MLB Predictions 2011: Phillies Struggle and 50 Bold Predictions for the Season

Daniel LewigCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2011

MLB Predictions 2011: Phillies Struggle and 50 Bold Predictions for the Season

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 01:  Starting pitcher Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the spring training game at Scottsdale Stadium on March 1, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty I
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Every MLB season seems to catch us by surprise. Young players reach stardom before we can even say their name.  Injuries derail players and teams.  Age finally catches up with veterans.  Some “risers” never rise.  And Cinderella teams give us something to root for.

    So what will be this year’s surprises? 

    Here are 50, count ‘em, 50 bold predictions that will grab our attention in 2011.

50) Mariano Rivera Finally Shows His Age

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    TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  Mariano Rivera #42 of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait on Photo Day at George M. Steinbrenner Field on February 23, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    We might as well get the bad news out of the way first.  Every year, some players have seasons they would soon rather forget.  Injuries, poor performance, bad luck, voodoo from an old flame, whatever the case may be, the year becomes a disaster.

    First up on the list is New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera.  Rivera is the most dominant reliever this generation has ever seen.  No reliever has ever been this good for this long as Rivera.  But the warning signs have been coming for a couple of seasons now.  Rivera is only a one-inning pitcher.  His innings have decreased for three consecutive seasons.

    Rivera is still dominant.  But the words that will be added to that sentence this season will include “when healthy.”  DL stints will shorten the Yankees closer's season, as the going on 42-year-old finally breaks down.

49) Joe Mauer Is No Longer a Top 3 Fantasy Catcher

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    FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  Catcher Joe Mauer #7 of the Minnesota Twins warms up during a spring training workout session at Hammond Stadium on February 23, 2011 in Fort Myers, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Don’t get me wrong, Joe Mauer is still a great player. But as catching continues to take a toll on Mauer’s body, it will be hard for him to maintain the offensive side of his game. One of baseball’s premier two-way, all-around players is not slowing down as much as baseball is seeing an emergence of quality catchers. 

    San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey emerged on the scene last year en route to the Giants World Series run.  Before an injury ended his season, Cleveland Indians catcher Carlos Santana showed why he was considered a top prospect.  Add in the Atlanta Braves’ Brian McCann and Mauer has plenty of competition. 

    If looking at fantasy baseball, you can get a better “deal” than Mauer, with even more production.

48) Philadelphia Has the Best Rotation in Baseball...to Not Make the Playoffs

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    CLEARWATER, FL - FEBRUARY 22: Roy Halladay #34 of the Philadelphia Phillies poses for a photo during Spring Training Media Photo Day at Bright House Networks Field on February 22, 2011 in Clearwater, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    The argument has been made and should be made that there is not another team in baseball that has ever assembled a rotation like Philadelphia has put together.  Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels form the best top-four rotation in the MLB. 

    There’s just one problem.  The rest of the team is struggling to hold up their end of the bargain.

    Brad Lidge has left a huge hole in the bullpen, as he will open the season on the DL.  Star second baseman Chase Utley will be joining them.  Touted prospect Dominic Brown doesn’t appear ready.  Jayson Werth was overpaid to leave the Phillies.  Raul Ibanez is just overpaid.  No one knows how Jimmy Rollins will perform following an injury-riddled year.

    If the Phillies can make it to the playoffs, their rotation makes them the team to beat in a short series.  The problem is they may not have enough to get them there.

47) The New York Yankees Will Not Make the Playoffs

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    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 19:  A.J. Burnett #34 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Texas Rangers in Game Four of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 19, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Rangers won 10-3.  (P
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    To further alienate myself from the East Coast, the New York Yankees do not make my playoff predictions.  And before you say "he hates the Yankees" and want to call me every name in the book, just hear me out. 

    The pitching rotation is in shreds.  And before you say "what in the name of Freddy Garcia is going on here," just remember who you are relying on for 60 percent of your season:  A.J. Burnett.  Ivan Nova.  Freddy Garcia.

    Mark Teixeira is coming off a down year, although his 2010 numbers would be career numbers for many.  Derek Jeter is showing signs of age.  If any of the Yankees' veteran core sustain major injuries, their offense may not be able to withstand carrying their pitching for a full season.

46) Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum Will Not Win 15 Games

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    PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 10:  Pitchers Zack Greinke #13 and Shaun Marcum #18  of the Milwaukee Brewers look at fans during the spring teaining baseball agme against Colorado Rockies at Maryvale Baseball Park on March 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Ke
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    It was hard to argue with their moves.  In fact, they were applauded.  Milwaukee finally went out and added not one, but two top-of-the-line starters to their rotation.  They have always had the bats.  Now, they would finally have the pitching.

    Until Greinke decided to pick up a basketball in the offseason.

    Milwaukee already has plenty of reasons to hate basketball (see the Milwaukee Bucks, for example), and Greinke’s ribcage injury is one to add to the list.  Marcum’s shoulder soreness could also be a sign of things to come. 

45) Jonathan Papelbon Will Be Replaced as Red Sox Closer by All-Star Break

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    FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 14:  Pitcher Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the New York Yankees during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at City of Palms Park on March 14, 2011 in Fort Myers, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Papelbon had the worst season of his career in 2010, prompting Theo Epstein to address the bullpen this offseason. 

    Rumors had the Red Sox trying to see if anyone would be interested in taking Papelbon off their hands, only to find no takers.  With former closer Bobby Jenks on board, and promising Daniel Bard waiting in the wings, there will be a short leash on Papelbon to begin the season. 

    If he blows a couple of games in April, he probably will not be in the ninth come May.

44) Mike Quade Doesn't Survive His First Season in Chicago

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 01:  Manager Mike Quade of the Chicago Cubs looks on during the spring training game against the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium on March 1, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Cubs clubhouse already appears shaky, and the season hasn’t even begun. 

    And what makes it so strange is how Carlos Zambrano isn’t even involved.  Quade has a tough job in the Windy City, and he also has antsy new ownership.  It may seem extreme to not be given even a full season, but if Quade appears over his head, new ownership will not hesitate to make another move.

43) Josh Willingham Will Thrive After Trade to Oakland

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    PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 03:  Josh Willingham #16 of the Oakland Athletics hits a 3 run home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the second inning of the spring training game at Maryvale Baseball Park on March 3, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Chris
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    You may not have heard much about Josh Willingham’s trade to Oakland.  And it’s quite possible you may not hear much out of his West Coast adventure. 

    But Oakland has upgraded their offense to match their pitching.  Willingham is a major part of this offense.  Added along with former Kansas City Royals outfielder David DeJesus and designated hitter Hideki Matsui, Willingham adds some much-needed punch to the middle of the Athletics order. 

    Look for a 30-HR season from Willingham.

42) Carlos Pena Regains His Swing in Chicago

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    MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  Carlos Pena of the Chicago Cubs poses for a portrait during media photo day at Finch Park on February 22, 2011 in Mesa, Arizona.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Pena struggled through a rough 2010 season with the Tampa Bay Rays, failing to hit above .200.  Despite that, Pena somehow managed to hit 28 HRs and keep a patient eye at the plate. 

    While Pena will always be a swing-and-miss kind of player, look for more swing and less miss as Pena takes advantage of the friendly confines.

41) Carl Crawford Will Finish in Top 5 in AL MVP Voting

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    FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 14:  Outfielder Carl Crawford #13 of the Boston Red Sox fouls off a pitch against the New York Yankees during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at City of Palms Park on March 14, 2011 in Fort Myers, Florida.  (Photo by J. Mer
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Now that Crawford has the spotlight to go with his $142 million deal, many people will finally see just how good Crawford is. 

    Look for Crawford to be the engine that drives the Red Sox offense this season.  That’s high praise for a guy who will be working with Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.  And he’ll earn it this season.

40) Jayson Werth Will Earn His Contract...at Least in 2011

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    WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15:  Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo introduces Jayson Werth #28  of the Washington Nationals to the media on December 15, 2010 at Nationals Park in Washington, DC.   (Photo by Mitch
    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    The Nationals knew they were going to have to overpay to get a bat in who could support the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman. 

    And now, the National fanbase has 126 million reasons to hope Jayson Werth can be that bat.  These are the same fans who saw Werth help their division rival’s rise to the top over the past several seasons.  Now, they hope Werth can do the same in Washington.

    Batting in front of Zimmerman will only help Werth.  Look for Werth to live up to his contract with a 30-30 season in 2011.

39) Adam Dunn Will Lead the MLB in Home Runs

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    GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 11:  Adam Dunn #32 of the Chicago White Sox during the spring training baseball game against Chicago Cubs at Camelback Ranch on March 11, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    This comes hardly as a surprise, as Dunn has surpassed the 40-home run mark for multiple seasons.  And yet, Dunn always seems underrated and underappreciated. 

