2011 MLB Predictions: American League Division Winners and Award Favorites
The NFL season has come to an end and mainstream interest in the NBA continues to plummet each and every year. Therefore, most devoted sports fans will start to turn their attention to professional baseball and the 2011 MLB season.
That's right! Spring training is here with the first full team workouts beginning this weekend.
Baseball spring training means new preseason favorites and predictions for the upcoming 2011 MLB season.
Most baseball writers, bloggers, experts and so-called experts will be publishing their predictions for the 2011 baseball season if they haven't already.
Most of their predictions for 2011 will be the product of in-depth research into the statistics, sabermetrics and results of the 2010 season, along with one-on-one interviews with professional baseball players and personnel. Due to their position as respected members of the media, it is important to note that their predictions will be completely free of bias and random thought.
The predictions for the 2011 MLB season you will soon dive into are almost solely based on bias with little to no research. I can tell you for a fact that I have not interviewed one front-office member of a single major league club, nor did I attend the winter meetings.
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 below Vin Scully and somewhere far ahead of the guy who doesn't know what WHIP stands for.
You're still reading? Fantastic! If you have made it this far, then you are probably at the edge of your seat waiting to see my predictions for the 2011 baseball season.
Drum roll please, here are my 2011 MLB predictions for the American League:
AL East: Boston Red Sox
No team in baseball made more noise than the Boston Red Sox did this past offseason.
What may be even more exciting for Red Sox fans is the fact that the New York Yankees barely made a whimper outside of the internal bickering between Derek Jeter, his agent and Brian Cashman.
The Boston Red Sox and Theo Epstein looked like geniuses when they pulled of the biggest trade of the decade (so what if it's only a year old) by acquiring Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres.
Then the team made the second biggest splash of the offseason by signing superstar outfielder Carl Crawford from the division rival Tampa Bay Rays.
With the addition of Gonzalez and Crawford, along with Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia returning from injury, look for the Red Sox to have the most intimidating offense throughout the season.
Their entire pitching staff from 2010 is returning, and while you might expect a slight decline in Clay Buchholz's stats, you're almost guaranteed to see better seasons from Josh Beckett and John Lackey. Also, don't be surprised if Jon Lester seriously competes for the 2011 AL Cy Young Award.
AL East Roundup
Baltimore Orioles: Other than the Boston Red Sox, no other team in the AL East, or maybe even the American League, improved more during the offseason than the Baltimore Orioles. Mark Reynolds, Derek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero and JJ Hardy are all upgrades from the 2010 season and their uber young pitching staff and Matt Wieters have another year under their belt.
But for the most part, they are too young with no experience with winning. Any other division and they might compete for third or even second, but not in the AL East.
New York Yankees: The New York Yankees are still feeling the chill of Cliff Lee's cold shoulder and now will be without Andy Pettitte after announcement of his retirement.
However, even with an offseason widely considered to be an epic bust, the New York Yankees enter the season with nearly the exact same lineup and rotation as the one that won them 95 games in 2010.
With the ability to score close to 900 runs this season, there is no reason to believe the Yankees won't compete for the division or Wild Card.
Tampa Bay Rays: The Tampa Bay Rays lost both Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena during the offseason, two of the cornerstone pieces to their 2008 World Series run. They also lost Jason Bartlett, who was an above-average shortstop at the plate, and traded away Matt Garza. Expect a career season from Evan Longoria, but it won't be enough to get this team any higher than fourth place in the best division in baseball.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays are beginning their ascent into baseball relevance and may have made the biggest addition by subtraction during the offseason by dumping Vernon Wells' contract onto the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, freeing up tons of salary space for future free agent and draft signings.
Look for Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero to break into the spotlight along with a whole lot of home runs from the hitters. Chicks should really dig this team in 2011.
AL East Division Standings
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees*
3. Toronto Blue Jays
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Baltimore Orioles
*AL Wild Card
AL Central: Minnesota Twins
Their turning Japanese. I think they're turning Japanese. I really think so.
