As the NFL season draws to a close and national interest in the NBA continues to plummet on an annual basis, most avid sports fans will begin to direct their attention to baseball and the 2011 MLB season.
Yes! It's finally that time of year, with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training earlier this week.
Baseball spring training means new preseason favorites and predictions for the upcoming 2011 MLB Season.
Many baseball pundits, experts and so-called experts will be publishing their predictions for the 2011 season if they haven't already.
Most of their predictions for 2011 will be the result of intense scrutiny and research into the statistics and results of the 2010 season, as well as direct interviews with professional baseball players and personnel.
It is important to note that their predictions for the 2011 MLB Season will have little to no bias.
Well, the predictions you are about to read are almost solely based on bias and little to no research. I most certainly haven't spoken to or interviewed anyone working in the MLB.
Unlike Ken Rosenthal or Tom Verducci, my Rolodex contains only the phone number for Pizza Hut and my friend Steve.
I definitely have watched my fair share of the sport over recent years and would like to think of myself as a knowledgeable fan.
Which is to say, in terms of understanding baseball, I probably rank somewhere between Peter Gammons and the guy who jumps out of his seat every time a ball is popped up into the air thinking it is a home run.
Please, don''t be that guy.
With that being said, you are probably at the edge of your seat waiting to hear my predictions for the National League in the 2011 MLB season.
No-brainer? Of all the predictions I will make for the 2011 MLB Season, choosing the Philadelphia Phillies to win the NL East is probably the easiest, requiring little to no brain function. So, partial-brainer, you might say.
Although the Phillies did lose Jayson Werth to the Washington Nationals during the off-season and should be somewhat thin in terms of right-handed hitting, it's all about the pitching, as San Francisco can attest.
The addition of Cliff Lee to a pitching staff already featuring Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels makes Philadelphia not only the favorite for the NL East, but potentially the NL Pennant and World Series.
How you like them cheese steaks?
NL East Roundup
Atlanta Braves: The Atlanta Braves should be competitive most of the season with the addition of Dan Uggla and are likely to remain in the NL Wild Card race through September. The maturation of Jason Heyward along with the health of Chipper Jones will go a long way toward the team's success.
Their rotation should be solid with Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe, but the back of their bullpen is a mystery at the moment after the retirement of Billy Wagner.
Florida Marlins: The Florida Marlins traded away their best run producer—Dan Uggla—to a division rival and should pay the price throughout 2011 and years to come. Young talent like Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton will show signs of brilliance, but not enough to carry the team.
After Josh Johnson, the pitching rotation gets pretty thin and Ricky Nolasco simply cannot be depended on for an entire season.
New York Mets: The New York Mets will start the season healthy with Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran, but odds are that won't last past May.
Johann Santana is unlikely to make his first start until mid-June, resulting in a fairly dismal starting rotation with either John Niese or Mike Pelfrey as the team's ace.
Washington Nationals: The Washington Nationals are at least another two seasons from being competitive with Stephen Strasburg on the shelf for the entire 2011 MLB season and Bryce Harper another season away from the major leagues.
Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth were both good additions in the offseason, but there is simply no way the team can compete with the Philadephia Phillies or even the Atlanta Braves.
NL East Division Standings
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves*
3. Florida Marlins
4. New York Mets
5. Washington Nationals
* National League Wild Card
With the value of pitching never more evident than in 2010, the Milwaukee Brewers took an aggressive approach to the 2011 off-season, trading a majority of their blue chip prospects for proven major league pitching talent in Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.
Farm system? Forget about it. The Brewers are all in this year.
Entering the 2011 MLB Season, the Brewers will have three 2010 Opening Day starters on their roster, along with Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson rounding out the rotation.
Combine the refurbished pitching staff with Prince Fielder in a contract season and with Ryan Braun looking to bounce back from a "down" year in terms of his standards and what you have is the second best team in the NL to only the Philadelphia Phillies.
Expect new manager, Ron Roenicke, to make use of the team's speed that—under the guidance of Ken Macha—had been ignored for the past two seasons. You should see a team as equally aggressive as the Texas Rangers in 2010 during their World Series run.
