Guest Article BY: Sir Omair
“All in.” Adidas recently launched their latest ad campaign highlighted by the faces of NBA MVP candidates Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard, claiming the company to be “all in.” As the calendar turns to April, the MLB season is set to start with several teams declaring themselves “all in.” The Phillies loaded up, the White Sox opted to also instead of rebuild, and the Brewers made big moves for Zack Grienke and Shaun Marcum. Even the cellar-dweller Nationals coughed up a 9-digit contract. The 2011 season is shaping up to be filled with drama, so here’s a brief rundown:
Projected Winner: The prognosticators have been showering the Phillies with unparalleled praise – and for good reason. The Phillies are returning an MVP-laden infield, and now possess what has been labeled the greatest rotation ever assembled. However, with injury concerns to Chase Utley, and the fact that most of the big names are on the wrong side of 30 should not be concerning. The division is still theirs to lose though, and should finish with their fifth consecutive division title, and in the neighborhood of 95 wins.
The Field: The Atlanta Braves have added a power bat in 2B Dan Uggla, solidifying the middle of their lineup. Their strength will once again be the rotation, headlined by young ace Tommy Hanson. If things fall just right for the team, they can win 90 games and the Wild Card, if not contend for the division.
While the Nationals spent significant money on Jayson Werth, there are just too many question marks for the team to compete this year. The team should be better, maybe approach .500, but are still a year or two away.
The Marlins shouldn’t be counted out any year, but with the youth movement back in effect, it’s be hard to see them better than .500.
The New York Mets are hoping for healthy or bounce-back years from Reyes, Wright, Bay, Beltran, and almost the entire rotation. Coupled with the off-field issues for the franchise, this may be one long summer.
The Field: The division is absolutely wide open. With the injuries to Grienke for the Brewers and Wainwright for the Cardinals, it seems to be another 90-win division champion this year. The defending champion Reds have, or are working to, extended the key pieces to their future, and should improve with age. They should be the favorite coming in, and should be fun to watch with Aroldis Chapman clocking over 100mph.
Meanwhile, the Cubs kept control of the payroll, but will still try to compete this year. With a strong rotation and promising youngsters, some believe that “next year” is here. Hope for some health and luck – and a return to a respectable average for Carlos Pena.
The Astros quietly chased .500 last year, and they may do the exact same this year. Hard to put them in the top half of the division, but don’t sleep on them either.
The Cardinals were one of the most talked about teams during the offseason. Unfortunately for the fans, it centered on the contract status of Albert Pujols. While the arrival of the season has brought some focus back to the other 24 men, the media will continue to ask about Pujols. The team itself may be on the outside looking in with questions in the rotation, and the backside of the lineup. Unfortunately, the financial situation due to Pujols’ contract will leave them unlikely to trade for help.
The Brewers struggled with their pitching, especially their bullpen last year. With Price Fielder’s free agency looming, the Brewers were thought to go back into rebuilding, but instead were buyers in the winter. Adding a plethora of pitching, they may make a run, but the loss of Grienke hurts. There may not be greater pressure on a team to start, as a slow start could turn into a fire sale by the deadline.
The Pirates: I’m sorry, Pittsburgh.
Projected Winner: The Giants are the defending World Series champions. They have arguably the best rotation in baseball, Phillies included. They have the most entertaining closer in baseball. They have Buster Posey and a lot of afterthoughts who contribute on offense. They’re the favorite to win the division.
The Field: The Colorado Rockies have shown the money to their young stars, showing they’re serious about winning. The top half of the lineup can win the division, and the top two in the rotation can keep them in games. They lack the depth the Giants have, and their staff needs to last the full season this year. The biggest concern lies in the bullpen, where there may only be one reliable arm.
The Dodgers got weaker, losing two key bats in Manny Ramirez and Russell Martin. Most of the rest of the lineup returns, but there are questions on how the lineup will produce. The rotation can be strong, but is a crapshoot, while the bullpen is patchwork. If the team can avoid injuries and prolonged slumps, it could win the division, but we’re not confident.
The Padres rebuilt around speed and pitching, and are the dark horse in the league. With a stout bullpen and excellent young rotation, the team will be in games all year. The team may struggle to score, but don’t be surprised to see them win 55 games at home en route to the wild card or division.
The Diamondbacks got rid of their biggest strikeout culprits from last year, who were also their offensive forces. With a cornerstone in Justin Upton, and some nice pieces on offense, there is a glimmer of hope. With youth up and down the roster, the team will look to build toward the future.
