Countdown to Opening Day: 1 Day

March 31st, 2011 by Mike H. | Filed under General.

So here we are. The last day before the return of “The Show” for the Phils. There are no games schedule for the Phillies today. Technically, today is the first day of the baseball season, but to Phillies fans, April Fool’s Day is the target. So as the Opening Series is put in jeopardy with the various forms of precipitation, the final edition of countdown for 2011 will be my opinion of how the season will pan out.

Keep in mind that all of these “predictions” are based off of pre-season analysis. There is no way to accurately predict something 100% that won’t end for another 7 months roughly. With that said I’ll start with AL East and work my way thru the league.

AL East: Dubbed the toughest division in baseball, the AL East on paper, looks like it is all but a lock for the Boston Red Sox. They’ve made the most significant improvements in the division. The Tampa Bay Rays have had the most significant losses. To make things worse for the Rays, two of the biggest pieces stayed in the division.While the Yankees offense may be one of the best in the league, the starting rotation leaves more to be desired. If the Yanks can manage to keep a lead into the 7th, their bullpen should be able to seal the deal however.

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. Baltimore Orioles

While the Red Sox look like an offensive juggernaut, I do not trust their starting pitching. I think Lackey is what he is and Beckett is becoming more and more injury prone. I also don’t put that much stock in Bobby Jenks’ ability in late games, especially with the offensive fire power in this division. If the Yankees go out and acquire a front line starter at some point, I would have to bump them to the top. The Rays to me are the team to beat. Their starting pitching is better than the Yankees and is close to Boston’s. There offense may not be as good as Boston’s or New York’s, but it will be good enough to win a lot of games. The only question mark they have is Farnsworth as closer, but I think they have the pieces in the minors that would not only allow them to make a move if needed, but may be able to just step in.

AL Central: The Twins won the central in 2010 despite White Sox GM Kenny Williams’ best efforts, so publicly displayed on “The Club”. While the Royals dealt away their ace, they got a quality return for him and are on the cusp of being a team with a target on their back. The Indians, unfortunately, are a team that looks like they are in the beginning stages of a rebuilding process.

  1. Chicago White Sox
  2. Minnesota Twins
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Kansas City Royals
  5. Cleveland Indians

The White Sox added a lot of thump to their lineup with the signing of Adam Dunn. They have a good young all around 3B in Brent Morel starting the season. Their starting pitching is solid enough with Buerhle, Danks, and Floyd, but will only get better once Peavy is back in the mix. Their bullpen is also solid with Sale and Thorton at the back end of it.

AL West: It seems that the only team that is out of it before the season starts is the Seatlle Mariners. Past King Felix, they don’t have much reliable pitching. They have prospects in Pineada and Ackley that may have a major impact on the team, but not enough to push them past the rest of the division. The other three teams appeared to be on the offensive this past offseason, literally. Texas, Oakland, and Los Angeles all added offense to their lineups and pretty much stayed status quo to the pitching outside of the Angels additions to their bullpen.

  1. Oakland Athletics
  2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  3. Texas Rangers
  4. Seattle Mariners

It’s hard to put the defending AL champions third in the division, but between losing Cliff Lee and Justin Smoak they lost a lot. The chemistry may also take a hit with Michael Young being a malcontent. The only starting pitching they added was in the form of Brandon Webb, who still isn’t ready for the season. The Angels added Vernon Wells and will get a full season out of Dan Haren in the rotation. They made significant improvements to their bullpen with Downs and Takahashi, but I don’t know if they have what it takes in 2011.

The Oakland A’s are in my opinion, one of the, if not the most, underrated teams in the American League. They have a superb rotation, a good combination of speed and power, and a quality bullpen. While I doubt they would go far in the postseason, they should atleast make it this year.

NL East: The Phillies won the division for the fourth consecutive time in 2010. They lost Jayson Werth to free agency and may lose Chase Utley for a significant amount of time due to injury in 2011. They will have a better starting rotation out of the gate with the addition of Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt in the past 12 months. The Braves added a desperately needed right handed power bat to their lineup in the form of Dan Uggla. While their lineup could be just as good as, if not better than, the Phillies, they have questions defensively and with their rotation. Which Jair Jurrjens shows up? Which Derek Lowe shows up? The Nationals added Jayson Werth and got Jordan Zimmerman back from injury, but lost phenom Stephen Strasburg for the majority of the season.

