2011 MLB In Review

So every year, I make my picks for division winners in Major League Baseball. With one day left in the regular season, it’s time to look back and see how I fared.

AL West

This one was fairly easy. Not only did we all know the Rangers were the best team in the division, but I wasn’t able to make my pick until early June. Still, the Rangers have secured a second straight division title and they’re right where they want to be: nobody’s even talking about the 2010 AL pennant winner heading into this postseason. I picked Oakland to finish second; I really liked some of their offseason acquisitions, but only Josh Willingham can be considered a successful signing. And who could’ve known Brett Anderson would go down like he did.

AL Central

All right, so this is one place where I really blew it. I picked Minnesota to win it all, although I made the pick with quite a bit of hesitation. At the time, I was thinking Morneau and Mauer would be healthy for a good chunk of the season (which didn’t happen). I was also thinking Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker would elevate their play and pitch like aces (which also didn’t happen). I had Detroit finishing second, so I was at least in the ball park on that one. But when it came to my analysis of the Chicago White Sox, I made what is now a laughable statement:

Adam Dunn could lead the league in home runs playing half his games at U.S. Cellular.

What? You mean to tell me you knew he would hit .160?

I did say that Ozzie Guillen “might want to keep the resume handy”. So there’s that.

AL East

Like most of the baseball world, I had Boston pegged as the most complete team in the game coming into the season. Deep lineup, deep rotation, deep pen, deep pockets to make in-season acquisitions. And after an atrocious start, Boston quickly righted the ship and looked the part for about five months. But 161 games in, this is getting ugly. Losing guys like Buchholz and Youk have really hurt the Sox, but this squad simply doesn’t have a stopper, an ace that can take the ball every fifth day and stop the bleeding. And other than Ellsbury, the rest of the lineup appears to be in a month long funk.

Contrast this with Joe Maddon’s indefatigable Rays. They’re middle of the pack in runs and slugging percentage, but they’ve pitched and stolen their way into contention, forcing a Wild Card tie with one game to play. Can’t say I didn’t see it coming. In April, I wrote:

When you can pitch well and catch the ball, you’ll win your fair share of games. I expect the Rays to contend for the Wild Card.

I didn’t see the Yankees being so dominant. Beyond C.C., I couldn’t see where the wins were going to come from. Little did I know Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and Bartolo Colon would show up like they did. But Yankee fans, do you feel comfortable with these guys starting a Game 2 in the playoffs? That feeling in the pit of your stomach should tell you everything you need to know.

NL West

Okay, so I can admit when I’m wrong. I picked the Giants to repeat. Not only could they pitch, but I expected Brandon Belt to put up solid numbers as a rookie and Buster Posey to assert himself as the league’s premier catcher. Didn’t happen. I expected Colorado to contend on the strength of their formidable lineup and a few young arms. Also didn’t happen. The one surefire pick in this division was Arizona. Here’s what I said:

This is the one divisional pick I feel the best about. I just don’t see Arizona rising above any of the other clubs in the West.

I picked Arizona to finish fifth. In the words of John Locke, “I was wrong.”

Granted, I think most prognosticators missed this one, too. But still, you hate to miss something by this much.

NL Central

I picked Milwaukee to win, which has seemed kinda obvious all season. The Brewers are a very good team and I expect them to really make some hay this postseason.

And of course, we all knew the bottom of the division was just terrible. Here was my sage-like prediction for all my Cub fan friends:

If you seriously think you can rely on [Carlos Zambrano] for quality, non-tantrum filled innings this year, you’re crazy.

For the Pirate fans:

Their cleanup hitter is Lyle Overbay. What else do you need to know?

I actually laughed out loud re-reading that tonight.

The pick I wrestled most with was St. Louis. I wanted to be a realist after Wainwright went down in March, so I picked them to finish third. But I noted that this was still a veteran team with a lot to prove. Their season has perhaps been best typified by the production of Lance Berkman, the aging slugger the Cardinals picked up in free agency last offseason. The pick was generally panned by most industry pundits, and while I didn’t completely castigate John Mozeliak for the move, I did say this:

Lance Berkman has to a) stay healthy, b) not kill himself trying to play RF for the first time in 5 years and, c) reestablish himself as an offensive force.

Check, mostly check, and check.

This is still a very flawed team. Heck, look at the bullpen. But this team has done more than simply make things interesting these past few weeks. In what may be Albert Pujols’ swan song in St. Louis red, this club has played inspired ball. When Cy Young contender Adam Wainwright went down in spring training, if you’d have told me then that we’d be going into the final game of the season tied for the lead in the Wild Card, I would’ve taken it. Now, it’s real simple: Keep winning. And when we stop winning, sign Pujols and get ready to win again in 2012. Go Cards!

NL East

I had Philly here, which just about everybody did. But I also had Atlanta finishing second, contending for the Wild Card. I really think Atlanta is a great team. They’ve done what they’ve done while sustaining their fair share of injuries, too. Tommy Hanson has absolutely electric stuff and losing him for the remainder of the season really killed them. But this bullpen has been lights out and guys like Freddie Freeman have really stepped up their game this season.

If you’re keeping score, that means I correctly picked three division winners and I was also high on Boston, Detroit, Tampa, and Atlanta. And I completely whiffed on Arizona and San Fran. All in all, not bad.

Happy postseason.

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