After the long, cold, dark teatime of the soul, baseball season is finally here! There are few things that get me quite so excited. I'm fanatical about the game and about my Yankees. It's ironic that I now live in Pittsburgh, which is the polar opposite, baseball-wise, from Yankeeland. Baseball is in its 18th consecutive losing season, which is a baseball all-time record and, I'm fairly certain, an all-time record surpassed only by the Washington Generals. The Pirates have seen player after player fail spectacularly; when the players succeed, they are traded out of town for prospects.
This offseason, the Yankees spent $130 million on free agents, and it was considered a slow offseason. They resigned Jeter and Rivera, signed Soriano to shore up the bullpen, and retooled the bench with ... well ... the sort of players that the Pirates are using as starters. The Pirates, on the other hand, picked up a handful of castoff pitchers from other organizations, and those pitchers are now the foundation of the starting rotation. The amount of money that the Pirates have spent on their entire team is less than the left side of the Yankees infield. This was actually kind of an exciting offseason for the Pirates.
Yankees, 2011: expected to win the wild card, contend for the division, and fight to get into the World Series. Pirates, 2011: hoping that some player continue to develop enough to win 70-75 games and finish in fifth place out of six teams. Yankees: best rivalry in sports with the hated Boston Red Sox. Pirates: next best rivalry in the NL Central with the team called "95 losses."
Anyway, onto the predictions. The predictions have been influenced a little bit by several different prediction systems, but it's mostly based on my gut and intuition. To be honest, picking the baseball winners is much like picking your bracket in the NCAA tournament: you're not going to get it right, so have fun with it.
AL East: Boston, New York (wild card), Tampa, Toronto, Baltimore
Boston is not that much better than the Yankees, contrary to popular belief. The mix of Gonzalez and Youkalis will not likely put up significantly better numbers than Beltre and Youkalis did last year, although Crawford will be an upgrade. The rest of the team is not likely to be as injured; last year's Red Sox were freaky-unlucky in injuries for the year. Offensively, the Yanks and the Sox are similar with a slight edge to the Yanks. Defensively, they are a push. Pitching, Boston has a slight edge over the Yanks with the potential of a huge edge. Tampa's still a very good team, but I think the time to shape a bullpen is going to be disastrous in their division hopes. Toronto is an exciting and fun team, but not quite good enough to make a difference. Baltimore will be better than previous years but don't have the pitching to be an issue.
AL Central: Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland, Kansas Ciy
I'm going with gut here. I just think Detroit is due. Minny and Chicago are likely better teams, but I think Detroit will put it all together. Minnesota seems to be doing it with some smoke and mirrors, and I don't think they will be able to hold off improved teams. Cleveland is that unfortunate state of mediocrity that is just difficult to fix, and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. KC has what is widely regarded as the best farm system in the game, and they will be a fun team to watch this summer when the kids come to play.
AL West: Oakland, Texas, Anaheim, Seattle
Seattle might just be the worst team in baseball this year - even worse than the Pirates, although they have the best pitcher in Felix Hernandez. I don't see how they've gotten any better than they were last year except in the reason that it would be difficult to replicate such futility two years in a row. Texas without Cliff Lee might still win the division, but I want to root for Oakland. Oakland has a great young pitching staff and an interesting team. I want the underdog to win, here, even though it would be kind of cool to see Texas do a better job in the World Series than they did last year.
NL East: Atlanta, Philadelphia (wild card), Florida, Washington, New York
The Mets might have one of the most boring large-market teams in the game. David Wright is a boring superstar. Jose Reyes is exciting until he's hurt and missed two months with various hamstring issues. Etcetera. Philly has, on paper, one of the greatest starting pitching lineups in the history of divisional play. I just don't think they are going to keep it all together, without even mentioning the bullpen issues and offensive woes - the loss of Utley might be devastating. Florida is an interesting team every year, way overachieving.
NL Central: Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Houston
Here's a couple of hope-me picks. I want Milwaukee to do it, because they've been so mediocre for so long. I want Marcum and Greinke to be healthy and effective all season long. I want Fielder and Braun to be monsters at the plate. There is so much than go wrong that is a low probability pick - but I want it. Cincy has a better team and a better staff. Chicago has a more-upside potential team. St. Louis is St. Louis - always going to be in contention. But, I want Milwaukee to do it. Please also note that I think Houston will be last this year, as I hope Pgh takes that last step forward before an interesting 2012.
NL West: Colorado, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona
I actually think that this might be the most compelling division in baseball. Any of the top four teams could pull this off, I think. Every team has a strong part and significant weak parts. Frisco has great starters, but not bottom rotation guys and offensive players. LA has lots of career underachievers, although I love Don Mattingly and hope he does well. San Diego was a game or two away from winning the division. If it wasn't for that pesky ten game losing streak in September...
World Series: New York vs Milwaukee, New York in five.
Most Valuable Yankee: Brett Gardner
Most Underachieving Yankee: Mark Teixiera
Most Improved From Last Year: AJ Burnett
Most Age Ignoring: Mariano Rivera
Aging Before Your Eyes: Derek Jeter
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