Sunday, April 8, 2012

Let's Be Real

Today, we watched the Twins get no hit through 7 innings, before back to back doubles by Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham ended the no-no and the shutout. That was all the offense we saw from the Twins in a 3-1 loss at Baltimore today.

The Twins are 0-3 to start the season for the first time since 1981 (Finished the year 41-68 in a strike shortened season). And in the aftermath of this sweep, I'm already at wits end with "fans" of this team, who are saying here comes another 100 loss season or saying its time to change managers.

Please folks, be realistic here. The season is 3 games old. Yes, the Twins were never really close to winning in any of them, but that's just one bad series. Everyone has them. And to be honest, they pitched and played better defense than they did hitting, which were area that are questionable for the Twins this season. Despite the slow start, the bats will come around, if they can keep players healthy.

If you are jumping off the bandwagon already, shame on you. Any fan of this great game would know that the season is far from over. There is 159 games left. I could cite numerous examples of teams coming back from impossible deficits in fewer amounts of games until I'm blue in the face. But there are so many I wouldn't know where to begin (Ok, look no further than last year's wild card races).

I'm not saying the Twins are going to make the playoffs. I'm just asking everyone to be rational before they make ridiculous comments regarding their season, which is 3 games old. If the Twins continue to play like this over the course of April, then yes, go right ahead and make these comments. But do so at the end of the month when you can properly gauge how well they can actually play.

Until then, please shut up and enjoy this great game.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Season Built On Hope

Today, the Twins open up the 52nd season in the history of the franchise. And as the team opens up the season in Baltimore, they have a lot of uncertainty still hovering over the club. And only one can hope that the baseball gods look upon the Twins a bit more kindly in 2012, compared to 2011.

As 2012 opens, we hope that:
  • Joe Mauer can play an injury free season for the first time since 2008.
  • Justin Morneau and Denard Span can put concussion symptoms behind them and have successful years.
  • Morneau plays a game in September.
  • Scott Baker can overcome his elbow problems and continue to be the Twins best pitcher
  • Francisco Liriano can be the pitcher we saw in 2010.
  • Matt Capps pitches the opposite of what he did this spring
  • Someone in the bullpen not named Capps, Glen Perkins, or Brian Duensing can step up and be a solid option in the late innings for Ron Gardenhire.
  • Josh Willingham can produce similar offensive numbers while playing in spacious Target Field.
  • The Twins can win a series against the Yankees (Last one came in August of 2008).
  • The Twins use the DL a bit less than the 27 times it was used in 2011.

And lastly, we all hope the Twins defy the odds once more, and capture their their 7th AL Central division crown.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: Postseason and Awards

Before we dive into the postseason, here is a recap of our picks with the Wild Card winners:

NL West: Arizona
NL Central: Cincinnati
NL East: Philadelphia
NL Wild Card: Miami, St. Louis
AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
AL East: Tampa Bay
AL Central: Detroit
AL Wild Card: Texas, Boston

2012 World Series:

AL Champions: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
NL Champions: Arizona Diamondbacks

World Series Champions: Angels in 6

Award Winners:

AL MVP: Evan Longoria (TB)
NL MVP: Justin Upton (ARZ)
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander (DET)
NL Cy Young: Cliff Lee (PHI)

I guess technically the season started last week between the A's and Mariners in Japan (Yawn...), but the interesting games start tonight as St. Louis takes on Miami, in the Marlins new ballpark. Enjoy the season everyone!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: AL Central

5. Chicago White Sox: Last year, this team was the favorite to win their division. Now, they are contenders for the cellar. Gone are Mark Buehrle, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre and Sergio Santos. The after seeing all these players leave, the Sox will let their minor leagues fill their holes on the major league roster, which will give them some problems. Their lineup could be good, but they would need improved production out of Adam Dunn. Their starting five could be solid, but they need a full season from Jake Peavy. And their bullpen has a nice back end, but the key is get to them early. Its going to be a long season on the south side. White Sox finish last.

4. Kansas City Royals: A fair warning to the teams in this division: Don't slack off when pitching to Kansas City. Because this is a team that can put up some runs. The problem here is, they lack good pitching. The Royals did go out and acquire Jonathon Sanchez from SF this offseason, but he is not enough to save this staff (Lead by Opening Day starter Bruce Chen). And to make matters worse, the team will be without closer Joakim Soria for the remainder of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Royals will get into a lot of high scoring games, but their pitching will not be good enough to hold those leads.

