The 2011 season is nearly upon us and the anticipation in the air is palpable. There is still time for teams to make improvements and increase their chances at a successful season.
But as the available free agents dwindle, the 2011 picture is coming into clearer focus.
Which teams have the best shot at the postseason will depend on a number of factors. Some say pitching rules the day, others hang their hats on offensive outbursts.
The following is a list of all 30 teams, from worst to first, which ranks their chances at making the playoffs in 2011.
Officially the worst team in baseball last season, sadly, Pirates fans have little to look forward to in 2011 either.
After firing John Russell from the manager position, the Pirates filled the hole this offseason with Clint Hurdle.
Aside from a World Series run in 2007, which he lost with the Rockies, Hurdle has never managed a team that placed higher than third place in their division. His winning percentage is .457 in eight years of managing.
Still stuck with a weak lineup and average to bad pitching, Hurdle is not going to be the answer for the Bucos.
If in the previous year, the best hitter on a team was one of the starting pitchers, trouble is certainly on the horizon.
The D-Backs leading hitter in 2010 was pitcher Dan Haren with a .364 average in 55 at-bats. Second baseman Kelly Johnson came in second with a .284 average and it goes downhill from there.
Their pitching is a mess as well.
In fact, the D-Backs idea of a pitching upgrade was signing Zach Duke who had a 5.72 ERA with the Pirates last season.
They did find a decent closer in J.J. Putz, but if they fail to score runs, a closer is of no use to them anyway.
While the Astros are an young, improving team, their odds of making the playoffs are about the same as anyone reading this hitting the lottery.
The Astros have some pitching with the addition of J.A. Happ last year and a resurgent Brett Myers.
However, the rest of the rotation is a big question mark.
At the plate, their big sluggers struggled last year. Carlos Lee hit only .246 and Hunter Pence could not pick up the slack.
The Astros have many young hitters with potential, but it is going to take some time before they are ready to carry this team into the postseason.
According to Baseball Prospectus, the Royals have the No. 1 farm system in baseball.
The only problem with that is those players are not yet Major League-ready.
The Royals did just sign first baseman Billy Butler to a four-year, $30 million contract extension.
But it may be one or two years into that contract before Butler has some real talent to work with in order to help this team score some runs.
Still a bit shell-shocked from the 2010 disaster that they did not see coming, the Mariners have done little this offseason to improve. And one Ichiro Suzuki does not make a complete team.
The Mariners added Brendan Ryan and Miguel Olivo this offseason, two very average players.
This is not going to help an already struggling offense, especially with veterans like Chone Figgins coming off very bad years.
Odds of making the 2011 playoffs?
Resigning Shin Soo Choo for 2011 was a great move and easy decision for the Tribe.
But it going to be a rough year unless other returning players like Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore step things up.
However, the bigger concern may be the Indians' pitching. Fausto Carmona is the staff ace with a 13-14 record and 3.77 ERA in 2010.
After that, it only gets worse with the next highest win total at 10 games for Mitch Talbot.
Here is a very bad Indians joke I heard maybe 20 years ago: Why don't they make Lemonade in Cleveland? Because they don't have any pitchers.
The Padres made some very odd moves this offseason.
After a breakout year in 2010 where they missed the playoffs by a thread, the Padres seem to be headed in the wrong direction.
The total makeover includes the departure of veteran players David Eckstein, Miguel Tejada, Yorvit Torrealba, Jon Garland and three-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez. At first base, it appears Gonzalez will be replaced by Brad Hawpe who hit only .245 with 44 RBI in 2010.
Other additions to the club include Jason Bartlett, who hit .254 last season and Cameron Maybin, whose .234 average is concerning.
The good news is that the Padres have some pitching. But adding reliever Chad Qualls with his 7.32 ERA is another head-scratcher.
Perhaps the Padres are counting on a change of scenery to boost some performances. If so, at least they have sunny weather and palm trees to their advantage.
But a run at the playoffs is still unlikely.
The Mets have some very decent pitching, which starts with ace Johann Santana. Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey round out the top three.
Trying to bolster the bullpen, the Mets added right-hander D.J. Carrasco, who posted a 3.68 ERA in 63 games last season.
