I started this series weeks ago with the first basemen around baseball, and to be honest, it was way more involved than I had imagined. In ways I wish I had started sooner because I could have done the pitchers before the season (I will get to them), but I’m sort of happy it worked out this way because I get a brake of just poring over statistics to determine who deserves to be ranked one spot ahead of someone else. So today, I wanted to give you my rankings of every team 1-30. This will probably the list most argued with, and in ways it was the toughest to do. I combined what the teams (and their new players) did last season with what I think they’re going to do in 2012. I’m doing the first half today and will post the second half tomorrow since it’s a pretty long article. This is obviously an inexact science, so chime in with your list in the comments. Let’s get to it.
- New York Yankees – I really hate that they are the number one team, but I can’t avoid their superiority. The hope for Yankee haters is that they get old faster than they have been. Even if they do, they still have a fairly young core with Cano, Granderson, Swisher, Gardner and even Mark Teixeira is just 31 years old. The rotation has been shored up even with the Pineda injury and the offense will still be good.
- Texas Rangers – I struggled between the Rangers and the number three team for this spot, so the tie-breaker had to be that they are the two-time defending American League champions and you could make an argument they got even better in the off-season. They did lose C.J. Wilson to rival Los Angeles, but they picked up Yu Darvish who I think will not suffer from the same issues many have when coming from Japan to the U.S. The bullpen appears deep and the offense will, as always, be lethal.
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – It seems like every year the Angels are in on the top free agents and every year they swing and miss. Well this year they hit back-to-back homers signing both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson at the winter meetings. The Wilson signing is even better than people are making it out to be because they took him from their chief competitor, the Rangers. With Pujols, their lineup suddenly looks imposing in the middle, and if Morales can prove to be healthy, they could be very, very good offensively in spite of their age in the outfield. Their starting pitching is arguably the best in baseball as well. This is a very good team.
- Detroit Tigers – When it’s all said and done I think the Tigers will have the most wins in the American League, but they won’t be the best overall team. Signing Prince Fielder turned the Tigers from a good lineup to a potentially great one. They do have some questions on offense with Jhonny Peralta being somewhat inconsistent and relying on Delmon Young in the middle of the lineup, but they’ll be good. The pitching staff looks solid again, led by Verlander and Fister and with a solid bullpen. We’ve talked about their defense all off-season long, and that could be their undoing, but it won’t stop them from winning 95+ games.
- Cincinnati Reds – The acquisition of Mat Latos has the chance to take the Reds from a solid team to a great team. Latos is a legitimate ace and changes the face of the Reds. They have a solid starting staff behind him and a solid bullpen in spite of the loss of Ryan Madson. I have them this high because I really think that Jay Bruce is going to take the next step to superstardom and lead the Reds to their best record in years. Bruce combine with Votto, Stubbs, Mesoraco, Phillips and Janish will prove to be a very good offense and will help support a very good pitching staff.
- Tampa Bay Rays – It’s all about the pitching. Well, the pitching, Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings. A lot is made about the streak the Rays have had with their starters all being under 30 years old for quite some time, but it’s more impressive that they’re actually good. All of them. On offense, I mentioned Longoria and Jennings, but Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton (when he comes back) forms a formidable lineup as well.
- Arizona Diamondbacks – I’ve heard some talk among the analysts on various shows that the Diamondbacks might be the best team is baseball. I think that’s definitely a possibility, but I just don’t see it right now. They have a really nice top two in their rotation with Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, but there are certainly some questions behind them. The lineup is led by Justin Upton and Miguel Montero, but there are lots of questions among the rest of the hitters. The potential is there and I think they are quite good and will win the West, but they can’t be counted on as the best in baseball. Yet.
