1. Philadelphia Phillies (95-67)
The Phillies became so overrated this winter that it’s become trendy to pick against them, so much so in fact that I believe they are underrated again. This is a team that won 97 games last year despite some pretty bad injuries and long disappearing acts from the offense. I’d wager that at least one of their “four aces” takes a turn on the DL at some point, but they are still an excellent ball club and the team to beat.
2. Atlanta Braves (93-69)
Very quietly, the Braves have put together a very formidable team. They have rotation that is deep and talented, so much so that Mike Minor will open the season in Triple-A. The addition of Dan Uggla and the return of a healthy Chipper Jones will lengthen the lineup and provide more support to the staff. They made it to the playoffs last season despite being a lesser offensive club and dealing with significant injuries. I think they make a return trip this season, providing they can stay somewhat healthy.
3. Florida Marlins (88-74)
The 2011 Marlins have significant upside, but have a fairly high bust factor to them as well. They’ve hedging a lot of bets on pitchers that perpetually underperform their peripheral stats (Nolasco and Vazquez). The offense will undoubtedly miss Dan Uggla’s consistency, and expecting Omar Infante and John Buck to repeat their 2010 campaigns may be unrealistic. The talent is there and the team is a good one, but Atlanta and Philly are better.
4. Washington Nationals (78-84)
The future is starting to look a little better, but the nation’s capitol will have to wait a bit longer to be relevant again. The offense has become one that is actually a good unit. Jayson Werth is not worth his contract, but he’s an very good player on both sides of the ball and will fit nicely with the other offensive pieces around him. Ryan Zimmerman is perpetually underrated and Adam LaRoche’s consistency goes overlooked. If young players like Ian Desmond and Michael Morse take a step forward, Washington could prove to be an annoying spoiler team. But regardless of how many runs they score, their pitching staff is more than capable of giving up even more.
5. New York Mets (72-90)
The Mets’ new front office has its work cut out for them. The Kings of Queens have turned quickly into jokers. They’ve got some potentially nice offensive pieces, but not a particularly intimidating lineup. They’re not exactly a model of perfect health either and they are betting on some young unproven guys to repeat career performances. If a lot things break right for the Mets they could be looking at a remote wild card shot by July. If not, an enormous roster shake up wouldn’t be out of the question.
1. Cincinnati Reds (91-71)
Apart from Joey Votto, nobody particularly stands out on a rather blase Reds team. But they were good enough to win a weak division last year and it doesn’t look like the division got much better. As is the norm with most upstart teams, the Reds got a lot of unexpected contributions this year and the trick now is to see if they can repeat those.
2. Milwaukee Brewers (90-72)
The Brewers did not struggle to score runs last season, nor did their opponents. While they will remain a very strong offensive team, they did vastly improve their rotation situation which no longer boasts Randy Wolf as a main attraction. Both Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum are excellent additions, although they’ll need to avoid any more pick-up basketball games. The Brewers are definitely the most improved NL Central team and could very well nudge the Reds out for the division crown.
3. St. Louis Cardinals (89-73)
Adam Wainwright’s injury really threw the rotation out of whack, to the point where it probably won’t be all that good. Carpenter is solid, but not a given to stay on the field. Chances are he’ll either be on the DL or on a different team come the trade deadline. After Pujols, Holliday and Rasmus, the lineup is void of any serious offensive threats. The Cardinals are the epitome of stars and scrubs, and with less stars than they had last year, they shouldn’t expect much this summer under the Arch.
4. Chicago Cubs (80-82)
The rotation should be solid and the back of the bullpen is excellent, but the offense seems to be comprised of too many overpaid and underperforming aging veterans. Starlin Castro is a nice injection of youth and ability, but he’s just one guy.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates (75-87)
At least they’re not in last place! They have some nice young offensive pieces like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, but the rotation is mostly garbage and the bullpen is not much better. They’re moving in the right direction, but at an exponentially slow pace. The fifth place finish is less a vote of confidence in the Pirates, but rather a complete disbelief in the awfulness of the Astros.