Lead by All-Star third baseman David Wright, the offense does not look too shabby either.
The big problem with the Mets for 2011 is that they are stuck in a very tough division with the Phillies and Braves.
So while they should make strides from the last several years, the Mets will still come up short.
The Orioles have been lingering in the basement of the AL East for nearly a decade now. Their 66 wins in 2010 was fourth-worst in all of baseball and second worst in the AL.
This offseason the Orioles have tried to improve their offense with the additions of J.J. Hardy and Derrek Lee.
They also came to terms with returning players such as Adam Jones, Felix Pie and Cesar Izturis.
But not only is their pitching weak, the O's are also stranded in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox. This leaves their chances at making the playoffs pretty slim.
The Marlins are going through a number of changes this year.
Some players, like Logan Morrison, are being switched to the outfield. Their big slugger Dan Uggla is gone. And the team is still one year away from a brand-new stadium in Miami.
The Fish made a number of acquisitions this offseason as well. Omar Infante, Mike Dunn, Dustin Richardson, Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica are a few of those.
Their pitching remains fairly solid as well, led by ace Josh Johnson.
But the recent changes will take time to have an effect. Plus, just like the Mets, the Marlins are in a very tough division with the Phillies and Braves.
This looks like a transition year for the Fish.
The Cubs made a few nice moves this offseason, one of which was bringing back pitcher Kerry Wood. But even with this addition, their pitching is average.
The offense is not lighting the world on fire, either.
Taking the eight position starters, including the new addition of Carlos Pena, the Cubs would have batted .260 as a team in 2010. Some players are getting old and some just underachieve.
So while the Cubs have improved, they are still far behind in a run at the postseason.
As the official NL East basement dwellers since the move to Washington in 2005, the Nationals have little hope of moving up the ladder any time soon.
The addition of outfielder Jayson Werth should help the offense some, but the $126 million they paid him may come back to haunt them when other opportunities for improvement arise.
The starting pitching for the Nats took a serious hit in 2010 when phenom Stephen Strasburg went down for Tommy John surgery. He will miss all of 2011.
The Nationals may show some improvement this year, but standing in line behind the Phillies and Braves in the NL East, a playoff run is nearly impossible.
The Dodgers seem serious about improving in 2011.
They added Juan Uribe and Tony Gwynn plus signed Rod Barajas and Jay Gibbons, who played some at the end of 2010.
New faces may bring new life to this team.
Trying out addition by subtraction, the Dodgers also let Manny Ramirez walk, removing much drama from the clubhouse.
Manager Joe Torre also left and Don Mattingly has been moved into the position for a fresh start.
With a solid five-man rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw, Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and newly signed Jon Garland, the Dodgers should see improvement.
But with the reigning World Series champs in their division, the efforts will still not take them to the playoffs.
The Blue Jays have been victimized in their division by power-houses like the Red Sox and Yankees for years. But they still want to compete.
Getting rid of a huge chunk of salary by moving Vernon Wells earlier this week, the Jays have cleared up $86 million in payroll.
They also picked up Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera as part of the deal with the Angels.
The Jays have also been acquiring multiple prospects, like pitcher Kyle Drabek, who was picked up in the Roy Halladay trade with Philadelphia.
The Jays are building for the future, but that does not include a postseason run just yet.
The A's have long been known as an organization with a steadily-paced revolving door. They have been through more changes than Cher during a two-hour concert.
A nice boost to their offense this year is the acquisitions of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham.
As for the pitching staff, the A's have added some good arms including Brian Fuentes, Rich Harden, Joey Devine and Brandon McCarthy.
While the A's have some nice pitching, the offense still needs another bat or two before they can really contend.
The biggest move the Tigers made this offseason may be retaining Magglio Ordonez.
Batting .303 in 2010 and consistently performing, Ordonez is a key to this offense. The Tigers also resigned a good run producer in third baseman Brandon Inge.
The Tigers improved their starting pitching as well by adding veteran Brad Penny with a one-year contract.
The returning starters Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Phil Coke are all very solid as well.
The issue the Tigers are going to run into despite the improvements are they Twins and the White Sox. Both look to have good years, leaving the Tigers behind.
In 2010, the Rays had the second-most wins in the majors with 96, just one game behind the Phillies. But this offseason, the Rays have seen a lot of talent walk out the door.
