MLB 2011 Preview/Predictions
A Guest Blog By Fanspeak contributing writer Kyle Howard:
Just about a month away from the offical start of the MLB 2011 season. Many offseason publicity and free agency moves make this year in the MLB very interesting. Crawford to the Red Sox, Cliff Lee back to the Phillies, Werth to the Nationals, and Rafeal Soriano are only some of the new faces, in new places from this years offseason transactions. Here is my run through on my projections for this year:
1) Red Sox; It kills me to put the Soxs as my division winners being a diehard Yankees fan but the Red Sox really beefed up their line up with the acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Their line up is as good as any in baseball and their pitching staff when healthy is top 5 in the league. Look for the Sox to make it back to October with either a division title or a wild card spot.
2) Yankees; Many Yankee fans look at this offseason as a failure. Not being able to convince Cliff Lee or Zach Greinke to come to New York was a tough pill to swallow. Their line up is still as lethal as any in the game and with the acquisition of Rafeal Soriano to help set up Rivera in the 9th really helped the needs of the bullpen. The starting pitching is going to be the real question mark throughout the season. If Burnett can turn his season around, Nova can turn into an every 5 day starter and the Mark Prior project can make strides, the Yankees will be pushing for yet another division title. Look for them to contend with the Sox until the last month of the season and either walking away with a wild card spot or best case scenario a division title.
3) Orioles; The Orioles are my surprise team of the league this year. They have done a great job of loading up on young talent and I feel that 2011 is the year they start making some noise. With Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters being the focal points of this team, the pitching talent needs to step up and you may be looking at a very dangerous team in the next few years. Look for the Orioles to have an above average year and finishing 3rd in the AL East.
4) Tampa Bay; Tampa Bay is in a transitioning period. They lost Crawford, Garza, and Soriano to free agentcy/trades and that leaves some big holes to fill for some young talented players in their farm system. With the acquistion of Manny and Damon, the Rays bring in some experience to their club with a more risk/reward mentality. The Rays staff is still a dangerous one lead by David Price and Evan Longoria will only improve and maybe a darkhorse candidate for MVP this year. Give the Rays some time to develop and they will be back in the postseason within the next couple of weeks.
5) Toronto; With still lingering questions on what Toronto’s next move is going to be, look for them to have a down year this year. Jose Bautista coming off a 54 home run year campaign and getting an extention I could see having a downer year. With some young potential pitching talent, look for the Blue Jays to use those as trade bait especially strikeout specialist Brandon Morrow.
1) Twins; It is difficult for me to pick a winner in this division being as the parity is so well distributed, so I will take experience and choose the Twinkees as the division winner. With Morneau coming back and the ability to resign Pavano, who is an innings machine, the Twins are poised to be the front runners of this jam packed division. If Nathan comes back healthy from his season ending surgury last year look for the Twins to be the winners of this division.
2) White Sox; Last year was a disappointment for the White Sox. With much publicity hovering over Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox struggled for most of the season. With the key offseason acquistion of Adam Dunn and resigning Paul Konerko this team will have quite a powerful 4 and 5 spots in their line up. Also, Buerhle leading the staff followed by Floyd and Danks, look for this team to contend with the Twins for the division title and the loser will be in the wild card hunt.
3) Tigers; The Tigers 2011 season is on the shoulders of how healthy/sober Miguel Cabrera can be. The man has as much talent as their is in the MLB but, off field troubles have put the Tigers in a spin. Offseason acquistion Victor Martinez adds some power to a line up that was in desperate need for help around Cabrera. Verlander leads this young staff, and when he is on is one of the most powerful pitchers in the league. A sophmore slump from promising young star Rick Porcello was a key difference maker in the Tigers 2010 season. If Porcello can get over his 2nd year struggles, look for the Tigers to contend for a majority of the season, but I feel the off the field publicity and inexperience in pitching will lead them to a 3rd place finish.
4) Royals; Its been a bad decade for the Royals but, this year, I can see them making some strides to becoming a better squad. Alex Gordon needs to become the player we all thought he would become when he was drafted 4th overall in 2005. Luke Hochevar splashed onto the scene last year with a decent season and showing signs he could become a decent starter at the Major league level. The Royals still have a long way to go but, if their draft picks start stepping up the next 5 years could look promising for this squad.
5) Indians; The Indians are in the rebuilding stage as an organization. With many young prospects gained from the Cliff Lee trade and Victor Martinez trade, look for this team to show a lot of new faces this year. Shin soo Choo is a rising star in the outfield showing signs of power and batting average and a good piece to build around. This will be a struggling year for the Indians and will stay that way unless they make some noise at the trade deadline.
1) Angels; Coming off a very disappointing season last year look for the Angels to make it back to the postseason this year. With a star studed staff lead by Jared Weaver, Scott Kazmir, and Ervin Santana look for the pitching to help carry this team into October. Kendry Morales maybe the biggest difference maker on this team this season. If he comes back as healthy as he was before his ACL accident, look for him to be another darkhorse MVP candidate.
2) Texas; Losing Cliff Lee to free agency crippled this teams potential for years to come. Coming off of the organizations first World Series experience the sky was the limit for this team. Led by MVP Josh Hamilton and power slugging OF Nelson Cruz, this team will go as far as these 2 stars can stay healthy. With questions surrounding the starting staff, look for the Rangers to pick up an arm at the trade deadline in hopes of making another push into October.
3) Athletics; The Athletics have one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball and they live and die on how well these young guns can do. Grant Balfour, Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Andrew Bailey are the cornerstones of this young franchise. Dont be surprised if they A’s make a push at the deadline by moving one of these players for a bat in an often weak line up with an aging Eric Chavez. Look for the Athletics to continue rebuilding and continue improvement for years to come.
