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2011 MLB Predictions: 6 Teams Who'll Battle for the Wild Card, 2 Who Won't

Jeff WahlCorrespondent IMarch 31, 2011

2011 MLB Predictions: 6 Teams Who'll Battle for the Wild Card, 2 Who Won't

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    Pool/Getty Images

    As Spring Training draws closer to its inevitable conclusion and the roster pictures become clear, so-called pundits like me dust off our crystal balls and start prognosticating.

    In this slide show I’ll be making the always controversial Wild Card predictions. Hope springs eternal for the fan bases of every team as April approaches, so the exclusion of your favorite club is sure to inspire some venomous comments.

    With that in mind, I’ve made several assumptions in order to eliminate a few teams from this article.

    The only one I'll reveal now is the following: Boston wins the AL East. The others will reveal themselves later.

    Don’t hesitate to tear me a new one in the comments section; I love a good sports repartee.

New York Yankees

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 95-67

    2010 Finish: AL Wild Card

    Key Addition: C Russell Martin

    Key Losses: SP Javier Vazquez and SP Andy Pettitte

     

    Why They’ll Win the Wild Card

    The Yankees have arguably the best offense in the American League. With a powerhouse infield of Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, NY can simply out-slug anyone they face. 

    Add in table-setters Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson, slugging corner outfielder Nick Swisher and C/DH tandem Russell Martin and Jorge Posada and this team literally scares the hell out of opposing pitchers.

     

    Why They Won’t

    Beyond CC Sabathia, New York’s pitching is very shaky.

    Phil Hughes won 18 games last year, but with a pedestrian 4.19 ERA including a brutal 4.66 at home, the wins appear more a result of the Yankee offense. However, at just 24 years of age Hughes has yet to reach his prime. 

    AJ Burnett was a disaster last year, with a 10-15 record and an ERA/WHIP slash line of 5.26/1.51. 

    Rookie Ivan Nova and reclamation project Bartolo Colon round out what is perhaps the worst Yankee rotation in recent memory.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 85-77

    2010 Finish: Fourth in AL East

    Key Additions: RP/CL Frank Fransisco, RP/CL Jon Rauch, RP/CL Octavio Dotel, OF Juan Rivera, 2B/3B Brett Lawrie, Rajai Davis CF

    Key Losses: SP Shaun Marcum, 1B Lyle Overbay, C John Buck, OF Vernon Wells

     

    Why They’ll Win the Wild Card

    Even with the loss of mound warrior and clubhouse favorite Shaun Marcum, Toronto has an incredibly exciting young staff with no starter over the age of 26.

    Ace Ricky Romero surpassed the 200-innings plateau for the first time last year, putting up 210. He ended the season with a record of 14-9 and an ERA/WHIP slash line of 3.73/1.29.

    He’s followed by everyone’s favorite 2011 breakout pitcher, Brandon Morrow, who started off rough with control issues but was one of the best pitchers in baseball after the All-Star break with a 5-1 record to go along with a 3.69/1.21 slash line and a monstrous 13.08 K/9.

    This included one of the most dominant performances in baseball history.

    On August 8th, Morrow came within one out of a no-no against Tampa Bay. His final line: nine innings pitched, one hit, two walks and 17 strikeouts. The record for K’s in a no-hitter is 17, by Nolan Ryan in 1973.

    Youngsters Brett Cecil (led the club with 15 wins in 2010), Jesse Litsch and prized rookie Kyle Drabek round out the rest of this high-upside staff.

     

    Why They Won’t

    With a staff as young as Toronto’s, some volatility and inconsistency is expected. However, the two biggest factors negatively affecting this club will be a suspect bullpen and a revamped, lighter-hitting offense.

    With the free agent losses of Scott Downs, Jeremy Accardo, Brian Tallet and Kevin Gregg, GM Alex Anthopoulos' top offseason priority was to replenish his 'pen. He then went out and found a trio of flame throwers in Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Frank Fransisco, with youngster David Purcey taking over the role of lefty specialist. 

    However, the season hasn’t even started and already Dotel, Fransisco and Jesse Carlson have all been placed on the DL, putting further strain on an already suspect unit.