A NL Central Division Title is most certainly brewing in Milwaukee this season.
NL Central Roundup
Chicago Cubs: The Chicago Cubs downgraded at first base from Derek Lee to Carlos Pena and have a veteran lineup prone to injury. Starlin Castro could develop into a star and Tyler Colvin and Geovany Soto both look like solid contributors for years to come, but it is unlikely to be enough this season.
Matt Garza is a nice addition to the pitching staff, but Carlos Zambrano will once again prove to be a headache and should either get in a fight with his teammates or destroy a Gatorade cooler by mid-May.
Cincinnati Reds: Everything went the Cincinnati Reds way in 2010. Call it a hunch, but I just don't see it playing out that way in 2011. Scott Rolen won't provide as much offense as he did in the first half of last season and there are question marks at left field and shortstop with Jonny Gomes and Edgar Renteria.
Mike Leake and Travis Wood are both unlikely to repeat their 2010 performances and the team's most exciting young arm—Aroldis Chapman—has been relegated to bullpen duty after the loss of Arthur Rhodes and the pending implosion of Francisco Cordero.
Houston Astros: The Houston Astros are in a rebuilding phase with Wandy Rodriguez as the ace of the pitching staff and Carlos Lee lumbering around the outfield. While Hunter Pence is a talented baseball player, he isn't the type that can carry a MLB team.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pittsburgh Pirates, well ... they're the Pirates. Andrew McCutchen will only get better and Pedro Alvarez should be an exciting hitter, but their pitching staff is years and years away from making any noise.
James McDonald could surprise with a dominant performance here and there and Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan are sensational in the back end of their bullpen. Unfortunately for the Pirates those two are unlikely to get many opportunities to close out victories.
St. Louis Cardinals: The St. Louis Cardinals got better at shortstop in the off-season with Ryan Theriot, but otherwise did little else to improve their second-place team from a year ago as Lance Berkman's prime is miles in his rear view mirror. I also expect the impending free agency of Albert Pujols to become a distraction as the season wears on, despite contrary reports from the team.
I have my doubts as to whether Jaime Garcia is as good this season or whether Chris Carpenter pitches in 30 games. After that, there is a serious drop off in pitching talent, with Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse rounding out the rotation.
NL Central Division Standings
1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Of the three National League divisions, the NL West is definitely the hardest to predict in the 2011 MLB Season, but, in my opinion, the winner will be the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers didn't make the flashy signings or trades like the Milwaukee Brewers or Philadelphia Phillies, but did improve their pitching rotation with two solid starters—Ted Lilly and Jon Garland—that should give them a very good, if not great starting staff behind Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley.
LA also improved at second base with the signing of Juan Uribe and should be better at catcher with a healthy Rod Barajas starting the 2011 season.
But, where they should improve the most is with a full season of health from Andre Ethier along with a clean slate for Matt Kemp, who—for whatever reason—had an odd relationship with Joe Torre despite possibly being the best overall baseball player in the division.
Kemp and Ethier should become one of the more dynamic duos in baseball in 2011 and lead the LA Dodgers in an otherwise offensively challenged division.
NL West Roundup
Arizona Diamondbacks: 2011 will be a rebuilding season after trading both Dan Haren and Mark Reynolds, along with choosing not to resign Adam LaRoche. Justin Upton is still one of the most-talented young players in all of the MLB and will take over as the face of the franchise.
Daniel Hudson and Joe Saunders both showed promise in the NL in the second half of 2010 and Ian Kennedy looked like a talented up-and-comer, but it is too early to predict much success for this young staff.
Colorado Rockies: The Colorado Rockies did an excellent job at solidifying the long-term success of the franchise by signing both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to multi-year deals, but did little to improve the immediate future.
Ubaldo Jimenez is a clear-cut ace and much of the rotations success will come down to the performance of Jorge De La Rosa...which probably isn't the best shape to be in. Expect Huston Street to miss at least one month, if not more, on the disabled list.
