Monthly Archives: April 2012

2012 NFL Mock Draft

I’m certainly interested in the NFL draft, especially this year. After putting up with the circus that surrounds my beloved New York Jets, I have adopted a second NFL team to root for this upcoming season, and most likely beyond. I will still root for the Jets, but I will also start to follow a new team just as closely. I chose that particular team after a rigorous elimination process.

1. The team could not be in the AFC (16 eliminated teams)
2. The team could not dominate the mainstream media outlets (New Orleans, Philadelphia)
3. The team could not be considered a Super Bowl contender (Green Bay, New York Giants, San Francisco, Atlanta)
4. The team could not be from a huge market (Washington, Dallas, Chicago)
5. The team could not be a complete train wreck (Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Seattle, St. Louis)

After all these cuts were made I was left with three teams – Arizona, Carolina or Detroit. To make the last two cuts I tried to figure out which of these teams I would enjoy watching the most. I cut Detroit first because I do not like the way that Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh play the game. Too many late and dirty hits for my taste. Finally, I chose Carolina over Arizona simply because the Panthers have the most exciting player between the two teams. I have my Cam Newton jersey all ready to roll and will wear it on draft day.

I now have two teams to look forward to in the upcoming draft, and the upcoming season.

1. Indianapolis Colts — QB Andrew Luck (Stanford)
I think that Jim Irsay has had this pick all figured out since about October of last year. There’s been some smokescreen interest in Robert Griffin III, but Luck’s been the consensus number 1 pick for two years now and I don’t see any way he doesn’t come off the board first.

2. Washington Redskins — QB Robert Griffin III (Baylor)
I don’t think I’ve ever been as confident in the first two picks of an NFL draft as I am in these two. A team does not trade three first round draft picks to select anything other than a franchise quarterback. If the Colts throw a curveball and take Griffin, then Washington will take Luck. Either way, they will have their quarterback of the future this time next week.

3. Minnesota Vikings – OL Matt Kalil (USC)
The Vikings have a number of positions they could look to improve, but the offensive line is the most glaring. Kalil would allow Minnesota to flush out their line to open more holes for Adrian Peterson as well as improving the protection for young Christian Ponder. Morris Claiborne is a consideration, but ultimately the Vikings should go with the safest, and surest bet.

4. Cleveland Browns — RB Trent Richardson (Alabama)
The Browns need a lot of help on offense, but with Luck and Griffin off the board, the choice comes down to wideout Justin Blackmon or Richardson. With Peyton Hillis departing, I think the Browns will take the guy that won’t need to rely on Colt McCoy’s questionable arm strength and accuracy.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — CB Morris Claiborne (LSU)
For a guy tabbed as a defensive genius and for a team that has spent a lot of high draft picks on defensive talent, Raheem Morris and the Bucs have fielded some awful defensive units the past few seasons. With a new coaching staff in place, the Buccaneers could decide to go a different way, but I think Claiborne is the best player left on the board and he fits an area of need.

6. St. Louis Rams — DT Fletcher Cox (Mississippi State)
Justin Blackmon is the popular choice to go to the Rams, but have extra picks and this year’s draft is deep at the receiver position. Cox is a much better value pick this early in the draft and will help the defense immediately.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars — CB Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina)
Like St. Louis, Jacksonville could use a wide receiver, but I think seventh is still too early for Blackmon, so the Jags will look to shore up their defense as well with Gilmore, who is widely considered the second best corner in the draft behind Claiborne.

8. Miami Dolphins — WR Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State)
I think the Dolphins take Blackmon here to replace the recently traded Brandon Marshall. There’s a lot of speculation that the Fins will take QB Ryan Tannehill, but I think they like Matt Moore more than most people realize and I don’t think Tannehill is that much of an upgrade, if he is one at all. I don’t think they panic about missing out on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn and will improve the offense in other ways.

9. Carolina Panthers — DL Quinton Coples (North Carolina)
While the Panthers offense score 21 points or more in 12 of their 16 games in 2011, the Panthers desperately need help on defense and they will address it in the first round. After monster reviews in his junior season, Coples fell off a little in his senior campaign, but the ability is still there and he can play everywhere on the line and everywhere is exactly the place the Panthers D-line needs help.

