words // Luis Sanchez

Say goodbye to the winter and let’s welcome the spring with yet another exciting season of Major League Baseball. With 2010 being dubbed the “Year of the Pitcher,” 2011 is shaping up to be one of the most competitive seasons we’ve seen in years. The most competitive in the league is guaranteed to be the American League and National League East Divisions. Easily the most exciting divisions in baseball, the East could very well birth both of this season’s World Series participants in the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies.

To get us ready for the exciting season, we’ve broken down each division team by team and detailed what we can expect from each in 2011. Teams are listed as they ranked in the standings last season, with their final record in parenthesis.

American League – East Division

Tampa Bay Rays (96-66) Aside from the Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Rays are going to be one of the most interesting teams to follow all season in the American League East. After taking the division crown and falling short of the World Series last season, the Rays took somewhat of a step down this season after losing their franchise player Carl Crawford and their big-time closer Rafael Soriano. However, with the young core of Evan Longoria and David Price, along with the veteran additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, it will be interesting to watch the Rays battle for a repeat of last season’s divisional title.

New York Yankees (95-67) According to Yankee standards, last year’s wildcard birth and early playoff exit was no where near a success for the New York Yankees. With the Red Sox taking the off-season crown after their multiple off-season acquisitions, things will become considerably tougher for the Bronx Bombers in the American League East. However, we’re talking about the New York Yankees here. And there is one thing we cannot overlook, and that’s the addition of set-up man Rafael Soriano. Adding strength to an already impressive bullpen, look for the late-inning combo of Soriano and Rivera to pitch lights-out in 2011. Staying close to the top for most of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yankees make the playoffs as the AL Wildcard yet again, falling behind the powerful Boston Red Sox late in the season.

Boston Red Sox (89-73) Normally, it’s the New York Yankees reeling in all the top free agents in the off-season. But that wasn’t the case this past off-season after watching the Boston Red Sox make several big moves. Adding some speed to the top of their line-up with Carl Crawford and some young power to go along with it in Adrian Gonzalez, the Boston Red Sox will be a tough bunch to beat in the American League East. While their offense is packing a powerful punch, Boston’s success this season will depend on their pitching staff and the health of their ace Josh Beckett. With a minimal amount of question marks and a ton of power, it only makes sense to put the Sox at the top of the American League East.

Toronto Blue Jays (85-77) Unfortunately for the Toronto Blue Jays, they’re a part of the insanely tough American League East. And with a limited amount of talent at their disposal, it just doesn’t look too promising for the Blue Jays in 2011. One bright side, though, is that they do have the likes of Yunel Escobar returning and last season’s Home Run leader, Jose Bautista. But that’s about it. With a ton of question marks surrounding their pitching staff, the Blue Jays are likely to struggle tremendously this season in the American League East.

Baltimore Orioles (66-96) Entering their first full season with manager Buck Showalter calling the shots, the Baltimore Orioles have finally given their fans something to look forward to. With a decent young core in place, 2011 will be a season to mature for promising young studs such as Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. We can also expect to hopefully see their pitching staff mature a ton, with promising young arms in Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta. With a good amount of raw talent on their roster, it’s still a little too soon to see the Baltimore Orioles make a serious push for the playoffs.

AL East Prediction – All signs point to the American League East being a three-team race the entire season. With the addition of Crawford and Gonzalez, I fully expect the Boston Red Sox to take the division and watch the Yankees and Rays battle it out for the American League Wild Card spot.

 

National League – East Division

Philadelphia Phillies (97-65) If you were to ask anyone in baseball how the Philadelphia Phillies will fare in 2011, they’ll be sure to say they are all but a lock to take the National League East in 2011. Although they did lose Jayson Werth to the Nationals, the Fightin’ Phils will still have a load of offense in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and several others. But, what’s going to get the Phillies to the promise land is their star-studded pitching staff. Stacked with the four aces, Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt and the returning Cliff Lee, the Phillies should have no issues taking care of business in the National League East.

Atlanta Braves (91-71) In many ways, 2011 will be a lot like last season for the Atlanta Braves. Despite the departure of long-time manager Bobby Cox and several key contributors, Fredi Gonzalez and the Atlanta Braves will depend on the success of their young guns and the addition of premier second basemen Dan Uggla to carry them to the top in 2011. Keeping up with the Phils for most of last season, the Phillies’ addition of Cliff Lee combined with the loss of key players by the Braves will be a key factor to their divisional success in 2011.

Florida Marlins (80-82) For years, the Florida Marlins have managed to spend little, stay young and be somewhat of a competitive ball club in the difficult National League East. 2011 seems just as promising  for the Fish, with several future young stars getting the opportunity of an entire season filled with everyday roles. Adding an improved bullpen to back an already dependable starting staff, the Marlins feel they can really compete in 2011. Losing some power in Dan Uggla, it might be a tough task for the Marlins’ young lineup to pick up the slack. If that’s not the case, don’t be surprised to see the young Marlins make a respectable push for the National League Wild Card spot.

New York Mets (79-83) 2011 will not be the best of years for the New York Mets. With little to no additions in the off-season, the Mets struggles from 2010 can very well carry over to the new season pretty quickly. They might have some proven talent and leaders in David Wright and Jose Reyes, but the Mets’ weak starting staff will prove to be too serious of an issue to make any kind of run in 2011. Mets fans, prepare for a long season this year.

Washington Nationals (69-93) With things moving a bit slower than expected, Nats fans are going to have to sit tight for yet another long season. Many out there, including new Nationals’ outfielder Jayson Werth, initially believed the Nationals could make a serious run in 2011. But with the loss of future superstar Stephen Strasburg for an extended period of time and the loss of Adam Dunn, the Nationals will have a ton of headaches in 2011. I’m not saying the Nationals aren’t a respectable ball club, this just isn’t the season for them. If I had to put money on it, I’d say 2012 will be much more successful for the young Washington Nationals.

NL East Predictions – After getting a look at the Phillies’ stacked pitching staff and ferocious offense, there’s no way you can’t make them the early season favorites to take the N.L East. Expect the Braves and young Marlins to haggle the Phillies all season long, but it just won’t be enough. If all goes as planned, we’ll see the Phillies winning their fifth straight National League East division title.