Baseball's Best: What Team Will Win the World Series in 2011?
With pitchers and catchers getting into the swing of things in Arizona and Florida, baseball fans are beginning to prep themselves for the return of Major League Baseball, now just a month and a half away.
And with Spring Training only a few short weeks away from starting up, in earnest, fans of baseball's elite teams begin to dream of fall glory for their favorite squads.
Baseball's "Fall Classic" was full of firsts in 2010, with the Texas Rangers making their first ever World Series appearance.
And, lest we forget, the San Francisco Giants finally captured their inaugural title in San Francisco, ending a championship drought that began following their 1954 Championship.
This year, seven teams in Major League Baseball will try to bring home their club's first championship.
For the eternally suffering fans on the north side in Chicago, the Cubs will begin their quest anew to end the century-plus championship drought at Wrigley.
Multiple teams can make a run at the title come October, but only one team will survive to be crowned the champions of baseball. With that said, here's the five teams most likely to bring home the Commissioner's Trophy in 2011.
New York Yankees
The Bronx Bombers have pieced together two very good seasons back to back in New York, winning the 2009 World Series, and appearing in the American League Championship Series this past year.
However, the Yankees have a number of concerns to address before the team could make a serious run for a championship.
After missing out on Cliff Lee, the Yanks failed to solve their starting rotation problem. What may be worse though for New York is their lineup—it's growing old.
The cornerstones of the traditional Yankee dynasty—Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada—are shells of their former selves. Alex Rodriguez will turn 36 in 2010, and may also begin to degrade on the field.
Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano will be dangerous in 2011, and Alex Rodriguez will continue his pursuit of Home Run #660. But the Yankees themselves may be in danger of missing out on the postseason altogether if they don't make a trade for pitching help in July.
After struggling to return to the postseason following their last NL East Title in 2005, the Braves made a return to the postseason in 2010.
And although Bobby Cox is no longer at the helm, the franchise is definitely sitting pretty for the next few years.
With solid starting pitching and a major offensive weapon in Dan Uggla being added, Atlanta could be a threat in the National League.
However, one of Atlanta's biggest drawbacks is their division: they'll be playing in what may be baseball's toughest. The Phillies have one of the best starting rotations in baseball history lined up for 2011, and the Marlins—despite losing Uggla—have their most promising youth movement underway since the championship team from 2003.
Atlanta will struggle to match their 2010 success level, which may cost them a shot at returning to the postseason.
5. Cincinnati Reds
Professional baseball saw a revival in Cincinnati in 2010, as the "Big Red Machine" awoke for its most serious title run since the 1990s.
Despite bowing out quickly to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Reds didn't lose any significant pieces from their 2010 squad without finding replacements.
The bullpen and starting rotation are still decent, and mashers like Jonny Gomes and Joey Votto will continue to put up some good numbers at the Great American Ballpark. Bronson Arroyo and Edinson Volquez can anchor Cincinnati's pitching staff, making the Reds legitimate contenders of repeating in the NL Central.
Look for 2010 World Series MVP Edgar Renteria to have an impact year, as he returns to the National League Central where he really evolved into an All-Star.
4. Detroit Tigers
Though a lot of people aren't sold on the Detroit Tigers, the addition of Víctor Martínez to a lineup that features Carlos Guillén, Magglio Ordóñez and Brandon Inge should concern every fan base in the American League.
For some reason, it seems that the team is flying under the radar, just as it did in 2006. Could the Tigers make a similar run in 2011?
For starters, their pitching will need to improve for Detroit to make the postseason.
Snagging Joaquin Benoit to supplement Joel Zumaya in the bullpen was critical to help their starting rotation out. If Justin Verlander and Brad Penny perform up to expectations, the Tigers will be in contention all year long.
The biggest question mark revolves around Detroit's competition in the tight American League Central.
The Chicago White Sox were incredibly streaky in 2010, and the Mauer-Morneau combination in Minnesota will be a constant threat to take the division. But Detroit seemed to have made the most upgrades in the offseason, and it's those moves which may propel them into a surprising run in October.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
Believe it or not, the Phillies may have a tough time getting out of the National League East, let alone the National League.
While casual fans of the sport may be aghast at such a statement, the simple fact of the matter is that the Phillies failed to address the loss of Jayson Werth in the outfield, while also failing to get significant help in the bullpen.
Jimmy Rollins has to be a more consistent offensive presence, and Ryan Howard must fill the void left offensively in the middle of the order.
Having said that, though...
You might have heard about Philadelphia's starting rotation, featuring not one, but four staff aces.
With Cole Hamels on the ballclub, Philly was a solid team. Adding Roy Halladay to the mix made Philadelphia a favorite to win the National League pennant. Securing Roy Oswalt from Houston was becoming a little unfair to the rest of the league.
Adding Cliff Lee? We've seen fantasy teams that weren't as stacked in the rotation as Philadelphia. Their rotation can easily eat up innings like no one's business, and provide quality starts four out of five turns in the order.
2. San Francisco Giants
Baseball hasn't been too kind to World Series champions in the past decade. You have to go back to the start of the new millennium in 2000 to find a team—the New York Yankees—that successfully defended their title.
For the San Francisco Giants, life wont be any easier in 2011 than it was in 2010, with the costly losses of Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe, two of the team's big contributors to the championship squad.
However, the addition of Miguel Tejada will provide a veteran presence in the clubhouse, and the Giants will have their big guns back in the rotation for 2011.
If Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum were anything like they were in 2010, the Giants are already looking good. But the real ace in the hole for the Giants is that they don't fear the Philadelphia Phillies, since they upset them in the National League Championship Series.
Even the addition of Cliff Lee wont phase them too much, considering they shut him down too in the World Series.
San Francisco has a very good chance to outlast all challengers in the National League, provided they remain healthy and get solid production out of their young lineup.
1. Boston Red Sox
It's time to make an official prediction: for the third time since 2004, the Boston Red Sox will win the World Series.
It's a night-and-day shift from the previous generation of title-starved Sox fans, but these Red Sox aren't the same team as they were before the "Idiots" changed Beantown forever.
On the surface, Boston's third place finish in the AL East may have seemed like a disappointing year. And it was, to be sure.
But the rash of injuries that Boston worked through was nothing short of insane.
That the Red Sox finished as well as they did is a testament to how good Boston was to begin with. Now, Boston's left-handed lineup is almost as impressive offensively as the Philadelphia Phillies' starting rotation is pitching-wise.
The additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are two coups for Theo Epstein, and will replace the loss of Victor Martinez from the order.
David Ortiz will finally start a season without the injured wrist that has plagued him for two years now, and both Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury will be healthy—something neither man could say in 2010.
The starting rotation can match up with just about anyone in baseball, including the Phillies.
John Lackey will be looking to build on his first year in Boston, while Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka are sure to improve from subpar performances in 2010.
With Clay Buchholz and ace Jon Lester anchoring the rotation, and with Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler adding depth to a solid bullpen, the Red Sox will set the pace in the American League, and are the odds-on favorite to capture the title in October.