Who will be standing tall at the end of the 2011 season? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
By next Saturday morning, there will only be 161 games left in the regular season. Major League Baseball starts up for real this week! That could only mean that it is time for me to put myself out on a limb and finalize my 3rd annual MLB predictions. Last season, I predicted the exact victories (88) for our White Sox and I had the San Francisco Giants in the playoffs. Other than that, however, there were a lot of big swings and misses. I didn't believe in the Rays, Rangers or Reds and put too much stock in the Orioles, Angels and Dodgers. I am not afraid to get back in the box and take some more cuts though. So here we go!
Boston Red Sox 99-63
New York Yankees 85-77
Tampa Bay Rays 84-78
Baltimore Orioles 78-84
Toronto Blue Jays 75-87
Boston Red Sox- The Red Sox struggled, for them at least, last year by winning only 89 games. They answered by getting the biggest name in the trade market and the biggest name in the free agent market (Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford). They also signed the reliever with the biggest pants (Bobby Jenks). Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre have moved on, but the Red Sox lineup looks killer. Their rotation is in good hands with Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz and with Papelbon, Bard and a refocused Jenks (0.00 ERA in Spring Training), they might very well be the best in baseball.
New York Yankees- The Yankees swung and missed at the big targets during the offseason. No Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford left the Yankee faithful with a bad taste in their mouth. They still have a very good lineup with Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson leading the way, and they did manage to sign Rafael Soriano to set up Mariano Rivera which makes for an impressive back end of the bullpen, but other than CC Sabathia, the rest of the staff all have questions. Will Phil Hughes be able to repeat his performance of a year ago? Will AJ Burnett bounce back from his horrible 2010 campaign? Will Freddy Garcia ever answer my texts give them anything from the 5th starter spot? Can Joba Chamberlain be the beast we all thought he would be? Unfortunately for the Bombers, I think a lot of these questions will have a "no" for an answer. The offense will keep them in Wild Card contention, but they will fall short and miss the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Rays- The Rays are in a transition period. They had a successful couple year run but lost mainstays Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza and Carlos Pena along with their closer Rafael Soriano. They still have some talent though. Evan Longoria is probably the best 3rd baseman in the league, David Price is coming off of an outstanding 2010, they signed veterans Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to plug holes until their next wave of talent is ready and they still have one of my favorite managers in Joe Maddon. They won't be as good as they were the last few years, but 84 wins is definitely within reach.
Baltimore Orioles- My favorite AL East team might be in line for a nice season this year if everything goes right. I am not going to roll with them again though because they made me look like a maroon last season, when I picked them to finish ahead of Tampa Bay. They made some moves this offseason, bringing in sluggers Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy and Vladimir Guerrero to go along with Luke Scott, Adam Jones, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis. This offense should put up a lot of runs for Buck Showalter and crew. Jeremy Guthrie quietly had a nice 2010 and Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta now have a year under their belts, but I am not sold on Brad Bergesen, Justin Duchscherer or anyone in their bullpen not named Koji Uehara. I see a lot of 8-5 losses at Camden.
Toronto Blue Jays- The Blue Jays have to view the offseason as a win because they finally got rid of Vernon Wells and his massive contract. The fact that they got Juan Rivera and Frank Francisco (from Texas for Mike Napoli) was a pretty nice haul. They also acquired Rajai Davis, Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel. The Jays have some young talent and a stud in the making in Ricky Romero, but for now they are still too young with too many spare parts to compete in a loaded division like the AL East.
Chicago White Sox 91-71
Minnesota Twins 89-73
Detroit Tigers 84-78
Cleveland Indians 70- 92
Kansas City Royals 67-95
Chicago White Sox- The Sox won 88 games last year and look to be headed for an improvement in 2011. Adam Dunn was brought in to DH, a position we refused to field last season. They also have a full season of Edwin Jackson, who looked fantastic with the White Sox down the stretch last season. With Alexei Ramirez, Paul Konerko, Dunn, Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin in the lineup they should have a very strong offense. Gordon Beckham looked great in the 2nd half last year and has looked spectacular in spring training so far. There aren't going to be many hits through the left side of the infield with Brent Morel and Ramirez over there. John Danks, Jackson, Gavin Floyd and Mark Buehrle give them 4 solid starters, and a healthy Jake Peavy would give them five. The back four of the bullpen- Matt Thornton, Chris Sale, Sergio Santos and Jesse Crain give the Sox a very deep pen. They need a fast start, but I think the Sox will be playing ball well into October.