    Dunn will be a major reason why the White Sox are thinking playoffs in 2011.

38) Vernon Wells Will Be Remembered More for His Bat Than His Contract in 2011

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    PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 15:  Vernon Wells #10 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim bats against the San Diego Padres during the spring training game at Peoria Stadium on March 15, 2011 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    While many in the media were stunned at the ability of the Toronto Blue Jays to get rid of what was considered an “unmovable” contract—the Angels believed they were getting exactly what they needed.  When Kendry Morales finally returns from injury, the Angels will finally have a lineup that can keep pitchers up at night. 

    The Angels believed Wells was a better deal than what it would have cost for Adrian Beltre.  Look for Wells to post better numbers than Beltre in 2011.

37) Dan Uggla Will Hit 40 HRs in His Debut with the Atlanta Braves

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    KISSIMMEE, FL - MARCH 01:  Dan Uggla #26 of the Atlanta Braves bats  during a Spring Training game against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium on March 1, 2011 in Kissimmee, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The Braves have not had this type of power since the prime years of Chipper Jones.  Uggla adds a power element to the Braves offense that can take them to the next level. 

    Atlanta might finally have the offense it needs to support its young pitching.

36) Jose Bautista Has Another 50-HR Season

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    DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Infielder Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays bats against the Detroit Tigers February 26, 2011 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    While many are concerned about Bautista being a one-hit wonder, many fail to realize Bautista’s homer surge actually began during the second half of the 2009 season.  A change to his stance allowed Bautista to get more lift on the ball, and in doing so, Bautista started to drive the ball with more authority. 

    Don’t look for that to stop in 2011.

35) Jay Bruce Will Emerge as a 40-HR Threat

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    GOODYEAR, AZ - FEBRUARY 28:  Jay Bruce #32 of the Cincinnati Reds gets ready in the batters box against the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark on February 28, 2011 in Goodyear, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    They’ve been saying it for the last two seasons.  And so far, Bruce hasn’t lived up to the expectations.  That hasn’t stopped people from believing it’ll happen soon. 

    Still under 25, Bruce now has a couple of seasons under his belt.  Having a good idea of how pitchers are trying to attack him, Bruce will strike back and garner his first 40-HR season.

34) Brandon Webb Will Be Difference-Maker in 2nd Half of Season

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    SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 25:  Brandon Webb #33 of the Texas Rangers poses for a portrait during Spring Training Media Day on February 25, 2011 at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    It’s amazing how quickly players become yesterday’s news.  If you have one bad season, suddenly you are a blip on the radar screen.  Out with the old.  In with the new. 

    One of the rebound candidates you should keep an eye on is Brandon Webb.  Webb signed with the Texas Rangers in the offseason and will most likely start the season on the DL.  But look for Webb, a two-time Cy Young winner who looks healthy for the first time in nearly three years, to have the biggest impact of any pitcher in the second half of the season.

33) Erik Bedard Will Finally Win 15 Games

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    PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 20:  Erik Bedard #45 of the Seattle Mariners poses for a portrait at the Peoria Sports Complex on February 20, 2011 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The talent has always been there.  The body, unfortunately, has not.  The Mariners gave up Adam Jones and Chris Tillman to acquire him from Baltimore in what seems like many moons ago. 

    Now healthy, Bedard may finally give the Mariners what they have been waiting for.

32) J.J. Putz Re-Emerges as Baseball's Best Reliever

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 21:  J.J. Putz #40 of the Arizona Diamondbacks poses for a portrait at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on February 21, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    As a member of the Seattle Mariners bullpen, Putz was one of the best relievers in the game, saving 76 games in 2006-2007—until he hurt his elbow. 

    Putz finally regained his form as a setup man with the Chicago White Sox last season.  Having earned another opportunity to close, look for Putz to post another 40-save season.

31) Manny Ramirez Will Be Motivated

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    FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  Manny Ramirez #24 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day on February 22, 2011 at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    As with all Manny Ramirez parties, they never last as long as you hoped, and they never come with a parting gift.  And you always leave wondering if it was worth the trip.  But that first hour is always the best. 

    The Tampa Bay Rays don’t have to worry about the party fizzling out.  On a one-year deal, with everyone watching, Ramirez knows he’s got to be on his best behavior if he wants to continue to play baseball in 2012.  Motivated, slimmed down and healthy, Ramirez will remind every pitcher he faces why he is the best right-handed hitter of his generation.

