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2011 MLB Picks

The smell of pine tar is in the air, covering up the stink of labor turmoil as we get set for another baseball season. Here are my mostly uninformed picks going into the season:

NL East

1. Philadelphia Phillies (98-64)

There are folks who think the Phillies could be in for some offensive trouble without Jayson Werth, but when you own three golden arms and a silver one as your fourth, you are in good shape. Even with Chase Utley’s balky wrist and arguably the vilest fans in baseball, they will take the NL East easily.

2. Atlanta Braves (90-72)

Bobby Cox’s swan song was a surprising playoff run that ended with a series loss to the eventual world champion Giants. Will Marlins’ castoff Fredi Gonzalez be able to build on the momentum from last season? If the ageless Chipper Jones can stay healthy and productive, and Jason Heyward can avoid a sophomore decline, then I say yes.

3. Florida Marlins (83-79)

Another year of mediocrity. While I am sure the Royals and Pirates could be envious of the Marlins being perennially “young and competitive”, Florida needs to dip into the savings account once in a while if they are going to field anything better than what they have over the past few years. Note to Jeffrey Loria: antagonizing and running good managers off doesn’t help.

4. Washington Nationals (75-87)

Despite blowing out Stephen Strasburg’s arm last season, the Nationals are up and coming. They have shown they are willing to spend money, unlike the aforementioned Marlins, and signing Werth could finally get them out of the cellar in the NL East. Bryce Harper is unlikely to make a big impact this year, but at least the Mets stink.

5. New York Mets (74-88)

The injured and the restless. With the Wilpons going through major financial turmoil, the perennially injury-cursed Mets will finally fall to the bottom of the heap. Does anyone really expect Jose Reyes to last through most the season? Many apologies to David Wright, whose talents could be taken elsewhere, but will be wasted in cavernous Queens.

NL Central

1. Milwaukee Brewers (91-71)

If Zach Greinke can’t handle the crushing pressure of playing in Kansas City, one has to wonder how he will handle the media blitz in pressure-packed Milwaukee. If he can keep it together, the Brewers will have a great 1-2 punch with Greinke and Yovani Gallardo, to go along with a potentially potent offense.

2. Cincinnati Reds (87-75)

The Big Red Fluke will take a step back this season, after being exposed as somewhat of a fraud in the playoffs last year. If they can continue to feast on the have-nots, they will be in contention through the bitter end.

3. St. Louis Cardinals (83-79)

Adam Wainwright’s blown elbow is a potential euphemism for the Cardinals’ season. The specter of the possible Albert Pujols defection, to the hated Chicago Cubs no less, has St. Louis fans in a frightened tizzy. I can see this team hovering around .500 all year.

4. Chicago Cubs (75-87)

The Curse of Bartman continues in Chicago. While the Southsiders continue to enjoy success, the North side languishes in the depths of the NL Central, much to the delight of the Billy Goat. Can Carlos Pena turn this team around? His sparkling .196 average tells me no.

5. Houston Astros (73-89)

If only Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were around to see this. The Astros are in rebuild mode. Well, really they are in build mode. Ask me about them again in 2012.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates (65-95)

Clint Hurdle is in town, bringing the voodoo he brought to the Rockies. Unfortunately, the hex is strong in Pittsburgh. Is there really much more to add to this? Maybe the Pirates can bring some wine into the cellar and at least enjoy themselves a little.

NL West

1. Colorado Rockies (91-71)

The Rox will start predictably slow until Jim Tracy does his mid-season rain dance and gets them on a tear to end the season. Ubaldo Jimenez will be hard-pressed to repeat his performance from the first half of 2010, but still should anchor a good pitching staff.

2. San Francisco Giants (88-74)

Apologies to my new hometown Giants, but last year’s magical one was a bit too magical to repeat. While still boasting one of the better pitching staffs in the majors, the Giants have major holes in their lineup that cannot be ignored. Even if the Panda, Pablo Sandoval, has slimmed down and regained his swing, it will not be enough.

