Friday, April 1, 2011

2011 MLB Season Preview: American League

American League East

Boston Red Sox

Strength: Probably one of the most complete teams in all of baseball, there appears to be nothing the Red Sox can’t do. The addition of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford gives them better plate discipline, improvement on defense, and more punch in their lineup. Include a healthy Dustin Pedroia and a revitalized David Ortiz, and this team has great potential to win the division and go deep into the playoffs.

Weakness: If ever there was a spot to get to this team, it would be their starting pitching. Aside from Jon Lester, the rest of their rotation is suspect. Can Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka remain healthy and regain their past forms? Will John Lackey return to the pitcher he was when he was in Anaheim? Was 2010 the breakout year for Clay Buchholz, or just a fluke?

Baltimore Orioles

Strength: It’s hard to contend with the likes of big spenders such as the Yankees and Red Sox, but hitting may be one area the Orioles can battle with the big boys in their division. Adding Derrek Lee, Vladamir Guerrero, and Mark Reynolds with Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis means balls will be flying out of Oriole Park at Camden Park.

Weakness: While they have serious pop on the offensive side, their pitching may well be the Achilles heel of this Baltimore squad. With only two starters who had over ten wins in 2010 (Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz) and a relatively inexperienced rotation, they will have to outscore their opponents to win games in 2011. The other concern to watch for will be if Lee, Guerrero and Reynolds stay healthy for 162 games.

New York Yankees

Strength: The 2010 Yankees had a potent lineup ready to go at all times and nothing will change this season. Top-to-bottom, the potential they possess on offense is comparable to the Red Sox’s projections, possibly even better. The forever-young Mariano Rivera will be back to close out games for them and doesn’t look like he lost anything from when he started sixteen years ago.

Weakness: Losing Andy Pettitte is a big loss for a team whose starting pitching is questionable. While there is the possibility to saddle up and ride C.C. Sabathia’s rubber arm, New York will require more from 2010 breakout star Phil Hughes. After that, it becomes a toss-up as to what they get with A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia. Along with that, there doesn’t seem to be an effective fifth starter that will emerge from the rest of their staff.

Tampa Bay Rays

Strength: Having 25-year-old superstar Evan Longoria as your cornerstone is always a great asset for a young team. Add speedy B.J. Upton, along with the rising Ben Zobrist and Reid Brignac, and this lineup will be able to put up runs consistently. David Price will be called upon to take a more commanding role as their true ace; but if he can pitch like last season, he’ll be able to answer the phone when it rings.

Weakness: The team ended up losing more than they gained during the off season. Carl Crawford leaving was a big blow for the team as he was the table setter for all the action. Carlos Pena was a major source of power, but now he’s on the Cubs. Matt Garza is also gone and leaves a huge hole on the pitching staff. Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon will try to make up for the loss of Crawford and Pena, but they are not the 2005 versions of themselves when they were teammates on Boston.

Toronto Blue Jays

Strength: Jose Bautista had an unbelievable season in 2010 and will be counted on to replicate those statistics in 2011. Aaron Hill will be there helping him knock in runs and Rajai Davis adds some much needed speed at the top of lineup (this is important for a team that didn’t have a player with more than 20 SBs last season). The pitching staff has a high ceiling of potential with Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and Brett Cecil surrounding possible future ace Kyle Drabek.

Weakness: After Bautista, this team has absolutely no pop in the lineup or a player who drove in more than 70 RBIs last year. Vernon Wells protected him in 2010, but he is in Anaheim. Their pitching was above average last year, but will need to continue improving this season if Toronto wants to improve.

American League Central

Minnesota Twins

Strength: This lineup will have a good mix of veterans (Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jim Thome and Michael Cuddyer) with a nice group of young players (Delmon Young, Denard Span, Tsuyoshi Nishioka). The rotation is solid with Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano at the top two spots. Joe Nathan returns after missing all of 2010 as their closer.

Weakness: Although Nathan is back, it’ll be intriguing to see if he can get back to the form that made him one of the most devastating finishers in the game. If he doesn’t regain his former self, it will be a long season for the Twins. Morneau will be in the same boat after sitting out the last half of 2010 due to a concussion. If he can’t recover, the team will have a big hole in the middle of the lineup.

Chicago White Sox

Strength: It wouldn’t be shocking if this were a team to knock out home runs consistently. Adding Adam Dunn with the big bats of Paul Konerko, Carlos Quentin, Alexi Ramirez, and Alex Rios will have the long ball flying out of the Windy City regularly. They will be ecstatic when Jake Peavy returns to the rotation with Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Edwin Jackson.

Weakness: Despite having big pop in their bats, adding Dunn means more strikeouts and a lower batting average. They will also have to work hard to remain healthy in order to stay on the field. The bullpen is also a big question mark for the team with a main concern at the closer position. Can Matt Thornton handle being the main reliever to finish off games?

