MLB 2011: Fearless Predictions
Hey Red Card Nation, welcome to the 2011 Major League Baseball Season Preview Edition. The goal of this post is to give you a glimpse of the players, teams, and story lines that will headline the 2011. These fearless predictions are not based on anything remotely scientific, but rather my gut feeling for how the season will go. Fearless predictions can be busted by a number of things: poor player performance, poor manager decisions (Grady Little), bad luck (Cubs), injuries, unruly fans (Bartman), team chemistry issues, steroid admissions (Giambi), hangovers, and good ‘ol momentum. So as you can see, these fearless predictions dont come without obstacles, which will make them all the more prophetic when they all come true.
- Lets take a look at the players who are going to shape this season. First we will hit on those guaranteed to have a big year, then look to the stars in the making. I have divided this by league, both position players and pitchers.
5 position players guaranteed to have a big year:
- Adrian Gonzalez, 1st Base, Red Sox. It may be asinine to say, but if he doesnt hit 45 homers and have 120 RBI’s, then his season is a failure. With the short-porch in right field at Fenway, Gonzalez should hammer the ball at home. Also, most of the parks in the A.L. East are friendly to left-handed hitters, so look for Gonzalez to take the division by storm.
- Robinson Cano, 2nd Base, Yankees. After a couple seasons of toiling at the bottom of the Yankees stacked lineup, Cano busted on to the scene last year with an MVP caliber season. He re-tooled his swing going into 2010, and it obviously worked to his advantage, as he held a .319 average, hit 29 home runs, and knocked in 109 runs. The Yankees will need him to have another big season to contend for the A.L. pennant.
- Joe Mauer, Catcher, Twins. What doesnt this guy do well? Not only is he one of the best all-around catchers to ever play the game, but he is a good Samaritan off the field as well. Plus, his PS3 commercials are hilarious. On the field in 2011, a healthy Mauer to start the season for the Twins is huge. With Justin Morneau still recovering from a severe concussion, Mauer will need to start the season hot to keep the improved White Sox and Tigers at bay.
- Evan Longoria, 3rd Base, Rays. Now that Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford have moved on, Longoria will need to shoulder more of the load offensively if the Rays are to keep up with the Red Sox and Yankees. He is now the clear-cut leader on this team, so look for him to put up big numbers.
- Carl Crawford, Left Field, Red Sox. After switching allegiances within the A.L. East, from the Rays to the Red Sox, Crawford will have a chip on his shoulder to prove he is worth every penny of the $142 million that Boston paid for him. Not only is he a 5-tool player, but in Boston’s offense he will have the opportunity to score a lot of runs with the hitters behind him in the batting order.
5 Pitchers guaranteed to have a huge year:
- Felix Hernandez, Starting Pitcher, Mariners. King Felix ended 2010 the way he started his career, by dominating opposing hitters on a bad Mariners team. With not much else on the roster besides Ichiro, it should be easy for Hernandez to shine.
- Justin Verlander, Starting Pitcher, Tigers. Verlander went 18-9 with a 3.3 E.R.A. last year, and with his team improving through free agency, adding catcher Victor Martinez, it is very likely that he could better his record in 2011. Verlander has absolutely electric stuff, so if he gets help from the bullpen, he and the Tigers should have a great season.
- C.C. Sabathia, Starting Pitcher, Yankees. All he does is win, win, win no matter what. Yes, ol’ Carston Charles should have another superb season. He came into camp in shape for a change and is ready to be the Yankees ace yet again. It will be tough to best 21-7 record last season, but he should get close enough.
- C.J. Wilson, Starting Pitcher, Texas Rangers. Now that Cliff Lee is gone to Philadelphia, it is Wilson’s time to shine as the #1 starter. Last year he went 15-8 in his first full season as a starter. I expect that he will better that by a win or 2, mainly due to the fact that Rangers offense is improved, and Neftali Feliz is still their closer.
- John Lester, Starting Pitcher, Red Sox. Lester was forced to be “the man” last year as the Sox whole rotation was injured at some point of the season it seemed like, and he was dynamic. Lester was arguably the best pitcher in baseball until August, when C.C. and Cliff Lee took over. He will need to lead the charge again for Boston as they have high hopes for 2011.
7 under-the-radar players who could have a break out year:
- Mike Moustakas, 3rd Base, Royals.
- Dustin Ackley, 2nd Base, Mariners.
- Chris Sale, Relief Pitcher, White Sox
- Kyle Drabek, Starting Pitcher, Blue Jays
- Jeremy Hellickson, Starting Pitcher, Rays.
- Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays
- Jesus Montero, C, Yankees.
5 position players guaranteed to have a big year:
- Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop, Rockies. “Tulo” has talent for days. The key for him is staying healthy. Most analysts think that he would have ran away with MVP last season had he been healthy. With Carlos Gonzalez also poised to have a big year for the Rockies, look for Tulo to rake in runs early and often.
- Prince Fielder, 1st Base, Brewers. Simple one here folks: he’s in a contract year. If he plays to his potential, he will get paid by someone at the end of the year. His potential: 45 home runs, 120 RBI’s.
- Jason Heyward, Right Field, Braves. Had it not been for a thumb injury during the middle of the Braves 2010 season, Heyward might have won Rookie of the Year. This year though, he is healthy and his batting stroke is back to full force. Watch out.
