Here’s Major League Baseball’s offseason summed up in a single paragraph: The defending-champion Cardinals lost their best player—and arguably the best player of this generation—when Albert Pujols agreed to swap one red-and-white uniform for another (in exchange for a cool $240 million). The Brewers’ two best players made headlines, one (Prince Fielder) for securing $214 million to relocate from Milwaukee to Detroit (who says Motown is destitute?), the other (Ryan Braun) for (allegedly) having dirty urine. The Florida Marlins got rebranded the Miami Marlins, hired the game’s most volatile manager and then—in anticipation of their move to a new stadium—went on a wild spending spree that included giving an injury-prone shortstop $106 million … even though they already had an All-Star shortstop. The Dodgers are still ownerless. And the Red Sox fired a player-friendly manager who led them to two World Series titles and replaced him with someone who aggravates players, likes to hog the spotlight and hasn’t had a big-league job since 2002.
Gee, is it any wonder why the NFL and NBA—not to mention college football and basketball— have relegated America’s former national pastime to redheaded stepchild status? Still, much like a parent who stands by a ne’er-do-well child, I remain loyal to the game I grew up adoring, despite its dysfunction. So with spring training in full swing—and being unable to issue college basketball selections because we’re in the midst of conference tournament time—I’m shifting to the diamond this week and releasing my seven MLB over/under best bets for 2012. Note that these are listed from most to least favorite, and all numbers are courtesy of the LVH …
Reds OVER 86½: A year after taking the National League Central with 91 victories, Cincinnati dipped to 79 in an injury-plagued 2011 campaign. I’m betting the Reds rebound, in part because of young sluggers Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, in part because they acquired a terrific young pitcher from the Padres (Mat Latos) and mostly because the rest of the division is a mess. Look for Cincy to end up with a win total in the high 80s.
Tigers OVER 92½: Detroit won 95 games last year, then at the 11th hour this winter added Fielder to a roster that includes a perennial MVP candidate (Miguel Cabrera), the reigning American League MVP and Cy Young winner (Justin Verlander) and a closer (Jose Valverde) who went 49-for-49 in save chances last year. Then there’s this: The Tigers play 18 games each against four American League Central rivals (Indians, White Sox, Royals, Twins) that are likely to finish below .500.
Astros UNDER 63½: Not only does Houston (56-106 last year) have the lowest win total on the board, it’s the lowest by a mile (Baltimore is next at 69½). Here’s why it’s not low enough: Last year’s team leader in innings pitched (Brett Myers) is now the closer (the closer of what, I don’t know), while veteran slugger Carlos Lee is coming off a year in which he clubbed just 18 home runs … which is four fewer than the Astros’ other projected everyday starters combined!
Blue Jays OVER 80: Forcing baseball’s sole Canadian representative to compete in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays has to violate the NAFTA agreement in some way. That said, Toronto went through the gauntlet last year and came away with 81 victories, and that was without significant contributions from three top pitching prospects (Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan and Brett Cecil) or 22-year-old slugging third baseman Brett Lawrie. If that quartet pans out, Toronto will challenge for a wild card.
Diamondbacks UNDER 86: Arizona’s win totals the last four seasons: 82, 70, 65, 94. That’s like Charlie Sheen posting blood-alcohol-content readings of .31, .27, .34 and .03. In other words, something doesn’t add up. Yes, the D-backs are loaded with young talent, but so many players had career years in 2011 that it’s reasonable to expect a regression.
Rockies OVER 81: While Arizona overachieved last year, Colorado went in the opposite direction, finishing with 73 wins after being pegged as the team to challenge the Giants in the NL West. If Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez stay healthy, the Rockies will score plenty of runs—meaning their fortunes rest on the arms of a talented-but-raw starting rotation.
Athletics UNDER 71: The A’s won 74 games last season, then traded away their two best starting pitchers and closer, let their home run and RBI leader walk, signed a known cheater (Manny Ramirez) and welcomed Pujols to their division. Clearly, GM Billy Beane has a sequel to Moneyball in the works, titled Bad News A’s.
LAST WEEK: 9-5 (+$319); Bankroll: $6,858.