Yeah, I know. It's baseball season already. In an effort to avoid having the World Series spill into November again (which otherwise would be a ratings bonanza for Fox, depending on who is in the Fall Classic), Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan "Bud" Selig decided that the 2011 season would start on March 31, a Thursday, as opposed to those Sunday starters we've had the last few years to accomodate ESPN. This way, ESPN AND MLB Network will share the opening day festivities, and, for you cable subscribers, MLB Extra Innings will be F-R-E-E for the first few days of the season.
Let's take a look into the ol' crystal ball and see just how the divisions stack up for 2011, starting in the American League:
1. Boston. The consensus pick after missing the playoffs last year. Offensively, can Adrian Gonzalez provide protection for David Ortiz that Victor Martinez couldn't? I think so.
2. Yankees. Business as usual, meaning more tabloid drama than necessary in scandal-obsessed New York.
3. Tampa Bay. The defending division champs lose Carl Crawford & Dan Wheeler to Boston, and Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs. Getting Johnny Damon & Manny Ramirez doesn't mean this becomes Idiots South (think the '04 Red Sox).
5. Baltimore. As David Byrne wrote 31 years ago, same as it ever was.
1. Minnesota. Ron Gardenhire's Twins always make a late kick in the stretch run, and this will be no exception. Might as well pencil them in now, rather than be surprised come September.
2. Detroit. This time, they may have a better shot at the Wild Card.
3. Chicago. This could be Ozzie Guillen's last stand in Chitown if the White Sox don't make the playoffs.
3. (tie) Cleveland. Not even Charlie Sheen can get these guys back to the playoffs this year.
5. Kansas City. They'll start fast, fade, and fall into place.
1. Texas. The experiment in converting Rookie of the Year Neftali Perez into a starter failed. The Rangers realized they didn't want to do to Perez what the Yankees did to Joba Chamberlain, and will be better for it.
2. LA Angels of Anaheim. They start the season without Kendry Morales, but they're still going to be a factor because of pitching.
3. Oakland. So what if "Moneyball" has been made into a movie? That won't help the A's get into the playoffs.
4. Seattle. One more year before contending again.
1. Atlanta. The Braves were the Wild Card last year, but fell to eventual World Series champ San Francisco. The post-Bobby Cox era begins with a division title.
2. Mets. Yes, they're going to beat out Philadelphia for 2nd, but not enough for a Wild Card. Yet.
3. Philadelphia. Chase Utley & Brad Lidge start the year on the DL. The Phils cut Luis Castillo a little more than a week after signing him, meaning Castillo may be done. With Jayson Werth now in Washington, Ryan Howard suddenly has no protection early, and that's trouble that not even the pitching can cure.
4. Washington. Stephen Strasburg won't be back until 2012, but they've got plenty of offense to make some noise.
5. Florida. Dan Uggla is gone (to Atlanta). Like the Royals, the Marlins will start fast, then fade.
1. Cincinnati. A 1st round exit vs. Philadelphia will only make the Reds hungrier.
2. St. Louis. Worried about losing their star, Albert Pujols, after this season, the Cardinals will----repeat, will---make the playoffs as the Wild Card.
3. Milwaukee. Nipped at the wire. Again.
6. Pittsburgh. See Toronto & Baltimore.
1. San Francisco. Can the defending champs make it 2 in a row? The Yankees, remember, were the last team to repeat as champs (1998-2000), and the Giants, who will pick up more fans on this side of the coast with the World Series trophy tour coming to upstate NY in May, have the horses to pull it off.
2. Colorado. Watch them make another run in September, as they are the NL's answer to the Twins.
3. Los Angeles. Don Mattingly's 1st season as Dodger manager will be painful---and possibly short if the Dodgers fall out of contention early.
4. San Diego.
5. Arizona. Someone has to bring up the rear.
Wild Cards: Yankees will beat out Detroit, Chicago, & the Angels in the AL, while St. Louis takes the NL card.
Playoffs? Well, I don't believe in projecting stats, but I see the seedings thus:
1. San Francisco.
4. St. Louis.
AL playoff projections: Texas over Yankees (again); Boston over Minnesota; Boston over Texas.
NL playoff projections: San Francisco over St. Louis; Atlanta over Cincinnati; San Francisco over Atlanta (again).
World Series: San Francisco over Boston to become the first NL team to repeat since Cincinnati in the 70's.
Of course, I could be wrong.......
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