be their closer, I drafted Chapman with the hope that he may be in the starting rotation and become a 200-strikeout pitcher.  In the possible event that he never joins the rotation, I was still confident in his ability to register a high strikeout total.  With Chapman apparently being the new closer – for now – with the Reds, his fantasy value has nowhere to go but up.

At present time, Chapman has a 0.00 ERA this season, with the lone run against him being unearned.  In 22.1 innings, Chapman has 39 strikeouts, which amounts to a 15.72 K/9 rate.  Chapman has walked seven and surrendered seven hits (0.63 WHIP).  As dominating as Chapman has been, he did pitch his way out of several jams this season.  Among all pitchers with 20 or more innings pitched, Chapman’s .093 AVG against ranks second only to the Oakland Athletics’ Ryan Cook (.060 AVG against).

Among pitchers with 20 or more innings, Chapman’s .093 AVG against ranks second only to the Oakland Athletics’ Ryan Cook (.060)

After the strong start to his 2012 season, Chapman’s career numbers now sport a 2.42 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 85.2 innings (13.55 K/9 rate).  As he continues to develop his changeup and his slider, he can conceivably be a much-improved pitcher in the future!  Fantasy managers may have some recent concerns over Chapman, as he is reportedly being sued a large sum of money and was reportedly arrested for driving with a suspended license; however, if Chapman stays on the right path and does not do anything to jeopardize his career, he can become one of the more special pitchers in the game today (whether a starter or a reliever).

If you are in need of saves and/or strikeouts, you should add Chapman immediately in your leagues.  Chapman is currently owned in 84% of Yahoo leagues and that number will continue to rise.  If Chapman moves away from the bullpen and into the rotation at some point this season, you may have added a potential ace for free!  Those of you participating in keeper leagues should add him without hesitation if he is available on the waiver wire.  Regardless of whether or not you have any long-term plans for Chapman, somebody else may value him greatly in a keeper league.  As Chapman continues to grow as a pitcher, so will his potential trade value, especially in the keeper leagues.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Most Undervalued Player

Every year in fantasy baseball, there are players who were overlooked during the drafts and later became fantasy all-stars and helped some fortunate manager to the fantasy baseball championship.  It happens; that’s the beauty of fantasy baseball.  Everybody loves to find that hidden gem that outperforms his draft position (if he was even drafted) and leave the other managers stupefied.  Although there are always overlooked players, one player continues to be overlooked year after year:  Adam LaRoche.

LaRoche is not a household name in the fantasy baseball world and thus does not get drafted very highly.  LaRoche struggled mightily in 2011 with a labrum injury that ultimately ended his too-short season.  According to Yahoo fantasy baseball, LaRoche has an average draft position (ADP) of 217.5 for the 2012 season.  Write that number down on a piece of paper:  217.5!

From 2006 to 2010, LaRoche averaged 148 games played, 145 hits (37 doubles), 26 home runs and 89 RBIs per season while sporting a .273 AVG, .343 OBP and .836 OPS.  In the 2010 season, LaRoche hit .261 with 25 home runs and a career-best 100 RBIs; he also had 146 hits (37 doubles) to go along with his .320 OBP and .788 OPS.  While LaRoche’s 2010 totals and 2006 to 2010 averages are not Earth-shattering numbers, they are good numbers that are taken for granted.  From 2006 to 2010, LaRoche was a poor man’s Ryan Howard in fantasy baseball, despite never sniffing Howard’s draft position!

I do not have any data about their ADPs prior to the 2012 drafts; however, I participated in a fantasy league with some colleagues last season.  In that league, Howard was taken with the 13th overall pick; LaRoche went undrafted in a 190-picks draft.

As you can see from the numbers below, LaRoche was very similar to Howard in most offensive categories in those five seasons; LaRoche hit more doubles, struck out less frequently and walked less frequently while Howard hit more home runs and walked more frequently.

Adam LaRoche vs. Ryan Howard (2006-2010 season averages)

Due to his power numbers, Howard is certainly a more valuable fantasy hitter than LaRoche; however, LaRoche’s well-rounded numbers and extremely late ADP (217.5) are indications that a manager can use the earlier rounds to fulfill needs at other positions and nab LaRoche in the later rounds at a bargain.  While LaRoche’s 2006 to 2010 numbers do not sound entirely elite, they are stronger numbers than they are given credit for.

