My 2011 MLB Regular-Season Picks: Yank$ Miss Playoffs, Orioles, Jays Surprise

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My 2011 MLB Regular-Season Picks: Yank$ Miss Playoffs, Orioles, Jays Surprise
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
You may not recognize new Jays skipper John Farrell, but you soon will.

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox 98-64 They added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in the flashy moves. Added Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler in the lesser, but still important depth moves. Lackey still concerns me, and Beckett is an every-other-year-pitcher. I don't think they have the starting pitching depth, but their offense will mask many of their problems, like high ERA's for Beckett and Matzusaka. Simply the best of the rest but I'm not 100% impressed.

2. *Toronto Blue Jays 92-70 Why so high on them? After trading stellar No. 4 pitcher, Shaun Marcum, for the Brewers former No. 1 pick in Brett Lawrie, I see this as possibly having Brandon Morrow-type impact of 2010. No one expected anything from him and look what he did. Rebounded nicely with the Vernon Wells salary dump off which not only netted them Fransisco Rodriguez to a 'pen in need of depth and upgrading but Juan Rivera will have similar production at a fraction of the cost.

On top of that, losing that horrid contract will allow the Jays to re-sign some of the players they might otherwise have lost by offering extensions. Morrow? Snider? We'll see but they always seem to have one trick up their sleeves, similar to the Florida Marlins, when you least expect it. Rajai Davis will be a steal (no pun intended with his speed as an impact under-the-radar addition that finally address a team need. Dotel over Kevin Gregg is a downgrade but Jon Raush was a nice find who can also close, when not if, Dotel blows his job.

Leon Halip/Getty Images
if Showalter's Orioles can figure out their pitching, look out.

3. Baltimore Orioles 85-77 Laugh if you want, but the team upgraded all across the board Derrek Lee at 1st, JJ Hardy at short, Mark Reynolds at 3rd, Vlad Guerero at DH and Gregg as closer. Hardy is the weak link of the bunch but he's still an upgrade nonetheless over Cesar Izturis whose still here for depth purposes but he's back on the bench where he belongs.

Every year a team comes out of nowhere and overachives, see the Reds of 2010 which I correctly predicted, and the A's of this year to which I predict, so why not them? Jason Berken has looked fantastic out of the 'pen in spring training as has Zach Britton (0.64 ERA as a starter). If the pitching can catch up to the offense, who knows how far this team can go? Don't forget they took a flyer on former All-Star Justin Duchscherer, whom the Yankees coveted. If he signed there, y'all would be singing their praises as a good find.

The only reason I don't have them higher is out of respect for the Jays, but both teams should contend for the Wild Card with the Jays lasting longer.Here is a special analysis I wrote on the O's:

 Derrek Lee, JJ Hardy, Kevin Gregg and Mark Reynolds: All Signs of Improving O's

http//bleacherreport.com/articles/566205-derrek-lee-jj-hardy-kevin-gregg-and-mark-reynolds-all-signs-of-improving-os

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Yank$ fan$ better hope he pulls a pro-rated "Clemens" and saves their season

4. New York Yankees 82-80. Think I'm crazy? Let's look at the moves they made. They get no credit for me for re-signing lifelong Yank Derek Jeter, whose coming off a career-low all across the board, and Mariano Rivera since we all know neither was going anywhere.

Sure they salvaged a horrid offseason with the crafty-but-too-late addition of Rafael Soriano who will only lessen the impact of losing Kerry Wood, yes that Kerry Wood, who posted an 0.69 ERA in 24 appearances after coming over from Cleveland before going to the Cubs.

The real key here is the lost leadership from "Automatic Andy" Pettite who not only was dominant in Game 2 on every occasion but he was guaranteed to win more than he lost every year was well. I've never seen a better big game pitcher than him who went 19-10 in the post-season something the Yank$ won't have to worry about with crap like Ivan "not ready yet" Nova, Mark "take a flyer" Prior, or Bartolo "I can't believe they are that desperate" Colon. Unless and until he "Pulls a Clemens" and comes back out of loyalty to the Yanks, they are screwed with no No. 4 or No. 5.