The Rays took a huge hit to their bullpen when while Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour all departed.
On offense, they lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett.
Picking up some pitching like Dirk Hayhurst, Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth should help.
But with both the Red Sox and Yankees in their division, the players they lost may add up to a disappointing season.
The Brewers have a number of big-run producers including Prince Fielder, Casey McGehee, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart.
With a pretty solid offense, the pitching is what seems to be lacking.
Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Dave Bush (now a free agent) and Chris Narveson made up the top four starters. The problem is that these four together averaged a 4.39 ERA in 2010.
Their pitching staff as a whole averaged 4.58 for the year.
The addition of Zach Greinke is a big help, but other pitchers need to step up their games.
The bullpen will get some help with the additions of relievers Takashi Saito and Sean Green. Saito especially is a great addition with a 2.19 lifetime ERA.
But unless the Brewers can further solidify their starting pitching, they will miss the playoffs.
The Rockies have some real offensive firepower, but they struggled on the road last year going 31-50 without the comforts of their high-altitude home.
And while pitcher Ubaldo Jiminez shined, the rest of the rotation struggled.
The acquisition of relievers Matt Belisle and Matt Lindstrom are a nice move for the bullpen.
But questions about the health of many other pitchers like Aaron Cook and starter Jason Hammel still linger.
Former superstar first baseman Todd Helton has had health issues as well. Add his age into the equation plus a bad 2010 year and no one is quite sure what to expect from him in 2011.
The same goes for the team as a whole. They have potential, but no one is really sure how good they will be.
A big pick-up for the Angels this offseason was the signing of left-handed pitcher Hisanori Takahashi. In his rookie season with the Mets, Takahashi went 10-6 with a 3.61 ERA.
On the offensive side, the Angels traded for veteran outfielder Vernon Wells, taking on his very hefty $86 million salary.
But while they added Wells, they also lost a huge bat in Hideki Matsui, who signed with the Oakland A's.
That move leaves Torii Hunter as the big bat in the lineup with Bobby Abreu in the DH role.
The Angels are not a very explosive line-up to start with so the loss of Matsui may hurt.
The Angels should have a good year, but they will not be able to pass the Rangers in their division, leaving them out of the playoffs.
The 2011 Cardinals should look similar to the 2010 team.
That is both good news and bad news for Cardinals fans.
The good news is that the team has a solid offense and good pitching.
The additions of Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman this offseason will add to the already amazing lineup which is led by first baseman Albert Pujols.
Their top three starters—Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia—averaged together a 2.78 ERA in 2010. The pitching staff as a while averaged 3.57 in 2010.
The Cardinals look great on paper. The issue is going to be whether or not they can outpace the Reds for the division title.
It will be close, but the Reds will come out on top.
The Braves made some nice upgrades this offseason, which will be their first season without Bobby Cox as manager since 1990. Fredi Gonzalez will take over in 2011.
In need of some power at the plate, the Braves signed All-Star Dan Uggla to a five-year contract. Uggla will join forces with sluggers, catcher Brian McCann and right fielder Jason Heyward, fresh off his rookie season.
With a starting rotation led by Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe, the Braves should be solid in this area as well.
To help out in the bullpen, the Braves also signed Scott Linebrink who had a 4.40 ERA for the White Sox last season.
But even with an improved lineup and pitching, the Braves are going to run into the same brick wall they have been slamming into since 2007: the Phillies.
The Braves could sneak in with a Wild Card spot or miss the playoffs by a thread.
The reigning World Series champs should not have a problem making the playoffs. But a repeat of 2010 is not in the cards.
Several of the offensive weapons they had in 2010 will likely come back to earth.
Pat Burrell has been notorious in his career for having a good year, followed by a bad one. 2011 will be a bad one. And Cody Ross will have cooled off from 2010 his hot streak as well.
The pitching remains spectacular with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez leading the way. Brian Wilson has found his groove as the closer and the bullpen as a whole is good.
The problem with the Giants will be run production. So while they make the playoffs, do not expect Ross to carry them through the postseason two years in a row.
After losing to the Giants in the World Series, the Rangers are going to be hungry for another shot. But they will need bigger bats to get the job done.