Let us compare LaRoche’s 2006 to 2010 averages to other players with 1B eligibility in the 2011 season.  In this season’s drafts, there were 32 players with 1B eligibility that had a better ADP than LaRoche.  Of those 32 players, 15 of them hit more than 26 home runs in 2011.  Of those 32, 14 of them had more than 89 RBIs and 21 of them hit higher than a .273 AVG.  However, among those 32 players, only eight of them had better numbers in all three categories in the 2011 season!

1B who surpassed .273 AVG, 26 HR and 89 RBIs in 2011
Berkman, Lance:  .301 AVG, 31 HR, 94 RBI
Cabrera, Miguel:  .344 AVG, 30 HR, 105 RBI
Fielder, Prince:  .299 AVG, 38 HR, 120 RBI
Gonzalez, Adrian:  .338 AVG, 27 HR, 117 RBI
Konerko, Paul:  .300 AVG, 31 HR, 105 RBI
Morse, Michael:  .303 AVG, 31 HR, 95 RBI
Pujols, Albert:  .299 AVG, 37 HR, 99 RBI
Votto, Joey:  .309 AVG, 29 HR, 103 RBI

Only eight first basemen in the 2011 season were able to topple what LaRoche averaged through a five-season span in AVG, home runs and RBIs.  While LaRoche’s perceived value will never match that of these aforementioned hitters, he is nevertheless in good company with his statistics.  Despite his productivity, LaRoche continues to be overlooked and undervalued in fantasy baseball.  Thus far, LaRoche seems to be on a strong recovery from his season-ending woes of 2011.  Through 37 games, LaRoche has a .313 AVG, .403 OBP and .962 OPS.  LaRoche currently has 42 hits (10 doubles), seven home runs, 31 RBIs, 23 walks and 36 strikeouts.

If LaRoche were to play every game for the rest of the season and maintain his current rate of production, he would finish with 179 hits (42 doubles), 29 home runs, 132 RBIs, 98 walks and 153 strikeouts in 158 games!  These MVP-caliber numbers are highly unlikely for LaRoche; however, it would be fair to possibly project a .280 AVG and 90-plus RBIs.  LaRoche averaged a .273 AVG, 26 home runs and 89 RBIs from 2006 to 2010 and it is possible that he may surpass those numbers this season.  It is too early in the season to say that he will break those numbers with any certainty, but it is also too early to write off the possibility.  I believe there is a very real possibility that LaRoche may have the best season of his MLB career this year.

From 2006 to 2010, LaRoche hit .273 and averaged 26 home runs and 89 RBIs

From 2006 to 2010, LaRoche had a .414 BB/K ratio; he currently has a .571 BB/K ratio.  From 2006 to 2010, LaRoche walked in 9.64% of his plate appearances; thus far in 2012, LaRoche has walked in 12.99% of his plate appearances.  From 2006 to 2010, LaRoche struck out in 23.27% of his plate appearances; consistent to his nature, LaRoche has struck out in 22.73% of his plate appearances this season.  Although it is still early in the season and great changes can occur at any time to a player’s statistics, LaRoche’s much-improved BB/K ratio and walk rate indicate that he may be a much more disciplined hitter now than he was earlier in his career.

Only time will tell if LaRoche will set new career-bests this season.  Nevertheless, this examination of his statistics from 2006 to 2010, his much-improved walk rate and his much-improved BB/K ratio indicate that he may be taking his game to a new level he never reached before.  LaRoche is indeed an undervalued fantasy first baseman.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Polanco Joins 2K Club

On May 14, 2012, Placido Polanco became baseball’s newest member of the 2,000-hit club.  Polanco’s 2,000th career hit was delivered in dramatic fashion, as he hit his first home run of the season – a two-run shot – in the late innings of the Philadelphia Phillies’ 5-1 victory against the Houston Astros. 

Polanco is the 269th player in MLB history to reach 2,000 career hits.  While Polanco is by no means a future Hall-of-Famer, collecting 2,000 hits is still an impressive feat and should not be scoffed at by baseball fans.  How difficult is it to collect 2,000 hits in a career?  If a player registered 13 seasons of 150 hits, he would have 1,950 hits (50 hits short).  In other words, a player would have to reach 150 hits in 13 of 14 MLB seasons to reach 2,000 career hits.  To put that in perspective:  Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs (3,010 career hits) only had 11 150-hit seasons in his 18-season career! 

Polanco is the 269th player in MLB history to reach 2,000 career hits.

