MLB Season Preview: With a Blue Jay/A.L. East Bias
Picking the Jays (in the A.L. East)
Call me crazy but I am picking the Toronto Blue Jays to win the A.L. East this year. Seriously! I know what you might be thinking? And I’m not one of those people who pick his favorite/hometown team to win it every year. If I recall, I had the Jays finishing dead last behind Baltimore last season. If anything, I should be repeating that prediction based on Baltimore’s improvement and Baseball Prospectus slotting the Jays dead last in their preview. I disagree, and say that last year was just a sign of better things to come from the Jays.
Here is Why?
Nobody in the Jays rotation stands out at you, but believe me, they are all solid arms. I see Kyle Drabek proving to be the prospect everyone thought he’d be, working deep into games late in the season and winning ROY. When Brandon Morrow comes back from the DL he is going to tally up big strikeout numbers and win big games. Ricky Romero also has that ‘big game’ mentality. The Jays can expect another solid season out of him. These three are the pitchers that the Jays will rely on, also getting decent contributions from the back-end guys like Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch, Jo-Jo Reyes and possibly Zach Stewart later in the year. The bullpen looks formidible with three former closers (Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco). This could be, but won’t a concern in my opinion.
The key factor in the Jays winning this season is that the pitching gets better!! I can easily see this occuring under new manager, and pitching specialist, John Farrell. We all saw how the offense caught fire last year, and this year the pitching steps up to compliment it.
Also notable, is the Jays have adding some effective speed to get on base with Rajai Davis, a full season out of Travis Snider @Lunchboxhero45 maintaining a high .OBP and Yunel Escobar having a bounceback year at the plate while helping the pitchers in spades defensively. Along with that, the Jays look better defensively in the outfield with Corey Patterson being a late-inning defensive replacement.
Then, throwing more to the fire is Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Hill and J.P. Arencibia all having productive years at the plate. Encarnacion and Arencibia emerge as a legitimate homerun threats this season, while Aaron Hill gets his batting average in the .320′s
All this is a formula for success. The Jays put together a full year and take a commanding lead on the A.L. East early. We sweep the Yankees in a home series in mid-September, giving the Jays what they need to lock up the A.L. East crown.
Importantly, I buy a t-shirt to commemorate the event. Yay!!!!!!!! ha ha.
Rest of the A.L. East
If you haven’t noticed this offseason, the A.L. East has changed drastically. The Red Sox, Rays, Orioles and even the Yankees have rearranged their clubs in ways that might alter the landscape of this division. On paper, you could say that the Red Sox and Orioles improved the most over the offseason, but every year we see good teams on paper disintegrate. The Red Sox are definitely familiar with that. So, that is what I am predicting for 2011.
The Orioles revamped their offense but are relying on too many unprovens in their rotation, and everybody can see it. Their weakness is glaring. The acquistion of guys like Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy shows that they are going to be a team that can flash the lumber, although without a solid nucleus behind them. Similar to the Jays last year, their offensive numbers will be significant, but their record will not be enough for the wild card. They’ll have a better season though, I’ll give them that as a fact.
The Red Sox got some premiere players (Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford), an improved bullpen (Bobby Jenks) and a promising rotation (a thinner, healthier John Lackey). They seem like the sexy pick to win the World Series right now, so they have that working against them. Expectations will be high and they will fail to meet them this season. Watch Papelbon gets yanked as closer, Scutaro and Saltamacchia not cut it defensively and their acquisitions take time to get aclimated to the change of scenery. Jose Bautista ends up owning the Green Monster in Fenway. So much so, they contemplate taking it down the following year. Okay, I’ve started to dream a bit.
Yankees *Wild Card Pick*
You could say the same old things about the Yankees. Tired responses like they have an aging roster, and they will fold under the pressure of playing in New York. But I won’t say them again, as I’ve been burned by these statements in the past. I have the Yankees winning the Wild Card for the second year in a row. Their back end rotation won’t have to be amazing to guide them through the year. If they aren’t good, I like the depth they have in the minors with guys like David Phelps, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman for the 2011 season. The Yanks bullpen also got a lot stronger with Rafeal Soriano. It is going to scare clubs to get into late innings with that team. They’ll take the Wild Card, but the Jays will be a handful for them all year.
Hard to see the Rays finishing the season low in the standings after winning the division last year, isn’t it? They will have a good club, no doubt. However, I know how important it is to have a good bullpen in the A.L. East, and they don’t have one for 2011. They still have a good season, but blow too many late leads on the road to the Yankees, Jays and Red Sox. Bautista walk-offs bombs will be their demise.
Baseball Does Not Revolve Around the A.L. East (I forgot)
There are actually other divisions, with some other good teams. Believe it or not?
Tigers win this division on the backs of Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. Both these players have a long history of wraking the baseball. Prospect Jacob Turner makes an impact in the rotation as a mid-season call-up and the rotation survives as the offense is a juggernaut in 2011. The only PED Miguel Cabrera needs is scotch.
The Angels show MLB that defense in the outfield is as important as any aspect in the game. Balls are gobbled up all year by Bourjos, Hunter and Wells, and
the best rotation in the West quells the Rangers bats all year. The Angels win their matchups with the A’s starters on a consistant basis. They are a fast, well managed and better team at producing offense. The Angels are my ‘ultimate dark horse’ this year.
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, need I say anymore names? The Phillies rotation will get them loads of wins and Ryan Howard will wrake once again in 2011. Hard to pick against them, I dare anybody to do it. They are the class of this division.
Marlins *Wild Card Pick*
You’d think that the Braves would be the logical team to pick here. Many predict them to improve upon last season. They also scooped up Uggla from the Marlins. However, the N.L. East, apart from the Phillies, has been a very competitive division and the fish look on the verge of making some noise. The Marlins come into 2011 with a more experienced pitching staff, adding Vasquez and looking for prime years from Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson. The lineup features a very good young outfield on the brink of providing Hanley Ramirez with some needed protection. Marlins suprise everyone this season except me.
The Reds were so impressive last season that I’m riding them to the World Series this year. With a taste of the playoffs last year, I see a hungry team looking for more. No doubt, the Cardinals and Brewers will give them enough competition this year. But I believe that will only help fuel this team. They showed a tremendous consistancy as a team last year, and a great will and desire to win every game. The central is slowing becoming a very tough division, and Joey Votto is looking like a “big red machine” at the top of it. I see Cueto and Volquez solidifying themselves as frontline starters and Aroldis Chapman starting mid-season to boost the Reds even further.
It’s the Giants. Dominant pitching characterized this team last year, and the scary thing is that they are all young players that are getting better. They might have a shaky beginning this year, but the Giants will end it in first. Their pitching is that much better than any other team in their division. Big years from Madison Bumgartner and Buster Posey make them even better in 2011.
Angels vs. Reds
Winner: Angels in 7 games
Don’t anybody call me unoriginal! Dan Haren and Jared Weaver provide a great playoff stretch for the Angels and they win it just as the Giants won it last year; with pitching and defense (not including Scott Kazmir in that equation).