Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Celebrating My Grossly Inaccurate 2012 MLB Preview in Pittsburgh

It's one of the stranger curiosities of my life that in my relatively extensive travels around the United States -- seriously, who else makes a point to go to Auburn Hills, Michigan for a basketball game -- that I've never really been to Pittsburgh. To be fair, "never" isn't exactly honest. As a sophomore in college I did a road trip over spring break to help create a play room for third-world children that were flown to the U.S. by the World Healing Organization to get free surgery to fix facial deformities as well as build bridges for the Virginia Nature Conservancy. It was a fun experience, the highlight of which was that I got to walk around in one of those arm-pit high pairs of rubber pants that you keep yourself dry with in a river.

The reason I bring this all up is because the drive from Chicago and Virginia Beach being as long as it is -- and as depressing considering a 25-year-old Swiss grad student on the trip named Serkan decided to suggest "Tears in Heaven" for the road trip mix CD -- we broke it into two haves and spent the night in a church in Pittsburgh's Shady Side neighborhood which, despite the name, is apparently quite trendy. Aside from the fact that the Church had a duckpin bowling alley in it, little else from the trip is remarkable -- or at least worth mentioning in relation to Pittsburgh -- but those few hours there are really all I know of it. This is pretty surprising considering a) I've traveled around the U.S. quite a bit and b) I actually know a decent number of people have lived or still live in Pittsburgh.

But that all changes tonight.

Tonight I will board a plane for the Steel City where in a whirlwind 48 hours my friend Blake and I will paint the town red -- what with the ketchup and all -- and strike two new teams off the list in the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins play in a brand-spankin' new arena complete with a big statue of Mario Lemieux out front, which should be nice, though I'm a bit heartbroken that I never got to witness a game in the old Mellon Arena. But in all honesty, it's the Pirates for which I am most excited. After all, I've been to two dozen different Major League stadiums with plenty good and bad, but I've never been to this one and from anyone who has been there all I have heard is that it just might be the best stadium in all of baseball. Some people may not agree, but it certainly can't be the dumbest thing anyone's said lately.

In fact, this has been a week of relative non-news after the recent Manning-palooza and Tebow-ganza. The most interesting things to happen are the slew of non-changes to the NFL's uniforms now that Nike has unveiled its versions -- though for the record, while I am not at all ok with this weird silver necktie gizmo on the Giants' new jerseys, thank God I don't root for the Seattle Seahawks -- and a lame story some schmuck wrote about the Rangers unveiling a big blue train in New York.

So with all that, a trip to two new stadiums in a new city is pretty exciting for me, but again, baseball is the big one and that's not just because I'm seeing what might be the best park in the Bigs for the first time, but also because for the second time in my life, I will be at Opening Day for a Major League Baseball team. I can only hope this time goes better than the first one, when Jon Weg and I made the trip to see Tom Glavine's first start for the Mets in 2003, in which the Amazins lost 15-2 and the immortal Cory Patterson hit two dingers.

No, hopefully this time will go smoother, and at the very least, it will go smoother than my 2012 Major League Baseball predictions. Now, I caution you all. This will get ugly, it will get confusing, many of you will probably not like it, and above all else it will be wrong. I know it will be wrong. We all know it will be wrong. So let's stop criticizing the picks before they start since predictions are always wrong. Remember last year when I picked the Red Sox to win the World Series and the St. Louis Cardinals to finish fourth?

Man, that was fun, wasn't it? Yeah, I didn't think so either. Here we go:

NL East
1. Atlanta
2. Philadelphia*
3. Miami
4. Washington
5. NY Mets

It really hurts to put the Mets in the basement, particularly since I don't really believe the Nationals are all that good or ready to win just yet, but the bigger thing of note is that I didn't put the Phillies in line for another division title. You can read here some of the reasons I think the Phils' run is at its end, but suffice it to say the gist is that their lineup is old old old. Like it's getting really old. They'll probably make the postseason as one of the two wild cards, but that roster ain't scoring much, and as a result they won't win as much as they're used to.

NL Central
1. Cincinnati
2. Milwaukee*
3. St. Louis
4. Pittsburgh
5. Chicago
6. Houston

Here's a division I really can't figure out for the life of me. It just might be the only one in which as many as four different teams (yeah, that includes you Pittsburgh), could win first place and I wouldn't be shocked. There are really only two things I know for sure. The first is that St. Louis without Pujols and La Russa is in for a tumble, and the second is that the Astros will be really bad in the National League swan song. But don't worry, Houston. Things get better next year when you join a division with the two-time defending American League champs and, uh, Albert Pujols. Again.

NL West
1. San Francisco
2. Arizona
3. Colorado
4. Los Angeles
5. San Diego

I was tempted to pick someone other than the Giants simply because of a dearth of old-timey out of use logos, but I can't conceivably see it. San Francisco isn't too far off from Philadelphia in that it is mostly reliant on its pitching staff and has a fairly weak offense, but the difference is this is a team that is younger pretty much all around, and with players like Buster Posey returning rather than leaving, they have a brighter look for the future. Oh yeah, and those Lincecum and Cain guys aren't half bad. Neither is Bumgarner.

AL East
1. Tampa Bay
2. NY Yankees*
3. Boston
4. Toronto
5. Baltimore

It's odd that the Orioles and the Blue Jays finish in the last two spots here considering they made the best two offseason moves of the division -- bringing back their old uniforms. But baseball games are actually won on fields rather than fashion runways and they just can't compete with the top dogs of the division. It'll be a three-horse race once again, and I'm taking Tampa Bay with its sabermetrically productive lineup and solid rotation to pull it out.

AL Central
1. Detroit
2. Kansas City
3. Minnesota
4. Cleveland
5. Chicago

The Tigers probably have the absolute best lineup in the bigs with Prince Fielder and Miggy Cabrera both in the lineup, and while the Royals are on the way up, I cannot possibly fathom anyone challenging them. This is the only weak division in the AL, and the Tigers should win it, and the top overall seed, in a walk.

AL West
1. Texas
2. Anaheim*
3. Oakland
4. Seattle

It must be pretty easy when you're in a division that has two minor league teams in it. Granted, the Rangers also have to contend with the Angels, who have reloaded with some new first baseman that everyone seems excited about. Still I see the Rangers, still yearning for that lost championship and smarting from how last season's World Series ended, taking the top spot.

Wild Card Round
NL Playoff
Philadelphia over Milwaukee

AL Playoff
Anaheim over NY Yankees

(1) San Francisco over (4) Philadelphia
(3) Atlanta over (2) Cincinnati

(1) Detroit over (4) Anaheim
(2) Texas over (3) Tampa Bay

(1) San Francisco over (3) Atlanta

(1) Detroit over (2) Texas

2012 World Series
(1) Detroit over (1) San Francisco

I think this will wind up being a classic matchup of great offense against great defense, but the thing that tips the balance in my mind is that fact that while Detroit's offensive firepower will far outstrip what the Giants can offer at the plate, the Tigers also have the pitching to go with it. Justin Verlander may well be one of the best in the Majors and in his prime, and the rest of the rotation ain't shabby either.

San Francisco's big three would have to steal a game or two to win it, and I'm not sure that will happen, particularly if Lincecum has to match up with Verlander on the other side. In the end, I simply think the Tigers will prove too much, but I also think it will take 7 games or so for them to prove it.

So given that, I'm pretty sure we're now going to see the Indians finally win the big one. I apologize to Alan Allmen and Zach Silka in advance.

See you in Pittsburgh.

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