With the current state of the climate in the Bay State (lots of snow, followed by it freezing, followed by it melting and flooding the streets so no one can go anywhere), and with the Pats hopefully ending a sports year that showed promise, but ultimately ended in all four teams tearing our hearts out (some more than others), I figured why not dive, neh, cannonball into the 2011 baseball season. This will be the first part of my baseball preview. In this section, I will talk about the overall landscape of baseball as it pertains to wins, division winners, and who you will likely see playing in late October (spoiler alert: this year, my biasedness will reach an insanely high level). Stay tuned for Part II, which will be the fantasy preview. So, let me knock it out right quick:
All of the information in terms of the projected amount of wins comes from a site called "Replacement Level Yankees Weblog", which, while being a Yankees site, came through with a program known as "CAIRO" (which I'm believing that a.) it stands for something, a la SONAR, and b.) is a reference to Miguel Cairo, a former Yankee most known for saying "he caught it?" after Manny's ridiculous catch going into the stands at the old Yankee Stadium, and for me not liking him). Anyway, this is a pretty cool projection analysis, and I'm going to attempt to get the entire table on this site so you can see the breakdowns for yourself...
Your Boston Red Sox (89-73, PROJ. 98): Why even wait? This is the most excited I've been about a Sox team in quite some time. It's amazing what happens after you watch your rival win a World Series in '09, followed by a year where you don't even make the playoffs. 2010 had a very 2006 feel to it in that I didn't even want them to make the playoffs in order to bypass the sure humiliation that would have followed. Baseball, basketball, and hockey are different from football because you can't get lucky once and advance in the postseason. You're not going to see a Seattle Seahawk-like situation occur. With all the injuries, and with a pitching staff that was 3/5 lousy for most of the season, I didn't want to have to endure getting destroyed by Texas (we would have got completely destroyed by Texas by the way) in the first round. So, all and all, 2010 was not a season to hang our collective hats on, but all things considered, it could have been much worse.
Obviously when you're talking Sox now-a-days, you're talking about Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford...yes, the Carl Crawford that has killed the Sox since he first put on a Devil Rays uniform. Chalk up the Crawford signing to the "Wes Welker Corollary," or in other words, "we have to sign this guy because he has destroyed us his entire career and we only want him destroying other teams now." Of course the magnitude of both these signings can't even be quantified yet because we haven't even see them in a Sox uniform outside of their press conference unveilings, but rest assured, these two have made the Sox the most dangerous lineup in baseball. Crawford and a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury could have a stolen base crown showdown that has never occured between two teammates. We're talking like numbers in the 60s, perhaps 70s for both. The only thing I can think of that could parallel this potential duel was the 1961 Yankees team that had Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle dueling for the home run crown (which Maris won with a then-record 61, Mantle finished with 54). How fun is that going to be to watch?
With the addition of Gonzalez, you complete the best core hitting group in baseball. It's not so much the power numbers that I'm concerning myself with, but rather, the ability to get on base and produce runs. Gonzalez will be peppering the Green Monster for the next eight years (he is signed through 2011, but with salary cap rules, the Sox are holding off until opening day to announce his seven year, $154 million extension), and the numbers that this entire lineup could produce is simply staggering.
There are two potential downfalls to this team (and yes, I have to be kind of cynical, and yes, it's because I'm a Boston sports fan). The first is obviously health, which was what most of the downfall from last year could be placed on. This is something you really can't predict or even anticipate (it's not like the Sox have a bunch of Jermaine O'Neals that you know are going down at some point). Pedroia, Youk, and Jacoby should be ready to go on opening day, while it remains to be seen about Dice-K and his potential competition for the fifth pitching spot with Wake.
The second is the bottom half of the starting rotation. I feel the Sox really overplayed their desperation and loyalty cards last year when they signed a 32-year old free agent pitcher (Lackey) for five years, then followed that up with giving an equal five-year contract to Josh Beckett, who they basically paid so much for because of how well he pitched in 2007 and the 2008 regular season, and not so much for what he's done lately, which is why you generally don't give out five-year deals to a pitcher who has not pitched at a high level since tanking in the '08 postseason. Also, again, there is no clear-cut #5, so what the Sox have done, at least for this year, is hedged their bets on beating the crap out of the ball and putting up buku runs, and having the bullpen (which is now ridiculously strong with the additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler) come in and close games out. I feel like this is Theo's attempt to micro-manage those non-Lester or Buchholz starts, and basically, he's saying "just get us through five innings and we'll take care of the rest," which is not something you want to be thinking about when Lackey, Beckett, or whoever else they put in starts the game.
Bottom line: They have glaring weaknesses in the rotation, at short, and behind the plate, but in the American League, there is no team that has the potential that this team has, and once the Yankees were unable to get Cliff Lee, I believe they helped raise an AL East title pennant for the Sox. I'm hoping the Sox hit the 100 mark...I mean, I just want to see them win the division, the pennant, and the World Series...that's all. Over
New York Yankees (95-67, PROJ. 89): We hate them, but you have to give the Yankees credit because they have suddenly become the Red Sox in terms of bringing talent up through their organization instead of spending money every time they need to fill a hole (in all seriousness though...you know they would take Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in a second). They have a nice core built around Robinson Cano, who went from being a wunderkind prospect to the best second baseman in baseball in the span of two years. They do have the hitting with A-Rod, Tex, and Swisher, the consummate pros in Jeter and Granderson, and a big-time speed man in Brent Gardner, and while the Yanks did pick up Russell Martin to start behind the plate (who the Sox didn't feel like getting into a bidding war over), all eyes will be on top prospect Jesus Montero, who will likely see regular playing time for the first time in 2011.
On the mound, they have one of the best pitchers in the AL in Sabathia, and a strong 7-8-9 bullpen combo in Joba Chamberlain, the recently-acquired Rafael Soriano, and Mo in the 9th. The problem with this team, like the Sox, will be it's second half of the rotation. They have their 1-2 in Sabathia and Hughes, but the rest is in complete shambles. You're looking at A.J. Burnett at 3, Andy Pettitte at 4 (assuming he comes back, which I think he will), and Ivan Nova at 5. Basically you're looking at the Red Sox, but with less talent. I'm sure that will come back to bite me, but right now, even an non-subjective fan would have to say that the Sox simply have more talent on paper than the Yankees...and when do you ever hear that?
The Yankees are going to be good of course, but they will be hunting down a wild card spot unless they make a huge move in July. To get to the wild card in the AL this year, you're going to need at least 90 wins, so I think that pushes them over the top. Over
Tampa Bay Devil Rays (96-66, PROJ. 87): Don't look now, but the Rays have won two of the last three AL East crowns. That's a pretty big accomplishment for a team that was in last place pretty much up until their first title in '08. Having said that, Tampa has been gutted of most of its core veteran group. Seemingly, you can't have a good baseball team in Florida for more than a few years before there is a landslide of guys who get moved or move on (see: '97 and '03 Florida Marlins). Gone are Crawford, Soriano, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, and Grant Balfour, their best set-up man.
