2011 Standings Predictions

So I’m pretty much over Spring Training at this point. Fake baseball is better than no baseball, but you can only take so much of it before you start hankering for real baseball. So, to partially scratch that itch, I figured I’d try and call the 2011 standings. I do this every year and am always hilariously wrong, but that’s baseball for you — we can come back to this post in September (or, hell, June) and laugh our asses off.

AL East
Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay Rays (WC)
New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles

It’s my feeling that the Red Sox are tentatively the strongest team in either league right now, with the caveat that they need a return to form by Josh Beckett and John Lackey to be a really dominant team. Clay Buchholz is likely to regress somewhat thanks to an unsustainably low BABIP, so his rotation-mates need to pick up the slack. They’re a devastating offensive team though — as long as everyone stays healthy, which is always the question.

Tampa, I think, is incredibly underrated. They lost a lot of names in the offseason, but they’ve still got easily the strongest rotation in the division and a good lineup. Their big question mark is the bullpen, but bullpens have historically been the easiest thing to put together out of spare parts. That’s essentially what they’ve done the last several years, after all.

You can never count out the Yankees, but I just don’t know where the innings are going to come from. Captain Cheeseburger is a horse, and Phil Hughes can probably eat some innings, but after that? Do they really think Freddy Garcia, Sergio Mitre, and Bartolo Colon are the answer? The offense is still good, if aging, and they’re still as unlikeable as ever, so they’ll probably pull a 200 IP, 3.00 ERA season out of a hat just to spite me. Or trade Joba Chamberlain + pocket lint for Francisco Liriano halfway through.

Toronto and Baltimore are still also-rans in this division, as ever. If it’s any consolation, though, Toronto would be contending in another division, and Baltimore seems as solid as they’ve been in years.

AL Central
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Cleveland Indians

This one’s a toss-up between the top three. I went with Chicago because I like their rotation the best and they’re a pretty well-rounded team. I don’t think the other two have enough depth, although Minnesota never fails to surprise me. I kind of hope they don’t make it, though, because watching them roll over to the Yankees every year has kind of gotten old. It was acceptable when they were the low-budget underdogs, but they’ve got a nine-figure payroll now. The time for excuses is past.

Kansas City and Cleveland are at essentially the same place on the success cycle, biding their time and hoping some young guys work out. Kansas City’s young guys are both better and closer to the majors than Cleveland’s, though, so I’m picking them to finish higher. Neither should be a factor, though.

AL West
Texas Rangers
Oakland A’s
Anaheim Angels
Seattle Mariners

If you put a gun to my head and told me to pick the team I felt was most likely to make the playoffs and the team that would win its division by the greatest margin, I’d go with the Rangers for both questions. Not because I think they’re a particularly great team — they’re kind of shallow actually — but because I don’t think the AL West is likely to give them much of a run. Anaheim is trying, but I’m betting on them being an expensive disappointment. Seattle’s offense is historically awful and their pitching staff not strong enough to compensate. The only X-factor here is the A’s, who have markedly improved over the winter and have a lot of young talent that could surprise, but they may need more time.

NL East
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves (WC)
Florida Marlins
Washington Nationals
New York Mets

I’ve mentioned before that I feel the Phillies are currently the most overrated team in baseball, but I still think you have to give them the nod. Their rotation isn’t going to live up to its press clippings, but it’s still very, very good, and they’ve got more star power than anyone else in the division, which counts for a lot. (The Braves are more of a depth/lack of gaping holes-based team.) They’re much more likely to win 95 games than 105 or 115 or whatever, though, and the Braves should be fully capable of giving them a run, as I think they’re pretty easily the second-best team in the league, with solid rotation, bullpen, lineup, depth, and management. The Braves may not be the best in the league at anything, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the top five for everything.

I haven’t the slightest idea what the Marlins think they’re doing, besides profiting off of revenue-sharing. They don’t seem to have a long-term plan, and while they’re not an awful team, I don’t expect them to seriously compete, either.

The Nationals and Mets are awful teams, though, and shouldn’t be a factor. Washington is at least improving, as both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper could be on the team by the end of the season, but I think 2011 has the potential to be a real lost season for New York. Don’t be surprised if Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes are in different uniforms by the trade deadline.

NL Central
Milwaukee Brewers
Cincinnati Reds
St. Louis Cardinals
Chicago Cubs
Houston Astros
Pittsburgh Pirates

Another toss-up. The top four teams in this division could finish in any order and it wouldn’t surprise me. The current favorite seems to be last year’s winner, the Reds, but they benefited an inordinate amount from an extremely soft schedule in 2010 (which is why the Phillies were able to romp over them in the Division Series) and I expect them to fall back somewhat. Milwaukee’s always been a fringy team held back by its lack of pitching, but they’ve got Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum now, so they may be the most well-rounded team in the division. They need to win this year, though, because Sniffles Fielder will likely walk in the offseason.

Pujols’s contract situation will be a big distraction in St. Louis and Adam Wainwright will be missed badly. They’ll put up a superficially good record but won’t really be a factor. Chicago is my pick for the “ignored in the preseason, but in it until the end” darkhorse pick in the mold of San Diego last year, but injuries could break them in a hurry.

Houston is going nowhere. Pittsburgh is trying, but it’ll be a long time before they’re anywhere worth being.

NL West
San Francisco Giants
Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
Arizona Diamondbacks

Everyone seems to be picking the World Champion Giants to repeat, but recall that they needed a crazy amount of career years and the mother of all hot streaks just to make the postseason last year, and once there they barely slipped by an injury-depleted Braves squad before going on a run to the trophy. Having a full season of Buster Posey (who was out) will help, but Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell won’t be nearly as good, and anyone expecting consistent heroism from Commando Cody Ross will be disappointed. I could see Colorado or LA giving them a push. Hell of a pitching staff, though.

Colorado has extremely good high-end talent, but I’m not sure I could name anyone in their rotation past Ubaldo Jimenez. Colorado has shocked me with crazy hot streaks before, so you can’t ever count them out. I hate pretty much everything Ned Coletti has ever done, but he’s managed to avoid trading Kemp, Ethier, Kershaw, or Billingsley, and against all odds he had a pretty good (if unexceptional) offseason, so the Dodgers might surprise.

I don’t know how San Diego expects to score without Adrian Gonzalez. It’s easy to overstate the effects of single players on teams, but Gonzalez was like the only good hitter on that team and they didn’t have a great offense in the first place. I have nothing to say about the D-Backs, who are so unremarkable that I can’t even remember anything about them other than their double play combination.

So that’s that. Playoffs, of course, are pure chance, and you might as well roll dice as try to pick them — so I will!

Red Sox over White Sox
Rays over Rangers
Braves over Brewers
Phillies over Giants

Rays over Red Sox
Braves over Phillies

Braves over Rays

(I swear to God I did not meddle with that in any way.)

Congratulations, 2011 Atlanta Braves, on your random.org-approved World Championship!

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