Minnesota Twins- The Twins will fight to the finish with the Sox again this year, but this time they will fall short. They lost mainstays Crain, Rauch and Matt Guerrier from their bullpen. They lost their keystone combo from a year ago and replaced them with the unproven Alexi Casilla and Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan are all dealing with injuries. They do have a good rotation and a lot of pop with a healthy Mauer, Morneau, Delmon Young, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. Their bullpen is going to cost them the Central.
Detroit Tigers- The Tigers signed Victor Martinez and are getting Magglio Ordonez back from injury which will give them a very strong middle of the order when teamed up with Miguel Cabrera. Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn have also shown promise with the stick and Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Inge have been successful in the past. Justin Verlander is a true ace and Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have shown they can pitch well. Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit give them a formidable back end of the bullpen. The Tigers are aging though, and their pitching is not as deep as the Twins or the Sox. Another 3rd place finish for Detroit.
Cleveland Indians- Orlando Cabrera is going to need a trade or a miracle in order to continue his impressive streak of playing in the Playoffs. The Indians have a couple of nice pieces in catcher Carlos Santana, right fielder Shin-Soo Choo and center fielder Grady Sizemore. However, Sizemore is not going to start the season with the club and Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta and Travis Hafner have not been very impressive for the Tribe. Other than Fausto Carmona their rotation and bullpen are very suspect. Unless they go get Charlie Sheen to pitch for them again, the Indians won't smell 75 wins.
Kansas City Royals- As bad as the Indians are, I think the Royals are worse. Billy Butler is their only proven stick, although it seems Mike Aviles always kills us. I do like Kila Ka'aihue, but he alone isn't enough to help Butler to get the Royals out of the cellar. Their pitching is pretty barren as well, with Zack Greinke gone to Milwaukee. Their best player is closer Joakim Soria which is a pretty big waste of talent. Soria could be traded by the deadline. The Royals may have a lot of prospects in the minors but any team that has Bruce Chen as its 4th starter is not finishing out of the basement on my predictions page.
Texas Rangers 90-72
California Angels 83-79
Oakland A's 81-81
Seattle Mariners 73-89
Texas Rangers- The Rangers are missing their ace Cliff Lee, but their offense is as good as ever. Adrian Beltre has moved over to Texas from Boston and will play gold glove caliber defense at third, with Michael Young moving to DH. Josh Hamilton is looking to repeat his MVP season, which is possible given the talent around him. Ian Kinsler will have a big season as long as he is healthy, as will Nelson Cruz. CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis lead a rotation that was lights out in the playoffs and Neftali Feliz is back as the closer. As long as their key components stay healthy, the Rangers should win the division going away.
California Angels- I have the Angels in 2nd due to their pitching. Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana are all very strong top of the rotation guys. Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells were all outstanding players at one time, but due to age, injury or both they all have slowed down over the course of their careers. If Kendry Morales comes back and the old guys have one more year in the sun, they could potentially have a good offense. However, I think there are too many holes for them to take over Texas for first. 2nd place and barely over .500 for the Angels.
Oakland Athletics- The A's have a pretty solid young rotation with Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez and they added Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour to Andrew Bailey for their bullpen. Even with this strong staff, I see them as a .500 team. They brought in Josh Willingham from Washington, David DeJesus from Kansas City and Hideki Matsui from the Angels to anchor the offense with Kurt Suzuki. I don't think they will be able to muster enough of an offensive attack to hang with the Rangers. The A's are still lacking an offensive star or two.
Seattle Mariners- The Mariners have two of the greatest talents of our game in Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez. Unfortunately the players they have surrounded them with aren't good enough for the Mariners to be considered a contender. Erik Bedard is awesome when healthy and youngsters Jason Vargas and Michael Pineda look like two good arms so it may not be a stretch to see them hold their opponents down. They will have to hold them to 0 though, in order to give this offense a chance on a daily basis. Jack Cust and Miguel Olivo are good for a few homers, but other than that the offense is really going to struggle.