30) Justin Morneau Returns to Form

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    FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  First baseman Justin Morneau #33 of the Minnesota Twins smiles just before the start of the Grapefruit League Spring Training Game against the Boston Red Sox at Hammond Stadium on February 27, 2011 in Fort Myers, Florida.  (
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    All signs have been good so far this spring, as Morneau continues to make his way back towards a major league field.  And even if he doesn’t start out right away in the majors, Morneau will show signs of his old self, en route to another 30-HR season.

29) Kung Fu Panda Is Back

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 14:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the San Francisco Giants warms up before playing against the Milwaukee Brewers in the spring training baseball game at Scottsdale Stadium on March 14, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevork Djansez
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Having lost over 30 pounds, Pablo Sandoval was determined this offseason to show the San Francisco Giants they could count on him.

    After bursting onto the scene in 2009, Sandoval struggled last season, with weight-related and batting average-related problems. Both appear to be in great shape for 2011.

28) Andrew McCutchen Is the National League's Best Outfielder

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    BRADENTON, FL - MARCH 02:  Outfielder Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates fouls off a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at McKechnie Field on March 2, 2011 in Bradenton, Florida.  (Photo by J. Mer
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Every year you see someone like Carlos Gonzalez emerge as one of baseball’s rising stars. In the next four slides are players who are well on their way. 

    It’s been a long time since Pirates fans have had something to bring them to the ballpark.  Young outfielder Andrew McCutchen is a very good reason.  McCutchen already is considered one of the best outfielders in the National League.

      Look for him to take the No. 1 spot this season.

27) Colby Rasmus Climbs Out of Tony La Russa's Doghouse

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    ST. LOUIS - SEPTEMBER 16: Colby Rasmus #28 of the St. Louis Cardinals strikes out against the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium on September 16, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    After a quiet feud between Rasmus and LaRussa, Rasmus appears on the verge of a breakout. 

    Hitting in front of Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols, Rasmus has many good pitches to hit.  He started to take advantage of that last year.  Look for a full-fledged breakout in 2011.

26) Brett Gardner Becomes the Best Leadoff Hitter in MLB

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    ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out in the third inning of Game Six of the ALCS against the Texas Rangers during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 22, 2010 in Arl
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Already playing great defense, Gardner moves up to the top of the Yankee lineup this year.  And don’t expect him to leave that spot anytime soon. 

    With 50-stolen base capability and more, Gardner will represent the best start any team can ask for on offense.

25) Yovani Gallardo Makes Milwaukee Forget About Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum

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    MARYVALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 24:  Yovani Gallardo #49 of the Milwaukee Brewers poses for a portrait during Spring Training Media Day on February 24, 2011 at Maryvale Stadium in Maryvale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Despite the considerable injuries, many teams would love to have Gallardo at the top of their rotation.  Only 25, Gallardo could be a 20-game winner for Milwaukee. 

    I’d settle for 18.

24) The Toronto Blue Jays Win 90 Games

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    DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 20:  Brandon Morrow #23 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses during photo day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on February 20, 2011 in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    A lot would need to bounce the Blue Jays' way, but they have the talent to do it.  If the young pitching can come together like it did for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, watch out. 

    This is the year the AL East becomes four deep.

23) Kevin Youkilis, Not Adrian Gonzalez, Leads the Red Sox in Offensive Numbers

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    SEATTLE - JULY 24:  Kevin Youkilis #20 of the Boston Red Sox removes his helmet after the Red Sox were retired in the eighth inning with two runners on against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on July 24, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Gr
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    It’s surprising how, despite playing for a big-market team, Youkilis is underrated.  When having conversations about the best hitter in the American League, Youkilis’ name does not come up often enough. 

    This season will put him in the same breath as Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton.

22) Matt Thorton Leads the AL in Saves

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    CHICAGO - AUGUST 01: Manager Ozzie Guillen #13 of the Chicago White Sox talks with Matt Thorton #37 and Ramon Castro #27 in the 8th inning against the Oakland Athletics at U.S. Cellular Field on August 1, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Sporting a K/9 of over 10, Thorton will make sure White Sox fans do not miss Bobby Jenks.  And he might just be able to keep Ozzie Guillen from having too many profanity-laced tirades.

