EAST1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees*
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays
* - Denotes wild card winner
The Boston Red Sox had the best off-season of any team in the division by acquiring both Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez has a chance to do big things this year for the Sox. He put up monster numbers for the San Diego Padres without even being protected in the lineup. Now, Gonzalez enters a lineup full of All-Stars in a park that is very friendly to hitters. The Red Sox rotation is the most battle tested in their division with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz coming off of spectacular 2010 campaigns. Josh Beckett, Jon Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka will look to improve on the sub-par numbers they had a year ago. The Red Sox also have the most depth in the division and their bench should be the best in the American League with Jed Lowrie, Mike Cameron, and Jason Varitek. Because of all these factors, the Red Sox are my pick to win the East in 2011 and be the third different division winner in the past three seasons.
The New York Yankees had a disappointing off-season having failed to land starter Cliff Lee and also having veteran left hander Andy Pettitte retire. However, this team still has the core together that helped them win 95 games last season. The addition of Rafael Soriano to the bullpen gives the Yankees some of the best late inning options in the league. However, questions still remain about the Yankees starters. While C.C. Sabathia remains the anchor of the rotation, A.J. Burnett is coming off of his worst season as a pro and Phil Hughes is coming off a season in which he pitched a career high in innings. Rookie Ivan Nova and Freddie Garcia give the team unproven options in the back end of the pen. Regardless, the Yankees still have an excellent offense and even average performances by their pitchers will likely result in wins. As such, the Yankees are my pick to win the American League Wild Card in 2011.
Looking at the 2010 division champs, much has changed in St. Petersburg. Not many teams could survive losing their first basemen, shortstop, left fielder, top tier starting pitcher, closer, and the rest of their bullpen and still expect to have a winning record. However, the Rays have a team that is consistently produces quality prospects from the farm. While I don't expect the Rays to win the division again in 2011, the could certainly be back some time soon. Jeremy Hellickson will be a fun prospect to watch, as will Desmond Jennings. It will be interesting to see how well Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon do in their return to the AL East.
The Baltimore Orioles have a much improved lineup this season after acquiring J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, and Vladimir Guerrero in the off-season. The Orioles will also be hoping to get a full season out of their franchise second basemen, Brian Roberts. While the teams offense is likely to be among the top in the league, they still play in the hardest division in baseball. Many of the Orioles young starters, such as Brian Matusz, Jake Arietta, and Chris Tillman, show promise, but time will tell whether or not they will develop into capable starters in this league.
Toronto did good to shed themselves of Vernon Wells' contract in the off-season. However, they weren't able to replace his bat in the lineup. The Jays lost Wells, John Buck, and Lyle Overbay this off-season to various transactions and will be relying on Adam Lind and Aaron Hill to have bounce back seasons in order to succeed. The Jays also have to hope that Jose Bautista's breakout 2010 season wasn't a fluke. The Jays rotation has some promise at the front of the rotation with Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, and Kyle Drabek. However, neither Morrow or Cecil have established themselves as an ace and expecting much from Drabek in his first full season in the league would be foolish. The team's #4 and 5 starters, Jo-Jo Reyes and Jesse Litsch, are also a cause for concern. Meanwhile, the closing duties are still a bit up in the air as Frank Francisco recovers from injury.
CENTRAL1. Detroit Tigers
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Minnesota Twins
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Kansas City Royals
The Detroit Tigers are the most balanced team in the American League Central. The addition of Victor Martinez in the off-season gives the Tigers the best 3-4-5 hitters in the division with Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, and Magglio Ordonez. Austin Jackson, one of four players the Tigers acquired for trading Curtis Granderson prior to 2010, should continue to progress next season after finishing second in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2010. The Tigers are the only team in the Central that has a true ace in their rotation. In his first five seasons in the league, Justin Verlander has won 17 games in all but one season. Combined with Max Scherzer at the front of the rotation, the Tigers may very well have the best 1-2 punch in the division. The bullpen of the Tigers is okay. The team is hoping recent addition Joaquin Benoit can be as succesful as he was with the Rays and provide a decent set up man in front of closer Jose Valverde.
The Chicago White Sox were my early off-season pick to win the division after they acquired slugger Adam Dunn in the off-season. However, that rationale was based upon reports that Jake Peavy was healthy and would be ready for the regular season. With Peavy experiencing set backs, the White Sox are left without an ace. While Mark Buehrle and John Danks are as consistent as pitchers come, neither strikes fear in the faces of opposing pitchers. The White Sox have a few interesting things to watch in 2011. Rookie Brent Morel has taken over the starting job at third base while many other eyes will also be on rookie Chris Sale and where his impact to the team will come. Meanwhile, Gordon Beckham is hoping to rebound from a poor sophomore season. I also feel that Lastings Milledge could prove to be one of GM Ken Williams best signings this year.