10. Buffalo Bills — OL Reilly Reiff (Iowa)
Buffalo fixed their defensive line in a big way during free agency, so they’ll use the draft to fix a patchwork offensive line. Reiff is not the biggest, fastest, or strongest prospect of all time or even of this draft, but he’s a solid fit for this Buffalo team.

11. Kansas City Chiefs — QB Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M)
It’s no secret that Matt Cassell isn’t the long term answer KC thought they were getting when they traded a second round draft pick to New England to acquire him in 2009. He’s been hurt and a game-manager at best, while Tannehill could prove to be a game-changer. With Cassel still on board, Tannehill would not be forced to step in on day one and take charge of the offense.

12. Seattle Seahawks — LB Luke Kuechly (Boston College)
Kuechly does not rush the quarterback well, and that type of linebacker doesn’t typically get drafted this early, but Kuechly does possess very impressive coverage skills for a linebacker. The Seahawks re-signed Skittles-machine Marshawn Lynch and have a healthy QB battle brewing between incumbent Tavaris Jackson and newcomer Matt Flynn, so focusing on defense early in the draft makes sense.

13. Arizona Cardinals — OL David DeCastro (Stanford)
The Cardinals desperately need help on the offensive line and DeCastro’s pure physical tools and hard hitting attitude make him as good as just about any lineman prospect in recent years.

14. Dallas Cowboys — SS Mark Barron (Alabama)
America’s Team needs help at several positions on defense, but none more so than in the secondary. They need a hard-hitting playmaker and Barron was that guy for the national champs and can be that guy at the next level too.

15. Philadelphia Eagles — DE Chandler Jones (Syracuse)
The Eagles look good to go on offense, but the defense still needs some work, beginning with the front four. Jones will bring a big presence and the potential to be a multiple-time Pro Bowler for the City of Brotherly Love.

16. New York Jets — DE Melvin Ingram (South Carolina)
Ingram is just the type of player that Rex Ryan loves. Whether or not he’ll be able to get everything out of Ingram that he wants, Ryan will surely try his best. Ingram can play outside linebacker for the Jets or put his hand down and rush the edge. The Jets struggled to provide consistent pressure last season and Ingram should help. maybe the Jets fan still inside me is a bit optimistic that a talent like Ingram would fall to them at 16, but if not, Ryan may look inside at a DT like Dontari Poe who has all the potential in the world.

17. Cincinnati Bengals — WR Michael Floyd (Notre Dame)
Floyd had some off-the-field red flags at Notre Dame, but the Bengals aren’t a team that puts too much stock in those things. It’s the football talent they want and Floyd has tons of it. Lining up across from AJ Green, he will give Andy Dalton two imposing physical threats to work with in a division that figures to throw out some of the league’s toughest defenses.

18. San Diego Chargers — OL Jonathan Martin (Stanford)
With Kris Dielman’s unfortunate retirement, the Chargers need a replacement and Martin is a good one. He’s not the flashiest of picks, but a solid one that should provide good value for quite a few years.

19. Chicago Bears — DE Whitney Mercilus (Illinois)
Da Bears took care of getting Jay Cutler some help by trading for Brandon Marshall. While not the elite Top 5 receiver he could have been, he’s familiar with Cutler and allows the Bears to spend their first round selection on another position of need.

20. Tennessee Titans — DT Michael Brockers (LSU)
Brockers will give Tennessee some much needed size and power on the interior of its line. They struggled to stop the run and also to rush the passer last year, and Brockers will help alleviate both problems.

21. Cincinnati Bengals — CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama)
Janoris Jenkins could jump Kirkpatrick, but I just don’t see teams overlooking Jenkins’ off-the-field misconduct to risk him this high. Kirkpatrick is an NFL-ready corner who won’t wow anyone with flash, but will provide very solid corner play.

