On the other hand, when the St Louis Cardinals lost the ace of their pitching staff, Adam Wainwright, to season-ending Tommy John surgery before the 2011 season even began, the Redbirds were automatically counted out (by the "experts") for any realistic chance of post season play. Winning the World Series seemed about as likely as winning the lottery.
The Philadelphia Phillies were considered the best team to come out of the National League, and with 102 regular season wins, they were indeed the class of the Senior Circuit. However, we all know that anything can happen in the post season; including getting bounced after the first round. Nobody expected the Phillies to lose that NLDS to the long-shot Cardinals. Nobody.
And nobody expected the Boston Red Sox to fold up like a cheap tent last September, and not even reach the post season as the wild card. They were widely considered to be the best team in the American League; the team most likely to beat Philadelphia in the World Series; or maybe Atlanta; or maybe San Francisco.
There were many other surprises in baseball last season. Teams that looked good in the 2011 preseason (according to many "experts"), included such dismal failures as the Colorado Rockies, the San Diego Padres, the Cincinnati Reds, the Oakland A's, the Chicago White Sox, and the Minnesota Twins. None of these teams even finished above .500, let alone competed for a division title.
Of course, there were pleasant surprises, too. Aside from Kirk Gibson and his young team of over-achievers, nobody gave the Arizona Diamondbacks any chance of competing in the National League West last season; but, compete they did, easily winning the division title over defending World Series champion, San Francisco.
Even last year's runaway American League Central champion Detroit Tigers weren't expected to do what they did. Now, they seem to be a "lock" to not only repeat as division champions; many expect them to win the next World Series, after adding the huge bat (and body) of Prince Fielder to their lineup. We'll see.
I think 2012 will continue the trend of unpredictability; at least to a certain degree. Here's what I foresee:
NO REPEAT DIVISION CHAMPIONS - That's right. The American League East no longer belongs to the Yankees; same goes with the American League West, as Texas stumbles in 2012, still hung-over from their World Series disaster at the hands of St Louis. Even the Tigers will take a step back in 2012; unable to fit the newly acquired Prince Fielder into the mix. Moving Miguel Cabrera to third base will be the biggest disaster to hit Detroit since the Ford Pinto.
In the National League, five-time defending champion Philadelphia will find much more competition in the East; more than they can handle. The Central champs - the Milwaukee Brewers, will fade into obscurity after losing Fielder to the Tigers; even with Ryan Braun winning his appeal and not facing that 50 game suspension; their pitching, which looked shaky in the '11 post season, will be even shakier in 2012. Alas, in the West, the Diamondbacks will fail to repeat their 2011 magic, although they will put up a good fight until the very end.
AND THE WINNERS ARE...
AL - EAST: Boston - Pitching will improve; offense still very good
AL - CENTRAL: Cleveland - The magic will be back at Progressive Field
AL - WEST: LA/Anaheim - Relaxed Pujols will have a monster year
WILD CARD: Texas - Yu Darvish will solidify the pitching staff
WILD CARD #2: Tampa Bay - Enough pitching and timely hitting to sneak in again
NL - EAST: Atlanta - Healthy rotation and a great bullpen spells relief
NL - CENTRAL: St Louis - Albert will be missed; but lineup will stay healthy and be productive
NL - WEST: LA - Kershaw and Kemp will continue the momentum from last year
WILD CARD: Washington - Strasburg emerges as baseball's new best pitcher
WILD CARD #2: Arizona - Still good enough to sneak in
Who will win it all in 2012? I'll let you know at the end of September. However, if my prognostication is as accurate as the vast number of last year's experts, the ultimate World Series champion will no doubt come from the other twenty teams not included here...That's baseball; always giving us surprises every year!