2011 MLB Season Preview

Busch Stadium head painter Billy Martin makes last minute touchups to the Opening Day logo, painted behind homeplate at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on March 28, 2011. The Cardinals will host the San Diego Padres on Opening Day March 31. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

In the eyes of public opinion, the moment Cliff Lee surprised the Yankees and Rangers by signing with Philadelphia the Phillies locked up the AL East. And when the Red Sox traded for slugger Adrian Gonzalez and signed free agent Carl Crawford to a mega-contract, a Boston-Philly World Series matchup was all the pundits could talk about this spring.

But what about the defending champs? The Giants are better at this point this year than they were a year ago. They’ll have Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner for an entire season and the Panda looks like he’s rounding back into 2009 form. It’s been 10-straight years since the last time a team repeated as World Series champions, so the task will be daunting. But given Chase Utley’s knee injury and the uncertainty surrounding Josh Beckett and John Lackey (two starters coming off down years in Boston), why not the Giants?

Below is a division-by-division breakdown of how I see the 2011 MLB season playing out. You’ll find projections for every team and every division, as well as postseason and World Series predictions as well. If you want to bash my picks, feel free. I just have one condition: Make your own predictions as well. Don’t be that person that criticizes my picks without sticking his or her neck out there, too. Because nobody likes you.

That said, enjoy another season, baseball fans!

Read the rest of this entry »

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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?

Read the rest of this entry »

MLB Sleepers: Who will be this year’s Giants, Rangers, Reds, Rays and Padres?

Sleepers can come in a variety of forms. Not all of them win the World Series, or their division, or even make the postseason for that matter. But all sleepers do have one thing in common: They do something unexpected.

The five sleepers listed below all did something unexpected in 2010. Let’s recap.

Giants: The team that seemingly came out of nowhere to win the World Series on the strength of their young pitching and a bunch of hitters that got red-hot at the right time.

Rangers: The team that everyone knew had talent to reach the postseason but were still hesitant about predicting them to win the division.

Reds: The youngish team that everyone knew would eventually compete, but were surprised to see that “eventually” meant 2010.

Rays: The team that people knew had the talent to reach the postseason but still stuck them behind the Yankees and even Red Sox in the division.

Padres: The team that nobody thought would challenge for a postseason berth and would have been the surprise of the year had they not collapsed down the stretch run.

So who are this year’s Giants, Rangers, Padres, Reds and Rays? I’m glad you asked.

The 2011 Giants: Oakland A’s
The strength of Oakland’s club is its young pitching, led by four pitchers in Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden, who are all 27 or younger. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Giants won the World Series last year with four pitchers (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner) who were all 27 or younger. The Giants also had an offense that would hardly keep opposing pitchers up at night but after GM Brian Sabean re-signed Juan Uribe and added guys like Cody Ross and Pat Burrell during the year, it was enough to be dangerous. Just like SF’s offense last year, Oakland’s bats aren’t going to scare anyone but after the offseason additions that Billy Beane made this offseason (Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus) they’re enough to be dangerous. And just like the Giants, if they can reach the postseason (where pitching matters most), the A’s might be able to do some damage.

Read the rest of this entry »

How will Chase Utley’s injury affect the Phillies in 2011?

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley walks across the field after taking batting practice before a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida, March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The unsurprising happened on Thursday: Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. confirmed that second baseman Chase Utley will begin the season on the disabled list.

The thought of beginning the year without Utley is something the Phillies have been bracing for all spring. He hasn’t seen the field once yet in exhibition and with Opening Day only a week away, him starting the year on the DL was the most likely outcome.

Replacing Utley in the lineup is an impossible task. The Phillies recently signed Luis Castillo (formerly of the Mets), but he went 0-for-4 in his Philadelphia debut and may not even make the team if he continues to hit around .250 this spring. Of course, the other candidates to take Utley’s spot don’t look any better. Wilson Valdez is hitting just .239 is a 32-year-old journeyman who has only played in 247 major league games since making his first appearance in ‘04, while Josh Barfield has showed his versatility this spring but he’s still behind Valdez on the depth chart.

As of right now, the Phillies aren’t saying when Utley will return because quite frankly, they probably don’t even know. If he winds up missing the rest of the season, the loss of him and Jayson Werth (Nationals) gives the rest of Philly’s offense a small margin for error. Given that Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are coming off poor seasons and Placido Polanco and Rual Ibanez are in the twilights of their careers, this is going to be a huge year for Ryan Howard (who must carry the offense).

So what happens to the Phillies’ chances of winning the World Series? Thanks to their loaded pitching staff, they’re still the clear favorites in the NL. But the Braves are a big threat in the division and there’s a certain championship team out West that treated Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt like mortals in the postseason last year.

Of course, the Giants won the World Series last year with pitching and the Phillies have more offense than San Fran did – even without Utley. But the Giants’ hitters also got extremely hot at the right time and this is a Philadelphia club that has been known to come out of the gates slow before picking it up in the second half. Considering they might not have Utley all season, they better kick it into gear right away. Without Utley roaming second base in Philadelphia, the playing field certainly evens out more in the National League.

Should Brandon Belt crack the Giants’ Opening Day lineup?

Giants’ first baseman Brandon Belt is the 26th ranked player on MLB.com writer Jonathan Mayo’s Top 50 Prospects List for 2011.

If there are 25 prospects having a better spring than Belt, then I need my eyes checked.

Belt went 3-for-4 with an RBI double and a solo home run in a win over the White Sox on Wednesday. It was his second dinger of the spring and he’s now hitting .302 with 10 RBI over 43 at bats. The kid is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball and making the Giants’ decision about whether or not he should break camp with the big league club.

But there are a couple of problems.

Problem I: Aaron Rowand
Rowand still has two years left on his ridiculous contract and if Belt makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll force Aubrey Huff to move into an already crowded outfield. The Giants would likely either have to eat Rowand’s contract and/or bend over and take less value in a trade, neither of which they seem ready to do.

Problem II & III: Nate Schierholtz and Travis Ishikawa
Both are out of minor league options and one can make a case that both deserve a roster spot. Schierholtz has a cannon attached to his right arm and is a left-handed bat, while Ishikawa plays an outstanding first base and proved to be a nice bat off the bench last year. Teams would probably be more interested in trading for Schierholtz than either Rowand or Ishikawa, but if the Giants were to keep Belt then they would need to part with at least one other player. (Thus, Belt, Schierholtz, Rowand and Ishikawa are all fighting for two roster spots.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Related Posts