4) Mariners; The Mariners need power and they need it fast. The Mariners were last in almost every statistical batting category last year and they need to add some power to that line up. With much promise in former 2nd overall pick Dustin Ackley from UNC, it wont be a surprise to see him starting by mid season. Felix Hernandez is just a decent offensive team away from being arguably the best pitcher and baseball and look for him to continue his dominence in 2011.
1) Phillies; Many analyst have it already penciled in that the Phillies will be holding up another World Series Title come October in 2011. With possibly the best 4 starters ever to be assembled on a single team, look for them to dominate most of the teams in the NL. Additions such as Cliff Lee only make this team even stronger and a star studded line up to back him up it will be quite a challenge to take this team in a 7 game series. With Werth gone that opens up the spot for top prospect Dominic Brown to take the rains of right field. The Phillies will walk away with this division and by July be focusing on the Playoffs.
2) Braves; The Braves suprised many of us last year and this year are a team not to mess with. With Hudson, Hanson, and Lowe leading the staff and the emergence of Jason Heyward becoming a star in the MLB, and the acquisition of Dan Uggla, look for the Braves to win a wild card and being on an upset alert come playoff time.
3) Marlins; The Marlins have been trying to develop young talent for most of the past couple of years in hopes of turning into a legit playoff squad. Lead by MVP candidate Hanley Rameriz and pitching stud Josh Johnson, the Marlins are looking for an additional bat and arm to help make a charge at a competitive East division.
4) Mets; I really do not know where to start with Los Mets. They have as much talent as a team would need to make an apperance in the postseason but, for some reason they never seem to all click at the same time. Look for this years Mets team to be centered around David Wright and a healthy Jose Reyes. Pitching is very suspect due to Johan having elbow surgery. Look for the Mets to try and compete but come up short in the East race.
5) Nationals; Being from Northern Virginia and having been to multiple Nats games its difficult for me to put them in this position. Strasburg is what brought this team alive and made them play with passion and pride but, with Tommy John Surgery dont look for Strasburg to be throwing until September, if they even decide to let him throw at all. With key acquistion of Jayson Werth, the Nats will be along the same lines of production as last year. The future looks bright in Washington and if Strasburg can come back as good as he left, and Harper doesn’t disappoint down in the minors, this team will be fun to watch in the coming years.
1) Cubs; I know its as shocking to you as it is to me that the Cubs are going to finish first in the division. The Cubs made a key move in acquiring Garza this winter, and if their young talent continues to produce look for them to be a sneaky good team come playoff time. This pick is definitely a stretch and my upset of the year.
2) Reds; The surprise team of the year in 2010, the Reds will be looking to capitalize on thier run last year and continue it into this year. Joey Votto is the leader of this squad and looks to duplicate is MVP year last year and transition it to this year. Pitching was a strong point for the Reds last year but, I feel that they will struggle this year with to much inconsistentcy. Look for the Reds to make it back to the post season and be a contender as a wild card.
3) Cardinals; The Cardinals would be first in the Central if it werent for the staggering news on Adam Wainwright out for the season. The loss of Wainwright equals trouble for this club. With the huge injury to the staff and an unhappy Albert Pujols, look for this club to have a difficult time with all the distractions and end up chasing a wild card spot.
4) Brewers; The Brewers have 2 young stars in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, arguably 1 of the best tandems in the league. With the line up set up to produce runs the Brewers made a huge trade in aquiring Zack Greinke to help with the staff. Look for the Brewers to improve and possibly take the Cardinals spot and fighting for a spot in the post season.
5) Astros; It is easy to say that the Astros are in a rebuilding year. Losing Roy Oswalt to a trade pretty much sums it up. With young talent in the minors and an aging outfield minus Hunter Pence, look for the Astros to struggle most the year and look to being sellers at the deadline
6) Pirates; This team is the only team that manages to get great prospects and trade them away. The Pirates have not had a well established club since the 80′s and I don’t see that happening this year. Their one true star Andrew McCutchen is a lead-off hitter and you can’t build a team around that. Zack Duke will finish with a sub .500 win record and they will use many new arms from their farm system this year. Sorry so called “City of Champions” but you may want to concentrate on NFL happening in the fall and Crosby recovering over watching this squad this year.
1) Giants; The defending World Series Champions have to be the favorites to come out of this jam packed West division. Offseason loss of World Series MVP, Edgar Renteria, leaves a big hole at shortstop and Juan Uribe’s departure to division rival LA leaves a big spot open at the utility role. With the young guns on the pitching staff such as Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner leading the way and crazy Wilson closing out games, look for this team to make it back to the Postseason in a coinflip of a division.
2) Rockies; the Rockies struggled last year despite the fact they are known as being a second half team only 2 years removed from their prolific playoff run. With flame thrower Ubaldo Jimenez leading the staff and Troy Tulowitzki the captain of the team. Look for the Rockies to make some noise and be a strong challenger for being the wild card team come October.
3) Padres; the Padres had a banner of a year last season coming down to the wire last season with the Giants going into the last game of the season. The Padres have an underrated pitching staff lead by rising star Mat Latos, with verterans such as Jon Garland to help mentor the fire baller. Free Agency hit the Padres hard by losing their superstar first basemen Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox. I can see the Padres relying on their arms to keep them in the race but with no one significant to replace Gonzalez, runs are going to be hard to come by for this club.
4) Diamondbacks; This team is tricky to pick. One day their hot the next day their not. After giving up Dan Haren to the Angels in return for some prospects, the diamondbacks are clearly a process in the making. Relying heavily on star outfielder Justin Upton is going to be too much for this team to overcome.
AL NL World Series
Red Sox Giants Phillies vs. Red Sox
Yankees Cubs Phillies win 4-2