The Jig Is Up! Why MLB 2011 Will Not Be a Repeat Fluke Season
A Giants/Rangers World Series?
It’s sufficed to say that 2010 was a joke in terms of, well, everything. Fantasy owners and baseball fans shouldn’t stress–2011 will be nothing of the sort.
Last season in baseball was like an M. Night Shyamalan movie; you never knew what was going to happen next. This year should turn out like an Adam Sandler movie; same plot, same cast, a couple of laughs, same result, you go home.
Here’s my 2011 playoff preview (Yes, “I’m talking about playoffs?!” and yes, it is February).
The Phillies introduce Cliff Lee ... again.
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
NL East Champions: Philadelphia Phillies
Oh come on, like you really didn’t see this one coming?
They still have Howard, Utley and Rollins in the lineup, and now they have one of the best rotations in MLB history.
I just want to throw out that I said Roy Halladay was going to win 25 games and the Cy Young–the day after he was signed.
So he won only 21 as well as the Cy. But beyond his wins, let’s look at the games he didn’t win: “Doc” lost five games in which he surrendered just three runs or fewer, and had two no-decisions in games he allowed two runs or fewer.
Now I’m not saying he should win every time he is out there, but you should expect some offensive support from a the two-time defending NL champs, with still, one of the best lineups in baseball.
Bottom line: When Cliff Lee is your No. 2, your team is stacked.
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein (left) welcomes Boston's newest weapon, Carl Crawford.
AL East Champions: Boston Red Sox
It makes me gag to say it, but it is the sad reality.
Signing either Carl Crawford or Adrian Gonzalez would have been enormous for this club, so they said, “Screw It!” and got both. Leaving the rest of the division, well, screwed.
The Orioles had a nice little run towards the end of 2010, but neither Showalter nor Vlad will get this team into the playoffs. They're in the most competitive division in the league, and perhaps all of MLB.
Toronto's Jose Bautista was my first "fluke" of 2010. This year he won’t sniff 50 homers this year. Or 40. Maybe 30.
The Rays lost Crawford to the Sox, Rocco Baldelli retired, and Matt Garza and Carlos Pena have both found new homes.
The Yankees have a good squad, but there’s still too much dysfunction and uncertainty to make them division champions.
Add in Kevin Youkilis and a healthy Dustin Pedroia? And the Red Sox easily have the best lineup in the AL (and the best in the bigs in my eyes).
They got the pitching that will get the job done for this team. Something tells me I'll be seeing the Sox quite a bit this year.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
NL Central Champions: Cincinnati Reds
Joey Votto was a man amongst little children last year, and should continue to be the hoss that he is. But he is not my Red to watch in 2011…
And no, it’s not Jay Bruce either…
It's centerfielder Drew Stubbs. So his average could use a little boost, but that’s all you can argue about this kid.
Like the Madden franchise had the “Cover Curse,” over the years MLB has this attachment to stellar seasons of players at the age of 27.
Take last year for example. Some 27-year-old studs included Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Adrian Gonzalez, Casey McGehee, Jered Weaver and I thought there was one more…
Oh yes, NL MVP Joey Votto.
Stubbs has already proven he can hit 20 HRs, score 90 runs, drive 75 of them in, and swipe 30 bases. The question is, can he reach that elusive “30-30” plateau?
The Reds sit in the toughest division in the NL, but with the inevitable absence of Albert Pujols in St. Louis, I don't see how the Cards can get get back to the playoffs. Albert or no Albert, the Cardinals are not my dark horse in this division...
NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey (left) talks things over with "The Freak"
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
NL West Champions: San Francisco Giants
Maybe Tim Lincecum should just settle for winning a Cy Young, or a World Series ring, because apparently he can’t have his cake and eat it too.
“The Freak” had less-than-par year in 2010 depending on how you look at it; going 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA and 231 strikeouts. Yet despite a "mediocre" season, his team stunned the world by winning the Series.
The Giants possessed two of my “flukes” from last year; Lincecum struggling for one, and the fact that they actually won the World Series. I assure you, history will not repeat itself.
Lincecum may very well win his third Cy Young, but he certainly will not add another ring to his hand. Aside from the reefer, the championship should relax Lincecum and relieve some of the stress on questions saying whether he can ever win a ring.
The Giants were just a bunch of good, not great, players that put it altogether when they needed too; that, an the Padres going into a coma down the stretch (And no, don't even say they were like the Yankees of the late 90s).
San Fran will limp into the playoffs, and that’s only thanks to a weak division and the departure of Adrian Gonzalez in San Diego (Say “Thanks, Theo!”)
All-star Vernon Wells will make a new home in the USA this year
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
AL West Champions: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
They have the longest and most aggravating name in all of baseball, and my vote to win the division in 2011.
Like the Giants, the Angels will benefit from a weak division - only weaker.