22. Cleveland Browns — WR Kendall Wright (Baylor)
It’s always nice to have multiple first round selections, and Cleveland gets its wide receiver here at 22. They could always package this pick to move up and target Blackmon or Floyd, but Wright isn’t as far behind those two as he seems. He played big and fast at Baylor and should be able to do so at the NFL level.

23. Detroit Lions — OG Amini Silatolu (Midwestern State)
Even with the defensive help they very much need, Detroit’s key to success is keeping Matthew Stafford healthy. To do that, they need Silatolu, or someone like him to fortify a shaky offensive line. Although not as household a name as someone like Cordy Glenn or Mike Adams, Silatolu’s hard-nosed style of play should endear itself to Jim Schartz and the Lions.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers — LB Donta Hightower (Alabama)
The Steelers need some youth on their defense with so many key contributors growing older and slower. Hightower can help immediately and the Steelers will look for defensive line reinforcements later in the draft.

25. Denver Broncos — RB Doug Martin (Virginia Tech)
Willis McGahee isn’t getting any younger or faster, and the rest of the RB depth chart isn’t anything to be optimistic about. Martin is a hard runner who won’t be intimidated when asked to help with pass blocking. Which as we all know by now, is something that Peyton Manning desperately desires in a running back.

26. Houston Texans — DE Nick Perry (USC)
With the departure of Mario Williams, the Texans will need someone new to pair with last year’s first round sensation, J.J. Watt. Perry should make a solid pick and will add to Houston’s line of successful first round DE selections (JJ Watt, Mario Williams, Jason Babin)

27. New England Patriots — LB Shea McClellin (Boise State)
If it seemed as if New England was succeeding in spite of their defense in 2011, it’s because they definitely were. Despite their defensive issues, New England found themselves still playing come Super Bowl Sunday. McClellin will add some youth, but more importantly talent and versatility, to New England’s horrid pass defense.

28. Green Bay Packers — DT Jerel Worthy (Michigan State)
The Packers will look to add a running back at some point in the draft, but I think they’ll attend to that later rather than sooner. Here, they’ll look to add a versatile defender to a defense that was rather porous last season despite their ability to force turnovers. Chances are it could be secondary help, but the Packers could use help just about anywhere on that side of the ball.

29. Baltimore Ravens — WR Ruben Randle (LSU)
Here’s where the trades may start to come in bunches. The Ravens are a very solid and complete team as currently constructed and could look to use this pick to get more picks for later. If they do stay put, adding a bigger receiving threat makes sense. Anquan Boldin is no longer a threat week in and week out, and Torrey Smith has only put flashes of potential on display.

30. San Francisco 49ers — WR Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech)
Hill has the same knock on him that every Tech receiver does — he’s a system guy, and it’s not a passing system. But Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas have certainly made out okay in the NFL. Even with Randy Moss, another receiving threat can’t hurt at all. If they decide they want to try the Patriots 2-TE set, they could go with Stanford’s Cody Fleener, Coach Harbrough’s old pupil.

31. New England Patriots — C Peter Konz (Wisconsin)
The only question here is “who?”, but not as in which player, but which team. If there’s one thing we know about the Pats and Bill Belichick is that he will use one of his first round picks this year and turn it into a better first rounder next year. But with the slight chance they make their own selection here, Konz is a strong fit.

32. New York Giants — SS Harrison Smith (Notre Dame)
They’re pretty set on offense, with some weak spots that should be taken care of later in the draft. The studs on the defensive line cover up a lot of secondary and linebacker deficiencies, and Smith can step in and help right away on defense and on special teams.

The Voice: Live Shows — Team Adam & Team Cee Lo

Katrina Parker (Tonight, Tonight, Smashing Pumpkins)
Got swallowed by the accompaniment at times, but she’s a very strong singer who delivered an excellent performance. Kind of breathy, but not in an off-putting way.

Cheesa (Don’t Leave Me This Way, Thelma Wilson)
She was about a second away from not making it through the blind auditions, and then Cee Lo chose her in the battle rounds despite the fact that she was unequivocally out-sung. Her first live show performance had high-energy but it lacked a true wow moment. My guess is she is in America’s bottom three, but Cee Lo will save her.

