Let’s get one thing straight right here, the Giants will not repeat as World Series champions. I understand that most people said they would not win it all last season and were proven wrong, but there is a difference. In baseball, more than any other sport, the quality of the individual players that make up a roster is not as important as how well they play together as a team. The Giants were not even close to being the most talented team last season. Arguably, the Giants only had four players on its roster last season that most teams would want, and three of them were pitchers. Can you name three position players from the 2010 Giants that are not named Buster Posey? The Giants had a remarkable run last season, they got the best out of what they had, played together as beautifully as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and have a World Series trophy to show for it. Stories like those make great movies, but they don’t ever repeat themselves. Everything went right for the Giants last season, and no team has had everything go right two years in a row. A good comparison would be the 1988 Dodgers, a team that got the most out of what they had and won it all against a team with much more talent on its roster. The 1989 Dodgers finished six games under .500.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s concentrate on the teams that have a realistic chance of winning the 2011 World Series.
Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox served notice to the rest of Major League Baseball that they are serious about winning another championship when they signed free-agent outfielder Carl Crawford and traded for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Unlike the Giants, everything went wrong for the Red Sox last season. Starting pitchers Josh Beckett and John Lackey both had their worst season in years, closer Jonathan Papelbon had the worst season of his career, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and second baseman Dustin Pedroia each had their season cut short by injury. Ellsbury and Pedroia are healthy again, Crawford and Gonzalez are in town, Beckett and Lackey are both bound to bounce back to their regular selves, and in Daniel Bard, the Red Sox have a back-up plan in case Papelbon falters again. The Red Sox open the season as a clear favorite to win it all.
Philadelphia Phillies – A pitching staff like the one the Phillies break camp with should be illegal. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt make up perhaps the best starting rotation baseball has ever seen. It’s difficult to name a staff as the best ever before the season begins, and I refuse to do so, but it is not a stretch to conceive right now that the Phillies staff has the potential to go down in history as one of the top five rotations of all time. The 2011 Phillies aren’t all arms, they have some serious lumber to back those arms up, most notably the best power hitter in baseball. Ryan Howard doesn’t just hit home runs, he hits monstrous home runs. Howard drives the ball to the opposite field with more power than most major leaguers can pull an underhand pitch with a golf ball, and unlike another ball player sitting in court on a daily basis right now that I could mention, he does it without the assistance of steroids. However, the loss of free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth, an injuries to second baseman Chase Utley and closer Brad Lidge, and Jimmy Rollins breaking down before our eyes, the Phillies do have some question marks. Even with those negatives, a pitching staff like the one assembled in Philadelphia makes the Phillies a serious threat to the Red Sox.
Texas Rangers – Last year’s runner-up, the Rangers beefed up its offense and took a serious blow to its pitching staff. The bad news first, Cliff Lee left town for Philadelphia, and Lee accounted for 95% of the Rangers pitching. Starting pitchers CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis both came out of nowhere last season and had very respectable seasons, they will need to duplicate their 2010 numbers in 2011 for the Rangers to make the Red Sox and Phillies take them seriously. Closer Neftali Feliz is one of the best closers in baseball, if not the best closer in baseball. Now for the good news, the Rangers improved an already potent batting line-up with the edition of Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, without really losing anybody. Designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero is without question one of the best players in baseball over the past 10 seasons, and started off red-hot in 2010. Years of putting his body on the line every single day finally took its toll on Vladdy however, and he basically limped into the post-season. Vladdy is now in Baltimore, but this team made it through two rounds of the playoffs without him, so his loss is really not that big of a deal, especially when he has been replaced by two younger power hitters in Beltre and Napoli. Starting pitcher Brandon Webb could be a wild-card, if he can return to his old self the Rangers will close the gap between them and the Red Sox and Phillies. For now though, they are a distant third, and one starting pitcher away from being in the same conversation.
The Giants of 2011?
Chicago White Sox – There are many variables for the White Sox in 2001, most notably starting pitcher Jake Peavy’s health. Also included in the analysis is whether or not right fielder Carlos Quentin can finally make it through a season, second baseman Gordon Beckham playing like he did after the All Star break and not like he played before the All Star break, center fielder Alex Rios playing like Alex Rios and not like whoever that guy was wearing his uniform in 2009 and Adam Dunn continuing to smash the ball.
Cincinnati Reds – Joey Votto, Joey Votto and Joey Votto. First baseman Joey Votto tore National League pitching to shreds last season. If center fielder Drew Stubbs and right fielder Jay Bruce continued their ascent to stardom, this can be an extremely potent line-up. Concerns surround third baseman Scott Rolen and catcher Ramon Hernandez being on the tail end of their careers. The key to the Reds success lies in starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto, both having the make-up of an ace. Votto can carry the Reds through the regular season, but they need Volquez and Cueto if they want to make an impact in the post-season.
Tampa Bay Rays – The loss of left fielder Carl Crawford and closer Rafael Soriano are huge blows to the Rays chances in 2011, but the Rays still have plenty of talent to make a run deep into the post-season. Third baseman Evan Longoria is one of the most exciting young players in the game, as is starting pitcher David Price. Unfortunately for the Rays though, the question marks start once Longoria and Price are out of the way. The Rays have plenty of talent in their starting rotation, James Shields is a prime bounce-back candidate and Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann both have the ability to be solid inning eaters. Rookie starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson could one day be one of the ten best starting pitchers in baseball, if he makes strides in that direction this season the Rays will have a formidable rotation. Designated hitter Manny Ramirez and left fielder Johnny Damon probably won’t contribute much, and center fielder BJ Upton has simply not matched his magical 2007 season. Kyle Farnsworth? Kyle Farnsworth??? How on earth can the Rays be viewed as a serious title contender when they have a closer that gets hits harder than a tomato-can against Mike Tyson in his prime?
New York Yankees – Yes, the New York Yankees are pretenders. It’s over Yankee fans, time to rebuild. Jeter is not Jeter anymore, Alex Rodriguez is not Alex Rodriquez anymore, CC Sabathia is not CC Sabathia anymore, Jorge Posada is not Jorge Posada anymore and AJ Burnett, well, let’s just say you play with fire and you get burned. It was a nice run New York, but all good things must come to an end. The Yankees don’t scare anybody anymore, nor should they. Second baseman Robinson Cano is one of the best at his position, but he is about 35 years younger then the next oldest player on this roster. Mariano Rivera is one of the best closers baseball has ever seen, and the Yankees have a back-up plan in Rafael Soriano in case Rivera finally breaks down. This comes down to simple mathematics, the Yankees are the third best team in the American league East, and that means for the second time since 1995, the Yankees will be watching the playoffs on television.
San Francisco Giants – Refer to the first paragraph of this article.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Sorry Dodgers fans, but it’s time to start thinking about 2012. First baseman James Loney has not lived up to his promise, shortstop Rafael Furcal will be on the disabled list by May, the Dodgers don’t have a catcher or a left fielder and third baseman Casey Blake is Casey Blake. The Dodgers have a quality starting rotation on the mound, anchored by Clayton Kershaw, but this team simply has too many holes to contend for anything other than the basement of the National League West.
American League West champion – Texas Rangers
American League Central champion – Chicago White Sox
American League East champion – Boston Red Sox
American League wild card – Tampa Bay Rays
National League West champion – San Francisco Giants
National League Central champions – Cincinnati Reds
National League East champions – Philadelphia Phillies
National League wild card – Chicago Cubs
American League champion – Boston Red Sox
National League champion – Philadelphia Phillies
World Series champion – Boston Red Sox