The Minnesota Twins made the most out-of-character move this offseason by signing Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a shortstop from Nippon Professional Baseball, to take over for JJ Hardy at one of the most important defensive positions on the field.
If Nishioka is more Suzuki than Matsui, the Twins could find themselves in a position to compete for the World Series.
And if Nishioka is a bust? Well, they should still win the AL Central, since after all, when it comes to the pure Xs and Os of Major League Baseball, there may not be a team that does it better.
Simply put, the Minnesota Twins make you beat them because they refuse to beat themselves.
Their pitching is sufficient with Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano and Scott Baker, and their bullpen should be excellent with Matt Capps and the return of Joe Nathan.
Another big return is Justin Morneau to the starting lineup, who, along with Joe Mauer, should help carry the team to its third straight division title and seventh in the last 10 seasons.
AL Central Roundup
Chicago White Sox: Kenny Williams finally got his man when he signed free agent Adam Dunn to the Chicago White Sox during the offseason, but is it enough to snatch the division away from the Twins?
I don't think so. I don't see Paul Konerko repeating his 2010 season or Carlos Quentin playing in more than 110 games. It also seems unlikely that at this point in his career Jake Peavy is the kind of guy you can count on week in and week out to be on the mound every five days.
Detroit Tigers: The Detroit Tigers improved their already solid lineup with the addition of Victor Martinez during the offseason, which should only improve Miguel Cabrera's stat line in 2011, maybe enough so to earn him his first MVP Award.
As far as pitching goes, the Tigers have Justin Verlander and not much else in the rotation or the bullpen. Max Scherzer could arise as a solid starter and the team will need him to to compete. Pitching wins championships—and divisions—and the Tigers don't have it.
Cleveland Indians: The best news for the Cleveland Indians this offseason was Shin Soo Choo avoiding his mandatory military duty for South Korea. Other than that, well...actually that's it.
Kansas City Royals: After trading David DeJesus and Zack Greinke during the offseason, the Kansas City Royals have without a doubt the best farm system in all of baseball.
What does that mean in 2011?
Mainly that the Kansas City Royals should be pretty bad. But good things—maybe even great things—are on their way for a franchise in desperate need of hope.
AL Central Division Standings
1. Minnesota Twins
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Kansas City Royals
AL West: Texas Rangers
Cliff Lee decided to take his talents to South Beach, or wait, I mean Philadelphia, giving the Texas Rangers the old, "It's not you, it's me routine" before packing his bags and heading east.
That didn't cause the Rangers to call it quits in the offseason, though.
They went out and signed one of the best third basemen in baseball in Adrian Beltre and traded for the most prolific power-hitting catcher in baseball, Mike Napoli.
Napoli was oft-ignored in Anaheim, but in Texas, in a hitter's park, he could shine as one of the best offensive catchers in all of baseball.
He won't have the average of Buster Posey or Joe Mauer, but he might have double the home runs and anywhere from 15 to 25 more RBI. Combine that with a lineup featuring reigning MVP Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler and Michael Young and you have some horrendous matchups for opposing pitching.
The pitching staff took a hit with the loss of Lee, but Nolan Ryan and Mike Maddux have shown the ability to find diamonds in the rough before and should see continued success from CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter.
And, if need be, the Rangers can bring Neftali Feliz out of the bullpen and into a starting role.
AL West Roundup
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels missed out on both Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre in free agency before trading both Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to the Toronto Blue Jays for Vernon Wells (Napoli would later be traded to the Rangers).
With Vernon Wells, the team takes on a massive contract along with a major logjam in the outfield with Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter and Peter Bourjos.
Dan Haren and Jered Weaver should carry a somewhat strong rotation, but in the end, the success of the Angels will be determined by Kendry Morales' performance.
If all goes well, they may compete for the division or go head-to-head for the AL Wild Card with the New York Yankees.
