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What Can 2011 Tell Us about 2012?
As the New Year is approaching, it is kind of interesting to look back at 2011 and then see what that might foreshadow about 2012.
The word that I would use to define 2011 in Major League Baseball is surprise. It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to realize why.
First of all, the Boston Red Sox collapsed in an epic fashion. As a result of the collapse, manager Terry Francona lost his job, and Red Sox Nation was definitely not thrilled. The Atlanta Braves had a similar collapse, but the overhaul was not nearly as complete as it was in Boston. The Atlanta Braves are still young and will improve every year. Nevertheless, both of these teams were virtually guaranteed their playoff spots, yet the playoffs began with the Tampa Bay Rays and the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals in those spots.
While we are talking about the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies choked against them as well. The Phillies had the best record in baseball, and the Cardinals were the Wild Card. On paper, the Phillies should have won that series. Of course, that did not happen, and credit obviously goes to the Cardinals for a great season.
Of course, I previously said that we might be able to use 2011 to tell us something about 2012. I think that what this season reinforced for me personally is that baseball is never predictable. In fact, I would argue that it is the most unpredictable sport in America.
Let me give you a list of surprising things that very well could happen in 2012 as well as my rationale for why it is very possible.
The National League East will be the best division in baseball. For the past few years, the station had been held by the American League East. With the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays cemented at the top, it could still be the best with a solid showing from the Toronto Blue Jays. However, I would argue that the National League East now has four teams that will finish or above .500. The Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves will remain strong, the Washington Nationals is only going to get better with maturity and the addition of Gio Gonzalez, and the Miami Marlins made a lot of waves this offseason. The New York Mets will not necessarily be as solid, but this will be the best division in baseball this season.
Matt Kemp will win the MVP award. You might not think that this is very radical because Matt Kemp was obviously passed over this past season when Ryan Braun was chosen instead. However, let’s be honest, this past season was MVP quality. He hit .324 with 39 home runs, 126 RBI, and 40 stolen bases. To get the MVP, he will probably need to put in another season of comparable quality. It is difficult to put together back-to-back seasons of this quality, so I think that that makes it relatively bold.
Ubaldo Jimenez will rebound and win over 15 games. First of all, we all know he has it in him. While pitching in Colorado in 2010 with some control issues, he went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA. He obviously can be extraordinarily effective, and he is pitching in the Dominican Republic this winter
to work on that control. After a disappointing 2011 where he went a combined 10-13 with a 4.68 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, I entirely expect him to rebound on the mound. Also, the Cleveland Indians have a quality offense, and he should get the run support he needs to be able to accumulate this amount of wins. I am normally not a fan of pitchers who have a lack of control, but I believe that Jimenez has the electric stuff to rebound from last season and win at a minimum 15 games this season.
Each of these three occurrences that I have mentioned will have doubters. Many people will still believe in the American League East as the best division in baseball or doubt Matt Kemp as a repeat MVP or even doubt that Ubaldo Jimenez will be able to rebound from a frustrating 2011. Keep your eyes on these predictions as the season progresses.