5. Tampa Bay Rays 77-85 Don't let the record fool you. Their starting pitching will keep them in games and we all know pitching wins games.

Still with the losses of Jason Bartlett, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford on offense replaced only by an aging Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, these slick marketing moves may be Greg Vaughn and Vinny Casilla II. Don't forget losing Joakim Benoit and replacing him with Kyle Farnesworth(less) is hardly getting by and they still lack a closer. It all depends on how well they do intra-division. If they can steal some games against the better teams, especially NY and Boston, they may have a chance but its going to need small ball, luck, and an injury-free season with al hands on deck, believing.

J. Meric/Getty Images
Even if Tsyoshi Nishioka can't make the adjustment to MLB, his merchandise sales and media coverage alone means the Twins have already won.

AL Central

1. Minnesota Twins 95-67 Last year I missed their projected win total by one. These are my boys and I know my team. We kept Carl Pavano and Jim Thome in fan-friendly moves, but the bullpen took a beating.

At the time of this writing I have no idea whose going to get the final three spots but I have faith in coach Rick Anderson to figure it all out. People will step up whether it be Scott Diamond or Jim Hoey. You are asking "Who?" now but remember, the Twins always overachive despite what it says on paper.

Japanese import Tsyoshi Nishioka could challenge for AL ROY and I expect a lot of hits, OBP and decent defense with Twins fans will have to get used to, seeing how we are usually stellar at infield spots. He won't make anyone forget O-Dawg or overrated-never-fit-in JJ Hardy but his merchandise sales alone from Japan will justify his spot.

What's the over/under on Cuddyer finishing the season at first when Morneau goes down with his annual injury? I say, August 1st at which Morneau wil be hitting .315 or thereabouts. Don't forget this team has cash at the deadline to tweak the roster if need be.

2. Chicago White Sox 92-70 Wouldn't be the AL Central if it didn't come down to a race, right? Their flashy move was adding Adam Dunn in a "You can never have too much offense" strategy. Apparently they plan to hit their way to the top? As the Rockies how that worked before they got pitching.

Twins fans salivate at the thought of facing castoff Jesse Crain nine times at "The Cell" where he'll give up plenty of gopher balls. Their staff is solid as is their lineup with the only question being Jake Peavy's health.

3. Detroit Tigers 85-77 After losing so many free agents last year, actually did quite well in 2010 before Magglio Ordonez got hurt. He's back on a one-year deal. Added Benoit to the bullpen but paid dearly. A full season of Jhonny Peralta (yes that is how its spelled) should help them improve there.

Cabrera's a loose cannon who could distract and Carlos Guillen isn't getting any younger. Johnny Damon's leadership will be missed and I only see three reliable pitchers in Verlander, Scherzer, and Pocello with the latter coming off a bad year which I don't expect him to repeat. The 'pen looks okay but Zumaya's always a question. Victor Martinez doesn't "wow" me, especially in that park.

4. Kansas City Royals 74-88 Every year we hear about how improved they are and how much potential they have. I'll believe it when I see it. Lost Gil Meche to retirement but added Jeff Francis in a bold move with a lot of reward potential.

Re-signed stud hitter Billy Butler and made the sweet farm-system stocking Zack Grienke trade. They'll take their beatings now but Alcides (is their a cooler name?) Escobar and Lorenzo Cain add promise. I could see Cain having Austin Jackson-like 1st year impact with his new team. Still the bullpen is no-named and the rotation is suspect at best. The theme as always is "promise" wit this team.

5. Cleveland Indians 63-99 The 1980's Indians are back from Major League if last year's 93 loss disaster team wasn't enough of a preview. Only added Austin Kearns and Orlando Cabrera as free agent signings. Ouch. Grady Sizemore is back but the starting rotation is a train wreck. Carlos Carrasco shows promise but outside of that, its all over the map.

What can I say about a bullpen I've never heard of? If you look at their numbers, they are actually all pretty good, from Vinny Pestano to Rafael Perez, mid to high three's. This is clearly the wildcard if they can get some offense. Still, they have no starting pitching which is a shame since the kids in the bullpen will be asked to do all the more when they might have something started there. I guess its fitting that they have a pitcher named Joe Smith.