Philadelphia Phillies 98-64
Atlanta Braves 92-70
Florida Marlins 83-79
Washington Nationals 77-85
New York Mets 72-90
Philadelphia Phillies- The Phillies landed the big fish in the pitching market this year by singing Cliff Lee. Lee joins an already great rotation of Roy Halladay, Cole Hammels, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton. That rotation should make up for the loss of Jayson Werth. The fact that Chase Utley is out is a little bit troubling, but they still have Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, who, with help from Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino should put enough runs on the board for this remarkable starting rotation. Brad Lidge is also opening on the Disabled List, which leaves Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras to hold down the fort at the back end of the bullpen. Once some of their injury issues get handled, the Phillies will take off with the Eastern Division crown.
Atlanta Braves- The Braves have plenty of pop with Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla to go along with mega-prospect Freddie Freeman. Chipper Jones refused to call it a career after his knee injury last year and is tearing it up in Spring Training. Martin Prado and Alex Gonzalez also had big years in 2010. The Braves look like they are going to have a great offense. If Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson can stay healthy, it may be a big year in Atlanta... as long as they don't give Scott Linebrink the ball in big situations.
Florida Marlins- Mike Stanton and Hanley Ramirez give the Marlins a solid combination in the middle of their order. Josh Johnson is a true ace, and if Ricky Nolasco and Javy Vazquez come back to form, you could have 4 solid pitchers, with Anibal Sanchez being the 4th. Leo Nunez is back as a closer. The Marlins have some exciting young talent, but they aren't ready to compete with the heavyweights of the division- Atlanta and Philadelphia.
Washington Nationals- The Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a huge contract to get him away from Philadelphia, and with Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche could give the Nats a decent offense. Ian Desmond looks to be a pretty good shortstop, and if the rotation gives them anything, they could finish out of the basement and ahead of the Mets.
New York Mets- The Mets have a lot of high priced talent that hasn't gotten the job done in recent years. Johan Santana is out indefinitely with a torn left shoulder, which really hurts the pitching staff that consists of Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, RA Dickey, Chris Young and Chris Capuano. Thats not a playoff rotation. Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran really struggled last season, combining for only 13 homers between them. David Wright had a very good year last season with 29 homers and 103 RBI's and he looks to build on that, but New York will be shut out of the playoffs this season.
Milwaukee Brewers 90-72
Cincinnati Reds 88-74
St. Louis Cardinals 82- 80
Chicago Cubs 75- 87
Pittsburgh Pirates 73-89
Houston Astros 70-92
Milwaukee Brewers- The Brewers have been bitten by the injury bug this spring, with newly acquired ace Zack Greinke going down with a rib fracture, but he should be back sometime in April. Shaun Marcum was also acquired and was injured, but he should be back to make his first start. Yovani Gallardo gives them 3 very strong pitchers. Prince Fielder is in the final year of his contract, so I am expecting big things out of him. Ryan Braun is a legit MVP case in my opinion. Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart showed what they were capable of in 2010 as did Casey McGehee. The Brew Crew are the most well rounded team in the NL Central- now they must get (and stay) healthy.
Cincinnati Reds- Dusty's boys came out of nowhere last year to take the NL Central crown. Joey Votto is the reigning MVP and an absolute stud, but I have a hard time trusting Scott Rolen to have another huge season at 3rd. Brandon Phillips has been one of the more productive 2nd basemen of late, and big things are expected out of Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce. However, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey are both going to open the season on the DL. Aroldis Chapman and Francisco Cordero make up a very strong back end of the bullpen, but I just don't think its in the cards for the Reds to repeat this season.
St. Louis Cardinals- The Cardinals were my pick in the Central until Adam Wainwright went down for the season. I don't think they can come back from that loss. I also don't think the Albert Pujols contract discussions (or lack of them) are going to help too much either. Pujols, Holliday, Rasmus and Berkman make for a dangerous middle of the order, but the pitching will not overcome the Wainwright loss. Another disappointing season for the Red Birds.
