Here’s my first set of power rankings for the 2012 season, based on games through April 26th. Enjoy.
1. Texas Rangers
If you’re dominating the American League, chances are you’ll find yourself atop this list more often than not. And that is exactly the case for the two-time defending AL Champion Rangers.
Going into the year, the only questions surrounding the AL West powerhouse had to do with starting pitching; we all know about how dominant their offense is. However, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, and Derek Holland are all proving themselves to be reliable starters year-in and year-out. They all seem to be staples that a team trying to make their 3rd straight World Series can rely on.
But in recent years the team has lost out on Cliff Lee and CJ Wilson via free agency. So while the middle of their rotation is solid, the main question remains at the top of their staff, as nobody knows if they have an “ace.”
Japanese import and my Cy Young prediction, Yu Darvish may have something to say about that.
We are all aware of the hype surrounding him, and he is definitely expected to have ace-potential. Well, Darvish is off to a 3-0 start with a 2.42 ERA, including a strikeout per inning. If this trend continues for the $60M man, the Rangers could run away with the AL West, which they already have a substantial lead in.
2. New York Yankees
My pick to win it all has been documented several times via Twitter to be the “Bronx Bombers.” After a bit of a slower start than I expected, the men in pinstripes have picked up the pace. Their 10-8 record has them just out of first place in the AL East. I’d be willing to bet that they’re not too concerned by the likes of the Orioles and Blue Jays yet, though, so they’re probably pretty comfortable with their start.
But the reason that I have them so high even though there are better records out there around the league, is because I see their roster – the great depth chart I see on paper – starting to perform as well as I expected them to.
I really like how their rotation lines up: Sabathia is an ace you can trust to go up against anyone; Ivan Nova wins games…a lot of them (16 last season, 3-0 so far in 2012); Hiroki Kuroda has proven to be a very reliable pitcher throughout his career; and while the back end of the rotation isn’t set in stone yet, I think they’re depth will save them there. They’ve got Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, and Andy Pettitte when he is ready to go. I’d be confident 2 of these 3 proven pitchers can step up down the stretch and at least be solid pieces for the team.
Derek Jeter is the shining star in their lineup so far, hitting .416. While many of their other hitters statistics aren’t good on paper yet, I fully expect all of them to have their typical All-Star seasons. They’re starting to win games without Teixeira, Cano, A.Rod, Granderson, and the rest of the guys at their best, so just imagine what they’ll do when they’re all clicking at once.
3. Washington Nationals
The lowly Nationals of years past are ready to add a new and exciting chapter to their franchise’s book. This is a team that I picked to be in the race for most of the year but fall out at the end, but they’re blowing away my expectations to this point.
And when you look at their roster on paper, the success shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to anyone.
While most people expected their bullpen to be one of the league’s best, and expected a heavily improved offense, their starting rotation is what is most impressive to me. If you haven’t taken a look at how their staff stacks up, you should. It lines up as follows: Stephen Strasburg (1.08), Gio Gonzalez (1.52), Jordan Zimmerman (1.29 ERA), Edwin Jackson (4.26 ERA), and Ross Detwiler (0.56 ERA). And they have insurance for those guys in the ‘pen and on the DL, too. That, my friends, is lethal.
That superb pitching staff paired with an offense that has formidable to far above average hitters at every position is one that could become a favorite in experts’ minds quicker than most expected.
4. St. Louis Cardinals
They’ve been very good so far, and that’s without Adam Wainwright pitching like he can and without Chris Carpenter on the active roster. Wainwright is coming off of a good start, so once he figures it out for good and Carpenter returns, they’ll get a huge boost for a team that already looks like the class of the NL Central.
Rafael Furcal and David Freese are off to phenomenal starts, and once Lance Berkman’s trip to the 15-day DL, their offense will be at full strength once again. It’s safe to say we all thought there would be an adjustment period early on in the season since they lost Albert Pujols, but so far they do not seem phased.
They should be one of the top NL teams for the entire season.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
We all know how hard the AL East is to win. It’s simply been the best in the MLB for the past several years. While the NL East is poised to give them a run for their money in 2012, the division owned by the Yankees and Red Sox will still be very good.
The Rays’ 12-7 start is all the more impressive due to the pressure we all know they face year-in and year-out in having to overcome those AL East beasts.