  1. Philadelphia Phillies
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. Florida Marlins
  4. Washington Nationals
  5. New York Mets

The biggest hurdles the Braves will have in trying to beat the Phillies in 2011 are defense and the health of Chipper Jones. They don’t have much quality depth at the hot corner and lose a good amount of defense with the addition of Uggla. The Marlins have two big questions at third and in the rotation. ESPN is showing rookie Donnie Murphy as the Opening Day third baseman. Murphy has yet to compile 50 major league atbats so to be able to tell what he will do against guys like Halladay, Lincecum, and Gallardo is very hard. The only reason why I kept the Nationals out of the cellar is because I think the Mets are in trouble talent wise as much as they are financially. A mid season fire sale with the likes of Jose Reyes, David Wright, and/or Mike Pelfrey isn’t out of the question in my mind.

NL Central: The St. Louis Cardinals took a big blow for the 2011 season losing Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery. The Brewers are going “all in” with the additions of Greinke and Marcum in what might be Prince Fielder’s last season as a Brewer. The Reds won the division in 2010, but pretty much stayed status quo. You have to wonder when Scott Rolen will start showing his age and if the team can survive relying on him, Bruce, Phillips, and Votto as their primary offensive pieces.

  1. Milwaukee Brewers
  2. Cincinatti Reds
  3. St. Louis Cardinals
  4. Chicago Cubs
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates
  6. Houston Astros

Pittsburgh and Houston could flip flop by the end of the season. Both teams have comprable pitchers in the starting rotation, but I do think that Pittsburgh has a better lineup and a better bullpen. Not only could I see the Pirates not be in the NL Central cellar, but making a strong run at finishing the season over .500 for the first time in almost two decades. The Cubs are a very polarizing team. One night they will look like world beaters, the next they just look beat. I think losing Wainwright will have a huge impact on St. Louis’ success in 2011. So much that they may have to try to get Albert Pujols to waive his no trade clause so they can get something for him instead of just losing him outright to free agency.

NL West: The Giants made an improbable run in 2010 to win the World Series. Every team they faced had the potential to wipe the floor with them, but they did just the opposite. What’s harder than winning the World Series? Getting back and winning it again. Even with the starting pitching they have, I don’t know if the rag-tag offense can repeat their 2010 performances. Like the Mariners, I think that the Diamondbacks are a team just looking to get better. The starting rotation has pieces of promise, but no real stoppers. With a new regime in the front office, it may be the beginning of the end if the team decides to cash in on SS Stephen Drew and OFers Chris Young and Justin Upton.

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Colorado Rockies
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Arizona Diamondbacks

I am picking the Dodgers to win the West based on the anchors of their rotation, Kershaw, Billingsley, and Lilly, the back of their bullpen, Kuo and Broxton, and the meat of their lineup, Ethier, Kemp, and Furcal at the top. The Rockies have a great offensive team, but past Jimenez who do you rely? Can the Giants really repeat as division champs with that offense surviving on hopes and dreams even with phenoms Brandon Belt and Buster Posey in the lineup? Can the Padres get remotely close to the success they had without Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of their lineup?

So in review:

  • AL East: Tampa Bay Rays
  • AL Central: Chicago White Sox
  • AL West: Oakland Athletics
  • NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
  • NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers
  • NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers

That just leaves the league wild cards to be determined. The AL Wild Card will almost certainly be the Red Sox, they have far too much talent to not make the postseason. The NL Wild Card could be anyone from Atlanta, Cincinatti, or Colorado. Of the three, I think that Cincinatti has the best combination of offense, defense, and pitching. So the playoffs look to shake out like this:

Divisional Series:

  • Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinatti Reds
  • Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Brewers
  • Tampa Bay Rays vs. Oakland Athletics
  • Chicago White Sox vs. Boston Red Sox

League Championship Series

  • Philadelphia vs Los Angeles
  • Boston vs. Tampa Bay

World Series

  • Philadelphia vs. Boston

I don’t really know who will win the series because I think the teams match up that closely. I think this will be the best World Series in quite some time due to the fact that I do believe it will go seven games. As far as the awards goes:

  • NL Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke
  • AL Manager of the Year: Bob Geren
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Brandon Belt
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Brett Lawrie
  • NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay
  • AL Cy Young: David Price
  • NL MVP: Albert Pujols
  • AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez

So, that’s how I see the 2011 season panning out. How do you?

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