Chicago Cubs- Unlike the rest of their division, the Cubs have remained healthy throughout the spring, which should give them some hope. Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Carlos Zambrano could give them a strong top 3 if the latter two keep their heads straight. They have some pop in the order with Carlos Pena, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Starlin Castro. Carlos Marmol is one of the better closers in the league. That being said, their defense is terrible and they have to rely on too many things going right in order to make noise in the division. If the rest of the division keeps dropping like flies though, the Cubs could find themselves in contention.
Pittsburgh Pirates- I keep hoping that the PIrates will return to respectability. I don't see them getting to .500 this year, but I think they will have a significant improvement over the 57 wins they put up last season. Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker give them four very solid young hitters- with McCutchen on the verge of superstardom. Lyle Overbay should bring them a nice veteran stick and Garrett Jones brings some home run power. Unfortunately, they still don't have any pitching at all.
Houston Astros- The Astros have a little more pitching than the Pirates with Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez at the top of their rotation, but their hitting isn't very good. Carlos Lee had a subpar year and is looking to bounce back to form. Hunter Pence had 25 homers with a .282 average, but those are the only two worth watching. Pirates finish higher than the Astros in 2011.
Colorado Rockies 92-70
San Francisco Giants 85-77
Los Angeles Dodgers 83-79
San Diego Padres 76-86
Arizona Diamondbacks 70-92
Colorado Rockies- I don't think the Rockies are going to need September heroics this year to become a factor. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are two of the best young hitters in all of baseball. Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin give them three good starters. I think the Rockies are the most well rounded team in the division.
San Francisco Giants- The Giants have excellent starting pitching, but I don't think they will win the West this year. Buster Posey is an unbelievable talent, but the downfall is going to be the left side of the infield where you have Miguel Tejada at short and Pablo Sandoval at third. A lot of balls are going to find holes. They are also going to be counting on Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross and Andres Torres to rekindle their 2010 magic, and I don't see it happening. The Giants fall short in 2011.
Los Angeles Dodgers- The Dodgers pitching is not as good as the Giants and their hitting is not as good as the Rockies. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are very talented in the outfield and their rotation is passable with Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Jon Garland and Hiroki Kuroda, but when your lineup consists of Marcus Thames, Casey Blake and Rod Barajas you need more than that. Their bullpen has some good arms in Matt Guerrier, Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo, but its a 3rd place finish in Hollywood Land. They will still be one of my favorite watches though on a nice summers night with Vin Scully on the call and Juan Uribe at the bat. Can't get much better than that!
San Diego Padres- I watched them do it, but I still can't explain how this team won 90 games last year. They have a new infield with Brad Hawpe, Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett. Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, Luke Gregerson and Heath Bell all had good years last year and look to repeat it, but the loss of Jon Garland and Adrian Gonzalez kills any chance of getting to 90 wins. They will be right back where they belong with a low-mid 70s win total.
Arizona Diamondbacks- Its going to be a long summer in the desert this year as the Diamondbacks will struggle to win 70 games. Joe Saunders, Dan Hudson, Ian Kennedy and Armando Galarraga make up the rotation and JJ Putz is closing, but I am not sure where any offense is going to come from. Justin Upton has talent and Stephen Drew is a solid shortstop, but the D Backs are built to finish last in my opinion.
Red Sox over Twins 3-0: Boston steam rolls them as the Twins go 3 and out in the playoffs yet again.
White Sox over Rangers 3-2: White Sox offense gets the better of the Rangers pitching.
Phillies over Brewers 3-1: Too much Philadelphia pitching for the Brew Crew.
Braves over Rockies 3-2: Braves edge out Rockies in a close Game 5.
Red Sox over White Sox 4-2: Too much punch from the Red Sox and Jon Lester shuts down the White Sox twice.
Braves over Phillies 4-3: Back and forth series goes Atlanta's way with Jason Heyward leading the Braves back to the Series.
Red Sox over Braves 4-2: Red Sox offense too much for the Braves.
AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez
NL MVP: Ryan Braun
AL Cy Young: Jon Lester
NL Cy Young: Cliff Lee
AL ROY: Chris Sale
NL ROY: Freddie Freeman
World Series MVP: Kevin Youkilis
What did I hit? What did I miss? The season is here! Rejoice!