 

AL West

1. Oakland A's 86-76 Added Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus, and Josh Willingham on offense and former Twins Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour to an improving bullpen.

Good mix of youth and veterans. Matsui will be a steal and bring great leadership. I'd write more but I already analyzed them in a separate article you can read here.

AL West: With a Weaker West, DeJesus & Matsui, Can We Just Give The A's The Division Now?

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Did I mention how much I love this move and this team?

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/547662-with-a-weaker-west-dejesus-matsui-can-we-just-give-the-as-the-division-now

2. Texas Rangers 83-79 Why such low win totals? Remember it only took the Rangers 90 wins to win the West last year and that was with Cliff Lee and Guerrero who are both gone. Brandon Webb is already having problems and I never trust Adrian Beltre once he's gotten (over)paid as he has here. Still, this is a whiffe park with an ownership whose committed to winning so its not like they are going fade. Mike Napoli has no role here and needs to get traded ASAP.

3. Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim 80-82 Kendry Morales comes back for a full season and the team will also have Dan Haren for one but they have holes at 3B and Catcher (This is where Napoli needs to go, ironically where he was traded from).

Formerly the best regular-season-team money can buy, is getting old and irrelevant as their window closes. I see a lot of guys like Joel Pinero and Scott Kazmir on their second go-round, or third in Pinero's case. That's never good, then you have Fernando Rodney as closer? Good luck.

4. Seattle Mariners 73-89 Ichiro is the mainstay here and the only reason most nights to buy a ticket. When Jack Cust is your big addition, you know its gonna be a long season. 2/5 of their projected starting rotation, the enigma Erik Bedard and Michael Pineda didn't even pitch last year. Buster Olney has refered to this as the weakest hitting lineup with no depth.

 

NL East

1. Philadelphia Phillies 95-67 Despite the record I give them, like the Red Sox, I'm not sold on them. They have to find a replacement for the lost production of Jayson Werth in right and yet have failed to do so. Chase Utley is hurt already and Rollins is getting old.

I wouldn't be shocked if this team was built for the regular season as we saw what the Braves did with all that hyped pitching, just saying. I'm not sold on Oswalt any time. Nice bench, not.

2. Florida Marlins 88-74 Logic would suggest putting the deeper Braves here, but I won't for two reasons. 1. they always choke and 2. the Fish always overachive. That, and I love the potential Javier Vasquez brings. Sweet 3 for 1 deal of Dan Uggla for former All Star Omar Infante and Mike Dunn.

A reliever and an infielder. Not bad for a guy that wasn't going to re-sign anyway. They did extend Ricky Nolasco and added veteran John Buck at upgrade in catcher. Please tell me Wes Helms isn't really going to start at third? Like the Twins, they'll find a way.

3. Atlanta Braves 86-76 Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman and George Sherrill are their only real additions but all they needed to do was tweak when you are close as they are. Starting pitching is deep, and solid. Bullpen is there too. I question Bobby Cox's lost guidance in big games and Chipper Jones' health but other than that, they'll be in it all year.

4. Washington Natinals (or is that Nationals) 79-83 Yes we know Stephen Strasburg is out until August and Harper won't be up until next year full time, at the soonest. Signed Jayson Werth in a much needed PR stunt. He'll help but his real impact will be if he can help lure Pujols or Fielder away by not only showing you can win in this system but also hit. Why these names? Because Aaron Boone suggested they will be big spenders this offseason.  

Adam LaRoche improves the defense. Jordan Zimmerman back will help but its not 2013 yet. Still, this team is coming along slowly and the minors are starting to get deep.

5. New York Mets 64-98 What a damn disaster. Just ate $24M combined to Luis "I was done in 2007" Castillo and $12M for Oliver Perez who, when he signed his last contract, it was seen as overpaid and controversial way back then. No wonder this team is in financial shambles. Lost John Maine one of only 3 decent starters they have, with Johan "bum elbow" Santana and Doug Pelfrey as the others.