3. San Diego Padres (84-78)

The Padres made a ton of moves this offseason, but none bigger than losing Adrian Gonzalez to his love of the Red Sox. They will be in the hunt in the competitive NL West, but better teams will ultimately finish ahead of them.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers (80-82)

With Joe Torre gone and ownership hampered by the messy divorce proceedings, this team is going nowhere in 2011. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are nice players, but a severe lack of help will have them treading water for most of the season.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks (65-97)

Brandon Webb might make it back to the majors sometime this season. That is the good news. The bad news is the Diamondbacks will still end up in last.

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox (99-63)

Being that, due to an injury plague, the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox essentially won 89 games last season in the majors, Boston is primed to retake the AL East. Adding Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to an already-potent lineup should do wonders, assuming the Sox didn’t hire the Mets’ trainers. They just have to hope bizarro Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka stay on bizarro Earth.

2. New York Yankees (95-67)

Despite a dangerous lineup, the Yankees are going to have trouble keeping pace with the Red Sox, considering a guy named Ivan Nova is their fourth starter and Derek Jeter’s skills are receding faster than Alex Rodriguez’s hairline. Who will win the spot as the fattest pitcher in the AL: Bartolo Colon, Joba Chamberlain, or C.C. Sabathia? Tune in to find out!

3. Tampa Bay Rays (87-75)

Perhaps if more than a few dozen folks came out to watch their games, the Devil Rays could keep some of its best players. Can Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez conjure up some ’04 Red Sox magic? Well, maybe if they weren’t so close to being AARP-eligible.

4. Baltimore Orioles (78-84)

“We’re not in last place!” You’re welcome, Baltimore. The offensive “upgrades” in Derek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero do just enough to stave off the Toronto Blue Jays for fourth place in the AL East.

5. Toronto Blue Jays (76-86)

I know I am going against the grain here, with folks thinking the Jays had a great offseason. Now that Jose Bautista has his fat contract, I expect a regression from him. Really, I just wanted to throw poor Baltimore a bone here.

AL Central

1. Chicago White Sox (90-72)

Bold prediction: Ozzie Guillen will say some wild stuff this year. The usually reserved manager will have his team fired up to take the AL Central crown from the perennially overachieving Twins. Jake Peavy’s injury issues aside, this team has the firepower and pitching to do it.

2. Minnesota Twins (83-79)

The M Brothers – Joe and Justin – need to stay healthy for this team to stay in contention. Ron Gardenhire has done wonders to keep this team at the top of the AL Central, but this is the year when their overachieving ways take a step back.

3. Detroit Tigers (82-80)

Thankfully for them, the Tigers signed Victor Martinez, otherwise the most significant addition this team would have made in the offseason was another DUI to Miguel Cabrera’s record. Despite Jim Leyland’s managerial wizardry and some big bats, this team has some dysfunction issues that will cost them.

4. Cleveland Indians (65-97)

“Grady Sizemore dives and… he’s out for the season!” The Indians were a tad bit quiet this offseason, making their free agency splash signing Austin Kearns to a monster one-year deal. They are lucky they live in the AL Central with the Royals.

5. Kansas City Royals (61-101)

Do I have to write one of these for the Royals? They stink! George Brett could suit up for them and that would improve their chances. Okay, seriously, they made some moves to get younger and better, but they still stink.

AL West

1. Texas Rangers (91-71)

Losing local boy Cliff Lee had to sting, but adding Adrian Beltre to a stacked lineup will keep this team atop the AL West. Will he go belly up like the last time he scored a big contract? Probably. Dodgers fans still hate him. If the Rangers can manage to retain Michael Young, they will be playoff bound.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (85-77)

Kendry Morales might simply jog around the bases after early-season home runs for the foreseeable future. The Angels lost more than they gained in the offseason, but getting some players back from injuries should help them improve over their 2010 campaign. Too bad they will still miss the playoffs.

3. Oakland A’s (74-88)

Godzilla has made his way to the Bay Area, though perhaps a few years past his prime. The A’s made some moves this offseason, picking up Matsui and Josh Willingham to help the bats, and Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour to shore up the bullpen. They are just not enough to be competitive in the AL West.

4. Seattle Mariners (62-100)

The ageless wonder Ichiro Suzuki might finally start to show signs of that age this season. Good thing the Mariners have Felix Hernandez. Unfortunately for them, there is no chance of posting a losing record and still making the playoffs like their counterpart Seahawks. Could be worse: they could be the Oklahoma City Lightning.

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