- Buster Posey, Catcher, Giants. The aforementioned N.L. Rookie of the Year in 2010. His late season charge that helped the Giants win the World Series, and cemented his name as a constant threat to the M.V.P. race. Look for Posey to continue to be a constant threat in the middle of the lineup for the Giants.
- Carlos Pena, 1st Base, Cubs. He switched over from the Rays, and is expected to have a big season in the N.L. Central due to the lack of great pitching in the division. . If he starts hitting home runs, the Cubs may have a chance to steal the Central.
5 pitchers guaranteed to have a great season:
- Cliff Lee, Starting Pitcher, Phillies. Its simple, he is very good. He won the A.L. CY Young award last year with the Rangers. He joins a loaded team in the Phillies. Do the math.
- Roy Halladay, Starting Pitcher, Phillies. He won the N.L. CY Young award with the Phillies last year. He is joined by Cliff Lee. Making sense yet?
- Ubaldo Jiminez, Starting Pitcher, Rockies. Everyone’s surprise talent last year with his hot start, but unfortunately couldnt hold it together at the end of the year. Most analysts arent giving him a chance to repeat last years 19 wins, but I think he can. The key to this is the help he gets from the bullpen.
- Tim Lincecum, Starting Pitcher, Giants. Big Time Timmy Jim was absolutely electric last fall, helping the Giants win the World Series. Quick stat: Lincecum has the most strikeouts through 5 years of any pitcher in history. He is feeling healthy too, which is bad news for N.L. West opponents.
- Tim Hudson, Starting Pitcher, Braves. He had a great 2010 for the Braves, coming back fully from Tommy John surgery. He has been Mr. Consistent for Atlanta, and looks to have another great year with a Braves team full of potential.
7 under-the-radar players who could have a break out year:
- Freddie Freeman, 1st Base, Braves.
- Brandon Belt, 1st Base, Giants.
- Aroldis Chapman, Relief Pitcher, Reds.
- Dominic Brown, Outfielder, Phillies.
- Craig Kimbrel, Relief Pitcher, Braves.
- Bryce Harper, Outfielder, Nationals.
- Jordan Lyles, Starting Pitcher, Astros.
- After all the speculation, here are the players that I think will win the major awards in each league:
- Rookie of the Year: Mike Moustakas, 3rd Base, Royals. Reason: He adds power to a Royals lineup that desperately needs it, once he gets called up from Omaha, that is.
- CY Young: Felix Hernandez, Starting Pitcher, Mariners. Pitching as well as he should for a bad team will net him the win over pitchers like Sabathia and Lester.
- M.V.P.: Evan Longoria, 3rd Base, Rays. The Rays arent what they were last year, and Longoria will lead them through another tough season in A.L. East with home runs and RBI’s.
- Rookie of the Year: Freddie Freeman, 1st Base, Braves. He has massive potential to be a key cog in the Braves playoff run in 2011.
- CY Young: Roy Halladay, Starting Pitcher, Phillies. He’s the best. Period.
- M.V.P.: Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop, Rockies. Again, if he can stay healthy, he could lead the N.L. in RBI’s. He will also prove clutch in the Rockies run to the postseason.
-Here are my “darkhorse” teams to watch in 2011:
- A’s. Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. This young staff will be the class of baseball very soon, and they are very good now. If they can get any production out of their offense, they will be tough for the rest of the division to deal with.
- Tigers. There are no bones about it, the Tigers have all the ingredients to make a playoff run this year. They have a prolific offense, good starting pitching, and solid relief pitching. If they can win a few series early against their division rivals, they may just land in the drivers seat in the A.L. Central.
- Orioles. I know, I know, Baltimore hasnt played good baseball since Cal Ripken Jr. retired. Under Buck Showalter last season, they started to play as a team. Not only can this team play tough, but they have a lot of young talent waiting to develop. If Buck can be the guy to get the best out of their squad, then look out A.L. East.
- Brewers. Milwaukee has been in the middle of the pack for the last 50 years it seems. This year though, it looks like they have a real chance to make the playoffs. They have a young team, with good pitching, great hitting, and their division is weak. If they cant do it this year, it may not ever happen.
- Dodgers. Its hard to call them a darkhorse, but after the way they played last season, its appropriate. The team is now under Don Mattingly’s control, which should inject new life into the squad. From all reports, Donny Baseball’s first spring camp was a wild success. If Andre Eithier can stay healthy, they could steal the division from the Giants or Rockies.
- At the end of the season here is how I see the final standings for each division:
- Red Sox
- Blue Jays
- White Sox
- Finally, here is my fearlessly predicted 2011 Playoff field, and Champion.
- Divisional Round: Red Sox vs. Twins, Rangers vs. Yankees.
- ALCS: Red Sox vs. Yankees.
- A.L. Pennant: Red Sox
- Divisional Round: Phillies vs. Reds, Braves vs. Giants.
- NLCS: Phillies vs. Braves.
- N.L. Pennant: Phillies.
World Series: Red Sox vs. Phillies. Winner: Phillies. The rationale here is easy, the Phillies have a (possibly) all-time great starting rotation. They also have clutch hitting. The Red Sox should be great this year, but there are definite questions about their starting rotation (Lackey, Beckett, Disuke), even though their potential is great. Will closer Jonathon Papelbon return to form? Can Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury stay healthy for the entire year? This is a potential vs. results fearless prediction, and Im going with results. The most important player for the Phillies title charge is Brad Lidge. If healthy, he is the stopper that they need. If not, the Sox could take the Series.
- Thanks for reading.