04/04/12 5:56 PM ET
Fall Classic could be Angels-Giants rematch
Bold predictions for award, breakout contenders in new season
By Peter Gammons / MLB.com
We all get the innocent "Who do you like this year?" a half-dozen times a day. We try a little Bo Diddley "Who Do You Love?" comedic rap to avoid explaining all the layers of gray. A simple answer of "Los Angeles Angels" is just that -- simple -- before one even begins to get to all the permutations that could come out of the National League, as well as what could happen in the American League playoffs if the Rangers get on a roll or if any one of Justin Verlander, David Price, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester or Ricky Romero is to autumn 2012 what Chris Carpenter was last year. Then, why not Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum or Clayton Kershaw?
OK, for predictions sake, this is what I guess, er, think.
Most Valuable Players? Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers.
Several people who watched the Tigers this spring suggested that Prince Fielder may help Miguel Cabrera -- who doesn't need much help -- get into the MVP picture, and Albert Pujols is always in any MVP discussion. Josh Hamilton? Maybe a huge year by Mark Teixeira as he gets less pull-conscious, or any of the Jacoby Ellsbury/Adrian Gonzalez/Dustin Pedroia troika?
Kemp is a great player, having embraced the Derek Jeter notion thrown at him by Don Mattingly. Ryan Zimmerman will be in this race, especially if the Nats' starting pitchers stay healthy. So will Matt Holliday. And Hanley Ramirez. And Justin Upton. And don't sleep on Jay Bruce, or Joey Votto, for that matter.
Cy Young? Verlander is an evergreen, but so is Jered Weaver (my pick over Verlander), Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez and David Price.
Adam Wainwright could have won it two years ago and a year after Tommy John surgery, he says the ball is coming out of his hand better than ever. So Wainwright gets the April call against a formidable cast of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, Clayton Kershaw, the great Roy Halladay and Zack Greinke. If Josh Johnson stays healthy for 32-34 starts, he not only could be in this race, but the Marlins could be playing deep into October.
Rookies of the Year? Matt Moore of Tampa Bay over Yu Darvish of the Rangers in a shootout, and Zack Cozart of the Reds over Yonder Alonso of the Padres and Devin Mesoraco of Cincinnati. Of course, when Bryce Harper and Ryan Lavarnway get to Washington and Boston, they may change all that.
Breakouts? Brett Lawrie, Henderson Alvarez, Mike Minor and Brandon Morrow of Toronto. Eric Hosmer of the Royals. Howie Kendrick of the Angels. Dustin Ackley of the Mariners. Ryan Raburn of the Tigers. Dee Gordon of the Dodgers. Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman of the Braves; Heyward's mechanics are tied to his shoulder injury and will be back. Starlin Castro of the Cubs.
We've all seen how the dollars are moving west, and the season begins with the Angels and Rangers looking as if they're the best teams in the AL, with Detroit arguably making it three potentially great teams west of I-95. Because the A's and Mariners are in rebuilding modes, it is most likely that one Wild Card will come out of the loser of the Angels-Rangers race.
Which means two of the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays will not make the playoffs. The Yankees appear to be the best team in the East. If Alex Rodriguez's operation keeps him healthy all season and Phil Hughes is what he appeared to be in the spring, they can again be a 95- to 103-win team. But they also begin the season with nine players 34 or older, although it's hard to tell if Mariano Rivera is 42 or 24.
The issue with the Rays is offense. They went from third in the league in runs and OPS in 2010 to eighth last season, there are a lot of strikeouts around Evan Longoria, so they need monster years by Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist.
The issues with the Red Sox are the health of Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford, the bullpen without Andrew Bailey and how well Daniel Bard, Felix Doubront and Aaron Cook -- and, in June, Daisuke Matsuzaka -- fill out the rotation. They need 90 starts out of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, and if Alfredo Aceves and Mark Melancon are the closers, they cannot have the second fewest innings out of their starters -- as was the case in 2011 -- or they could finish fourth.
Watch out for the Jays, and not just because they were the kings of the Grapefruit League. Given the breakouts of Lawrie, Morrow and Alvarez, if Sergio Santos can close and Colby Rasmus approaches what the Cardinals dreamed he might be, they will be knocking on 90 wins and the Wild Card.
Anyone but the Mets could win the National League East. The Phillies have Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon, so if Chase Utley's leg-alignment issues get rehabbed and Ryan Howard returns in the second half, they can win.
If Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler make 145 starts and Drew Storen comes back, the Nats will be in it all the way. So will the Braves, even if there are offense questions. And so will the Marlins if Johnson holds up and Giancarlo Stanton's knee does as well, because the front six in their order combine speed, power and tremendous ability. In fact, if Stanton's leg is all right, he could easily be the MVP. At 22.
The Central will likely come down to the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers. Cincinnati is going to score truckloads of runs, especially if Scott Rolen is healthy. But even more than the Ryan Madson breakdown, their season will hinge on innings out of their starters. Aroldis Chapman must become a major factor as either the closer or the third starter after the All-Star break. If Chris Carpenter can pitch four months, with the warehouse of power arms in their bullpen, the Cardinals are still going to be very good, and so will the Brewers, as long as Aramis Ramirez remains focused and Ryan Braun doesn't worry about the latest CBS/New York Times/Deadspin poll.
The Giants begin the season as the favorites in the West because Madison Bumgarner appears set for a breakout season, Brandon Belt has made it and Bruce Bochy has a lot more depth and flexibility than he did last year. Can Brian Wilson hold up? He is so tough he would never admit he's hurt, but he was throwing 89 mph at the end of last season and he is a fearless cliff-diver. Arizona has pitching depth and a dangerous lineup; the Dodgers are sleepers if Nathan Eovaldi emerges in June; the Rockies are contenders if their starters get straightened out and the Padres' young pitchers, like Casey Kelly and Joe Wieland, could make them a pain to play in the second half.
All of which makes me think the Angels, Tigers, Yankees, Giants, Reds and Marlins win their divisions, and the Rangers, Red Sox, Phillies and Dodgers are the Wild Cards, which brings us back to the 10th reunion of the Angels-Giants World Series. After Barry Bonds, John Lackey, David Eckstein and Jeff Kent throw out the ceremonial first pitches in Games 1-4, Weaver beats Lincecum 3-2 in Game 7 on Mark Trumbo's seventh-inning home run.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.