Another season is upon us, and so too is the time for predictions. Listed below are my forecasts for the regular season standings as well as the major award winners. In addition, a capsule for each team is provided below. For what it’s worth, the Captain’s Blog did a pretty good job predicting the standings last year, so feel free to take these prognostications to Vegas. Just don’t send me the bill at the end of September.
|AL East||W||L||NL East||W||L|
|AL Central||W||L||NL Central||W||L|
|AL West||W||L||NL West||W||L|
ALCS: Yankees over White Sox
NLCS: Phillies over Braves
World Series: Yankees over Phillies
AL Cy Young: David Price
NL Cy Young: Josh Johnson
AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez
NL MVP: Prince Fielder
AL ROY: Kyle Drabek
NL ROY: Domonic Brown
American League East
Yankees: A lot has been made of the uncertainty in the backend of the Yankees’ rotation, but dire assessments made on that basis seem to ignore that the team had 68 games started by a pitcher with an ERA+ of 86 or lower…and still managed to win 95 games Last year, the team led all of baseball with a wOBA of .347, despite off years from Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, all of whom could rebound in 2011. If Curtis Granderson is able to build on his second half resurgence and Brett Gardner continues to evolve as an offensive player, the combination of a dynamic offense and deep bullpen should be more than enough to keep the Yankees atop the East.
Red Sox: Boston has become the fashionable pick to win not only the AL East, but also the World Series. Considering the offseason addition of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, the high expectations are reasonable, but it seems as if many are forgetting who departed. Both Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez had very strong seasons, so it’s not a given that Gonzalez and Crawford will wind up being a net improvement on offense. Regardless, a healthier Boston team should vie for the division late into September, and could just as easily win it.
*Predictions involve more than evaluating what’s on paper in March. Last year, the Red Sox operated at a loss, and that was before their offseason spending spree. Meanwhile, the Yankees didn’t add any payroll coming off a year in which the team earned substantial profits. In other words, Boston may be less inclined to make a big midseason addition, while the Yankees are certain to be very active if needs arise. Considering how close the two teams appear now, the Yankees’ greater financial flexibility is another factor that could tip the balance in their favor.
Rays: Tampa Bay should take a step back, but they’ll still be a formidable team. In fact, if they played in another division, they’d probably win it. However, the team’s decimated bullpen and makeshift offense, which is reliant on a cast of young players and veterans who are in a career limbo, seem to be a recipe for inconsistency.
Blue Jays: Toronto has some exciting young pitchers, but it remains to be seen if the offense can repeat its unprecedented power barrage. If not, the low on-base profile (.312 in 2010) of the lineup could cause the offense to regress.
Orioles: Baltimore is ticketed for last place again, but the team is slowly closing the gap. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters need to take the next step, but a bevy of veterans should help lighten the load. The Orioles also have impressive young arms like Brian Matusz, so for the first time in almost 15 years, there is real reason for hope in Baltimore.
American League Central
White Sox: Although the team really doesn’t have an ace, Chicago has a solid, stable rotation of young starters who are capable of throwing 200 innings. The lone exception, of course, is Jake Peavy, but anything the White Sox get from him would be gravy. On offense, the addition of Adam Dunn should give the team a major power boost, but another big improvement could come from second base, where Gordon Beckham seeks to rebound from a very disappointing sophomore campaign. Rookie Brett Morel should also be an offensive upgrade over Omar Vizquel, while veterans Alexis Rios and Carlos Quentin are reasonable bets to improve their production as they enter the middle of their prime years.
Twins: Minnesota did fine in 2010 relying on the equally fragile Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, but can lightning strike twice? The Twins could have a fantastic offense if Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are firing on all cylinders, but there are even reasons to be a little hesitant about that dynamic duo. There is no player I am rooting for more than Morneau, but his recovery from a serious concussion will be worth monitoring.
Tigers: It could be a long season in Detroit. Miguel Cabrera carried the offense in 2010, but his outstanding season was a breakout that won’t be easy to repeat. Even with Victor Martinez in the fold, the Tigers’ lineup seems dependent on too many question marks. The same is also true of the rotation, which features a strong top two in Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but is rounded out by three highly suspect pitchers. If things fall into place for the Tigers, they could contend, but it seems just as likely they will fall apart. If that happens, don’t be surprised to see Jim Leyland walk away during the season.
