I don’t like the new Opening Day. I liked it much more when Opening Day started on Monday and half the teams would play and then on Tuesday, the other half of the teams would play.

This season, the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners “opened” the season in Japan over a week ago and then came back to play more exhibition games. How odd is that? The St. Louis Cardinals and newly named Miami Marlins “opened” the season yet again last Wednesday. And finally, the season “opened” again for the rest of the teams on Thursday and Friday. How about we stop taking the meaning out of Opening Day? It’s like if Christmas was on the 17th and then again on the 23rd, and again on the 24th and 25th. Kids would be bored by the 24th. So please stop that MLB.

Rather than do a preview, I have five predictions which basically means I don’t care about half of the teams and didn’t feel like writing about them. Who wants to write about the LA Dodgers bullpen unless you are an LA Dodgers fan?

Prediction #1: The second wildcard will cause more teams to believe they are in it and be buyers rather than sellers at the deadline.

Okay, that’s probably not a wild prediction. I think it’s what people expect. While I don’t really like the idea of a second wildcard team playing the first wildcard team in a play-in game to win the rights to face a division winner in a playoff series, I can see the benefits. More teams will play to win rather than sell off their players at the deadline.

Teams like the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals may have the opportunity to give their fans fall baseball that they care about if they are within striking distance in August and September. The Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins may be looking to add pieces to the puzzle rather than planning to give minor leaguers some major league playing time.

Since the wild card playoff team was instituted in 1995, 10 wildcard teams have made it to the World Series. Hot teams like last year’s St. Louis Cardinals will be looking to ride the wave and now, qualifying for the playoffs will be slightly easier.

Ian Kinsler

Prediction #2: The Texas Rangers are still the team to beat in the American League.

With the addition of Albert Pujols, the Anaheim Angels are a very trendy pick to win the World Series. The Detroit Tigers are too, since signing Prince Fielder. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Rays aren’t trendy, but will all be there late in the season. But the team who has made the World Series in back-to-back years is a bit overlooked in my opinion. Take a look at the lineups of all three teams. The Rangers have six guys with legit 20 homerun potential in their lineup. The Angels’ backend of their lineup may be more poor than average. And while the Tigers feature the best three-four combination in the game, the lineup isn’t consistent throughout.

Last year, the Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox, Rays, Tigers had the five best records in the American League. They also were in the top seven in homeruns in their league. While the old adage is that pitching and defense win games, offense still gets you to the playoffs in the AL. I expect the Rangers to lead the league in homeruns and get back to the World Series.

Prediction #3: While Miami may be the prettiest girl in the NL East, I think the Philadelphia Phillies still win the division and the National League pennant.

Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols are now out of the National League. Sports Illustrated published a few interesting stats in their baseball preview. They called it a “talent exodus” from the NL going to the AL. Based on last year’s statistics, there are 251 homeruns and 1002 RBI leaving the NL for the AL, with the average slugging percentage of .546. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels must be licking their lips. The Phillies have four strong starters and brought in former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to be their 9th inning specialist. They also hope to add Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to the lineup later in the season as both vets are currently injured. If they can stay afloat with Ty Wiggington and Freddy Galvis in the lineup, a healthy Howard and Utley could be a shot in the arm for the offense later in the year.

The Marlins opened up the checkbook in the same year that they opened up their new stadium, so hopefully they’re in it for the long run this time. Bringing in Jose Reyes was an excellent move, but Reyes is the ultimate what-if guy. He could be the best lead-off man in baseball … if he stays healthy. They have young power all over the lineup and if Hanley Ramirez stops pouting and starts playing baseball like he’s shown, they could be dangerous. But I keep harping back to the rotations. Josh Johnson heads the Marlins’ rotation, with newly acquired Mark Buehrle as the number two guy. But the backend of that rotation looks suspect. Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Zambrano both barely had ERAs under 5.00 and WHIPs at over 1.40. Anibal Sanchez is a good 5th starter. But somehow, I don’t believe that rotation will stay intact all season long.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp

Prediction #4: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder may have received bigger contracts, but Matt Kemp and Jose Bautista will mean more to their teams.

Last year, based on WAR, Matt Kemp added the most wins to his team over what would be a replacement level baseball player. He had a highest WAR at 10.0 since Barry Bonds’ 12.4 in 2004. The Dodgers didn’t make the playoffs, so he didn’t win the NL MVP. Instead, it was steroid test failure Ryan Braun who added 7.7 wins to his team. In the AL, Jose Bautista and Justin Verlander led the way with a 8.5 WAR.

While Kemp has been up and down and had a terrible 2010, he showed that when he’s on his game, he’s an amazing player. The Dodgers gave him a whopping 160 million dollar contract. Bautista has now hit 97 homeruns in the last two years in an era where no one is hitting that many homeruns. I would bet that both Kemp and Bautista are in the top 10 in WAR again in 2012.

If anyone makes a jump in WAR, it could be Adrian Gonzalez, who is healthy after having a shoulder injury for the last couple years.

Prediction #5: The Texas Rangers are best suited to win it all in 2012.

And now, more predictions:

AL Playoff Teams:
Texas Rangers
Detroit Tigers
New York Yankees
Tampa Rays (wildcard)
Anaheim Angels (wildcard)

Rangers over the Yankees

NL Playoff Teams
Arizona D-Backs
St. Louis Cardinals
Philadelphia Phillies
San Francisco Giants (wildcard)
Miami Marlins (wildcard)

Phillies over Marlins

World Series:
Rangers over Phillies in 7 games

Adrian Gonzalez (AL)
Matt Kemp (NL)

Cy Young:
Justin Verlander (AL)
Cliff Lee (NL)

Rookie Of The Year:
Yu Darvish (AL)
(And what an amazing race the AL ROY could be with Darvish, Matt Moore, and Yoenis Cespedes in the running.)
Yonder Alonso (NL)
(If Bryce Harper were on the Nationals now, I’d have gone with Harper.)

I’ll have a second baseball column tomorrow, focusing on my San Francisco Giants in the second SF Giants Heat Check of the season.

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