- Philadelphia Phillies – We’ll be nearing the end of the Phillies run soon if Ruben Amaro, Jr. can’t swing more deals to get some youth in like Hunter Pence. The lineup is old and quickly losing effectiveness. Right now, they’ll be relying on Ty Wigginton as a key component until Ryan Howard returns and he’s not even that good anymore. Wigginton as a cog in a lineup usually signals despair, but the pitching staff is good enough to overcome that for at least another season. The front four of Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Worley is excellent and has a chance to be better than the quartet was expected to be last year when Oswalt was the third guy and Hamels was fourth. Pitching goes a long way and they’ll still be quite good.
- Toronto Blue Jays – The American League East is this good, and I am buying into the Blue Jays hype from their torrid spring training. This team can absolutely mash and it looks like they might have some pitching now, too. Jose Bautista leads the offense, but they’re going to hit 200 homers easily with Lawrie, Rasmus, Johnson, Arencibia, Lind, et all helping to do some lifting behind him. The bullpen will be led by newly acquired Sergio Santos who I think is going to establish himself as a touch off top tier in the closer realm and the Blue Jays will just miss the playoffs.
- Washington Nationals – I think this is one of your National League wild card teams in 2012. The Nationals have some serious starting pitching with Strasburg, Zimmerman, Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson. Their bullpen looks to be very effective, especially if Brad Lidge can regain his past form. And their offense will be led by Mike Morse and Ryan Zimmerman with Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Adam LaRoche providing support. I think Bryce Harper will be good immediately and he’ll be up pretty soon to man center field for the Nationals. They’ll take off when he gets there.
- St. Louis Cardinals – They lost their all-world first baseman and they have a chance to actually get a little better. Of course, some of that is the return of Adam Wainwright. The lineup is still quite solid with Holliday, Berkman and Carlos Beltran providing the thunder along with Molina, Freese, Furcal and Jay. Chris Carpenter’s injury is problematic, but the Cardinals definitely have guys capable of filling in, including their top prospect Shelby Miller. I think they’ll be very good and will challenge for a wild card spot.
- Boston Red Sox – Yep, they’re the fourth best team in the East and the 12th best team in baseball. I just feel uncomfortable ranking them any higher with the question marks at the back of their rotation. The lineup is lethal when healthy, but it’s hard to predict that with guys like Youkilis and Pedroia who seem prone to some nagging issues. Also, Ellsbury was amazing last season, but I think we’ll see some regression this year. If Carl Crawford can bounce back and they can settle the back of the rotation, this will seem silly to have them ranked this low, but I can’t put them higher for now.
- San Francisco Giants – The Giants are a lot like the Phillies in that I just don’t see much offense, but I do see a pitching staff good enough to win some games for them. The key to their season is Buster Posey. He’ll be back to what he was doing in 2010 eventually, but if the Giants want to win this year, they can’t afford to wait. Brandon Belt will provide some sock for them, too, if he gets the chance, but outside of him, Posey, Sandoval and maybe Melky Cabrera, this team will struggle to score runs and that may keep them out of the playoffs.
- Atlanta Braves – I liked them a lot more before spring training began. The injury to Tim Hudson and to a lesser extent Chipper Jones has me less bullish on the Braves. They have pitching prospects out the wazoo, so if some of them can step up, they’ll be fine, but there are just so many question marks on the injury front regarding their starting staff. Like Posey for the Giants, Heyward is a huge key for the Braves. If he can get back to his 2010 form, this offense has a chance to score some runs and make up for some injuries. If not, though, the September collapse might carry into 2012 somewhat.
- Milwaukee Brewers – Led by Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, the Brewers can pitch. They also have a solid bullpen with John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez on the back end. They signed Aramis Ramirez to help offset the loss of Prince Fielder, but I don’t think Fielder was replaceable for them. They still have Ryan Braun, but I have a feeling he’s going to have some more struggles in 2012 than we’ve seen from him for the bulk of his career due to some spring injuries and his off-the-field issues he endured. This is still a good team, though, and if things come together, they could find themselves back in the playoffs.
So that’s the first half. I’ll be back tomorrow with the rest!
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