Tony Lucca (In Your Eyes, Peter Gabriel)
A solid all-around performance. A lot of very good moment, but I didn’t really find myself finding a great moment. He’s definitely more than what Xtina made him out to be by calling him one-dimensional.

Kim Yarbrough (Rolling In The Deep, Adele)
Huge challenge with her song choice, and I felt she struggled a little bit with the big parts of the songs. I will echo Cee Lo’s sentiments, I don’t know if I loved the performance, but I still love her.

James Massone (Don’t Know Why, Norah Jones)
He’s just so smooth and swag. He doesn’t have a real big voice, but in this competition, I’m actually finding that as a nice change of pace.

Juliet Simms (Roxanne, The Police)
Not a big fan, and I don’t think that Roxanne is as big of a deviation from what she usually sings as Juliet seems to think it is. A lot of voice cracks throughout the performance—maybe that’s intentional and maybe that does it for some people, but I don’t care for it.

Mathai (Ordinary People, John Legend)
My favorite performances are the ones that can captivate me without the flashes and bangs. Mathai stood up on stage with a pair of guitar players and knocked it out of the park.

Tony Vincent (Everybody Wants To Rule The World, Tears for Fears)
Flamboyant outfits and over-the-top facial expressions aside, Tony is a very talented singer. He’s certainly a performer in every sense of the world and in that way, he’s a perfect match for Cee-Lo.

Karla Davis (Airplanes, B.O.B.)
I really liked Karla’s arrangement on this song, particularly the way she took the rap part and put it to music. There were certainly some weak spots and I’d guess she’ll fall in the bottom three, but she took a risk and it worked, but she’s just not as strong vocally as her competition.

Erin Martin (Walk Like An Egyptian, The Bengals)
Another beneficiary of Cee Lo’s questionable battle round decisions, I felt she was very weak in her first live performance. For someone that claims she doesn’t want to be judged on her looks, she sure puts a lot of effort into making as big a spectacle as possible to distract from her actual vocal performance.

Pip (When You Were Young, The Killers)
Wow. The High School Musical/Glee kid can rock. Because of how he’s presented himself so far, I didn’t fully buy into it, but overall, he’s still an extremely strong vocalist who should move on.

Jamar Rogers (Are You Gonna Go My Way, Lenny Kravitz)
Twitter exploded over his performance, but I found it just, very loud. Again, Cee Lo’s ridiculous level of showmanship was evident with people on stilts walking around. A very energetic performance that was kind of hard to take much away from his vocals.

My Top 3 from Team Adam would be Pip, Mathai and Kim Yarbrough. The fourth would be Tony Lucca.

My Top 3 from Team Cee Lo would be James Massone, Jamar Rogers and Juliet Simms. The fourth would probably be Tony Vincent.

The Voice: Live Shows — Team Blake & Team Xtina

Jermaine Paul (Livin’ On A Prayer, Bon Jovi)

He’s certainly got the chops and stage presence to be successful. Overall a solid performance, but I was surprised that a singer of his caliber was swallowed up by the band at times.

Chris Mann (Bridge Over Troubled Water)

A simple, but beautiful performance, which is what we’ve come to expect from him.

RaeLynn (Wake Up Call, Maroon 5)

So annoying. Adam Levine must have crapped himself hearing his song murdered on live TV. He said he liked it, but watching his reaction during the song told a different story.

Moses Stone (Stonger/Power, Kanye West)

Still not a particularly strong singer and it showed. The Voice is not really the right platform for rappers. He sang very little in this performance.

Naia Kete (Turning Tables, Adele)

Peaked at her blind audition. This performance wasn’t as good as her first one. A unique sound can’t be forced, and like RaeLynn, Naia forces her quirkiness a little too much. She’s strongest when she just opens up and sings.

Lindsey Pavao (Somebody That I Used To Know, Goyte)

Didn’t like the arrangement, and Lindsey didn’t seem that strong vocally. We learned that she’s pretty good at squeaking into the microphone, Adam nailed it when he said her performance lacked power during the chorus.