Cleveland Indians

Strength: With a strong young nucleus of players, the Indians have a bright future ahead of them. Led by Shin Soo-Choo and Fausto Carmona, they will move forward with the hope that others will follow suit. Carlos Santana is their catcher of tomorrow and Cleveland will hope he improves from a strong 2010 campaign.

Weakness: Too bad the future is not the present. The team is currently underdeveloped with very little power they can create (which is evident with Soo-Choo leading the team with only 22 home runs last year) and striking fear in opposing pitchers. The rotation is very inexperienced, only three pitchers have more than five years in the big leagues and all but one pitcher who is older than 28.

Detroit Tigers

Strength: The Tigers will hope that Miguel Cabrera can put behind his off-season issues and concentrate on improving upon his stellar 2010 numbers. Lucky for him, he’ll have great support with big hitters like Victor Martinez, Brandon Inge, and Magglio Ordonez. Austin Jackson is their big prospect and the other building block for the future alongside Cabrera.

Weakness: Despite having potent hitters, the biggest question will be the pitching. Justin Verlander is the only pure gem on their staff, with the franchise putting high hopes on unproven youngsters and journeyman veterans. Max Scherzer will have to step up this year and Rick Porcello will need to regain his 2009 form. The bullpen appears to be a cut-and-paste group with players moving in and out of various roles as the season progresses.

Kansas City Royals

Strength: After shipping away Zack Greinke during the offseason, the Royals will be banking on another group of youngsters to take control. Billy Butler is more than capable of becoming an All-Star and adding Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur around him will help to ease the pressure off Bulter having to create all of the offense. Joakim Soria is one of the best closers in the game and can shut down any team in the ninth inning.

Weakness: Losing their only strong arm in Greinke will hurt their rotation deeply. While Bruce Chen came from no where to pitch well in 2010, it’ll be an even more amazing if he pitches nearly as well in 2011. It’ll be interesting to see if they can get another pitcher who wins them 10 games this season.

American League West

Oakland A’s

Strength: Similar to the Angels, Oakland’s success in 2011 will be due to their starting pitching. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, and Brett Anderson will have to keep their team in each game this season. Brian Fuentes will be a big help as the closer with his resume. Their lineup will have good balance top to bottom, which means production from anyone at anytime.

Weakness: While the team may have hitters with potential to hit double digit home runs, the thought of any one of them hitting over twenty home runs is far-fetched. Hideki Matsui will be the focal point of their power, but can he produce enough to scare opposing managers? Their production of power will make or break their season.

Los Angeles Angels

Strength: With a strong rotation, the Angels will be able to put out an impressive starter with each game they play. Ervin Santana bounced back after a troubling 2009 season, Jared Weaver maintained his steadiness, Dan Haren will have a full season with the Anaheim and Scott Kazmir will hope to have a Santana-like comeback in 2011. Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, and Bobby Abreu make a potent outfield, as well as the core of their offense.

Weakness: The success of the team will be dependent upon their health and recapturing their old ability. Getting back Kendrys Morales will be huge for their lineup, which has very little pop outside of their outfielders. Kazmir and Haren will need to have, at least, decent years to make others fearful of their pitching. Also, can Fernando Rodney get more than fourteen saves and blow less than seven games (his stats from 2010)?

Seattle Mariners

Strength: Having the best hitter (Ichiro Suzuki) and the best pitcher (Felix Hernandez) will always be a strength on any team. Speed will be the key to their offense with Suzuki and Chone Figgins putting up over 40 stolen bases each in 2010. David Aardsma will hope to continue his impressive performance as their closer, after acquiring 30 saves last season.

Weakness: Aside from the positives described above, the rest of the team is full of negatives. They have no ability to drive in runs and have no pop in their line up to terrorize the opposition. Franklin Gutierrez is the lone leader in home runs and RBIs from 2010, but those totals were quite meager (12 HRs and 64 RBIs). Hernandez has no help behind him in the rotation and the bullpen is decent, at best.

Texas Rangers

Strength: The 2011 Rangers will look similar to last year’s model, which were the AL champions. The explosiveness of the offense is still well represented with Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Michael Young. They also get to add another potent bat into the lineup with Adrian Beltre, making this possibly an even more frightening roster this season. Neftali Perez will be back as the closer and will improve with more seasoning in his second full year.

Weakness: Although the offensive is, at worst, equivalent to the 2010 team, the rotation will see a drop off from last year. With Cliff Lee jumping ship and heading to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Rangers are left with no true ace to replicate his ability and presence. The rotation will have to pitch more impressively this season in order to assist the offense in returning to contention for the 2011 world title.

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