Hey, it's that time of the year again, where the baseball season starts anew and everybody's in first place. Or at least it was nine days ago. However, I have been too busy, lazy, sick, or whatever to contribute to this blog in the last two weeks, so here is the 2011 Canon Review Baseball Preview with nine days worth of hindsight. A lot has happened in eight days, as the heavily favored Red Sox have started out 0-6 and have millions of Sox fans panicking, while Rays OF Manny Ramirez has decided to retire rather than face another suspension due to use of performance enhancing drugs. Meanwhile, the Orioles have surprised many by getting out to a fast start, while the Phillies, Rangers, and Reds have surprised less people by also getting out to fast starts. So, with nine days behind us, let's take a look at what else is in store for the remainder of the 2011 season.
Predictions (* = Wild Card)
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees*
3. Toronto Blue Jays
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Baltimore Orioles
Despite their 0-6 start, I'm still picking the Red Sox to win out in the AL East, simply because they have the most talent out of any team in that division by far with the additions of OF Carl Crawford and 1B Adrian Gonzalez to an already strong lineup. Yes, they have questions about their rotation and C Jarrod Saltalamacchia has failed to impress so far, but even so, the Sox are still the best team here. The Yankees may be a bit long in the tooth at some spots, but with stars like 1B Mark Teixeira, 2B Robinson Cano, 3B Alex Rodriguez, and SP C.C. Sabathia, the Bronx Bombers are still a force to be reckoned with. Any team with the amount of power the Blue Jays have to be considered a threat, and if their young rotation comes together this season, then Toronto could make some noise in the AL East. The Rays have just lost too many quality players, and it doesn't help matters that 3B Evan Longoria is hurt. Not to mention the abrupt retirement of Manny Ramirez, although it's hard to say whether or not the Rays will exactly miss a 1 for 17 hitter. The Orioles swept the Rays last weekend, and seem to be much improved, but I'm still skeptical about their chances, and I think they're still a year or two away from contending.
1. Chicago White Sox
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Minnesota Twins
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Cleveland Indians
The White Sox have a powerful lineup boosted by the acquisition of DH Adam Dunn. With a solid rotation and a bullpen anchored by hard throwing lefties Chris Sale and Matt Thornton, I predict that Ozzie Guillen's team will emerge from a tight three team race to win the division. The Tigers signed C/1B Victor Martinez to give a boost to an offense powered by 1B Miguel Cabrera. While the Tigers have a good team, I think they have too many issues in the infield to win the division. If the Twins' 1B Justin Morneau and closer Joe Nathan come completely back from injury, then there may be postseason baseball in the Twin Cities again. However, both the White Sox and Tigers should be better teams this year, so the Twins will find it difficult to defend their division crown. The Royals have an immensely deep farm system, but most of their top prospects are still a year or two away from the majors, so while Kansas City's on the right path, expect another tough season for the Royals. The Indians have some solid young players like C Carlos Santana and RF Shin Soo-Choo, but the Tribe is in rebuilding mode and are at least two years away from contention.
1. Texas Rangers
2. Oakland Athletics
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
4. Seattle Mariners
Yes, the Rangers lost Cliff Lee, but they did add 3B Adrian Beltre to an already potent lineup and remain the most talented team in the AL West by far. The Athletics have some great young pitchers in Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Gio Gonzalez, but Oakland could use a little more offense, even with the additions of OFs Josh Willingham and David DeJesus and DH Hideki Matsui. The Angels missed out on Carl Crawford, so they made a panic trade for OF Vernon Wells that really doesn't help their team a whole lot. Despite the presence of SPs Dan Haren and Jared Weaver, the Angels have a look of a .500 team. The Mariners have defending Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez and perennial All-Star OF Ichiro Suzuki, and that's pretty much it.
