CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Season predictions: Tigers will win World Series; Verlander bags Cy

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With Prince Fielder teaming up with Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers are poised to win it all. (US Presswire)  
With Prince Fielder teaming up with Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers are poised to win it all. (US Presswire)  

So the Yankees have won the World Series the past six times Kentucky has won the NCAA basketball tournament?

Well, Joe Girardi, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez aren't the only ones smiling today.

MLB season predictions
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The last time Kansas finished as runner-up, in 2003 ... the Marlins won the World Series. Look at the way that makes Ozzie Guillen, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell perk right up!

The last time Ohio State played in the Final Four, in 2007 ... the Red Sox won the World Series. Listen, I can hear Bobby Valentine from here!

Or, wait. Maybe it was when I was driving through Yeehaw Junction, Fla., that I could hear him. Not sure.

What I do know is this: The Baltimore Orioles have done precious little right over the past decade, but they hit it out of the park in remodeling beautiful Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. One of the best touches is painted onto the foyer in the grand entryway, in big letters, this famous quote from Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby:

"People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."

Stop staring! Finally, it's time to come outside again.

Predictions for 2012? Let's rock. ...

AL East

1. Yankees: Rotation provides big bounce this year with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes. Andy Pettitte's escape from the Shady Acres Retirement Home could catapult 'em higher, even given Michael Pineda's decreased velocity. Just stay off the trampolines, boys!

  
 
2. Blue Jays: No longer Jose Bautista and the Pips. Now on the Midnight Train to the top: Brett Lawrie. Henderson Alvarez. Eric Thames. Ground-ball-tossing rotation led by Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Alvarez perfect for homer-happy Rogers Centre. They're close, real close.

3. Rays: Best young pitching in the game but, seriously, Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton are catching? Molina is 36 and hasn't appeared in more than 60 games since 2008. What, Schroeder, Charlie Brown's catcher, wasn't available? Backstop and shortstop (Reid Brignac, slowed by plantar fasciitis, and Sean Rodriguez, slowed by a career .229 batting average) are Achilles' heels.

4. Red Sox: What, Josh Beckett and Andrew Bailey spent the winter hitchhiking? Both are dealing with thumb injuries, Bailey's (so far) said to be more serious. After Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, Boston's rotation gets funky. Felix Doubront? Bobby Valentine's a big fan. Daniel Bard? If the ever-fragile Bailey calls in sick, will the Sox be able to resist moving Bard back to the 'pen? And shortstop, Mike Aviles? Please.

5. Orioles: You know there are issues when the most optimistic entity surrounding the team is the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, which is producing new state license plates featuring the grinning cartoon Oriole. By June, look for the state to opt out and begin producing Class A Frederick Keys plates.

AL Central

  
 
1. Tigers: If Detroit doesn't win this division by at least 10 or 15 games, something's wrong. Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Valverde, Mickey Lolich ... just seeing if you're still paying attention. Michigan has more miles of coastline than any other state, and that was even before the Tigers signed big Prince!

2. Royals: Luke Hochevar had Cy Young stuff in the second half of last year, and former Royals pitching coach Bob McClure (now with the Red Sox) spoke glowingly of him when we talked this spring, saying Hochevar finally has figured a few things out. That and Jonathan Sanchez should make for a better rotation, and in Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur and Co., this summer's All-Star Game won't be the only must-see baseball in Kansas City.

3. Indians: Ubaldo Jimenez's sophomoric behavior that got him a five-game suspension this spring is a bad sign. Because the only way Cleveland has a chance is if Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe and the rest pitch like champions. From what we saw in Jimenez vs. Troy Tulowitzki, Ubaldo is not in the right place.

4. Twins: Mary Tyler Moore tossed her cap again last year, and the Twins dropped it. They couldn't catch anything. New GM Terry Ryan called it embarrassing. They'll be better this year with the gloves and Joe Mauer looks like he's back. But good ol' Mary has better stuff than some of these pitchers. Ugh.

5. White Sox: Is it me, or has it gotten quiet on the South Side? Why, I'm not even sure the manager tweets anymore. And who the hell is the manager, anyway? (Robin Ventura, tweet it). Expectations are so low, biggest story could be how many Cubs fans travel to South Side just to boo Kosuke Fukudome.

AL West

  
 
1. Rangers: Before getting to the question of who beats the Rangers in this year's World Series, shouldn't we at least list reasons why Texas can return? Yu Darvish is a rotation upgrade over C.J. Wilson, Neftali Feliz's switch to starter has a high upside, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli ... these Rangers might be better than the past two AL champion teams. And the farm system is loaded with reinforcements.