In regards to the Twins, Justin Morneau will return to the teams lineup after missing half of the season last year. Morneau was on pace for his best season as a pro before he was concussed. Morneau and Joe Mauer will always keep the Twins competitive, but the concern here is on their starting pitching. Francisco Liriano is coming off a season in which he recorded a career high in innings pitched and it's anyone's guess as to whether or not Carl Pavano can reproduce the solid year that he had a season ago. Meanwhile, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey aren't exactly the dominating type. Brian Duensing did a great job towards the end of the year last year, but the jury is still out as to whether or not he can replicate that success over the course of the season. The bullpen will be interesting to watch as Duensing becomes a starter, Jon Rauch left for Toronto, Matt Guerrier left for the Southern California, and Jesse Crain left to the White Sox. At least Joe Nathan is coming back this season. We better hope he's healthy.
The Cleveland Indians might surprise some this year, but that's only if everything goes right. Grady Sizemore should be back with the team by mid-April and he'll be looking to regain the form that made him one of the games most dangerous hitters a few years ago. Meanwhile, I still maintain that Shin-Soo Choo is the most underrated player in the game today. It's a shame he hasn't been to an All-Star game yet. Carlos Santana should develop into one of the American League's best catchers. In addition, once service time fails to become an issue, it should be fun to watch Lonnie Chisenhall get called up to man the hot corner. The Indians have a lot of promise, but just aren't there yet.
This season could get pretty bad for the Kansas City Royals as they traded away their top pitcher and hitter during the off-season. Even though Zach Greinke and David DeJesus are no longer with the team, the Royals will still be fun to watch as they call up all their new prospects. Mike Moustakas will probably be called up at some point in the year and I want to see how well he accumulates to big league pitching. 2011 might also prove to be a make or break type year for Alex Gordon, who has consistently struggled since his initial callup.
WEST1. Oakland Athletics
2. Los Angeles Angels
3. Texas Rangers
4. Seattle Mariners
The American League West may be the hardest division in baseball to predict as each of the divisions top three teams have major flaws. The Oakland Athletics are a team built around pitching and defense. In 2010, the A's had the best pitching staff in the American League and were the best in the league in terms of defensive effeciency. However, the A's lacked offense which held them back from having a season better than .500. Over the off-season, the A's marginally improved their offense by adding Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, and Hideki Matsui to their lineup in seperate deals. The A's hope it will be enough to push them over the top. It will be interesting to see if the A's give top prospect Chris Carter a chance to develop at some point this season. The A's are going for the AL West title or bust this season. 5 of the teams 9 players on their opening day lineup will be free agents following the 2011 season.
The Angels serious flaw is in regards to their bullpen. Interim closer Fernando Rodney only converted 14 of 21 save attempts last year. If that continues in 2011, the Angels will be in trouble. The Angels added Scott Downs to their pen, but it still isn't what it once was when rubber arms Scot Shields, Brendan Donnelly, and Darren Oliver were dominating in it a few years back. The Angels offense is hard to predict. Kendrys Morales is still expected to be out to start the regular season which means, Mark Trumbo, who hit 36 home runs last season at AAA Salt Lake City, will get his chance to shine. Adding Vernon Wells was a nice addition, but its tough to say the Angels offense got better after losing Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera, and Mike Napoli as well. The starting rotation should be much better this season as Dan Haren gets a full season in with the team. Haren and Jered Weaver make a tough 1-2 combination at the front of the rotation.
The Texas Rangers made a big splash this off-season signing third basemen Adrian Beltre to a 5 year deal. Beltre returns to the American League West where he is very familiar with after spending five seasons in Seattle from 2005-2009. The Rangers may have improved their defense with this signing, but the offense remains about the same as the Rangers couldn't keep Vladimir Guerrero. Meanwhile, the team alienated long-time captain and ultimat team player Michael Young with the signing. The Rangers rotation is still very much untested and is this teams one large flaw. After C.J. Wilson, there are questions as to whether or not Colby Lewis can repeat the same success he had a season ago. Meanwhile, Tommy Hunter lacks an out pitch and Derek Holland and Matt Harrison combined for only 16 starts a year ago.
Looking at the Mariners, they will once again likely finish in last place in the American League West. However, the M's rotation could surprise a few few people. After King Felix, Erik Bedard has looked like his old self this spring and Michael Pineda is my pick for the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year. Offensively speaking, I'm still waiting for Justin Smoak to breakout. Also, Dustin Ackley should be one of the top rookies in the league once he is finally called up. I firmly believe the Mariners will win at least 70 games next season as this teams pitching and defense alone should do that for them.
MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
CY YOUNG: David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
ROOKIE: Michael Pineda, Seattle Mariners
COMEBACK: Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians
MANAGER: Bob Geren, Oakland Athletics
EAST1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves*
3. Florida Marlins
4. New York Mets
5. Washington Nationals
* - Denotes Wild Card Winner
For the first time ever, I am picking a team to have at least 100 wins. Yes, I think the Philadelphia Phillies, with how dominant their rotation can be will have 101 wins in the 2011 season. The Phillies had 97 wins in 2010 despite only having Roy Oswalt for half of the season. This year, with Oswalt around for the long haul and Cliff Lee returning, the Phillies are the team to beat in the National League. The offense had inconsistencies last year, but still remains strong. Ryan Howard is one of the best sluggers in the National League. Jimmie Rollins will look to bounce back from two sub-par seasons in a row. Even though the Phillies will be without Chase Utley to start the season, they might not need to score as many runs with the quality of pitching they will be getting from their starters.
The Atlanta Braves upgraded a lot offensively when they added Dan Uggla to their lineup this offseason. With Uggla and Brian McCann leading this offense, the Braves should be poised for another playoff run in 2011. It will be interesting to see what Freddie Freeman can do in his first full season in the big leagues. Meanwhile, anything the Braves get from Chipper Jones will be a plus. The Braves rotation is pretty underrated with Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, and Jair Jurrjens leading the way. Jurrjens had a down season in 2011, but given his track record, I'm expecting him to bounce back.
As for the Florida Marlins, I feel it was a mistake for the team to trade away Dan Uggla for nothing. The team probably could have gotten more had they waited until the trade deadline. Regardless, a full season of Mike Stanton should help make up for the hole in the lineup that was created when Uggla left. In order for the Marlins to be succesful, they will need Chris Coghlan to have a bounce back year. The bullpen should be fine with the addition of the arms they got from San Diego in the Cameron Maybin deal. Meanwhile, the Marlins have one of the most underrated starting rotations in the game. Josh Johnson had an amazing season last year. Meanwhile, Javier Vasquez is back in the National League East, where he dominated for so many years with the Montreal Expos and the Atlanta Braves.
The New York Mets are currently a disaster right now, but that doesn't mean that new GM Sandy Alderson isn't making the right moves. The 2011 season will consist of a little house cleaning for the Mets. The team has already cut Omar Minaya cast-offs Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. Carlos Beltran is probably next as he will be a free agent in the off-season. The Mets will need Mike Pelfrey to step up and be the staff ace that many expected him to develop into when he was a young prospect with the team. I don't understand why the Mets wouldn't be forced to firesale at a point like right now. Borrowing from Major League Baseball is not a viable solution for the club and will ultimately end in the team being sold.
The National might have made a splash this off-season signing Jayson Werth to a long term deal, but it won't do anything in terms of bumping them up in the standings. While the team acquired Werth and Adam LaRoche this off-season, they also lost Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham to the White Sox and A's. Regardless, it's good to see that the ownership group is willing to spend and cares about the ballclub. That can't be said for every team in Major League Baseball. The Nats will be interesting to watch again in 2012 when Stephen Strasburg returns from injury and Bryce Harper makes his major league debut.
CENTRAL1. Cininnati Reds
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Reds are poised to win back to back National League Central titles. I don't get a chance to watch too many Reds games, but when I do, Joey Votto seems like an absolute beast. Votto deservedly won the National League MVP last season and I think he'll do it again in 2011. Votto, Jay Bruce, and Drew Stubbs may be one of the best young nucleus' of any team in the league. The Reds young pitchers seemed to finally come through last year. Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo were very good, while Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, and Travis Wood made effective transitions to the big leagues. Edinson Volquez will also be back in 2011 giving the Reds a ton of depth in their rotation.
In regards to the Brewers, they've always been a good offensive team. The one year that they actually had pitching (with C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets anchoring the rotation), they made the postseason. This year the Brewers hope to do the same as they added both Shaun Marcum and Zach Greinke to their rotation. Combined with Yovanni Gallardo and Randy Wolf, it makes for a formidable rotation in what is expected to be a tough National League Central. This may be the Brewers best shot as star first basemen Prince Fielder enters free agency next off-season and is expected to command a lot.
Looking to the Cardinals, their chances of returning to the top of the National League Central took a hit when Adam Wainwright went down with Tommy John Surgery this spring. However, you can never count out a team that has Colby Rasmus, Albert Pujols, and Matt Holliday at the top of the order. The Cardinals got a solid year in 2010 from Jaime Garcia and it will be fun to watch to see if he can duplicate that success in 2011. Lance Berkman returns to the outfield in the National League and while Berkman can hit, we'll see what the effect is on the Cardinals defense. Meanwhile, my guess is that most of the media will be focusing on the teams ability to resign Albert Pujols all year long.
