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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to defend their back-to-back American League Central titles.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Out of Left Field preseason predictions score card


It’s always fun to go back and look at preseason predictions, just to see how your guesses stack up against reality. Here’s a look back at how I’d picked the 10 playoff teams to finish in their divisions in the preseason (the text is from back then), along with how they actually did:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
WEST DIVISION
2. RANGERS
The two-time defending American League champs are hardly going to concede the race to their division rivals, and it’s not like the team that was an out away from a World Series championship has regressed a ton. The Rangers replaced free-agent defector C.J. Wilson with the market’s other big pitching name, Japanese import Yu Darvish, and moved former closer Neftali Feliz to the rotation, replacing him with former Twins closer Joe Nathan. Boosted by former starter Alexei Ogando, as well, the Rangers’ bullpen should see no dropoff, and the Rangers still have one of the top offenses in the game.
ACTUAL FINISH: 2nd, Wild Card
POSTSEASON ANALYSIS: I’ll take credit for picking the Rangers second, even if it was to the wrong team (I had the Angels winning the division.) It’s awfully hard to dominate a division for too long, but no one — and I mean no one — thought the A’s would end Texas’ stranglehold on the West.

4. A’S
If you thought it looked like GM Billy Beane was trying to position himself for a role in “Moneyball II” early this offseason, you weren’t alone. He traded starters Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, along with closer Andrew Bailey — getting 10 prospects in return — and let Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus walk as free agents. Just when you thought the total rebuild was on, he signed Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million contract, before adding retreads Bartolo Colon and Manny Ramirez. Head-scratching moves in the short-term, but in a few years, this division may turn upside down.
ACTUAL FINISH: 1st, No. 2 seed
POSTSEASON ANALYSIS: OK, so maybe the “upside down” part got sped up by a few years, starting with Wednesday’s monumental win. If the A’s are this good this year, imagine what happens when that pitching staff grows up.

AL CENTRAL
1. TIGERS

The best team in the division a year ago only made a few cosmetic tweaks to its roster early in the offseason, and probably would have been the favorite to win the division — just based on talent — even after the season-ending knee injury to Victor Martinez. That was, of course, before owner Mike Ilitch authorized spending $214 million on Prince Fielder to replace Martinez, adding a third MVP-caliber player to the mix that already included the AL MVP and Cy Young, Justin Verlander, and the AL batting champ, Miguel Cabrera. Can you say ‘slam dunk?’
ACTUAL FINISH: 1st, No. 2 seed
POSTSEASON ANALYSIS: Err ... can you say ... lay-up maybe? At least I had Cabrera pegged as an “MVP-caliber player.” Partial credit for showing my work?

AL EAST
1. YANKEES

After a most un-Yankee-like quiet start to the offseason, the Bronx Bombers suddenly turned their one weakness into a strength in one January day, trading for Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda, to fill out a rotation that seemed shaky beyond CC Sabathia and another of last year’s rookie phenoms in Ivan Nova. The offense, led by MVP candidates Curtis Granderson (4th) and Robinson Cano (6th) is still in the top three in baseball, and added Raul Ibanez to DH when the Yankees’ aging regulars aren’t needing a rest.
ACTUAL FINISH: 1st, No. 1 seed.
POSTSEASON ANALYSIS: But that’s only by the skin of their teeth. The rotation was a mess all year, and if the Yankees weren’t homering, they weren’t scoring.

5. ORIOLES
The 15-year rebuilding project is still in place in Baltimore where new general manager Dan Duquette, who took the job after several candidates pulled out or turned it down, is taking the long view, choosing to upgrade in scouting and player development, rather than trying for a quick fix. That’s probably a sound way to handle an organization for which last playoff appearance or winning season came in 1997, and which has finished dead last four straight seasons. There are a few parts in place, like Gold Glove winners in catcher Matt Wieters and right fielder Nick Markakis and stud center fielder Adam Jones, but the rotation threw the fewest innings in MLB last year.
ACTUAL FINISH: 2nd, Wild Card
POSTSEASON ANALYSIS: C’mon, it’s the Orioles. Everyone else had them pegged for the same spot, which is why manager Buck Showalter and Duquette may be in line for some hardware, for turning the moribund franchise around.

