MLB Predictions: Picking the Division Winners and Wild Cards for the 2011 Season
Spring Training is underway for the 2011 Major League Baseball season and fans of teams everywhere couldn't be more excited.
A new season means a new slate for each team. Whether you're a diehard fan of the perennially poor Pittsburgh Pirates or a fan of the re-loaded Red Sox, each club begins exactly the same.
With a fresh start and pine tarred bats, all 30 clubs are hitting the ground running in the hopes of bringing home a World Series trophy.
Who are the early favorites to secure a postseason berth?
AL West: Oakland Athletics
The Athletics might have finished in the cellar of the division last season, but things are about to be a whole lot different in 2011.
The team boosted its offense immensely with notable additions in Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus. Additionally, incumbents Cliff Pennington, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Coco Crisp will look to build off of very promising 2010 campaigns.
But that's not even the team's strength. This young starting pitching staff really came of age last season and with another year under their belts they should be poised to be even stronger. Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill are looking to become the next "Big Three" in Oakland and the first since the days of Mulder, Hudson and Zito.
With a strong bullpen last season and an even stronger one this season—with the additions of Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour—the A's stand to be a force atop the American League West.
Predicted Finish: Oakland, Texas, Los Angeles (Anaheim), Seattle
AL Central: Chicago White Sox
It seems that no matter what roster moves are made in the offseason in the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins always seem to come out on top. Not this time.
The White Sox went out and re-signed a still productive Paul Konerko, brought in slugger Adam Dunn on a very affordable deal and a retained a revamped Alex Rios bolstering the middle of the lineup. Outside of Juan Pierre, every hitter in the lineup is capable of producing double digit bombs, so there aren't a lot of bats to pitch around.
Additionally, a healthy Jake Peavy will do wonders to stabilize the top of the ChiSox rotation. With a budding star in John Danks and the veteran Mark Buehrle, one through five, these might be the most talented pitchers that the team has boasted in quite some time at the start of a season.
The bullpen is strong with Chris Sale and Matt Thornton at the back end and the White Sox should be able to secure 90+ victories with ease.
Predicted Finish: Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Cleveland, Kansas City
AL East: Boston Red Sox
This one is rather easy.
The additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in the same offseason for an already good Red Sox lineup has opponents fearing every trip to Fenway.
With arguably the best lineup in the American League (and perhaps all of baseball) to pair with one of the best bullpens in the league, there's no doubting that the Red Sox are going to be good. Closer Jonathan Papelbon will have plenty to prove with newcomer Bobby Jenks and the future finisher Daniel Bard breathing down his neck.
While some are making the bold prediction that they will win 100+ games, everything is going to have to align itself perfectly for the team to even come close. It's certainly not impossible, but that doesn't make it probable, either.
Regardless, they should definitely collect enough tallies in the win column to come away with the American League East crown ahead of those perennially talented Yanks.
Predicted Finish: Boston, New York, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Baltimore
AL Wild Card Winner: New York Yankees
Every season it's the same song—will the Yankees' starting pitching hold them back from a potential World Series run?
Granted there are three legitimate question marks in the rotation outside of C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, but this offense is more than capable of picking up the slack. With Curtis Granderson fully adjusted to his new digs, a healthy Alex Rodriguez in the fold and Derek Jeter eager to silence his critics, the lineup will be fully fueled to win.
The oft-questioned bullpen has also been given a complete makeover with the additions of Pedro Feliciano and Rafael Soriano, meaning that it's no longer a weakness.
On paper, the team was actually worse last season and they still managed to win 95 games.
NL West: San Francisco Giants
Stud closer Brian Wilson is close buddies with actor Charlie Sheen, so it's no wonder he's all about winning.
In all seriousness, this is hands down the second best starting rotation in MLB.
Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez put on a show in the postseason that resulted in a championship, and there's no reason to think that the magic won't carry over into 2011.
If free agent pickup Miguel Tejada can pick up the slack for Juan Uribe (LAD) and Pablo Sandoval can rebound after a down season, they're already have a better offense than last season.
And frankly, it's scary to think about what Buster Posey will be capable of doing given a full season.
Predicted Finish: San Francisco, Colorado, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona
NL Central: Cincinnati Reds
This is a special Reds team that has the potential to be very good.
With an impressive lineup that includes Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and reigning MVP Joey Votto, the team can count on a ton of production from its youthful core. It also appears that OF Drew Stubbs is ready to blossom, and productive veterans Scott Rolen and Jonny Gomes still bring it everyday.
The team also possesses a pitching staff that surprised many last season. Now with Edinson Volquez fully healthy and re-integrated into the mix, they stand to be even better. Much like the lineup, the nucleus of the staff (Volquez, Cueto and Leake) are all very young, which is a good sign for the long term outlook of the club.
If there is a season where the Reds stand a definite chance to dethrone the Cardinals, this is it. One thing is for certain—this is the most competitive division in baseball.
Predicted Finish: Cincinnati, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Chicago, Houston, Pittsburgh
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
Meet the best pitching staff in all of baseball.
When Cliff Lee re-upped with the Phillies, he gave the already favored Phils an even larger upper hand. Lee, Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt are the most fearsome foursome to toe the rubber in quite some time for the same club.
On the offensive side, the team has some serious concerns. Jimmy Rollins' OPS has declined in three straight seasons, Ryan Howard is already looking like he's overpaid and Raul Ibanez is appearing to be dead weight in left field.
Having said that, they should hold up just fine, especially when the starting rotation is as strong as it is.
Predicted Finish: Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta, Florida, Washington
NL Wild Card Winner: Milwaukee Brewers
They might not only win the Wild Card, but the Brewers should be considered a sleeper to win the whole thing.
Adding Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to the starting rotation to pair with Yovani Gallardo was absolutely brilliant given the prices to acquire each, and now provides the Brewers with a very bolstered bunch heading into 2011.
The offense is primed to be outstanding. Assuming Rickie Weeks can stay healthy and continue to grow, the newly extended second baseman should provide outstanding value at the top of the lineup. With Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Prince fielder holding down the middle, opposing pitchers are certainly going to have their hands full.
The only question mark for this promising team is the inexperienced bullpen, but things should shake out quite favorably for this season's Milwaukee Brewers.
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