Over the past few weeks here in the CHEAP SEATS I’ve broken u each division in baseball, and shown who I think  is the best of the best from each division,  winners, player ranks and everything I could possibly think of in-between. However, with Opening Day less than 24 hours away, it’s time to bring it all home, with MVPs, injury red flags, playoff scenarios and finally, who I think is taking home the World Series this year. That, and a bit more fodder, in my final lap (hopefully of the victory variety, we’ll see about that come October) around the baseball prediction bases.

A DECK OF WILD CARDS…

National League: Braves, Brewers, Cardinals & Rockies

American League: Yankees, Twins & Athletics

Who does it? The Yanks and Brewers. The AL East traditionally supplies the Wild Card in the AL, and despite an impressive playoff streak by the Twins and an up and coming A’s squad, they aren’t better than the Yanks overall, and will have much better luck attempting to either dethrone the champs in the West or holding off the Sox in the Central. The Yanks will not take down the Red Sox, but won’t have trouble still winning 90 games, and being the second-to-third best club in the AL.

Their rivals may have reloaded, but A-Rod and the Yanks still have too much firepower to miss October.

In the NL, the Braves are a trendy pick to repeat as Wild Card reps, but they’ll have to face that revamped Phillies rotation a lot, and they don’t hold a distinct advantage over them in any match up. The Rockies are primed for revival after a disappointing 2010, but still have a four deep division that will make every night tough. The Brewers and Cardinals on the other hand play in the Central with the Astros and Pirates to beat up on, and a the most narrow talent margin between the top the four clubs of any other group in baseball. They’ll ride their new AL imported arms in Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, along with a contract year Prince Fielder, back to the postseason.

The addition of arms to their power will place the Brewers back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

World Series words later….

M.V.P

N.L.: Albert Pujols: It’s a safe pick to take a three-time winner who could easily have about six if not for Barry Bonds at the beginning of his career, but it’s a simple equation here. He’s probably going to be in (at least) the top 3 in home runs and RBI, and he’s playing before the most epic contract year of all-time. You think he won’t want to both punish the Cards for not getting this deal done early AND drive his solar system-level value up as hight as possible? Me either. He’ll take the honors despite being on a third place club. RUNNERS UP: Ryan Howard, Troy Tulowitzki

A motivated monster will man first base in St. Louis this summer. A scary thought for N.L. pitchers.

A.L: Josh Hamilton: What’s most amazing about him is that he won the award last season while a) winning with his second most valuable ability (average over power), b) he did it while being hurt for a month & c) he’s played in a lineup not as good as the one he’ll be in this year. I’m going with him to be the first back-to-back winner in the AL since Roger Maris in 1960-61. RUNNERS UP: Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez

Cy Young

N.L.: Roy Halladay: Look, there hasn’t be a guy this much better than everybody else that throws the ball for a living since the Randy Johnson of the mid-2000’s. The guy is coming off of one of the best season’s in the history of the game last year (A perfect game, a no-hitter, 21 wins, 219 strikeouts against 30 walks). All in his first year in the National League. Now in his second go around, he could somehow be even more deadly. Scary. RUNNERS UP: Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw

A.L.: Jon Lester: For as dominant as Felix Hernandez was a year ago, this guy was nearly just as deadly. This season with the improved and healthy Red Sox lineup behind him, he’ll do even more than last year’s 19-9, 225 strikeout season. He could easily turn 4 of those losses into wins and lead baseball in victories this time around. RUNNERS UP: CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez

Lester's improved cast will move him to the forefront of all lefties in the game this year.

 

ROOKIES OF THE YEAR

N.L.: Freddie Freeman: This young Braves slugger is in the perfect scenario. Unlike teammate, and 2010 ROY frontrunner, Jason Heyward, he isn’t being counted on to produce at the top of the lineup. He’ll be able to sit back and hit around 6th or 7th and rake with members of the Braves impressive lineup on base in front of him. And also unlikely Heyward, he’ll take home the hardware at the end of the year. Whether he gets voted into the All-Star game this summer like Jason was in his first year…well that’s a whole different matter.RUNNERS UP: Craig Kimbrel (Braves), Brandon Belt (Giants)

A.L.: Jeremy Hellickson: He doesn’t throw the hardest, but also what he doesn’t do is throw anything straight. He threw nasty enough stuff to win multiple Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors last year, and even went 4-0 in brief stint in the majors last year. This kid was good enough for the Rays to trade away Matt Garza (who tossed a n0-hitter last summer) to make room for him, so that’s good for him to become the the third consecutive pitcher to win ROY honors in the A.L. RUNNERS UP: Dustin Ackley (Mariners), Desmond Jennings (Rays)

The Rays won't skip a beat adding Hellickson's nasty change-up to their rotation.