Tampa will look to plug the holes with their farm system, which has been rated #1 for pretty much the entire decade. Desmond Jennings will come in and look to at least somewhat fill Carl Crawford's shoes. He may not do it this year, but keep a close eye on his progress in the first few months as an everyday left fielder hitting leadoff. Jennings is ranked as the unanimous #1 prospect in the game, so it will be interesting to see what kind of initial impact he can make this year. If you're looking for a barometer in terms of what a rookie is capable of doing for the Rays, you don't have to look much further than Evan Longoria, who, along with David Price, are the franchise now.
I'm looking at this team, and there is a lot of potential, but what I think is lacking is a sense of a veteran leadership which they had in both title runs. Longoria is a superstar, Price is an ace, and they have some really nice pieces in Jennings, Ben Zobrist and Reid Brignac up the middle, and Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson in the rotation. The bottom line is that they lost way too much to make up in one year. To put it in perspective, Kyle Farnsworth is the closer, and while he might beat you in an arm-wrestling match, my belief is that this is not a guy who closes for a playoff-bound team. Under
Update: Less than a day after I wrote this, the Rays wound up getting both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, and while I definitely think that helps in the whole "not having a veteran presence" aspect, they still have no closer and did give away three of their best five players.)
Toronto Blue Jays (85-77, PROJ. 74): I know that with testing and all the kinds of sanctions the MLB has on PEDs, steroids, and everything of the sort, it's real hard/stupid to use anymore...but how else could you possibly explain Jose Bautista's season last year? His previous career high in homers was 16, and in '09, he hit 13 homers for Toronto in 113 games, then suddenly, he plays an entire season (first time doing that in the bigs) and hits 54 home runs? Call me skeptical, but that seems like kind of a jump. The last time this kind of thing happened was with Brady Anderson, when he went from 16 homers in '95 to 50 in '96 because of...yup, steroids. However, as long as he can get away with it, jump on the Bautista bandwagon for now, because he is raking it in the SkyDome.
This is an intriguing team to me. You have Bautista as their big-time power guy, but then you throw in guys like Vernon Wells, who also had a resurrection of his career last year (let the conspiracy theories begin!), a top catching prospect in J.P. Arencibia, and two guys who had down years that they couldn't possibly duplicate again (I think) in Aaron Hill (who in all fairness was banged up for most of the year) and Adam Lind.
On the pitching side, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow are a very interesting 1-2 in that Romero, when on, is probably in the top 10 starting pitchers in the league, and Morrow could be the most pure strikeout pitcher in the AL. When he gets going, he can put up 10 Ks in four innings. This will also mark the rookie year of much-touted prospect Kyle Drabek, son of former pitcher Doug Drabek.
The Jays are a long ways away from making any kind of sustainable noise at the top of this division (you may remember that they actually had the lead in the AL East for a couple of months last year, but couldn't hold it until the All-Star break, hence the "sustainable" comment). They should be a very exciting team to watch though, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what Kyle Drabek can do on the turf in Toronto. Over
Update: The Blue Jays traded Vernon Wells and his ridiculous contract that called for him getting paid $86 million over the next four years to the Angels for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. This is a huge victory in the short-term and the long-term for Toronto, because I feel like they definitely got the upper hand in both.
Yet Another Update: While I was away on vacation, the Blue Jays flipped Napoli for Frank Francisco and "cash considerations." This won't be as cut-and-dry for the Jays as the V-Dub (Vernon Wells) trade because this seems like a much more equal deal in terms of players and money involved. I would say to keep Frank Francisco in mind when you need a closer towards the end of your fantasy draft.
Baltimore Orioles (66-96, PROJ. 70): When Brian Roberts went down with a herniated disk in his back, so too did the chances of the O's making any kind of progress in a year that I thought they could really have done some good things. This year promises to bring a lot more offense though, as the O's made two critical roster moves in acquiring Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee, two corner infielders with 30+ homer potential.
While Roberts' injury was huge, I also think that the lackluster years from both Nick Markakis (dropped from 101 RBIs in '09 to 60 in '10) and Brian Matusz (who at one point was 4-12) factored into the O's treading in suckiness. The good news is that Matusz rebounded with six wins in a row towards the end of the season to almost bring his record back to .500, and Markakis will now be protected in the lineup and will have a lot more run-producing opportunities (he still hit .297).
The O's simply have no pitching though. Jeremy Guthrie is the ace? That's no good. Outside of Matusz, there's not a whole lot going on in the rotation. The 7-8-9 of Mike Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg, and Koji Uehara is okay, but you can't feel confident about handing the ball over to the 'pen in a one-run game.
Simply put: For the O's, it's all about the O. They really have a good-looking lineup with B-Rob at the lead-off, followed by Markakis, Adam Jones, Luke Scott, Lee, Reynolds, and their prized franchise catcher in Matt Wieters. That's a really solid 1-7, and in fact, it is possibly amongst the best in baseball if I may be so bold, but you're only as good as your pitching in the long run. Still, there are definitely things to be positive about in the inner harbor. 70 wins seems attainable to me. Over
Minnesota Twins (94-68, PROJ. 87): Never bet against a decent team going into a new stadium...that almost always works out. Upon opening their new open-air Target Field last year, the Twins went on a roll, and really didn't stop until they hit the postseason. I thought they could be in trouble once it was announced Joe Nathan would miss the entire season after having Tommy John surgery, but the Twins persevered in his absence, and made a deadline move to get Matt Capps to really try and shut down the ninth inning.
If you're talking Twins, you're talking Joe Mauer. The hands-down, best catcher in the game had an off-year last season, and still hit .327, won a gold glove, a silver slugger award, started the All-Star Game, and was 8th in MVP voting. This guy is too much to handle for opposing teams. The Twins have gelled as a lineup too, and you're going to be seeing pretty much the same lineup that they had in 2010. The two new faces are Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who will start at short in his first year over from Japan (his makeup has drawn comparisons to Chone Figgins), and top prospect Danny Valencia will get his first full season at third.
The pitching is led by Francisco Liriano, who experienced a renaissance last season after struggling initially coming back from Tommy John surgery in '09. Liriano recorded 200 K's for the first time in his career last year, and is poised to have an even bigger 2011. Speaking of turning your career around, Carl Pavano remains a free agent, but from what I'm hearing, it looks like Pavano will sign a two-year deal soon (Update: That happened). The Twins can only hope to get relatively close to the production they received from Pavano as he gave them in 2010, where he went 17-11 with a sub-4 ERA and an incredible seven complete games to lead the AL. Their 3-5 in Scott Baker, Brian Duensing and Kevin Slowey aren't household names, but they're solid as a unit. The only problem with this staff is that they just aren't imposing enough in a short series, which they saw happen last year against the Yankees. So good for the regular season, and not so much after that. The bullpen is strong now with Nathan healthy again. They re-upped with Capps on a one-year deal, and Pat Neshak continues to be one of the most underrated middle relievers in baseball.
The Twins look to have a stranglehold atop the Central for now, and their home-field advantage is quickly becoming one of the best in the game. In fact, I haven't seen such a turnaround in terms of such an advantage since the Giants moved out of Candlestick and into their current facility, AT&T Park. Over
Chicago White Sox (88-74, PROJ. 85): The White Sox' season was indicative of their record. Basically, they went through all of last year playing second or third fiddle to the Twins, as did the Tigers. The Sox never really put the whole thing together to the point that they could realistically contend with Minnesota. Of course when that kind of season happens, things need to be changed. Chicago retained Ozzie Guillen despite his presence on the hot seat for most of last season, but gutted his bullpen in the offseason. The Sox allowed Bobby Jenks to wind up as the set-up man/closer in waiting in Boston, and ace relievers Scott Linebrink and J.J. Putz also departed, and while no word is official yet, it doesn't appear like Manny Ramirez will come back next year (teams said to have interest include the Angels, Twins, Rangers, Rays and Blue Jays so far).