The Rangers chose not to re-sign their biggest run producer, Vladimir Guerrero, who racked up 115 RBI in 2010. Josh Hamilton and Mike Young will have to pick up the bulk of the runs.
Pitching is still an area in need of help.
The Rangers added Brandon Webb to the mix, who has missed a lot of time due to injuries. They will be counting on him to bounce back to his 2008 form when he won 22 games for the D-Backs.
Another addition is lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes. In 2010, Rhodes recorded a 2.29 ERA in 69 games for the Reds. Rhodes should be a great boost for the bullpen.
The Rangers should win their division.
With the reigning NL MVP on their side in Joey Votto, the Reds should have another great season. They re-signed many of their 2010 players including Votto, keeping the core of the team intact.
Some new additions are short stop Edgar Renteria and outfielder Fred Lewis.
Renteria won the World Series in 2010 with the Giants and was named MVP of the series.
Ace right-hander Bronson Arroyo also received a new contract this year and will lead the pitching staff. The Reds pitching staff averaged a 4.01 ERA in 2010.
Losing Arthur Rhodes to the Rangers may hurt, but they should still do very well.
The slightly insane and always entertaining Ozzie Guillen will return to manage the White Sox this year. Adam Dunn will join with a new contract that should give the team more offensive pop.
The Sox also re-signed many of their free agents including first baseman Paul Konerko, short stop Omar Vizquel and catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Paul Konerko led the team last year with 111 RBI and 39 homers.
The pitching staff includes four starts who hit double digits in wins, including John Danks and Mark Buerhle. The team ERA for 2010 was 4.09.
In the bullpen, losing J.J. Putz and Scott Linebrink may sting. But they still have Matt Thornton and Sergio Santos, among others, to keep it in check.
The White Sox should either win the division or pick up a Wild Card spot.
With Derek Jeter finally re-signed, Yankees fans can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. The lack of drama can only be a good thing.
Another good thing is the Yankees powerful lineup, which includes Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mark Texeira, who should bounce back after a down-season in 2010.
They also added catcher Russell Martin, who will probably start as veteran Jorge Posada will mostly serve as the DH.
The Yankees made big improvements to their pitching staff with the additions of lefty Pedro Feliciano and right-hander Rafael Soriano. In 2010, Soriano posted an impressive 1.73 ERA in 64 games.
These relievers will be just what the Yankees need to get further into the postseason this year.
The Twins have seen a lot of players ship off to other teams this offseason, including Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy. The three relievers have left a hole in the bullpen.
However, the Twins were able to re-sign starter Carl Pavano so the rotation remains solid.
The Twins also picked up Tyoshi Nishioka from Japan, but how he will perform in the majors remains to be seen.
In addition, the big bat of Jim Thome will return as he signed a one-year deal.
Other sluggers like Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, who were held back by injuries in 2010, should be healthy and back to form.
The AL Central should be a battle with the White Sox and the Twins.
Look for the Twins to win the division.
After a season plagued with injuries, the Red Sox will come back in 2011 with a vengeance.
The Sox made two huge moves this offseason to ensure a playoff run. Acquiring first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego gives the line-up a real charge.
Gonzalez collected 101 RBI plus 31 home runs in 2010. Add Carl Crawford to the mix and the Sox are ready to compete.
Their pitching is equally scary. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz lead the pack and the Sox will also be looking for a rebound year from Josh Beckett.
The Red Sox pitching staff is one of the best in the majors. If everyone stays healthy, the Sox will be a force to reckon with in 2011.
The story of the 2011 Phillies is all about pitching.
As the winners of the offseason Cliff Lee sweepstakes, the Phillies will put one of the best pitching rotations ever seen in baseball on the field in 2011.
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels have the potential to dominate the National League and possibly return the team to their third World Series in four seasons. The combined ERA of these four pitchers in 2010 is a frightening 2.86.
The Phillies offense had a rough 2010 with injuries taking a toll on normally productive players. Look for the core of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard all to have much improved years.
The production of Jayson Werth will be missed as he left for the Nationals and a huge pay day, but the rest of the lineup can pick up the slack.
The bottom line is that, barring injuries, no team can beat the pitching of the Phillies. They are a lock for the postseason.