MILESTONE MARKERS

Derek Jeter-3,000 hits: While he’s built his legend in baseball played after September, he’s accumulated a pretty decent body of work in the first 162 of the season as well, to say the least. In the ultimate testament to that, with his 74th hit this summer he’ll become the 28th player ever to get 3,000 hits. He’ll join Honus Wagner and Robin Yount as the only shortstops to achieve this. In a bigger “Wow fact”, he’ll also become the first Yankee to ever surpass the mark. Pretty good. ETA: End of May

Jeter will add yet another honor to his prestigious career with hit 3,000 this summer.

Jim Thome-600 home runs: There are a select few that have eclipsed the this level of power production, but this summer the durable Twins slugger will join that group. Last summer he turned it up again & popped 25, which leaves him 11 short of the mark headed into this year. While he won’t be a full-time starter, he’ll still get swings & should topple the mark by mid-season. ETA: July

Mariano Rivera-600 saves: The game’s greatest finisher has a chance to become the second member of the 600 saves club this season. He is 41 short of joining Trevor Hoffman in this group, and if he reaches 43 he will become the all-time leader. If the Yanks keep enough games close enough to need him, he’ll have no trouble getting this done. Either way it’s just a matter of time. ETA: Late September

CLUB COOPERSTOWN

Barry Larkin: In a down year, usually a player may slide in that would have trouble otherwise. However, Larkin isn’t one of those guys & deserves the honor regardless. He’ll be helped by little competition, but he rose up to over 60% & all signs point towards the 1995 MVP joins the most select group in all the game. As one of the top 5 overall shortstops ever, he deserves it.

And finally….

FALL BALL and Winning It All

N.L.: Phillies vs. Brewers & Giants vs. Reds = NLCS: Phillies vs. Giants: The Phils have too much pitching to drop a best of 5 series, especially since they could drop Halladay & Lee twice if it goes 5 games. That’s too much for even the Brewers balanced offering.

The Giants have the experience here & like the Phils, have the ability to dominate the match ups on the mound, to take the W a series.

As for the NLCS, the tables turn in a rematch of 2010’s pairing, and the Phils return to the World Series for the third time in the last four years.

A.L.: Red Sox vs. Rangers & White Sox vs. Yankees = ALCS: Red Sox vs. White Sox: The Sox have too much balance for the Rangers to overcome. Their lineup can throw too many different looks at the Rangers, and have a strong enough rotation to withstand the Texas blitz on offense.

In what may seem like a shocker, the White Sox have what it takes to knock off the Yanks. They don’t have a better lineup, but have enough offense to last. The advantage goes to them on the mound, where they can throw a deeper rotation that could beat out the Yanks in a close series.

In the ALCS, the Red Sox can do what the Yankees can’t against the White Sox: pitch, especially late in games. When it comes down to the clutch, both teams have been here before, but the Red Sox have more talent & make a return to the Series.

WORLD SERIES: RED SOX VS. PHILLIES

The Red Sox looked to get better everywhere this wineter, and they rebuilt the offense to matchup with the Yankees. However, the winter of ’09 they planted they focused on starting pitching. John Lackey & Josh Beckett are two of the most prominent big game pitchers in the game, while Lester & Buchholz are among the most talented.

The new faces will pay off and the Sox will have to expand their jewelry collections even this fall.

Needless to say they’ll need them all against Philly, and both have dynamic offenses that will test them all series. The difference will come from the other side of the pitching mix, where Jonathan Papelbon & company are superior to the Philly pen & take the edge in bringing Boston a third World Series in eight years.


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