Wednesday, March 16, 2011

AL Central Preview

2010 Standings

Minnesota 94-64 (.580)
Chicago 88-74 (.543)
Detroit 81-81 (.500)
Cleveland 69-93 (426)
Kansas City 67-95 (.414)

Season Recap

Despite facing some adversity in the form of injuries, the Minnesota Twins won the division by a comfortable margin of six games. They made the playoff but lost to the Rangers, who would later appear in the World Series. Their closest competitor all year was the Chicago White Sox and they didn’t go down without a fight. What else would you expect from a team led by Ozzie Guillen? The truth is, the Sox just didn’t have enough pitching down the stretch to get it done in 2010 while the Twins had a solid decent rotation and a surprisingly strong bullpen. Both teams slugged well and put runs on the board, but the Twins did a better job of keeping their opponents off the board. The Tigers looked good on paper but never seemed to really get it going in a serious way. Miguel Cabrera carried the team offensively and Verlander had another solid season, but the bullpen was rocky at times and the rest of the rotation was simply mediocre. Cleveland had another down year and was never really in the race. Kansas City is still rebuilding and breaking in their young talent.
Those two teams occupied the cellar all year long while the top three teams at least had some say over the division throughout the year.

Big News for 2011


Adam Dunn is likely to be the biggest addition to any club in this division. He was signed as a free agent by Kenny Williams and the White Sox to DH and occasionally see time in the field to give first
baseman Paul Konerko and left fielder Carlos Quentin some time off.
Victor Martinez signed with the Tigers and hopes to give them another quality bat in the lineup, which could prove to be critical if they face some of the injury problems they did last year. In a somewhat surprising move, the Royals traded away former Cy-Young winner Zack Greinke to the Brewers for prospects. It’s a long-term minded deal that will have some negative results in the short term. Minnesota brought over infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka from Japan to replace the departed Orlando Hudson. In other words, the rich got richer in this division while the lower-tiered teams continue to try to upgrade their talent level through developing their own talent.

Injury Notes

The Twins were without closer Joe Nathan all year after he had shoulder surgery and they were without all-star first baseman Justin Morneau for most of the season, too, after he had a couple concussions. The big question was weather or not the Twins could still compete without these two and they surprised some folks when they won the division without these stars. Several other regulars, including Joe Mauer, missed time throughout the year as well. Nathan,
Morneau and Mauer all appear to be in good shape to start the year.
Jake Peavy only started 17 games for the White Sox in 2010 after dealing with intermittent stints on the DL. Grady Sizemore struggled through another injury-plagued season and only played in 33 games for the Indians, which didn’t help their cause at all, while Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen were in and out of the Tigers lineup all season. All signs point to these guys being ready to give it another go this upcoming season.

Up and Comers

The division has some strong young talent that will be getting
considerable experience in 2011. Carlos Santana, the catching
prospect for the Indians, will be the opening day starter for the club this season and e everyone is buzzing about this young man. He can flat-out hit the baseball. Tigers outfielder Brennan Bosch had a breakout rookie season in 2010 by posting an all-star caliber first half of the season. He fell off big time in the second half, however, and it will be exciting to see if he can bring the level of play he showed back for a full season in 2011. Danny Valencia will start at third base for the Twins after showing that he can hit for a solid average in some late-season action last year. The question is whether or not he can develop some power along with his contact skills.

Prediction Time!!!

Not a lot was expected of the Royals and Indians in 2010 and that
should remain the same in 2011. Both teams are a long ways from
competing with the big guns in the division. Cleveland could be improved, especially if they get a solid season out of Sizemore and the rest of their rotation behind Fausto Carmona. The Royals shouldn’t see much of a rise in terms of win total, especially without Zack Greinke in the rotation. The top three are potentially interchangeable and are all talented. The Twins are probably in the best shape heading into the season but the Tigers and White Sox will certainly challenge.

