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MLB Moving on Up: Which Last-Place Teams Will Climb Their Divisions in 2011?

James Stewart-MeudtCorrespondent IIDecember 31, 2010

Moving On Up: Which Last Place Teams Will Climb Their Divisions in 2011?

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    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Every fan has high hopes for his team in 2011; at least, the optimistic fans do.

    The cynics and realists might already have concluded where their team is going to finish in their division next season.

    Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies fans are ready to buy their World Series tickets, while Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals fans are running out of breath trying to explain to their significant others why you can't change teams.

    That little glimmer of hope keeps fans of the basement dwellers going to games, watching on TV and tuning in on the radio.

    So let's take a look at 2010's last place teams in each division and see which ones might be moving up in 2011.

AL Central: Kansas City Royals

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 67-95 (two games behind fourth place Cleveland)

    The trade of Zack Greinke shows that the Royals, once again, will not be contenders in 2011.

    Without Greinke, the Royals' starting rotation is as thin as a piece of paper. Kyle Davies, Vin Mazzaro (acquired from Oakland for David DeJesus), and Luke Hochevar are in place, but after that it's wide open.

    Sean O'Sullivan is probably no. 4 and the fifth spot is up for grabs.

    They improved their defense up the middle with the additions of Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, but neither is going to provide much offense. Alex Gordon has never been able to find it on the major league level and Billy Butler was their best player last season.

    Kila Ka'aihue could play first base or DH next season, depending on where they chose to put Butler.

     

    2011 Prediction: 61-101 (last place in the AL Central)

    There just isn't anything to look forward to next season for the Royals. If you're looking for something, it would be seeing some of their very good position prospects, like Mike Moustakas, finally making an appearance on the major league level.

NL Central: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 57-105 (18 games back of fourth place Chicago)

    I really had to think for a few moments about whose picture I should even put on this slide. Andrew McCutchen was my choice, but the picture itself speaks louder.

    They locked up their 18th consecutive losing season in 2010 and probably won't improve by 25 games next season.

    Once again, Andrew McCutchen was their best player offensively, leading the team in hits (163), OBP (.365), BA (.286) and steals (33). They also have talented young bats in Jose Tabada and Pedro Alvarez.

    Unfortunately, those three names are the three brightest spots of 2010, and more for their potential than actual production.

    What can you say about a pitching staff where the team leader in wins, Paul Maholm, only had nine, and also led the team in ERA with 5.10 and strikeouts with only 102. It's just quite sad, really. Pittsburgh has such a rich baseball history, and to see it reduced to this bumbling, fumbling, inept collection of perennial losers is just sad.

    2011 Prediction: 55-107 (last place in the NL Central)

    2011 will be another failure. Hell, 2012 will be too. There are some nice bats in that lineup and some decent starting pitching in the low minors. In their current state, the Pirates are probably in yet another of many five-year plans.

    They clearly can't climb into fourth place or higher next season, but they always get high draft picks, so they're bound to fall into no-brainers once in a while (much like Jameson Taillon in 2010).

AL West: Seattle Mariners

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 61-101 (19 games back of fourth place Los Angeles)

    What can you say about the 2010 Mariners?

    They were terrible. The pitching was the only bright spot. Led by Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez, the Mariners were second in the majors in starters' ERA (3.83).

    Offensively, it was ugly. They were at the bottom of baseball in all three triple crown categories.

    Unless you expect a complete turnaround from last season, it's not going to get much better in 2011.

    2011 Prediction: 71-91 (last place in the AL West)

    I tried; I really tried to find some way to give the Mariners a bump up the division, but I just couldn't. I can't conceive of their offense being that bad again, but I don't see it getting much better, either.

    What you're looking for from the Mariners next season, just like Kansas City, is the introduction of prospects. If the Mariners find themselves in the same situation after the first month or two, perhaps we'll finally see what Dustin Ackley can do in the majors.

    I'll give them an extra 10 wins based on faith that their offense can't be that bad again, but that's it.

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 65-97 (15 games back of fourth place Los Angeles)

    2010 was a disappointing season in the desert. Despite good offensive performances from several players, such as Mark Reynolds, Kelly Johnson, Adam LaRoche and Chris Young, the D'Backs were never able to put everything together.

    The starting pitching was terrible. Ian Kennedy led the team with just nine wins and only Rodrigo Lopez cracked the 200 inning mark.