6. Houston Astros (69-93)
Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers did a nice job last year at the front of the rotation, but the back of the rotation is filled with question marks, the bullpen is less than intimidating and the offense isn’t going to out-score anybody enough to consistently win ballgames. And considering the Astros shocking lack of high-end talent in the minors, don’t be surprised to see some veterans shipped off for prospects, like Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman were last season.
1. San Francisco Giants (92-70)
World Series hangover or not, this is still a very good club. I don’t think they’ll get quite the same production that they got last year from Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and Pat Burrell, but offense isn’t what won them a championship anyways. The 2011 Giants will go just as far as their pitching takes them. And with a rotation fronted by 2-time Cy Young award winning Tim Lincecum and filled out with guys like Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, that’s a long way. Because of their ability to develop young pitching, it’s made making $185 million dollar man, Barry Zito a very expensive fifth starter a little bit easier.
2. Colorado Rockies (86-76)
I don’t see San Francisco being better than they were last year, but I do see the Rockies being better. However, the Rockies were only an 83 win team last season and didn’t do much to improve themselves except that they expect Troy Tulowitzki to be around for a full season this year. The rotation has a lot of boom or bust potential, and can we really expect the same numbers from Carlos Gonzalez again? Maybe, but I still see them as an also-ran rather than a frontrunner this year.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (78-84)
Kershaw-Billingsley-Kuroda is a damn good front three and they have some depth at the back of the rotation. The bullpen’s not terrible, but I can not foresee the offense scoring with enough frequency to support what should be a nice year from their pitchers. They lack a high impact bat on offense, but could have several nice pieces if they can stay healthy. A bounceback from Matt Kemp would be nice, especially if it settles some questions about his dedication and work ethic. Funny how production answers those. Truth is, the Dodgers really need to smooth out their ownership status before they can truly rebuild themselves into a perennial contender.
4. San Diego Padres (76-86)
Now that Adrian Gonzalez no longer anchors the lineup, the Padres offense is among the games worst units—Ryan Ludwick probably bats cleanup for San Diego this year. Take a terrible offense and make it play 81 games in one of the most offense-suppressing ballparks in baseball and you end up with very ugly results. The rotation isn’t anything special and since that is the case, the shutdown bullpen is typically going to be rendered to lower-leverage situations.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks (70-92)
A bounceback from Justin Upton would go a long way into re-establishing this lineup, but apart from him there are a lot of decent players with big holes. They strikeout way too much and get on base way too infrequently. Those two characteristics lead to a very inconsistent and ineffective offense which is the last thing the Diamondbacks need with its pitching situation in absolute shambles. Ian Kennedy profiles more as a back of the rotation guy, but draws an Opening Day start for Arizona.
Happy Cinco de Mayo! In celebration of this wonderful Mexican holiday, this week’s In 10 Words Or Less will be brought to you by the language, Spanish! Feliz Navidad de Mayo!
Arrendajos azules (18-10): Golpear dudoso contestar.
Calcetines rojos (16-10): 4-0 contra yanquis siempre agradable.
Yanquis (13-12): Primero 5 en corre a pesar de ningún Rodriguez, desplomándose Teixeira.
Rays (11-16): Evan Longoria el trato verdadero.
Las oropéndolas: Adam Jones hace valor de comercio de Bedard cada vez.
Real (15-11): Zach mutha freakin’ Greinke.
Tigres (13-12): Verlander, Willis girando aparentemente cosas alrededor.
Gemelos (13-13): Joe Mauer sano y rastrillar.
Calcetines blancos (12-13): Los cántaros han permitido sólo cuatro Homers.
Indios (10-16): Victor Martinez que produce como normal otra vez.
Navegantes (15-11): Golpear oportuno, el cabeceo Regio llave al plomo de la división.
Guardabosques (13-12): El alumbre de Mizzou Kinsler: yendo en bicicleta como Lance Armstrong.
Angels (11-13): Bobby Abreu que firma bueno hasta ahora.
Atletismo: (9-14) ¿Por lo menos Matt Holliday no es dolido, el derecho?
Marlins (15-11): Los jóvenes que echan tienen oponer azota la pesca.
Phillies (13-10): Ryan Howard grande.