The Indians and Royals are both in rebuilding mode. Cleveland has much more talent on the major league level, but Kansas City has a ton of prospects brimming beneath the surface. Players to watch in Cleveland include Carlos Santana, Shin-Soo Choo and the recovering Grady Sizemore, while in Kansas City, fans are probably best advised to check out Wichita or Omaha, at least until after the super two cutoff point.
American League West
Angels: Based solely on how the rosters look today, I might not pick the Angels to win the West, but like the Yankees, the team seems well positioned to make a needed addition during the season. Without the reinforcements, however, there are still pieces in place. Dan Haren and Jeff Weaver could be the league’s best 1-2 punch and Earvin Santana is a very durable number three. The preseason injury to Joel Pineiro is a concern, but if he can give the team a solid 160 innings, the Angels rotation could be the strongest in the division. Many scoffed at the offseason acquisition of Vernon Wells, but the veteran outfielder should at least be a positive short-term addition. The eventual return of Kendrys Morales, assuming his recent set back isn’t more serious than currently believed, will also add needed punch. I am also banking on Howie Kendrick finally living up to his potential and rookie Hank Conger gradually stealing playing time from Jeff Mathis.
Athletics: If they can stay healthy, Oakland might be able to trump the franchise’s big three from the turn of the last decade with its current quartet of live young arms, led by lefty Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez, both of whom earned rave reviews from scouts during the spring. Based on the strength of this rotation, I wanted to pick Oakland to win the West, but the offense is a mishmash.
Rangers: Texas won its first AL pennant thanks to Cliff Lee and an entire pitching staff that over performed. Lee is in Philadelphia now, and I don’t expect the rest of rotation, and the bullpen, to have the same success. The defense is stronger with Adrian Beltre, and the offense is better with Mike Napoli behind the plate, but on the whole, the team seems poised for a set back.
Mariners: Seattle has Ichiro and King Felix. When they are both on the field, the team is very compelling. Otherwise, the roster is one of the most uninspiring in all of baseball. Prospect Michael Pineda did earn the fifth slot in the rotation, however, so he also bears watching.
National League East
Phillies: As the injuries continue to mount in Philadelphia, the outlook is becoming less sunny. By far, the biggest concern involves Chase Utley. Losing the All Star 2B for an extended period of time could seriously hamper an offense already depleted by the loss of Jayson Werth. It’s also hard to see Carlos Ruiz repeating his fantastic 2010 campaign, so the onus will fall on Ryan Howard to carry the load. Luckily, the team has a ridiculous pitching staff, so as long as they stay healthy, the team should still manage to win the division. However, if even just one misses significant time, the Phillies could see the NL East slip away.
Braves: Atlanta is one of the most intriguing teams in baseball. If Jair Jurrjens can revert to his pre-injury form, he could combine with Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson to form a very potent top-three in the rotation. Meanwhile, the addition of Dan Uggla and promotion of Freddie Freeman should boost the offense. Throw in a bullpen chock full of live arms, and the Braves have the recipe for a very successful season.
Marlins: Florida boasts one of the best pitchers and position players in all of baseball, but the roster is much deeper than that. Mike Stanton could be a monster, while Logan Morison has all the hallmarks of a “professional hitter”. Gaby Sanchez could also improve upon his successful rookie campaign, while John Buck should add pop behind the plate. After Josh Johnson, however, the rotation is a little thin, despite being big on talent. If arms like Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez can break out, the Marlins could make more waves in the division. Otherwise, they seem to be firmly entrenched between the “haves” and “have nots” in the NL East, but progressing well toward the opening of new ballpark in 2012.
Mets: New York is a house of cards. An optimistic person could probably make an argument for the Mets being a .500 team, but it seems much more likely that the season will quickly fall apart. If that happens, the financially battered team will likely look to shed payroll, which would send them spiraling further in the standings. With so much negativity swirling around the team, the Mets will be on death watch from day one. If an early diagnosis is pronounced, Jose Reyes could become one of the most coveted players at the trade deadline. If my prediction above holds true, the Angels could be a likely destination. Like it or not, the Mets are in a long-term rebuilding mode, and 2011 will be part of that process.
