Why wait until Spring to make silly predictions? I can make silly predictions now, and maybe everybody will forget my predictions long before the season even gets here. Better yet, I can make absolutely outlandish predictions before the hot stove ashes are even cool, and a few might even pan out. Thus, I’m inspired to conjure up the earliest pre-preseason prediction in the history of…..me.
First, I feel obligated to start with a few disclaimers, because I just really like disclaimers. Caveats are nice as well, but I’m a huge fan of disclaimers.
- I know absolutely nothing about strength of schedule for any teams, and I could care less.
- I’m not even bothering to look at the inter-league schedules, because I could care less.
- I’m not waiting to see where Adrian Beltre ultimately signs, because I could care less.
Now, on to the predictions:
American League East – Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox finished last season 7 games behind the Rays with a record of 89-73. Fortunately, they just added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to a team that scored 818 runs last year and only surrendered 744. I don’t think that 900 runs beyond their reach, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them end 2011 with a run differential of +175 or higher. Considering the fire sale in Tampa and the inability of the Yankees to land Cliff Lee, I think that the Red Sox just leapfrogged over both of them to the spot of division front-runner.
American League Central – Chicago White Sox. This was the toughest call of all the divisions in my opinion, because the Sox added Adam Dunn, and the Twins may lose Carl Pavano. With a 1B/DH platoon of Konerko and Dunn, I think that the White Sox have enough offense to score runs with just about anybody in the league on any given night. Over the course of a full season, I think that they can push up into the 92-94 win range and take the division from the Twins.
American League West – Texas Rangers. Even though they lost out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, there was a bit to be learned from the bidding. The Rangers made a final offer of 6 yrs / $138M with a 7th year vesting option at $23M. If they choose to take that same $23M/yr and invest it in other players, they can still add useful pieces to their already talented team. Keep in mind, this team added Cliff Lee on July 9th, 2010. At that time, the Rangers were 50-36 and had a 4.5 game lead on the Angels and a 9.5 game lead on the A’s. The Rangers finished the season 90-72 with a 9 game cushion on the A’s. While it might be tempting to think that Lee simply offset the loss of Josh Hamilton for almost 30 games, that would most certainly be erroneous. During his 15 starts with Texas, Lee went 4-6 with a 3.98 era. The Rangers still have plenty of talent, and they have the money to add more.
American League Wild Card – Oakland Athletics. Were you aware that the A’s lead the AL in runs allowed with 626? Do you know much about the A’s pitching staff? You’ve probably heard about Dallas Braden – the guy who had the run-in with Alex Rodriguez when A-Rod violated some unwritten rule for touching the sacred dirt on the pitcher’s mound. Did you know that’s he’s the 3rd best starter on the team? Actually, that’s being kind. In the games I’ve watched, I think he’s actually the 4th best starter behind Trevor Cahill (18-8, 2.97 era), Gio Gonzalez (15-9, 3.23 era), and Brett Anderson (7-6, 2.80 era). Don’t get me wrong, though. Braden’s not a slouch with his 11-14 record (including a perfect game) and 3.50 era, it’s just that the other starters didn’t receive nearly as much publicity in 2010. Impressive numbers, yes? I’ll go one better. The Big 4 own a stat that the new “Big 4″ in Philly can’t even come close to matching. Not a single one of them had a salary higher than $750K in 2010! Yes, that’s Moneyball at its finest, but that’s not the only reason I’m picking the A’s for the wild card. I’m looking at what they’ve done with the money they’ve saved. They are loading up to make a run in 2011with the likes of Hideki Matsui, and Billy Beane might not be done shopping yet. The Twins, Yankees, and Rays could push them for the WC spot, but the A’s may finally have enough offense to hold them at bay.
National League East - Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies were my pick before the Cliff Lee signing, and they just got even better (thanks Capt. Obvious). However, I’m not in favor of preparing confetti and the trophy for them just yet. MLB games are not won on paper, and they are going to have to find a way to replace Jayson Werth‘s offense (and his caveman appearance). They will win a lot of games, but they may not have nearly as much run support as they’ve had in recent years.
National League Central – St. Louis Cardinals. If all the Cardinals added was a full year of a healthy starting five that includes Jake Westbrook instead of Penny and Suppan, I’d favor them to win the division. The Reds only won by 5 games in 2010, and Cardinals spent most of the year relying on 3 starters. Fortunately, the Cardinals go into 2011 with a bit more bench depth and the potential to improve upon the 736runs scored last season. With an improved offense and improved starting rotation, the only question mark is defense. Question marks include SS, 2B, RF, and the health of David Freese at 3B. Yep, that’s only half the position players, and the team’s best 2B is probably the starting SS. Then again, a 2-3-4-5-6 of Berkman-Pujols-Holliday-Rasmus-Freese can potentially cover up a lot of blemishes.
National League West – San Francisco Giants. The Giants haven’t made any huge changes during the off-season, and why should they? They just won the World Series! Of course, they also just barely made the playoffs, so one has to at least wonder a bit how those two realities fit together. As of September 1st, 2010, the Padres were 76-56 and owned a 3 game lead on the Giants, but they closed the season 14-16 and lost the division by 2 games. Now the Padres have traded away Adrian Gonzalez, and they look to be in complete rebuilding mode and headed for a payroll under $40M. Neither the Dodgers or the Rockies have done anything that leads me to believe that they will step up and challenge the Giants, so it’s no wonder the Giants have no impetus to make any moves.
National League Wild Card – Cincinnati Reds. While this is pretty much the same team that won the division in 2010, I think that they will miss Arthur Rhodes, and I don’t think that they’ll get the stars to align quite the same way in 2011. More importantly, they have to face the reality now of paying some of their stars “real” money, and that may mean some tough decisions must be made sooner rather than later. Locking up guys like Jay Bruce early may work out great, but it will still likely mean that they won’t have the luxury of signing very many veteran free agents to round out their roster. That means relying on younger, unproven players which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t something that most teams/managers are fond of doing. Given the solid talent base they have, I think that they’ll be highly competitive for a while, but they do have some question marks on their starting staff.
Now, I’m not going to pick the playoff match-ups yet, because that would be a complete waste of another potential post. Besides, it’s far too early to do something as silly as that. I will put this out there, though. The Giants beat Cliff Lee twice and Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt each once on the way to winning the WS in 2010. They didn’t do it all in the same series, but still the Giants certainly have the confidence that they can do it. I also think that the Giants will be a better team in 2011. Do you think that each of the Phillies starters will be better in 2011 than they were respectively in 2010? At the beginning of the 2011 season, Halladay will be 33, Oswalt will be 33, Cole Hamels will be 27, and Lee will be 32. By comparison, Tim Lincecum will be 26, Matt Cain will be 26, Jonathan Sanchez will be 28, and Madison Bumgarner will be 21. The Cardinals might also have something to say in this as well, and their top 4 starters aren’t exactly throwing batting practice. On opening day, Chris Carpenter will be 35, Adam Wainwright 29, Jaime Garcia 24, and Jake Westbrook 33.
A lot of things can still happen between now and the start of the regular season, but I’m sticking with these picks unless someone gets abducted by aliens (and joins Fay Vincent).
Like the predictions? Upset that I didn’t pick the Diamondbacks to win the NL West? Badger me on Twitter about it.