The 2011 MLB season is just around the corner with an unprecedented Thursday beginning this year, adding a little bit of hype to an already interesting campaign ahead.
While we can all agree that the Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox, and Giants will probably fight for an appearance in the Fall Classic, what is debatable is who else will be throwing their hat into the mix.
- Can the Orioles shake things up in the AL East?
- Are the Cardinals dead in the water without Wainwright?
- Can the Braves usurp the Phillies for the division?
- Are the Padres ready for a post season appearance?
- Can the White Sox make it, or are the Twins in line for another postseason showing?
- Are the Athletics this year's breakout team...(I think so)
These are just some of the story lines going into the 2011 season, and all of this will hinge on the pitching staffs.
So let's take a look at how each team plans on putting their best foot forward on opening day.
Also, for all of you fantasy baseball fans out there, you can use this slide as a template considering any of these guys will give you some extra days in fantasy competition.
If you need any additional advice, please feel free to check me out here!
The Phillies open their 2011 schedule Friday, April 1st against the Houston Astros with Roy Halladay likely to be the opening day starter despite no confirmed mention as of yet.
Halladay is 1-1 with a 1.69 ERA against the Astros in his career.
The Astros are a very scrappy team offensively, and can hit the ball well when they want too. But the Astros are also a team that whiffs quite a bit too (ranked 4th in Spring Training at the time of this article).
This bodes well for a guy (Halladay) who has averaged 7.7 strikes per nine over the last three years.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has yet to name an opening day starter for their showdown with Washington on Thursday, March 31st, but all signs are leaning towards the veteran Tim Hudson.
There has also been speculation of Derek Lowe being the opening day starter, and quite frankly, the way these two guys are pitching it’s a tossup right now.
Between the two pitchers combined, only two runs have been allowed through the last nine innings with both veterans looking very sharp.
Hudson, in his last start, featured his full array of pitches and certainly made a case to be nominated as the opening day starter, while Lowe is another start away from opening up the flood gates.
Either way, the Atlanta Braves will be a serious team to deal with if they remain healthy this year.
Josh Johnson has clearly established himself as the staff ace over the past two years, compiling a 26-11 record with an astounding 2.67 ERA.
While the Johnson has not yet reached his peak form in spring training, the likelihood of Johnson opening the season for the Marlins is very high.
The Marlins will open up the 2011 season against…
Mike Pelfrey and the Mets…how about that for a segway?
Pelfrey was given the nod a while ago, and could wind up having to lead this squad if Johan Santana can’t make it back this year from recovery.
Pelfrey had a banner year in 2010 finishing with a 15-9 record and a 3.66 ERA to go alongside, but the consensus is, he’ll revert back to his more apt status as a career 50/50 pitcher in 2011.
I don’t know what’s more amazing: the fact that this guy is still pitching, or the fact that he gets the opening day nod…again!
While I get the fact that Hernandez is basically an inning eater, what I don’t get is why they haven’t moved him to a more preserved type of a role ala Jose Contreras to the bullpen.
The Nationals have more than enough firepower to play with anyone, but they’ll need to have an equal compliment of pitching to remain competitive for 162 games.
At 36, I don’t think Hernandez will hold up.
Obviously the new staff ace for 2011 it’s a no-brainer that Chris Carpenter gets the nod.
Carpenter has been dealing with some minor hamstring issues this spring, but has otherwise is fine and ready to open the season against the red-hot hitting Padres.
Carpenter still remains a top notch ace, who hasn’t had a losing season since 2002
Yup, that’s right kids Ryan Dempster gets the nod, NOT Carlos Zambrano.
Dempster has been a solid source of consistency for the Cubs over the past three years or so, and that could be one of the many reason why GM Mike Quade decided to go with him over the volatile Zambrano.
Ryan Dempster does get hit, and at times struggles with walks, but throws a ton of strikes and keeps the ball in the park which will be vital to the Cubs’ success this year.
So far, this spring, Dempster is holding an impressive 1.50 ERA.
The progress has been slow, the recovery has been long. But despite all of that, Volquez is slated as the opening day starter for the Reds.
Dusty Baker has nothing but shear confidence for the flame thrower, and with good reason.
