Hello Mediocrity’s Cursory Look at the 2011 MLB Season

AL EAST

1. Red Sox– Last year the Red Sox finished 3rd place in the AL East at 89-73. They managed to do this despite Dustin Pedroia only playing 75 games, Kevin Youkilis playing 102, and Jacoby Ellsbury missing almost the entire season. Also, Josh Beckett and John Lackey were fucking terrible. In the offseason, the Red Sox added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, plus they should have a healthy Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ellsbury. If Beckett can keep his ERA under 5.00 this year, and Lackey can cut down on his atrociousness then the Red Sox should be able to win an AL East that got much easier in the off-season.

2. Yankees– The Yankees didn’t improve themselves very much in the off-season (thank you, Cliff Lee!) and as a result there are a few question marks about this team going into 2011. Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Mark Prior, and Sergio Mitre Kevin Millwood are battling for two spots in the Yankees’ rotation. That’s assuming that A.J. Burnett is able to bounce back from a terrible season and claim the third spot in the rotation. The Yankees’ two best off-season additions were Rafael Soriano and Russell Martin. Yikes.

3. Rays– Tampa Bay’s run is probably over. They lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, and Jason Bartlett in the off-season. Their big additions were Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, but unfortunately it is 2011, not 1999. The Rays should still be competitive thanks to a rotation that includes David Price, Jason Shields, Wade Davis, and rookie of the year candidate Jeremy Hellickson. That rotation is probably better than CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and a bunch of rejects.

4. Orioles– Buck Showalter managed the last 55 games of last season and went 32-23 last year. There are also a few nice pieces on the field with a mix of young prospects like Matt Wieters and Adam Jones, and veterans Derrek Lee, Brian Roberts, Mark Reynolds, and Vlad Guerrero. Their pitching still sucks with the exception of Brian Matusz, but they should be improved enough this year to climb out of last place.

5. Blue Jays– There isn’t much to love here.  Most casual fans would be hard pressed to name more than three players on this team. Jose Bautista hit 50+ HRs last year, and I would be shocked if he hit half as many this year. On the plus side, Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos was able to get Angels GM Tony Reagins drunk and trade him Vernon Wells’ awful contract.

AL CENTRAL [EN: HM Writer and Michigan native Jeff Walls previews the AL Central for us.]

Everyone makes fun of me for having sketchy, contradictory allegiances to two different teams in the same division.  I was raised a White Sox fan but like the Tigers more.  Since the AL Central is usually a dead heat between the Twins, Sox, and Tigers until September or so, this reflects poorly on my seriousness as a baseball fan, but at the end of the day the joke is on everyone else because it’s a really fun division to follow.  So HAH.

1. Detroit Tigers– The Tigers have a lot going for them this season, and with the Twins on the (temporary) wane I think they could take the division.  There are a few key variables at play but none more important than the Cabrera Teetering on the Brink of the Sweet, Sweet Boozy Abyss Index (CTSSBAI) which is currently at +2.  Their pitching situation is a little top heavy but could be a lot worse.  New additions Brad Penny and Joaquin Benoit will help fill out a rotation anchored by Verlander and Max Scherzer.  On offense they’ve added Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta.  Peralta is sort of a question mark but the change of scenery for him might be good, and Brandon Inge has great athleticism and range that’ll help pick up any slack he leaves at SS.  Austin Jackson had a great season last year and they can make a real run for the division even with Guillen and Zumaya perma-injured.  Magglio Ordonez is pretty ancient at this point but I don’t think he’s crossed over into liability territory.

2. Minnesota Twins– The Twins will probably be the consensus favorite for the division, and they have the star power to justify it.  Their problem is injuries.  Joe Mauer is coming back from knee surgery and might not have the durability to do what they need him to do (i.e. play baseball good) all year. Then again, he has proved himself to be exceptional pretty much no matter what for the last couple years. Morneau has lingering concussion issues that could very easily turn into a slow start or patchy play season long.  Joe Nathan, the Twins closer, is coming back from Tommy John surgery and is basically a question mark.  In an alternate dimension or in the world of baseball that exists in his head while he is staring at the ceiling before falling asleep, Francisco Liriano is one of the best pitchers around but unfortunately for him that dimension is decades away from accidental discovery by scientists (we’re calling it here on HM first) and he just doesn’t have the magic right now.  Maybe he’ll get it back this season.  Maybe if he does he’ll make a “The Room”-esque movie called “How Francisco Got His Groove Back”, complete with poor lighting and terrible dialogue.  I for one hope this happens, but only to a limited extent because I want the Tigers to win the division.