Jordis Unga (Alone, Heart)

Very, very good voice, so the screaming runs are wholly unnecessary. One of the better performances of the night.

Sera Hill (Find Your Love, Drake)

Despite being shown up, Sera was helped through the battle rounds by Xtina’s preference for loud female vocalists. Surrounded by shirtless hunks, she delivered a rather forgettable performance. It was not a song suited for her style, and she should probably expect to be on the chopping block this week.

Erin Willett (Living For The City, Stevie Wonder)

A lot of stage-filling fluff distracted from what was ultimately a pretty good performance. Ms. Willet is certainly growing on me.

Ashley de la Rosa (Right Through You, Alanis Morissette)

There were too many runs in the song that didn’t allow Ashley to properly show off her chops, which are impressive. I like the singer, did not like the performance. Adam’s glowing review probably stemmed from his buddy-buddy relationship with Alanis.

Charlotte Sometimes (Misery Business, Paramore)

Never was a big fan and she did nothing to sway me with this performance. Her voice just sounds lazy, like she’s not pronouncing her words properly or getting on top of every note.

Jesse Campbell (What A Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong)

The best thing about Jesse is that all he needs is a microphone. No flash, no dancers, no props, no smokescreens, nothing. His voice is more than enough to carry a performance. He’s definitely the best of the night, and probably the best in the competition. Really a signature performance. Again.

***

My top three from Team Christina would be Jesse Campbell, Chris Mann and Lindsey Pavao. The fourth would Ashley de la Rosa.

My top three from Team Blake would be Jermaine Paul, Erin Willet and Jordis Unga. The fourth would be reluctantly be Naia Kete.

2012 MLB Predictions

American League East

1. Yankees
The Yankees opened the offseason with a very questionable starting rotation after CC Sabathia, but have since transformed it into a strength. After re-upping with Freddy Garcia early on, they traded for young right-hander Michael Pineda and signed former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda. With one of the league’s most potent offenses and a shutdown bullpen, the Yankees seem to be the best team in the East.

2. Rays
Like the Red Sox, the Rays’ season came down to the very last game. The Rays are all about run prevention, running out an excellent rotation and a shutdown bullpen that Joe Maddon manages very well. The reunion with Carlos Pena will add some pop to a lineup that desperately needs it, and a full season of Desmond Jennings should help as well.

3. Red Sox
The Red Sox undoubtedly have a ton of talent, and had they won one more game last year, their whole season could have turned out drastically different. They’ve replaced Jonathan Papelbon with some new bullpen arms after moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, and still possess arguably the league’s best offense. Unfortunately, they have two teams ahead of them in the division to jump.

4. Orioles
There’s some hope for the future here, but I think they’re still a season away from contending. The bats are there and Baltimore will certainly hit for some power with bats like Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds. The bullpen should be a strength but it’s the starting pitching that needs to improve for the O’s to climb out of the bottom of the division.

5. Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are an improving team that has a lot of potential, but fulfilling that potential will be challenging, especially in this division. Jose Bautista is probably at his peak performance and while guys like Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus have room for improvement, it’s not a given that they’ll translate their tools into production. After Ricky Romero, the starting rotation doesn’t have an arm that you can count on.

American League Central

1. Tigers
Detroit ran away with the division last season and went ahead and got better. They already had the best hitter (Miguel Cabrera) in the division and the best pitcher (MVP & Cy Young Justin Verlander) but decided that Prince Fielder would be an adequate replacement for Victor Martinez. If you asked me which team was most likely to win their division by 15+ games, I wouldn’t hesitate picking the Tigers.

2. White Sox
Thought long and hard about the rest of this division, and it’s pretty close who finishes in spots 2-5. Chicago has some intriguing arms in their rotation, mainly Jake Peavy (health) and Chris Sale (transition to rotation) and should have enough offense to stick around .500 for most of the season.