When the kid is on, he does nothing but throw strikes, but his achillies heel has always been his command, which, he has been working on in "B" games in spring training.
I have a good feeling the kid is going to explode out of the gate, and give the division all they can handle.
The consensus is Wandy Rodriguez, but Rodriguez’s recent issue with slight shoulder tendinitis throws up a bit of a red flag with me. That type of injury—albeit very mild—has a long history of returning unexpectedly.
Myers would be a fitting replacement should the Astros have to explore such a thing.
There have been rumors of possible interest in Myers from the New York Yankees, but nothing has really materialized.
Myers is coming off of a career best season where he went 14-8 with a 3.14 ERA and will face off against his old team; the Philadelphia Phillies should he get the nod.
Paul Maholm get the nod as the Pirate opening day starter despite a terrible 2010 campaign where he went 9-15 with a 5.10 ERA.
In fact, Maholm will be looking for his first winning season as a MLB pitcher after going six straight years without a single season above .500.
Maholm is hopeful to also land a new contract or extension with the club, but probably won’t receive one unless he drastically improves.
Well the Zach Greinke experiment is currently on hold, so the Brewers have opted to go with Yovani Gallardo as their potential opening day starter.
Gallardo didn’t have a bad year in 2010 finishing with a 14-7 record with a 3.84 ERA and 200 strikes, so he makes for a fine replacement.
He does, at times, struggle with command and needs to dig himself out of trouble a little better if he wants to elevate to ace status.
Mat Latos doesn’t only get the nod as the opening day starter, but also gets a prime chance to lead this team as a potential staff ace.
The only thing standing in the youngster’s way is his mild bouts of inconsistency, and health issues.
While Latos has remained healthy this spring, he admits that his mechanics are still a bit off, which will need to be settled before his showdown with the hard hitting Cardinals
Still, it’s a great way to start the year if he can mow them down.
Clayton Kershaw opens the season against the World Series champion Giants, and is primed for a breakout season, if he can consistently drum up some good stuff.
The danger behind Kershaw is his ability to keep the ball down and in play, while at the same time, throwing a ton of strikes.
If fellow pitcher Ted Lilly can return to form, this will be a nice one-two punch for a Dodgers team that desperately needs it on the mound.
No guess here, huh?
I don’t know what I could say that people don’t already know about the kid other than he is a HOFer in the making, and is the backbone of this Giants team.
Wait, I know.
His dad used to put a dollar bill on the ground in front of him to help him concentrate on his mechanics as a kid.
The Diamondbacks are worlds away from announcing an opening day starter, but may just go the safe route with veteran Joe Saunders.
Last year was a miserable year for Saunders as it was his first losing season, but one could attribute that to a tumultuous trade road.
Then again, it isn’t as if he’s been lighting things up this spring either, and he’ll have to do much better if he is to stave off Daniel Hudson, who is also in line for the assignment.
Another no-brainer here Jimenez is almost a sure thing as the first guy on the mound this season, despite the Rockies being hush-hush on their plans for an opening day starter against the D-Backs.
Jimenez was cruising along the first part of the 2010 season before a systematic decline.
This spring, however, he’s been lighting things up and has yet to allow a run while also increasing his strike count.
Jimenez throwing more strikes? Now that’s scary.
The Yankees will open their season against the Detroit Tiger on Thursday, March 31st and staff ace C.C. Sabathia will be leading the way.
Sabathia has had an up and down spring, but that’s to be a bit expected as he continues to get back to form.
In his career, Sabathia is a four time All-Star with a career 157-88 record alongside a 3.57 ERA. Sabathia is as dominating on the mound as they come, and he will be crucial to the Yankees success this year.
The Red Sox have a tough opening day assignment as they square off against the Texas Rangers in Texas, but thankfully for them they’ll have Jon Lester on the mound.
Lester has been nothing short of amazing garnishing 15 plus wins in each of his last three seasons, while keeping his ERA under 3.45.
The Red Sox are expected to contend and possibly make it all the way to the Fall Classic, but they’ll need Lester all year long to make that happen.
The Orioles have a good chance of causing some raucous in the AL East this year, but will need a big year from their pitchers, namely from Jeremy Guthrie, who is slated for the opening day assignment.
