Fearless forecast for 2011 flag chases
The first rule in making baseball predictions is to expect the unexpected.
Don’t go with last year’s winners, popular favorites, or big-money ballclubs. Unless they deserve it, of course.
Now that we’ve gotten past the obvious rules, there are the string of unknowns that can pop up anywhere during the course of a 162-game schedule, not to mention the six-week spring training period that precedes it.
Just look at the Philadelphia Phillies, licking their chops after landing Cliff Lee for the second time but licking their wounds after Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Domonic Brown, and Brad Lidge dropped onto the disabled list before the season started.
Nobody knows what rookies will thrive, what veterans will flop, or what key players will suffer serious injuries — or how long they will be out.
Depth matters, in both the majors and minors, and that’s why the 2011 standings will look like this:
NL East: Braves, Phils, Marlins, Mets, Nationals
NL Central: Brewers, Reds, Cards, Cubs, Astros, Pirates
NL West: Rockies, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks
AL East: Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Rays
AL Central: Twins, Tigers, White Sox, Royals, Indians
AL West: Angels, Rangers, Athletics, Mariners
NLCS: Braves over Rockies
ALCS: Twins over Red Sox
World Series: Braves over Twins
That’s right: exactly 20 years after Atlanta and Minnesota met in a seven-game Fall Classic that paired the first worst-to-first teams in baseball history, they will meet again — with different results. The Braves will have the home-field advantage, thanks to another victory in All-Star play, and that will be the difference.
Other things to watch for this summer:
- Great improvement by two also-rans, the Nationals and the Orioles, after both beefed up their offense during the off-season
- Freddie Freeman following in the footsteps of former roommate Jason Heyward and giving the Braves another Rookie of the Year contender
- A double belly-flop by Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, signed by the desperate Rays after the heart of their team left via free agency
- A rebound by Derek Jeter, who changed his stroke this spring with 3,000 hits on the immediate horizon
- Instant dividends from new Red Sox acquisitions Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez
- A big year from Javier Vazquez, whose comfort level soars in the National League, as he leads a young Marlins pitching staff
- Bernie Madoff repercussions surrounding the Mets all season
- Another terrible season for the embarrassing Pittsburgh Pirates
- A second wind from Vernon Wells in Anaheim
- Dan Uggla proving toÂ be the best winter acquisition by any ballclub
- Texas showing why infield defense (Adrian Beltre replacing Michael Young) makes a huge difference
- The Yankees and Phillies getting too old too fast
- No talk of any future 300-game winner
- No no-hitter by the Mets — again — but at least one against them
- Midseason salary dumps by the Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, and Royals
- Rumors that Joe Torre will return to managing in 2012 if not sooner
- A big year for Zack Grienke once he heals from his basketball injury
- A down year for Albert Pujols as he worries about leaving St. Louis
- A difficult year for rookie manager Don Mattingly
- A batting crown for Martin Prado
- Another Triple Crown bid by Carlos Gonzalez
- More temper issues for Nyjer Morgan but less for K-Rod
- A 40-homer season for Alex Rodriguez as he chases Aaron’s record
- Barry who?
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for Yahoo! Sports, LatinoSports.com, Seamheads.com, and Braves Banter, a weekly podcast on BlogTalkRadio. He is the author of 35 baseball books.