Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011 Baseball Preview

Happy Opening Day everyone! Few days are more hopeful, more joyous, more perfect than baseball's opening day. This is the pinnacle of Americana: promise and potential; that ephemeral merging of a gentleman's game and a game-of-the-people; a cultural melting pot, full of diversity; a title, a season, just laying there for the taking. So who will fulfill their manifest destiny this season? I'm here to take a look. Naturally, of course, most of my picks will be wrong. But I'm still having fun with it, so we'll just say they're good enough.

National League

NL East: I was thinking for a minute that this might be the weakest division in baseball - I mean sure, the Phillies and Braves are good, but the Mets, Marlins and Nats? Ouch. And then I decided that all of the NL is pretty much equally middling, so it didn't really matter who had the weakest division. But I think those bottom 3 in this league are vastly behind the top 2. With Philadelphia's rotation, I have to pick them to win it all. Plus, I'm going to see a game there this year, so they get the edge. NL East ends up: Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Mets, Nats.

NL Central: I have a brother-in-law who knows his baseball. He's an aspiring sportswriter. He knows what he's talking about when it comes to baseball. He's also a Cubs fan. Which probably means he's doesn't really know what he's talking about when it comes to baseball. He likes the Cubs this year. I don't dislike them. And I like them more after Wainwright's injury. They're not a bad sleeper pick. But I just don't see them clicking like he anticipates. So what to do about this division? There is one vastly improved team here, especially in terms of pitching. That's the Brewers. Most people might focus on Greinke, who is fantastic, but I'm tempted to think Marcum will be the solid 17 or 18 game winner they need behind Greinke. And that will push them to the top. The Reds drop back after performing a little over their heads last year. And don't forget, Dusty Baker is their manager, so he probably pushed people too hard last year and they'll still be tired. NL Central finishes: Brewers, Reds, Cubs, Cards, Pirates, Astros. Yup, this year the Pirates aren't last. Hey, why not?

NL West: Speaking of teams that over-performed last year, how about them Giants? That was a team built for the postseason (good pitching, little offense) that was lucky enough to get there. Not this time around. Plus, there's bad karma going around there with this whole Bonds trial. The Padres are due for a down year, after which, next year, they'll be overlooked and outperform expectations again. That's how they seem to run it in San Diego. I'm not entirely sure what to expect from LA. That whole team/city just seems too easily distracted. Diamondbacks weren't actually as bad as they ended up being last year, so they could make a jump, but the team to beat is the Rockies. NL West goes down: Rockies, Giants, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Padres.

NL Wild Card: Braves. I like me some Atlanta. With the weak teams in that division to beat up on, they could do pretty well. A good, balanced team.

NL MVP: I'm gonna say... Carlos Gonzalez. He's going to put up big numbers for a Rockies team that will run away with the West.

NL Cy Young: I mentioned Marcum earlier, but he's not going to be flashy enough to win it all. I see this one going "traditional" in terms of big win totals prevailing, since last year was all about modern stats in the Cy Young race and there will be a push-back against that by this year's voters. Looking for someone with lots of wins and good numbers over all means probably taking a glance at the Phillies' rotation, so I'm gonna say Halladay.

Rookie: Freddie Freeman. This year the Braves player takes it.

American League

AL East: Aw man... I'm gonna pick Boston. I've always hated them. But I kinda hate the Yankees more right now, given the recent history. And Boston looks improved, and NY does not. And the Rays... ugh. So I'll say the Red Sox. AL East finishes: Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, O's.

AL Central: Look, I know I pick the Twins every year. I am, on some level, very much a home team guy. But this assessment isn't about believing in the home team. They've honestly been the team to pick for most of the past decade. The facts bear me out on this. But what about this year? The White Sox and Tigers improved, the Twins lost their bullpen, and cut two veterans in the middle infield. That's gotta change things, right? Wrong. The White Sox added power in Adam Dunn after 1 year experimenting with less power. Remember 2 years ago? They had power then. It didn't get them anywhere. It won't this year either. AJ and Konerko are another year past their primes and their rotation hasn't ever performed like it should have on paper, so they just don't scare me like they do a lot of people. The Tigers? They added bullpen arms and a catcher that Boston was smart enough to get rid of at the right time. Not scary. Plus, drinky drinky... That's a team ready to go down in flames. Could be fun to watch.

