These aren’t so much predictions as foretellings. I’m not guessing here, I’m cluing you in on what’s to come for the immediate future. Ignore these warnings at your own peril!
There’s a temptation to put Johnson in a category with Adam Wainwright as guys who missed a lot of last season, but shoulder injuries tend to be far more insidious than elbow injuries do. Just ask Chien-Ming Wang. Santana’s on an upward trend, but I fear Johnson won’t be nearly so lucky in 2012.
2. Bryan LaHair will hit 25 or more home runs
ZiPS has him down for 24, but I think he tops that out, especially if spring is as warm in Chicago as our “winter” has been. LaHair may have played in the PCL, but his numbers aren’t as park-inflated as, say, his new teammate Ian Stewart; his power is for real and he’ll soon be a fan favorite in Wrigleyville.
3. Michael Cuddyer will set a career high in OPS
Cuddyer has been relatively healthy over the last few seasons, he’s moving to Denver, and more importantly, he’s moving out of the cavernous Target Field. All of these combined to get Cuddyer close to a career year all around, but I don’t think he quite challenges the 32 HR he hit in 2009. I foresee a lot of doubles bouncing up against the wall in Coors Field for Cuddyer.
4. J.J. Hardy will hit 30 HR again
Similar to Cuddyer, health is a big key for Hardy. The logic is pretty simple: If he’s healthy, he’ll be on the field; if he’s on the field, he’ll hit balls out of it. The Orioles may not be in a position to compete, even with the expanded Wild Cards, but Hardy and Adam Jones will both challenge for the Gold Glove/Silver Slugger combination.
5. Denard Span will hit at least .280 and steal at least 15 bases
Before his concussion last year, Span was quietly putting on a show for the foundering Twins. He racked up 2.2 wins in just 70 games last year and that includes the games after he came back, when he was far less effective. The Twins believe he’s healthy, and if that’s the case, he’ll have a very productive year at the top of their lineup.
6.Yu Darvish will have a strong year — sub 4.00 ERA, sub 1.25 WHIP — but see a huge home/road split
Darvish will face some transition issues, but his fastball and slider are good enough to play in any circumstance, even some Space Jam-style battle against extraterrestrials. However, there aren’t many parks in Japan that play nearly as hitter-friendly as The Ballpark in Arlington does. He’ll give up some long home runs early, but settle in to become the prohibitive AL Rookie of the Year pick.
7.Bryce Harper will hit at least 10 major league home runs in 2012
If he breaks camp with the team, it’ll be even more than 10, but there’s no way Harper languishes in Triple-A as the Nationals start their first year of high expectations. He’ll be up with the team no later than the All-Star break, will put on an absolute show in batting practice, and won’t have the adjustment problems that some think he will, as he puts up solid power numbers for the Nats.
8. Alfonso Soriano will be traded by August 1
The Cubs may have to eat a large portion of his salary, but with an effective LaHair at first and top prospect Anthony Rizzo champing at the bit to get up with the big club, there’s an incentive for the Cubs to clear Soriano’s spot and get both of the younger players into their lineup. Soriano will almost certainly land in the AL, but his exact home is tough to guess this early in the season. An injury to some team’s DH will make the road clearer.
9. The Pirates won’t break .500 this season
They were close last year before fading at the end of the season, but they won’t break the streak this year either. Pedro Alvarez will struggle again this year, the pitching is a right mess even after A.J. Burnett comes back, and Andrew McCutchen can’t will the team to 83 wins alone. 2013 will be the year the curse comes to an end in Pittsburgh.
10. The extra wild card will actually do what it’s supposed to and generate a lot of excitement
It’s en vogue right now to hate on the extra Wild Card, and I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of it, but for at least this first year, it’ll be a compelling match up. The AL and NL East races will be extremely tight, but with baseball’s middle class better than ever across the board, the play-in game will be one that a lot of people look forward to.
Bonus! The winner of one of the expanded Wild Card games will go on to win at least one playoff series.
Bud Selig will look like a genius for the moment, people will grumble, but September will be a great month of baseball from coast-to-coast and a worthy successor to 2011’s astounding stretch run.