2011 MLB predictions: American League

5 Apr

Francisco Liriano hopes his Minnesota Twins can win their seventh division title in 10 years. / Alan Turkus

On Friday, I posted my 2011 predictions for the National League. Today, we’ll take a look at the American League, as well as who will be the 2011 World Series champion.

AL East: Boston Red Sox

Last year, the Rays took the division by just one game over the Yankees. However, with the acquisitions of OF Carl Crawford and 1B Adrián González, the Red Sox have leap-frogged them both. Tampa Bay lacks the deep pockets required to keep elite-level talent like Crawford, and New York doesn’t have any depth behind CC Sabathia in their starting rotation.

Boston’s offense is one of the best in the league – and better than the Yankees’ – and their pitching can really only be rivalled by Philadelphia. The only concern about Boston (according to top baseball experts) is whether Josh Beckett can rebound from the worst season of his career (6-6, 5.78 ERA) and if Daisuke Matsuzaka can be more consistent. If Boston’s biggest worries are whether their fourth and fifth starters – who are a combined 101-56 in the last four years – can get it together, they won’t have any problems winning the division.

Runner-up: New York Yankees

Remember how great it felt when the Rays started being able to contend for the division title? Well, put those feelings away, because the two-party system is back.

While the Yankees were deemed the biggest losers in the offseason – being spurned by Cliff Lee, while Boston added two all-stars to their batting order – the Rays are the team that actually lost the most. In his nine seasons with the Rays, Carl Crawford recorded 409 stolen bases (31% of the team’s), and consistently hit around .300. So how do they replace his productivity? Manny Ramírez and Johnny Damon. This would be a good pickup… if it was 2003. Now they’re 38 and 37, and haven’t been productive in two years. Tampa seemed to finish near the top of every pitching category last year, but after trading Matt Garza to the Cubs for prospects, there isn’t much pitching depth behind David Price.  And while third-baseman Evan Longoria is an automatic all-star (zing!), the Rays offense simply cannot compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox.

The Yankees still have one of the best batting line-ups, and although they’d feel more comfortable having pitchers Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett further down in the rotation, they’re still decent options for now. Look for the Yankees to make a big trade or two, later in the season (i.e. Seattle’s Felix Hernandez). The Yankees have the capital to get better, so if a second team from the AL East is making the post-season (which is likely, as it’s happened 12 out of 16 times since the wildcard was created), it’s going to be them.

AL East
2011 Prediction Last Season
1. Boston Red Sox 3 (89-73)
2. New York Yankees 2 (95-67)
3. Tampa Bay Rays 1 (96-66)
4. Toronto Blue Jays 3 (85-77)
5. Baltimore Orioles 5 (66-96)

AL Central: Minnesota Twins

Minnesota has won the AL Central division six of the last nine seasons, and they are the favourites to win in it 2011. They have an offense that features two former MVPs (2009: Joe Mauer, 2006: Justin Morneau), and finished in the top five last year in batting average (3rd), hits (3rd), runs (5th), RBIs (4th) and on-base percentage (2nd). They have a solid pitching rotation led by Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano. The return of closer Joe Nathan also bodes well for the Twins. If Liriano can stay off the DL, and control his wild pitches, he could contend for the AL Cy Young.

Runner-up: Chicago White Sox. The White Sox are often overlooked, as they match up with the Twins in almost everything. Last season, first-baseman Paul Konerko had his best season in four years, hitting .312, 39 home runs, and 111 RBIs, while outfielder Juan Pierre led the major leagues with 68 stolen bases. DH Adam Dunn has averaged 40 HRs and 101 RBIs over the last seven years, and will look to continue that streak now that he’s in Chicago. Much like the Twins, the White Sox have a solid, but unspectacular pitching staff. The team’s success will largely depend on whether Mark Buehrle can rebound from one of the worst seasons of his career (13-13, 4.28 ERA), and if the team made the right call naming Matt Thornton the closer, allowing Bobby Jenks to leave.

While there is much talk about Justin Verlander and the Tigers, Detroit lacks the depth of Minnesota and Chicago, and the alcoholism of Miguel Cabrera may finally overshadow his MVP-calibre ability.

AL Central
2011 Prediction Last Season
1. Minnesota Twins 1 (94-68)
2. Chicago White Sox 2 (88-74)
3. Detroit Tigers 3 (81-81)
4. Cleveland Indians 4 (69-93)
5. Kansas City Royals 5 (67-95)

AL West: Texas Rangers

While the reigning American League champions lost their top pitcher, Cliff Lee, in the offseason, it should be remembered that when Texas traded for Lee last season, they were already leading the division by five-and-a-half games. They still have C.J. Wilson (2010: 15-8) and Tommy Hunter (2010: 13-4) in the rotation, and hope that new Ranger (and former NL Cy Young winner) Brandon Webb will be able to return to his dominating ways after spending the last two seasons on the disabled list. 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton leads a Texas team that led the AL in batting average and hits, and finished in the top five in runs, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage and stolen bases.

Runner-up: Oakland Athletics

Oakland features one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball, but lack the offensive might needed to compete with the Rangers for the division, or the Yankees and White Sox for the wildcard.

AL West
2011 Prediction Last Season
1. Texas Rangers 1 (90-72)
2. Oakland Athletics 2 (81-81)
3. LA Angels of Anaheim 3 (80-82)
4. Seattle Mariners 4 (61-101)

Awards Predictions:

AL Rookie of the Year: J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays

AL Cy Young Award: Francisco Liriano, Twins; Runner-Up: CC Sabathia, Yankees

AL MVP: Justin Morneau, Twins; Runner-Up: Carl Crawford, Red Sox


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