Nearly five months have passed since the San Francisco Giants were crowned world champions of baseball in 2010. The new season brings a clean slate for all thirty teams and sparks hope among anxious fans with high expectations for their team. While every team’s record starts identically, not all teams are built equally to end the year with a World Series ring.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles added several players this off season who will make an immediate impact. With the addition of Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds, the Orioles appear to be a team that can beat anybody on any given day. The question about the O’s center around a young pitching staff, but expect a big year out of Brian Matusz. A big portion of the year will depend on the offensive development of promising catcher Matt Wieters.
The Boston Red Sox have made tremendous improvements this winter with the signing of outfielder Carl Crawford and trading for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. With these additions, as well as a healthy Kevin Youkilis and JacobyEllsbury, the Sox have positioned themselves to play late into October. The Sox have a dominant ace in Jon Lester and many experts expect John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka to be far more effective than last year.
It seems like a strange year in baseball when the New York Yankees are not the top favorites to win another championship, and that appears to be the case in 2011. With an extremely shaky pitching staff behind ace C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, many people have written off the Yankees this year. These same people tend to forget that the same team led all of baseball in runs scored last year. The Yankees have a potent enough offense in Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, among others, to carry them through the season. And if there is anything we have grown to expect from the Bronx Bombers, it is to expect the unexpected. With a very deep farm system and numerous highly touted prospects, the Yankees could make a trade at any moment and become the instant World Series favorite.
Tampa Bay Rays appear to be in the early stages of another rebuilding period, but the addition of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon should make an immediate impact. Evan Longoria will continue tearing the cover off the ball this year and the Rays will rely heavily on pitchers David Price and young prospect Jeremy Hellickson.
Toronto Blue Jays are a young team that is still a few years away from being a serious contender. Baseball fans are interested to see how Jose Bautista performs a year after leading the Major Leagues with 54 home runs. The Jays are anxious to see how rookie pitcher Kyle Drabek, who was the return for Roy Halladay, responds to big league hitters.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox added power hitter Alex Rios this offseason, who should provide a spark for their offense. The White Sox pitching rotation is solid from 1 to 5, but a big question is if they will be able to stay healthy. Mark Buehrle is aging quickly, but up until now he has been an ageless wonder. Jake Peavy is expected to start the season on the disabled list and a big part of the Sox success will depend on his ability to bounce back quickly.
Cleveland Indians have had trouble competing with the rest of the division over the last few years. The Indians have relied heavily on center fielder Grady Sizemore, but he has not been able to stay healthy. Now that first baseman MattLaPorta and catcher Carlos Santana have some big league experience, the Indians expect them to be contributors this season. The Indians have a young pitching staff and need a few more pieces before they can compete in the AL Central.
Detroit Tigers were serious contenders last year until they were plagued with injuries towards the end of the season. This offseason they added Victor Martinez, who should provide protection for Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers rotation is anchored by ace Justin Verlander and includes two reliable pitchers in Max Scherzerand and Rick Porcello. The Tigers pitching depth is a little weak behind these three, but all five pitchers are capable of keeping the team in games and letting the offense win for them.
Kansas City Royals have one of the youngest teams in baseball. After trading away ace Zack Greinke, the Royals have a plethora of young talent. The Royals are still a few years away from contention, but once the talent develops, they should be a scary team. The Royals pitching rotation is rather thin and it is expected that they will see numerous young pitchers from the minors pitching for them this season.
Minnesota Twins find a way to be contenders just about every season. The Twins were held back by a concussion to first baseman Justin Morneau last season. During spring training, Morneau appeared to be healthy again and should make an immediate impact for the Twins. The pitching rotation is fairly stable as long as they manage to stay healthy and star catcher Joe Mauer will again lead the Twins towards contention this season.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels manage to be in contention just about every season, and this season will not be different. The Angels have a very solid pitching staff featuring Jared Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir. The Angels added some power this off season by trading for Vernon Wells and are anxiously waiting the return of first baseman Kendrys Morales after his freak accident last season.
