April 6, 2011
The Major League Baseball season is only a couple days old so if your team is on top of the standings, don’t buy your playoff tickets yet. And if you are rooting for a team that remains winless, don’t push the panic button. It’s still anybody’s ballgame so let’s take a look at some of the issues facing each team.
Can the Braves return to the postseason? If anyone is going to take the East title from the Phillies, it’s probably the Braves. They’ve added Dan Uggla and a healthy Chipper Jones to the lineup. The starting pitching is strong. The biggest question mark is the bullpen. The retirement of Billy Wagner has left an opening at closer. If Atlanta can find the right guy to take his place they can give the Phillies a run for the division title.
Florida has plenty of young talent on its roster. There is a lot of potential on this team, but the Marlins may not have enough to beat out Philadelphia and Atlanta. Guys like Gaby Sanchez, Donnie Murphy, and Annibal Sanchez are going to need big seasons for this team to be playing in October.
The bad news: this team is a mess off the field. The good news: there is no way the Mets can be as bad on the field. Everything will have to go right for New York to win the division. That starts with Johan Santana and Jose Reyes getting healthy and once again being the superstars they have been in the past.
Philadelphia became the favorite to win the N.L crown when Cliff Lee joined the rotation. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels give the Phillies a four-headed monster that can shut down any lineup. The Phillies lineup is not what is used to be, but with those four starters, it won’t have to be.
The Nationals’ hopes in 2011 took a major hit with the loss of Stephen Strasburg. Adding Jason Werth will help the offense, but the Nationals look to be preparing for a run in 2012. If Strasburg comes back healthy in 2012 and top-pick Bryce Harper lives up to the hype, this team has a bright future.
It could be an all or nothing season for the Cubs. If they can stay healthy and get productive seasons from Soriano, Ramirez and Zambrano they could win the Central. If the Cubs struggle under new manager Mike Quade, and the dugout brawls continue, it will be a complete disaster, and the drought will live on for another year.
Cincinnati won the Central in 2010. They have a great chance to repeat that feat in 2011. The Reds had the best offense in the National League. They have the reigning NL MVP. The roster has the fewest holes to fill, and they should be motivated after a dismal performance in the playoffs.
Houston had the worst offense in the NL last season. The defense wasn’t great either. They have a quality starting rotation, but the bullpen needs work. The Astros will have a tough time surpassing last season’s win total of 76.
There is a wide range of expectations for Milwaukee in 2011. They have been picked to win the Central, but they have also been at the bottom in some preseason predictions. Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum will bolster the pitching staff. The lineup is built around Prince Fielder, who could have a huge year and lead them to the playoffs. But Fielder is going to be a free agent and could leave town, so the Brewers may decide to throw in the towel and trade the Prince so they don’t lose him for nothing.
.500. That is the goal for the Pirates. They haven’t done it since 1992. That is a long time to wait for Pirate fans. Unfortunately, there is not much reason to believe they will be better than they were in 2010. And they were the worst team in baseball.
The Cards were supposed to win the Central in 2010. They were expected to have a bounce-back season in 2011. Then they didn’t get Albert Pujols signed. And Adam Wainwright went down for the season with an injury. It will be tough for this team to reach the playoffs without their ace and the Pujols questions hovering over them all season.
They finished last in the West in 2010. The offense is weak and they strike out a lot. The starting pitching is OK, but the bullpen has holes. The Diamondbacks have a lot of work to do if they are going to compete for the playoffs in the next couple years. It won’t happen in 2011.
The Rockies will be good in 2011, especially if they play better on the road. Colorado was dominant at home last year and bad on the road. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are stars. The other pieces are in place to make a run at the division crown. They will give the Giants all they can handle in the West.
80 wins was a disappointment for this team in 2010. Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton were great in 2009 when the Dodgers made the playoffs. Not so much in 2010. If those two return to 2009 form and the ownership issues don’t get in the way, Los Angeles will be playing meaningful games in September.
San Diego should have won the West last year. They would have without the 10-game losing streak at the end of the season. They can still pitch, but the loss of Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of that lineup will hurt. They will have to find a way to score to compete in 2011.
The Giants shocked baseball by winning the World Series in 2010. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain led the pitching staff and shut down team after team in the playoffs. The offense was not prolific, but they got the big hits when they needed to. No matter what the offense does in 2011, the starting rotation will keep the Giants in the playoff hunt all season.