Unless you live under a rock, you know that we’re now in the midst of March Madness, arguably the most enjoyable tournament in the world. Despite my love for the MLB postseason, nothing compares to the excitement of watching David defeat Goliath and underdogs marching on after buzzer beaters. Even for those who are not so lucky to have their school or alma mater represented in the tournament (or lucky, given the continuously disappointing Hoyas), every person has a vested interest in the phenomenon that is attempting to fill out a perfect bracket.

But it’s not just college basketball that’s unpredictable. Few outside of St. Louis expected the Cardinals to win the World Series after sneaking into the playoffs on the final day of the season. But, as evidenced in March Madness, the MLB, or any such tournament, it’s sometimes not how good you are, but how hot you are, that decides playoff games.

Although my bracket would be better used as a napkin than anything else in the wake of last weekend’s upsets, I will try to gaze into the crystal ball once again and examine how the 2011 MLB playoffs might play out given personnel changes this offseason. Although the playoff landscape will undoubtedly look different come October, here’s an early glimpse of which contenders improved the most, and who went backwards, heading into 2012.

American League Regional: (1) Texas Rangers vs. (4) Tampa Bay Rays; (2) New York Yankees vs. (3) Detroit Tigers
Prediction: Rays over Rangers; Yankees over Tigers; Yankees over Rays
Tampa Bay has suddenly turned into the Gonzaga/Memphis/Butler/Xavier of the MLB: A small-market club that consistently competes with the giants of the game, but ultimately fails to make the final step to a title. In this scenario, the Rays may dethrone last year’s runner-up due in large part to their starting rotation — arguably the deepest and most talented in the game — headlined by David Price and James Shields with top prospect Matt Moore ready to take the league by storm.

But the Yankees — the Kentucky/Kansas/Duke/North Carolina of the MLB — return one of the best lineups in baseball bolstered with the likes of Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda, and the return of Andy Pettitte to a squad that won an AL-best 97 games in 2011. While the Tigers made the biggest splash of all the 2011 AL playoff teams by signing Prince Fielder, it’s hard to imagine that Cy Young winner Justin Verlander can duplicate his sensational 2011 season. Losing catcher/first baseman/designated hitter Victor Martinez for the year to a torn ACL will also lessen the impact of adding Fielder in terms of comparative improvement from 2011 to 2012.

Although the Yankees’ lineup continues to age, they boast the AL’s best team and have to be considered the team to beat heading into 2012.

National League Regional: (1) Philadelphia Phillies vs. (4) St. Louis Cardinals; (2) Milwaukee Brewers vs. (3) Arizona Diamondbacks
Prediction: Phillies over Cardinals; Diamondbacks over Brewers; Phillies over Diamondbacks
While all of the 2011 American League playoff squads improved this offseason, most of the National League’s 2011 playoff representatives have taken a step back, much like 2011 NCAA Champion Connecticut after losing Kemba Walker to the NBA. While the Phillies will be without Ryan Howard for a significant portion of the year due to a torn Achilles’ tendon, the Cardinals and Brewers were dealt bigger blows when they lost Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, respectively, to free agency.

Although the Cardinals’ rotation will be boosted by the return of Adam Wainwright from Tommy John surgery, the Phillies still have the more talented rotation and better overall roster and should advance. The other matchup, however, resembles a typical 8-9 battle in the NCAA tournament with two evenly matched teams. While the edge would have gone to the Brewers with Fielder as it did in 2011, the Diamondbacks made several additions to overcome the difference this time around, but still remain inferior to the NL-best Philadelphia Phillies.

World Series: Yankees over Phillies
As a Red Sox fan, picking the Yankees to win the 2012 World Series is like an obsessive Georgetown supporter choosing Syracuse — gut-wrenching, to say the least.

But the truth of the matter is that the Yankees boast arguably the most experienced and complete team in the league. Much like in the NCAA tournament, anything can happen and picking the favorite doesn’t always pan out. But based on what we know now, the Bronx Bombers appear poised to capture yet another title.

Preston Barclay is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. TURNING TWO IN THE 202 appears every Tuesday.

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