The defending AL champion Texas Rangers (rolls eyes) lost their golden goose and reason for even making to the World Series in Cliff Lee, as well as Vlad Guerrero, who came out of nowhere with his All-Star season last year.
I'll admit, I predicted the Mariners to win the division in 2010 (it was a preseason pick), but I figured with Lee, Felix Hernandez, Ichiro, and Chone Figgins, it was an educated prediction...talk about your all-time greatest backfires.
When Ichiro hits 15 points below his career average and still outhits the next player by 50 points, it's safe to assume your team sucks.
Oakland gets an "A"...for average.
A hollow victory for the Halos indeed...
Manager Ron Gardenhire (left) thinks Brian Duensing (right) has had enough
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
AL Central Champions: Minnesota Twins
Justin Morneau is healthy, Joe Nathan is healthy, and Joe Mauer is, well, Joe Mauer. The table is set for the Twinkies to feast on the AL Central.
Minnesota's rotation bailed them out last year, especially with former MVP Morneau out of commission most of the year. The question is, "For real? or Fluke?"
I say they're for real.
Detroit is their only real competition, and even then, I still think the Twins tame the Tigers.
I'm looking for infielder Danny Valencia to make a huge impact for this team, and Fantasy owners. Carl Pavano on the other hand? Not so much...
AL Wild Card
A new face will take the reigns this year
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
AL Wild Card: New York Yankees
The DJ Drama has subsided, resolving just one of the laundry list of issues the Yankees will have to deal with.
First off, now that he's signed, what the hell are you going to do with him? Rumors say he'll move to centerfield, following the footsteps of Chipper Jones, and former teammate Alfonso Soriano, who were swapped out of the infield.
Rumors are also saying that his next-door neighbor, Alex Rodriguez will make the move with him, only to right. I mean I know they're a little desperate for quality outfielders, but really?
The Bombers made a string of short-term signings in the offseason that included relief pitcher Rafael Soriano, catcher Russell Martin, outfielder Andruw Jones, and (washed up has-been), I mean pitcher Bartolo Colon.
I agree with the "low risk, high reward" logic, but gambling on Colon is just a waste. The others provide some sort of quality to the staff, whereas Colon is just a fat, out-of-shape pothole in their rotation.
Winning the wild card won't be easy, but it is certainly attainable.
Their rotation is one big question mark. CC Sabathia should be fine, as long as he only pitches in the Bronx, and Phil Hughes can only be as effective as the Yankees allow him to be. A.J. Burnett needs a lobotomy to fix whatever issues he had last year, and Ivan Nova will be tossed into the deep end for the first time.
Pettitte is gone, which cripples their postseason staff, and nobody ever knows what they'll do with Joba Chamberlain.
NL Wild Card
Bobby Cox waves goodbye to the place he's called home for the last two decades.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
NL Wild Card: Atlanta Braves
For the first time in over two decades, the Braves will take the field of battle without Bobby Cox as their fearless leader. That job now belongs to Fredi Gonzalez.
Other changes for Atlanta include the signing of Dan Uggla from Florida. While I find him to be a Fantasy plague, Uggla could be the missing piece to the Bravos' staff.
They have a well-rounded rotation, which now includes a healthy Jair Jurrjens. The young guns in Atlanta will have to step up and put up veteran numbers to get them atop the "best of the rest."
Their lineup has all the keys necessary to form a playoff team, they just need to find the right lock. Brian McCann and Chipper Jones are coming off down seasons, two All-Stars the Braves have relied on for years.
Jason Heyward had a very successful rookie season, despite turning just 21 during the year. The "J-Hey Kid" can easily be a 30-100-100-20-.300 player if he plays all year. The opening season jitters, (if any) are now gone, paving the way for a solid year.
My dark horse this year is the Milwaukee Brewers.
I've liked their team for a little while, but now with the addition of Zack Greinke, the Brew Crew might surprise more than a couple of people.
They're young, very talented, and more than anything, hungry. The Brewers haven't seen the playoffs since 2008, when the Phillies handed them an early 3-1 series exit.
I wouldn't be shocked to see the Brew Crew in October.
ALDS: Boston Hexes Halos
ALDS: Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Since 2004, Boston and Halos have met in the postseason three times, with the BoSox posting an impressive 9-1 record in their three victories. Unfortunately for the Angels, it is doubtful that trend will change.
Boston will beat up on the Angels' lack of pitching in what I predict to be an easy series win.
Zacchio says: Boston takes out the broom with a 3-0 series sweep.
ALDS: Another One Bites The Dust
Boom goes the dynamite!
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
ALDS: New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins
On a similar note, the Yankees and Twins are no strangers to each other in the postseason either. Since 2003, the Yanks have compiled a 12-2 record in their four series victories against the Twinkies.
And again, on a similar note, it is doubtful that will change this year.
The Twins pitching is too inexperienced and inconsistent (I know, pot calling the kettle black) to topple the Bronx Bombers.