Projected 2011 Standings
1. Minnesota
2. Chicago
3. Detroit
4. Cleveland
5. Kansas City

My money is still on the Twins to take the division over Chicago and Detroit. Since Minnesota is getting healthy again, and if they can stay that way, they have to be the favorite. Chicago will put a ton of runs on the board this season, especially with the addition of Dunn. The question will be their pitching and a solid year out of Peavy would do wonders for them. Detroit seems to underachieve every year and there are still questions on that team, but if they get it dialed in they are capable of winning the division, as well. I expect a bit of an improvement from the Indians but not by much. The Royals are in a worse position than last year, so I don’t expect them to sniff the top teams any time soon.

Up Next: NL West

Monday, March 14, 2011

NL Central Preview

2010 Standings
Cincinnati 91-71 (.562)
St. Louis 86-76 (.531)
Milwaukee 77-85 (.475)
Houston 76-86 (.469)
Chicago 75-87 (463)
Pittsburgh 57-105 (.352)

Season Recap
This division was relatively bottom-heavy in 2010. There was a healthy gap between the teams at the top and the ones at the bottom of the heap. In fact, only two teams in the league's only 6-team division finished with winning records. Pittsburgh finished right where most predicted, dead last and by a wide margin. They broke in several new players while some of their offseason additions didn't work out (Akinori Iwamura). Chicago was disappointing again and there was major turmoil mid-season as Lou Pinella stepped down in the second hald as he cited family issues. Houston wasn't great, but they actually finished the season no a high note. They were attrocious early in the season but had a strong second half under Brad Mills. Millwaukee didn't ever really pose a serious threat in the division despite the fact that they were thought to be a serious contender. Pitching was an issue with them and they had some major dry spells from the plate as well. St. Louis was a strong team but just couldn't seem to click when it mattered most. Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols had strong seasons again but the latter portion of the rotation was rocky at best. Add to the that a very mediocre bullpen and almost no offensive output from third base and you begin to see the wholes in this team in 2010. Cincinnati was far and away the most balanced club in the division and their record reflected that. Joey Votto had an all-star caliber season at first base, Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce were solid and the Reds got better-than-expected performances from Orlando Cabrera, Drew Stubbs and Jonny Gomes. Their rotation was solid and the bullpen did a nice job as well, leading the Reds to the divison title and a postseason showdown with the Giants (which they eventually lost).

Big News for 2011

The biggest addition in the offseason was clearly Zack Greinke, who the Royals shipped away to the Brewers in a blockbuster trade. Matt Garza was traded to the Cubs in the winter as well, in return for some solid minor leaguers heading in the Rays' direction. The Cubs continued the Tampa Bay-connection when they signed first baseman Carlos Pena to a surprising free agent contract, despite Pena having the worst year of his career in 2010. Otherwise, there wasn't a whole lot of news out of this division in the winter.

Up and Comers
Pittsburgh continues to try to produce with homegrown talent. They have some solid position players who broke in last season and hope to continue to develop. Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata join promising youngsters Evan Meek and Andrew McCutchen. Pittsburgh continues to build for the future but it's clear that the future is not now. Shortstop Starlin Castro had a sparkling debut season for the Cubs and everyone is excited to see how the Reds will continue to use 100mph+ lefty Aroldis Chapman. Houston will have to hope that Brett Wallace turns it around in 2011 as he looked lost at the plate in '10. Colby Rasmus blossomed for the Cards last season and rookie pitcher Jaime Garcia had a fantastic debut. There is some good young talent in this division and look for more of it as teams start to fall out of contention in the second half of 2011.

Injury Notes
The hands-down biggest news here was Adam Wainwright having to recieve Tommy John surgery after a few days of spring training. Its a devastating blow to the Cards as they move into their last season of control over Albert Pujols. Zack Greinke will miss the first month of the season with a rib injury, which diminishes his impact to a small degree, but the less innings he throws in the first month might mean he can carry more of the burden down the stretch. The Reds would like to see another season of healthy Scott Rolen but that's no guarantee. Otherwise the division seems pretty healthy at this point.

