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Our Fearless MLB Predictions for 2011

I will be the first to admit, these predictions aren’t that fearless. I mean, really. When you select the Boston Red Sox to meet the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2011 World Series, you ain’t goin’ too far out onto the limb.

However, I do believe the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins will challenge the BoSox, I believe the Orioles will finally get to .500 and the Colorado Rockies and Atlanta Braves will bettle it out for the National League Wild Card.

So without further adieu — after all, the first pitch is in about two hours — here are our annual Fearless Predictions for 2011.

THE AMERICAN LEAGUE

EAST

1)  Boston Red Sox – If the Red Sox stay healthy, this is the best team in the American League. Offensively, they have Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, J.D. Drew, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. On the mound, it’s Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Diasuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett. Easily No. 1 in the East.

2) New York Yankees – We only pick the Yanks in two spot because they are the Yanks. After C.C. Sabathia, the pitching staff is a big question mark. A-Rod was sensational in the spring, Derek Jeter will be better than last year, Robinson Cano might be MVP and they will hit, but will they stop anybody else from hitting? Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia are the fourth and fifth starters.

3) Baltimore Orioles – This team finished 34-23 down the stretch last season and improved big time in the off-season bringing in Valdimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy and Derrek Lee. If the young pitchers mature, the Orioles will challenge the Yanks for second. Buck Showalter might be the best manager in the game.

4) Tampa Bay Rays – If Manny Ramirez grows up and Johnny Damon stays healthy, the Rays will have some lineup help for Evan Longoria. For this team, it’s all about the pitching. If James Shields, David Price, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann. That’s a lot of ‘ifs.’

5) Toronto Blue Jays – If Jose Bautista hits 54 home runs again, I’ll eat the Rogers Centre. Getting better, but just not good enough.

CENTRAL

1) Detroit Tigers – So much for a DUI ruining Miguel Cabrera’s career. He has been lights out this spring, hitting .357 with a .714 slugging percentage, six doubles, three homers and a team-high 12 RBI. With Magglio Ordonez hitting in front of him and Victor Martinez behind him, it will be a big year in Detroit.

2) Minnesota Twins – Justin Morneau is getting healthy and Joe Mauer is already back to form. Throw in a solid pitching staff and Minnesota and Detroit will battle for 1-2 in the Central.

3. Chicago White Sox – The Sox added Adam Dunn’s bat to a lineup that includes Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski and Alexei Ramirez. But do they have enough pitching?

4. Kansas City Royals – The Royals might have the best farm system in the game but it won’t matter this year. Kansas City will hurt the contenders occasionally, but not often.

5. Cleveland Indians – Manager Manny Acta said if his young players show what they’re made of, the Indians will have a good team. They will eventually, I suppose, but it won’t be this year. I was told in Florida by someone who follows the Indians closely: “Anyone who thinks the Indians have a hope suffers from D & D – a case of dumb and delusional.”

WEST

1) Texas Rangers – These guys hit a ton as Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy and Ian Kinsler lead the way. It certainly won’t hurt if Adrian Beltre gets healthy, too. The pitching will suffer without Cliff Lee, but that won’t stop the Rangers from repeating in the West.

2) Los Angeles Angels – Dan Haren, Jared Weaver, Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana give the Angels a great rotation. The addition of Vernon Wells will help the order. L.A. will challenge Texas.

3) Oakland A’s – Can Hideki Matsui find happiness in Oakland? Can the A’s finish better than third? Look out for starter Trevor Cahill: 18-8 with 2.97 ERA last year.

4) Seattle Mariners – How can a team with Ichiro Suzuki and Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez go 61-101? That’s what they did last year and it’s hard to imagine the Ms will be any better this year.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

EAST

1) Philadelphia Phillies – With a rotation that goes like this: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, it doesn‘t matter if they hit. However, if they can’t replace the injured Chase Utley and the gone Jayson Werth, there is a chance even the Phils won’t hit enough.

2) Atlanta Braves – If Chipper can still play (and stay healthy all year) and manager Fredi Gonzalez is as good a manager as we think, the Braves might threaten in the anemic East. Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters will share the closer’s duties and it’s hard not to like a lineup that includes Brian McCann, Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and big Freddie Freeman.

3) Florida Marlins – This is a typical Florida Marlins team: Young, promising and cheap. Rookie Mike Stanton is the player to watch.

4) New York Mets – All questions, not enough answers. Will Jason Bay adjust to Citi Field? Will Carlos Beltran get healthy? Will Johan Santana return to form? Will they be sold? If the answers are positive, this team could threaten.