3. Minnesota Twins: As we talked about yesterday, there are a lot of questions surrounding the Twins in 2012. First and foremost, they have to stay healthy, especially Mauer and Morneau in the middle of the lineup. Their starting rotation could go either way as we've seen the past two years. And if you get into this bullpen early, there will be some problems. Ultimately, we believe that there won't be as many injuries in 2012, they won't finish in last place, but they do good enough to come in third place.

2. Cleveland Indians: Last year, we saw the Indians have an incredibly hot start and were one of the best teams in baseball early on. But they faded horribly and watched their lead in the division slip away to Detroit and the team barely finished at the .500 mark. But they return this with essentially the same team, but a young one at that. The Tribe should have a good pitching staff (Starters Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Derek Lowe, and closer Chris Perez lead the way) this year. But their offense strikes me as a wild card. They really need production from Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner to have a chance to succeed in this division, something they may not get too much of. The Tribe make a stronger push for the title in 2012, but once again, they fall short.

1. Detroit Tigers: Before the winter, Detroit already had a very good offense. But during the offseason, they signed the second best player on the free agent market, Prince Fielder. Now, the Tigers have a great offense when you put Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the order. Then add the fact the Tigers have a very good all around pitching staff (led by MVP/Cy Young winner Justin Verlander), and this will be one good baseball team. Last year, the Tigers fell short to Texas in the ALCS, but, if they can keep everyone healthy, they should have no trouble making a similar postseason run. The Tigers run away with this division and should be seen as contenders for the AL Pennant.

*Tomorrow look for our final post in the MLB preview series as we recap our division winners, pick the postseason winners, and pick some award winners.

Monday, April 2, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: Minnesota Twins

Here it is everyone. The Minnesota Twins 2012 Preview.

2011 Recap:
63-99, 5th in AL Central

From the beginning, the Twins never had a chance in 2011. Seemingly every player that opened the season on the 25 man roster, spent time on the DL. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau each missed half the season due to various injuries. The injuries forced the Twins to call up players from AAA and the team suffered greatly. The lineup was punchless, pitchers could not get outs, and the defense played with iron gloves every night. The poor performance saw notable players Jim Thome and Delmon Young traded in August to contending teams. The team finished the year with the second worst record in franchise history with a 63-99 mark (Only the ’82 Twins finished with a worse record going 60-102). The season cost GM Bill Smith his job and his predecessor, Terry Ryan, was brought back to lead the Twins back to respectability.

Key Departures:

RF/1B Michael Cuddyer (Rockies)
OF/DH Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks)
RP Joe Nathan (Rangers)
RP Jose Mijares (Royals)

This was a difficult offseason for any Twins fan, as mainstays Cuddyer, Kubel, and Nathan (The Twins all time saves leader) were allowed to leave via free agency. All three were asking for more than the Twins could afford at this point (With the announcement in the winter that the payroll would decrease to around $100 million). Losing Cuddyer was toughest due to his ability to play anywhere on the field (Including pitcher as we saw last year), something manager Ron Gardenhire values greatly. Kubel’s bat will be tough to replace, but he saw a decline in his numbers in the two seasons the Twins have played at Target Field. Nathan was not effective for the first half of 2011, and he even spent some time on the DL. But when he return he looked much like the 2004-09 Joe Nathan we all loved. Its obvious he wanted to move to a team that had a shot to win a World Series before the right hander decides to hang up the spikes.

Key Acquisitions:

SS Jamey Carroll
OF Josh Willingham
C/1B Ryan Doumit
SP Jason Marquis

One of Terry Ryan’s main objectives, when he took over the GM duties again, was to get the Twins back to playing basaeball, the Twins way. And one of the big components of the Twins Way is to play sound fundamental defense, something that was rarely seen in 2011. So his first move as GM, was signing Dodger SS Jamey Carroll to a 2 year deal to help patch up a hole offensively and defensively at the position. Willingham was brought in to replace Cuddyer’s bat in the lineup. He brings a bit more power than Cuddyer does, but Cuddy was a bit more sound defensively in the outfield. Bringing in Doumit was by far the best decision the Twins made this winter. Doumit can catch and play first base (Area’s the Twins were in need of last year), while being a bit (When I say a bit, I actually mean a lot!) better than the previous backup catcher, Drew Butera. So if Mauer were to miss time due to injury, Doumit can step in and be the team’s starting catcher. The Marquis signing was to add a bit of depth to the rotation in the event of injury. Marquis did have a decent year in 2011 (8-5 3.95 ERA in 20 starts), but has not played a full season since 2009.The guy obviously can still pitch, its just a question of can he stay healthy. Marquis won’t be on the Opening Day roster due to missing time this spring to tend to a family matter. He misses a start or two, but should be back with the team before April ends.