Mets (11-13): La espalda de Beltran, no soplado guarda para Rodriguez más cerca.
Afronta (11-14): Jeff Francoeur no tan terrible como el año pasado.
Nacionals (7-17): Ryan Zimmerman y Adam Dunn impresionantes 3-4.
Cardinales (17-9): Comenzar cántaros tienen MLB-ALTO 14 victorias.
Cachorros (14-11): Es su época del año.
Cerveceros (14-12): Ryan Braun para pasar por encima de a bateadores menores.
Rojos (13-12): Johnny Cueto que se da cuenta de potencial.
Piratea (12-13): ¿Oye, ellos no están en último, el derecho?
Astros (11-15): El terreno no denominó Enron.
Marrulleros (19-8): Invicto en casa.
Gigantes (12-12): Lincecum que consigue caliente.
Espaldas diamantadas (11-15): No en posición terrible, golpear aún dado infortunios.
Capellanes (11-15): Comenzado 10-6, quizá hay más de ese juego.
Montañas rocosas (10-14): Imparmente, que rayó más corre que ellos han permitido.
This week, we’ll look at the things that have gone wrong for each team. Next week, we’ll go positive and look at everything that been going right for teams!
Red Sox (14-7): Eleven game winning streak stopped with three errors.
Blue Jays (15-8): Litsch, Romero and Janssen depletes thin pitching.
Yankees (11-10): Fifteen of first twenty-one games on the road.
Orioles (9-13): Signed Mark Hendrickson.
Rays (8-14): BJ Upton off to slow start.
Tigers (11-10): Tough to be anything in Detroit nowadays.
White Sox (11-10): Offense has been too sporadic.
Royals (11-10): Offense has been nearly non-existant.
Twins (11-11): Joe Mauer’s absence completely changes the lineup.
Indians (8-14): Bullpen problems addressed, not solved.
Mariners (13-9): Ken Griffey Jr homecoming not going as anticipated.
Rangers (10-10): Same ol’, same ol’ – lots of hitting, no pitching.
Angels (9-11): Pitching injuries and deaths.
Athletics (7-11): Big ticket boppers Giambi and Holliday – 1 HR combined.
Marlins (13-8): Win seven, lose seven.
Phillies (11-9): Hamels and Rollins yet to get going.
Braves (10-11): Brian McCann’t see.
Mets (9-12): Outside Johan, no starting pitching
Nationals (5-15): Bullpen atrocious.
Cardinals (15-7): Khalil Greene trade not working out so well
Reds (11-10): Surprisingly, can’t win at home (4-7)
Brewers (11-10): Can’t play Pittsburgh every game.
Pirates (11-10): Can’t beat Milwaukee.
Cubs (10-10): NL Central won’t be terrible every year.
Astros (9-13): Lance Berkman scuffling to begin season.
Dodgers (14-8): 16 of first 22 games on the road.
Padres (11-10): Slipping after hot start.
Giants (10-10): 17 of first 20 games against weak NL West.
Diamondbacks (9-12): Can’t hit lefties (2-7)
Rockies (8-12): Losing all the close games (0-5 in 1-run games)
It’s that time of year again. We’re about three weeks into the baseball season, and about three months before the All-Star game in St. Louis, but it’s time to start casting your votes for which players you think have earned a selection to the All-Star game. So make your way over to your favorite team’s website (or MLB’s website) and vote as many times as you’d like!
I like that the All-Star Game determines which team gets home field advantage in the World Series – I’d prefer to have the inter-league record decide it instead, but whatever. What I don’t like is the fact that the fans decide who starts the game, regardless of their performance. Odds are, Alex Rodriguez has more votes than most, if not all of the AL third basemen despite not having played a game in 2009.
1. New York Yankees: 100-62
An offseason shopping spree of epic proportions make the Yankees the favorite in the loaded AL East. If everyone stays healthy, 100 wins may be an underestimate. But injury and age could catch up to the Yankees and cause them to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year. If healthy, there isn’t a better starting rotation in baseball than CC Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain.