The Sox did pick up a big bat in Adam Dunn, and will likely start him as a DH, something I'm pretty sure was in Dunn's future to begin with (if you're going to pay Adam Dunn $56 million over four years, you're paying for the bat...and if you play first base and the outfield in the NL for a decade, chances are you're going to want to preserve that investment as best as you can because there has to be some wear there). He will likely hit right in the middle of a potent lineup that includes Paul Konerko and Alex Rios, two players who looked as though may have been on the downfall only to both have impressive years last season (Konerko's 39 homers and 111 RBIs were his best in three years, Rios was terrible for the Sox after being traded there in '09, but bumped up all his #'s, and stole 32 bases as a cleanup hitter).
While Chicago did lose three of its key bullpen components from last year, they still remain this team's strong suit. Matt Thornton will start off being the closer. He has a big-time arm, and should flourish there. His set-up men are just as young and just as impressive with Jesse Crain and Chris Sale, arguably the biggest pitching prospect in the game. The Sox are going to bank on having enough offense to counteract what will likely be a uneasy starting pitching staff, which represents promise in Gavin Lloyd and John Danks, but uncertainty with Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, and newcomer Luca Harrell, who only has three career starts.
85 wins sounds exactly right for this team, which kills me because I can't say even...actually, I totally could. Pretty sure at this juncture, there's not going to be too much of a backlash if I did. Even
Detroit Tigers (81-81, PROJ. 84): Detroit has attempted in the past few years on banking in on trades in order to get the kind of roster they desire (big on upside, low on dollars). The result has been a mediocre team that really has made no headway since their lone visit of the past 25 years to the World Series in 2006. The good news is that they haven't touched any of their three main building blocks in Magglio Ordonez (who I admit is kind of old to be a "building block"), Justin Verlander, and Miguel Cabrera, who probably should have won the MVP last season.
The Tigers picked up V-Mart from the Sox over the offseason. It seemed like all along that Martinez wanted to go back to the AL Central, as I have to assume the Sox made an effort to bring him back, and if you're stacking Detroit against Boston, common sense would make you think Detroit has no chance in that argument. Austin Jackson was second in AL ROY voting, and could be primed for a .300/30 steal year. The rest of the offense is very much a "middle of the pack" bunch. Sure, they will have big games, but nothing to bank on. A perfect example is Brandon Inge, who they just re-upped with for another two years (option for a third). He plays good defense, but he's going to get you .250/14/65 at the plate, and basically, 2/3 of their lineup are producing the same thing.
The pitching is even more suspect past Verlander. Rick Porcello has long been proclaimed "the next big thing" in Detroit, but a really up-and-down year for him last year suggests that either he needs more time to develop (he is only 22 by the way), or maybe the scouts had him pegged all wrong. Max Scherzer (also via trade last year) has one of the livest arms in baseball, but has not developed the control needed to start in the bigs, especially in the AL. The bullpen is headed by Jose Valverde, who is an above-average closer, and after that, you have Joaquin Benoit, who they recently acquired through free agency from Tampa, and Ryan Perry, who finished in the top 20 in holds despite a trip to the DL. Other than that though, there is literally no relief in sight.
The Tigers still seem to mirror the economy in the Motor City, and I guess the only way they will be able to put together a contending team at this point is if literally all of their moves pan out, which is not exactly something you want to depend on having to happen. Another trip down the .500 lane seems about right. Under
Cleveland Indians (69-93, PROJ. 74): The Indians actually have something to be excited about this year. They were able to get through the offseason without giving up anyone or making a really stupid signing (i.e. Kerry Wood for $10 million in '09). The Tribe have one of the better young hitting foundations in Grady Sizemore (who, if he remains healthy, would likely be in the top 2 or 3 leadoff hitters in the game), Matt LaPorta, Carlos Santana (who last year looked like he, and not Buster Posey, was going to be the breakout behind the plate until he was injured against...the Sox), and Shin Soo-Choo (quietly has ascended to a top 5 or 6 outfielder in the AL...possibly top 10 in baseball).
Pitching will once again be an issue for the Tribe. The wildly inconsistent Fausto Carmona will serve as the team's ace. Justin Masterson (who I have been saying since he played for the Sox looks a lot better in the bullpen than he does throwing 100 pitches a game), Mitch Talbot, Josh Tomlin, and Carlos Carrasco round out the starting five...not exactly a who's who. Of those four, Tomlin is the guy with the biggest upside, but keep in mind that this will only be the second full season of starting in the bigs for Talbot and Masterson, while Tomlin and Carrasco both have less than ten starts for their careers. The bullpen really isn't scary at all. Chris Perez serves as closer, and Rafael Perez, who looked really good last year, is the set-up man, but their bullpen ranks are barren.
There is a chance that Cleveland could sneak their way into third, perhaps maybe even second this year despite the lack of pitching. The big "if's" will be Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana's collective healths. If they can get close to a full season out of both, and if Travis Hafner can return to form like he was showing for parts of 2010, the Indians could be a sleeper team this year. Over
Kansas City Royals (67-95, PROJ. 67): The first thing you see when you look at the Royals is that they don't have Zach Grienke anymore, and really, he was "the" guy in KC. After winning the '09 Cy Young, Grienke looked like he could potentially be the guy to usher in a new era for the Royals, but after being shipped to Milwaukee in the offseason, KC's chances now bank on hopes and dreams.
Billy Butler is probably the most underrated hitter in all of baseball. His only problem has been hitting into double plays (an astounding 23 last year...he's not the fastest dude ever). Expect a big year from him though. The rest of the lineup is completely unimposing. Mike Aviles and Alex Gordon looked like they were going to be stars, but Aviles never got it together last year, and Alex Gordon has been mired in that since being proclaimed "the next George Brett" upon being called up as a third baseman. He has since moved to the outfield, but the results aren't nearly what KC thought he would be delivering at this point. Hearing Kila Ka'aihue's name being called when he comes to the plate is probably the best thing to look forward to (just hearing the pronunciation though...he only hit .217 in limited at-bats last year).
The pitching is desolate with Grienke's departure. Luke Hochevar, another "hopes and dreams" guy will start the season as the ace. Jeff Francis may get a boost to his system after being stuck out in Colorado and its proverbial hitter's paradise at Coors Field. The bullpen is led up by Joakim Soria, who I still think is the best closer in baseball. Robinson Tejada is an adequate set-up man, and the rest of the bullpen is just kind of blah you know?
All and all, you know where the Royals are going to end up, and I think they probably do to. Under
Texas Rangers (90-72, PROJ. 89): The Rangers started off hot in the West, then got even hotter once Cliff Lee found his bearings (you may recall that his first few starts as a Ranger didn't quite go according to plan). While ultimately they were out-ptiched in the World Series by the Giants, the Rangers still had their biggest season ever in franchise history, including their first AL pennant.