To reach 2,000 hits, a player would have to be not only somewhat injury-free, but he must also be lucky enough to receive many at-bats in a season.  If a player receives 500 at-bats in a season, then he must finish the season with a .300 AVG (150 hits in 500 at-bats is a .300 AVG).  Hitting .300 for 13 out of 14 seasons is no small task.  If a player cannot remain that consistent, he will need to be fortunate enough to have more than 500 at-bats in some seasons and collect some 200-hit seasons.

Although Boggs only had 11 150-hit seasons in his 18-year MLB career, he was a dominant player at times.  In 1985, Boggs posted his best season with 161 games played and a staggering 240 hits (Boggs achieved 200-plus hits seven times in his career)!  For his career, Boggs averaged 200 hits and 609 at-bats per 162 games played.  In his 18 MLB seasons, Boggs appeared in less than 150 games 12 times.  In the 2011 MLB season, only 19 players had 600 or more at-bats; 15 of them had 609 or more at-bats.

If 2,000 hits – the equivalent of hitting .300 (150/500) for 13 out of 14 seasons – seems difficult enough, achieving a Boggs-like 3,000 hits is more tremendously difficult.  Achieving 3,000 hits would be the equivalent of 20 150-hit seasons (Boggs only played 18 seasons and achieved 150 hits 11 times).  Baseball fans should comprehend the great difficulty in achieving 2,000 hits, let alone 3,000 and appreciate the long-term productivity that players display in achieving either of those milestones.  Below is a list of some notable players who failed to reach the 2,000-hit club (currently active players are noted by *).

Jeff Conine:  1,982 hits (.285 AVG)
Fred Lynn:  1,960 hits (.283 AVG)
*Jason Giambi:  1,954 hits (.281 AVG)
*Carlos Beltran:  1,953 hits (.283 AVG)
Jim Edmonds:  1,949 hits (.284 AVG)
Steve Sax:  1,949 hits (.281 AVG)
Juan Gonzalez:  1,936 hits (.295 AVG)
Devon White:  1,934 hits (.263 AVG)
Gil Hodges:  1,921 hits (.273 AVG)
*David Ortiz:  1,807 hits (.285 AVG)
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson:  1,772 hits (.356 AVG)

Shoeless Joe’s final MLB season was in 1920 before the bans of the players involved in the “Black Sox” scandal went into effect.  At that time, Jackson was 32 years of age.  It is reasonable to assume he would have reached 2,000 hits with ease; however, 3,000 hits would have been difficult even for the great Shoeless Joe.  Several of my favorite players also failed to reach 2,000 career hits:  Sean Casey (.302 AVG) had 1,531 hits and John Kruk (.300 AVG) had 1,170 hits.

In my opinion, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.  Jones (.304 career AVG) currently has 2,642 hits.  Jones – who is 40 years of age – might have been approaching – if not already having surpassed – 3,000 hits at this time if it were not for the misfortune of missing many games over the years due to injuries.  For Jones to reach the heralded 3,000-hit milestone, he would certainly have to play beyond the 2012 MLB season.  The fact that Jones is this close to 3,000 hits is even more remarkable when one considers how many games he missed due to injuries over the years and how many walks he draws on a regular basis each season.

I hope my readers now have a greater understanding and appreciation for the difficulty involved in achieving milestones.  Even if a milestone like 2,000 hits is not a Hall-of-Fame benchmark, it is still an impressive feat that required long-term consistency and should be appreciated.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

MLB 2012 Predictions

The 2012 Major League Baseball season is upon us.  The season began with the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics playing in Japan; however, the rest of the MLB begins their season this week.  Displayed below are the DuggerSports 2012 MLB preseason power rankings for all clubs and 2012 season predictions.

Power Rankings
1.  Tampa Bay Rays
2.  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3.  Philadelphia Phillies
4.  New York Yankees
5.  Boston Red Sox
6.  Detroit Tigers
7.  Texas Rangers
8.  St. Louis Cardinals
9.  San Francisco Giants
10.  Cincinnati Reds
11.  Milwaukee Brewers
12.  Los Angeles Dodgers
13.  Atlanta Braves
14.  Miami Marlins
15.  Chicago White Sox
16.  Colorado Rockies
17.  Washington Nationals
18.  Arizona Diamondbacks
19.  Chicago Cubs
20.  Kansas City Royals
21.  Pittsburgh Pirates
22.  Cleveland Indians
23.  Toronto Blue Jays
24.  Minnesota Twins
25.  Seattle Mariners
26.  Baltimore Orioles
27.  New York Mets
28.  Houston Astros
29.  Oakland Athletics
30.  San Diego Padres

I believe the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals can be surprising teams this season.  While I do not believe either team will make the playoffs, I do believe they are capable of winning the AL Central if the heavily-favored Detroit Tigers slip up.  I also believe the Los Angeles Dodgers are a more talented team than they are given credit for and will contend for a playoff spot.