NATIONAL LEAGUE
CENTRAL DIVISION
1. REDS

Coming off a disappointing, rather distant third-place finish in 2011, the Reds saw an opening with the vacuum created by (at the time) the absence of three of the top-five vote-getters in the NL MVP race. Deciding to dive through the window, GM Walt Jocketty traded last year’s Opening Day starter, Edinson Volquez, and three top prospects to the Padres for top-of-the-rotation starter in Mat Latos. The Reds have their own MVP candidate, Joey Votto, locked up long-term now, and a stud 2B in Brandon Phillips, but free-agent closer Ryan Madson will need Tommy John surgery.
ACTUAL FINISH: 1st, No. 2 seed
POSTSEASON ANALYSIS: Bingo. Glad the late Madson injury didn’t sway me to change my pick at the last minute.

3. CARDINALS
The World Series champs might finish third in their division? Well, the Redbirds finished six games out of the division lead a season ago, and that was before they lost their best player (Albert Pujols), their manager (Tony La Russa) and potentially their best pitcher (Chris Carpenter). The Cardinals, who won their 11th title last season without Adam Wainright, may have to start the season without the injured Carpenter this season, and it remains to be seen if free-agent acquisition Carlos Beltran is enough to replace Pujols’ production in first-time manager Mike Matheny’s lineup.
ACTUAL FINISH: 2nd, Wild Card
POSTSEASON ANALYSIS: The rookie status of the Cardinals manager didn’t seem to have much of an impact in a weaker-than-expected Central division. Wait ... where have I heard that before?

NL EAST
1. NATIONALS

It’s all starting to come together in the nation’s capital, making the Nationals the chic pick to win a stacked division. In addition to getting phenom Stephen Strasburg back from injury, the club traded for lefty Gio Gonzalez and signed much-traveled Edwin Jackson to a rotation that already had Jordan Zimmerman and John Lannan. Washington locked up 3B Ryan Zimmerman long-term, and could soon add top prospect Bryce Harper to an outfield that already has power sources in Michael Morse and Jayson Werth.
ACTUAL FINISH: 1st, No. 1 seed
POSTSEASON ANALYSIS: I was fully prepared for the Nats to be a season-long story. I just wasn’t prepared for 99 percent of that story to be the ad nauseum coverage of the Strasburg shutdown.

3. BRAVES
The Braves basically stood pat with the same team that blew an 8.5-game lead in the final 23 games of the Wild Card race, but have had to shuffle in the wake of the knee injury to Chipper Jones, who was planning to retire at the end of the season. Rookie closer Craig Kimbrel was exceptional, but the bullpen was overworked by a rotation that couldn’t eat innings. The Braves also need Jason Heyward to pull out of his sophomore slump.
ACTUAL FINISH: 2nd, Wild Card
POSTSEASON ANALYSIS: The starters were better than I thought they’d be. So were the Braves, but not by a ton.

NL WEST
2. GIANTS

San Francisco won the 2010 World Series with a formula of pitching and defense, and hasn’t deviated from that mix. But the pitching — no matter how stellar, with Tim Lincecum, et al. — can only overcome a pedestrian offense for so long, and its unclear how much better this year’s version of the hitting will be. A reconfigured outfield — with Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera — will help some, but most of the onus will fall on youngsters Brandon Belt and Buster Posey, along with Pablo Sandoval.
ACTUAL FINISH: 1st, No. 3 seed.
POSTSEASON ANALYSIS: I’d had the Giants in the playoffs as a Wild Card — not because I underestimated their talent, but because I overestimated Arizona’s.

OVERALL REPORT CARDDIVISION WINNERS: 4 of 6
WILD CARD TEAMS: 1 of 4
PLAYOFF TEAMS: 6 of 10

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