But in my opinion, without question...the Cincinnati Reds were THE biggest surprise in baseball last season.
After finishing fourth in the NL Central with a record of 78-84 in 2009, the Reds won the NL Central in 2010 with a record of 91-71. This was the team's first winning record since 2000, and they won one of the toughest divisions in baseball.
How did this happen? I will say that the NL Central was a bit down last season in comparison to what they normally are. But the fact of the matter is, the Reds had a dominant offense, led by NL MVP Joey Votto.
Votto broke out onto the scene last year, leading the Reds in every major batting statistic (.324 BA, 37 HR, 113 RBI, 106 R, .424 OBP, .600 SLG, 1.024 OPS). A remarkable offensive season from a team that finished in the top-five in BA, R, OBP and SLG.
Let's take a look at the Reds lineup and starting rotation heading into 2011:
C: Ramon Hernandez
1B: Joey Votto
Besides Joey Votto, who is the biggest offensive weapon on the Reds?
2B: Brandon Phillips
3B: Scott Rolen
SS: Edgar Renteria
LF: Johnny Gomes
CF: Drew Stubbs
RF: Jay Bruce
SP: Edinson Volquez
SP: Bronson Arroyo
SP: Johnny Cueto
SP: Mike Leake
SP: Homer Bailey
CL: Francisco Cordero
How can the Reds improve their lineup from last season, try adding the 2010 World Series MVP Edgar Renteria. Although he is getting older, and production as an everyday player may be down, Renteria is as clutch as it gets in the playoffs.
The Reds still have Paul Janish in the starting SS slot going into spring training, but I expect Renteria to win the job, or at least take away a significant amount of starts from Janish this season.
The outfield for the Reds was one of the most productive in all of baseball last season, and Jay Bruce should have an even better year this season. Only 23 years old, Bruce has already had three consecutive 20 HR seasons, and his power should only improve over the course of his career.
There aren't many questions about this Reds lineup, they are still one of the best in baseball. If anything this 2011 version will be improved with the added production of Renteria, and with Bruce and Stubbs both entering their second full seasons.
The Reds starting rotation appears to be the biggest weakness heading into this year, and it showed during their early exit in the playoffs. Being swept 3-0 by the Philadelphia Phillies, the Reds made playoff history.
They were the team that allowed Roy Halladay to throw only the second no-hitter in MLB playoff history, and the first since 1956.
That explosive offense was nowhere to be found, but I would consider the overall team's lack of experience as the biggest contributing factor in the Reds disappointing postseason.
Cincinnati needs a big rebound year from Edinson Volquez, and his health and performance alone will determine just how good the Reds can be this season.
Will the Reds make the playoffs in 2011?
However, the Reds are still a very good team without Volquez. Bronson Arroyo is a productive No. 2 starter, but the key to this rotation is the depth and young talent this team has.
Cueto and Bailey are 24, Leake is 23 and all three of these pitchers proved last season that they belong.
I know there's been a lot of much deserved hype in regards to the new Phillies rotation, but WHEN HEALTHY, I strongly believe that the Reds now have the second best rotation in the National League.
When you combine the two, you get a team that figures to be a lock for a playoff spot. But with injury concerns, more pressure on the young talent this season, and a much improved division...well, let's just say... In regards to another Reds October.
The hunt is on.