Even though the 2012 season has just begun and the taste of the dirt is just now sinking in, so much has been unfolded in just a few games.
After the incredible finish to the 2011 year, a swirl of offseason acquisitions were made. Many teams are taking a much different shape and approach to their play on the diamond this season. The postseason could have a much different feel this upcoming year.
Here are my top seven early occurrences that differed from 2011. (In no particular order)
As of Sunday, April 8:
1. Pujols starting in an Angels uniform… I don’t know about you guys, but I still think it’s weird to see him out of the Cardinals lineup. He is still wearing basically the same colors but it doesn’t seem right. He is going to hit and the Angels are going to pitch. They will definitely be in the mix come October.
2. The impressive start for the Cardinals… After the subtraction of Pujols from the lineup, nobody expected the Cardinals to score a lot of runs. After the subtraction of Carpenter from the rotation, nobody expected the Cardinals to pitch all that well. They are hitting more than ever and holding their own on the mound in the early goings. The addition of Carlos Beltran in right field has turned out to be a nice acquisition so far. Berkman moves to first and there seems to be no loss defensively. It doesn’t hurt that David Freese continues to tear the cover off the ball whenever there are two out and men on base.
3. The Mets and Orioles are 3-0?… It is still so early in the year and both of these teams play in extremely hard divisions, but it is impressive nonetheless. With the rising Marlins, the improved Nationals, the hungry Braves and the powerhouse Phillies in the NL East, the Mets seem to be the slated dwellers. In the AL, the O’s are going to have some tough luck with the Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays all fighting for postseason contention late in the year. I still don’t see them having enough pitching and/or talent to sustain a good record throughout the year. Celebrate while you can now boys because in August and September, you will be number four or five in your divisions.
4. Tigers are looking unbeatable… Having Miguel Cabrera in a lineup is great. Having Justin Verlander in a rotation is great. Having Prince Fielder in a lineup is great. Having all three of these is borderline unfair. These are three potential MVP candidates. When you have guys like Alex Avila hitting walk-off home runs, you don’t give any other team a chance. The righty-lefty duo of Miggy and Prince are hitting everything out of the park as well. It used to be where you could just pitch around Miggy when the opportunity presented itself. Good luck now. I would not want to be in the AL. All the pitchers in the AL Central will be dragging their feet when they see their name slated to pitch against this lineup. How bad would you feel if you had to face this lineup and potentially go head-to-head against the defending Cy Young/AL MVP in Justin Verlander all in the same game? Put your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye. They might send you to the minors.
5. Yankees and Red Sox are 0-3?… That’s something you don’t see every day. These first few days for the Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Braves and Cardinals are looking a lot similar to the final days of 2011. The Rays, Orioles and Cardinals can’t be touched while the Yankees, Red Sox and Braves cannot buy a win. The Rays sent a message to the Yankees then and are doing it again now. Evan Longoria leads the league in hitting and will look to keep things going. Carlos Peña has returned to Tampa and is wreaking all kinds of havoc again. Meanwhile, the Red Sox score 0 and 11 in back-to-back games. That is day and night. It makes no difference for the Tigers. They will shut you out and then score 30 if need be.
6. Pirates will not finish last… The young and talented Pirates squad is determined to not finish last in the NL Central this year. In the final year of the six-team division, the Pirates might finally have a chance to finish near the top. I think they can do it. The Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros all lost pieces from a year ago. The Reds will continue to rise, but the Pirates will as well. In their opening series against the Phillies, they showed fight and will to win. With good coaching and that drive for success, I see the Pirates competing for potentially a third spot in the Central.
7. New Marlins… Not a whole lot needs to be said about the significance of 2012 for the Fighting Fish. They have a new stadium, coach, uniforms, logo, name and players. With a competitive NL East, the Marlins will have to fight more than ever for a division title. With an additional wildcard spot up for the taking, the Marlins may find that 162 games will not decide their playoff fate. For a franchise that has won two wildcards, two championships and no division titles, hopes of spectacular 2012 season are not out of the question. With Giancarlo “Mike” Stanton’s continuing to rise, Hanley’s production returning to form and solid season from their offseason acquisitions of Zambrano, Buehrle, Bell and Reyes, the Marlins could give the Phillies a run in the division race. Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes will need to stay healthy to do so.
With all of this being said, will the results be any different? Yes. This year, teams such as the Angels, Reds and Tigers will find their dominance. While the eastern divisions will still be the most competitive divisions in baseball, the outcomes might be similar.
I see the Angels walking out of the AL West and the Tigers taking over as the best team in baseball. The Phillies will drop off a bit due to injuries, the Reds will solidify themselves atop the weakened NL Central with the defending-champion Cardinals and the Rays stay hot in the AL East.