This week marks the start of the 2012 Major League Baseball season as Opening Day is upon us all. Without a doubt Opening Day is one of the most exciting days of the year as cities across the country are full of hope for their teams. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a handful of Opening Day games over the years and it’s something special to be part of. That first crack of the bat and pop of the glove is music to my ears after a long winter. Not only does Opening Day signify the beginning of the new baseball season but it also means summer is right around the corner. Baseball is more than just a sport it’s a cultural phenomenon. You can’t have spring/summer/and fall in America without baseball. It’s the sport that’s always there for you through thick and thin. From April to October you can find your favorite team playing just about every day. You get used to seeing your team on a daily basis and on an off day it’s as if a member of your family disappeared and you don’t know what to do.

The 2012 season will offer plenty of excitement for everyone. Some new faces in new places around the league include Albert Pujoles in Anaheim, Jose Reyes & Ozzie Guillen in Miami, and Prince Fielder in Detroit. We’ll get to see for the first time ever a 5th playoff team added to each league as MLB decided to add a wildcard team to the mix in 2012. The two wildcard teams will battle it out in a 1 game playoff for the right to move on to play a best of 5 against one of the division winners. This new format will bring back an incentive for teams to win the division as the division winners will avoid that one game elimination round.

It’s hard not to be optimistic about our hometown Phillies who start the season in Pittsburgh against the Pirates but due to the injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley caution flags are being raised around town. The Phillies offense doesn’t appear to have the pop that it used to without these guys. I still believe the Phillies can make a deep playoff run because their pitching is superb but they’ll need both Utley and Howard to come back to their usual form for the offense to put up runs. Without Howard and Utley Hunter Pence serves as the only legitimate power bat in the lineup. Pence I believe will have an MVP type season as he begins his first full season in Phillies pinstripes. New closer Jonathon Papelbon will be an interesting figure to watch as he brings his competitive nature from Boston to Philly. We’ll also welcome the return of veteran Jim Thome as he looks at making one more run to finally capture a World Series ring.

So what are my predictions for the 2012 season? Lets see…

AL East – Boston Redsox
AL Central – Detroit Tigers
AL West – Anaheim Angels
WildCard Teams – New York Yankees, Texas Rangers

NL East – Philadelphia Phillies
NL Central – Cincinnati Reds
NL West – San Francisco Giants
WildCard Teams – Arizona DiamondBacks, Atlanta Braves

AL Winner – Anaheim Angels
NL Winner – Philadelphia Phillies

World Series Champion – Philadelphia Phillies

C’mon did you really think I’d see it any other way. The Phillies have the best rotation in baseball and the addition of Jonathon Papelbon to the bullpen will make that part of the team another strength. The offense will without a doubt have its ups and downs throughout the season and will surely struggle early without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley but once they return this lineup should straighten itself out IF they both can get back to form. This team is hungrier than ever before to win a World Series. They were embarrassed last year when they were knocked out in the division series by St. Louis. I fully expect them to come out with something to prove right from the start. They realize the window of opportunity is closing and for guys like Cliff Lee and Doc Halladay who weren’t on the team in 2008 during the last title run the time is now to capture that ring and they know it. However I don’t expect it to be a walk in the park to the division title like last season. I don’t foresee another 102 win season at the moment I’m thinking 93 wins is more realistic for the 2012 campaign. The other teams in the NL East have definitely improved and I expect it to be a dog fight down to the last week of the season but in the end veteran experience and pitching will prevail. With that said it’s time to PLAY BALL.