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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My 2011 Phillies/MLB Predictions

Ignoring the fact that I still have to turn on my heat, and that areas to the north of the city might get a little snow mixed in with rain tomorrow night, it's spring. And tomorrow (in some cities) and Friday (in others, including Philadelphia), the 2011 baseball season begins. Here are my predictions for the division and wild card winners. Keep in mind that I'm going basically on what little knowledge of other teams I have in my head. I used to avidly follow every little transaction and study up on the teams and their prospects. That was before there was the Internet and a zillion cable television channels and the occasional real-life event to dilute all of the information I may try to gather. I can speak in some detail about the Phillies (and will do so below), but not much about other teams. So these are nothing more than very slightly educated guesses...

American League East: Boston
American League Central: Minnesota
American League West: Oakland
American League Wild Card: New York Yankees

And in reverse order...

National League Wild Card: Atlanta
National League West: Colorado
National League Central: Cincinnati
National League East:
5. New York Mets
4. Florida
3. Washington
2. Atlanta
...and the Phillies to win the division for the 5th year in a row.

That, of course, will take some things going the right way. While I'm amused that, from what I've heard, a lot of the so-called "experts" are picking against the Phils, I'm not surprised.
The "experts" are an odd breed. They like to make some outlandish picks in order to bring attention to themselves. At the same time they want to be part of the pack. So they'll make some safe bets and a head-scratcher or two, usually because of some circumstances that cause them to jump on or off a team's bandwagon. Thus, in 2011 virtually everyone seems to think the Red Sox are destined to win the World Series while a healthy number of these "experts" don't think the Phillies will even win their division, let alone the Series.

They obviously don't think the Phillies don't have enough starting pitching. More than likely they're looking at the departure of Jayson Werth, the possibly long absence of Chase Utley and the uncertainty of the bullpen and the offense. The thing is, the Phils don't need a ton of offense. They just need to be consistent and score enough runs per game to allow their starters to get into the 7th inning with a lead. Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras were fine last year and they'll be fine this year, even with Brad Lidge being out for the first 3-6 weeks. And if Lidge gets healthy and is used properly, he'll be fine as well, as he demonstrated in the second half of 2010. I'm not as down on Lidge as some are, as long as he's not hurt and gets the right amount of steady work.

The offense is more problematic, especially without Utley. The longer he takes to return to the lineup, the tougher it will be. Fortunately, the Phillies came to their senses and released Luis Castillo. Assuming Wilson Valdez is the regular second baseman during Utley's absence, they'll be fine defensively. And considering their pitching, defense is more important at this point. Castillo wouldn't have added enough offense and he'd have been a defensive liability.

So, as I said, the offense just needs to get a few runs per game on a consistent basis. The batting order's been in question all spring, especially with Utley out. Charlie Manuel said today, according to philly.com, that Jimmy Rollins is going to bat third in the season opener Friday. I assume that means Shane Victorino will lead off. If Victorino can work some more walks and drop a few bunts and get on base more, having the switch-hitting Rollins in front of Ryan Howard (or behind him, in the 5th spot, as some have suggested) offers the lineup a little left-right balance.

I think Carlos Ruiz will continue to improve offensively and Raul Ibanez, if he remains healthy, will be more like the Ibanez of the 1st half of '09 and 2nd half of '10 than the 2nd half of '09 and 1st half of '10.

Ben Francisco is going to start out as the everyday replacement for Werth in right, and he had a good spring. He doesn't have to match Werth -- he just has to do enough, and the guys who slumped or were hurt in 2010 (such as Rollins, Victorino and Howard) have to pick up some slack. They all don't have to have monster seasons. All that's really needed is more consistency.

Remember, with all their problems last year the Phillies still won 97 games. And that was without Roy Oswalt for half a season and without Cliff Lee for the entire year. Adding them to the Roy Halladay-Cole Hamels-Joe Blanton combo makes for a very formidable obstacle for opposing hitters. (And Blanton might turn out to be the best fifth starter in baseball.) So, barring unforeseen circumstances, I see no reason why they won't win the NL East again. How easy it will be probably depends on Utley. If he gets back in May, 102 wins or more is likely. If it takes until August (or if he's out for the entire season), it'll be closer to 94.

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