Prediction Time!!!
Cincinnati and Milwaukee have to the favorites at this point, with St. Louis only a small reach behind. After that, its a clear drop-off. The Astros should be better and they will battle the Cubs for the top spot amongst the also-rans. Pittsburgh just doesn't have the pitching at this point to really contend in the division.

Predicted Standings
1. Milwaukee
2. Cincinnati
3. Houston
4. St. Louis
5. Chicago
6. Pittsburgh

On paper, I love the Brewers despite the early season set-back to Greinke. Add to this the fact that Prince Fielder is in a contract year and I think you get the idea that Milwaukee could have something special. This where the Brewers are tricky, however, as they often don't live up to expectations. Cincinnati will be right there if the Brewers faulter at all and the race should be a tight one. Barring injury, this should be a great pennant race. Houston will be in good shape if their pitching continues to make strides and they get a bounce-back year from Carlos Lee. I think they could make a push to finish third, especially based on how they played down the stretch last year. The Cardinals have been disappointing of late and don't show me the signs of positively turning things around any time soon. The bullpen is questionable and there are holes in the lineup once you get past Pujols, Holliday and Rasmus. Chicago is still meddling in mediocrity. There's some talent there, but its just not going to be enough in this division. Pittsburgh will give the young guys another go in 2011, which is the right play for them. Keep an eye on their young pitching and see how much of it gets called up before the season's over. This will be a strong division at the top, but irrelevant in the bottom two-thirds. It could likely produce the wildcard team in the Nationl League.

Next Up: AL Central

Thursday, March 10, 2011

AL East Preview

2010 Standings
Tampa Bay 96-66 (.593)
New York 95-67 (.586)
Boston 89-73 (.549)
Toronto 85-77 (.525)
Baltimore 66-96 (.407)

Season Recap
The Rays started hot and held on to win what is regarded as the premier division in baseball. Though a few players underachieved for them in 2010 (Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett), they were surprisingly solid, especially their pitching staff. The Yankees made a nice run late in the season to track down the Rays, but ultimately came one game short. CC Sabathia got off to a slow start, Mark Texiera never got truly hot and everyone is still wondering what the heck happened to AJ Burnet. Not to fret, however, as the Yankees still pulled the American League Wild Card. Boston suffered a series of injuries to key players, notably Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Josh Becket and others. It was a down year in Beantown to say the least, as they were never really in the thick of the divisional race. Toronto was much improved, thanks to some good starting pitching, Jose Bautista's breakout and Vernon Wells becoming relevant again. Once again, they seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, playing with a limited budget in a division of big spenders. Baltimore was, well, Baltimore. They never really got it going all year and most of the young players they were counting on (Brian Matusz, Matt Weiters) didn't seem to get it figured out in 2010.

Big News for 2011

There was some major movement within the division in the offseason. The biggest deals were clearly made by the Red Sox. They signed free agent outfielder Carl Crawford away from the Rays and traded for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez who was with the Padres. These additions make the Red Sox the hands-down winner of the offseason in the division. The Yankees biggest addition was relief pitcher Rafael Soriano, who will likely set up Mariano Rivera. The Jays have revamped their bullpen, a department that hurt them a little bit last season. The Orioles made some surprising moves, inking Vladamir Gurrero to DH for them, Derek Lee to play first base and also bringing aboard the high-strikeout, homerun hitting third baseman Mark Reynolds. Tampa Bay has added some veteran pieces to make up for other departures. Manny Ramirez and Jhonny Damon will try to pick up the slack for the Rays who will once again count on their pitching in a division full of sluggers.

Up and Comers
This is a division that has the money to spend on top-notch free agents and doesn't develop as much homegrown talent as others across baseball. Perhaps one of the most interesting prospects that could see is time is former first rounder Desmond Jennings with the Rays. He could start the season in AAA, but will likely get some time in the Rays outfield. The Orioles will continue to develop young pitcher like Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen in addition to trying to get something out of Matt Weiters. The Yankees will run Ivan Nova out in their rotation, likely in the four-spot, and he was impressive at times in 2010. J.P. Arencibia will get the starting catching job for the Blue Jays and he will be catching a bunch of young starters, including Kyle Drabek, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and Brandon Morrow.

