Baseball is awesome, as if this World Series isn't enough proof. But when one season ends, it's time to look ahead to the next. The St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers have certainly given us a classic championship round to send us into November, but in 100 or so days it's time for spring training and a new season. I can't wait. So let's get a jump on the fantasy baseball season with bold predictions on offense for each of the 2012 teams.
1. St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols has led my preseason baseball rankings for each of the past five seasons, and while I realize it's hardly bold to choose him again, I have to. I don't see Ryan Braun running as much, and having Rickie Weeks following in the batting order for 130 games isn't the same as pending Los Angeles Angels first baseman Prince Fielder. I've got Pujols, Jose Bautista, Braun, Miguel Cabrera and Matt Kemp as my top five. Pujols, who turns 32 in January, comes off easily the worst of his 11 MLB seasons statistically, but I say he returns to St. Louis and "normally bold" numbers. He did hit .319 in the second half, after all. I say he hits .329 with 42 home runs, 122 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 2012.
2. Texas Rangers: We could certainly see them in October again next year. What a lineup! Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz ... and that's in Player Rater order from 2011. First of all, I'll predict Beltre flirts with 40 homers and 120 RBIs, making him a nice third-round fantasy pick in 2012. Let's go bold in center field: Leonys Martin, a Cuban defector and rookie speedster, will eventually hit second over Andrus and steal a team-high 42 bases.
3. Philadelphia Phillies: Now, in order of 2011 team wins we go team-by-team. ... Roy Halladay will win as many games as any Phillies hitter will have home runs in 2012. They all tie at 21, with Shane Victorino and new left fielder John Mayberry Jr. hitting the 21 dingers. A hobbled Ryan Howard will play 112 games and hit 19 home runs. Draft him in Round 13.
4. New York Yankees: Six New York Yankees will hit 30 or more home runs. Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, a rejuvenated Alex Rodriguez, a still-viable Nick Swisher, 2012 AL MVP Robinson Cano (for the first time with 30 homers) and rookie catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero is the sixth. He's legit, he's catcher-eligible and he's in my top 100.
5. Milwaukee Brewers: New leadoff hitter and shortstop Jose Reyes hits 16 home runs, scores 110 and steals 51 bases, finishing as a top-10 fantasy player. Michael Bourn was the No. 9 fantasy hitter this past season, you know. Reyes can run like that and we'll see some pop outside of Citi Field.
6. Detroit Tigers: New third baseman Aramis Ramirez -- two-year contract after being released by the Chicago Cubs -- puts up Miguel Cabrera numbers (38 home runs, 118 RBIs), while protecting Cabrera in the lineup. What, you wanted a bold prediction on Andy Dirks or Don Kelly?
9. Boston Red Sox: Outfielder Carl Crawford slips to the fifth round in fantasy drafts and wins AL Comeback Player of the Year by hitting .298 with a career-high 20 home runs and 42 steals. Jacoby Ellsbury still has a better fantasy year (21 HR, 51 SB), though.
11. Los Angeles Angels: With Mike Trout, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells in tow and certainly useful, the best Angels outfielder for fantasy will be Peter Bourjos, hitting .290 with 17 home runs and 31 steals.
12. San Francisco Giants: Catcher Buster Posey returns somewhat successfully by playing in 128 games and hitting .283 with 14 home runs, but first baseman Brandon Belt leads the team with 24 home runs and 92 RBIs.
13. Los Angeles Dodgers: Nothing against worthy first-round pick Matt Kemp as he hits 30 home runs and steals 26 bases, but left fielder Jerry Sands leads the Los Angeles Dodgers with 32 home runs (while hitting .254) and shortstop Dee Gordon swipes 48 bases (while hitting two home runs).
15. Washington Nationals: A touted rookie hits six home runs in September, but it will be catcher Derek Norris, not outfielder Bryce Harper. Don't bother drafting either in March, but try to stash both away in dynasty formats.
17. Chicago White Sox: A rejuvenated Adam Dunn hits 10 home runs in April, then in July is traded to the Texas Rangers and finishes the season with a total of 32 home runs. And he homers in the World Series.
19. The New York Mets: The Mets acquire former Reds prospect Yonder Alonso in a massive 11-player January extravaganza trade, with Jason Bay and Justin Turner among those departing, and Alonso wins rookie of the year honors with 26 home runs and a .290 batting average.
22. Florida Marlins: Outfielder Logan Morrison and new manager Ozzie Guillen become best buddies on Twitter, and one of them really turns the corner as a hitter, batting .320 with 29 home runs and 111 RBIs.
24. Kansas City Royals: I love the Royals offensively! If only the young pitchers would develop. Eric Hosmer hits .300 with 26 home runs. You know about him. Do you know about outfielder Lorenzo Cain (he'll hit .300 with 34 stolen bases) and catcher Salvador Perez (the next Alex Avila with less power, but he hits .300)?
26. San Diego Padres: No Padres hitter reached as many as 12 home runs in 2011. Next year, Anthony Rizzo, Cameron Maybin and Kyle Blanks all flirt with 20. Hey, I want to be bold, but they combined for all of 17 in the big leagues this year.
27. Baltimore Orioles: Starting corner infielders Mark Reynolds (first base) and Chris Davis (third base) combine to hit .234 with 68 home runs and 3,880 strikeouts. Wait, drop that last 0 on the strikeouts.
28. Seattle Mariners: Things will get better for the Mariners. Isn't that bold enough? OK, Dustin Ackley will hit .302 with 14 home runs and 14 steals, Justin Smoak will hit 21 home runs and Casper Wells will delight those in deep leagues with his 20 home runs (albeit with a .230 batting average and Reynolds-like whiffs).
30. Houston Astros: OK, time for the Astros. Wow, it's tough to be positive here with current personnel, so I will boldly predict the team will sign its top hitters this winter in second baseman Kelly Johnson (22 home runs!), catcher Ryan Doumit (.290, 15 home runs) and outfielder Josh Willingham (32 home runs!).
Enjoy your offseason!