3. Chicago White Sox– Ah, to be raised a fan of and live in the city containing one of the most detestable lineups I’ve ever seen in pro sports, made all the more so by their beady-eyed troglodyte manager.  First thing I’ll say about the White Sox is that if you’ve ever spent a night in Wrigleyville you know full well that this team could be called the Ty Cobb Racist All Stars and it would still be more legit to be a fan of them than to cast your lot with that seething frat-boy nightmare horde known as Cubs fans.  But just barely.  Anyway, the Sox are veterans which works for and against them.  They’ll have staying power late in the season but they’re very susceptible to injury problems and they just don’t have the offense to go at it with the Twins and Tigers.  The one shining diamond in this asbestos mine is Alexei Ramirez, who has insane power for being a stick figure drawing come to life.  He’s not a complete enough player to make a difference, though.

4. Cleveland Indians– Both the city of Cleveland and this team still exist.  Neither one is particularly worth caring about or discussing, although I went to Cleveland for the first time this past summer and it wasn’t bad.  Orlando Cabrera is good, of course, and Travis Hafner is alright but if I were an Indians fan I’d be worried that he’d figure out that he could make better money pretending to be Vin Diesel in Bollywood movies.  I imagine they’ll restructure a bit once Sizemore’s contract is up but for right now, I wouldn’t expect too much.

5. Kansas City Royals– The Royals are a lot like the sandy sea floor.  They get stirred up and float around a little while at first but give it some time and they’ll inevitably settle straight back to the bottom.  Without fail some baseball insider goes for some “told-you-so” cred by saying the Royals will be good in the coming season but it never really happens.  Someday, Royals fan(s?).

AL WEST

1. A’s– There’s a new big 3 in Oakland, and you’ve probably never heard of any of them unless you play fantasy baseball. Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Brett Anderson are good enough to carry the A’s to a division crown. Hell, their fourth pitcher, Dallas Braden, threw a Perfect Game last year. They definitely won’t run away with the division with Coco Crisp and Hideki Matsui in their lineup, but the pitching might be enough in this division.

2. Rangers– Texas lost out on the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes and had to settle for Adrian “I only hit above .300 in contract years” Beltre and Brandon Webb (yeah, remember him?). The lineup is dangerous once again, but are C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis enough to pitch this team to the postseason? I don’t think so. Expect a lot of high scoring games and a worn out bullpen by year’s end.

3. Angels– The Angels struck out on every free agent they tried to sign, and for some reason thought it would be okay to trade for Vernon Wells and the remaining $86 million on his contract. But hey, if Scott Kazmir can keep his ERA under 6.00 this year, they might not finish last.

4. Mariners– This could be the year the Mariners climb out of last place. Felix Hernandez won a fucking Cy Young award last year even though his team made him go 13-12. Erik Bedard is apparently healthy, and prospect Michael Pineda is penciled in as the number five guy in their rotation. Ichiro is going to have 200 hits again (2244 in his 10 year MLB career, that’s insane), and big things are expected out of prospect Justin Smoak. And lastly, Milton Bradley…yeah, that’s why their in last place still.

NL EAST

1. Phillies– Barring a horrible string of injuries, this division is already over. The Phillies signed Cliff Lee in the off-season, and their starting rotation now consists of Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Joe Blanton. Four of those guys are exceptional, and even Blanton might crack the three spot in the Yankees rotation. The line-up has aged a little with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley showing some a lot of wear and tear, but that rotation is too good for them not to win this division.