5) Washington Nationals – Better than last year with Jayson Werth in the lineup to protect Ryan Zimmerman, but still an afterthought.

CENTRAL

1) Cincinnati Reds – With MVP Joey Votto and loads of offence, the Reds will score. A lot depends on the rotation of Edinson Volquez, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, Travis Wood and Mike Leake. Dusty Baker will keep them in the race.

2) Milwaukee Brewers – The addition of pitchers Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum will make the Brewers better. They’ll win a lot more than 77 games (2010). Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart give the Brewers a solid middle of the lineup.

3) St. Louis Cardinals – If Albert Pujols just goes nuts with his free-agent winter coming up, he could lead the Cards into the playoffs himself. However, with Adam Wainwright out for the season, the pitching staff suffers mightily. Pujols is clearly the player to watch in the Majors this year.

4) Chicago Cubs – Well, it’s “next year,” again. This is a team likely to win about 82 games and yet again, fail to win a title.

5) Houston Astros – This is a team that finished strongly in 2010 and then just didn’t get better. No threat. If Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee blow up, they could finish ahead of the Cubs.

6) Pittsburgh Pirates – This is a Triple A franchise. They scored only 587 runs last year while giving up 866. If they win 50 games it will be a miracle. Although I do love Andrew McCutchon.

WEST

1) San Francisco Giants – The Giants have enough pitching to prove the 2010 World Series was not a one-hit wonder. Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain will be fine. The only question is: Do the Giants have enough offence after Pablo (Kung Fu Panda) Sandoval.

2) Colorado Rockies – The Dodgers, Rockies and Giants will battle for No. 1 in the West all season long. With Dexter Fowler, Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton and Carlos Gonzalez, this team will score a lot of runs. Can Ubaldo Jimenez carry the worst pitching staff of the Top 3 teams in the West? I love them as the NL Wild Card team.

3) Los Angeles Dodgers – The pitching should be good enough, but players such as Juan Uribe, Andre Ethier and James Loney have to get more done over the long haul. Will new manager Don Mattingly do more with this bunch than Joe Torre?

4) San Diego Padres – Should have enough pitching, won’t have near enough hitting with the loss of Adrian Gonzalez to Boston.

5) Arizona Diamondbacks – Justin Upton and nobody else. Will be young and will be out of the race by June 1.

Playoff Teams:  AL — Boston, Detroit, Minnesota, Texas; NL — Philadelphia, Cincinnati, San Francisco and either Atlanta or Colorado.

AL Champions: Boston Red Sox

NL Champions: Philadelphia Phillies

World Series: Phillies over Boston in six games.

 



More Stuff Banging Around in My Noggin…

I was sitting in the press box at Canwest Park last night waiting for the Goldeyes and Joliet to get it on when my brain started to go thump, thump, thump.

Here’s what fell out onto the page…

1) Last Friday night, Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress felt that Brett Favre would play at least a half against Houston next Monday night.

Childress said all he wanted from Favre last Friday night in Minneapolis was to complete all the exchanges from centre-to-quarterback ad to hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson.

“If he completed a couple of passes, great,” Childress added. “That’s not what we were after. We have a 39-year-old guy playing his first game of the year after 2 1/2 days of practice. Taking the exchange from centre was a good first step for Brett.”

I asked Childress during the news conference how long he felt it would take Favre to get used to his teammates, the terminology, the surroundings and his own physical capabilities and Childress was forthright.

“Two weeks,” he said.

That sounds about right. Sounds like it was about right for Michael Bishop, too.

2) A website/newsletter/journalistic-type-place called the Bleacher Report, picked the Top 100 players in baseball this month. No. 1 was Albert Pujols. No argument there.

However, at No. 5 was Minnesota’s Joe Mauer. No. 5? Number Freakin’ 5?

I cancelled my subscription. Anyone who picks Mauer No. 5, hasn’t ever seen Mauer play and if they haven’t seen Mauer, they have nothing of interest to a baseball fan.

Mauer is a freakin’ catcher for goodness sake. He plays the toughest position on the field and throws bee-bees from his knees to each of the bases. He handles a pitching staff. He calls for pitches. He has to know everything going on out on the field at all time.

Meanwhile, he hits .380. And he’ll win the American League batting title this year with at least 30 home runs, 100 runs scored and 100 RBI even though he didn’t play a game until May 1.

However, he’ll also lead the AL in slugging percentage (.635) and on base percentage (.449) and right now, he leads Pujols in batting average and on-base percentage (Pujols is slightly ahead in slugging percentage, .665 to .635).