How about the Twins' woes? They lost their bullpen, right? Anyone who remembers watching the Twins at the beginning of the year last year would tell you Crain was no big loss. Anyone who has watched the Twins over the past several years would tell you Guerrer was replaceable. Anyone who remembers who Joe Nathan is would tell you that the Twins added one of the best bullpen arms in the game that they didn't have last year. As for that middle infield? I believe in Yoshi. He's got the attitude and speed will translate to the U.S. And for Casilla? I've read plenty about how Hardy's WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was 3 last year, in only 375 at-bats. The next statement in most of those articles is that Casilla is a replacement level player. And indeed, his career WAR is 0 - exactly replacement level. But he's also only 26, and last year his WAR was 1.1 in just 170 plate appearances. Which means he's not actually that far off from Hardy. There's reason to believe Casilla is aging into an everyday player, so I don't see that middle infield being a liability. And of course, there's that Morneau guy being back... Which will enable more platooning of Cuddy and Kubel, which is good for everyone.

Bottom line, AL Central finishes: Twins, White Sox, Tigers, Indians, Royals.

AL West: Look, I'm tired from writing so much about the Twins so I'll just say that the Rangers win it again, despite that trendy team out in Oakland. AL West goes down: Rangers, A's, Angels, Seattle.

Wild Card: Hmm, I'm sick of the Yankees. But it might be cathartic for the Twins to beat them in the first round for once... so yeah, let's say them. And if the Twins lose to them in the first round... well, the definition of crazy is trying the same thing over and over and hoping for different results, right?

AL MVP: Man crush time. Joe Mauer wins #2, becomes a lock for the HOF (if he isn't already).

AL Cy Young: This also hurts, but I think that Jon Lester guy in Boston is going to strike out a ton of batters.

AL Rookie: Yoshi! He's gonna hit .280, steal 22 bases, and score 110 runs. Pretty good for a "rookie."

NLS: Phillies over Brewers, Rockies over Braves
NLCS: Rockies over Phillies
ALS: Twins over Yankees, Boston over Rangers
ALCS: Twins over Boston.
World Series: Twins over Rockies.

I kept telling people 2010 was the Twins' year, going back like 5 years ago. Turns out I was just off by a year.

Put me in coach
I'm ready to play


Quinn said...

Good job, once again. Too bad for my O's...that's just life with the big fish, I suppose. Buck may manage to win, despite the owner's best attempts at failure.

I think the Twins will be good this year, but somehow I think they lose an edge. Call it a gut feeling. Mauer, one of my favorite players in the game, will be good (I think it's too early to tag him HOF...years and perspective will only tell), but some of those guys have been over-performing for a while now, and I think it's about time for some of them to fall back to Earth. Hope I'm wrong!

Matthew B. Novak said...

Quinn -

I almost picked the O's for not-last. They improved their offense on paper. But I just don't actually see folks like Guerrero turning into improvement in reality. Maybe a few more runs scored, but not enough. That's a team that needs to learn how to draft better.

As for the Twins... last year was actually a down year for a handful of the key players (Span, Morneau (injury), Mauer). So hopefully it turns out.

And Mauer is totally HOF already. He has as many batting titles as every other catcher in history. How is that not HOF?

Quinn said...

Look, I think that the batting titles are awesome, but I'm of the opinion that calling someone a HOFer in the infancy of their career is just hyperbolic and without merit...generally. Mauer's doing a heck of a job throwing a wrench in my thinking, but that's where I stand.

Too many times we've heard of "the next MJ" or "the next (fill in promising star here)" and they simply don't pan out. Like I said, I really like and appreciate the studliness of Mauer, but I'm going to withhold HOF status until it's time, even if it appears a sure thing.

Quinn said...

And I agree totally with your comment on the O's. Just like another DC area team with a crappy owner, drafting and meddling issues are just burying them deeper into obscurity.

spookymilk said...

Blogger won't let me comment. Might be too long. I'll break it up.

Yeah, nobody with this short a career can be called a "lock" for the HOF (sorry to bring up this dead post, but baseball's my thing and I haven't stopped by in a while). Crain absolutely was a big loss. One bad month at the beginning of last season had everyone deciding he was done, and over the next five months he was literally the best reliever in the game. Now we have spare parts. It's a mess. I thought the Twins would be very good - certainly nowhere near 15-30 - but I expected the bullpen to be a big liability.

Not sure where your "Ugh" came from

spookymilk said...

for the Rays. That's still a pretty damn good team in a division where the money teams are stagnating.

We had the same NL MVP pick. I actually know Carlos a little bit from when I was the mascot for the Yakima Bears (low-A D-Backs). I'd run a race around the bases against a kid in the middle of the second inning, and each day I'd find a new way to lose. One day, I had something else planned, but out of nowhere, Carlos speared me to the ground. My bear head almost came off, and we were both laughing so hard we couldn't breathe. He was great, and I'm glad he's become a star.