2. Boston Red Sox: 95-67
Boston made a whole lot of low-risk/high-reward type deals this offseason (Smoltz, Saito, Penny & Baldelli) and could end up catching lightning in a bottle. They were PR’d into re-signing catcher Jason Varitek and if he gets consistent playing time, he should work in detriment to the team. Their starting rotation is solid and only a few men do their job better than Jonathan Papelbon does his. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis will anchor the lineup, although I project their production to slip somewhat.
3. Tampa Bay Rays: 93-69
They’d win any other division in baseball by 5 games, but in the AL East, all theyll manage is third place. Their success last year was due to the health of their starting pitching, solid defense and effective relief work. Given the nature of starting pitchers and the fluidity of relievers, one certainly can’t bet on everything falling right for the Rays two years in a row. Their young nucleus of Longoria, Upton and Crawford should continue to develop and follow up their pennant-winning season with another successful campaign.
4. Baltimore Orioles: 78-84
Nothing special this year, Baltimore is raising some good prospects. I love their outfielders and catching prospect Matt Wieters has superstar written all over him. They’re still light on pitching, especially in the bullpen although getting Chris Ray (33 saves in 2006) should help stabilize the bridge to George Sherrill.
5. Toronto Blue Jays: 74-88
With Marcum and McGowan sidelined with injuries and AJ Burnett pitching for a division rival, an apparent strength from 2008 is now a glaring weakness. Roy Halladay is still an elite starter, but after that it’s a crapshoot. Litsch and Purcey are probably the most likely to eat up the innings vacated by Marcum, McGowan and Burnett, but problems abound when Matt Clement is a viable option.
1. Minnesota Twins: 88-74
Every year I slot them in the lower half of this division and every time they make me look stupid by contending. So this year, they’re second in my AL Central. Their young pitching should carry them all season and keep them in contention well into September. However, Mauer and Morneau need to be healthy and productive to make a playoff run.
2. Cleveland Indians: 84-78
The Indians dumped me last year, so I’m going against them again in a weak division. They added a closer to shore up bullpen problems and should get some bounce-back years offensively from a couple of key guys.
3. Kansas City Royals: 79-83
Whoa, right? I haven’t liked a whole lot of their offseason moves (Mike Jacobs, really?) but they’re grooming a nice young crop of players and their pitching is maturing. Meche and Grienke are a nice 1-2 and Soria is a door-slammer in the ninth. They should be a fun team to watch.
4. Detroit Tigers: 76-86
Still don’t trust their pitching, rotation or bullpen. The offense should be there, but this team is going to lose a whole bunch of 9-8 games. Verlander’s looked better this spring, but his peripherals still aren’t where they should be.
5. Chicago White Sox: 73-89
I have an unexplainable dislike of the White Sox and it makes me a little happy when I can pick them to finish in the basement. They’ll be heavily relying on John Danks and Gavin Floyd to build on their successful years from last year. This is an aging team that needs a shot of athleticism.
1. Oakland Athletics: 85-77
They made some smart moves this winter, bringing in Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera to boost an offense that ranked near the bottom in most categories in 2008.
2. Anaheim Angels: 81-81
Last year my surprise was the Rays doing well. This year, I give to you, free of charge, the collapse of the Angels. Without Mark Teixeira and with Vlad a year older (2, actually), the offense just isn’t up to par and the pitching is questionable with the uncertain status of Ervin Santana, John Lackey and Brian Fuentes.
3. Texas Rangers: 77-85
With that offense and that park, they’ll hit their way to a couple of victories, but the pitching is still lacking. They should be in big for Ben Sheets when he’s recovered from his surgery, given his file checks out.
4. Seattle Mariners: 71-91
They started cleaning house last year, shedding some bad contracts and bad characters, but it’ll take more than a year to right this ship. (Get it? Mariners .. ship .. I amuse myself). Felix Hernandez deserves more help than he’s going to get, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to get any in the next few years.
1. Philadelphia Phillies 91-71
I want to pick them to finish second, but I can only see the Mets potentially overtaking them, and after getting burned by them the past two years, I won’t this time. The Philly offense will roll and so long as Cole Hamels doesn’t miss significant time, they’ll be fine.