Oakland Athletics: The Oakland A's got better on offense with the additions of Josh Willingham and David DeJesus, but neither player is talented enough to take Oakland to the same level as Texas or Anaheim in the division.
Oakland has one of the best young pitching staffs in the league with Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson, which could cause the team to break out like the San Diego Padres did last season.
Seattle Mariners: The Seattle Mariners know they will get 200+ hits from Ichiro Suzuki, 200+ strikeouts from Felix Hernandez and 200+ headaches from Milton Bradley. Otherwise, there are far more questions than answers.
Justin Smoak is still extremely young and Chone Figgins is an absolute mystery. If those two have nice seasons, maybe the Mariners will make some noise, but nowhere near enough to compete for the division or playoffs.
AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez
What do you get when you take a .284 career hitter in the prime of his career, averaging 35 HR the past five seasons and 100 RBI from the most pitcher-friendly park, and drop him into the best lineup in the AL in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the MLB?
You get the 2011 AL MVP—otherwise known as Adrian Gonzalez.
Comparing the Boston Red Sox lineup to the San Diego Padres is like comparing, well, the Boston Red Sox lineup to the San Diego Padres. The gap is simply immeasurable.
Then consider the differences between Fenway Park and PETCO, and what you have is a recipe for success.
Adrian Gonzalez will likely bat cleanup after Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Carl Crawford. It's hard to imagine three better table-setters in the league, and the trio should provide a whole lot of RBI opportunities.
I wouldn't be surprised to see 140 or more RBI from Gonzalez along with 40+ HR by season's end.
Then consider that he will have Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz hitting behind him, providing protection as well as scoring him, and you should see at least another 10+ runs this season over his career average.
Get excited, Red Sox fans. I expect a season for the ages from Adrian Gonzalez in 2011.
AL Cy Young Winner: Jon Lester
That's right. I am picking the Boston Red Sox to not only win their division but sweep baseball's two most prestigious AL player awards in 2011—the MVP and the Cy Young Award.
The last time both the MVP and Cy Young came from the same team was in 2005 when Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols accomplished the feat with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Last season—outside of ERA (3.25 compared to 2.27) and wins (19 to 13)—Jon Lester had very similar numbers to 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez and an almost equal season to runner-up CC Sabathia, with 28 more strikeouts (225 to 197).
Were it not for the Red Sox running out of contention for their division in late August and early September due to injury, I assume you would have heard Lester's name discussed amongst Cy Young candidates.
I do still believe that Felix Hernandez is the best pitcher in the AL and will put up overall better statistics than Lester in most categories in 2011, but by a much narrower margin, so much so that Lester's 20+ wins will be too much to ignore compared to Hernandez 13, 14 or 15. Also, the Red Sox should win their division while the Seattle Mariners will be out of the race sometime in June.
Thanks to a dominant lineup, Lester will have the lead in a large majority of his starts and, thanks to a fantastic bullpen featuring Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon and John Danks, his leads should be safe after the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
If the Red Sox win 100 games, don't be surprised if close to a quarter of them are from Jon Lester.
AL Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Hellickson
Predicting the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year is a fairly difficult endeavor considering very few rookies in the AL are expected to break spring training on a big league roster.
Candidates that come to mind include Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees, Tsuyoshi Nishioka of the Minnesota Twins and Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays have already reported that Jennings will start the season in the minor leagues, but, due to trading Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs, there should be an available rotation spot for Hellickson to win in spring training.
If he makes the rotation on Opening Day, Hellickson should be in the driver's seat for the 2011 AL ROY based on his brief stint in the big leagues last season.
In four starts with the Rays in 2010, Hellickson compiled a 3-0 record along with a .766 WHIP, 2.05 ERA and 25 K.
He then went on to appear in six games out of the bullpen where he didn't fare quite as well. In the end he wound up with a 4-0 W/L record, 1.10 WHIP, 3.47 ERA and 33 K. Still, not too shabby.