2. Braves– Atlanta is actually pretty good. If they were in another division they would probably be the favorite. Their lineup is really good, except for the lack of a slugger, but Jason Heyward might grow into that role. Plus, they added Dan Uggla who has a lot of pop for a 2nd basemen. They have an above average rotation with the up and coming Tommy Hanson to go along with veterans Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. Also, Bobby Cox retired, so I guess someone else is their manager for the first time in like 20 years.

3. Marlins- Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton should power this team. Stanton led all rookies in HRs last year even though he wasn’t called up until June. Ramirez is a threat to hit 30 HRs and steal 30 bases every year. If Javier Vazquez can morph back into the good Javier Vazquez, and he should now that he is back in the NL East, this team should compete for a playoff spot late into the season.

4. Nationals– The Nationals are probably one more year away. They spent last season babying phenom Stephen Strasburg every single start and Strasburg still blew out his elbow. He had Tommy John surgery and he’ll miss this entire season, but should be fully healthy by the start of next season. 18 year old Bryce Harper, the #1 pick last year, is being called the best hitting prospect since A-Rod, but he is probably another year away. Even if their best young talent is a year away, they still have Ryan Zimmerman and newly signed free agent Jayson Werth to carry them this season. They should at least be competitive and there is lots of hope for the future.

5. Mets– [EN: HM reader Mike Z previewed the Mets for us, and based on his preview we slotted them in last place in the NL East.] When you get a nose job, you get your chin done too, otherwise you are still ugly and no one wants to look at you. Cutting Castillo, and platooning at 2nd base, will add a bat in field that begs for gap hitters who don’t run in to walls and get concussions, but all of the options are so clunky with their gloves people will long for the day of dropped pop-ups against the Yankees. Also, our staff ace is a knuckle baller coming off a career season after spending a month in the woods by himself. So we have that going for us too. There is a reason no one wants to buy the mets. I hate the Mets this year.

P.S. Please don’t suck so much this year Jason Bay.

NL CENTRAL

1. Brewers– Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Yovani Gallardo. Plus, one of, if not the best 3-4 combination in baseball in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Add in Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee, and Corey Hart and subtract Trevor Hoffman and you’ve got a really good team. On the other hand, they’re the Milwaukee Brewers.

2. Cardinals- 31-year-old Albert Pujols is demanding a 10-year 300 million dollar contract. The market for Pujols is surprisingly small since the Red Sox and Yankees have first basemen, the Dodgers and Mets have financial problems, the Angels just wasted 86 million on Vernon Wells. The Cardinals would seem to have the advantage, but this should hang over their heads all season. Still, the Cards were probably the favorite until they lost Adam Wainwright. Chris Carpenter is still really good, and Jaime Garcia had a nice rookie season, but when your next best pitcher is Jake Westbrook, you can’t be better than second place in my preview.

3. Cubs– [EN: We asked HM reader Kalamazoo Dan to give us his take on the Cubs.] At the end of 2010 the Chicago Cubs appointed interim manager Mike Quade as terim manager after he somehow guided the team to a 24-13 finish. This was after Lou Piniella jumped ship to care for his ailing mother.  Lou is 66, he doesn’t have a mother, nice try Lou.  Quade seems to be the sacrificial lamb in the sophomore season for the new Cubs owners as they try not to invest another dollar into their team until the heinous Alfonso Soriano contract comes off the books.  In 2014.  Fuck that hurts.  The front office seems to be hoping for career years out of Aramis Ramierz, Ryan Dempster and Soriano, 2-3 years after they each produced their final career years, and also that Carlos Zambrano can remain not-crazy long enough in 2011 to repeat some of his 2nd half success going 7-0 with a 1.07 era after his triumphant return from the bullpen (and anger management).  But what seemed to be a clear rebuilding year took a slightly confusing turn after their tyrant GM Jim Hendry made very sane and un-Cubs like moves to obtain SP Matt Garza and Ifs Carlos Pena and Blake Dewitt.  Somehow Kerry Wood is back on the team as well which is just getting crazy, and the super-young, super-stud SS Starlin Castro should make a big jump after a stellar 2010 for the team.  All in all the Cubs might have found themselves the perfect combination of aging veterans, youthful talent and and gritty vagabonds (as well as a $145 million payroll and the highest ticket prices in the NL) to make a serious run at god damn .500, and let’s say 3rd, in the cluster fuck that is the NL Central.  But hey at least they’re not the Mets.

