Tuesday, April 3, 2012

2012 National League Predictions

With Opening Day later in the week, it is time for my annual predictions for the 2012 baseball season. It is always fun to sort through all of the teams, players, and divisions to find out who will be the best of the best in the coming year. There are always going to be surprises along the way like the Diamondbacks were in 2011. The edition of the new wild card spots in each league will also add some spice to the race for the playoffs in the 2012 season.

Over the course of the week, I will release my picks from a variety of areas. For the National League and the American League, I will predict the division winners, the wild card teams, and the major award contenders. Later in the week I will focus on the Twins and decide who is going to stand out in the major and minor leagues. Here is the breakdown of the schedule for the week.

Monday: 2012 American League Predictions
Tuesday: 2012 National League Predictions
Wednesday: 2012 Twins Awards Predictions
Thursday: 2012 Twins Minor League Award Predictions
Friday: Links-N-Thinks
Votto looks to power the Reds to the top of the NL
National League East: Miami Marlins
The Phillies still have quite the formidable rotation but they are an aging team that is already dealing with some injury concerns during spring training. The Marlins are looking to make a big splash in their new stadium and they got off to a good start this offseason in the free agent market. Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell were brought onto the scene along with former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. The addition of these players to a roster that already included Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton should help to push the Marlins toward the top of the NL East. Josh Johnson got off to a great start last year but a shoulder injury forced him to miss the rest of the year. I like what the Nationals are doing in this division but they are still a year away from making the playoffs. The Phillies age will finally catch up to them and the Marlins will get hot enough in the final months of the season to steal away with the division.

National League Central: Cincinnati Reds
The NL Central could claim to be one of the most wide open divisions in baseball. The defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals reside in this division and they have to deal with the loss of Albert Pujols. Another team in the division, the Brewers, are also dealing with the loss of their big slugger Prince Fielder. The Pirates also surprised a lot of team's last year by putting together a decent first half before stumbling down after the All-Star break. One team in the division seems to have made all the moves this offseason to signal to the other clubs that they are going for it all in 2012. The Reds traded four players to the Padres to get their hands on right-hander Mat Latos. Less than a week later, they traded for left-hander Sean Marshall. There will be two rookies starting at key positions, catcher Devin Mesoraco and shortstop Zack Cozart, but the rest of the starting line-up should be full of players in their prime. Joey Votto is locked up for the long-term and he is ready to lead the Reds back to the postseason.

National League West: San Francisco Giants
In a division that saw the Diamondbacks reign last year, the Giants overwhelming pitching should dominate over the course of the season. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner could all be in the Cy Young discussion at the end of the year. The club is coming off a season in which they scored the fewest runs in the NL but they are getting one of the best young hitters back in the middle of their line-up. Buster Posey missed a large chunk of last year after he got plowed over in a play at the plate. The team revamped their outfield by adding Melky Cabrera and Angel Paga to help with their offensive woes. Adding Ryan Theriot to their infield should add some speed to their line-up and Brandon Belt is a young prospect waiting to make a splash for the Giants whenever they find a position for him on the field. If the Giants can get to the playoffs, their talented rotation should take them deep into October.

Wild Cards: Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Phillies are going to be in a tight battle for the division title with the Marlins but they will have to settle for one of the two wild card spots. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels anchor one of the strongest starting rotations in the league. Star players Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will be out for the beginning of the season. This mean that players like Hunter Pence, a potential MVP candidate, and newly resigned Jimmy Rollins will have to step up and carry the offensive load. Jonathan Papelbon was given a boatload of money to be the team's ninth inning man for the next four years. The Phillies showed they could dominate the regular season last year but this season could mark the beginning of their downfall.

Yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates are one of my picks to win a wild card spot. This might sound like crazy talk but if someone had walked up to you at the beginning of last season and said Arizona would win their division, you would have laughed at them too. The Pirates were in the pennant race for the first half of last season as the team was over .500 but the wheels came off in the second half. In order to remedy some of these flaws the Pirates have focused on creating a veteran presence by adding Clint Barmes, Rod Barajas, Nate McLouth, and Casey McGehee. The team has young talent like Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen locked up to long-term deals so they can focus on being stars for the team. AJ Burnett and Erik Bedard could help the starting staff to make a turn in the right direction. It might be a long shot but the Pirates have a chance in 2012.

National League MVP: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Two seasons ago Votto was named the MVP as the Reds made a push to the playoffs out of the NL Central. Last season the Reds fell out of the pennant push but Votto continued to put up statistics that were worthy of him being considered for the MVP. I picked the Reds to finish at the top of the NL Central and the team will need everything they can get from their former MVP in order for this to happen. With Pujols and Fielder moving to the American League, some of the best competition for the MVP is out of the way for Mr. Votto. His giant contract extension that he signed yesterday means that Votto doesn't have to worry about his future because he is going to be the face of the Reds over the next decade. 

National League Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
It could be fun to see how much the pitchers in the Giants rotation push each other throughout the course of the season. Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner form the core of the outstanding Giants staff and they could all finish near the top of the the Cy Young voting. In 2008 and 2009, Lincecum finished with back-to-back Cy Young Awards and he looks to enter an elite group of pitchers that have three trophies to their name. The Giants improved offense should help to get Lincecum some more run support and he is a perennial top finisher on the strikeout list in the NL. Last year's winner Clayton Kershaw and the big three in Philadelphia will have something to say about this award but Lincecum and his long hair will end the year on top.

National League Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
Hurdle is entering his third year at the helm of the Pirates and this could be his year to finish as the manager of the year. If the Pirates find a way to sneak into the playoffs, Hurdle would deserve to win because no one is expecting his team to succeed. He managed the Rockies to the 2007 National League pennant and he hopes that the Pirates can surprise the baseball world much like his former squad. The American League looks much stronger than the National League at this point so any team that qualifies for the postseason will have a chance to represent the NL in the World Series. The Cardinal snuck in at the end of last year and ended up with the title and another surprise team could be lined up for the title in 2012.

National League Rookie of the Year: Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds
After the top notch crop of rookies I discussed for the American League in yesterday's post, the National League crop is very underwhelming. Star prospect Bryce Harper could debut later in the season for the Nationals but he will start the year in the minor leagues. Yonder Alonso will get plenty of playing time with the Padres but it can be tough for a power hitter to succeed in Petco Park. Young flamethrowers Trevor Bauer of the Diamondbacks and Drew Pomeranz of the Rockies could be asked to step into the middle of the pennant race in the NL West. In the end, Devin Mesoraco is slated to be the starting catcher for a team that could win their division this year. His offensive potential at a tough position and the fact he is starting the year in the big leagues will help to separate him from the pack.

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