The American League Way: How the AL West, East and Central Will Be Won in 2011
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With a tumultuous offseason behind us and spring training only a few days away from being in the rear-view mirror, it's time to rejoice. Prediction time is almost done, and it'll be time for teams to put up or shut up come March 31st.
With that said, there are still 48 hours where all teams are equal, and the only thing separating them are the opinions and beliefs of fans and writers alike.
With that said, let's debate!
American League East
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Division Winner: Boston Red Sox
There is no such thing as having too much ammo when going to war, and no team better represents that than the 2011 Boston Red Sox.
After an injury-plagued 2010, Theo Epstein and crew were hell-bent on assembling a team based on depth—so much so that they sent down veterans Hideki Okajima and Alfredo Aceves instead of Dennys Reyes and Matt Albers so that the Red Sox would have the most serviceable arms going into the season.
The Reason: Dustin Pedroia
Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have ignited the passion of Red Sox Nation like very few free-agent signings in the past, and there is no doubt that both will thrive in their new surroundings.
However, the edge for the Red Sox comes from a guy that gives up almost half a foot to his new Red Sox teammates, and that's Dustin Pedroia.
After playing only 75 games last year due to a freak foot injury, Dustin is ready to bring his unique spark-plug play back to Fenway and is entering the 2011 season with one more double than Adrian Gonzalez in 977 less at-bats for their careers. Those kinds of numbers do not lie.
The Laser Show has been one of the most productive second basemen in the majors since he came out of his two-month rookie slump, and with his cocky attitude still in full swing, he is looking to be the best hitter in this lineup.
American League Central
Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire
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Division Winner: Minnesota Twins
This division is plagued with players coming back from injuries, personal problems and question marks. But that hasn't stopped the Minnesota Twins from snatching the division crown for the past two seasons.
The Twins are an organization that other small-market teams look to for a blueprint of how to compete year in, year out in a divisional landscape that changes constantly (outside of the Royals for the past decade). Though there are many reasons they have survived, it all starts with one man...
The Reason: Ron Gardenhire
Say what you will about the man's record in the playoffs (3-19, advanced to only one ALCS), but the man has managing a team during the regular season down to a science (winning 87 or more games in seven of nine seasons).
The general worry about the Twins is the number of question marks they have punctuating the beginning of their season:
- Will Justin Morneau be 100 percent?
- Will Tsuyoshi Nishioka make a seamless jump to MLB?
- Will Joe Nathan be able to return to form?
- Will Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer rebound?
- Will Brian Duensing be able to transition to a starter?
These are all valid questions, and while I can't give any definite answers, I trust that the skipper will do everything in his power to make sure that all of these questions are forgotten by the first few months of the season.
By then there will only be one question: Can anyone catch the Twins in the Central?
American League West
Oakland Athletics Rotation
Division Winner: Oakland Athletics
The Oakland Athletics are a team built on two things: pitching and value. But this offseason the Athletics made some moves to enhance their oft-anemic offense, such as signing aging doubles machine Hideki Matsui and slugger Josh Willingham.
They also beefed up their already great pitching staff by signing former A's ace Rich Harden and secured some bullpen insurance in Brian Fuentes to complement the injury-prone Andrew Bailey. But the decisive factor for this team is all five members of the starting rotation.
The Reason: The Rotation
The A's may have a young rotation, but don't let that fool you into thinking this rotation isn't capable of some amazing things.
The Oakland Athletics are a team that has built itself around pitching. They made this abundantly clear in 2010, posting the best marks in quality starts and ERA and finishing second in batting average against. There is little to make anyone think that this will change in 2011.
The rotation will feature LHP Trevor Cahill, RHP Brett Anderson, LHP Dallas Braden, LHP Gio Gonzalez and RHP Brandon McCarthy.
The addition of Rich Harden gives them some depth at the back end of the rotation and perhaps even at the back end of that bullpen. But I wouldn't be surprised if McCarthy and Harden swap places a few months into the season due to McCarthy's versatility and history of mediocrity or less—not to mention Harden's capacity for electric stuff and lack of experience in the pen.
American League Wild Card
Yankees 2B Robinson Cano
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Wild Card: New York Yankees
The New York Yankees didn't have the offseason they envisioned going into the winter, but they managed to assemble pieces to reinforce an already great team.
The signing of Rafael Soriano gives the Yankees a deadly one-two punch at the back end of the bullpen that shortens games for a starting rotation that could use the help this season. Also, under-the-radar signings of Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones give the Yankees bench some serious depth.
Those may not seem like the sexiest ways to make your team better, but those aren't the reasons the Yankees win. They win with All-Star-caliber play up and down the lineup and a solid pitching staff. But this season one Yankee will rise above the rest...
The Reason: Robinson Cano
Robinson Cano is quickly becoming a chic pick for MVP in 2011, and it isn't unwarranted.
Earlier in his career Cano was plagued with miserable first halves, only to see him end up with gaudy numbers come the end of the season.
But now with back-to-back solid seasons behind him, Cano is setting his sights on being the force to be reckoned with in a Yankees lineup that is anchored by future Hall of Famers.
Not only does Cano look like he could hit .320 with 30-plus home runs this year, but he also brought his errors down from 12 to three in 2010.
To put it bluntly: This guy may be the best overall player in baseball outside of Albert Pujols.
American League Awards
Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson
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Most Valuable Player: Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY
Cy Young Award Winner: Jon Lester, LHP, BOS
Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, TBR
Rolaids Relief Man: Joakim Soria, RHP, KCR
Comeback Player of the Year: Justin Morneau, 1B, MIN