I did early previews of the divisions before spring training but some things have changed since then. Here is the way I see the regular season and playoffs going down in 2011:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST:
1. Boston Red Sox - The Red Sox went out and re-loaded over the winter by adding Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Bobby Jenks and others. I think that they will have the best team in the American League by far as long as Josh Beckett & John Lackey rebound from off-seasons and I think they will.
2. Tampa Bay Rays - The Rays might have lost a lot of players over the winter but they brought in veterans like Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to fill some holes in the offense, and I think they both have something left in the gas tank. No team in the A.L. can match the depth of quality young starting pitchers that the Rays have. The only thing that could hold them back in 2011 is the bullpen.
3. New York Yankees - The Yankees are getting really old in the field and I think this is the year that it’s really going to start to show. The Yankees’ starting rotation is really iffy behind C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes. If A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia can go out and give the Yankees six solid innings per night, they might win the A.L. East because of the impressive back end of the pen. I just don’t think that they will.
4. Baltimore Orioles - The Orioles were outstanding under Buck Showalter last year and they will be a team to watch in 2011. They added Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee and J.J. Hardy over the winter and that will add some very serious pop to the batting order. It all comes down to the young pitching staff of the Orioles and they have a lot of really good arms.
5. Toronto Blue Jays - The Jays might finish with a .500+ record in 2011 and still finish in the cellar in the A.L. East. I’m looking for Adam Lind and Aaron Hill to have big bounceback years, while Travis Snider has the breakout year everyone has been waiting for out of him.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL:
1. Chicago White Sox - The Chicago White Sox have a very solid starting rotation along with a bullpen full of flame throwers from both sides of the mound. I think the addition of DH/1B Adam Dunn gives the White Sox the big time lefty power hitter they have needed for a while now to give the lineup some balance. I think the White Sox are the most balanced team in the divison and that’s why I like them to win it.
2. Minnesota Twins - The Minnesota Twins are the best fundamental team in the majors and they are built for the long haul of a season. They have a deep starting rotation to go along with a outstanding defense, which keeps them close in almost every game. To me, the keys to the Twins season is going to be the health of Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan in 2011.
3. Detroit Tigers - The Tigers signed switch hitting Victor Martinez to serve as the DH and bat behind Miguel Cabrera in 2011 to give him some much needed protection to the lineup. I think the big keys to the Tigers for 2011 will be in the starting rotation behind Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Rick Porcello needs to bounce back to the pitcher he was a rookie in 2009. Lefty Phil Coke will be joining the starting rotation just like C.J. Wilson did for the Rangers last year and it will be interesting to see how his arm holds up. Veteran righty starter Brad Penny could be huge at the back end of the Tigers’ rotation if he can just stay healthy.
4. Cleveland Indians - The Cleveland Indians are depending on the kids in 2011. The starting rotation is very young behind Fausto Carmona, but the Indians have a very solid closer in Chris Perez if they can get leads to him. The Indians are hoping for breakout years from catcher Carlos Santana, 1B Matt LaPorta and outfielder Michael Brantley. The Tribe would also benefit offensively if Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner can just stay healthy in 2011 (not likely).
5. Kansas City Royals - The Royals are a mess right now. I just don’t understand why they signed guys like Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur to start in the outfield instead of just playing the kids out there. I like the addition of Jeff Francis to the starting rotation but the Royals don’t have much to offer there. Poor Joakim Soria, it seems like 95% of his saves this year are going to come in 1-run games.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST:
1. Oakland Athletics - The Oakland A’s have probably the best and deepest pitching staff in the entire league. With that in mind, the A’s set out to improve the offense over the winter when they added DH Hideki Matsui and outfielders Josh Willingham & David DeJesus. I think the A’s will score enough runs to make their pitching stand up on most nights.
2. Los Angeles Angels - The Los Angeles Angels season went into the toilet last year when Kendrys Morales broke his leg on a walk off homer celebration. He will start the season on the D.L., but he will play at least 5 months for the Angels in 2011 unless he gets injured again which will give the Angels a huge boost. Adding Vernon Wells gives the Angels another big stick in the lineup and with him playing LF, they will have one of the best defensive outfields in all of baseball. The Angels’ starting rotation is wicked and I think Mike Scioscia will get his team back to the playoffs as the Wild Card in the A.L.
3. Texas Rangers - Everything seemed to break right for the Rangers in 2010, but looking into my crystal ball I see some issues in 2011. Honestly, I’m not sold on either C.J. Wilson or Colby Lewis who both have to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke. Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando will be the #3-5 starters for the Rangers this year and they all have question marks about them based on their track records. The Rangers still have a great bullpen and a solid lineup for 2011.
4. Seattle Mariners - Other than getting paid a nice bit of cash, new manger Eric Wedge is likely going to wish he didn’t take this job by May. I don’t see Milton Bradley and Wedge co-exisiting in the dugout as it didn’t work too well in Cleveland. The Mariners will have to play little ball because they don’t have much power at all for 2011.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST:
1. Philadelphia Phillies - Even with Chase Utley and Domonic Brown starting the season on the D.L., I still love the Phillies this year. No one can match the starting rotation the Phillies have of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton! The Phillies will need Jimmy Rollins and Raul Ibanez to get back into a good groove this year to give Ryan Howard some support in the lineup.