This could be the worst team in the National League, and could challenge overall in MLB. Sure, Jose Reyes is back, but he's a shell of himself. Jason Bay is all they have that consistent but he can't do it all himself and his numbers have proven it (declining). Getting to 2012 with about $60M freed up is the real goal here in an otherwise, lost season.

 

NL Central

1. Cincinnati Reds 90-72 Lost Orlando Cabera but actually upgraded with World Series MVP, Mr. Clutch where-he-goes Edgar Renteria, in a move that got zero press.

Added Fred Lewis for depth but the real key isn't who they signed but who they kept. MVP Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, and Jay Bruce all signed long-term deals the past year meaning this team has staying power for quite some time.

Last year they surprised most-but not me-I had them as the Wildcard pick and they even exceeded that. Only question is how they react to being the hunted since they can't sneak up on people anymore. With a weaker Cardinals team they should be fine.

2. Milwaukee Brewers 85-77 Sure new additions Shaun Marcum and Zack Grienke are hurt now but they will be back. But the damage will be done as otherwise this would have been my Wildcard pick. The Prince Fielder 100 percent certain departure could distract them, if they let it.

Sneakily added Mark Kotsay for depth and stole Yuniesky Betancourt from Kansas City in the Grienke deal. The bullpen could be their undoing, but really, just like the Cardinals and Pujols, the Fielder thing could and should distract them just enough all season from getting in the post-season.

For my optimism on the Nats, Brewers, Padres etc check out:

Busy Brewers, Orioles, and Nats Lead 80's-Like MLB Resurgence of Small Markets

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/547679-busy-small-market-orioles-brewers-nats-lead-80s-like-mlb-resurgence

3. Chicago Cubs 82-80 I was going to put them no higher than 4th but then they made a solid move by acquiring starting pitcher Matt Garza whom they desperately needed. I still believe they need another solid 12-15 game winner to go with Big Z and Dempster as this rotation really only has three solid guys and what if someone gets hurt?

On offense replaced Derrek Lee with Carlos Pena who should mash the ball out of the Wrigley bandbox. Of course, he'll probably also hit .220 so they will have to tolerate his all or nothing play.

He's just a one-year rental until Pujols gets here, as I predict. What better way to stick it to a rival, not to mention hurt them and show fans the "new" "year two" management means business than to sign him? They've got the money don't forget and the motivation. Wood also returns "home" as already mentioned. I don't have any faith in them as usual at least not until Pujols gets here even though I'd rather he go to Baltimore or Washington.

4. St Louis Cardinals 77-85 Pujols probable departure will distract them all year but on top of that, Adam Weinwright's injury was the real death blow. Chris Carpenter will be back 100% but he can't do it all and you just know pitching coach Dave Duncan is going to find some mystery 13 game winner, he was always does. I guess that would mean a Kyle Lohse resurgence part II? Been there, done that? That's all they got.

5. Houston Astros 73-89 Really didn't do anything other than re-sign pitcher Wandy Rodriguez. Astros fans, I'm going to need you to tell me how wrong I am, because I just don't see how you can compete. Yes we know you got hot late last year but that had to have been an aberration.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates 65-97 Wouldn't be the Pirates if they didn't have their rightful place in last that they earn every year. Despite having more talent and being more active in free agency: Lyle Overbay, Kevin Corriea, Matt Diaz, this team will still find a way to lose, they always do.

Until then, I refuse to take them seriously and so should you. Expect them to get out to their usual 12-6 or 15-8 start before the wheels come off. This team is clockwork and hasn't had a winning season since 1992. Kids born that year are sophomores in college now. With the first pick in the 2012 MLB draft...when does the annual fire sale start?

 

NL West

1. San Francisco Giants 90-72 The champs have shown no reason why they should be knocked down especially with their pitching. While it will be hard to repeat, and no one expects them to as they don't have staying power nor are a dynasty in the making, they'll still be in games all year with that pitching.

Chalk this up to a fluke finish and "Lets just enjoy what we had". Nothing more than that. Enjoy it Giants fans, you earned it. You were the better team but this is a new year and you are the hunted. (I am not a bitter Phils fan, by the way either). The crowning of a new champ begins in October.