    Now, with the Wells trade, a team that led the majors with 257 home runs last year will find a hard time replacing his 31 round-trippers. Add to that John Buck’s 20, Lyle Overbay’s 20 and Alex Gonzalez’s 17, for a total of 88 lost homers.

    Without all that protection, Jose Bautista will be hard-pressed to repeat his astounding 54 home-run campaign, and expecting youngsters Travis Snider and JP Arencibia to pick up all that slack is asking far too much.

Detroit Tigers

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 81-81

    2010 Finish: Third in AL Central

    Key Addition: C Victor Martinez

    Key Loss: DH/OF Johnny Damon

     

    Why They’ll Win the Wild Card

    Offense and pitching. The addition of Martinez and return to health of Magglio Ordonez will give Detroit a power-hitting trio to rival any other club in baseball. The protection they provide to the rest of the lineup will ease the pressure on Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta.

    In addition, Austin Jackson did a nice job setting the table last year, hitting .293 while stealing 27 bases and crossing the plate 103 times.

    As for pitching, Detroit has a young rotation whose potential is massive. Justin Verlander is a true ace who always seems to be in the Cy Young conversation, though he's fallen just short every year since his arrival in 2006.

    Max Scherzer is a power pitcher with K-per-inning stuff who’s still young at just 26. Add to that former 2007 first-rounder Rick Porcello, late-blooming Phil Coke and veteran Brad Penny and Detroit might have the best one-through-five in the Central.

     

    Why They Won’t

    Detroit might have the worst defensive team in baseball this year. Jackson and Inge are the only regulars with plus defense.

    The rest are a range between mediocre and barely average, which puts a lot of pressure on the pitching staff, particularly low-strikeout guys like Porcello and Coke.

    With the aged lineup in Motown, there's always the specter of injury. Various trips to the DL virtually eliminated Detroit from contention by the All-Star break last year, and 2011 could easily go the same way.

Chicago White Sox

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 88-74

    2010 Finish: Second in AL Central

    Key Additions: DH/1B Adam Dunn, RP Jesse Crain

    Key Losses: RP Bobby Jenks, RP Scott Linebrink, RP J.J. Putz, DH Manny Ramirez

     

    Why They’ll Win the Wild Card

    The power in this lineup is unreal. The addition of Dunn gives the White Sox three players (Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin the other two) who could conceivably hit 40 home runs this year.

    Either way, along with Alexei Ramirez, Alex Rios and the emerging Gordon Beckham, Chicago now has six hitters who should all go yard at least 20 times.

    The Pale Hose also have perhaps the most underrated set-up/closer combo in the AL with still-eligible rookie Chris Sale (1.93 ERA and 32 K’s in 23.1 audition innings last year) and strikeout artist Matt Thornton (2.67 ERA, 4:1 K/BB and 12.11 K/9 in 2010).

     

    Why They Won’t

    Chicago will need that underrated pen to lock down games for them, because their starting pitching is suspect. Edwin Jackson (surprising) and John Danks (expected) were the only ones with sub-4.00 ERA’s last year.

    Veteran Mark Buerhle, while still the staff workhorse, is now an ace in name only. His K rate has steadily declined, and he’s become a very hittable pitcher. 

    Looking to take the mantle from Buerhle is Gavin Floyd, but he had a somewhat disappointing season last year, going 10-13 with a 4.08 ERA. 

    Rounding out the rotation is reclamation project Jake Peavy. However, he’s turning 30 this May, so time is not on his side. 

    If any one of these guys falters (I’m looking at you, Edwin Jackson), the team might insert Sale into the rotation.

Texas Rangers

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    2010 Record:  90-72

    2010 Finish: AL Champions

    Key Additions: 3B Adrian Beltre, SP Brandon Webb

    Key Losses: SP Cliff Lee, DH Vladimir Guerrero

     

    Why They’ll Win the Wild Card

    By season's end, the Rangers could very well have the best offense in baseball.

    Reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton, future MVP candidate Nelson Cruz, slugging second baseman Ian Kinsler and table-setter Elvis Andrus are the core of this offense.

