Wait a minute, you're saying - dude - are you flashing back to 2010? Who'd blame me, right? Yet no - I'm confident that this semi-offbeat pick has the weight of all the scientific research that I put behind it - you know, reading three preview magazines this past week and being on the internet a lot. (And it's not that offbeat, since Sports Illustrated has the Angels beating the Giants in the series; I just think it'll be Texas doing the drubbing instead). I also have tried to buck the conventional wisdom a bit and shoot holes in some common favorites - like last year's hot-at-the-right-time St. Louis Cardinals; the regressing-to-the-mean Arizona Diamondbacks (they always do after a good year); the not-good-enough Cincinnati Reds; and (yes!) the finally too-old, too-slow New York Yankees, who will finish a disgraceful third. Die, Yankees, die!
Funny, too: I wasn't all that off last year in my picks. Remember one or two days before the end of the season, when Boston and Atlanta were about to make the playoffs? I'm sure you were recalling my Boston vs. Atlanta World Series pick from earlier in the year, and mentally congratulating me for my prescience (and thanking me for my belief in the Milwaukee Brewers to boot). Well, baseball's a funny game, isn't it? Both brought simply epic collapses upon themselves, making for the single best night of baseball in decades. This was followed up a couple of weeks later by a World Series Game 6 that might seriously be the single greatest game I've ever watched, up there with the Aaron Boone game, the Joe Morgan '82 walkoff grand slam against the Dodgers (I was at that game) and of course every moment of the Giants' 2010 World Series victory. I can't imagine that this year can have the drama of last year, can it?
Well, I think it'll still be pretty wild. They've now got this one-game, play-in wild card going, which I guess I'm more or less OK with. So that's two more teams in the playoffs, albeit only for a game each. I wish I could explain my reasoning for each and every one of the placements here, but since I can't/won't, let me provide a few statements of soon-to-be-fact:
- Some teams are simply better than people give them credit for. Fact is, Boston and Atlanta each missed the playoffs by about five minutes last year. That won't happen this time, and I've picked each to be my bonus wild card team.
- Texas has a better top-to-bottom lineup than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, hands down, and the pitching staff rates a B+ to Anaheim's A-. Texas will finally win that World Series they've been scratching for the past two years, then start dismantling their team - but right now they're easily the strongest club in baseball and I expect them to steamroll their way to the playoffs.
- Philadephia will just barely win their division. Utley, Howard, Victorino, Polanco and Ruiz will all either suffer from injury or regression, and only Hunter Pence will keep the lineup bangin'. One of their big 3 pitchers will have a rough year as well. I'm betting on Cliff Lee. They'll make the NL Championship, but they are beatable.
- Milwaukee will not lose a step post-Prince Fielder, and their pitching will continue to blossom. I don't like the trendy Reds pick and I don't like the Cardinals without Pujols.
- My second favorite team is the Kansas City Royals, and I think they'll be blast to watch this year. They will likely only finish .500, but in Kansas City that's a major accomplishment. Next year in this space I'll be pencilling them in for their first division championship since 1985.
- Finally, I think there will be an epic San Francisco Giants/Los Angeles Dodgers battle down to the wire the last week of the season for the NL West, as it should be. The Dodgers are nobody's pick this year, but I think they are going to be fantastic - just 1 to 2 games less fantastic than the Giants, who'll score at least 150 more runs than they did last year and will finally be on the right end of multiple 2-1 and 1-0 games, as opposed to last year's godawful offensive year. My guys this year are Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval and (yes!) Melky Cabrera - to say nothing of pitchers Matt (contract year) Cain, Tim Lincicum and Madison Bumgarner. One of those guys is going to win 20 games, and two are going to win at least 15.
- At the end of it all, the Texas Rangers will earn their first title and my Giants will feel the harsh and bitter sting of the loser. But that's OK. Don't forget, we/they won the World Series in 2010.
National League East
1. Philadelphia Philles
2. Miami Marlins (wild card)
3. Atlanta Braves (wild card #2)
4. Washington Nationals
5. New York Mets
National League Central
1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Houston Astros
National League West
1. San Francisco Giants
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. San Diego Padres
5. Colorado Rockies
American League East
1. Tampa Bay Rays
2. Boston Red Sox (wild card)
3. New York Yankees
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles
American League Central
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Minnesota Twins
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Cleveland Indians
American League West
1. Texas Rangers
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (wild card #2)
3. Seatle Mariners
4. Oakland A's
NL Wild Card = Atlanta over Miami
NL = San Francisco over Atlanta
NL = Philadelphia over Milwaukee
NL Championship = San Francisco over Philadelphia
AL Wild Card = LA Angels over Boston
AL = LA Angels over Tampa Bay
AL = Texas over Detroit
AL Championship = Texas over LA Angels
World Series = Texas over San Francisco