2012 AL Postseason Predictions:
East Champion: New York Yankees
Central Champion: Detroit Tigers
West Champion: Los Angeles Angels
Wildcard: Tampa Bay Rays
Wildcard: Texas Rangers
The AL features two divisions that should be fairly tough to decide, and one that’s pretty easy. While I acknowledge that anything can happen in a baseball season, on paper the Detroit Tigers look to be the clear favorites in the AL Central. They have the best pitcher in baseball (Verlander) and one of the most potent offenses in the AL. With Prince Fielder at first and Miguel Cabrera at third they have a fantastic slugger who hits for plus AVG and a fantastic hitter who hits for plus power. While Fielder has 40 HR and 120 RBI potential, Cabrera’s numbers could be even better at 35 HR, 120 RBI and a 320+ AVG. Add to that offense All Star catcher Alex Avila, All Star shortstop Johnny Peralta, power threat Delmon Young in left, and some combo of Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge at second/DH, and this offense is stacked. And after Verlander, their starters are solid with Scherzer, Porcello and Fister and a bullpen with Jose Valverde closing things out. While Cleveland is going to make a run and the Royals think they may be finally on the upswing, no other Central team looks to be even remotely as frightening as the Tigers.
It’s a tougher story in the other two divisions. In the West you have two really good teams, who may both be able to make it into the playoffs with the added wildcard slot. I think both the Angels and Rangers are fantastic. But on paper the Angels look a little better. Their starting pitching is certainly better. And while Texas has a better bullpen, the Angels have the kind of starters that make a weak bullpen seem moot (though it never is). And while both have good offenses, the Angels don’t have enough spots to play all their talented players. That makes injury seem almost inconsequential on this club. The Rangers, on the other hand, have two stars in the their corner outfield positions that never can stay healthy, and while they have plenty of depth too, (Michael Young backs up the infield and DHs while they have 2 solid outfielders who can back up Hamilton and Cruz) the drop off is too huge. The Angels have no major injury risks, and their backups are good enough to start. The Rangers injury risks anchor their lineup hitting 3 and 4, and their backups are just very good complimentary players at this point. In a division where both teams will be good and have winning records, I have to think the Angels will win the West.
That brings us to the East where there are three good teams looking to win the division. Last year we all assumed the Red Sox would run away with the pennant. However injury and ineffectiveness kept them out of the playoffs. The Yankees had terrible starting pitching and won the division, and the Rays had no offense, but made a run at the end of the season and took the Wildcard. This season, the Yankees greatly improved their pitching and the Rays look to have added depth to their offense. And the Red Sox lost a pitcher for the year to Tommy John surgery. Things have turned around quite drastically for this division in an offseason filled with big name free agents staying away from the behemoths in the East. The Red Sox are still a good team, but need to stay injury free to really contend. They have three starters that can match up to the Yankees three starters, and both have strong offenses. But I think you have to give a nod to the Yankees offense as stronger as they are set everywhere and the Red Sox have question marks at short and in right. And neither team has the pitching to match up to the Rays. While the Rays have the best pitching of those three teams, their offense lacks the punch of the big boys. You could even argue that they have the worst offense in the division (the Blue Jays are certainly better with the bats....the Orioles…maybe). But they hope the additions of Luke Scott and Carlos Pena will give them some punch and a full season of Desmond Jennings will re-ignite them. And good pitching generally beats good hitting. For that reason I think the Rays will be able to beat the Red Sox and take second in this division. It’s tough, because each team is strong in different areas. But the two that ended up making the playoffs last season both improved on paper, and you can’t say that about the Sox. In addition, the Yankees offense was able to win the division over the Rays pitching. And while both teams addressed their weak areas, the Yankees made a much greater improvement to their pitching than the Rays did to their offense. For that reason I think the Yankees have the inside track on the division title.
Now we have the Wildcard discussion. This is the first season that all three teams from the AL East could make it into the playoffs. The addition of a second wildcard changes the playoff landscape drastically. A lot of people would just assume that all three strong East teams would be playing in October. But I think there is no way that all three teams can play each other that many times, and not suffer with their overall win/loss record. In addition, the introduction of a second strong team in the West should keep at least one of the Eastern teams out of the playoffs even with that second wildcard. I already picked the Rays to finish second in the division because I think strong pitchers beat strong hitters. I think that earns them the first Wildcard slot. If the Red Sox end up finishing third to both the Rays and Yankess, I don’t think their record can stand up to a team like the Texas Rangers, who only have one true rival in their division. No one else from the Central looks strong enough right now to overtake the Sox or the Rangers. And with the quality of play in the East vs. the West, I have to pick the Rangers to win the second wildcard.
And seeing this through to the World Series…I think the Rangers will beat the Rays in the one game Wildcard round. After that, the Rangers will move on to play the Tigers, while the Yankees will play the Angels. I think the Angels will get over their AL East Postseason jitters and knock out the Yankees, while the Tigers will dispatch the Rangers. That gives us an ALCS matchup of the Tigers vs. the Angels, which I think the Angels will be able to win. I’ll post my World Series winner in my NL Postseason post, which will be coming up next.