21) the New York Mets Will Finish Above .500

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    PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - FEBRUARY 26: Jose Reyes #7   of the New York Mets strikes out against the Atlanta Braves at Digital Domain Park on February 26, 2011 in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Sometimes things happen in a season that are just unexplainable.  You don’t know how it happened.  It just happened. 

    I think the Mets will give me this feeling when they someone manage to finish the season with a winning record.

20) Ted Lilly Finishes Season as Top 5 Pitcher in NL

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    SURPRISE, AZ - MARCH 12:  Pitcher Ted Lilly #29 of the the Los Angeles Dodgers  throws a pitch during the spring training baseball game against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium on March 12, 2011 in Surprise, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Lily produced great numbers with the Dodgers after the trade, which is a sign of things to come.  With a little more offensive support, Lilly could have been a 15-game winner last year. 

    He’ll get that support and then some this year.

19) B.J. Upton Finally Has a 30-30 Season

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    FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  B.J. Upton #2 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day on February 22, 2011 at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Everyone knew it could happen.  And everyone kept waiting.  And waiting.  And now, people wonder if it’s ever going to happen. 

    When the Tampa Bay Rays need him the most, Upton will produce.  Only to start the trade rumors going into 2012.

18) Jeremy Hellickson Wins the AL Rookie of the Year

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    FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  Jeremy Hellickson #58 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day on February 22, 2011 at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Hardly a surprise, Hellickson shows poise unbecoming of a rookie and finishes the season as the best pitcher not named Price in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation.

17) Craig Kimbrel Wins the NL Rookie of the Year

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    ATLANTA - OCTOBER 10:  Pitcher Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Atlanta Braves against the San Francisco Giants during Game Three of the NLDS of the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Turner Field on October 10, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Braves thought highly enough of Kimbrel that they didn’t try to find a replacement for Billy Wagner in the offseason.  They felt they already had one in house. 

    Look for Kimbrel to follow the success of the rookie closers and become the next Neftali Perez or Andrew Bailey.

15) Evan Longoria Wins the AL MVP

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    ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 10:  Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays runs after hitting a two run homerun against the Texas Rangers in the 5th inning during game 4 of the ALDS at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 10, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Phot
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    With veterans like Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez protecting him in the lineup, Longoria adds the next piece of hardware to go along with a Rookie of the Year and a Gold Glove—an MVP trophy.

15) Hanley Ramirez Wins the NL MVP

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    JUPITER, FL - MARCH 24: Hanley Ramirez #2 of the Florida Marlins hits a single against the Boston Red Sox in the first inning at Roger Dean Stadium on March 24, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Ramirez has already put up numbers that are worthy of being an MVP.  He’s hit over .300.  He’s hit over 30 HRs.  He’s driven in over 100 RBI.  He’s stolen over 30 bases.

    Look for Ramirez to get the accolades that go with his gaudy numbers this year.

14) Justin Verlander Wins the AL Cy Young

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    LAKELAND, FL - FEBRUARY 21:  Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers poses for a portrait during Photo Day on February 21, 2011 at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    This Detroit Tigers pitcher was an 18-game winner last season.  He’s continued to improve, and with an improved offense and a better team record, Verlander gets the award for being the AL’s best pitcher.

13) Cliff Lee Wins the NL Cy Young

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    CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 06:  Pitcher Cliff Lee #33 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at Bright House Field on March 6, 2011 in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Everyone has seen just how good Lee is over the past couple seasons. 

    He almost took down New York in the World Series single-handedly.  He got the Rangers past the Tampa Bay Rays in a Game 5 do-or-die situation.  With the move to the National League, Lee will move past even his own teammate, Roy Halladay, to earn the NL Cy Young in 2011.

12) Toronto Blue Jays Manager John Farrell Wins the AL Manager of the Year

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    DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Manager John Farrell #52 of the Toronto Blue Jays watches play against the Detroit Tigers February 26, 2011 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The former Boston Red Sox batting coach has stepped into a great situation in Toronto.  And he will be credited with his team’s rise back to importance for the first time since the mid 1990s.

11) Atlanta Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez Wins the NL Manager of the Year

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    LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Manager Fredi Gonzalez #33 of the Atlanta Braves during Photo Day at  Champion Stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports of Complex on February 21, 2011 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Gonzalez helps the Braves continue where they left off, continuing the long line of dominance Bobby Cox has displayed.  He does a great job trying to fill the very large shoes Cox leaves behind and shows his new team they made the right choice in picking Cox’s successor.

