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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.