Oakland Athletics have the potential to be a team that surprises a lot of people this season. The A’s have a strong rotation, which in the past has proven to be enough to play into October. The A’s added designated hitter Hideki Matsui and numerous pieces to the bullpen. With a young core, the A’s might still be a year or two away from contention, but they have the makeup to be a scary team when they are ready.
Seattle Mariners were extremely disappointed with their season last year.The Mariners had high expectations and were not able to fulfill them. 2011 appears to be another disappointing season for the M’s. The team will again lean heavily on Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez, but the rest of the rotation is rather weak after him. The M’s expect continued stellar production from right fielder Ichiro Suzuki,while hoping for a bounce back year from third baseman Chone Figgins.
Texas Rangers played their way into the World Series last season, but that will be a tough feat to repeat. The Rangers still have many of the core players from last year including Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler, but losing ace Cliff Lee will hurt the team a lot. The Rangers added third baseman Adrian Beltre, who will add power to the line up, but the biggest question will be how reliever converted starting pitcher C.J. Wilson will perform.
National League East
Atlanta Braves proved to all of baseball that they are a serious contender last season. Many people wrote them off that the beginning of the season but they were able to play their way into the playoffs. The Braves have a talented nucleus of young players mixed with steady leadership and production from veterans. Many experts expect rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman to put up similar numbers to last year’s rookie sensation Jason Heyward. The Braves have a talented young pitching staff, which has proven its ability to win games. The Braves added second baseman Dan Uggla this offseason and should give the Philadelphia Phillies serious competition to win the NL East.
Florida Marlins have always been a pesky team that manages to win games. The Marlins have a solid rotation anchored by Josh Johnson and have numerous talented young players. The Marlins expect big power numbers from right fielder Mike Stanton and yet another productive year from Hanley Ramirez. The Marlins could surprise people again this season and throw their hat in the ring for the NL East title.
New York Mets have been a team that has been in a freefall over the past few years. With ownership questions and money issues, the players have been the least talked about part of the franchise. The Mets have a talented group of position players but have not been able to join together for a successful season. David Wright, Jose Reyes and Jason Bay are big name contributors, but the pitcher friendly Citi Field has limited their production. The Mets rotation is fairly thin without ace Johan Santana and it appears that it will be another disappointing season for theMets.
Philadelphia Phillies appear to be one of the best teams in baseball. Many people forget that baseball is played on the field, not paper, and have already crowned the Phillies the 2011 champions. The Phils do boast a rotation of 4 pitchers that many teams would consider aces in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. The big question for the Phillies this season is if the rotation and their aging group of players will be able to stay healthy. Star second baseman Chase Utley and closer Brad Lidge are already expected to start the season on the disabled list. The Phils have concerns in right field after losing Jayson Werth, but if all the players manage to stay healthy most of the year, it should be a great season for the Phillies.
Washington Nationals have made some tremendous strides towards becoming a competitor in the National League East. The Nats signed right fielderJayson Werth and have a solid core of players. The Nats rotation is most likely going to hold them back from competing with the rest of the National League East. Sensational pitcher Stephen Strasburg is slated to return at some point this season,which will be a huge boost for the Nats. Number one overall pick in the draft Bryce Harper gives Washington fans much to be excited about for their team in the next few years.
National League Central
The Chicago Cubs have a 102-year championship drought, and it does not look like 2011 will bring an end to that. The Cubs have a talented group of players that have not been able to put together a contender. Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez are aging rapidly and injuries are starting to catch up to them. It is clear that the future of the Cubs has been turned over to young shortstop Starlin Castro. The Cubs rotation is shaky and nobody is sure how Carlos Zambrano will perform or if he will be able to keep his act together for a full season.