Projected Lineup and Pitching Staff

Lineup (2011 Stats)

Denard Span CF (.264 AVG .328 OBP, 16 RBI)
Jamey Carroll SS (.290 AVG, .359 OBP, 17 RBI)
Joe Mauer C (.287 AVG, .360 OBP, 30 RBI)
Justin Morneau DH (.227 AVG 4 HR, 30 RBI)
Josh Willingham LF (.246 AVG, 29 HR, 98 RBI)
Danny Valencia 3B (.246 AVG, 15 HR, 72 RBI)
Chris Parmelee 1B (.355 AVG, 4 HR, 14 RBI)
Alexi Casilla 2B (.260 AVG, .322 OBP, 15 SB)
Ben Revere RF (.267 AVG, .310 OBP, 34 SB)

If these players can stay on the field, they should have no issue putting up some runs. This lineup has speed at the top, power in the middle, and speed at the bottom. But, there is a big IF there as Span, Mauer, and Morneau all missed significant time due to injury. All signs are a go for Span and Mauer this year, and Morneau should be fine assuming he plays most of his time at DH (His hot hitting this past week in spring has been a sight for sore eyes). But you never know what to expect as he continues to battle post concussion symptoms. I like Willingham hitting behind Mauer and Morneau as he brings serious power to the lineup. If the stars lineup, Willingham could reach the 100 RBI mark for the first time in his career. The bottom of the order should wreak havoc on pitchers with speedsters Casilla, Revere, then back to the top of the order to Span all having above average speed. This is a really good lineup. Just knock on some wood everybody can remain in it.

Bench (2011 Stats)

Ryan Doumit C/1B (.303 AVG, 8 HR, 30 RBI)
Sean Burroughs INF (.273 AVG, .289 OBP, 8 RBI)
Luke Hughes INF (.223 AVG, 7 HR, 30 RBI)
Trevor Plouffe OF (.238 AVG, 8 HR, 31 RBI)

The Twins bench is a bit more deep compared to last year’s bench on Opening Day (Drew Butera, Jim Thome, Matt Tolbert, and Jason Repko). Ryan Doumit will be a significant upgrade over incumbent backup catcher, Butera, due to the fact Doumit has been able to hit higher than .250 several times in his career. The only knock on Doumit is he has been injury prone over his career. He should mostly see time as catcher as he gives Mauer a day off or lets Joe play first, but you could also see Doumit play some time at first too. Then you have the youngsters Hughes, who has had a phenomenal spring, and Plouffe who both saw significant time with the team last year, but as you can see, they really struggled. Look for Hughes to play first second or third this year and Plouffe will be primarily used as a fourth outfielder. Burroughs was out of baseball between 2007 and 2010. He finally got back in the bigs last year and played briefly with Arizona. He obviously had a decent spring with the Twins to earn a spot on the club, but you have to wonder how short of a leash does he have going into 2012?

Rotation (2011 Stats)

Carl Pavano RHP (9-13 4.30 ERA 222.0 IP)
Francisco Liriano LHP (9-10 5.09 ERA 112 K)
Liam Hendriks RHP (0-2 6.17 ERA 23.1 IP)
Nick Blackburn RHP (7-10 4.49 ERA 148.1 IP)
Scott Baker RHP (8-6 3.14 ERA 123 K)*
Jason Marquis RHP (8-5 3.95 ERA 120.2 IP)*
*Will not be on the Opening Day roster

