The questions at the beginning of a Major League Baseball season do not have to be particularly complicated. Let's set the table with the billy-basic queries every fan wants to talk about.
Who will win the six divisions in each league, the two pennants, and the 2012 World Series?
If you are interested in betting on baseball this season, there are plenty of predictions to pore over at the outset of a brand-new campaign. The thing to keep in mind this season is that a new wild card berth has been added to each league, creating 10 playoff teams in the sport and five in both the American and National Leagues. The twist, though, is that while another wild card team has been added to the mix in each league, the two wild card teams will be forced to play a one-game playoff in order to reach the division series round, which had been the first round of the playoffs since the 1995 season. What this means is that teams have more incentive to win their divisions. Finishing first in a division insulates a team from the one-game playoff, so teams will try harder to win a division instead of falling into the wild-card pit. However, the addition of a fifth playoff team in each league also means that the second-best wild card team could very well qualify for the postseason with fewer than 90 wins. This would have applied to the Atlanta Braves last season, and it also would have applied to a number of teams over the past 17 years since the wild card playoff format was introduced to the sport. This means that teams can make their way into October from humble positions, much as the St. Louis Cardinals did in 2011.
The team that has to stand out as a very attractive choice for legions of sports betting experts as a World Series favorite is the Texas Rangers. This is a balanced club that has managed to maintain a balanced batting order with few holes; a solid and capable starting rotation; a deep bullpen; and a blend of veteran grunt-guys and young stars. Texas has more pitching than the Los Angeles Angels, and should therefore be able to outpace the Halos in a contentious A.L. West race. The Rangers should join the loaded Detroit Tigers and the imposing New York Yankees as division winners. The Boston Red Sox and the Angels will probably square off in the one-game playoff. Matchups will determine the advantages, but a rematch of a Texas-Detroit American League Championship Series is highly probable. Give Texas the nod because it remains a more complete team.
When you do your homework and assess your sports bet on the National League, the outlook is a lot less certain. The Philadelphia Phillies are still the favorite, but not with the certainty they've possessed in the past. Ryan Howard will miss an appreciable portion of this season and will not be supremely effective when he returns. The Atlanta Braves have faltered in September in recent seasons and cannot be trusted. The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals should duke it out in the N.L. Central, but neither team has the perfect mix of hitting (the Reds have more) and pitching (the Redbirds have more) to be seen as a commanding favorite. In the N.L. West, the San Francisco Giants don't know how effective catcher Buster Posey will be after sitting out most of the 2011 season with an injury. That could decide the N.L. pennant, but right now, the