The starting lineup remains in tact for Texas, which is good news considering they were one of the best units in baseball last year. Really though, scoring runs has never been an issue for this team (except in said World Series of course). The Rangers are led by reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton, who put up numbers so absurd that they had to give him the MVP despite missing nearly two months of the season with a rib injury. The Rangers seem to have lost Vlad Guerrero to free agency, but picked up Adrian Beltre from the Sox through free agency. If Beltre can duplicate what he did last year in Boston, that loss won't be nearly as big as it stands right now. In addition, another full year of Elvis Andrus and Mitch Moreland could make this lineup even more potent (if that were possible). Also, keep in mind that Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler both made trips to the DL, and they still won the division handily.
Starting pitching, long the Achilles' heel of the Rangers, turned into one of their strong suits last year, with C.J. Wilson turning into the ace of the staff, and a huge rookie campaign from Tommy Hunter (13-4, sub-4 ERA). Cliff Lee, of course, has headed back to Philly, so there's no question they will feel that loss. They did pick up Brandon Webb (whatever is left of him), and again, Wilson, Hunter, and Colby Lewis were solid for them last year.
The bullpen is headed up by Neftali Feliz, who really honed in as a closer last year after showing remarkable stuff as a set-up man. Frank Francisco, who was once the closer, is now a reliable 8th inning man, and he too has adjusted to his new role.
The Rangers looked poised to repeat as AL West champs. Their road to the World Series will likely lead them to the east coast, but they still have enough hitting and pitching that it's not completely ridiculous to believe they could repeat as not just AL West champs, but AL champs. Over
Update: The Rangers picked up Napoli to be the everyday catcher. This is a huge move because Texas probably already had the most potent top-to-bottom lineup in baseball, and it got even stronger with this move. Look for the Rangers and the Sox to be on a collision course towards 1,000 runs.
Oakland A's (81-81, PROJ. 82): Oakland surprised a lot of people last year (including myself), when they finished 2nd in the AL West after being close to the bottom since allowing their entire franchise to leave town (Giambi, Tejada, Hudson, Zito, Mulder, Haren) in the last five to six years. The A's were the first "Moneyball" team, and continue to be that way thanks to a crop of young arms and a mixture of young-ins and veterans in their lineup.
The A's major acquisition to the lineup was Hideki Matsui as their DH. While Matsui is likely past his prime, he's still a dependable hitter, and the A's only had to fork over $4.25 million for his services this year. There isn't a lot of power in this lineup, so the A's will be depending on small ball and timely hitting to score their runs.
The pitching staff is the highlight of this team. Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden came out of nowhere to become legit pitching stars, and once Brett Anderson fully recovers from his elbow injury that nagged him for most of 2010, they have a really solid 1-2-3.
The A's were wheeling-and-dealing in the offseason much like they do every year, but this year, there was a greater emphasis on suring up the bullpen. With Andrew Bailey entrenched as the closer, they built around him, adding Brian Fuentes on the left side, and Grant Balfour, one of the best set-up men in baseball (even though we hate him), on the right. In addition, the A's have flexibility in Rich Harden, who could potentially be their #5 starter, or could become a long-innings guy.
The A's have the pitching talent to make a ton of noise, but that offense really worries me. I mean, it's going to be a race between Matsui and Josh Willingham for who hits the most homers, but you usually want a race between those two being for who has the 3rd or 4th most homers on your team, not the most. Still, a dash of small ball and a heavy amount of starting pitching could have the A's back up near .500 this year. Over
Los Angeles Angels (80-82, PROJ. 79): The Angels have fallen into a tailspin ever since beating the Sox in the '09 postseason. They thought they really had something going with Kendry Morales last year, but as soon as he got hurt in one of the most freak sports injuries of all time (hit a grand slam to win the game, then broke his leg in the ensuing celebration at home plate). They attempted to get both Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre this offseason, and whiffed on both...things just haven't gone the Halos' way recently.
The Angels' offense will likely be produced from the trio of Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, and Morales, who is now back to full strength. In order for them to contend though, they are going to need a monster season from Mike Napoli, who will likely be the full-time DH in Matsui's departure. Napoli has long been described as the best power-hitting catcher in baseball, and now will have to really turn it up a notch in his new position.
Jered Weaver has silenced a lot of his critics after putting together his best season as a professional last year, and was 5th in Cy Young voting. Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have both been great in recent points of their careers, but it's asking too much to expect them to return to form. The bullpen is led by Fernando Rodney as the closer, who was up-and-down in that role after the Halos traded for him once Brian Fuentes was injured. The Angels did pick up Scott Downs from Toronto, and he is an elite set-up man, and locked him up for three years.
There's nothing really here to suggest that the Angels will be better than .500, and really, there's not a lot to suggest that they will be worse off. 79 seems about right for me. Even
Update: As I mentioned earlier, the Angels just traded for Vernon Wells...this totally reeks of desperation. Why would you ever want to take on a guy getting paid more than $20 million a season when it's clear his best work is behind him? It seems like the Angels are a big-time hit and miss team when it comes to big-name outfielders...Guerrero, Abreu, and Torii Hunter good, Vernon Wells and Gary Matthews, Jr.?...not so good.
Seattle Mariners (61-101, PROJ. 72): Once Cliff Lee was traded mid-season, you knew that the Mariners were going to tank, and that's exactly what happened. Their entire team was centered around three guys: Lee, Ichiro, and Felix Hernandez, and in order for that team to have prospered, they needed all three (at least). Once the M's saw that they couldn't hit, they dumped Lee, and basically dumped the 2010 season.
Ichiro, of course, is the star and the mainstay of this lineup...it all funnels through him. With the Cliff Lee trade, they did get Justin Smoak (Gamecock!) in return, and along with recently acquired Jack Cust, the M's should have at least a better chance of getting out of the power funk they were in all of last year.
The pitching also funnels through one guy: King Felix. After a 2010 season that saw him bring the first Cy Young Award in 15 years to Seattle (Randy Johnson, 1995) and just the second in franchise history, look for Hernandez to have an even bigger season this year, with the M's poised to score a lot more runs than they did last year. The bullpen is led by the surprising David Aardsma (former Red Sox castoff) as closer, and one of my favorite set-up guys in the game in Brandon League.
The M's will no doubt struggle, but how low will they go? Well, I see them improving on their 61-win total from last year, but in terms of 72? That number seems a little too high right now. Under
AL POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS:
AL East: Boston Red Sox
AL Central: Minnesota Twins
AL West: Texas Rangers
AL Wild Card: New York Yankees
ALDS: Boston over Minnesota, Texas over New York
ALCS: Boston over Texas
Philadelphia Phillies (97-65, PROJ. 96): I couldn't have been more wrong about the Phils last year. Once again, their offense was tremendous, and their pitching was even better. Roy Halladay proved that he still has plenty left in the tank, and with the best lineup in the National League pretty much in tact, the Phils should easily win this division and have their eyes set on another long postseason run.
The big news in terms of the offense was the departure of Jayson Werth to the Nationals. Philly fans are not hitting the panic button at all though, because while Werth was an intricate part of the lineup, a.) Philly already has their #1 prospect, Domonic Brown, in waiting to take over in right, and b.) There is not way Jayson Werth's worth is seven years and $126 million, so even if they wanted him to come back, which I'm sure they did, there was no way they were going to break the bank in a desperation move like Washington did. The lineup from 1-7 is just so solid, and if Brown can live up to the hype, there is no reason Philly can't be on top of pretty much every offensive category.