Injury Notes
The division is relatively healthy heading into the season. Josh Becket suffered a mild concussion but is already pitching again while Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury appear totally healthy for the Red Sox. The Yankees appear to be in good shape as do the Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays.

Prediction Time!
This will be a competitive division again in 2011. The Red Sox should be much better, especially if they can stay healthy and get a bounce-back season from Becket. The Yankees will be loaded as always while the Jays and Rays are capable teams. I see this boiling down to a two team race between the Yankees and Red Sox. I think the Rays and Jays will be on the outside looking in while the Orioles will still be in the cellar simply because their pitching is so undeveloped.

Predicted 2011 Standings
1. Boston
2. New York
3. Tampa Bay
4. Toronto
5. Baltimore

Boston is going to be way better than a year ago and they will go as their starting pitching goes. The Yankees will be right there the entire way and choosing between the two is like splitting hairs at this point, it could go either way. Toronto should be better again in 2011 as they develop their young starters who showed flashes of brilliance last year. Tampa Bay has lost too much in the offseason to continue to contend with teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, yet they are still good enough to steal games from anybody. They should be slightly better than the Blue Jays, though not by much. Baltimore is still in re-development mode. Their a long ways away from being a true contender but they should be putting runs on the board in 2011, it just depends on how they pitch.

Next Up: NL Central

Sunday, March 6, 2011

NL East Preview

In case you haven't been following the offseason much or you don't geek out over watching prospects get playing time in Spring Training, I plan to break down each division and give you a heads up on what to expect. To start with, let's take a peek at the National League East!

2010 Standings:
Philadelphia 97-65 (.599)
Atlanta 91-71 (.562)
Florida 80-82 (.494)
New York 79-83 (.488)
Washington 69-93 (.426)

Season Recap
In 2010, the Phillies took the NL East crown and made it out of the divisional round by defeating the Cincinnati Reds. In the LCS, the Phillies lost to the Giants who could seemingly do no wrong. While it was a disappointment for sure, Philadelphia once again went deep into the playoffs which is something we've come to expect from them. Atlanta actually took the NL Wildcard but lost in the first round to San Francisco. The Marlins were an up-and-down club that showed flashes at times or what could be, but also made the type of mistakes that are commonly found on clubs with many rookies getting crucial playing time. The Mets were a major disappointment, again, and things don't appear to be getting much better any time soon. While the Nationals had everyone's attention late last summer as Stephen Strasburg made his sparkling debut, they weren't a contender all season long.

Big News for 2011

Like every division in baseball, there have been a lot players changing locations in the NL East, particularly within the division, as well as one huge free agent signing. No one saw it coming, but Cliff Lee turned down more money from the Yankees and Rangers to take an offer from the Phillies that would put him back in Philadelphia. He claimed that Philadelphia is where he wanted to play and that superceded the amount of money he could command. In an age of Franchise Tags (NFL), Max Contracts (NBA) and $33 million dollar salaries (A-Rod), I have to admit that Cliff Lee is a breath of fresh air!
Although they added Lee, the Phillies lost one of their most dominant bats when Jayson Werth signed with the Nationals. His contract was huge (7/$126) but it just goes to show that the Nats mean business. They did lose slugger Adam Dunn but replaced him with solid but unspectacular Adam LaRoche. Along a similar line, the Marlins traded Dan Uggla, the power-hitting 2nd Basemen, to the Braves. It was clear that Uggla wasn't going to be able to get an extension done with Florida so the Marlins dealt him while they could still get something for Uggla in return. Trading top talent within the division can be potentially lethal so keep an eye on how that plays out. Replacing Uggla's pop in the Florida lineup will be recent free agent signee John Buck, who slugged 20 homeruns and 25 doubles for the Blue Jays last season. In an atypical move, the Marlins signed the catcher to a three year deal worth $18 million.

