Baseball officially begins tonight in Miami when the new-look Marlins take on the defending champion, St. Louis Cardinals. The new stadium is apparently pretty cool (there are fish tanks behind home plate), so we’ll get to see first hand tonight! With the excitement brewing around baseball, it’s time for some bold predictions for the 2012 season. Some will be Yankee and Met related, some won’t be. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. We’ll re-visit this article in October.

1. The Washington Nationals will win the NL East

If you know me or have talked baseball with me, I’m extremely high on the Washington Nationals this season. Ace Stephen Strasburg has an innings-limited, but that doesn’t really bother me too much. Strasburg is an electric, special talent that will light up the radar gun and has the ability to match up with anyone in the game. Behind Strasburg, the Nats acquired lefty Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez won 16 games and posted a 3.12 ERA in the AL West. The Nats also added Edwin Jackson in free agency and expect Jordan Zimmermann to take the next step. The Nats get Ryan Zimmerman back this year and have Jayson Werth ready to bounce back. Bryce Harper should join the team by mid-season so that’ll add an additional offensive spark to the lineup. I like Washington’s bullpen too with Drew Storen closing and Brad Lidge setting up.

Washington’s starters aren’t as good as Philly’s, but their offense is superior. I’m rolling with the Nats to bring home their first NL East title.

2. Lucas Duda hits 30 HRs

I’m not going to rehash my argument, so you can see my rationale here.

3. Francisco Liriano finishes Top 7 in AL Cy Young voting

We know one thing about Liriano. He’s either extremely good or injured. Last season, the Yankees were discussing a potential deal. Liriano was coming off a 200 strikeout, 14 win season. Luckily for the Bombers, they did not pull the trigger on the deal, as Liriano suffered shoulder problems last season. Liriano finished the season with a 9-10 record and a 5.02 ERA.

I don’t read too much into spring stats, but when it comes to injury-prone players, these stats can be telling. Liriano has been utterly dominant this Spring, posting a 18:2, K/BB ratio. In addition, Liriano’s velocity has consistently been around 93-94 MPH, which is up from last year’s average of 91.8 MPH. Plus, there is still time for Liriano’s velocity to creep up. We’ve read nothing, but glowing reports about Liriano out of Twins camp. Expect Liriano to carry over his strong spring into the season and finish Top 7 in AL Cy Young voting.

4. Justin Verlander wins 20 games, again

Wins are the hardest thing to predict in baseball. So many things have to break right for a pitcher to win one game (i.e. a good start, run support, and bullpen help). Verlander had a historic 2011, winning both the MVP award and Cy Young award. Verlander’s 24 wins were the most in more than a decade and are unlikely to be repeated. However, Verlander has been dominant once again this spring and the Tigers have brought in Prince Fielder to help the offense. Jose Valverde saved 49 of 49 games and the rest of the Tiger bullpen can shut down offenses. True, Verlander threw 250 innings last year and at least 224 innings over the last three seasons, but Verlander is a freak of nature. Expect him to keep racking up the strikeouts and subsequent wins.

5. Freddy Garcia wins more games than Nova, Pineda

Everyone has been overlooking Freddy Garcia and that’s a huge mistake. Garcia has posted two straight seasons of 12 wins and had an impressive 3.62 ERA pitching the AL East last season. With Pettitte, Pineda, and Kuroda stealing headlines, Garcia has been an after thought and I think he’ll pitch this year with a chip on his shoulder. Remember, Garcia came back on a one-year deal and at 34-years-old, he’s not ready to pushed into retirement.

Nova has been an absolute nightmare this spring and Pineda is starting the season on the disabled list. Remember, I gave everyone this stat on Friday…

During the regular season, 39 percent of pitchers who throw 120 innings or more will end up on the DL at least one time during the year.Fangraphs did a study on this and their showed that pitchers who rely heavily on sliders and curveballs (i.e. more than 22 percent of the time) face additional risks. Kuroda, Pineda, and Nova met this criteria last season.

Put Freddy down for another 12-13 wins and I think that’ll be more than Nova or Pineda.

6. Mariano Rivera does not blow a save opportunity

Consider this. The last time had a ‘perfect’ season was 2001. Since then, Mo Rivera has blown an average of four saves per season. Rivera blew five save opportunities last season. Rivera’s ERA is always below two and his WHIP is always under one. With this likely his last season, Rivera will turn in yet another historic season.

7. Zack Greinke wins the NL Cy Young Award

Injuries costed Mr. Greinke six starts last year, but consider his stats: 16 wins, 201 strikeouts in 171 innings, and 3.83 ERA. Consider Greinke’s HR/FB rate was 13.6 and BABIP was .316 which signifies that he was a bit unlucky. Add in the fact that Greinke will be a free agent after the season and has struck out 28 hitters in 19 innings this spring and he’s in for a huge season. The competition for the award is always fierce in the National League, but after taking one home in the past, Greinke knows what it takes to win the award.

8. Hanley Ramirez wins NL MVP

Going into last season, this wouldn’t be a bold prediction. However, Ramirez played in just 92 games last season and put up a paltry .243/.333/.379 line with 10 HRs and 20 stolen bases. Ramirez, a career .306 hitter, has shown the ability to be a 20/20 player and post a ridiculously high batting average. The Marlins did ink Jose Reyes in the off-season, so Ramirez is the process of moving to third base. Defensive lapses are expected, but reports out of Marlins camp state that Hanley’s swing is much shorter and quicker. In addition, he is apparently in the best shape of life. Ramirez will have ample RBI opportunities with Reyes hitting in front of him and great protection with Giancarlo Staton hitting behind him. Ozzie Guillen has an uncanny ability to motivate his player and a special player like Ramirez will just absorb Guillen’s mantra.

9. Jesus Montero wins Rookie of the Year

With Tampa’s Matt Moore and Texas’ Yu Darvish as front runners for this award, expect Jesus Montero to fly under the radar. Now playing in Seattle, the 22-year-old Montero will be able to comfortably transition into a full-time role. As Yankee fans, we already know that Montero’s power is real and very, very special. The Mariners will likely keep him as their designated hitter which should easily give him 500+ at bats. Seattle is notoriously a pitcher’s park, but that doesn’t bother me too much. Montero’s power is real to all fields and he’ll bring him the ROY award by hitting 25 HRs, driving in 90 RBIs, and hitting .290.

10. Yankees Win The World Series

Kentucky won the NCAA Tournament, so that means the Yankes are destined to win it all for the 28th time!