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves*
3. Florida Marlins
4. Washington Nationals
5. New York Mets
While the Phillies do have some injury concerns, particularly with 2B Chase Utley and closer Brad Lidge, the Phils' awesome starting rotation and an offense powered by 1B Ryan Howard should be enough to give them a fifth straight NL East crown. If not, the Braves are in prime position to ascend to the throne, with a pretty decent rotation of their own. At the very least, I expect the Braves to nab the wild card spot. The Marlins still have SS Hanley Ramirez, and a top hitting prospect in RF Mike Stanton. But overall, the Marlins have too many holes to compete this year. Yes, the Nationals signed RF Jayson Werth to a megabucks contract, but their pitching still remains thin, especially with phenom Steven Strasburg out for the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Mets are a mess right now, and I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to go on a full-scale fire sale at some point during the season in order to rebuild.
1. Cincinnati Reds
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
This is the worst division in baseball this year, but even so the NL Central has three teams definitely capable of winning the crown this year, and the Cubs could even make a run if things go right for them. The defending champs, the Cincinnati Reds, are anchored by last year's MVP in 1B Joey Votto. While 3B Scott Rolen may take a step back this year, 2011 could also be the year that young outfielders Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce break out with All-Star caliber years, and if that happens, look out. If the Cardinals had SP Adam Wainwright available, I'd pick them to win the division. Alas, Wainwright's out for the year, so despite the presence of 1B Albert Pujols in a contract year, I still can't put them ahead of the Reds. The Brewers made a big move in trading for SP Zack Grienke, but unfortunately, Grienke's out until May with a rib injury. But a team that includes players such as OF Ryan Braun, 1B Prince Fielder, and SP Yovanni Gallardo should definitely be considered a contender. The Cubs seem to be in a weird spot right now, as if they can't decide whether to rebuild or not. But Chicago still has some talented players, and if guys like OF Alfonso Soriano and 3B Aramis Ramirez can play up to their massive contracts, then the Cubs could be the surprise team of the NL. The Astros have some good players like RF Hunter Pence and SP Brett Myers, but the majority of their roster is below average. The Pirates have had 18 losing seasons in a row, and despite a good start and some young talent like 3B Pedro Alverez, it's quite likely that 2011 will be season number 19 without a winning season.
1. Colorado Rockies
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. San Diego Padres
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
Other than the AL East, the NL West may be baseball's strongest division. The Rockies have solid pitching staff and a powerful lineup led by SS Troy Tulowitzki and OF Carlos Gonzalez. Just like last year, I'm picking the Rockies to emerge as the champs come October. The defending World Champion Giants still have an excellent pitching staff powered by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, but they still have some issues about their offense to make me wonder whether the Giants will even get back to the postseason. The Dodgers are a strong team that just seem a step below Colorado and San Francisco, while the Padres still have a strong pitching staff, but their lineup really lacks power after the trade of 1B Adrian Gonzalez. The young Diamondbacks certainly have enough talented players to surprise some folks. Ultimately, I picked Arizona last, but if they can get their bullpen straightened out and new manager Kirk Gibson gets breakout seasons from OFs Chris Young and Justin Upton, then Arizona will be a team that can hang with anyone.
World Series Predictions: Rangers over Rockies
In the AL, originally I had the Red Sox winning the pennant, but they seem to have a lot of issues with their pitching, so I changed my mind and am now picking the Rangers, a team with just as potent a lineup as the Red Sox and somewhat less issues in their pitching staff, especially since Neftali Feliz is back in the closer's role. In the NL, the Phillies seem to be the favorite, and with their four aces in the rotation, I can see why. Call me crazy, but I think the Rockies are simply the most talented team in the National League, and they have both the pitching and lineup to get through any series. At the end of the day (or season), I expect the Rangers to learn from last year and win the World Series in six games.
1. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox
2. Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers
3. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
Dark Horse: Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins
Gonzalez has spent the majority of his career playing in relative obscurity in a park that greatly suppresses production. If he can handle the heat of playing in Boston, expect Gonzalez to put up a monster year and win his first MVP award. Last year's MVP, Josh Hamilton, is still among the most gifted players in the game. It wouldn't be surprising if Hamilton provided another MVP caliber season, although he does have some issues with staying healthy. Heading into his fourth season, Longoria must have his best year yet if the Rays expect to compete in the AL East. However, an early season injury greatly affects Longoria's chances. Keep an eye on Morneau, who was putting together MVP-caliber numbers before a concussion sidelined him last season. If Morneau can come all the way back, he certainly has the power to become an MVP candidate.
