[We all know that spring training results have basically zero correlation to regular season numbers. That's particularly true for Arizona fans, who watched their team stumble to a Cactus League-worst 12-25 record last spring, only to turn things around once the games that mattered began, and won the NL West by a comfortable margin. But what if spring numbers - both on an individual and team level - were exactly predicted by spring ones? Here's what the end of season review for last year might have looked like...]
Dateline: September 29, 2011.
NL West. Despite a loss to the Rockies on the final day, the Giants will still have top seed in the playoffs, hosting the Phillies in the first round, while Colorado qualifies as the wild-card and travels to Milwaukee for their Division Series. Team MVP Aubrey Huff hit his 28th home-run, hitting .369, while Buster Posey came up just short in his quest to hit .400, ending the year at .396. Barry Zito anchored the rotation with a solid 2.30 ERA, holding batters to a .200 average, and getting valuable support from Jonathan Sanchez (2.70). The Rockies rotation was anchored by Jason Hammel's 2.60 ERA, and 1B Ben Paulsen proved an admirable replacement for Todd Helton, with 21 triples.
The Padres were let down by their starting rotation which went 27-59 over the year, with Tim Stauffer the only regular posting an ERA less than six. However, Will Venable did hid 22 home-runs, the first Padre not named Gonzalez to reach the mark since 2008. In LA, Matt Kemp's 23 homers and 74 RBI couldn't salvage the Dodgers season, and nor could Clayton Kershaw's impressive 2.29 ERA [Hang on... that did happen...] Finally, the barely surpassed the 2004 franchise low. While Daniel Hudson did well (3.18 ERA), Aaron Heilman, Armando Galarraga and Zach Duke combined for 62 starts and a 7.29 ERA. Russel Branyan drove in 92 runs.
NL Central. The Brewers cruised to the title in the Central, All-Star shortstop Eric Almonte finishing the year with a 1.074 OPS. only fractionally behind Prince Fielder, who hit .341. Yovanni Gallardo has to be considered a front-runner for the Cy Young after his 1.96 ERA for the year, along with a strikeout rate of 11.3 per nine innings. Cincinnati fell just two wins short of their 2010 tally, but quite some way from the playoffs, despite Chris Heisey's 26 long-balls and .346 average. The Cardinals got good offense from Matt Holliday, but Albert Pujols failed to crack .300 for the first time in his career [true that]. Kyle Lohse will likely get Cy Young votes too, for his 1.88 ERA.
The Cubs, once again, need to wait until next year, but Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells produced sub-three ERAs on their behalf. Young shortstop Starlin Castro anchored the offense, hitting .348 with 20. Pittsburgh had a season to forget but 1B Lyle Overbay delivered a better year, hitting .368 with twenty home-runs. Their rotation struggled, with Charlie Morton the only regular to post an ERA below 4.60; in his 25 starts, he reached a 2.63 ERA. Still, they were ahead of the Astros, who delivered the worst year in franchise history [and, indeed they did]. Poor pitching was to blame, with most of the rotation at a six ERA or worse. Brett Wallace was the only Astro to reach 40 RBI, with 65.
NL East. Philadelphia continued their dominance, picking up their fifth consecutive division title, though the Braves again pushed them fairly close. LF Ben Francisco was the surprising start of their offense, hammering 23 homers along with his .361 average. Brilliant pitching from 19-game winner Roy Halladay proved key, with opponents managing only to hit .182 against him. The Braves' pitching trio of Brandon Beachy, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson were almost as good, but their offense struggled with Chipper Jones, who batted .387, the only everyday player with an OPS that reached .820.
Interestingly, the entire division finished at or above .500 this year, the first time this has happened in the National League since the same division did it in 2005. For the Mets, Scott Hairston led the batters, hitting .345 with twenty home-runs, with the two Chris's, Young and Capuano, spearheading their pitching attack effectively. In the nation's capital, Michael Morse led all NL batters in home-runs, becoming the first player on the Senior Circuit to reach 50 since Prince Fielder in 2007, driving in 101 runs. On the other hand, the Marlins struggled with a lack of power, no-one reaching even a dozen for them. Anibal Sanchez won 16 games, with a sub-two ERA.
The American League. Well, to be honest, who cares what happens in the land of the Designated Hitter? But let's give a quick overview of the results and outstanding individual highlights.
|AL West||W||L||%||GB||AL Central||W||L||%||GB||AL East||W||L||%||GB|
Kansas City will host Toronto in one of the American League Division Series, with the Angels having home advantage over the Twins in the other match-up. Detroit can perhaps feel aggrieved to be left out of the post-season, as their 95 wins would have won the West or East divisions, but was good enough only for third in the ultra-competitive Central. An argument in favor of Bud's proposal to add a second wild-card, perhaps? There was rejoicing around the nation, however, as the Evil Empire finished with a losing record for the first season since 1992 - a year when the Blue Jays also won the division.
Justin Verlander is likely heading for a Cy Young [and he was], with a 0.96 ERA over 29 starts for the Tigers, posting a 0.86 WHIP. The A's Gio Gonzalez will probably get some love as well, holding opposing hitters to a .170 average, striking out more than a batter per inning. On the position player side, A-Rod will be hurt by playing on a losing team, but hitting .388 with 35 home-runs is certainly MVP worthy. The same goes for Kila Ka'aihue of Oakland, who was just one long-ball behind. Both men may lose out to the Royals' Alex Gordon, with a line of .343/.459/.729, who drove in 124 runs and went deep 32 times.