2. Angels: Best blood feud this side of Yankees-Red Sox is now Angels-Rangers. And if you don’t believe that, C.J. Wilson has a few more phone numbers he can tweet. You know he and Napoli are going to get into a major dustup at some point this summer. The Angels' season-ticket base increased by 13 percent after they signed Albert Pujols, and talk about increased expectations. Even the Rally Monkey thinks Bobby Abreu will be traded soon.

3. Mariners: Look, hitting third seems to agree with Ichiro Suzuki. He's already hitting .444 (4 for 9) after the season's first two games in Japan. Of course, he was hitting .800 (4 for 5) after the first game. This is Chone Figgins' last, best chance. He's back in the leadoff spot at which he excelled in Anaheim, and if he can't help make the offense go, then Seattle might just drive him north across the Canadian border and make him disappear for good.

4. Athletics: If you can name three of 'em, consider yourself the favorite to win your Fantasy league. I can tell you this: It can only get more disappointing from here for Yoenis Cespedes when he discovers that he will not be presented with a check for $12,000 postgame after each of his home runs this summer, as he was when he belted his first long ball of the season in Japan.

NL East

  
 
1. Phillies: Three reasons: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. But the gap between the Phillies and Everybody Else is narrowing quickly. Contrary to rumors, with Ryan Howard (Achilles) and Chase Utley (knees) out, the Phillies actually do intend to man the right side of their infield in April. But let me tell you, Jim Thome's back was groaning loudly simply at the thought of oiling up his first baseman's glove. John Mayberry Jr. and Ty Wigginton will get most of the time there, and rookie Freddy Galvis will start at second. Margin for error: Thin, and getting thinner.

2. Marlins: Here's the deal with this team: If Josh Johnson crosses the 200 innings-pitched mark, they'll win the division. If he doesn't, they won't. He's done it once since his first full season in 2006. Your move, Mr. Johnson.

3. Nationals: More trendy right now than microbreweries, but is it really the Nationals' time? It's very close. And very cool that Stephen Strasburg is back with an opening day start. In Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and John Lannan/Chien-Ming Wang, the Nats have the pitching to contend deep into the season. But they're talking about pulling the plug on Strasburg at the 160-innings mark, and then what? Biggest news of the summer will be Bryce Harper's debut.

4. Braves: Biggest reason the Braves were so good April through August last year was relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters were nearly perfect. Then they wore out. Hard to see them being that perfect again.

5. Mets: Johan Santana and David Wright are ready for opening day. This is good news. Can these really be the Mets? Maybe things really are beginning to turn around for them. If the Mets are more interesting this year than R.A. Dickey's book (Wherever I Wind Up), consider 2012 a success.

NL Central

  
 
1. Cardinals: Maybe the neck issues preventing Chris Carpenter from pitching early this season will be a blessing, keeping him fresh for the stretch run at 37. Adam Wainwright is back, Carlos Beltran was a good signing and World Series hero David Freese is ready for prime time. Seems nuts to pick a team to win that's minus Tony La Russa, Pujols and pitching coach Dave Duncan. But this is one fascinating division, and each contender is flawed.

2. Brewers: Do you still believe in Ryan Braun? He had a miserable spring. Coincidence, or was it because he's not juiced? These are the questions he must answer this summer while the expected boos rain down. Fielder is gone, and will Braun still be the same guy? Good thing for the Brewers that Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and the lethal one-two bullpen punch of Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford will be.

3. Reds: It really is Joey Votto, as in lotto, with that monster contract extension. Kudos to the Reds on that one. But a great winter turned sour this spring when closer Ryan Madson blew out. Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake are solid on paper. But do you trust them? After that, key to this team is how many games aging third baseman Scott Rolen plays.

4. Pirates: Any team with Andrew McCutchen is a team worth watching. Trouble is, you may have to shield your eyes watching third baseman Pedro Alvarez. He followed a disappointing season with an alarming spring. The Buccos are sticking with him to open the season. But he's on double-secret probation.

5. Cubs: Has Theo Epstein won the Cubs a World Series yet? He hasn't? What's wrong with him? Must we call this a failed experiment already? Seriously, if Ryan Dempster can pitch them past Stephen Strasburg in the opener ... at least then Theo won't have to go in disguise to his local Starbucks.

6. Astros: Even with Jose Altuve, things are far from groovy.

NL West

  
 
1. Giants: These guys ranked 29th in the majors last season in runs scored. They're getting Buster Posey back, Melky Cabrera will help, the pitching is back, Tim Lincecum is stronger and Matt Cain just got a whopping new six-year, $127.5 million deal. He owes 'em.

