Five teams that could come up short in 2011

Philadelphia Phillies starter Roy Halladay pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the fourth inning of a MLB spring training game at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida, March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

It’s the start of a new year and you know what that means: Expectations are running high for every club not named the Pirates and Royals. (Or Astros, Cubs, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Nationals or Indians for that matter.)

But what postseason contenders are most likely to fall short of expectations in 2011? I’ve highlighted five below.

Philadelphia Phillies
When a team is hyped for an entire offseason, it almost becomes cliché to say that they’ll fall short of expectations. But in the case of the Phillies, there’s some major concern here. It’s impossible to replace Chase Utley’s production in the lineup and this is an aging roster. Yes, the Halladay/Lee/Oswalt/Hamels/Blanton combination will keep most opposing batters up at night and yes, the Phillies will probably win the NL East. But the Braves aren’t too far behind talent-wise and Philadelphia has become a club that starts off slow only to pick it up in the second half. If Atlanta comes out of the gates hot and the Phillies suffer some early-season hiccups without Utley, the Braves might be able to build a decent lead that they can ride throughout the season. Barring injury to Halladay or Lee, I can’t imagine a scenario in which the Phillies don’t make the playoffs this year. But without Utley, the playing field has definitely been leveled in the National League.

San Francisco Giants
This is an easy one. It’s been 10-straight years since the last time any team was able to repeat as World Series champions. And while the G-Men aren’t considered the favorites to win this year’s Fall Classic (that would be the Phillies or Red Sox), many pundits believe that, at the very least, they’ll win the NL West again. A World Series hangover is the Giants’ biggest concern, because this club is better now than it was a year ago. They’ll get a full year out of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, the energetic Andres Torres will serve as the leadoff hitter from Day 1 (instead of the highly unproductive Aaron Rowand), Pablo Sandoval looks like he’s ready for a big bounce back campaign, top prospect Brandon Belt might start the year with the big league club after dominating this spring, and Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot and Pat Burrell strengthen the bench. But it’s a different game for the Giants now. They’re going to be the hunted instead of the hunters, at least in the NL West. Can this fun-loving team recapture the same magic it had in September and October last year? Or will all of those extra innings that Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez endured in the postseason last year eventually catch up with this team?

New York Yankees
Many pundits aren’t predicting the Yankees to win the World Series this year but they’re still the freaking Yankees. Their pitching has been the topic of conversation all spring but everyone still expects the Bombers to battle the Red Sox in the AL East. That said, their lineup is aging and yes, their pitching is a major concern. CC Sabathia is a stud, but A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova will make or break this club. They’re going to score plenty of runs and their bullpen is solid but the Yankees don’t have much in terms of starting pitching depth. God forbid the offense struggles or someone like Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira or A-Rod gets hurt because this team could be in major trouble.

Milwaukee Brewers
I’m predicting the Brewers to win the NL Central this year but I’m well aware that this team could come up short in the end. Zack Greinke’s recent rib injury is cause for concern and if he winds up having an injury-plagued year then Milwaukee might fall to the middle of the pack once again. This club acquired Greinke from Kansas City and signed Shaun Marcum so that Yovani Gallardo had help. For as good as the offense is, the Brewers will only go as far as their pitching. They not only need Greinke to be healthy, but they need him to pitch well. I still favor the Brew Crew in the Central but the Reds basically return the same roster that won the division last year and now they’ll have a full year of flamethrower Aroldis Chapman. They will not go quietly into the good night.

Oakland A’s
This is another team that I like to win their division but I’m also well aware that plenty of things have to break their way. Although their easiest month is slated for September, their most difficult stretch comes in August when they only have one home stand. I love Oakland’s young pitching, but Brett Anderson’s elbow issues better be behind him or else the A’s might not have enough to contend. Also, will the additions of Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui be enough to improve an awful offense? I see a lot of the 2010 Giants in this club, but the A’s will have to have a little luck on their side this year if they’re going to make the postseason (not unlike the 2010 Giants, who won the NL West thanks in large part to the Padres’ late-season collapse).

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