As you can see, the Twins will begin the year with a four man rotation. Scott Baker (injury) and Jason Marquis (Personal) will not be on the opening day roster. Once again, the Twins turn to the veteran right hander Carl Pavano to take the ball on Opening Day in Baltimore. It will be Pavano’s second consecutive Opening Day start for the Twins. But as you can also see, this staff struggled mightily in 2011. They also battled various trips to the DL as Pavano was the only one to not make a trip to it. Francisco Liriano had a very impressive spring coming off a dismal year, but at this point it’s a tossup as to what you can expect from the lefty this year. Hendriks could be a nice surprise for the Twins in 2012 if pitches like he is capable of pitching, but you would have to believe that when Baker and Marquis comes back, Hendriks will be the one sent back down. Blackburn has struggled since signing his new contract prior to 2010 after coming off back to back years where he threw a minimum of 190 innings, having a ERA around 4. But since then he has seen time on the DL and has lost his sinker ball causing him to be ineffective and not pitching deep in ball games. This staff is crucial for the Twins in 2012 if they want to have a chance to compete.

Bullpen (2011 Stats)

Matt Capps (4.25 ERA, 15 SV, 65.2 IP)
Glen Perkins (2.48 ERA, 61.2 IP, 65K)
Brian Duensing (9-14 5.23 ERA 161.2 IP)
Matt Maloney (9.16 ERA, 18.2 IP, 13 K)
Anthony Swarzak (4-7, 4.32 ERA, 102.0 IP)
Jared Burton (3.86 ERA, 4.2 IP, 3 K)
Alex Burnett (5.51 ERA, 50.2 IP, 33 K)
Jeff Gray (2.70 ERA, 13.1 IP, 7 K)

One better hope that the aforementioned starters can pitch 6+ innings consistently. Because behind Duensing, Perkins, and Capps, this bullpen looks mightily inconsistent. And even Capps is a wild card coming off a awful year which saw him get booed off the Target Field mound more times than he closed out a ball game successfully. Duensing had a bad year, but that was while he was in the rotation. He has had better success when he comes out of the bullpen in the late innings, so he should do just fine there once again. Swarzak should once again be claiming his role as long reliever/spot starting, a place I am just fine with him being in. Alex Burnett once again will make the team, despite his awful numbers in his first two seasons in the big leagues. He has the potential to be a late innings guy for this club, but he is still a long way from that. Then we have newcomers Maloney, Burton, and Gray who all had limited time in MLB last year, so hopefully one of them can be a hidden gem for Ron Gardenhire out of the pen. Like the starters, the bullpen is crucial for the club in 2012. But the starters and lineup have to get them the ball with the lead before we can truly say they are crucial.

Players Who Must Step Up In 2012

Joe Mauer
In the first season of his 8 year/$184 million contract, Mauer disappointed, as he battled various injuries, and was limited to 82 games. The Twins had to use Drew Butera in his absence, and the Twins suffered due to Butera's poor hitting ability. This year, all signs point to Mauer being at 100% health. This year, the Twins brought in Ryan Doumit to backup Mauer, so look for Mauer to get more time playing first or DHing so there is less risk of injury. Look for Mauer to have a bounceback season in 2012.

Justin Morneau
Its hard to put Morneau in here due to the nature of his condition, but he is just as needed as Mauer is. Morneau battled injuries and post concussion symptoms which saw him play 69 games and only hit .227. Going into 2012, the plan is for Morneau to be primarily DH, so there is less chance of him aggravating his symptoms. In the last week of Spring, Morneau has been the Twins hottest hitter. Lets just hope he can carry that into the regular season.

Francisco Liriano
Everyone thought the 2010 Liriano would return in 2011. But instead, we saw more of the 2009 Liriano, who couldn't command his pitches and often fell behind to batters causing many walks and hits. And as a result, Liriano saw his ERA rise over 5 for the second time in his career. If the Twins have success in 2012, they need the 2010 Liriano to return to his ace form. It looks so far so good for that happening this spring, but he too needs to carry it into the season.

Matt Capps
Last year, Capps was far from reliable coming in the 8th or 9th inning (He split time with Joe Nathan as the team's closer). He saw his ERA go from 2.47 in 2010 to 4.25 in 2011. And now, the Twins are without Joe Nathan, and Capps will be the Twins full time closer. When the Twins brought Capps back this offseason, Terry Ryan mentioned that relievers go through phases, and that Matt Capps was just going through a bad one. Lets hope he was right.