    Add to that emerging power source Mitch Moreland, career .300 hitter Michael Young, future 20/20 candidate Julio Borbon, new slugging backstop Mike Napoli and big Free Agent Fish Adrian Beltre.

    The names may not have the high wattage of New York’s team of All-Stars, but they will go toe-to-toe with any offense in baseball.

     

    Why They Won’t

    The Rangers are a fairly complete team, but health could be a significant issue.

    Hamilton, Cruz and Kinsler all have well-documented injury histories. If one of them hits the DL for a lengthy stay the Rangers could be in trouble. 

    If two or more miss a huge chunk of games, Texas' season could be sunk early.

L.A. Angels

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 80-82

    2010 Finish: Third in AL West

    Key Additions: CF/LF Vernon Wells, RP Scott Downs

    Key Losses: C Mike Napoli, DH Hideki Matsui, LF Juan Rivera

     

    Why They’ll Win the Wild Card

    The 2010 season was an unmitigated disaster for the Halos. They finished in the majors' bottom third in batting average, total bases, slugging percentage, OBP, runs and RBIs.

    To make matters worse, they were one of the worst defensive clubs in all of baseball, finishing 24th in fielding percentage and 29th in double plays.

    In what seemed like a desperation move, GM Tony Reagins went out and traded for Vernon Wells and his huge contract. Immediately, what was once a barely average defensive outfield is transformed into perhaps the best in the American League. 

    Angels fans won’t be forced to watch Rivera and Bobby Abreu fumble their way around left field any more.

    However, if there's anything to get the Angels back to the postseason, it's their pitching.

    Jared Weaver finally took hold of the ace role the team has long envisioned for him. His 13-12 record was indicative of a vanilla offense, as his 3.01 ERA and 233 K’s in 224.1 innings clearly show.

    A full season of 2010 deadline acquisition Dan Haren will give LA a one-two punch that might be the envy of the American League. Add to the mix a steady campaign from Joel Piniero, Ervin Santana (never a guarantee) and Scott Kazmir (fingers crossed) and the Angels could find themselves back in the playoffs.

     

    Why They Won’t

    Wells is only a slight offensive improvement over the departed Matsui, and even with the eventual return of Kendry Morales, who missed 111 games last year, this offense may stay mired near the bottom. 

    Peter Bourjos may be a wizard with the glove, but like starting catcher Jeff Mathis, he is an offensive wasteland. The loss of slugging backstop Mike Napoli will hurt more than most think. 

    Barring a significant turnaround in the offense of Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick and Maicer Izturis, LA could find themselves on the outside looking in for a second straight season.

Missed the Cut

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Minnesota and Tampa Bay are glaringly absent from this slide show, and even though I expect a high dose of incredulity, they were omitted for very good reason.

     

    Minnesota

    For the third consecutive season, the Twins have reinvented their middle infield.  Although not terrible, Alexi Casilla has not exactly impressed. Now he’s been shifted to shortstop to make room for Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who will be hard-pressed to replaced the super-slick defense of Orlando Hudson.

    Even more concerning is the loss of several significant relievers. The exodus of Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch will have a massive impact, particularly in games pitched by the Twins' third, fourth and fifth starters—all of whom are shaky at best.

    In a highly competitive free agent market, the Twins’ only move was Nishioka.

    Meanwhile, the Tigers and White Sox made significant moves to make themselves strong enough to relegate Minnesota to an also-ran in 2011.

     

    Tampa Bay

    The Rays also watched helplessly as several top players departed via free agency.

    Gone are Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate, Dan Wheeler and Rafael Soriano. How can you replace your main offensive catalyst, a major power source and almost every single member of your bullpen? 

    I’ll tell you this; it’s not with grey beards Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. Free-agent signing Joel Peralta is a nice addition, but he’s only one arm.

    A team that defeated the beasts of the East in 2010 by manufacturing runs (first in stolen bases) and fielding arguably the best bullpen in baseball (first in saves, opponents' batting average and holds; second in ERA) simply does not have the horses to compete this year.

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