I think this team will be very similar to the American League Champion Rays we saw a few years back. The team is complete on offense and on the mound, infused with veteran leadership and sparks from many youngsters. At the plate, it is a team that will be led at the plate by corner infielders Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria, two guys that I see being in the AL MVP race.
At the top of their rotation, James Shields and David Price match up well with the best duos around the entire league. It’s definitely one of the best 1-2 punches.
So look out for those pesky Rays, they’re not going away.
6. Atlanta Braves
Also at 12-7, the Braves are off to a very impressive start, in 2nd place behind the Nationals in the NL East. While they definitely deserve this spot for now, I’m curious to see how they respond throughout the next month 0r so.
The Braves have a very shallow and very young starting rotation, one that I’m not sure can hold up with that of division rivals Phillies, Nationals, or even Marlins. But for now, the likes of Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy have been pretty good, so I don’t want to doubt them too much yet.
Their lineup is pretty complete, including several All Stars and All Star candidates like Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn, Freddie Freeman, Chipper Jones, and Dan Uggla. The offense will help the starting pitching stay in ball games, but it usually has to go the other way around in order for a team to sustain success for the long haul.
So while I question their starting rotation, I need to recognize that they have one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. If the young starters can step up and have even just solid seasons, I think the Braves offense and bullpen will win them enough games for them to be able to compete throughout the year.
7. Detroit Tigers
Similar to the Yankees, this is a team that has not quite lived up to their expectations in the early goings. Standing at just 10-9, the Tigers are right in the thick of things with the Indians and White Sox in the AL Central, so they don’t have much to worry about there just yet.
Their starting rotation has been a weakness so far. While Justin Verlander and Doug Smyly have been good, the likes of Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer have had big-time struggles. Those are the guys that need to be able to back up Verlander in the rotation, not Smyly, who it’s hard to put much pressure on so early in his career.
While their offense got off to a great start, they haven’t been quite as good since the first couple series of the year. If the Tigers’ offense is not dominant as expected, I see them struggling to win their division.
With a team that was expected to be carried by their hitters and one pitcher, they need their offense to not only be solid, but to be very good on a nightly basis. In many more games than not this season, they have struggled to score more than a few runs. While I think their offense will pick it up a bit, they need to pick it up a lot in order to pick up the 80% of their rotation that, to be frank, ain’t much special.
8. Los Angeles Dodgers
To be honest, looking at their roster I feel like a lot of people, including myself, may have overlooked how good they can be. They have a lot of good pieces on offense, led by the best hitter in baseball, Matt Kemp. If he and Andre Ethier keep up their early-season domination, it will let the rest of their hitters see tons of great pitches, ultimately putting enough runs up on the board for their pitchers.
While I’m not sold on their bullpen, I do think their rotation is good enough to compete in the NL West throughout the whole season. Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley form a very good 1-2 punch, and while their next 3 starters are all just formidable to solid, that could be enough in the NL West if they can just put together a decent year.
While I don’t see them running away with anything, they certainly have the ability to win their division. And although they may deserve to ranked higher due to their great start, I want to see more out of a unit that we haven’t seen have much success before I jump to any conclusions.
9. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are off to a good start under Buck Schowalter in 2012, and I’m putting them in my top ten because I feel like I have to. But I do not see them coming in any better than 4th place in the AL East, and I also think they’ll drop out of the running sooner than their 12-7 start indicates they would.
If I’m wrong, you may all laugh in my face. But do any of you actually think they’re going to compete?
10. Chicago White Sox
Mwahaha. I know you’ve all been waiting for me to put my White Sox in the top ten, so here you go. I’m well aware that there are a few teams that could also have this spot, but I actually think that the Sox are the best fit based on their start to 2012.
If a young team went out and acquired Jake Peavy, Adam Dunn, and Alex Rios in the off season, you’d say they could be a balanced and solid ball club, right? Well if these comeback kids can bounce back and continue their good starts to the season, they will serve as three HUGE acquisitions. A very good rotation, a bullpen that has potential but probably won’t be one of the best in the league, and an offense that is led by new 400 home run club member Paul Konerko, can compete in a lowly AL Central, especially with the Tigers off to an unimpressive start.