Whatever issues the Yankees have throughout the year, they manage to put behind them come playoffs. A trait that has made them the champions they are.
Zacchio says: New York, New York wins 3-1.
NLDS: Screw Brotherly Love
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
NLDS: Philadelphia Phillies vs. San Francisco Giants
Losing sucks. Losing in the NLCS sucks. Losing the NLCS at home probably takes the cake.
After seeing the Giants celebrate victory on their own turf last year, you can bet the Phillies will be out for blood this year.
Since the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they could have, and should have easily represented the National league in the fall classic every year.
Meat Loaf may have said, "two out of three ain't bad," but I think "three out of four" sounds much better.
To put it lightly, there is no chance in hell of the Giants beating the Phillies; unless Cody Ross hits about 12 home runs. San Fran might squeak out one game if Lincecum is on and gets plenty of run support.
Philadelphia is just too good to lose...now at least.
Zacchio says: Phillies sweep the defending World champions 3-0.
NLDS: Reds Tomahawk Braves
Ol' Dusty will look to bring his Reds deeper into the playoffs this year
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
NLDS: Cincinnati Reds vs. Atlanta Braves
If my bold predictions up to this point indeed hold true, this will be my favorite match up to watch. Two young teams that can look like All-Stars in one inning, and Little Leaguers the next.
There is a shot of Atlanta winning this series, but they will have to come to play. The Reds may be sloppy at times, but in the end, they have five games to get the job done.
I'm going on the assumption that the Reds don't screw up too bad and are hungry to make a deeper run in the playoffs.
Zacchio says: Reds win 3-1.
ALCS: The Rivalry Continues
One of the most iconic homers in Yankees history
Al Bello/Getty Images
ALCS: New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox
Arguably the biggest rivalry in all of sports, whether you're 9 or 90, you know these two hate each other.
In the Super Bowl, many were predicting a low-scoring contest between the two best defenses in the league, when it turned out to be a high-scoring affair.
Like the Super Bowl, I'm thinking the opposite.
Both the Red Sox and Yankees can hit, we know that.
Both Fenway and Yankee Stadium are bandboxes, again; we know that.
While some will expect this to be won by who hits the most, I'm predicting this will be won by the pitchers. Whichever team can keep their composure on the mound will head to the World Series.
Zacchio says: Boston wins 4-3. (I really hope I'm wrong)
NLCS: The Hunt For Red "Doc"-tober
Roy Halladay (34) hugs his catcher Carlos Ruiz (51) after tossing a no hitter in the NLDS
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
NLCS: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds
A rematch of last year's divisional series, the Phillies and Reds should meet again, only this time with higher stakes.
The Phillies disposed of the Reds quickly, and very painfully 3-0, including a no-hitter from Phillies ace Roy Halladay.
As a team the Phillies out-hit the Reds 21-11, outscored them 13-4 (including two shutouts), and made just three errors as opposed to seven by Cincinnati. In 2011, the Phillies will be bigger and much better than they were last year.
The Reds had a good run of it last year, but it makes people question whether they can be as successful, or even more. No matter how they get to the NLCS, running over teams or squeaking by, the buck stops here.
The Phillies are the better team, the more experienced team, and the hungrier team; end of story.
Zacchio says: Phillies romp the Reds 4-1.
World Series: "East"-Bound and Down
Brad Lidge drops to his knees after winning the 2008 World Series
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
World Series: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Boston Red Sox
I don't care if it features the Boston Red Sox, if this is the 2011 World Series I will be glued to the TV for every out.
Last season I watched maybe four innings in total; four innings more than I promised myself I'd watch. I am a Yankees fan first, a New York fan second, a baseball fan third, and a Boston hater fourth. I like watching good baseball, I can't help it.
I'd rather watch this series battle it out as I expect it to, than watch the Yankees sweep someone in the World Series.
There's no fun in a sweep. Yes, I'm stoked my team won, but I like the drama building up of a Game 6 or 7 or a come-from-behind win. Any true baseball fan will agree with me.
Like the ALCS, we know these teams can hit, but the pitching is so very different that it will determine this year's champion. In football and basketball, defense wins championships; in baseball, it's pitching.
Last year established Roy Halladay as the greatest pitcher of this generation. He became the first person since Nolan Ryan in 1973 to toss two no-no's in one season.
Entering the 2010 postseason, Cliff Lee was 7-0 in 64.1 innings with three complete games, 67 K's, just seven walks and an abysmal 1.26 ERA.
He got rocked last year, but I mean he was on Texas. Roy Oswalt was also undefeated in postseason play (4-0) before last year.
Cole Hamels, an NL version of A.J. Burnett, turns it on in the second half and in the playoffs...do you remember 2008?
They have the bats to beat them and the arms to overpower them: the Phillies will be the 2011 World champions.
Zacchio says: Phillies win World Series 4-2.