Nationals: Washington’s future begins when Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are both on the active roster. In the meantime, the team is woefully undermanned in every facet of the game. If Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth have their typical offensive seasons and Jordan Zimmerman fulfills some of his potential, the Nationals could pass up the Mets, but the ceiling remains low for at least another season.
National League Central
Cubs: Chicago had a miserable year in 2010, but the team played much better under Mike Quade. The offseason additions of Matt Garza and Carlos Pena, who both should benefit from switching leagues, helped bolster an already talented, albeit underachieving roster of veterans. The most exciting part of the team, however, is its young catcher and shortstop. Geovany Soto and Starlin Castro could rank among the best at their position for years to come. Considering the team’s history, it’s probably wishful thinking to expect improved seasons from veteran and youngster alike, but maybe 2011 will finally be the year of the Cubs?
Brewers: When Milwaukee acquired Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, they instantly became contenders. Along with Yovani Gallardo, the top of the rotation is probably the most talented in the division. However, the bullpen looks shaky, and although the offense is powered by the likes of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, there are also a few gaping holes.
Cardinals: Losing Adam Wainwright was a crushing blow for St. Louis, but if Chris Carpenter can stay healthy (a big if), the rotation is not a total loss. What really hurts the team’s chances, however, is its top heavy lineup and porous defense. The Cardinals still have enough star power to hang around the race, but not enough complementary parts to get them to the top.
Reds: If the starting rotation was healthy, the Reds would probably be the favorite to win this division. As the season begins, however, three starters are on the disabled list. Even if made whole by the beginning of May, it may be difficult to make up for lost time in a competitive division. Pitching isn’t the only concern, however. It’s also very easy to see room for regression on offense, beginning with MVP Joey Votto, who if able to repeat his 2010 season would go along way toward establishing himself as the next Pujols.
Astros: With the team in the midst of sale, it could be a very ugly year in Houston. Combining an anemic offense with a below average pitching staff isn’t exactly a recipe for an exciting summer. The team doesn’t even have a single star to captivate the fan base, so it’ll be interesting to see if the franchise can again draw over two million in attendance.
Pirates: Last year, I gave the Pirates the benefit of the doubt and predicted they would win 70 games. They weren’t even close. Fool me once, shame on you. And yet, players like Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez are not only talented, but interesting to watch. Unfortunately, the pitching is still awful, so this year, I am not going higher than 67 wins. If am fooled again, this time, it’s my fault.
National League West
Giants: Picking San Francisco isn’t really a nod to their championship in 2010, but a concession to the weakness of the division. The team’s pitching depth and strength is obvious, but the offense remains an issue. Having Buster Posey for a full season is a plus, but expecting similar production from veterans like Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell might be wishful thinking. In Brandon Belt, the Giants may have another young offensive reinforcement on the way, so that bodes well, but in the meantime, the team will need Pablo Sandoval to start pulling his weight again.
Rockies: Colorado is one of the hardest teams to figure out. It has an ace at the top of the rotation, and two of the games best young position players, but the rest of the team inspires indifference. Players like Ian Stewart, Seth Smith, Chris Iannetta and Jorge de la Rosa all have the potential to be pretty good players, but once you get past the team’s stars, there’s little else upon which to rely. In a stronger division, the Rockies would be seriously overmatched, but in the NL West, they could give the Giants a pennant race.
Dodgers: Los Angeles has the look of a .500 team. Although there is room for overachievement, the team’s shaky bullpen could take its toll, especially with rookie manager Don Mattingly learning the ropes. I am pulling for Donnie Baseball to succeed in 2011, but there could be some growing pains. Hopefully, Mattingly doesn’t become a victim of high expectations and a chaotic ownership situation.
Padres: Even with Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego wasn’t likely to repeat its surprising 2010 campaign. Without the star slugger, however, their return trip to Earth should be that much more abrupt. Brad Hawpe could turnout to be a pleasant surprise, but otherwise, there is little to suggest that the Padres’ offense won’t be one of the worst in the league. Still, the rotation could be decent, and the bullpen will probably be strong, meaning San Diego could eke out a few extra wins and remain on the fringes of the pennant race into the summer.
Diamondbacks: Arizona is a bad team. Aside from Justin Upton, there isn’t much to watch out in the desert. If the team falls out of the race early, it will be interesting to see if Upton’s name resurfaces in trade talks.