AL Division Predictions
West:  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Central:  Detroit Tigers
East:  Tampa Bay Rays
Wild Card:  New York Yankees
Wild Card:  Boston Red Sox

The AL will be a massive minefield during the postseason with three AL East teams.  For years, the Yankees/Rays/Sox were a trio of terror that struck fear into the hearts of other AL teams; the additional Wild Card spot may very well assure the AL East of seeing their top teams in the postseason.

NL Division Predictions
West:  San Francisco Giants
Central:  St. Louis Cardinals
East:  Philadelphia Phillies
Wild Card:  Cincinnati Reds
Wild Card:  Los Angeles Dodgers

The Reds have the pieces to be one of baseball’s highest-scoring teams but have lacked in pitching for years.  This may be the year the Reds’ pitching staff turns them into contenders.  Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo provide the Reds with a solid trio of starting pitchers.  Arroyo is not an overpowering pitcher; however, he consistently pitches 200 innings and is a veteran.  Latos and Cueto have the ability to be all-star pitchers and should give the Reds the chance to compete in games.

Aroldis Chapman will begin the season in the bullpen; however, he is expected to be slotted into the rotation when several relievers return from the disabled list.  Mike Leake is an underrated pitcher who can provide the Reds with solid pitching.  Due to Chapman’s move to the bullpen, Homer Bailey still has a job in the rotation (for now).  This season may be Bailey’s last chance to stay in Cincinnati’s starting rotation.

I believe the Dodgers will make the playoffs this season as Matt Kemp puts up another MVP-caliber season.  Andre Ethier will also have a great season and help Kemp form one of baseball’s deadliest one-two punches.  Young shortstop Dee Gordon will play a large role in the Dodgers’ success this season as he swipes bases.  I believe Gordon can hit .290 and steal at least 40 bases (perhaps even 60).  Clayton Kershaw will be a Cy Young Award candidate again.

AL Awards Predictions
MVP:  Albert Pujols (Angels)
Cy Young:  Jered Weaver (Angels)
Rookie of the Year:  Lorenzo Cain (Royals)

Cain will begin the season batting 2nd in the Royals lineup

In 128 games with the Omaha Storm Chasers (AAA) of the Pacific Coast League, Cain hit .312 and reached on base at a .380 clip.  Cain tallied 16 home runs and 81 RBIs with 16 steals and an OPS of .877 last season.

Cain is a good outfielder with a strong arm and blazing speed who will bat second in the Royals’ lineup to start the 2012 MLB season.  I expect Cain to put up good numbers and score plenty of runs while the likes of Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler drive him in.

If the Tigers fail to reach expectations, the Royals could be one of those sleeper teams that sneak in and steal the division crown.

NL Awards Predictions
MVP:  Joey Votto (Reds)
Cy Young:  Roy Halladay (Phillies)
Rookie of the Year:  Dee Gordon (Dodgers)

Predicting the MVP in the NL is a tough task for this season.  I believe the MVP vote may come down to Matt Kemp (Dodgers) and Votto (Reds).  Both will lead their teams to the postseason and collect MVP votes.

World Series
Philadelphia Phillies defeat Tampa Bay Rays

Despite the injuries the Phillies have to start the season (Ryan Howard, Michael Martinez, Jose Contreras and Micheal Stutes on DL) and concerns with Chase Utley’s health, the Phillies have a super trio of pitchers in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.  All three are capable of winning the Cy Young.

I believe the Phillies’ offense is being underestimated by many baseball pundits.  With or without Howard, the Phillies are still a force in the NL.  While there are a handful of teams in the NL with tremendous upside, I believe only the Phillies and Cardinals can legitimately be considered as favorites to reach the World Series in the NL.  The AL will be an explosive minefield in the postseason with the Yankees, Rays, Angels, Red Sox and Tigers beating each other up.  The AL playoffs will be full of teams with very high expectations and huge letdowns for the fan bases of the unfortunate teams to lose.

The additional wild card spots in the 2012 MLB playoff format will create very exciting postseason baseball.  I wish all you fans the best of luck with your teams and I hope you enjoy the season!

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.