2. *Colorado Rockies 88-74. Like the AL Central, wouldn't be this division without a close race. Re-signed SS Troy Tulowitzki, pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, and OF Carlos Gonsalez to massive long-term deals which means this team will be a contender for years. Next up, Ace Ubaldo Jiminez who faded down the stretch and lost the CY and his 20 wins which were a lock in June.

Consider them the Reds of the West. They kept who they had to in order to stay relevant. Bravo on a job well done.

3. San Diego Padres 83-79. Somehow this team won almost 90 games and made the playoffs with a $40M payroll. Gone is local legend Adrian Gonsalez but the team recovered as nicely as could be expected with SS Jason Bartlett, 2B Orlando Hudson, and 1B Brad Hawpe. Not bad, on a budget.

Former Marlins minor league phenom Cameron Maybin brings untapped potential and is still just 23. Hitting wise I'm telling you, this team is still solid all around. Where they lack is starting pitching and I doubt Aaron Harang coming home is going to make anyone forget Jon Garland or Kevin Correia both who are elsewhere. I love Dustin Mosley but not as a starter as he's currently projected.

Most of their bullpen has ERA numbers in the one's leading me to believe they can't possibly do that again. They still need two more starting pitchers. Jorge Cantu adds nice depth for first.Don't ask how, just go with it. They'll fade sure, but be amazed how long they last. I say, legitimately, through July.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers 79-83 Losing Joe Torre is bigger than any free agent. His leadership and wisdom will be missed and mistakes will no longer be masked. With a first year manager in Don Mattingly, they don't have the depth to do what former Yankee Joe Girardi did in New York.

Is the McCourt divorce distraction over yet? I can never tell. And how did they afford Juan Uribe in light of all that? Jon Garland found a home here along with Matt Guerrier. They look good on paper, better than San Diego, but I like the former's heart more. Still were still talking about non-playoff teams here, so what does it matter?

5. Arizona Diamondbacks 66-96 The Baby Backs are back, and that's not a good thing Get ready for a long season, Snakes fans. Reynolds is gone and all you got were two kids who haven't proved anything. Trust me. O's fans don't care they are gone. Enjoy David Hernandez. He sucks.

Where you did very well was getting Daniel Hudson from the White Sox in the Edwin Jackson deal. Way to sell high. Also nice JJ Putz deal. Joe Saunders is frustratingly inconsistent but he and Andres Galaraga both get a chance to resurrect their careers in relative anonymity in this no-show environment.

If there was ever a team that could sneak up on someone its them simply because we have no expectations, its here. Melvin Mora? Xavier Nady both starting? What is this? Pittsburgh? Can't you do better than that? Apparently not and that's telling.

 

Post season

AL Wildcard: Toronto Blue Jays

Boston Red Sox vs. Oakland A's: Boston in 4.

Minnesota Twins vs. Toronto Blue Jays: Twins in 4.

AL Pennant: Boston Red Sox over Minnesota Twins in 4.

 

NL Wildcard: Colorado Rockies

Philadelphia Phillies over Colorado Rockies in 4

Cincinnati Reds over San Francisco Giants in 5.

 

NL Pennant: Philadelphia Phillies over Cincinnati Reds in 5.

World Series: Philadelphia Phillies over Boston Red Sox in 5.

 

World Series MVP: Cliff Lee

 

Awards:

AL ROY: Tsyoshi Nishioka, Twins

NL ROY: You've got to think Dominic Brown, Phillies, surrounded with all that protection is going to put up big numbers.

AL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter, Orioles, runner up: John Farrell, Blue Jays

NL Manager of the Year: Edwin Rodriguez, Marlins, runner up: Ron Roenicke, Brewers

AL MVP: Carl Crawford, Red Sox

NL MVP: Carlos Gonsalez, Rockies

Managers to get fired: So many of the usuals: Nationals, Mariners, Astros, D-backs, Indians, Royals are all in their first full seasons. I'm going to go with La Russa and Leyland retiring with maybe the big shakeup being Mike Scoscia, Angels if Arte Moreno gets impatient?

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