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(The St.Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series)

Do you see something wrong with the picture above? Big guy, had one of the best 11 year starts to an MLB career EVER. No? Well, apparently neither do the Cardinals as they are rolling along just fine without Albert Pujols.

I could tell you that the Cardinals will make the playoffs this year and that the Angels will miss the playoffs this year and you could call me crazy. This offseason, it seemed as if the Cardinals were doomed when they lost out on Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa announced his retirement after winning the 2011 World Series. Pujols jumped ship with the Los Angeles Angels and they instantly became an American League powerhouse. The Cardinals, meanwhile, brought in new manager, and former catcher, Mike Matheny and also signed some guy named Carlos Beltran. While Beltran is no Pujols, the guy is no slouch either. He’s more than capable of putting up big numbers for the Cards, who look poised to defend their title without Fat Albert’s services.

Does the name David Freese ring a bell? This kid only put the team on his back to help the Cards slip into the playoffs and eventually win the World Series last year. He only broke the postseason RBI record, with 21, 5 HRs, and hit .397 in the playoffs last year. In fact, it was Freese that won the World Series and NLCS MVP, not Pujols. The fact is, St. Louis was prepared to lose Pujols last year and they are proving it this year with a batting lineup featuring Freese, Matt Holliday (remember him?), Lance Berkman (NL Comeback Player of the Year), Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, and Rafael Furcal. Factor that in with a rotation featuring a healthy Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and young lefty Jaime Lopez, you have yourself a team set for another playoff run. With a punchless, princeless Brewers team, who else is there to contend with them? I like their chances at the playoffs this year as they are 7-3 and leading the league in runs, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage so far.

Out west Pujols and his new crew are going to have to get by the back-to-back American League Champion Texas Rangers to get into the playoffs. If not by division, they will have to beat out one of those tough AL East teams (there are four of them now) to get one of the two Wild Card spots. So yeah, go ahead and call me crazy. Pujols out, Cards in. Yes, we are talking playoffs Jim Mora


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Although the Red Sox missed the playoffs in 2011, there are plenty of reasons for Sox fans to remain positive for 2012. One reason is the production they got out of their young centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury had a 2011 campaign worthy of an MVP Award. Although de didn’t win the award, he instead was rewarded the AL Comeback Player of the Year. So looking forward to 2012 we ask ourselves, “Who’s next on deck?”

Unlike our NL Comeback Player of the Year candidates for 2012, there are not many big name AL players coming back from injuries. Three players to keep an eye on this season are Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins, Colby Rasmus of the Toronto Blue Jays, and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. While Morneau is a player coming back from an inury, Rasmus and Rodriguez both had down years in 2011 but will come back big in 2012.

Justin Morneau

After winning the 2006 AL MVP Award, the city of Minnesota had high hopes for rising star Justin Morneau. He had very productive seasons after winning the MVP and nearly won the award again in 2008. In 2010 and 2011 Morneau suffered a some big injuries and had concussion problems as well as surgery in both his neck and left wrist. In 2010 he was putting up first-half numbers that could have made him MVP again. He hit .345 with 18 HRs and 56 RBIs, but he was stopped short by injury. He came back in 2011 but failed to recover completely as his numbers weren’t up to his standards.

Now in 2012, Morneau claims that he is feeling much better and isn’t having any problems with his wrist or neck. He has participated in all practices during Spring Training and is preparing to return to MVP form once the season starts. While concussions always put an asterisk on a player’s health, Morneau could be a high-risk player to bet on. But I say put your money on him to come back strong with a full season for the Twins. If he starts hitting the lights out again, it could help ignite teammate Joe Mauer to also have a strong season and bring the Twins back to the playoffs.

Colby Rasmus

Power hitting centerfielders are not easy to come by in the Majors. Colby Rasmus is a player with a ton of potential to be one of the better centerfielders in the Majors. As a member of the Cardinals in 2010, Rasmus hit .276 with 23 homeruns. However, problems with manager Tony LaRussa forced the Cardinals to trade the unhappy centerfielder to Toronto in 2011. Toronto was a step back in Rasmus’ career as he hit .225 and struck out 116 times. He hit a measly .117 as a member of the Jays in 35 games before he suffered a wrist injury. Some claim that he needs to improve his hitting when thrown breaking pitches as he has hit only .211 in his career against breaking balls.