2. Atlanta Braves - The Braves pretty much stole 2B Dan Uggla from the Marlins over the winter and he will add big time power to the middle of the lineup in 2011. I think that Jason Heyward is going to take the next step for the Braves in 2011 and that is exciting. The Braves spot one of the best and deepest rotations for 2011 and they have some really strong, young arms for late in games in the bullpen (Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters). I expect the Braves to be strong in 2011 but to barely miss out on the Wild Card to the Rockies.
3. Florida Marlins - The Marlins have one of the best starting rotations 1-5 in the N.L. and they suddenly have a nice bullpen for 2011. The keys to the team are going to be the progress of the young position players like Chris Coghlan, Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton. If the young guys live up to expectations, I think the Marlins could make a very serious Wild Card run in 2011.
4. Washington Nationals - The Nationals will go as far as their pitching staff takes them in 2011 because I have a feeling that they are going to score a lot of runs. The Nationals signed up Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche over the winter to supply them with a lot of power in 2011. Look out for outfielder Mike Morse, because if he finally gets full time ABs in 2011, he’s going to put up good numbers.
5. New York Mets - To me, the Mets are a team in shambles right now. Johan Santana is out until the All-Star break as he is still recovering from shoulder surgery, Jason Bay is starting the 2011 season on the D.L. and Carlos Beltran has been gimpy all spring. I just don’t see the Mets putting up much of a fight in 2011.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL:
1. Chicago Cubs - The Cubs looked really solid after Mike Quade took over as the manager and I think it will continue in 2011. The Cubs have a very solid starting rotation set up for this year and I am expecting Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Pena to stay healthy and hit around 100 homers between them in 2011.
2. Milwaukee Brewers - The Brewers loaded up over the winter in the starting rotation by dealing for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. All of a sudden, the Brewers biggest weakness (starting rotation) has now become a team strength. Couple that with the fact that Prince Fielder is in a contract year, and the Brewers are going to have a good summer.
3. Cincinnati Reds - The Reds had a lot of things got right in 2010 and they will need it all to happen again in 2011 if they are going to win the N.L. Central. I think the Reds are going to be solid again in 2011 but the division has really improved over the winter, while the Reds pretty much stayed status quo.
4. St. Louis Cardinals - Don’t worry Cardinals’ fans, I’m not thinking that they will be sub-.500, but I think some teams have passed them up. Losing Adam Wainwright was a big blow for the Cardinals but I think the starting rotation is still going to be strong in 2011. But, the Cardinals are going to likely have some issues in the bullpen and I don’t see any way that Lance Berkman survives the whole year healthy while playing in the outfield.
5. Houston Astros - The Astros hope that Carlos Lee returns to the hitter he was before last year. That is because only Hunter Pence and himself are legit, proven power hitters. The Astros really need Brett Wallace to step up and for Chris Johnson to continue hitting like he did last year. I expect the Astros’ starting rotation to improve in 2011, but the bullpen is pretty iffy.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates - The Pirates have by far the worst starting rotation in the National League and it’s going to hurt them big time in 2011. I do like the young guys (Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez) and I hope the Pirates eventually spend some money on players to put around them, so they just don’t leave in the future like most good young players do.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST:
1. San Francisco Giants - The Giants pretty much have everyone back (except Juan Uribe) as they look to repeat as World Champions in 2011. The Giants’ starting pitchers might feel insulted about all of the talk of the Phillies’ starting rotation as they will run out Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito out to the mound. The Giants might just repeat in 2011 if everything breaks their way.
2. Colorado Rockies - I have a feeling that this is the year that it all comes together for the Colorado Rockies. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez might not have to carry the offense themselves in 2011 as I think they are going to get some help. I think that this is the year that Dexter Fowler, Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart really step up and be the players the Rockies think they can be. The Rockies have a very deep rotation and bullpen, which is going to serve them well this year.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers - The Dodgers have a pitching staff to rival almost anyone in baseball, but, it won’t matter unless they can score runs more consistently in 2011. They need Rafael Furcal to stay healthy in 2011 and they also need Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp to return to the players they were in 2009. That might be a little too much to ask.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks - The Diamondbacks seem to have pretty good power up and down the lineup for 2011, but they will also likely whiff a lot too. But, if they can score consistently, the D-Backs might be better than most ”experts” think they will as they have improved the pitching staff for 2011.
5. San Diego Padres - The Padres are going to have a outstanding pitching staff once again in 2011, but they are going to have big time issues scoring runs. Losing Adrian Gonzalez is going to kill the Padres’ offense because he put up numbers despite not having much help. I don’t think the Padres will make the pitching stand up as I see them finishing below .500 this year.
Boston Red Sox over the Los Angeles Angels in 3 games
Chicago White Sox over the Oakland A’s in 5 games
Boston Red Sox over the White Sox in 7 games
San Francisco Giants over the Chicago Cubs in 4 games
Philadelphia Phillies over the Colorado Rockies in 4 games
San Francisco Giants over the Philadelphia Phillies in 6 games
San Francisco Giants over the Boston Red Sox in 7 games