2. New York Mets: 87-75
K-Rod and Putz certainly help, but not as much as most people seem to think. The starting pitching is still iffy behind Johan Santana, but the offense should help the Mets hang around both the division and wild card races.
3. Atlanta Braves: 86-76
They significantly upgraded their rotation, adding reliable inning-eaters Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez and Japanese star Kenshin Kawakami. Adding those three to holdover Jair Jurrjens should make up for losing Tim Hudson to Tommy John surgery for most of the year. Signing Chipper Jones to a 3-year extension as he enters his age 37 season is risky given his durability issues, but a nexessity nonetheless.
4. Washington Nationals: 76-86
They won’t be the worst team in baseball this year, but they’ll certainly still be pretty bad. Adam Dunn adds some much needed offense, and the eventual drafting of SDSU stud Stephen Strasburg will add the much-needed big arm. They’ll toil away all season, pitching decently and hitting every now and then.
5. Florida Marlins: 72-90
They cleaned house again, but could still end up surprising a lot of people, although outside Hanley Ramirez, they don’t really have a truly great offensive weapon. I foresee them being a streaky team, maybe starting hot, but ultimately fading away into obscurity.
1. Chicago Cubs: 92-70
They’ll be fine beating up their weak National League competition all season, but ultimately lose in October. Again. What’s one more penny when you’ve already got a dollar? The Mark DeRosa and Kevin Gregg deals made no sense and the Milton Bradley contract has it’s risk as well.
2. St. Louis Cardinals: 88-74
Especially if Chris Carpenter returns to his pre-injury form, the Cardinals could be a force in the National League. The Cardinals must hope that Ryan Ludwick can repeat his 2008 year and that they receive offense from someone not named Pujols. The closer situation needs to be settled, rookie Jason Motte could step in and provide some closure there.
3. Milwaukee Brewers: 82-80
The loss of Sabathia and Sheets certainly will hurt the Brewers in the standings. Without their pair of aces, the Brewers will struggle to prevent opposing teams from scoring early and often.
4. Cincinnati Reds: 82-80
Aaron Harang can’t possibly be as bad as he was last year, and Edinson Volquez probably won’t be as good. Johnny Cueto could mature and if a couple things develop, the Reds could hang around the wild card race. More likely, they’ll hang around .500 again
5. Houston Astros: 66-96
They can’t score runs, and outside of Roy Oswalt, they can’t prevent them either. That can’t bode well for a team that has basically traded its farm system away from players past their prime. I wonder if they’ll be interested in Roger Clemens again.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates: 63-99
I don’t like predicting teams to lose 100+ games because that’s a terrible team. But I thought long and hard about the 2009 Pirates. For a team that’s constantly rebuilding, they sure don’t have much of a foundation.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: 91-71
With the return of Manny Ramirez, LA will make a return to the postseason. The pitching is there and the hitting is good enough to eek out a division title.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks: 87-75
Keeping Randy Johnson probably would have made them the favorites here, but they’ll turn his innings over to younger, cheaper options. If their young hitters (Young, Drew, Upton, Jackson) continue to develop, they could absolutely make a run at the division with their pitching.
3. San Francisco Giants: 77-85
This is a team getting close, but they’re still not there yet. The pitching, led by Lincecum is good, but the offense could use upgrades at several positions.
4. Colorado Rockies: 71-91
Same ol’ story. No pitching coupled with some pretty good hitting. Their Cinderella run to the World Series two years ago is ancient history and they’re back to being an irrelevant schedule filler out west.
5. San Diego Padres: 64-98
They need to just dump Peavy and the rest of their vets and start over. Focus on power pitchers suited for that big park, and young, athletic position players that can manufacture runs and prevent them with the leather.
Yankees over Athletics in 4
The Athletics slip into the playoffs from a weak conference and run into the Yankees and their stars. This year, with a much improved playoff rotation, the Yankees are too much for a young and promising Oakland club.
Red Sox over Twins in 4
Boston’s lineup is too patient and disciplined and is capable of taking the Twins young pitchers out of their zone. That, coupled with the Twins middling offense sends the Sox to the ALCS.