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals
2. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies
3. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
Dark Horse: Jason Heyward, OF, Braves
Pujols is the best player in baseball, and if that's not enough, he's playing for a new contract this year. Tulowitzki provides the power of a top-notch slugger with the glove of a slick fielding shortstop. If he can put it all together this year, Tulo could win his first MVP. Votto won his first MVP last year, and should be in contention again provided that the Reds stay in contention for a division crown. Heyward may just be 21, but even so, he has the talent to turn in a monster season this year.
AL Cy Young Award:
1. Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners
2. Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox
3. C.C. Sabathia, SP, Yankees
Dark Horse: John Danks, SP, White Sox
Last year's winner, Hernandez may not play for the best team, but as he showed last year, you can overcome an unspectacular win-loss record as long as you dominate the league. Lester has long been expected to become the ace of the Red Sox, and this may be the year. A 20-win season is not out of the question. Sabathia has a great lineup behind him, and a 20-win season is certainly in play is Sabathia continues his excellent pitching work. It may just be a gut feeling of mine, but I feel that John Danks is going to have a big year for the Sox this year, winning 18+ games with an ERA under 3 and becoming the ace of the White Sox. He certainly seems to have the right stuff to become a top-notch pitcher.
NL Cy Young Award:
1. Roy Halladay, SP, Phillies
2. Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants
3. Cliff Lee, SP, Phillies
Dark Horse: Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers
Halladay won the Cy Young last year, and should be his same excellent self this year as well. Lincecum may not get the best run-support, but the two time Cy Young winner is still amongst the very best pitchers in baseball, and a third Cy Young could be in the not too distant future. The big free agent signing of 2011, Lee gives the Phillies yet another pitcher capable of dominating the league. If Lee gets enough run support, he could definitely win 20 games. Keep an eye on the 23-year old Kershaw, as few pitchers on the planet have better stuff than the young Dodgers' ace. As long as he stays healthy, Kershaw should be one of the top pitchers in baseball this season.
AL Rookie of the Year Award:
1. Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Rays
2. Michael Pineda, SP, Mariners
3. Kyle Drabek, SP, Blue Jays
Dark Horse: Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals
Hellickson has been compared to a young Greg Maddux, among others. While that may seem a bit premature, the Rays feel that Hellickson is ready now, and I think he will prove the Rays were right in trading Matt Garza to open up a spot for Hellickson. Pineda has been compared to his current teammate, Felix Hernandez, and if Pineda comes anywhere close to the excellence of King Felix, then he's a definite contender for this award. The son of a former Cy Young winner, Drabek has been one of the most hyped prospects in baseball over the past couple of years, and now it's time to see just how good he can be. Although Moustakas has started the season in the minor leagues, don't be surprised to see him in Kansas City in the next month or so. If he gets the call, Moustakas has the bat to make a huge impact and possibly a run at the AL Rookie of the Year award.
NL Rookie of the Year Award:
1. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves
2. Arlodis Chapman, SP, Reds
3. Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants
Dark Horse: Craig Kimbrel, RP, Braves
Okay, so Freeman hasn't exactly set the world on fire thus far, but the young first baseman will get every chance to prove he can stick in the show, and he should find his footing rather quickly. Chapman, the young Cuban fireballer, should make a major impact for the Reds this season, although it's hard to see him winning the award if he's only going to be used in middle relief. Belt made the Giants out of spring training, and if he hits the way he did in spring training, then the Giants may have their second straight ROY winner. Although the Braves haven't come out and said it, Kimbrel is for all intents and purposes the Braves closer, and with his 97-mph fastball, a 40 save season is a very distinct possibility, provided that Kimbrel doesn't lose his control.
Well, thank you for reading the 2011 better late than never Canon Review Baseball Preview. Don't worry, it will not be another two weeks before posts again, as I suddenly have a lot more free time on my hands. Remember, if you have any ideas for future reviews, or comments about this or previous reviews, then send them to me either by e-mail at KtheC2001@gmail.com or by leaving a comment on the blog.