Mauer is a lifetime .328 hitter who won the AL batting title in 2006 (.347) and 2008 (.328) and he’s a freakin’ catcher. Oh yeah, and he’s only 26.

Hanley Ramirez and a couple of pitchers couldn’t carry Mauer’s 6-foot-5, 235-pound jock to the ballpark. The Bleacher Report is not a report. It’s a bunch of dudes farting around.

3) They say female South African runner Caster Semenya is not a woman, but a man. The IAAF is forcing her to undergo tests to determine that she’s indeed a woman. As it is for most sports governing bodies, humiliating people is an easy thing to rationalize. In fact, the IAAF “ordered” her to take the tests. Ordered.

Hey, I don’t know if she’s a man or a woman, but if she says she’s a woman, she’s a woman. What real man would want a woman’s medal anyway?

And besides, despite the humiliation she’s been forced to endure, one thing is certain. She has the best abs in sport … anywhere, anytime, any sex.



Some more things bouncing around inside my skull…

It was quite a week. We watched the Winnipeg Blue Bombers bring in a new quarterback, we headed off to Mankato, Minn., to watch opening day of Minnesota Vikings camp and then headed back to Minneapolis for the Twins-Angels series.

As a result, here are a few more things that went banging around in my brain this past week…

1) Last week, Blue Bombers head coach Mike Kelly was fined $1,000 for verbally abusing the officials in Week 4’s 19-5 loss to Toronto.

The Bombers were so dreadfully awful in that game that I didn’t really notice the officials much, but I will say this: CFL officials are so bad, so rotten, that somebody has to verbally abuse them. Just to keep them awake.

2) It sure didn’t take long for the Bombers to sour on defensive tackle Tyrone Williams and quarterback Richie Wlliams. Even before the team went to Toronto for this past Saturday’s game with the Argos, the two were gone. Released outright.

Wow! There was an awful lot of newspaper space wasted on those two four-week clunkers.

3) Here’s how you beat the Minnesota Twins: Walk Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau every time they come to the plate. Hell, I’ll take my chances with Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel.

If you let the “New M&M Boys” hit, they will. They’ll beat you. But if you never face them, they’ll score a couple of runs, but not enough to hurt you. After all, that Twins pitching staff is awful. It’s going to give up 8-12 a game (especially if you’re the Los Angeles Angels) and a couple of Twins runs won’t even dent that.

4) My old friend George Sherrill was traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday. He didn’t want to go, but he’ll now have a legitimate shot at winning a World Series. Not bad for a guy who spent 2002 and 2003 with the independent Winnipeg Goldeyes.

Asked by the Los Angeles Times after Friday’s game (where he struck out three of the four batters he faced) if he ever saw himself “reaching this point while he was toiling in the independent leagues,” Sherrill said: “I didn’t know what this point was. I just wanted to keep playing. I guess that’s why some girlfriends took off.”

5) There is a great deal of gnashing of teeth these days over “The List.” That’s baseball’s notorious list of people who were voluntarily and anonymously drug tested in 2003. It’s a list with 104 names on it, but only seven names have been leaked.

It’s a list that allows the mob-like mainstream media to continue to attack the game even though the mob-like mainstream media was a big part of the cover-up of steroid us in baseball when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were saving the game in 1998.

Because most members of the mainstream media have no idea what steroids are or what they do, they use the leaks from the list to vilify athletes and attack baseball’s credibility.

It’s unfortunate that commissioner Bud Selig is just a liar. He, of course, claimed that the people who agreed to be tested in 2003 would never see the results of those tests and that tests would never be made public. Now, the results are being leaked out bit by bit, most often to the New York Times, by someone who obviously has an agenda.

For the mainstream media, steroid use by athletes is always big news. For baseball fans, however, it’s meaningless. They really don’t care.

In fact, if I’m paying $100 for a ticket (remember, the mainstream media doesn’t pay for tickets and therefore doesn’t know what we’re paying to watch baseball these days), I want my jocks to be 6-foot-8, 300-pounds and have the ability to hit a baseball to the moon. I don’t care if fat, old Babe Ruth, a man who never hit against an African-American pitcher, has all his records broken, I want to be entertained when I pay exorbitant prices to watch a stinkin’ ball game in August.

6) The Ottawa Sun, home of the hopeful and silly Bruce Garrioch, a really nice guy who seems to go out of his way to create trade rumours that don’t exist — and never have — came up with a doozy this weekend. Even TSN and Rogers Sportsnet picked up on the story without checking out anything.

