Parity appears in major league baseball
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 11:04
If you detest dynasties, that is, if you prefer your baseball summers to be fully homogenized, you’ve come to the right place. In fact, it would be wise to wire the brain for a new experience, as any one of six American League teams could win the pennant. The National League’s lottery features up to eight contenders.
We’ll stop short of likening this to the NFL - there still are too many have-nots, notably the Astros, A’s and Mets - but the era of Yankee dominance feels as if it happened a million years ago.
So who’s hot, who’s not, and who’s in between? Think Tigers and Phillies as the last teams standing in October. We’ll explain the rest in our 2012 prophecies, which are guaranteed to only burn brightly when taken to a match.
AL champion, Tigers: There’s just too much firepower to ignore. So much, in fact, we’re willing to overlook the obvious gaps in defense, especially since Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer generate so many strikeouts. The Tigers, who won the Central by 15 games last year, will wrap up things by late June, and thus have the easiest path to the postseason. The East and West will be war zones by comparison.
NL champion, Phillies: The potential career-ending injury to Chase Utley (knee) and lingering rehab for Ryan Howard (Achilles’ tendon) are noted, but the
Phillies’ rotation - coupled with Jonathan Papelbon as the new closer - makes it hard to envision anyone catching them. And that includes the Marlins, who’ll make for great theater throughout the summer and all the way into the second round of the playoffs.
AL MVP, Miguel Cabrera: We’ve got a strong hunch that Cabrera’s demons finally have fled, although he’ll have a monstrous time adjusting to third base. Barring a complete defensive breakdown, however, Cabrera will benefit from having Prince Fielder in the same lineup. Dark horse, Albert Pujols.
NL MVP, Matt Kemp: The Dodgers aren’t going anywhere this year (even though Don Mattingly is evolving into a fairly skilled leader). The franchise finally might free itself from the dark age, now that Frank McCourt is being replaced by Magic Johnson’s ownership group. In the meantime, Kemp keeps flourishing after nearly winning the triple crown in 2011. Don’t be surprised if he reaches the 40-40 plateau, all while playing center field. Dark horse: Jose Reyes.
AL Cy Young, Verlander: No reason to pick against the game’s best pitcher in the middle of his prime. Verlander is an opposing hitter’s nightmare, brandishing speed (95-mph average on the fastball), control (2.04 walks per nine innings) and efficiency (0.92 WHIP). Verlander isn’t even 30 yet, either. Dark horse: David Price.
NL Cy Young, Cole Hamels: It would’ve been just as logical to pick Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, but something tells us Hamels will find another gear with free agency looming in the winter. Think he isn’t motivated by the six-year, $127 million deal Matt Cain just pulled down? Dark horse: Roy Halladay.
AL Rookie of the Year, Matt Moore: The 22-year-old lefty appeared in just three games with the Rays last year, but scouts think he’ll be a Cy Young Award winner long before he’s a free agent in six years - or maybe before he’s arbitration-eligible in 2015. Moore has better stuff than Yu Darvish, and that’s saying something for a newcomer. Dark horse: Addison Reed.
NL Rookie of the Year, Bryce Harper: The Nationals’ 19-year-old right fielder is a long shot, but we’re giving him the nod because he’s playing for Davey Johnson - exactly the kind of manager needed for a brash, cocky kid with a huge ego. If Harper is going to destroy NL pitching, it’ll be because an ‘80s-era Mets manager knew better than to harness the kid. Dark horse: Devin Mesoraco.
AL Manager of the Year, Joe Maddon: Smart, engaging, creative - what’s not to like about a guy who absolutely gets it? Maddon has a rare ability to motivate his players with his intelligence, a rare trait on the major league level. Dark horse: Jim Leyland.
NL Manager of the Year, Ozzie Guillen: OK, our necks are stretched thin on this one, too. Ozzie either decomposes on the spot in, say, July, or else finds that dog-whistle octave to reach Hanley Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano, Miami’s dual rogues. We’re picking Door No. 2, which is why the Marlins will give the Phillies fits all season. Dark horse: Ron Roenicke.