This is an exciting time of year for me personally, because for all intents and purposes, baseball season has arrived.
Since that is the case, I thought that I would not waste any time and state my opinion of who the contenders and possible playoff teams are going to be in the 2011 MLB season, starting with the...
National League West
With Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez anchoring their starting pitching, and Brian Wilson ("The Beard") as the closer along with Buster Posey expected to have a big year, the Giants are the clear favorites to repeat as division champs, if not world champs.
I see no reason to disagree with that.
The Rockies have some good young players like Troy Tulowitzki and Urbaldo Jimenez, who set four different single season records on the mound, while the Dodgers need big years from Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andre Ethier, and especially Jonathan Broxton—their core group—in order to contend.
The Padres and the Diamondbacks? They'll be competitive, but will take the proverbial back seat.
National League Central
This is a division that is up in the air.
Many people were picking the Cardinals, who have baseball's best all-around player in Albert Pujols, to win here, but the injury to pitcher Adam Wainwright was devastating in my view.
St. Louis will be in a dogfight with the Brewers and the Reds, who are young, talented and most importantly, hungry.
MVP Joey Votto is a stud in Cincinnati, and I can't wait to see Aroldis Champman and his 105 mph fastball, while as long as Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are in Milwaukee, that team will have a chance.
The Astros won't be in the mix, and it will be another year, their 67th in a row, without a pennant for the Cubs.
In case anyone is keeping track, this season will make it 103 years since a world title came to Chicago's North Side.
The Pirates? Eighteen consecutive losing seasons is very sad indeed, and they will make it 19 this year, but unlike in 2010 I don't think they will lose 100 games.
National League East
Going into spring training, everyone had the Phillies, with a starting pitching staff that includes Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cy Young Award winner Roy Halliday—essentially three aces—going to the World Series, and I was no exception.
With All-Star Chase Utley and top rookie Domonic Brown out with injuries, however, that mindset needs to be rethought as the Braves, with young studs like Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, will make this division race a battle.
I see one of these two teams coming in first, with the other team getting the Wild Card.
The Marlins and the Mets won't be able to hang with Philadelphia and Atlanta, and the Nationals will likely finish in last place, although 2012 and 2013 may be big for them with Stephen Strasberg and Bryce Harper ready to make a real impact by then.
American League West
After the Rangers lost Cliff Lee to free agency following their first World Series appearance in 2010, I thought that would leave the door open for the Angels to regain the top spot, particularly after they signed Vernon Wells.
Now with Kendrys Morales still out with that broken ankle, I feel it will be a true two-team race between Texas and Los Angeles (or more accurately, Anaheim); how far the Angels go may well depend on how fast Morales' ankle heals, though they'll be formidable anyway, as will the Rangers and their MVP stud Josh Hamilton.
To paraphrase the Lakers' legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn, the A's and the Mariners have two chances in the A.L. West—slim and none—and slim has left the building.
American League Central
This division is the Twins' to lose, as has been the case the past two seasons.
Michael Cuddyer and Joe Mauer are in their prime, and with Justin Morneau just about ready to return from his concussion, Minnesota will be loaded again.
The White Sox, with Paul Konerko, Mark Buerhle and new pickup Adam Dunn, and the Tigers with Magglio Ordonez, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, if he stays out of trouble, will give the Twins a good fight, but I think Mauer and company will ultimately prevail.
I'm going to pick the Royals over the Indians for fourth place and put Cleveland in the division cellar, because Kansas City has some good young talent in their pipeline that I think will pay dividends down the road.
American League East
For Red Sox and Yankees fans, order has been restored due to the fact that financial reality has set in for the Rays, as guys like Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford became unaffordable and left via trade and free agency.
With David Price being top-notch on the mound and with veterans like Manny Ramirez around, Tampa Bay is still good enough to finish third.
Meanwhile, it will be another war between New York and Boston.
With Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez joining Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and a strong pitching staff in Fenway Park, I'm picking the Red Sox to not only win the division, but to go to the World Series.
I should expect to be made an honorary member of Red Sox Nation now.
Sure, the Bronx still has Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, and pitcher C.C. Sabathia more than earned his multi-millions, but I feel that Boston has just a bit too much; I see the Yankees settling for the wild card.
As for the Blue Jays and the Orioles, they both have solid teams, and Baltimore strengthened themselves with Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, but once again they are in the wrong division.
There it is folks, one fan's view on how Major League Baseball will play out this year.
As always, there will be disagreements, but that's OK. I'm just glad that baseball is upon us, as I was getting a little tired of basketball and hockey.
I reckon there's nothing more to say except, "Play Ball!"
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!