10) Oakland Athletics Win the AL West

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    PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 03:  Starting pitcher Trevor Cahill #53 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers during the spring training game at Maryvale Baseball Park on March 3, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Oakland already boasted the best rotation in baseball last year (led the majors in quality starts), and with the upgrades to the offense and bullpen (added both Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes), Oakland surpasses the Cliff Lee-less Rangers for the top spot in the AL West.

9) The Chicago White Sox Win the AL Central

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    TUCSON, AZ - MARCH 07:  Manager Ozzie Guillen #13 of the Chicago White Sox during the spring training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium on March 7, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Even with Jake Peavy on the shelf, the White Sox have built themselves a team that can compete with the Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins. 

    The addition of Adam Dunn and his impact cannot be understated.  Over the past few seasons, general manager Kenny Williams has made some bold moves, adding Juan Pierre and Alex Rios. 

    The addition of Dunn will put the Sox over the top.

8) The Boston Red Sox Win the AL East

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    NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jon Lester #31 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the New York Yankees during their game on September 25, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Boston is the heavy favorite, after all their upgrades. 

    The crazy part is, even without their upgrades, they still could have been the favorites just on the strength of getting people back from injuries.  Ellsbury, Pedroia, Youkilis and many others spent considerable amounts of time on the DL.  Getting them back healthy will have just as big of an impact as all of the additions they’ve made this offseason.

7) The Tampa Bay Rays Win the AL Wild Card

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    FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  David Price #14 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day on February 22, 2011 at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Maybe it’s just the homer in me, but the Tampa Bay Rays still have a very competitive team. 

    A rotation led by David Price.  An offense led by Evan Longoria.  The Rays will find a way to garner their third postseason appearance in four seasons.

6) The San Francisco Giants Win the NL West

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    PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 08:  Buster Posey #28 San Francisco Giants swings at a pitch against the Seattle Mariners during the spring training baseball game against at Peoria Stadium on March 8, 2011 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    With the one-two punch of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, along with the re-emergence of Pablo Sandoval, the Giants have a core they can grow with for many seasons. And add many more division titles.

5) The Cincinnati Reds Win the NL Central

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 14:  Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnati Reds against the Colorodo Rockies during the spring training baseball game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on March 14, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Imag
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    The team with the least amount of questions in the NL Central, the Reds will take advantage of their competition's major injuries (Cardinals’ Adam Wainright, Brewers' Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum) and post back-to-back NL Central title victories.

4) The Florida Marlins Win the NL East

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    VIERA, FL - MARCH 02:  Josh Johnson #55  of the Florida Marlins pitches during a Spring Training game against the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium on March 2, 2011 in Viera, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    With an offense headed by Hanley Ramirez and new prodigy Mike Stanton, and Josh Johnson returning healthy from an injury, the Marlins work their small-market magic again to win the NL East.

3) The Atlanta Braves Win the NL Wild Card

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    SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 08:  Tommy Hanson #48 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the San Francisco Giants during game 2 of the NLDS at AT&T Park on October 8, 2010 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The Braves have a perfect blend of veterans and youth. 

    Young stars such as Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Tommy Hansen.  Veterans such as Chipper Jones, Tim Hudson and Brian McCann.  The Braves will put it all together this year and make it back to the big dance.

2) The Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants Make It to World Series

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    OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 14:  Hideki Matsui (L) shakes hands with Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (R) after trying on his new jersey during a press conference where he was introduced as the newest member of the Oakland Athletics at Oakland-Ala
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    This year’s small-market series may be bad for ratings but great for baseball.  It’s not about how much money you have to spend.  It’s how you spend it. 

    And both of these teams have done a great job in developing talent from their farm system pipeline.

1) The Oakland Athletics Win the World Series

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    PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 16:  (L-R) Pitchers Trevor Cahill #53 and Brett Anderson #49 of the Oakland Athletics warm up during a MLB spring training practice at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on February 16, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Crazy, huh?  Unbelievable, you say?  Well, I would agree with you.  But in 2008, you would have been crazy to say the Tampa Bay Rays would make it to the World Series. 

    This offseason, you would have been crazy to think the New York Yankees wouldn’t end up with Cliff Lee.  Or that Philadelphia would end up with Cliff Lee.  It’s always surprising before it happens. 

    Whether right or wrong, this season will be full of surprises.  It’s time to find out what surprises 2011 has in store.