2. Diamondbacks: They've been through the desert on a horse with no name. Riding through the desert with Kirk Gibson, Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill and Justin Upton is much, much better. Last year was no fluke. The Snakes will contend.

3. Dodgers: Lots of Dodgers love the group featuring Magic Johnson is in line to take over. Lots of that is based on the notion of expanded payroll and what might happen at the July trade deadline. Fair enough. But I'm looking at what I see right now, and what I see is A.J. Ellis behind the plate, Mark Ellis at second and Juan Uribe at third. That's reason enough to pick Dodgers fourth. They need a repeat of the career years Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw produced in 2011.

4. Rockies: They've got the position players to win -- Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Ramon Hernandez, Michael Cuddyer. But they've got pitching that needs maturing, quickly. Drew Pomeranz is going to be a stud. Can it be this year?

5. Padres: I would click "like" on the Padres' Facebook page for many of the moves they made over the winter. But wouldn't you know it, Carlos Quentin shuffled off for knee surgery this spring and won't return until later in April. This team won't lose 90 again, but it's hard to see them winning enough to get the locals' faces out of the fish tacos to pay attention.

Wild Cards

American League: Angels, Blue Jays. Yes, get your passports in order. Toronto is on the move. But the Angels win the one-gamer and advance.

National League: Marlins, Diamondbacks. With the Snakes slithering ahead to the next round.

World Series

Tigers over Giants: With Prince, Cabrera, Verlander and Co., the Tigers are primed to leave paw prints everywhere they go.

Awards

AL MVP: Robinson Cano, Yankees. Call it an upset if you like, with Fielder and Pujols crossing the border into the AL. But Cano is a great player surrounded by a great lineup in a great place to hit.

NL MVP: Matt Kemp, Dodgers. He figured things out last year, and when great talent, motivation and brains work together, Kemp's 2010 is what you get. The Reds' Votto and the Diamondbacks' Upton will be in the mix, let's see what the Brewers' Braun does and the Pirates' McCutchen very well may be in the conversation this year, too.

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers. He won the Cy and MVP last year, and this guy is no one-hit wonder. I love how driven he is to win multiple Cys, multiple World Series' and land in the Hall of Fame. Could happen, too.

NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum. He's stronger than he has been via offseason workouts, and he gets smarter every year. Plus, he works in a division full of pitcher's ballparks. Chalk him up for Cy No. 3.

AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Moore, Rays. Seems utterly preposterous to say, but Moore is going to be better than James Shields and David Price.

NL Rookie of the Year: Devin Mesoraco, Reds. Though Ryan Hanigan will get time behind the plate early, Mesoraco is on the launching pad. Teammate Zack Cozart, Cincinnati's shortstop, will be among his stiffest competitors.

AL Manager of the Year: John Farrell, Blue Jays. If the Jays fly like they could, Farrell, who is really good, will begin to get his due.

NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy, Giants. Amazing how smart a manager with that pitching will look with just a few more runs.

Wild pitches

AL Comeback Player of Year: Joe Mauer, Twins. If he stays on the field, it's a no-brainer.

NL Comeback Player of Year: Buster Posey, Giants. Things looked good this spring, though the NL is loaded with comeback candidates: St. Louis' Wainwright, Washington's Strasburg and Atlanta's Jason Heyward among them.

AL Surprise Player: Sergio Santos, Blue Jays. Toronto's bullpen blew an AL-high 25 saves last summer. Santos has the arm -- and the opportunity -- to fix that.

NL Surprise Player: Jason Kubel, Diamondbacks. His bat is going to like Arizona so much better than Minnesota's Target Field, which is exceptionally tough on all hitters, but ranks as the worst park in the majors for home runs from left-handed hitters. Figure the Pirates' A.J. Burnett in this category, too.

AL Bust: Michael Pineda, Yankees. Bad second half last year plus rough spring equals lots of questions.

NL Bust: Ryan Braun, Brewers. With boos awaiting at every stop, he is in for his most difficult season yet.

First manager fired: Brad Mills, Astros. This is neither the same program nor the same owner Mills signed up for three years ago, and good a baseball man as he is, he has got "sacrificial lamb" written all over him. Plus, if new owner Jim Crane is ruthless enough to fire executive vice president of communications Jay Lucas, one of the best at what he does in the game, then all bets are off.

Biggest name traded at deadline: Alfonso Soriano, Cubs. It will be Theo Epstein's greatest miracle yet.

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