However, there are plenty of things in Rasmus’ favor as he goes forward into the 2012 season. First, he is only 25 years old and could make major adjustments heading into his fourth season in the Majors. The Blue Jays hitting coach is happy with the adjustments that Colby made over the offseason. Second, he will be playing a full season hitting behind players like Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie. Also, he will be playing a full, and healthy season at the Rogers Centre, a place known as a hitter-friendly park, and should see his homerun numbers increase and hover around 20-30 this season. Rasmus does not have the speed like Jacoby Ellsbury but has a very good bat that could help him win the 2012 AL Comeback Player of the Year.

Alex Rodriguez

There are few players in the Majors right now that have a shot at breaking Barry Bonds’ all-time homerun record. Alex Rodriguez, along with Albert Pujols, are probably the only two who have a legitimate chance at breaking it. Only twice in the past 16 years has A-Rod ever hit fewer than 30 homeruns and 100 RBIs in a season. Both times he failed to play more than 100 games. Last year he struggled with leg injuries, and he was only healthy enough to play 99 games hitting .276 with 16 homeruns and 62 RBIs. As he gets older, Rodriguez’s batting average has been going down recently as he no longer posseses the speed to beat out the short-grounders that he once did.

To help get healthier, A-Rod took a page out of Kobe Bryant’s book. How? Well, Kobe recommended that the 26 year-old Rodriguez have the same treatment that Bryant got in Germany. So, A-Rod went to Germany to get a blood spinning treatment, called Orthokine, and said he could see his game improve as a result of his legs being much healthier. The procedure worked for Kobe, who is averaging over 28 points per game. (A stat he hasn’t achieved since his ’07-’08 campaign). Other than signing Raul Ibañez, the Yankees didn’t do much to improve their offense this offseason, but a healthy A-Rod coming back to MVP form could be more valuable to New York than any free agent in the market this offseason.

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Stephen Strasburg

Lance Berkman of the St. Louis Cardinals was the NL Comeback Player of the Year for 2011 as he had a near-MVP type of season for his new team. The Cards took an $8 million chance on a player who had a down year in 2010 and he proved worth the investment as he helped carry them to the World Series Title. So who’s up next?

This year is interesting because there are some players that are coming back from season-ending injuries in the National League. Players to watch for this year are Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals, Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants, and Berkman’s teammate Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals. All three of these players suffered devastating injuries that kept them from playing for most of the 2011 season. However, each of these three will bounce back big in 2012.

Stephen Strasburg

Few pitchers taken in the MLB Draft have had as much hype as Stephen Strasburg, a San Diego State phenom, but this kid had huge expectations and lived up to them. In 2010, he got his first win in his MLB debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates throwing 7 innings, allowing 2 runs, and striking out 14 batters. Talk about baffling! He continued his success in the rest of his 11 starts as he finished his rookie season with 92 K’s and a 2.91 ERA. Unfortunately, in his last start of that season he tore a ligament in his throwing arm and needed Tommy John Surgery that shut him down for over a year. People were afraid he might lose his blazing fastball that he was known to hurl over 98mph. In 2011, he came back to prove them wrong with five strong starts to give fans a preview for what is to come in 2012. In his final start, he left all baseball fans hungry as he threw 6 innings, got greedy and gave up one hit, no runs, and racking up 10 K’s against the Florida Marlins.

He will be a player to watch closely and a player that can bring 40,000 fans to their feet, and he can dominate a lineup on any given day. With an overpowering fastball, nasty curve, and his injury a thing of the past, look for Strasburg to once again regain the magic that he had in his rookie season.

Buster Posey

It’s hard to believe that a team can rely so much on a rookie as the Nationals did with Strasburg. If you think they relied on a rookie so heavily, then Buster Posey was the MVP of the Giants last year. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and were thought to be a strong playoff contender with the pitching staff they brought back for the 2011 season. In his rookie year, Posey took over as the Giants starting catcher as well as cleanup hitter in the batting order. He helped them win their 2010 WS Championship and they relied on his ability to handle the bat and more importantly handle their talented pitching staff. However, on May 25th of last year, the Giants suffered a knock-out blow. If you don’t believe me, ask Giants fans about Scott Cousins. Posey broke his ankle trying to block Cousins from scoring and ended up sitting out the entire season.  Without Posey, and a plethora of other injured players, the Giants offense was abysmal and their pitching staff was unable to carry the load as they missed the playoffs entirely.