Projected Winner: The Rangers just had a World Series appearance, but aren’t even favored to repeat in the division. The picks vary between the Angels and the Athletics. The Angels are expected to bounce back with maybe the most overpaid outfield in baseball history, and what are constantly labeled as “glue guys” along the infield. There would need to be a miracle in SoCal for the Angels to reach 90 wins. They are the Angels, though. Between an above average rotation with an average offense and young and unproven bullpen, 90 maybe lofty.
The Field: The trendy pick is the Oakland Athletics. While they made sensible Moneyball signings, they just don’t strike us as a team ready to compete this year. The offense looks subpar, though David DeJesus may flourish. If they are to compete, it’ll be on the laurels of their young arms. Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and the return of Rich Harden can peak and be the S.F. Giants of 2011, or they can stay young, and the team will be the A’s of the last few years. We’ll stick with the latter, until proven wrong.
The aforementioned Rangers have a solid, well-rounded lineup once again but will require Josh Hamilton to shoulder the MVP workload again, and avoid struggles from Nelson Cruz. The loss of Cliff Lee hurts this team the most. Now, the rotation features C.J. Wilson followed by question marks. However, in a weak division, they will contend.
The Seattle Mariners will probably lose 100 again. Keep faith, though, as there are some bright spots moving forward, and Ichiro can still reach 200 hits.
Projected Winner: The race will come down to the recovery and contributions of two players. Justin Morneau for the Minnesota Twins and Jake Peavy for the Chicago White Sox could push their respective teams to the top of the heap.
The Twins are always near the top, so no surprise they are the favorite. However, the rotation may have overachieved last year, and health in the bullpen, mainly closer Joe Nathan, can derail the team. If Morneau recovers fully, we see the Twins as the team to beat.
The White Sox added a big left-handed bat in Adam Dunn, and still feature strong pitching all around, like the exciting, young Chris Sale. Even if everything comes together for the team, they still must beat the Twins head-to-head, something they have struggle with. If they can, the division is theirs, especially if Jake Peavy can be healthy and give them a top 3 rotation.
The Field: The Detroit Tigers made additions to protect Miguel Cabrera in the lineup. The questions are with their pitching. A rotation that may not go more than two-deep, if that, and a bullpen of question marks projects a third place finish.
The Indians and Royals. Both are young teams with prospects galore. The experience these players get could serve as important stepping stones to bright futures. 2011 will tough for both teams, though.
Projected Winner: The 2010 Red Sox built their team by not offering mega contracts or going beyond five years. This placed the team in such a strong position that they were able to land two of the biggest names on the market – Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. It took a mega contract for Crawford, and likely will to keep Gonzalez, though. Featuring a lineup that is 8-deep, Gold Gloves to spare, and age on their side, the team will contend for a half decade. The questions revolve around the pitching rotation. Jon Lester is the ace, probably winning 20 games. The rest is hard to predict. Josh Beckett and Jon Lackey can be aces, but wear seems to have caught up to them. If they recover, Boston has a top three to compete with the Phillies. Daisuke Matsuzaka can win 18 or to be awful and get pushed from the rotation or injured. Clay Buchholz brings his repertoire in at the back of the rotation – and you can see the makings of a great rotation. Tim Wakefield is the emergency starter after being an all-star in 2009, important depth considering the injury history to some of the starters. However, the Papelbon situation, as well doubts about the bullpen could hamper this team.
The Field: The New York Yankees. With Andy Pettitte’s retirement, the team has a big hole in the back of their rotation, after C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes. A.J. Burnett is always an adventure. Ivan Nova penciled in as the fourth starter, and – no joke – Bartolo Colon, who has won 14 games in five years, and didn’t pitch in 2010, at five. While the offense and bullpen are capable, we have to wonder when age will finally catch up to them, especially Rivera closing out games. Age (and being preoccupied banging Minka Kelly, through no fault of his own) seemed to have caught up to Jeter, but he believes he will recover. Lucky for the Yankees, the division is not going to pass them. Unlucky for them, the fans are unhappy with the offseason, and will not tolerate the BoSox running away early.
The Tampa Bay Rays lost their leadoff and cleanup hitters, a young starter, and their closer. Expect a decline. The organization is run well, though, so they’ll hang around a while. There are still plenty of pieces, and a “disappointing” season is still 85 wins. They’ve come far from their Devil Ray days.
The Orioles are starting to right the ship. The additions of Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, and Mark Reynolds are a testament to that. However, the signings are risky, and division is still stacked. Kudos for the effort.
One step forward, two steps back for the Toronto Blue Jays. An 85 win year still saw them finish fourth, and the team lost a lot. Trading Vernon Wells was acceptable, as the contract was brutal, but no replacement bat was added. Pitching, namely the bullpen, was a strength of the team last. Sadly, the success led to larger contracts, causing players being moved elsewhere. In the AL East, the Jays may slide back into sub-mediocrity, and probably the basement.