3. Royals
Their farm system is once again churning out very nice players, and this time they’re locking them up long-term early to try and stabilize some costs. Losing closer Joakim Soria hurt the back end of the bullpen, but if Jonathan Broxton can provide some stability at the end of the game, KC has a chance to put a nice little season together. Offensively, they’re probably the best of the bunch not named the Tigers. But the starting pitching is still an area in need of improvement.

4. Indians
They definitely over-achieved last season, and the offense still is not good. There are far too many regular at bats for guys that are well below league average. The Indians are going to need guys to stay healthy (already a problem) and play above their heads if they want to make any noise in a very weak division.

5. Twins
It’s a shame Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have fought injuries and ineffectiveness the past few seasons. The new ballpark should have been an exciting time for the Twins, but they’ve just kind of wallowed around the past few years. That Carl Pavano is starting Opening Day says a lot about the amount of work their rotation needs.

American League West

1. Rangers
They’re still the cream of the crop out here, with a potent offense, and a ton of pitching depth. Yu Darvish looks to replace the production of the departed CJ Wilson and even if Neftali Feliz doesn’t work out as a starter, they have guys like Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison waiting fill in. After consecutive AL pennants, the Rangers are still the team to beat.

2. Angels
But if anyone’s going to give the Rangers a run for their money, it will be the Angels and their new big name free agent splashes. Joining the team are Albert Pujols who gives them the middle-of-the-order bat that they desperately needed and CJ Wilson who fills out the starting rotation and make the Angels front four one of the best in the game.

3. Athletics
Their big offseason acquisition was Yoenis Cespedes, who put together a fancy highlight video of himself, but still has zero MLB games under his belt. He could be a middle-of-the-lineup game changer or he could wind up hitting a buck-fifty on June 1 for a last place team. The A’s have a ton of young pitching and if those arms pitch up to their potential, they could hang around and make a run for that second wild card spot.

4. Mariners
Even with Jesus Montero, who has managed to stay among baseball’s top prospects despite not having a defined position, Seattle will struggle to score runs. Running the league’s worst offense out in the league’s most pitcher-friendly park is not any way to contend for division titles.

National League East

1. Phillies
Even with the flashy offseason moves by the rest of the division, Philadelphia is still the team to beat. They may not have Four Aces anymore, but the three they do have are still damn good. Halladay, Hamels and Lee will lead the way for a pitching staff that will have a little less to work with while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley recuperate from injuries.

2. Nationals
While the Marlins made most of the big name moves, I think Washington’s young talent taking a step forward does more good in the end. Reliable starting pitching has been Washington’s Achilles Heel the past few seasons, and bringing in veterans Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to go with homegrown studs Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann should give them some semblance of consistency on the mound. The offense should get a bump from a more typical Jayson Werth season and a return of a healthy Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.

3. Braves
Like the Red Sox, the Braves were just a game away from extending their season past 162 games. But I think they over achieved a little and then didn’t do a whole lot to improve over the offseason. A full season from Michael Bourn will help, but if Jason Heyward and Martin Prado don’t rebound and Chipper Jones spends an extended period of time on the DL, the Braves could find themselves slipping further down the NL East standings than they are used to.

4. Marlins
A chic World Series pick, I just don’t see it. The rotation must have everyone stay healthy and effective, and that’s certainly not a lock given the injury history of Josh Johnson and the Jekyll and Hyde routine of Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Zambrano. The offense should be decent enough, but Jose Reyes isn’t a picture of perfect health and I still need to see more consistent effort and production from Hanley Ramirez. Regardless, they shouldn’t expect to be the worst team wearing orange in the NL East this season.

5. Mets
This is a troubled team with no real strength anywhere on the team. The team’s highest paid players are very injury prone and their performances have suffered because of it. The team moved the fences in and lowered them in hopes of jump-starting some of their key players, but more than likely it will hurt their pitchers more than benefit their hitters.

