MLB: 10 Things We Already Know About This Year's Pennant Races
It’s only May, but it’s never too early to talk postseason baseball.
While the first month of the season has brought us a few surprising teams that have been playing solid baseball, it also brought us some under-performers that we all assumed would do well in 2011.
In this case, it may be true that money can’t solve all your problems.
While it’s not an exact science, here is my take at the 10 things we baseball fans already know about the MLB pennant races.
New York Yankees Will Play Ball in October
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When the New York Yankees are at full-strength, they are a scary-good team.
No matter where you start from, they are built pretty solid, but I’m sure their financial gain has a lot to do with this.
The pitching staff was their biggest question mark headed into the season, but it looks as if those questions are being answered with the emergence of Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova.
You know what you’re going to get across the infield from Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter both defensively and offensively.
The outfield has been built solid with Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher putting up big numbers in Yankee Stadium and Brett Gardner is bound to break from his slump sometime soon.
Maybe he needs a golden thong to help him out?
The bullpen is their current biggest question mark, but fortunately or unfortunately, you can count on the Bronx Bombers to find their way back to another postseason appearance in 2011.
And So Will the Boston Red Sox
Currently sitting fourth in the AL East with a 14-17 record through the first month of the MLB regular season, the Boston Red Sox have enough star power to make their way to a postseason appearance in 2011.
As the undisputed favorites to win it all this year, the BoSox have stumbled out of the gates, but you would have to be plain ignorant to believe they’ll keep up at this dismal pace.
The rotation will be fine, lead by Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, and despite Jon Lackey being rocked in his previous start, the rest of the rotation should settle in just fine.
New additions Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez will help carry the team along with Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Elsbury.
It’s still unsure if they’ll be the AL East champs or Wild Card favorites, but it's a sure thing that they’ll be playing ball in October.
Cleveland Is the Real Deal in the AL Central
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Currently tied with the Philadelphia Phillies for the best record in baseball at 21-9, the Cleveland Indians are the real deal in the AL Central.
If there was any doubt as to the talent of this team, it was dissipated with the reemergence of All-Star centerfielder Grady Sizemore’s sweltering start after beginning the year on the DL.
Owning a .700 winning percentage, the Indians are built for the long-haul with Travis Hafner, Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana continuing to prove themselves offensively.
The speed is there in Choo and Michael Brantley, and Matt LaPorta is finally coming into his own as a slugger.
The rotation is solid, led by newly anointed ace Justin Masterson, helping this Cleveland Indians’ team become a legitimate in the AL Central.
But Kansas City Could Quickly Become the Favorites in the AL Central
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If you’d ask me two months ago to write an article in which the Kansas City Royals are a favorite in the AL Central, I’d have to say you’d totally lost it.
But this isn’t a dream world people. The Kansas City Royals really are 17-14 and they really do have a shot at some postseason play.
Marking the first time since 1985, the Royals have a solid team with real hopes of playing in October led by the likes of Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur and Luke Hochevar.
Add five-tool prospect Eric Hosmer to that mix at first base, and Royals’ fans may be given a reason to be proud of their team once again.
Texas Rangers May Be on the Outside Looking in
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After making it the World Series in 2010, the Texas Rangers may come up short in the AL West in 2011.
With key cogs making their home on the DL, like Josh Hamilton, Neftali Feliz and Tommy Hunter, the Rangers have been relying on their depth and a little bit of luck to become a 17-15 team thus far this season.
With the “over-40 club” in Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver closing out games for the Rangers and a few backups who are starting everyday in the outfield, the Rangers may be on the outside looking in during 2011 post-season play.
NL East Is the Hardest Division in the MLB
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Bias aside, just look at the NL East compared to other divisions and it’s obvious that it is one of the better divisions in baseball.
The obvious favorites in Philadelphia and Atlanta lead in the standings, but you can never count out the Marlins, Mets and even the Nationals.
While the Phillies will rely mostly on their veteran pitching staff to navigate the NL East, the Braves, Marlins, Mets and Nationals have ushered in a new era of youth that will propel the NL East to the top of MLB’s division hierarchy.
While all five teams are not currently over the .500 mark, you can bet that by season’s end, things will get hairy as all teams compete for one spot above the rest.
Philly’s Pitching Will Carry the Load into October
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It has been well documented that the Phillies are the favorite in the NL East, but as their offense continues to struggle, it’ll be the pitching staff that carries the rest of the team.
Ace Roy Halladay currently leads the league in wins and strikeouts, is fourth with a 2.19 ERA and fifth with a .98 WHIP. Expect much of the same as the season continues.
Rounding out the rotation with Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, the Philadelphia Phillies rotation is in it for the long haul.
Without Their Ace, St. Louis Will Still Make the Playoffs
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Adam Wainwright is gone for the season, but don’t expect that to stop the St. Louis Cardinals from making 2011 a memorable season.
Right now, the Cardinals offense is all over the league leaders list.
Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman are one and two in batting average with a .417 and .392 average, respectively.
Holliday sits first with 26 runs scored and Berkman, Albert Pujols and Colby Rasmus are tied for third with 25 runs scored.
Berkman is first in MLB with 32 RBIs and second in the league with 10 home runs.
Their offensive prowess coupled with their deep pitching staff has lead to a 18-14 record and there seems to be no looking back for the Cardinals in 2011.
Pittsburgh Makes a Case for the NL Wild Card
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Currently sitting at 15-16, the Pittsburgh Pirates are my dark-horse candidate for the NL Wild Card.
Starting the season off with a tough schedule that already had them playing Philadelphia, Colorado and San Francisco, the Pirates look to be in good shape the rest of the season.
Already leading the season series against NL Central opponents Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis, if the Pirates can get consistent production from their young team, expect Pittsburgh to make the postseason in a sport other than football and hockey.
San Francisco Does Its Best Job to Repeat by Winning the NL West
The San Francisco Giants showed they could do it last year, so why not this year?
It’s very possible to believe that the Giants can repeat as world champs as their pitching staff is still remarkable, lead by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, and their role players are a year wiser.
Buster Posey seems to be avoiding the sophomore slump and will continue to excel, as will guys like Brian Wilson, Pablo Sandoval (after his return from the DL), and Andres Torres.
Their first step will be to win the NL West and that is completely fathomable.
Though playing sub-.500 ball as of now, expect the Giants to get hot and ride that wave all the way back to the World Series.