Yankees over Red Sox in 7
This year’s ALCS will feature some tough, grind-it-out games featuring good pitching and some wicked hitting. But ultimately, New York’s offseason additions prove to be the difference makers as CC Sabathia goes eight strong and Mark Teixeira delivers a big blow late to send the Yankees to the pennant.
Dodgers over Cubs in 5
Manny Ramirez spins the same tale he did last year, while LA’s arms quiet the Cub bats as Chicago is shown the door once again.
Phillies over Cardinals in 5
Behind the health of Cole Hamels and Chase Utley, the Phillies move on to a NLCS rematch.
Phillies over Dodgers in 6
Philadelphia wins its second consecutive pennant behind their slugging bats and good-enough pitching. Ryan Howard takes the MVP honors this time around.
Yankees over the Phillies in 7
New York brings too much pitching to the World Series and the Phillies ultimately spend the ninth inning of Game 7 watching Mariano Rivera mow through Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard.
AL MVP: Grady Sizemore, Indians
Sizemore is a unique player in the fact that he hits for power and average, can steal bases and plays elite defense at a premium position. Those types of players should be in the middle of the MVP discussion every year. The Indians should be better than they were last year, which will help Sizemore’s visibility on a national level.
He’s a guy that could potentially line up with 50 doubles, 10 triples, 30 homers, 30 steals, a .300 average and 100 RBIs, all while playing a gold-glove caliber centerfield. Those are MVP numbers.
NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Obviously, Albert Pujols is the pick every year for this award. Hanley Ramirez is the only other player that matches the qualities that I listed above for Sizemore. Power, average, speed, defense and premium position.
With the Marlins moving him to the third slot in the lineup, he should see more RBI opportunities which will help his “MVP numbers” dramatically. His stolen bases may fall off, but his overall body of work should improve. He just has to out-shine Pujols.
AL Cy Young: CC Sabathia, Yankees
Sabathia ended up a Cy Young candidate without a league last year when he was dealt midseason to the National League. Staying in one league for the entire year will return the Cy Young hardware to the hefty lefty. A better offense and a better closer will allow Sabathia to avoid the deadly no-decision.
I kind of wanted to pick Toronto’s Roy Halladay, but he may end up being dealt midseason, much like Sabathia was last year. And if he isn’t, the Blue Jays probably aren’t good enough to get him the win total that baseball writers think Cy Young winners need.
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Mets
With Cole Hamels hurting, Tim Lincecum coming off a huge jump in innings, Johan Santana should sail to this award. He had a Cy Young caliber season last year, that went largely unnoticed as the Mets collapsed for a second consecutive year.
A sleeper is certainly possible, as we saw with Cliff Lee in the AL last year, but I don’t feel completely comfortable picking someone with Ricky Nolasco, Edinson Volquez or Yovani Gallardo’s track record.
AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters, Orioles
I love the makeup and tools of this kid. He’s a Joe Mauer with power. He’ll start of in the minors, but I expect him to push the Orioles hand, much like Evan Longoria did with the Rays last year.
He’s a major league hitter right now, and Baltimore will be able to get by as his defense continues to develop.
NL Rookie of the Year: Tommy Hanson, Braves
Hanson, like Wieters, will open the season in the minors, but when your parent club includes a 43-year old Tom Glavine, you’ll get your chance sooner rather than later, whether it’s because of injury or ineffectiveness. He’ll be able to mow through NL lineups without any pressure and cruise to the ROY award.
AL Manager of the Year: Ron Gardenhire, Twins
The manager awards are always the most difficult to predict because it really depends heavily on how players perform. But Gardenhire has finished in the top 3 for this awards in five of the past seven years. He’s got solid young pitching and enough potential offense to win the weakened AL Central and maybe make a run into the playoffs.
NL Manager of the Year: Tony LaRussa, Cardinals
Lou Piniella won last year, but watched his team collapse in the playoffs, although anyone who has followed baseball for the past oh, 100 years or show, should have expected that. Tony LaRussa is in a similar position to Gardy in the AL – he’s got some pitching, and if the bullpen works itself out, the Cardinals could be dangerous to make a run a la 2006.