Brian Duensing
Duensing was a full time starter in 2011 after splitting time between the rotation and bullpen in 2010. But Duensing struggled being a starter and the plan for him in 2012 will for him to be a late inning guy out of the bullpen (Duensing has a career 3.31 ERA compared to a 4.15 ERA as a starter). If the Twins can get the lead late in the game, they need Duensing to step up and help get the ball to Capps in the ninth.

Prospects Who Could Impact The Twins In 2012

SP Liam Hendriks
Hendriks came up for a cup of coffee in 2011 with the Twins. In his brief time with the club (4 starts), he went 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA in 23.1 innings pitched. Obviously, those four starts do not tell the whole story with Hendriks. Hendriks has excellent control of all his pitches (21 walks in 139.1 innings pitched in the minors in 2011), and has been able to keep the ball in the ballpark (5 home runs allowed all of 2011). Hendriks is due to begin the season with the Twins, but will probably see some time at AAA this year as well.

SS Brian Dozier
No one turned more heads in the Twins organization than Dozier did in 2011. Dozier has shown quite the offensive skill set while playing at a position the Twins are in real need of. Last year, Dozier hit .320 with a .399 on base percentage while slugging .491. He also had 56 RBI, while moving up from Fort Myers to New Britain. Dozier was one of the final cuts from the major league camp in spring and will start the year at AAA. But look for Dozier to get called up should someone go down with injury.

1B Chris Parmelee
Parmelee was a September call up last year for the Twins. And in his month up here Parmelee did not disappoint as he hit .355 and had a on base percentage of .443. He also added 14 RBI with the Twins on top of his 83 he drove in with New Britain. Parmelee continued his hot hitting this spring, and earned himself on the opening day roster. Look for Chris to spend much of his time up here as the first baseman, while Justin Morneau plays DH. If Parmelee can continue his hot hitting into the year, he should have no trouble staying with the Twins the entire year.

OF Joe Benson
Benson, like Parmelee, was called last September by the Twins. He didn't have the same type of success Parmelee did, he still did decently in his month with the club. Benson can just about do it all. He can hit (.285 AVG, .388 OBP, .495 SLG in 2011), he has tremendous speed, and he can play good defense in the outfield. Benson will begin the season at AAA, but he could see serious time up here if an outfielder goes down with injury.

2012 Prediction:
Come back to Twin Minds tomorrow for our AL Central Preview and find out where we picked the Twins to finish in the standings in 2012.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: AL East

5. Baltimore Orioles: Its going to be a long year, if you’re a Baltimore fan. The O’s are a decently talented offensive team (J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Brian Roberts lead the O’s attack). But pitching wise, they really lack talent. This will be one of the worst pitching staffs in all of baseball. And to make things worse, the O’s play in baseball’s toughest division, the American League East. And take in the fact there are now four legit teams in this division, this will not be an easy summer for Baltimore. Look for the O’s to be in a lot of high scoring games, but they lose a majority of them because they have no pitching what so ever.

4. Toronto Blue Jays: It hurts to have to pick Toronto this low. They are a team on the up and coming in this division. They have some very good young hitters (Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia) and some good young pitchers (Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek). And don’t forget they also have the two time reigning home run king in Jose Bautista. The Jays set out this past offseason to improve the back end of their bullpen, and they did just that. They perhaps made the most underrated move of the offseason when they acquired Sergio Santos from the White Sox. Santos is coming off a terrific year for the Sox, earning 30 saves and getting 92 K in 63.1 IP. The Jays are going to give the teams above them a run for their money this year, but they will ultimately come up short because the teams above them are just so much more talented and have much more experience with playing meaningful September games.

3. New York Yankees: This was the one team we had the most trouble with placing. The Yanks come in as again a World Series favorite, after setting out to get some starting pitching this offseason. And they did just that, when they traded their top prospect C Jesus Montero to Seattle for the young fireballer Michael Pineda (Pineda though, will be starting the season on the DL with shoulder problems). Then throw in the fact Andy Pettite is making a comeback with the Yanks, and one would say this team should be a favorite to win the division. But a lot of their chances rest with their lineup and keeping future hall of famers Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez healthy and in the lineup. But both made trips to the DL last year, and if both were to go down at the same time this year the Yanks will be in trouble. It all just makes too much sense to pick the Yankees. We felt they were due for an off year, so the gut feeling here is that they will finish third and be contenders for the second Wild Card spot.