The Cubs made a couple attempts to get better over the off-season by signing first basemen Carlos Pena and trading for starting pitcher Matt Garza over the off-season. However, much of the Cubs success will hinge on the performance of Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez had a poor 2010 season and was injured throughout the 2009 season. It's no coincidence that the last time Ramirez was fully healthy, the Cubs won the National League Central. Mike Quade will have quite the task turning the Cubs back around. We'll see if he's capable...
The Houston Astros enter 2011 having not done much over the off-season. The Astros will need Carlos Lee to rebound off of his terrible 2010 season. Meanwhile, this season will be the first in a long while that Roy Oswalt isn't with the team on opening day. The pitching staff behind Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, and J.A. Happ will be tested. Brett Wallace will also need to prove that he deserves to be a mainstay with the organization. Wallace is on his fourth team in just two seasons after the Cardinals, A's, and Blue Jays passed up on him.
The Pirates have a lot of talented hitters, but I can't say the same for the pitching staff. Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker will get a full season of work in the Pirates infield and Andrew McCutchen is probably one of the most talented up and coming outfielders in baseball. If this team could just get some starting pitching it could compete. The Pirates made 24.6 Million in operating income last season. It's too bad they couldn't use that toward acquiring a pitcher to lead this young offense.
WEST1. San Francisco Giants
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Colorado Rockies
4. San Diego Padres
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
The 2010 World Champs remain likely to repeat as NL West division champs in 2011. After the Padres traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox, the National League West got much weaker. The Giants still have the best pitching staff in their division and it rivals that of the Phillies for best in the league. This season, however, the 2011 Giants will get full seasons from both youngsters Madison Bumgarner and NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey. Pablo Sandoval has also looked outsanding in camp so far losing 40 pounds, hitting triples, and stealing bases. We'll see if it can translate into the regular season as Sandoval almost won the batting title just two years ago. In addition, Brandon Belt is my pick for Rookie of the Year in the NL. Belt is a monster that batted .352 with 23 home runs and 112 RBI's combined through three levels of the minor leagues last season. So far in camp, he's hit .293 with 2 homers and is looking to force his way on to the Giants roster.
The only team in the division that I feel will truly challenge the Giants will be the Dodgers. The Dodgers have a strong 1-2 punch in their rotation with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. In addition, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will provide much of the offense in the lineup. The Dodgers are finally going back to their farm, thanks to an injury to Casey Blake. I really want to see what Ivan DeJesus Jr. does while starting the season at second base. The Dodgers bullpen remains strong. The team added Matt Guerrier, who alongside All-Star Hong-Chi Kuo will provide to solid set-up men for closer Jonathan Broxton.
The Rockies didn't acquire to many new players this off-season, but did lock up franchise players to long term deals. The Rockies gave both Troy Tulowitski and Carlos Gonzalez long term deals assuring the team will be competitive for years to come. However, the Rockies need to find some way to win on the road. CarGo's numbers didn't translate well out of Coors and he is going to have to start hitting better on the road for this team to be a contender. Ubaldo Jiminez is a strong ace at the front of the rotation, but I'm not convinced the other starters can get the job done. At least the bullpen got stronger will Matt Lindstrom now setting up a healthy Huston Street.
In regards to the Padres, the Friars still feature one of the best pitching staffs in the game. As always with the Padres, the question comes down to whether or not they can score runs. Without Adrian Gonzalez in their lineup, I don't think that is possible. The Padres ownership group shouldn't even be allowed in baseball. The Padres made 37.4 million in operating income last season, yet still let their star player go. The team features a brand new ballpark in downtown San Diego, draws over 2 million fans every year, and claims they are a small market team that can't compete. Give me a break. San Diego is one of the largest cities in the country and the fans will pay to watch a contender. I fell very bad for Padre fans at the moment.
The Diamondbacks gave up on winning the minute they traded Dan Haren to the Angels last off-season. It was remarkable to see the Diamondbacks get so little back in return considering they gave up Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, and A's top prospect Chris Carter to acquire Haren in the first place. Rumors were swirling all off-season that the team was considering trading Justin Upton. Thank god it diddn't happen as that would have been a huge mistake. Without Adam LaRoche and Mark Reynolds in the lineup, the Diamondbacks are a good bet to lose over 100 this season. However, I do like what I've seen from Barry Enright and Daniel Hudson so far. Hudson may have been a huge steal as they acquired him from the White Sox for Edwin Jackson last season.
MVP: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
CY YOUNG: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
ROOKIE: Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
COMEBACK: Jimmie Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies
MANAGER: Freddie Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves
PHILLIES OVER RED SOX (4-2)