Ideally, the O’s would like the 2007 version of Guthrie who went 7-5 with a 3.70 ERA and 123 K’s, but anything close to that would be suffice.
If any other version of the 31 year old rears its head, the Orioles could be sitting at the bottom of the division again this season.
Ricky Romero had an up and down 2010 campaign that saw him go 14-9 with a 3.73 ERA, but he feels he is ready for a much better 2011 season.
He’ll need to do better than his current 7.20 ERA in three spring training starts if that’s to happen.
Romero has the stuff to bring to the table, but consistency has always been a concern. But in order for the jays to keep up in the division, they’ll have to have a solid year from Romero.
David Price had a spectacular 2010 campaign for the Rays going 19-6 with a wonderful 2.72 ERA which is exactly what the Rays are looking for this year out of him.
Again, in this division you have to be on top of your game all year long as the Rays found out last year, so a solid pitching staff led by a solid ace is paramount.
Price is struggling in spring training right now, but should get things together in my opinion before his opening day matchup against the Orioles.
Mark Buehrle will more than likely get the nod as the opening day starter, and at age 32, he is the staff veteran who will need to be a bit better than average if the White Sox are to contend.
The White Sox have the offensive power to do just that, but Buehrle will have to work on cutting down his hits per nine, and ERA, to help catapult the White Sox to the next level.
The Giants have the beard,; the Twins have the ‘stach’…well they did anyway.
Pavano had a solid year in 2010 and the Twins are hoping he can build on that success for 2011. Pavano is the type of pitcher who can go deep, eat up innings while managing the game with his off-speed stuff to supplement his career 5.7 K per nine rate.
So far this spring, Pavano has looked incredibly sharp, which is good news for the Twins and their fanbase.
Justin Verlander has put together two solid seasons for the Tigers and will begin the 2011 season against the Yankees on opening day, with lofty expectations.
The right hander is a big-time strike thrower who is very hard to hit (7.6 H/9 career) and doesn’t give up the long ball a lot (0.6 HR/9 career).
It will be interesting to see just what Verlander does this year considering how solid he has been this spring.
Fausto Carmona has always been an up and down pitcher for the Indians which leaves a bit of curiosity on the table as to why they haven’t really reached out for another pitcher with better consistency this off-season.
The Indians are struggling right now with their pitcher in spring training. The squad is very young and inconsistent and they haven’t really shown anything this spring to suggest they have turned a corner.
I predict that this squad will get things together around August, but will still be a year or two away from contention, if not longer.
It’s do or die time for the former first rounder, who is likely to get the nod as the opening day arm for the Royals.
But Hochevar has struggled heavily to establish himself as a force in the bigs since entering in permanently in 2008.
The Royals will have to run with a patchwork rotation (Bruce Chen really being the best of the bunch) until their prospects are done baking in the oven, but will at least do some damage with Billy Butler and company leading the bats.
Mark my word, the kid will get the nod this year, not Trevor Cahill.
Gonzalez began turning heads in 2010 after he did a total 180 from his 2009 campaign, improving upon every MLB category.
Gonzalez is even lighting things up in spring training as he has now struck out 13 batters in 9 1/3 innings.
I gotta tell ya, this Athletics rotation looks very dangerous and there is no reason to think they won’t challenge for the division title this year.
Where did this guy come from?
Prior to his breakout 2010 season where he went 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA, Wilson was just 12-20 with a 4.30 ERA and a horrid 2.04 SO/BB rate as a bullpen guy.
Perhaps the starting gig was all he needed.
With the absence of Cliff lee, the Rangers will need all the help they can muster up from their rotation if they are to stave off the A’s, and even the Angels.
As usual, King Felix gets the nod for the Mariners on opening day in a huge showdown with Gio Gonzalez and the Oakland Athletics.
I’m calling it now, game of the week if you like pitching.
The Mariners won’t contend this year, but are in the process of building a team that can in the years to come, with Hernandez leading the way.
Jered Weaver will get the nod on opening day against the Kansas City Royals.
The starting rotation for the Angels this year is potentially deadly with last year’s strikeout king (Weaver) leading the way, but they will have to put in 162 games in order to keep with the pace.
Jered Weaver, on the other hand, is poised for another solid year and should set the bar for the other Angels’ pitchers.