The starting rotation is really where the big news occurred as the Phils were able to re-acquire Cliff Lee for six years. Clearly, when they lost out on Werth, their biggest target became Lee. What is brilliant about all of this is that last year, Philly basically traded Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay, and now, just a year later, they have them both! Throw in Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, and no one in baseball, or the world for that matter, can match their 1-2-3. This is a down-right scary starting rotation.
The one thing that could potentially stunt the Phillies' growth is the bullpen. Brad Lidge is solid when healthy, but anytime you have to throw "when healthy" after a guy's name, there is some room for concern. Also, having Jose Contreras as one of your set-up guys can't be the best feeling ever. The talent is there with Ryan Madson, Kyle Kendrick, and Antonio Bastardo (who's jersey sales have to be going up with every appearance, or at the very least, every mention of his last name).
There is no way of getting around the fact that not only are the Phillies favored to win the NL, but they are clearly the team to beat for the World Series. I know, I'm a Boston guy, and we have a killer team, but I've already seen this Phillies team get to the NLCS, and they basically traded Jayson Werth for Cliff Lee...pretty good move. Over
Atlanta Braves (91-71, PROJ. 89): What I love about Atlanta is that there is a seemingly never-ending pull between starting a youth movement, and winning now. What sets the Braves apart from other teams attempting this same maneuver is that they are recording playoff appearances in the meantime.
In his second full year in the majors, Jason Heyward will lead a somewhat new-look Braves lineup into 2011. Heyward was the runaway choice for Rookie of the Year last season after about five games. He is everything they say he is and more...just an absolutely unbelievably talented baseball player. Chipper Jones has staved off retirement for another year, as it seems like this Atlanta team will be the best team they have fielded since he was a rookie, and winning division titles was a given. I think bringing in Dan Uggla was a huge move because not only do you get a 30+ homer power second basemen, you are able to move Martin Prado to the outfield, where I think he will be more effective than he was at second. Another one of the Braves' top prospects, Freddie Freeland, will be taking over for the departed Derrek Lee at first.
The pitching staff is solid, but there haven't been too many times in my lifetime that you could say that it wasn't. Bringing Derek Lowe into the fold will no doubt help the depth. Mike Minor will be entering his first full year as a starter, but he showed signs last year that he is fully capable of hitting double-digit wins from the #5 spot.
The biggest question for the Bravos will be their closer situation. Last year, Billy Wagner was fantastic for them, but while nothing has been made official, it looks like he will be retiring. This leaves the door open for top prospect Craig Kimbrel to close. His K/BB and K/Inning in the minors has been stupid, and he's said to have the best fastball in the minors right now. The ability to get to Kimbrel in the 9th is questionable. The Braves are going to need Jonny Venters to really step it up this year if they have any chance of reaching the postseason and having success while there.
The Braves look like they have improved themselves from last year on the whole. Picking up Lowe and Uggla was huge, but they lose Lee and Wagner in the process, and you have to wonder what is going to happen with two rookies taking their spots. Still, I'm thinking Atlanta, in the post-Bobby Cox era, is not only looking towards the future, but they are looking towards the now as well. Over
Florida Marlins (80-82, PROJ. 77): The Marlins once again made a bunch of noise in a top-heavy NL East. Going .500 in this division is no joke. The loss of Uggla to the rival Braves is huge, but they return basically everyone else from last year's team.
The key to the Marlins has been, and for the sake of this discussion, is always going to be Hanley Ramirez. The do-everything shortstop is the marquee guy for now, but coming along quickly to join him in marquee-status is Mike Stanton. Stanton was a late call-up last year for the Fish, and responded by hitting 22 homers in his first 100 games in the majors. No doubt, Stanton will key the power of this lineup with Uggla gone. Be on the lookout for Gaby Sanchez as well. He's entering his second full season, and looked really good last season.
The pitching staff revolves around ace Josh Johnson, who was making a run at the Cy Young last year until Ubaldo Jimmenez and, ultimately, Roy Halladay, beat him to the throne. Johnson has youth and a lengthy contract extension working in his favor, and he should be amongst the leaders in the Cy Young race yet again. The rest of the rotation, and the bullpen for that matter, you really don't know what you're going to get. Ricky Nolasco looked like he was going to be a star, but has been mediocre the past two seasons. The #3 man in the rotation is Anibal Sanchez, who goes on absolute tears for five to six starts in a row, then will get blasted, and takes some time to get back on track.
Leo Nunez is the closer, and considering he had 30 saves last year and has now held the role for a full season, should be in line to be even better this season. Clay Hensley is an ace set-up guy who pitched very well for the Marlins last season, but there is definitely an unknown quality you get from the rest of the 'pen. It's tough to say who will emerge as the other leading set-up man. Look for young lefty Mike Dunn to have the early advantage.
The Marlins look like they lost about three wins with the departure of Dan Uggla, but I at least think they will make things respectable and get to right around .500. Even
New York Mets (79-83, PROJ. 77): I was baited into the statute of limitations for suckiness with the Mets last season, and just couldn't believe that they could be horrible for back-to-back seasons. Well...they were. Their were plenty of injuries that did them in, but you also have to credit the lack of knowledge of how to build a baseball team. Omar Minaya looked like he was one of the best execs in baseball, and now, the team he has left behind is just plain average.
One guy you can't blame for the Mets' sub-.500 record last year is David Wright, who, after getting hurt in '09, returned back to his old 25 homer/100 RBI self. Two other hitters were revelations last year. Angel Pagan was filling up the stat sheet in every category, and Ike Davis, who was high on their prospect list, had a huge season that even Mets' fans and personnel probably didn't see coming. The big news continues to be the health of both Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, who it seems like have been hurt forever. Reyes is in line to leadoff, and with an extension in the works, really needs to have a big season to see the big bucks at the end of the year. Beltran is a guy they need more than a half a season from, which he has not been able to give them in the last two years.
The pitching is wildly suspect. Mike Pelfrey had a great season after dodging mediocrity for his entire career in the majors, and looks to be a legit #1. Jon Niese had a nice year as well for them, but it remains to be seen if he can be in the top half of the rotation. The rest is totally up in the air between Chris Young, R.A. Dickey, and Chris Capuano. Young was brilliant to start his career in San Diego, but shoulder injuries have plagued him for about four years, and he clearly isn't what he used to be.
The suspectness continues into the bullpen. K-Rod is in line to be the closer, but he's had troubles with command since coming over to the NL, and also, it seems like he's kind of crazy too. Not in the "crazy" closer sense like Rick Vaughn, but crazy crazy. You then have a list of guys that surround him that probably isn't getting anyone excited either.
When they tore down Shea Stadium, it was thought to be a sign that times were changing and that the Mets were moving onto a new chapter. My guess is that this is not what they had in mind. Injuries plague them every year, and it seems like when they have wanted to make a splash (J-Bay, K-Rod, J.J. Putz), they have come up woefully short. This is going to be more than a one year turnaround for the Mets. Under
Washington Nationals (69-93, PROJ. 72): Give the Nationals credit...they are making splashes. How could you not have been excited to see Stephen Strasburg last season. I remember watching his debut and being totally enthralled by it. 14 K's in a debut? It's nuts. Then, they drafted Bryce Harper, so they now possess two "once in a generation" prospects. Then they went out and signed Jayson Werth to that crazy deal...at least they're not laying down like they could have.
