Yes, folks, the 2011 MLB season is underway. Rosters have changed and managers have changed; Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens HAVEN'T changed. Here's how they'll finish:
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
AL EAST- If anyone out there thinks that Boston has a SIZEABLE advantage in this division, you've been nipping at the Samuel Adams way too much. Still a coin toss between Boston and NY--though I think neither will win 95 games; I'll put the Red Sox on top strictly due to the Crawford/Gonzalez additions (I also did a quick coin flip). Boston will just have TOO many men on base TOO often; bullpen is deeper but will guys like Beckett and Dice-K burn it out? Yanks still have WAY too much offense AND Rivera--and will NOT go away due to aging as some suggest; they'll acquire someone during the 'dog-days' of summer for their post-season run. Rays still have a formidable staff, but scoring runs and a shaky closing crew (Farnsworth?) will catch up with them. O's will score runs but strike out WAY too much; staff is still too unproven. Jays won't pitch well enough, and closing games for them will be more difficult than keeping Lindsay Lohan away from Hollywood gin mills.
AL CENTRAL- White Sox have best rotation in division, and Adam Dunn gives them additional pop; Guillen a maniac but a good manager. Twins' approach to the game (and possibly having baseball's best manager) renders them perennial contenders, but will Joe Nathan be a shell of his former self? After Verlander and MAYBE Scherzer, I question Detroit's staff. Royals will need to score SIX runs a game to win regularly--and just won't do that. Tribe has no legit .300 hitters and the starting staff will have manager Manny Acta chewing more Pepcid tablets than bubble gum on a daily basis.
AL WEST- Even w/o Cliff Lee, Rangers will hit a ton AND pitch well enough; I like the whole Nolan Ryan throwback approach. A's have some great arms (and an improved offense), but will the staff burn out come August? Angels have some proven vets (Hunter, Abreu), but don't hit enough for average; they'll continue to have a low OBP, too. Ichiro will be Ichiro, but M's won't generate enough runs--cementing a last-place finish.
St. Louis Cardinals
NL EAST- Phils and Braves will go down to the wire. I prefer the Phils experience and their stellar starting pitching; Braves will be able to close well by committee, but the over/under date for Chipper Jones to get hurt is June 15th (they're also shaky defensively). I'm just not sold on the Marlins' pitching staff after Josh Johnson. Mets' health issues (Santana, Bay, Beltran) will put them under .500 and a "fire-sale" in July is imminent. Nats will score some runs, but Jayson Werth--while being able to pick up dinner tabs NIGHTLY for teammates with no worries whatsoever--will STILL wish he was back in Philly by June 1st.
NL CENTRAL- The Reds return a formidable offense and if they pitch just a little better than expected, they'll win the division; Chapman will be dominant out of the 'pen. Brewers will get monster years out of guys like Fielder and Braun and newcomer Greinke will be solid; will they be able to close games effectively and often? Wainwright going down seals Cards fate; Cubs can overtake St. Louis if some underachievers (hello, Mr. Soriano!) just ACHIEVE. Astros lack offensive pop and I question their bullpen. If you can name the Pirates rotation, you need to get a job, get a grip, or get a LIFE.
NL WEST- Giants' pitching staff STILL too good--and they now have championship swagger. Rockies can contend (which Todd Helton shows up?), but I question Huston Street's closing ability and their 'pen in general. Dodgers have talent, but will Mattingly motivate effectively and be able to handle everyday pitching decisions? Padres won't score enough, will miss Adrian G. too much, and hit home runs as often as yours truly dates supermodels. Can fiery Kirk Gibson motivate some players in AZ who truly NEED motivating? NO--they finish dead last.
*Postseason: For some reason, I foresee a problem with the Red Sox pitching staff--particularly Beckett and Dice-K; too many 5 inning starts will catch up with their 'pen. This will enable the Yanks--who get better starting pitching than expected--to emerge from the AL while the Phillies stay fairly healthy all year long and represent the NL in the Fall Classic. Call me boring--it's the same prediction as I made last year. Rivera REMAINS Rivera (shocking!) throughout October (I'm STILL convinced he's not human)--allowing the Yanks' core players of Mo, Jeter, and Posada to win their final championship together. Enjoy the season, everyone.