Cincinnati Reds put together a very impressive 2010 season. With the emergence of first baseman Joey Votto and right fielder Jay Bruce, the Reds played their way into the playoffs. The Reds have a strong rotation of young pitchers led by Edison Volquez. It will be interesting to see how the Reds use flamethrower Aroldis Chapman this season, whether he will continue to be a setup man or if he will eventually move into the closer role.
Houston Astros have a young team that is still developing. The strength of the team is the rotation, which is average at best. After trading away Roy Oswalt, the Astros call on Brett Meyers to be the ace, who is followed by Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ. The Astros have fairly untested players in Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace, so it will be interesting to see how they develop. Carlos Lee will again provide a veteran presence to a young team that is still a ways away from contention.
Milwaukee Brewers appear to have put all their chips in the pot to win this season. The team traded away considerable talent to bring in ace Zack Greinke, who leads a strong rotation featuring Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, and the ever-dependable innings eater, Randy Wolf. One of the big questions for the season is whether or not second baseman Rickie Weeks will be able to stay healthy for the entire season. With free agency a year away for star first baseman Prince Fielder, the Brewers feel that this year is their best chance to win.
Pittsburgh Pirates have a young, fairly unknown team. The Pirates have high expectations for third baseman Perdo Alvarez and center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Similar to the past couple years, the lack of an ace and a weak rotation will prevent the Pirates from competing. In a fairly strong division and without much pitching, the Pirates will struggle to stay above .500 this season and will have yet another disappointing season in Pittsburgh.
St. Louis Cardinals had high hopes for 2011, which took a hit early in spring training. The ace of the Cardinals staff, Adam Wainwright injured his pitching arm and will be forced to miss the entire season. There is a growing fear in St. Louis regarding whether or not they will be able to sign superstar Albert Pujols. The Cardinals have a talented team with Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina and youngster Colby Rasmus. The Cardinals should be able to put together a decent season and find their way into the playoffs with their mix of solid pitching and above average offense.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks have a fairly young team with numerous talented players. Outfielders Chris Young and Justin Upton, as well as shortstop Stephen Drew, will be depended on heavily throughout the year. The D’backs rotation will most likely be the biggest factor holding them back from competing within the division. The D’backs do not have a set ace and have a thin bullpen. The team is still a few years away from contention and has a lot of young players who still need to fully develop into full time players.
Colorado Rockies have one of the most talented young rosters in all of baseball. With the development of left fielder Carlos Gonzalez last year and the leadership of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies have high expectations for2011. Ubaldo Jimenez was one of the most dominant pitchers in the first half of the season last year, but fell apart as the year went on. If he can put a full season together and the Rockies get production from the rest of the staff, the team has the ability to make some serious noise in the postseason.
Los Angeles Dodgers had a disappointing 2010 and feel as though they have the talent to be competitive in 2011. With high expectations for outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the Dodgers feel as though they have the ability to win the NL West. With a strong pitching staff led by youngster Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers will have the ability to stay in any game with their pitching. Injuries could be the only factor that prevents the Dodgers from reaching their full potential.
San Diego Padres appear to be in a rebuilding year. After they traded away the face of the franchise in Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres have a very young roster filled with promising prospects. The rotation is very unproven and after an injury landed young ace Mat Latos on the disabled list, it will be a struggle for the Padres to stay in games. The Padres might be forced to make more moves during the season if they fall too far out of the race for the NL West.
San Francisco Giants found themselves as World Series champions in 2010. This could be a difficult task to repeat now that they have a target on their back. The Giants have a strong pitching staff with Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Expectations are sky high for catching sensation Buster Posey and rookie first baseman Brandon Belt. The pitching staff should allow the Giants to be competitive all season, but with worries about generating offense, it will be a difficult task for the Giants to repeat in 2011.
AL East Winner- Red Sox
AL Central Winner- Twins
AL West Winner- Rangers
AL Wildcard Winner- Yankees
NL East Winner- Phillies
NL Central Winner- Milwaukee
NL West Winner- Rockies
NL Wildcard Winner- Giants