The lineup loses two big bats in Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, so Werth's initial impact will have to be even more sudden (which it likely will be). Ryan Zimmerman is the main-stay, and he will look to take home his third consecutive silver slugger award at third. The two guys I'm really interested in are both in the middle of the infield, with Ian Desmond and Danny Espinoza. Desmond was a firecracker for the Nats in his rookie season last year. Look for him to have a really special year for them. Espinoza will be playing his first full season in the majors. He's got 20/20 potential, and could reek havoc on opposing teams if he gets in concert with Desmond and Nyjer Morgan, one of the most lethal stolen base men in the game.
With Strasburg lost for the year with Tommy John surgery, the Nats will really be struggling for answers on the mound this year. Livan Hernandez enters as the ace (this is the biggest red flag of all possible red flags), but look for Jordan Zimmerman to become the clear-cut #1 as time goes on.
Drew Storen, who was the #10 pick in the Strasburg draft, will enter this year as the closer. He was able to experience a bit of how the closer's role is in the majors after the Nats traded Matt Capps to Minnesota. He has all the tools to be a really steady reliever for them for years to come. Also back in the mix is Tyler Clippard, who found himself going from unsuccessful starter to more-than-capable reliever, and actually closed a few games last year.
This is another exciting team that will be even more intriguing once Strasburg gets healthy and Harper makes his inevitable ascension through the minors. I see the Nats getting out to a hot start, then fading as the season goes on. There is no way I can get around it. However, 72 wins? I think I can concede them getting there. Over
Cincinnati Reds (91-71, PROJ. 86): The defending NL Central champs will have a lot to live up to in order to perform an encore. Their season rested heavily on reigning MVP Joey Votto, who was simply outstanding, and won me my fantasy baseball league. Rookie Aroldis Chapman set the world on fire upon his September call-up, blowing everyone away with a fastball that consistently clocked out in the low 100s.
As I mentioned before, Votto keys this lineup. He is a beast at the plate, and definitely gets helped out by Cincy's 1-2 hitters in Drew Stubbs, who will be entering his second full year after a strong rookie season, and Brandon Phillips, probably the most underrated "five tool" players in baseball. Jay Bruce had a career year in 2010 which led to a 6yr/$51 million extension. Expect more of the same from him. The most underrated signing of the offseason had to have been Edgar Renteria, who the Reds stole for $2.1 million. Some guys are made to play in the NL, and as much as I don't like Renteria because he was "Rent-a-Wreck" in Boston, he has been outstanding in the National League, and is the reigning World Series MVP.
The pitching staff will be led by consummate New England folk legend Bronson Arroyo and Edinson Volquez, who, after missing close to a year and a half after Tommy John surgery and a 50 game suspension for using PEDs, looked sharp in his return. Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey are question marks...I think I remember last year saying something like Harang, Arroyo, Cueto, and Bailey could win 15 games or lose 15 and I wouldn't be surprised either way...same rules apply this year as well. Their #5 is a major prospect in Travis Wood. This guy could be the Tommy Hunter of this year in terms of becoming a #2 or #3 who will be in every game.
The bullpen is of course highlighted by the super set-up man Chapman, but will again be anchored by Francisco Cordero as the closer. Cordero posted 40 saves last year, the most in his three-year stand as a Red (signed through 2012).
I'm looking at this team, and it's tough for me to think they are not at least capable of getting back to where they were last year. It will almost be impossible for Votto to put up a better season he did last year, but he's probably going to be in a similar range, and in addition, Stubbs and Bruce will both be looking to improve on their career years. Also, Chapman Fever is contagious! Over
St. Louis Cardinals (86-76, PROJ. 90): I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Just the mere fact that the Cards have Albert Pujols wins them 80 games every year...he's that important, that great...that guy. Throw in a strong rotation and a solid closer, and the Cards will basically be the favorites in the Central every year, even when they don't win the year before, which is the case going into 2011.
With Pujols, the Cards have found a long-term option in the outfield in Matt Holliday. The two of them make up the best pure-power "Ortiz/Ramirez" 3-4 in baseball. The Cards also picked up Lance Berkman, whose New York experiment failed miserably. However, he's back in the NL Central, and he has that aforementioned 3-4 in front of him for protection. My feelings are that Berkman has a giant season. Colby Rasmus in center and David Freese at third are both outstanding talents, and you should expect them to both have stat-filling seasons.
While their reign as the best 1-2 pitching combo in baseball has come to an end thanks to Halladay and Lee, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are both still spectacular. This can't be a bad situation when your 1-2 has combined for 72 wins in the past two seasons. Also, top prospect Jaime Garcia had a bust-out rookie season, winning 13 games, and posting a 2.70 ERA, good for 4th in the NL.
The bullpen is headed by Ryan Franklin, who has fully embraced his closer role in St. Louis after there was uncertainty about how long of a solution he would be in the role. The Cards also have two relievers in Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan who both appeared in over 55 games and both posted sub 2.3 ERAs.
The addition of Berkman is huge. You now come to the table with a killer 3-4-5 at the plate and an almost unbeatable 1-2 on the mound. However, this is going to be a really tough division, and at the end of the day, the Cards depth is a little suspect. You're going to have to really bring it in 2011 to win this division. Under
Milwaukee Brewers (77-85, PROJ. 87): The Brewers clearly are not going to sit back and watch the Reds and Cards control this division. The trade for Zack Greinke is reminiscent of when Milwaukee traded for C.C. Sabathia back in '08. This is as big as Crawford to Boston, Gonzalez to Boston and Lee to Philly. The Brewers in one move went from the middle to the favorites.
Hitting clearly isn't an issue with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder as the 3-4. Braun is in that discussion of the top 5 players in baseball right now...I would say Pujols, Han-Ram, Halladay, Braun, and Carlos Gonzalez right now actually. The Brewers have the hardest hitting leadoff man in baseball with Rickie Weeks, and they have the hardest hitting #2 in Corey Hart. This lineup screams power. You have a 1-5 of Weeks, Hart, Braun, Fielder, and Casey McGahee who could all hit 30 homers...that's pretty scary.
Of course, Zack Greinke is the reason everyone is excited in Milwaukee this season, and they have every reason to be. Let's not forget though that Yovani Gallardo is a more than capable #2. He's coming off of back-to-back 200 strikeout seasons. The Brewers also traded for Shawn Marcum who recorded 13 wins and 165 Ks in 2010 for Toronto.
John Axford made a seamless leap from set-up man to closer once Trevor Hoffman got hurt last season. Look for a monster year from him. I'm not sure what to expect from the rest of the relievers. Takaishi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins as the two set-up men? We got a situation here.
I think Grienke and Marcum will combine with Gallardo to conquer this division. Sure, the bullpen makes me nervous, but if Milwaukee is in the hunt in July, they can make a deadline day deal for a reliever. There is too much talent going here, and the only thing that can stop them will be health. Over
Chicago Cubs (75-87, PROJ. 79): It's tough to look at the Cubs and not feel like they too could perhaps at least have some say in the division's outcome. The only reason to think that they won't would be their recent slide in notoriety thanks to two straight lousy seasons.
