A season of change: 2012 MLB season preview
Major League Baseball is going in a different direction for the 2012 season and beyond. On March 2, MLB announced that it was expanding the playoffs to include one additional team in each league. This now means that ten of the thirty teams (33 percent) make the playoffs.
Another big change for baseball was the Florida Marlins officially changing their name to the Miami Marlins in conjunction with their move to the new Marlins Park. All of these changes overshadow the fact that two of the best players in the game, first baseman Prince Fielder (Brewers to Tigers) and first baseman Albert Pujols (Cardinals to Angels), switched teams and leagues. The teams that acquired them are instant playoff expectants, but other teams also stand out.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed the aforementioned Pujols and dominant pitcher C.J. Wilson. He adds to an already impressive pitching staff that led the American League in earned run average (ERA).
Opposing the Angels in the American League West is the Texas Rangers, who signed international free agent and Japanese superstar Yu Darvish to replace C.J. Wilson. The reigning AL champs also have Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler to lead a team that finshed second in slugging percentage (SLG) in the AL.
The Detroit Tigers look poised to dominate the AL Central behind the bats of the newly acquired Prince Fielder and superstar third baseman Miguel Cabrera and the arms of reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander and closer Jose Valverde.
Perennial World Series favorite New York Yankees acquired former Seattle ace Michael Pineda in the off-season. He and C.C. Sabbathia lead a pitching staff that is overshadowed by the offense of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeria, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Those superstars led an offense that finished first in the AL in home runs and walks and second in on-base percentage (OBP).
Countering the Yankees in the AL East is the Boston Red Sox, who epitomize the theme of change this year, changing both their manager and general manager. The Sox are led by their potent offense that finished first in the AL in runs, hits, SLG, and OBP.
The dark horse in the East, the Tampa Bay Rays, has made the playoffs the past three years, and their path to October just got easier with the extra team in the playoffs. Leading the Rays is their young starting rotation of James Shields, David Price, Matt Moore and Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson that led the AL in earned run average.
Leading the National League is the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. With the loss of Pujols and future Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa, the Cardinals also did some changing. They replaced Pujols with All-Star Carlos Beltran and will get ace Adam Wainwright back from injury.
Rivaling the Cardinals in the NL Central is the Milwaukee Brewers. Even with the loss of Prince Fielder, the Brewers still have one the best offenses in the NL led by reigning MVP Ryan Braun. Their bullpen is anchored by closer John Axford, who led the NL in saves last season.
Taking charge in the NL West this year is the Arizona Diamondbacks. Under the helm of Manager of the Year Kirk Gibson, the Diamondbacks are oozing with young talent. Superstar Justin Upton, rookie sensation Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill and Stephen Drew lead the offense that finished third in the NL in SLG.
Looking to challenge the Diamondbacks is the 2010 Champion San Francisco Giants. The return of Buster Posey should help a historically bad offense. Anchoring the pitching staff for the Giants is two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, 2011 surprise Ryan Vogelsong and 2012 breakout candidate Madison Bumgarner.
The team to beat last year was the Philadelphia Phillies; they had the best record (102-60) in either league. Off-season injuries will really hurt them in their quest to defend their NL East title. All-Star slugger Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley could both miss significant time. Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels are three bona fide aces that helped the Phillies lead the NL in ERA, walks plus hits divided by innings pitched (WHIP), strikeout to walk ratio, and complete games.
The Miami Marlins changed not only their name and stadium, but also their manager going with the never outspoken Ozzie Guillen. The Marlins also signed superstar Jose Reyes, pushing their former shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, to third base. The Marlins possess an emerging slugger in Giancarlo Stanton (34 HRs). The lack of pitching on the Marlins is concerning even with the acquisition of free agent Mark Buerhle.
Major League Baseball is full of change for the 2012 season. Baseball is a game of unexpected outcomes, and the only thing that can be guaranteed is that no knows what will happen next.