Up and Comers
Dominic Brown may take Werth's void in right field for the Phillies this season. Brown has been a top prospect for a few years now so it will be fun to see if he's ready to make the jump, although he clearly lacks Werth's power bat. Everyone will be watching Bryce Harper and the Nationals to see if he does what Strasburg did last year: come up late and tear it up. Considered a true phenom, Harper is very young but extremely talented. His playing time may be determined by how quickly he picks up right field in the minors because everyone knows he can hit. Keep an eye of rookie first baseman Freddy Freeman in Atlanta, he's thought to be a real good one. Rookies Logan Morrison, Mike Stanton and Gabby Sanchez had really nice seasons for the Marlins last year and the 2009 Rookie of the Year, Chris Coughlan, will be looking for a bounce-back season in '11. There are plenty of young guys to keep an eye on in Florida without a doubt. Ike Davis had a strong rookie year for the Mets as did relievers Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel for the Braves. These guys will be counted on in big situations for their clubs this year. But the biggest young star is clearly Braves outfielder Jason Heyward who took the NL by storm last season and took home ROY honors by hitting .277/.393/.456 in his first big league season with 18 homeruns, 29 doubles and 72 RBI.

Injury Notes
On the injury front, Mets ace Johan Santana will be out until June by most accounts as he's coming off shoulder surgery. All signs appear to be good from Mets camp but he's still a long ways away. Jose Reyes appears to be over his lingering injuries from '10 and needs to prove his talent this season with his contract expiring at the end of the season. The aforementioned Strasburg will not pitch for the Nationals in 2011 as he's recovering from Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow. Chase Utley appears to still be battling some pain in his knees as he's needed periodic cortisone shots just to make some Spring Training starts for the Phillies. Carlos Beltran says he is 100% heading into the season but he will be making way in center field for the surging Angel Pagan by taking his game right field for the first time in his career. By having to cover less ground, the Mets are hoping that Beltran can stay healthy all season for the first time since 2008. Chipper Jones is back in the Braves lineup this spring and is going to receive more time off than usual this season in hopes of getting him through the whole year.

Prediction Time!
This division should remain competitive throughout much of the 2011 season. While I'm not expecting the Mets and Nationals to be true contenders, both teams should be much improved and can steal games from anybody. The issue with these two teams is that they are remarkably inconsistent and are still in the reloading phase of things. Chase Utley's knee and Domonic Brown's bat will have a lot to do with the Phillies' success in 2011. They have a ton of pitching but they won't be putting up as many runs per game as we're used to seeing. The Braves should be improved and if Chipper can (somehow) stay healthy this year, they may be able to supplant the Phillies atop the division. The Marlins are anybody's guess because they have a ton of talent but they are quite short on experience. They can play with anyone but are so young at so many positions, it wouldn't be surprising to see them collapse down the stretch.

Predicted 2011 Standings
1. Atlanta
2. Philadelphia
3. Florida
4. New York
5. Washington

I think the Phillies will face some injuries along the way and probably steal the NL Wildcard by finishing second in the division. The Braves are much improved and if their bullpen is anything like last season, they will be hard to beat. Add to the fact that they can seriously hit and you have a true power sitting atop the division and a team that could be seen as an early season favorite for the NL Pennant. Chipper staying healthy would be a huge plus, but they have enough organizational depth to weather the storm if he goes down again. Florida will likely be an above-.500 club this year but it won't be enough with the two juggernauts that lead the division. They could surprise, but if any of their stars should miss serious injury time, that might be enough to do the Fish in. New York will be up-and-down again and may play well early but they have a history of falling apart down the stretch with this group. If their pitching can step up they may have a shot at the wildcard, but I wouldn't bet on it. Washington will still be rebuilding and gearing up for a solid run in 2012 when Strasburg returns to the rotation. Look for them to give plenty of their young guys a shot to see who they need to replace and who keep developing. They'll be competitive, just not a contender.

Next up: AL East