There does not appear to be a runaway, surefire, can't-miss World Series contender in either the American or National Leagues this year.
To figure out which teams will play late into October, Metro looks at a variety of impact players from both leagues that will make-or-break Fall Classic chances.
Not since Dice-K has a pitcher from Japan created so much buzz. If he can have the same kind of impact that Matsuzaka had in his first season, the Rangers could well make it three World Series appearances in a row.
Right field, Nationals
Could the biggest news out of Washington this October take place on the baseball field? Anything can happen in an election year, and Harper will certainly be a candidate — for Rookie of the Year. The Nationals might even be a contender to unseat the incumbent Phillies, and Harper is expected to lead that campaign. The first overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft looks to be ready for the bright lights.
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First baseman, Angels
The Angels might be the most stacked team on both sides of the ball in the American League, and the acquisition of Pujols is the linchpin. But, still, the lineup behind Pujols in L.A. is hardly Murderer’s Row, and Pujols could easily get the Bonds treatment in his new league. How he adjusts could determine the American League pennant.
Center field, Dodgers
Do you believe in Magic? Maybe things are finally looking up for the Dodgers, who have been looking up in the NL West standings for the past few years. But they still have Kemp, who is might be the best player in baseball no one knows about. Maybe some baseball Showtime in L.A. will finally make Kemp a star. Kemp batted .324 at the dish last year while driving in a career-high 126 runs with 39 homers.
If the National League is looking for an untainted star, it could perhaps find him in Colorado, where the All-Star shortstop is already being touted as an MVP candidate. The Rockies should be contenders in the West, and Tulo might finally be on the precipice of a monster season.
A look at some big arms that will play a big role in 2012:
Josh Beckett, Red Sox: The last time Beckett entered a Red Sox season so embattled was 2007, after he allowed 30 homers in a 2006 season that left many questioning his bona fides as an ace. Now, after clubhouse-gate, he once again must prove himself. In 2007, it resulted in a Cy Young-caliber performance.
Mariano Rivera, Yankees: Speculation is rampant that this will be the final season of Rivera’s brilliant Yankees career. The godfather of closers, Rivera could well go out with another World Series ring. How he performs at age 42 will certainly go a long way to determining the success of the Yankees in 2012.
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies: The Phillies offense enters the season decimated by injuries, with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley sidelined. But the starting pitching is still flush with aces, keeping pennant hopes alive. The margin for error is small, and if ‘Pap’ slips even a little, those knowledgeable fans in Philly will make his life miserable.
Justin Verlander, Tigers: The Tigers have plenty of offense, especially with the acquisition of Prince Fielder, giving the Tigers a deadly corner combo with Miguel Cabrera. But the Tigers’ rotation is rather pedestrian 2 through 5. So as the mighty Verlander goes, so go the Tigers.