National League Central

1. Reds
The Reds lost their biggest free agent acquisition of the offseason when Ryan Madson went down with Tommy John surgery before ever throwing a regular season pitch for Cincinnati. But with Sean Marshall, acquired in a trade with the Cubs, and Aroldis Chapman, the back end of the bullpen should still be very strong. After Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos, the starting rotation lacks dependable depth and other than Joey Votto, the lineup isn’t all that menacing. However, if there is a division where a team can overlook it’s shortcomings, it’s the NL Central.

2. Cardinals
They’ll never replace Pujols’ production or the impact that he had on a game just by being in the stadium. But this is still the defending champion and they’re welcoming Adam Wainwright back into the rotation. Even if he’s not the same guy that finished in the top 3 in the Cy Young balloting in 2009 and 2010, he’ll improve the Cardinals rotation. They picked up Beltran on a very team-friendly deal to help fill the Pujols hole (hah!) but what they really need is for Lance Berkman to repeat his 2011 season and for David Freese to take another step forward and become a threat in the middle of the lineup.

3. Brewers
Ryan Braun should expect a hard time of it this season, with the positive drug test hanging over him and Prince Fielder no longer looming behind him in the lineup. Aramis Ramirez just isn’t the same guy that Fielder is. With Zack Grienke and Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers have the same deal as the Reds, two very good starters but not much after that. And unlike Cincinnati, Milwaukee doesn’t have the strong bullpen to back the rotation.

4. Cubs
Here by the sole virtue that they are not quite as bad as the Pirates and Astros. Apart from Starlin Castro, they don’t have a lot of enviable young talent, and the rotation is a mess behind Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster. With a new front office in place, the Cubs should start returning to relevancy, but not this year and not next year. But hey, $18 million outfielder Alfonso Soriano only has three years left on his contract!

5. Pirates
There are only a handful of teams in baseball that could lose AJ Burnett to an injury and have it be a bad thing. But Pittsburgh is one of them. Behind Burnett, the Pirates have a motley crew of reclamation projects (Erik Bedard) and guys that would be more at home in a Triple-A rotation (Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton) than a major league one.

6. Astros
The only reason I’d say they’ll be better than they were last season is because the 106 losses Houston suffered through in 2012 were the most in baseball since the Diamondbacks lost 111 games in 2004. To celebrate their continued disaster, Houston will move to the American League in 2013 where life certainly won’t be any easier.

National League West

1. Giants
The Giants will once again run out an impressive pitching staff and once again struggle to provide adequate run support. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan will be counted upon to contribute power and speed to a lineup that desperately lacks both and Buster Posey will look to return healthy and productive from an unfortunate and severe ankle injury. They won’t score a whole lot, but with their pitching staff and their home ballpark, they won’t have to in order to win the division.

2. Dodgers
With Frank McCourt finally out of the picture, one of the games premiere franchises can get back on the right track. They have a Cy Young winning pitcher and an MVP caliber center-fielder to build around in Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp. The new ownership has to decide if Andre Ethier is worth building around, and if not, see what they can get for him in a July trade.

3. Diamondbacks
The NL West is considerably easier to pitch in than the American League, and Trever Cahill should find that out as Ian Kennedy did last year. Jason Kubel will help fill out the lineup, but I just don’t see them carrying their 2011 overachievements into 2012.

4. Rockies
Colorado is working San Francisco’s plan in reverse—the Rockies have more than enough offense to go around, but is counting on 49-year old Jamie Moyer, AL East washout Jeremy Guthrie and rookie Drew Pomeranz to flush out their starting rotation. Even with the humidor, there could be a lot of home runs flying over the wall at Coors Field—for both teams.

5. Padres
Other than the fact that the first names of San Diego’s first five hitter form a complete sentence—CAMERON WILL CHASE JESUS YONDER— I can’t think of a single thing that excites me about the Padres. Cory Luebke looked very good in limited time late last season and Yonder Alonso will finally get extended playing time after being blocked by MVP Joey Votto in Cincinnati for so long.

PLAYOFFS
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Rangers
AL Wild Card 1: Rays
AL Wild Card 2: Angels

NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Reds
NL West: Giants
NL Wild Card 1: Cardinals
NL Wild Card 2: Nationals