    However, out of the ashes, a much stronger Arizona team has emerged. The Diamondbacks have completely revamped their front office. Kevin Towers was brought in as general manager and Kirk Gibson lost the interim title and was signed to a two year contract as manager.

    Unfortunately, two of their biggest bats, Reynolds and LaRoche, are gone. The D'Backs declined their option on LaRoche and in Reynold's case, it was addition by subtraction. They acquired RHP David Hernandez and RHP Kam Mickolio in the trade that sent Reynolds to Baltimore. Both pitchers can improve the bullpen, while Melvin Mora will replace Reynolds at third base.

    J.J. Putz is an excellent addition as the closer for next season and they still have a young, potent offense capable of mashing.

    2011 Prediction: 74-88 (last place in the NL West)

    I'll be honest. I was tempted to lift them to fourth place and leave the Dodgers at the bottom of the NL West, but I couldn't find them the wins. The Giants' pitching is too good; the Rockies always make their customary late season run; and the Dodgers' pitching staff is improved enough to keep them out of the basement, but their offense is still going to be an issue. If you want to look into your crystal ball and tell me that you see the Diamondbacks making a huge improvement and getting out of the basement, I won't be shocked. But I can't see it entirely.

    The Diamondbacks' biggest assets are their new front office and managerial additions. They've made a ton of moves to add arms and bats so they're revamped. Maybe they catch lightning in a bottle with some of these guys, maybe not. The important thing is they have a solid future.

NL East: Washington Nationals

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 69-93 (10 games behind fourth place New York Mets)

    Despite their record last season, Nationals fans have lots to be excited about. They picked up one of the biggest free agents available (granted, for way too much money) and have a lot of young, talented prospects close to or ready for the bigs.

    Last season, though, was a disapointment. With the exception of Ryan Zimmerman (who is their best player every single season, without fail) and Adam Dunn (who left via free agency), no one on the team hit 20 home runs or drove in more than 70 runs. Nyjer Morgan is their biggest stolen base threat (34 steals in 52 attempts), but he posted an OBP of just .319.

    The loss of Stephen Strasburg to Tommy John surgery is a huge blow not only to the starting rotation, but also to the franchise itself. They still have promising starter Jordan Zimmerman, whom the Nats would not include in a trade for Zack Greinke earlier in the offseason. Livan Hernandez was their best pitcher last season. He was the only starter to throw more than 200 IP (211.2) and strike out more than 100 batters (114).

    They have two solid bullpen arms in Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, but they traded Matt Capps in July and need to figure out how to lock down wins.

    2011 Prediction: 71-91 (last place in the NL East)

    If Stephen Strasburg had not been injured, I would be tempted to give the Nats fourth place in the NL East ahead of the Mets. But without him in the rotation, and even with the addition of Jayson Werth, there just isn't enough offense or starting pitching to improve much.

    Strasburg is said to be progressing quite well in his rehab and it's just a matter of time until fans see Bryce Harper patrolling the field. There's a lot to look forward to in Washington, but not much next year.

AL East: Baltimore Orioles

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 66-96 (19 games behind fourth place Toronto)

    It was a tale of two managers for the Orioles last season.

    Under manager Dave Trembley, the Orioles went 15-39.

    Under Buck Showalter, who took over as manager on August 3, they finished the season 34-23, the best record in the AL over that period of time.

    The Orioles were soundly beaten by the teams in their own division. The only team they were even .500 against was Boston.

    However, this is a team that is much improved from last season and has a ton of potential. Offensively, they added Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy. They are also very much in the mix for Derek Lee and, should the time come, are very capable of making a trade for Prince Fielder.

    They'll need their pitching staff to continue the success it showed under Showalter. Brian Matusz was 3-11 with a 5.46 ERA before Showalter came in, but went 7-1 with a 2.18 ERA with him. Jeremy Guthrie posted a 3.07 ERA in August. Brad Bergesen posted a 2.72 ERA and a 2.84 ERA in August and September, respectively.

     

    2011 Prediction: 81-81, fourth place in the AL East

    After some debate, I decided to be bold and give the Orioles fans something to smile about. There will always be the debate of how much a manager can make a difference, but in Showalter's case, it clearly makes a huge difference.

    Under Showalter, with an improved work ethic, an improved offense and a deep farm system (which helps the club because they can make deadline deals if needed), the Orioles will improve by 15 wins to finish .500 for the first time since 1997.

     

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