The 2012 baseball season should be a most interesting one.
Every game is important. No longer can a team just play for the Wild Card spot and have an equal shot with the three division winners at participating in the World Series (as St. Louis did last year).
This year, as you may know, there will be two Wild Card teams in each league fighting it out in a one game winner-take-all for the right to advance with the three division winners to the playoffs.
Every game means something as the Wild Card club with the most wins will have home field advantage for the one-game playoff. But teams will play hard to win their division as that will assure them of a postseason playoff spot. Plus, with a couple of extra days’ rest as the Wild Card clubs battle it out using their best pitchers, the three division winners will be resting their top starting pitchers.
In my opinion, the six top clubs among the 30 major league teams are the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies.
In the American League, Detroit has the biggest advantage as they have by far the best team in the Central division. In the East, the Yankees have to contend with Boston, the great young pitching staff of Tampa Bay, and an improved Toronto team.
In the West, the Texas Rangers added the much-publicized pitching star from Japan Yu Darvish. However, the Rangers lost free agent pitcher C. J. Wilson to the Angels and the California club also added superstar Albert Pujols via a mega-contract his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, couldn’t match.
In the National League East, the Phillies will have to fight off young and talented Washington and Miami teams that could easily top Philadelphia if injuries to veteran players linger too long. And, of course, there are the always-contending Atlanta Braves.
In the N.L. Central, the Milwaukee Brewers lost free agent Prince Fielder to the Tigers and replaced his bat, somewhat, with free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez from the Cubs. St. Louis is weaker without Pujols, and the Cubs and Houston Astros can only hope to win as many games as they lose. The Cincinnati Reds strengthened their pitching staff and have a potent lineup that should dominate the weakened division.
Out west, catcher Buster Posey is back from missing most of last season with a broken leg and should push the Giants higher. The Arizona Diamondbacks are capable of winning more than they lose; Colorado, while not as good, should be in the middle of the pack, while the southern California clubs battle it out to stay out of last place.
Here’s how I see the final standings:
American League East: New York Yankees; Boston Red Sox; Tampa Bay Rays; Toronto Blue Jays; Baltimore Orioles.
American League Central: Detroit Tigers; Minnesota Twins; Cleveland Indians; Kansas City Royals; Chicago White Sox.
American League West: Texas Rangers; Los Angeles Angels; Seattle Mariners; Oakland Athletics.
National League East: Philadelphia Phillies; Miami Marlins; Washington Nationals; Atlanta Braves; New York Mets.
National League Central: Cincinnati Reds; St. Louis Cardinals; Milwaukee Brewers; Pittsburgh Pirates; Houston Astros.
National League West: San Francisco Giants; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; Los Angeles Dodgers; San Diego Padres.
As stated above, I wouldn’t be surprised if Miami and Washington finish ahead of the injury-riddled Phillies. And, of course, injuries at the end of the season will play a major role in determining which teams advance to the World Series.
Enjoy the season, and as always, it’s nice to hear from Jewish Press readers.
Author, columnist and lecturer Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring while working in a major league front office position. Cohen, the president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at email@example.com. His column appears the second week of each month.