San Diego Padres: The San Diego Padres lost Jon Garland from their rotation and, more importantly, Adrian Gonzalez from their lineup. The additions of Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson are improvements at their respective positions, but it takes a whole lot of O-Dogs to replace one A-Gon.
Mat Latos could suffer from being overworked in 2010 and the rest of the rotation hasn't shown the ability to perform consistently for an entire season.
San Francisco Giants: The San Francisco Giants lost both Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria in the off-season and will lean heavily on Buster Posey, who could falter due to the dreaded sophomore slump.
If their pitching performs at the level it did throughout August, September and October in 2010 for the whole 2011 season, they will run away with the division. But even that seems unlikely, even with the immense level of talent on the staff.
Brian Wilson's beard, however, will undoubtedly be the best facial hair in all of baseball. So, they've got that going for them.
NL West Division Standings
1. LA Dodgers
2. Colorado Rockies
3. San Francisco Giants
4. San Diego Padres
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
As mentioned above in the articles intro, there will be some bias in these predictions, evidence to the fact with the Milwaukee Brewers picked as the 2011 NL Central Division Champions and Ryan Braun as the 2011 NL MVP.
2011 should be a defining season for both the Milwaukee Brewers franchise and Ryan Braun, as the organization and its players should receive a lot of national attention throughout the season.
No star on the team can shine brighter than Braun and I believe this is the season where he transitions from small-market superstar to national notoriety—if he hasn't already with three All-Star appearances and a 2007 NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Braun will bat third in the Brewers lineup after Rickie Weeks, who had a breakout season in 2010 and Corey Hart, who was an All-Star starter for the NL in 2010 and right before Prince Fielder, who could possibly have the best season of his career before entering free agency with Scott Boras and becoming a top-paid player.
What does that mean? A ton of RBI opportunities, as well as quite a few runs. He projects as a 30+ HR hitter and should return to that level this season, while eclipsing his previous stolen base averages under the management of Ned Yost and Ken Macha.
Expect Ron Roenicke to send Braun running quite a bit, with the potential for a 30/30 season in sight.
NL MVP Voting
1. Ryan Braun
2. Matt Kemp
3. Albert Pujols
4. Troy Tulowitzki
5. Joey Votto
Entering the 2011 MLB Season, the Philadelphia Phillies starting rotation is likely to receive endless praise, along with consideration as the best staff ever assembled in the history of baseball.
The Phillies have four starting pitchers capable of competing for the Cy Young and honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if there is some sort of friendly wager being made between the four right now.
In the end—because he is the best of the best—Roy Halladay will come out victorious, just as he did in 2010.
Fortunately for Halladay, he doesn't have to repeat his season from 2010 in order to win the award since it was one for the ages, with a perfect game along with a no-hitter in the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds.
I expect his stats in 2011 to almost mimic his 2010 effort and the internal competition in the club house to fuel the obvious competitive fire you see in Roy Halladay when he is out on the mound.
With Jayson Werth no longer in the Philadelphia lineup and the status of Brad Lidge always in question, it could cost Halladay a win or two throughout the season, but not enough to knock him off his perch as the league's unanimous Cy Young Winner.
If you read the predictions for the division winners closely, you saw that I am predicting the Atlanta Braves as the NL Wild Card winners for 2011, which obviously means 85+ wins and a lot of save opportunities for the closer chosen to replace Billy Wagner.
Who will that be? Well, it's my guess that it will be rookie hurler Craig Kimbrel.
After two straight seasons of the AL Rookie of the Year being a closer—Andrew Bailey, Neftali Feliz—I think it is time that the NL got into the act and Kimbrel is the perfect candidate.
In fact, I expect an almost identical season from Kimbrel in 2011 as we saw from Feliz of the Texas Rangers in 2010.
Kimbrel doesn't have quite the control of Neftali Feliz and is unlikely to repeat his 0.88 WHIP from a season ago, but it is better than Carlos Marmol, with almost the same potential for striking out batters.
Not to mention that I expect there to be far more save opportunities for the Atlanta Braves in 2011 than the Chicago Cubs.