The latest rumour goes like this (and remember, this is the same Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun who had Vincent Lecavalier going to the Edmonton Oilers, Chris Pronger off to St. Louis, then Chris Pronger off to New Jersey, then Chris Pronger off to Boston, then Chris Pronger off to Toronto, Jay Bouwmeester to Edmonton — sheesh, he loves Edmonton — Scott Niedermayer off to Boston, Evgeni Malkin to the L.A. Kings, Ilya Kovalchuk to Montreal and on and on and on): The San Jose Sharks have offered F Jonathan Cheechoo and D Christian Erhoff to Ottawa in exchange for F Dany Heatley, but the deal won’t take place unless Montreal steps in and sends Mike Cammalleri (the free agent that Bob Gainey just signed) to San Jose to get Patrick Marleau (where did he come from?) and his $6.3 million contract.

The San Jose Mercury News called Sharks GM Doug Wilson. He denied he was interested in making a deal with the Senators. Meanwhile, if Garrioch had checked out the Habs payroll situation, it would become evident to him that the Canadiens couldn’t handle the salary cap hit.

At some point does the mainstream media look at Garrioch and say, “The Sky is Not Falling Today?” Or not? Do they just keep eating this stuff up.

If he was right once…



Three more little things pounding in the back of my head…

I just can’t help myself. Like most sports fans, little things bug me and I can’t them out of my cranium.

For instance…

1) I love NASCAR, but this year, things have been crazy — and often dull. The races are too long, there are too many cautions, the cars all look the same and there are so many dead spots in the TV telecasts, that it’s almost as snoozy as golf tournaments without Tiger.

Lately, however, things have become very troubling and now NASCAR has a real mess on its hands.

And they can blame it all on drug testing.

NASCAR now wants a federal judge to reverse his own ruling that lifted the ban on driver Jeremy Mayfield and will now allow Mayfield to compete. NASCAR wants the judge to reinstate the ban and keep Mayfield off the track in order to protect its questionable drug-testing policy.

After weeks of speculation, NASCAR finally claimed that Mayfield had tested positive for methamphetamines, but during Mayfield’s appeal, the judge said the chance of a false positive was, “quite substantial.”

Quite substantial?

OK, so it’s partly Mayfield’s fault. Anyone who would turn over their fluids to these phony drug testing labs, is taking a gigantic chance. Still, when a judge calls the chance of a false positive, “quite substantial,” then somebody should start looking into these labs.

Nowhere else on earth does anyone claim to be without error. Yet these “flawless” labs take an athlete’s fluids and then come back and return verdicts of guilty (or not guilty) even though the fluid bottles are opened by humans and tested by humans. The chance for contamination is overwhelming, but sports associations believe every word these labs tell them. And yet there is no proof that the tests were even done on the subject’s fluid. They could have been done on a dog’s pee for all anyone knows.

Drug testing is done randomly, arbitrarily and without scrutiny, for huge costs to the sport associations. We’d all be better off if sports were all like the CFL. Don’t test, don’t care.

And the popularity of the CFL has proven that the fans DO NOT CARE.

2) Poor Mike Kelly The media in Winnipeg already hates him and he’s only lost one game (19-17 In a rain storm IN Edmonton).

Now that the Bombers will be without 1,000-yard wide-receiver Derick Armstrong, some of the Winnipeg pundits (none of whom have ever played a sport or coached one) are blasting Kelly for everything except the African AIDS epidemic.

Armstrong, a very good receiver, has had his locker cleaned out and is being shopped around the CFL because he refused to play in a football game.

It was a stupid decision and one figures if Armstrong had apologized for an error in judgment (a big error in judgement), Kelly would have let the thing go. But Armstrong didn’t apologize and only made things worse by using some crazy excuse that he wasn’t “respected” enough.

Oh, bite me. Nobody in the CFL is respected. The contracts aren’t guaranteed. It’s minor-league football. If you refuse to play, you should be cut. Kelly cut Armstrong. there is no controversy, other than the one the local newspapers want to create.

3) After spending a weekend in Minneapolis watching the Twins and Tigers, I’ve come to the following conclusion: If you simply walk Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau every time they come to the plate, you will beat the Minnesota Twins every single time you play them.

Sure, it will look chicken-shit but you’ll win.

Michael Cuddyer just doesn’t provide enough protection in the lineup for two of the best hitters in the game. Frankly, I’d never throw a strike to either one of them.