It’s never too early to break down the divisions. Here’s how I see the upcoming season, in snap-shot form of course:
NL East–Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Mets, Nationals
Not even a Chase Utley injury can derail the Phillies train. If pitching wins championships, Charlie Manuel and company appear to be in great shape for 2011. A healthy Chipper Jones and the addition of Dan Uggla will keep the Braves in the wild card race. Florida has an interesting club, led by young sluggers Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton, and Gaby Sanchez. The Mets and Nats will slug it out for the cellar.
NL Central–Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Pirates, Astros
The Brewers were busy this offseason, adding quality arms in Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Milwaukee looks like a balanced club, and Ryan Braun is primed for a huge season. The Cards will find a way to overcome the Wainwright injury and keep it close. An improved Cubs team should still be playing meaningful baseball in September. The Reds will see a serious market correction. And then there are the Pirates and Astros. Pittsburgh is finally heading the right direction, but 2011 won’t be the year they approach .500. I can’t even begin to describe the mess that is the Houston Astros.
NL West–Rockies, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, D-Backs
This should be a fun division to watch, as the top four teams all have a realistic shot. The Rockies appear to be a cut above the rest, but you have to be afraid of the Giants pitching staff. The Dodgers should see better days, as Loney, Kemp, and Broxton can’t be as bad as they were in 2010. Billingsley and Kershaw are solid rotation building blocks. The Padres overachieved last year, but I won’t make the mistake of writing them off again. Mat Latos and Heath Bell lead an impressive pitching staff. The D-backs should be better, but they still have a huge mountain to climb.
NL Wild Card winner–Braves
NL MVP–Ryan Braun
NL Cy Young–Tommy Hanson
AL East–Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles
Adrian Gonzalez will solidify an already solid offense. I see Beckett bouncing back, which means bad news for the American League. Lester and Buchholz are fabulous young arms. Great staff, great team. I’m not sure why so many people are down on the Yankees. I’d love to see them struggle this year, but there is WAY too much talent in the Bronx. Speaking of talent, the Rays lost a ton of it. However, they still have more than enough to be competitive. I see 85 wins or so for Tampa Bay. The Jays and Orioles might have a shot in another division, but such is life.
AL Central–Twins, Tigers, White Sox, Royals, Indians
The Central will be a dog fight, but I can’t bet against Minnesota. Even if Justin Morneau misses more time with that lingering concussion, the Twins will be playing in October once again. The Tigers are certainly improved, but they still have too many holes. I love Verlander and Scherzer, but the rest of the rotation could be problematic. Adam Dunn will beef up the White Sox lineup, but their offense is still challenged. I do see a nice bounce back year for Gordon Beckham, however. Hang in there Royals fans! The young stars should arrive soon. In the meantime, it will be another crappy year in KC. Cleveland will likely lead the league in losses. Terrible offense, terrible pitching staff, terrible defense, and an injured Grady Sizemore. Ouch!
AL West–Rangers, Angels, A’s, Mariners
Texas isn’t exactly a lock, but the Neftali Feliz and Michael Young questions won’t be enough to keep the Rangers from repeating. Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler have “superstar” written all over them. I like the Angels pitching, but they could be offensively challenged. Here’s hoping Kendry Morales heals soon. The A’s are the trendy pick this year, but I don’t like their offense either. However, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Gio Gonzalez look like the real deal. The Mariners can’t be as bad as they were last year, but they still look like cellar dwellers. Hopefully Dustin Ackley makes the big club out of spring. It looks like another year of poor run support for King Felix.
AL Wild Card–Yankees
AL MVP–Joe Mauer
AL Cy Young–Jon Lester
World Series–Red Sox over Phillies
Keep in mind, I picked Boston last year. I also picked the Ravens to win the Super Bowl. Maybe I should retire the crystal ball.
Now, let’s get to your 2011 picks…