4. Reds– Joey Votto won the MVP last year, hitting in the middle of this really good lineup. Jay Bruce has been good his first few years in the league and this might be the year that he finally breaks out. Their pitching staff looks solid with young names like Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, and Mike Leake. On the other hand, young pitchers and Dusty Baker. In his first year as Reds manager, Dusty completely overworked Edinson Volquez, resulting in his Tommy John surgery, but Volquez returned at the end of last year and should be completely healthy this year. This team might have one more year left to make a run before Dusty completely destroys them.

5. Pirates– I’ve heard a few people say that this might be the year the Pirates turn things around. It looks like they’ve got a few pieces in place with Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. They probably need to add a few more pitchers to make an actual run. James McDonald is the only pitcher in their rotation I could actually name off the top of my head. After a little research, I discovered, their staff ace, Paul Maholm, went 9-15 last year with a 5.10 ERA. There’s a reason this team only won 57 games last year. Turning things around for this mess of a franchise might mean winning 70 games and not finishing with the worst record in baseball.

6. Astros- The Astros are in full on rebuilding mode. Their biggest free agent addition was probably Bill Hall as they’re hoping to build mostly from within. 1B Brett Wallace and 3B Chris Johnson are two of the young pieces that need to step up.  Also, former Astro and notorious douchebag Roger Clemens has a son in the Astros organization named Koby Clemens who might get called up at some point. That should be the most exciting moment of the season.


NL WEST

1. Rockies– Troy Tulowitzki hit 15 HRs and had 40 RBI last September, and he still wasn’t the best player on his team. Carlos Gonzalez seemingly came out of nowhere and hit .336 with 34 HR, 117 RBI, and 26 SB on the season to finish number three in the NL MVP voting. If his team had made the playoffs he probably would have won the award. Ubaldo Jimenez was almost unhittable in the first half of last season, and even with an average second half he finished the year with a 2.88 ERA and a 19-8 record. If Tulowitzki and Jimenez can put together full seasons then this team should win this division.

2. Giants- The Giants won the World Series last year behind the strength of their starting rotation. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner are all really good, but somehow 5th starter Barry Zito makes more money than all of them combined. Their lineup consists of Buster Posey, old man Aubrey Huff, no longer fat Pablo Sandoval, and not much else worth mentioning. It’s tough to imagine Cody Ross carrying this team all year the way he did in the playoffs. Also, Brian Wilson is Kenny Powers.

3. Dodgers– I don’t know what to make of the Dodgers. They have a good rotation with Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, and Hiroki Kuroda. And they have some talented position players in Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. But they didn’t do very much in the off-season and part of that has to be blamed on the ongoing battle between Frank and Jamie McCourt. Until that mess is resolved, this team will probably be a few pieces short of contending.

4. Diamondbacks- Arizona finished last place last year, and they didn’t add any big names, but they are still a pretty young team. Stephen Drew, Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Miguel Montero are still rounding into form. The pitching isn’t great, but Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson have shown promise. Armando Galarraga, the Tiger pitcher who was robbed of a perfect game, is competing for a spot in the rotation as well. This team isn’t great, but there is enough young talent here to pick them ahead of the Padres.

5. Padres- The Padres led this division for most of last year and then fell apart down the stretch. Then they traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox. They added a bunch of average players like Brad Hawpe, Ryan Ludwick, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson, Cameron Maybin, Jorge Cantu and Aaron Harang. Maybe last place is a little harsh, but they overachieved last year, lost their best player, and added a bunch of mediocre players with just enough name recognition to sell tickets. Fourth place wouldn’t be surprising, but last seems more likely.

OTHER PREDICTIONS

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzelez, Bos
AL CY YOUNG:
Brett Anderson, Oak
AL ROY:
Michael Pineda, Sea

NL MVP: Prince Fielder, Mil
NL CY YOUNG:
_________, Phi
NL ROY:
Freddie Freeman, Atl

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