The Cubs were able to bolster their lineup with the addition of Carlos Pena to a one-year contract. Chicago is now four-deep in their 20+ HR production crew with Pena, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, and Marlon Byrd. The top of the order is very much dependent on how effective Kosuke Fukudome is. He has shown signs that he could be a 175 hit/.300 guy, but has not been consistent enough to put it together for an entire season. If Fukudome can't get it together after a few weeks, look for the Cubbies to insert hot-shot prospect Starlin Castro into the leadoff role. Castro ended his first full season in the bigs hitting .300 on the dot.
Starting pitching is still a bit of a concern, but the Cubs did make a big addition in Matt Garza (thank you for getting him out of the AL East by the way), who will be their #2 starter behind the always entertaining Carlos Zambrano, who is fun to watch when he's doing well and doing horribly. Familiar faces in Ryan Dempster, Carlos Silva, and Randy Wells round out the starting five.
In Chicago's version of "Freaky Friday," we have a role reversal that has been three years in the making. After a nice turnaround last year with the Yankees, Kerry Wood makes his somewhat heralded return to the Cubbies to be the set-up man for Carlos Marmol, who entered into the "elite closers" list in just his first year closing. Marmol, you may recall, set-up Wood before his departure to Cleveland. Sean Marshall is amongst the best lefty set-up men...or just straight set-up men in baseball.
The Cubs improved a little, but this division is so top heavy that even with the new add-ons, the Cubs will be extremely lucky and fortunate to finish .500 this season. Under
Pittsburgh Pirates (57-105, PROJ. 68): The Pirates basically have set them themselves up to be the Nationals without the glitz and glamour...whatever glitz and glamour can be riled up for a small-market team I guess. The Bucs finished in the NL Central basement again, but fear not Pirate fans who aren't reading this, there is reason for optimism in 2011.
Andrew McCutchen is quickly becoming one of the best all-around outfielders in the league, and we've only seen one full season of his capabilities. Expect something close to a 25/25 season with an average right around .300. McCutchen is the star, but coming right in behind him are second baseman Neil Walker, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, and rightfielder Garrett Jones. In their first seasons in the pros, all three were very impressive. You have to figure another year of McCutchen and this trio of top prospects will yield a very interesting team to watch.
There's no getting around the fact that the Bucs' starting rotation is a mess. Their #2 guy, Ross Ohlendorf, went 1-11 last year...is there really any more you need to know? Maybe help is on the way in Daniel Moskos...maybe.
You can only hope this bullpen has opportunities to close out games, because they really have a lot of talent. The closer listed right now is Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan took over for Octavio Dotel last year, and was actually very effective as their closer. Their #1 set-up man is Evan Meek, who earned an All-Star appearance in his rookie year. Their other set-up man, Chris Resop, appeared in just 22 games, but posted a sub-2 ERA.
Sure, the Pirates aren't winning the division, but they are the most important thing for me...a fun team I can watch when the Sox aren't on. Over
Houston Astros (76-86, PROJ. 66): Yeah, things have gotten real bad in Houston. The two franchise players, Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, were both traded to the east coast less than a few weeks apart from each other. Still, they almost finished .500, so you have to give them that if nothing else.
With Berkman out of the pitcher, Hunter Pence becomes this team's most valuable player. Pence started off slow last year, but really came on in the second half and was cataclysmically hot towards the end of the season. Look for Pence to have a huge year being "the man" in Houston. Michael Bourn remains the top stolen base man in the NL by a wide margin. Expect him to get his ho-hum 60 stolen bases. If the 'Stros can get even half of the production from Carlos Lee that they paid for, Houston has a pretty potent middle of the order.
As with Pence, someone needed to step up upon the departure of Roy Oswalt to Philly. Enter Brett Myers, who, after fanning out in Philly, had a monster season last year, posting 14 wins and a near-3 ERA with 180 Ks. Looking at the projections, it doesn't seem like many people are buying into Myers' hype...consider me one thinking he'll either duplicate or pass his 2010 numbers (I don't think I've mentioned this yet, but anytime I mention the words "monster season," "will be as good if not better," and anything else remotely positive, it's probably a good idea to keep those guys in mind for fantasy drafts...I'm just saying). Wandy Rodriguez could also come close to getting to Myers' numbers, but, as with so many others, health is a factor (his would be in the hamstring region).
Brandon Lyon returns in 2011 as the closer. Lyon has shown that he's a perfectly capable closer both in Arizona and Houston last season, so you do have some kind of stability in the 9th. Wilton Lopez is entering his second full year and Mark Melancon appeared in just 20 games last year.
Houston has a long, long way to go. Still, they will have two All-Stars in Pence and Myers that you should definitely pay attention to as the season progresses. Under
San Francisco (92-70, PROJ. 84): The defending World Series champs are not even picked to win their own division? Bummer. Anyway, they are the defending champs if you didn't know. I actually thought this team had a chance to win the whole thing two years ago. In any event, the Giants return one of the best all-around teams in baseball, which really makes me wonder about all these projections...I mean this one seems too easy right?
The Giants' lineup is amongst the best top-to-bottom orders in baseball. Pablo Sandoval is their eighth hitter? Are you kidding me? The only other comparison I can make is when Bill Mueller was the #8 on the '03 Red Sox, and they scored over 1,000 runs, so good luck slowing this team down. Andres Torres does everything, Freddie Sanchez just gets on base, Aubrey Huff is the slugger, Buster Posey is the phenom, Cody Ross is the sneaky pick-up from last year that pushed them over the edge to a championship...and they're only supposed to win 84 games? We haven't even got to the pitching yet, which might be better than the offense! Their one loss from last year's team is Edgar Renteria, and while being big, Miguel Tejada will be able to fill in nicely. He already had a year in San Diego, so he is now familiar with NL West ballparks and pitchers.
With the Giants, you have Tim Lincecum, who, in the context of his career, had kind of a down year last season because he didn't win the Cy Young...yeah, he's really good. Matt Cain was a huge reason the Giants were able to slow down that high powered Rangers offense. When you're talking best starting pitching duos in the majors, it should read like:
- Halladay/Lee (PHI)
- Wainwright/Carpenter (STL)
- Lincecum/Cain (SF)
- Lester/Buchholz (BOS)
- Grienke/Gallardo (MIL)
I've been big on Brian Wilson forever it seems, but he really found his identity with the beard, which really turned him into a "closer." See, there are guys that pitch the ninth inning and get saves, then there are "closers." Rivera's a closer, Papelbon is a closer, and Brian Wilson really came into his own and became a closer last season. Fear the beard again this year. Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt were great in their set-up roles, and watch out for Dan Runzler, a left-hander, who will be entering his first full season.
The Giants may not repeat this year, but I really don't even understand why they are not at least at 90 wins. This is kind of a puzzler. Oh well. Over
Colorado Rockies (83-79, PROJ. 86): The Rockies looked as though they might have had a chance to get back to the World Series last year, but Troy Tulowitzki's broken wrist and the realization that Ubaldo Jimenez couldn't start every game prevented that.
