Phillies will fight back
I know there are plenty of reasons to jump off the Phillies' bandwagon. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, relievers Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge and starter Roy Oswalt all may sign elsewhere, and Ryan Howard will miss a chunk of next season.
And, of course, the Phillies have lost in the postseason for three consecutive years since winning it all in 2008. I don't care. There are three reasons the Phillies, who had the best record in baseball, should still be the favorite for 2012: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
This game is, and always will be, about pitching. When you have three aces, you can overcome age and injuries and free agency. And there is no one in baseball, as rosters are constructed right now, that has a better duo — and certainly not a trio — this dominating.
The Yankees and …
Dave van Dyck
Who else? The Yankees.
The Yankees are always the favorites, just because they spend the most. Just think what could happen if they ever figured out how to spend it wisely. So the question becomes: Who's the second favorite?
Don't discount that new regime in Texas coming back for another try, or that doggedly determined franchise in Tampa Bay, or even Boston, with a new GM, new manager and perhaps new outlook. But the trend seems to be moving toward National League middle-market teams who have created a special chemistry.
Who might be the next Cardinals or Giants? How about the Diamondbacks or the revitalized Marlins?
The Rangers, finally
Los Angeles Times
The third time will be a charm for the Rangers, who will reach the World Series for a third straight year in 2012 and finally win it. As gut-wrenching as their seven-game World Series loss to St. Louis was, the Rangers will be better for the experience, more prepared to perform under the pressure of the playoffs and even more determined.
They should be every bit as good, if not better, in 2012. Every position player from a deep and powerful lineup will be back. Their only prominent free agent is pitcher C.J. Wilson, and I think he will return.
Wilson's free-agent value probably dropped with his shoddy postseason performance. He has a sense of unfinished business with the Rangers, and really, what other team will give him the best shot of winning?
Free agents can turn tide
The Morning Call
With Tony La Russa retiring and Albert Pujols becoming a free agent, we can rule out a repeat fluke. The Cardinals are one of the luckiest World Series champions in my four decades of following baseball. They also highlight why MLB should cut the season by at least two weeks. The current marathon allows a team such as the Cardinals to play one great month and carry that momentum to a place they don't deserve to be.
That said, next season's favorite will be clear after the free-agent signing period. The Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox, Braves and Giants are contenders, but key losses (or gains) could push one of them — particularly the club that lands Pujols or Prince Fielder — to the top.