2. Boston Red Sox: The Sox had an epic collapse in 2011. Gone is manager Terry Francona and closer Jonathon Papelbon. To replace Francona, the Sox went with former Mets skipper Bobby Valentine, a more fiery clubhouse presence than Francona was. The Sox still have a good team in place, they just had to change a few parts during the winter. They still have a good pitching staff (Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Buchholtz) and a powerful lineup (Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury lead the Red Sox lineup). The Sox bullpen could pose a few question marks for Boston, but if they can get good starting pitching and hitting like they should, it shouldn’t be that big of a concern for Red Sox Nation. The Sox should come out fired up after last September’s dismal performance and make a push for a division title. But they will fall just short on that mark, but look for them to hold down a Wild Card spot come October.

1. Tampa Bay Rays: Last year, the Rays took advantage of the epic Red Sox collapse, to fight their way into the postseason. They come into 2012 looking good as ever while making a few changes to their squad during the winter. They first brought back Carlos Pena to add some power to their lineup while playing first base. They then brought in Jose Molina, who has been a good all around presence behind the plate the past few years for Toronto. So add those players to the Rays lineup (Led by 3B Evan Longoria) and keep in mind the Rays hold one of the best starting rotations (David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Davis) in all of baseball, and you find yourself with one outstanding baseball team. Joe Maddon has been a genius as to how to get the most of his players, and this year will be no exception. He will get the most out of this team, and guide the Rays to a second AL East division championship in their history.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Look for the 2012 Minnesota Twins preview tomorrow followed by the AL Central preview on Tuesday.

MLB 2012 Preview: AL West

4. Oakland Athletics: We don’t know how Oakland fans (What’s left of them) continue on with this team. They get good young prospects, then develop them into good ball players, then trade them away for more prospects. We saw that all too often with Billy Beane’s A’s this offseason. Gone are Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, two of their best pitchers. They have promising young players such as 2B Jemile Weeks and their prized offseason signee, OF Yoenis Cespedes. But honestly, to expect the Oakland A’s to win anything more than 65 games is a bit much. This is a very young team, and it will be quite a while before Oakland is relevant once again.

3. Seattle Mariners: Much like Oakland, Seattle has a pretty young team. They went out and acquired C Jesus Montero from the Yankees this offseason, and also brought over SP Hisashi Iwakuma from Japan to fill a spot in their starting rotation. The M’s still have mainstays Ichiro and Felix Hernandez, but beyond that it really does not look good for them. Their rotation could be good, their bullpen is not good, and their lineup will once again be punchless. Seattle will give Oakland a run for their money for last place in this division, but Seattle gets a slight edge. And when we say slight, boy do we mean slight.

2. Texas Rangers: The Rangers made the second biggest acquisition of the offseason, when they lured Japanese starter Yu Darvish to come pitch in the big leagues. He will take the spot in the rotation left vacant by C.J. Wilson, who signed on with Anaheim. The Rangers despite losing their ace, the Rangers still boast a good rotation (Led by Derek Holland, Darvish, Scott Feldman, and Colby Lewis). Their bullpen received a boost when they signed free agent closer Joe Nathan to a two year deal, allowing incumbent closer Neftali Feliz to move to the starting rotation. And their lineup is perhaps the best in all of baseball right now (Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, and Adrian Beltre hold down the middle of the order). But, for us, they lost a bit of depth in the rotation after losing Wilson, and at this point it remains to be seen what the Rangers will get out of Darvish. If this team can pitch and hold the lead, they can play with anyone in baseball. But there is a big if right there. Look for Texas to come close to a third straight division title, but fall short to the Angels.

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: During baseball’s winter meetings this past December, there were two teams in the running for Albert Pujols. Then out of nowhere came a mystery team. That mystery team went on to win the Pujols sweepstakes. That team was the Angels. Making the biggest splash this offseason, the Angels signed Pujols to help solidify a struggling lineup in 2010 and 2011. Also throw in the fact the Angels added former Rangers ace C.J. Wilson to their starting staff (Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and Wilson), and this team has made themselves not only a contender for the AL West, but they should be considered a World Series contender. This will be one of the best races in all of baseball in 2012. The Rangers and Angels should make for a very fun summer out west. But ultimately, we picked the Angels on the basis of the fact that their starting rotation is far superior to that of the Rangers. It wasn’t an easy pick. But it was the right pick.