Tulowitzki was long known as the big gun in this lineup, but last year, Carlos Gonzalez came along and lit the world on fire, hitting .336 with a 34HR/111RBI/26SB clip. Gonzalez' numbers were unbelievable last year, but with Coors Field involved, it is possible that he could even do better this season. Dexter Fowler is the leadoff man, and he is quickly becoming one of the most hyped "breakout" candidates of 2011. Fowler is really their only speed guy, as the rest of the lineup is geared to take advantage in the hitter-friendly climate.
Jimenez had by far his best season ever, with 19 wins and an ERA below 3. He will be asked once again to get close to 20 wins if the Rockies have a chance in the West. I liked what I saw last year from rookies Jhoulys Chacin and Jason Hammel, and the Rocks will be looking for around 15 wins from both, which is a tall order.
It looks as though Huston Street is now back to full strength after a freak batting practice accident where he was hit by a line drive. Street wasn't able to make it back into a game until late June. He had 20 saves, but also blew five opportunities. Rafael Betancourt is a solid 8th inning man, and Matt Belisle comes back off a 76 appearance season.
The Rockies are in good hands with Tulo, Gonzo, and Ubaldo, but they really don't possess that much depth to make them a viable candidate to knock the Giants from off of their throne. Under
Los Angeles Dodgers (80-82, PROJ. 83): The Dodgers should not have had to rely on their pitching as much as they did last season. The offense was so bad that there was talks for a while that Matt Kemp, their best offensive producer, was going to get traded.
Along with Kemp, who underperformed drastically last year which is why his name began to pop up in the rumor mills, the two Dodgers who have to carry this offense to greater heights will be James Loney and Andre Ethier, who is coming off of a career season. Rafael Furcal can't run nearly as well as he could in the past, so the importance has shifted from his feet to his bat, where he has made a surprisingly smooth transition, and looks like a .300 hitter with good plate discipline. I think their best move was acquiring Marcus Thames to be a super utility man. Anytime you have a guy who hits a homer about once per every ten at bats and can play both the outfield and the infield on the bench, it allows for a lot more freedom in terms of when and where to input him into the lineup.
Clayton Kershaw had a mega sophomore campaign, and it looks as though he may be headed for superstardom in 2011. Chad Billingsley has been good, but it was once thought that Billingsley would be better than Kershaw, so he has still somewhat underperformed on his expectations. The Dodgers picked up Jon Garland in the offseason, and look for Hiroki Kuroda to continue to be steady.
Jonathan Broxton continues to be one of the best closers in baseball. Don't expect any letdown there. The Dodgers also possess arguably the best duo of set-up men in the game with Kong Chih-Kuo and Matt Guerrier. Kenley Jansen was also superb. In his first 25 appearances with LA last year, Jansen had an astounding 0.67 ERA and a 13.67 K/9 ratio. Jansen could be a huge trading chip come July for the Dodgers.
This team is just so blah on offense that when it comes down to it, having a great stable of set-up men will not do you much good when your lineup is only producing two or three runs each game (with the exception being when Kershaw starts, because three runs is usually enough to eek out a W). Under
San Diego Padres (90-72, PROJ. 81): Padre fans were waiting for the bottom to fall out, and it finally did this offseason with the trading of Adrian Gonzalez to the Sox. While the Padres received a bounty of prospects in return, they will not be making an impact until probably 2012 at the earliest.
Without Gonzalez and Kyle Blanks, who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Pads' lineup looks different to say the least. The Padres were able to get the middle infield from the '09 Twins on board with Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson starting off the lineup. I think Chase Headley will have to have his breakout season now in order for this team to be in contention...that's how critical of a player he becomes now in all of this. San Diego traded for Cameron Maybin, who clearly was not given a lot of time to prove himself in Miami. He and Will Venable will be a potent speed duo at the bottom of the order.
Mat Latos had a terrific season last year, and now becomes the ace with Chris Young moving onto the Mets. Clayton Richard was also impressive, and Tim Stauffer, who started off last season in the rotation before being moved to the bullpen, takes back a starting spot in 2011.
The highlight of the Padres is the bullpen, which was renowned as the best in baseball last year. The unfortunate thing was that the Pads slipped and missed the postseason, because the way this unit was pitching, they could have backdoored teams like the '02 Angels did with Percival, K-Rod, and all those guys. Heath Bell is another guy who has become a "closer." You have to admire the job he's done considering he was taking over for the all-time saves leader in Trevor Hoffman. Luke Gregerson was a hot-shot rookie who has done nothing short of living up to his hype. Joe Thatcher had a 1.29 ERA in 65 appearances! That is ungodly. Then you have Mike Adams, who had a 1.60 ERA in 70 appearances! Are you kidding me with this?
The Padres will need to find answers quickly in their lineup in order to challenge the Giants, because clearly, they have the pitching to do it. I think this offense does gel though, and embraces small ball much like what happened when A-Rod left the Mariners back in 2000, and the M's went out and won 116 games the next season. I'm not saying the Padres will do that...they won't (they're missing a key factor called Ichiro), but there is precedence for a team that just lost their biggest slugger to still make a playoff run. Over
Arizona Diamondbacks (65-97 , PROJ. 74): I think the D-Backs signed a deal back in '01 when they won the World Series that every year afterwards, they would have to either let a franchise guy go, or trade him somewhere else. Every season I look at this team, they're missing two or three major components off of their team. This year, no Mark Reynolds, Adam LaRoche, or Brandon Webb.
This lineup is really going to suffer a power outage this season. Stephen Drew and Justin Upton are their best producers, but then you have a 3-4-5 of Kelly Johnson, Chris Young, and Miguel Montero, and out of those three, you will be fortunate if one gets to 20 homers. I'm really not sure about this. It seems like this lineup is totally out of place. Now if I were in charge...
- Kelly Johnson
- Miguel Montero
- Stephen Drew
- Justin Upton
- Chris Young
The starting pitching is led by Daniel Hudson by default since he pitched the best last year and he's one of the few starters who posted any kind of success last season. With him will be Joe Saunders, former Yankee friend Ian Kennedy, Zach Duke, and Barry Enright...in the biz, we call this a team's weakness.
J.J. Putz starts as the team's closer, but I would be surprised if Juan Gutierrez doesn't take over before the season's out. Aaron Heilman is the #1 set-up man, and his ERA was nearly 5...that's enough of that.
Yikes Arizona. Yikes. Under
NL PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS:
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers
NL West: San Francisco Giants
NL Wild Card: Cincinnati Reds
NLDS: Philly over Milwaukee, Cincy over San Francisco
NLCS: Philly over Cincy
WORLD SERIES WINNER: Philadelphia (4-2) over Boston
W: Projected 2011 wins
L: Projected 2011 losses
RS: Projected 2011 runs scored
RA: Projected 2011 runs allowed
Div: Division win percentage
WC: Wild card win percentage
PL: Playoff percentage (Div + WC)
W+/-: 2011 projected wins minus 2010 actual wins
RS+/-: 2011 projected runs scored minus 2010 actual runs scored (positive means they are projected to score more)
RA+/-: 2011 projected runs allowed minus 2010 actual runs allowed (negative means they are projected to allow fewer)
- AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, Boston
- NL MVP: Albert Pujols, St. Louis
- AL Cy Young: Jon Lester, Boston
- NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
- AL ROY: Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay
- NL ROY: Domonic Brown, Philadelphia