The Giants are excited to have Posey back and I’m sure they would be happy if he does even half as well as when he won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2010.  Watch out for the Giants to bounce back this season, with Posey leading the charge.

Adam Wainwright

After winning the World Series last season, The Cards suffered a huge blow this off-season.  Albert Pujols couldn’t play the “first-team” loyalty card as he left the Cardinals after getting his second World Series ring. He signed with the Angels and the Cardinals went out to sign Carlos Beltran to try and replace the huge hole that Pujols left in their offense. Their pitching staff is going to have a heavier load to handle if they want to have a chance at even making the playoffs again without Pujols in the lineup. Yes, they do have good players in their lineup with Berkman and Beltran back together; as well as Matt Holliday and rising star David Freese, but Adam Wainwright’s return is the most crucial in their quest to return to October baseball. Wainwright missed all of the 2011 season, as he needed reconstructive surgery for an elbow injury that he suffered while throwing batting practice in the 2011 off-season. Before that he was considered a Cy Young Award candidate, going 20-11 with 213 K’s and a 2.42 ERA in 2010.

If he returns to 2010 form, the Cardinals may have back-to-back NL Comeback Players of the Year in their roster as he can reinvigorate fans in St. Louis and help propel them into the playoffs again. Will Cards fans be asking ‘who needs Pujols anyway?’ Maybe, but one thing is certain, they will not miss him if they win another World Series soon and Wainwright could be a huge X Factor as he’s a lights out type of pitcher when he’s on his game.

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Eli Manning and the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots once again in the NFL’s biggest stage: the Super Bowl. The stars aligned Sunday as the rematch of 2007’s Super Bowl was set for Tom Brady to get revenge on the Giants on his quest for his fourth ring. Eli Manning took the Giants from down 11 points to victory with his final touchdown drive with 4 minutes left in the game at his brother’s home stadium. He now has his second Super Bowl ring with only 8 seasons under his belt. The question now becomes, is he better than his brother Peyton? No, but he has been getting closer.

Peyton Manning deserves to be MVP this year, not Aaron Rodgers. The Most Valuable Player award should be renamed because Peyton Manning was most valuable player not to play this year. Yes, Aaron Rodgers was possibly the best quarterback in the NFL this year as he led the Packers to a 15-1 record, but we all saw what happened when the Colts lost Peyton to a severe neck injury. Peyton has been winning games with a high-powered and complex offense that has been his brainchild for quite some time. He has had some good defenses with the Colts that helped him get his only Super Bowl ring, but this year we saw that Peyton IS the Indianapolis Colts. Without him the Colts completely imploded this season as they had the NFL’s worst record at 2-14.

Eli Manning has dealt with plenty of expectations in his NFL career. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2004 but demanded a trade. Manning was traded to the Giants immediately as he voiced that he had no intentions to play in San Diego. As the number 1 overall pick in that 2004 draft, he had a ton of expectations: not only did he faces large expectations as the franchise quarterback, being son of legendary Saints’ All-Pro quarterback Archie Manning, but also being the other Manning in the NFL as his brother Peyton was doing big things as an Indianapolis Colt.

It seems as if every time Peyton does something big, Eli counters with something even bigger. This is your typical little brother trying to impress the big brother. When Peyton won the Super Bowl in 2006 against the Bears, Eli responded the next year and beat the Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl. There you go, back-to-back Manning Super Bowl MVPs: “How do you like me now, Peyton?” This year was supposed to be Peyton’s year as the Colts were coming off of a 10-6 season and the Super Bowl was coming to their home stadium. Well, something big happened to Peyton as he had a neck injury that left him out for the season. Flash forward 5 months and Manning is the Super Bowl MVP in Indianapolis: no not Peyton, yeah you know who. What will happen this season if Peyton comes back healthy, and possibly on a new team? Will it be called the season that “Peyton Strikes Back”? Yeah it sounds like a movie title, but what will Eli do in the sequel “Return of the Eli”? When, Peyton goes into the Hall of Fame, how will Eli do bigger? No matter what happens in the future, right now all we can say that Eli Manning is no longer in the shadows of his big brother.

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