Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Very Quick 2011 MLB Preview

This has been the longest, most painful off-season of my life as a baseball fan. I’ve had to sit back and wait and constantly acknowledge that yes, the Giants won the World Series. It took a lot of patience. Now Opening Day is finally around the corner and contrary to my past beliefs, as soon as that first pitch is thrown on Thursday, there is no World Series champion until October ends. In years past, I would have admitted whichever team won the previous year’s World Series was the champion until unseated. Screw. That.

Either way, it’s been an exciting off-season with blockbuster trades, big free agent signings, fantasy-killing injuries and no lockout! (Yeah, NFL – you suck!) And I couldn’t be more excited that the season is finally starting fresh. It’s the year of redemption for teams like Boston and St. Louis and both Los Angeles teams. And for perennial bottom-feeders like the Pirates, Nationals, Royals and Orioles, hope springs eternal.

Here are my predictions for the 2011 MLB season, with the wild card winner in each league denoted by an asterisk:

NL East:
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves*
3. Florida Marlins
4. New York Mets
5. Washington Nationals

The Phillies pulled the surprise free agent coup of the winter, bringing back Cliff Lee to complete the most epic starting rotation in recent memory. Lee, with Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt legitimately give them a chance to win four out of every five games they play. And Joe Blanton is a pretty good fifth starter. The offense isn’t as good, especially with questions surrounding the health of Chase Utley, and Brad Lidge’s possible DL time could be a problem for the bullpen, but I expect both of them to return at some point. And the rotation is just too damn good to lose this division. The Mets, Marlins and Nats should all make some improvements, but I think the only team that gives Philly a run for its money is the Braves. With the signing of Dan Uggla, a potential bounce back season from Chipper Jones and a more seasoned Jason Heyward, I think Atlanta takes a tight N.L. Wild Card race.

NL Central:

1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Houston Astros
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

This is probably the boldest of my picks for this season. The Brew Crew always has a pretty solid offense, but I like what they did by adding Shawn Marcum to the pitching staff. And I don’t generally believe in the consistency of big contract years, but for some reason I do anticipate Prince Fielder to have a monster season on offense. That, coupled with a Cincy rotation that’s not all it’s cracked up to be and Adam Wainwright’s injury in St. Louis, has me believing Milwaukee will come out of the jumble and barely win the Central. Houston will absolutely be improved, but are still a year or two away from contending. Joey Votto and Albert Pujols in Cincinnati and St. Louis, respectively, will keep their teams in the race. The Cubs are still in shambles despite some savvy free agent signings. And the Pirates will still finish last, even with significant improvement from youngsters like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and James MacDonald.

NL West:

1. Colorado Rockies
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. San Francisco Giants
4. San Diego Padres
5. Arizona Diamondbacks

People think I’m crazy for putting the defending champions in third place. The top three teams in this division will be very competitive, but I think the Rockies far out-class the Dodgers and Giants on the offensive end. If they have a full season out of Troy Tulowitzki, it’s not even close. The Giants have the second best rotation in the league, and the Dodgers signed Ted Lilly and John Garland to shore up a good rotation with some consistent veterans. I don’t think anyone can expect another year of such terrible all-around play by Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier doesn’t have any pinky injuries to worry about. On the flip side, there is no way anyone can expect the Giants’ offense to pull off the same thing as last year. Especially with one of their better hitters in Juan Uribe no longer on the roster. The Padres lost Adrian Gonzalez and ace Mat Latos starts the season on the DL, so I don’t see any way for them to contend this year. The Diamondbacks will make some strides, but not enough to contend for another year or two.

AL East:
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees*
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays

The Red Sox look like the complete package to me. After adding their two big off-season prizes, their offense boasts names like Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. Are you kidding me? Four legitimate MVP candidates on the same team. Their rotation is led by Jon Lester and Clay Buccholz and you can expect some better numbers out of John Lackey and Josh Beckett. The Yankees look good again, despite the lack of starting pitching depth. They are still led by perennial Cy Young contender C.C. Sabathia, and of course have the ridiculous offense to go with it. Mark Teixeira had a down year last year and should post some bigger numbers. The Rays lost Matt Garza, Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett. It’s going to be hard to contend with Boston and New York without those three. The Orioles and Jays both look like they are improving. I like what the O’s did by adding Derrek Lee; I think that will end up being an underrated move when all is said and done. And the Blue Jays pitching staff looks to be it’s strong point, but they need a few more pieces to complement low-average, high-power third baseman Jose Bautista.

AL Central:
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Minnesota Twins
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Cleveland Indians

I have so much faith in the offensive monster that is Miguel Cabrera that I picked them to win the Central this year. The White Sox rotation is in trouble with an aging Mark Buehrle and oft-injured Jake Peavy, but I do like the offensive potential, especially with the Adam Dunn addition. I like Justin Verlander leading the Detroit rotation, and I’m worried about the health of the Twins’ star players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan. Plus, I don’t think Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano will duplicate their success from last year. I really like the Royals’ potential on offense this year, but their pitching is too suspect for me. And the Indians begin another rebuilding year, although I’m interested to see if Grady Sizemore can bounce back, and to see if Fausto Carmona and Shin-Soo Choo can repeat success from 2010.

AL West:

1. Oakland Athletics
2. Texas Rangers
3. Los Angeles Angels
4. Seattle Mariners

Ah yes, the boys in the green and gold are finally back on top. Don’t let the additions of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui go unnoticed; those were smart, cheap adds by Billy Beane that should vastly improve the A’s offense. The rotation is led by three young starters in Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, who will all contend for the Cy Young eventually. Gonzalez may be a dark horse candidate this year! The Rangers lost Vlad Guerrero and Cliff Lee, pissed off Michael Young, and signed the undependable Adrian Beltre. I am pretty disappointed by the caliber of their off-season. They might even let the Angels sneak past them for second place this season. Speaking of the Halos, they took on the contract of Vernon Wells and will get Kendrys Morales back from his injury. Their offense should be pretty damn good, and they still have solid pitching in the rotation, but I don’t think they will contend with the A’s or Rangers this year. The Mariners have Felix Hernandez and up-and-coming star Michael Pineda, but there is absolutely no offense to speak of.

Phillies def. Brewers
Braves def. Rockies

Red Sox def. Tigers
Yankees def. A’s

Phillies def. Braves

Red Sox def. Yankees

World Series:

Phillies def. Red Sox

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