Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 MLB Preview and Predictions: Division Champs Edition

National League East – Philadelphia Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies are the favorite to win the National League East title in 2011. They have had their share of injuries already with starting right fielder Domonic Brown and All-Star second baseman Chase Utley both to miss Opening Day, but the ever-creative Ruben Amaro will likely find a way to fill those voids. The Phillies have a dominant pitching staff that could have a historic season. What the Phillies lack is depth off the bench. If the injury bug continues to bite, then a young and talented Atlanta Braves team could sneak in and steal the division. Expect the Philadelphia Phillies to win the NL East and contend for the National League pennant.

National League Central – Milwaukee Brewers

The National League Central is one of the toughest divisions to pick in 2011. The Milwaukee Brewers have had a good offense for a few years now, but now they have the pitching to go along with it. The addition of former American League standouts Zach Greinke and Shawn Marcum teaming up with Yovani Gallardo makes a talented 1-2-3 combination. The Brewers will likely fight it out with the St. Louis Cardinals until late September. Had I written this prior to Adam Wainwright’s Tommy John surgery, I would have taken the Cardinals. The Brewers and Cardinals will see some good competition from both the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds, but the Reds will have a tough time repeating last year’s magic and the Cubs don’t seem ready quite yet. The Milwaukee Brewers will take the NL Central in 2011.

National League West – San Francisco Giants

The San Francisco Giants are returning all their main pieces from their 2010 World Series championship and will win the National League West in 2011. The Giants have quite a mix of veteran leadership and young talent; their main question being whether all of the veterans will be able to make it through another full season. Both Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval had down years in 2010 according to their standards and will look to bounce back strong in 2011. The Giants will see stiff competition from both the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Rockies have the best of challenging the Giants for the division with a strong offense and a likely Cy Young contending pitcher in Ubaldo Jimenez. The San Francisco Giants won’t be feeling the effects of the dreaded World Series hangover and will win the NL West in 2011.

National League Wildcard – St. Louis Cardinals

The National League Wildcard will be a race to watch coming down the stretch in 2011. Each division has multiple contenders, but not everyone can make it. From the NL East expect the Atlanta Braves to be in contention for the Wildcard led by a young offense and a good looking pitching staff. The NL Central will have the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and the Chicago Cubs in the running. A strong Colorado Rockies team and a Los Angeles Dodgers team coming off a disappointing offseason will be in the running from the West. I think the NL Wildcard race will ultimately come down to the Braves, Cardinals, and Rockies. I believe in the magic that pitching coach Dave Duncan can work, so I expect the St. Louis Cardinals to win the National League Wildcard.

American League East – Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox will have one of, if not, the best offenses in Major League Baseball. The additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford add dangerous amounts of contact, power, and speed. The biggest question for the Red Sox is their starting rotation. Though filled with big names, Beckett, Dice-K, and Lackey all seem to have peaked and now are in their decline. The biggest competition the Red Sox will face is from the New York Yankees. If the Yankees can figure out the back end of their rotation, then they will be a dangerous team. Look for the Boston Red Sox to beat out the Yankees and the rest of the AL East to win the division in 2011.

American League Central – Detroit Tigers

Similar to the National League Central, the central division in the American League is up for grabs too. The Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota Twins all have legitimate chances to win the division. The Detroit Tigers have both a major Cy Young contender in Justin Verlander leading their rotation and an MVP front runner in Miguel Cabrera leading their offense. The Tigers have some young talent on offense which includes Austin Jackson. The key to winning the division may be starting pitcher Rick Porcello. If he can return to the pitcher we saw when he was a rookie in 2009, then their rotation could be very good. The Detroit Tigers will see big competition from the Chicago White Sox but should hold them off and win the American League Central in 2011.

American League West – Texas Rangers

The reigning World Series runner-up had an interesting offseason leading up to the 2011 season. The offseason included losing Cliff Lee in a bidding war, angering Michael Young, and overpaying Adrian Beltre to play third base. The Rangers are relying on a relatively young pitching staff, which may include sophomore sensation Neftali Feliz transitioning from the closer role to a full time starter. The offense is lead by Josh Hamilton, who looks to build on his impressive 2010 MVP campaign. The Rangers will see stiff competition from the Oakland A’s and the Los Angeles Angels. The Texas Rangers should be able to hold off the scrappy A’s team to win the American League West in 2011.

American League Wildcard – New York Yankees

The American League Wildcard is a bit jumbled with the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and possibly an up-and-coming Baltimore Orioles team from the east; Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins for the central; and the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels from the west. The Chicago White Sox will give the Yankees the hardest time with their big veteran presence. The New York Yankees are in the playoff picture year in and year out and will be a tough team to beat in the AL Wildcard this season, so look for them to win it in 2011.

-Written by Kevin Rossi

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