The 2011 Bill Chuck Baseball Predictions – My first errors of the season

I don’t want to brag, but for someone who spends as much time reading and studying baseball, I am pretty awful at predictions. But does my poor success rate stop me from trying? I think not. If my failure rate was a deciding factor in my life I would not get out of bed each day, but that is a discussion for a different therapy session.

Every division in baseball has at least two teams capable of winning the division and capable of winning 85 games. This year, inspired perhaps by the upset driven NCAAs, or my contrarian nature, I have opted to not necessarily go for favorites. I have chosen to be more creative en route to my November humiliation. Please understand, my rooting interests are varied, regional, divisional, and personal. With the exception of one: I really do love this sport.

So it begins.

AL EAST

1 BOS – I will admit I am not as confident as most of my colleagues as to the success of this team, but that is because of my basic skepticism and cynicism. To me, half-empty glasses are a mere sip away from drought. The Sox starting pitching after Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz is filled with question marks (and let’s remember that Buchholz has only had one big major league season). However, I think the Sox traded up with Curt Young as their new pitching coach. Young is the guy who shaped the Oakland staff that I consider the best in baseball. The bullpen is deeper but there may be question marks out there as well if Jonathan Papelbon struggles. All that aside, I LOVE the Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez acquisitions. I think that Bobby Jenks will help, but I really like the addition of Dan Wheeler. I expect a big season from Kevin Youkilis particularly since he will benefit from the lefties that will be thrown at the Sox lefty bats. Who will the Sox trade at the deadline: Marco Scutero, Jed Lowrie, or Jose Iglesias? Much of the success of the season will come down to the efficacy of Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Remember, it wasn’t the pitching that was injured last year.

2 NYY – Talk about questionable pitching! Uniforms should have question marks instead of numbers. However, I do want to go on record as saying I think the biggest Yankee surprise this season will be A.J. Burnett who I think will thrive under new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. I have similar and greater concerns about Phil Hughes than I do about Clay Buchholz, they are both just one year guys so far. Early reports on Alex Rodriguez are all very, very positive. His hip seems healthy, his garbage is behind him, his popcorn feeder is next to him and he may be on his way to an AL MVP. I think this is a much better lineup with switch-hitter  Jorge Posada as the full-time DH and Russell Martin behind the plate. Like the Sox, the Yankees compensate for weak starting pitcher with lots of bats, but I’ll take New York’s bullpen over Boston’s, particularly with the addition of Rafael Soriano, although they need a healthier Pedro Feliciano. If the Yankees can cobble together a good half season out of the Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Kevin Millwood combo (not exactly the Fab Four), the team is a lock for at least the Wild Card. If not, the Wild Card comes out of the AL Central. One last thought, and Red Sox Nation should hear this loud and clear, the Yanks have money, a deep farm system, and money. If they are close by the trading deadline, things could be very interesting in the Bronx.

3 TOR – The best 85-win, third-place team in baseball. If you can trade a Shaun Marcum, you’ve got to know you have some confidence in your young pitchers. Kyle Drabek, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero are four very exciting young pitchers. Interesting to see what happens with Aaron Hill this season. The addition of Rajai Davis significantly changes the station-to-station nature of this club. This will be a good learning year for this young team and first-time manager John Farrell because next year the expectations will be much higher.

4 T.B. – This team has many very good players, but I expect a fire sale by the trading deadline. Starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson has an excellent chance to be the AL Rookie of the Year, but don’t be surprised if you find his innings cut back in the second-half of the season. The player to watch here is B.J. Upton. The trio of Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, and Dan Johnson will compensate quite nicely for the loss of Carlos Pena to the Cubs, but since none of them are relievers the Rays bullpen is pretty sad.

5 BAL – Finishing at .500 is a good possibility for every team in this division. The additions of Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds will mean a lot of power, a lot of swinging at balls in the dirt, and a lot of strikeouts. If those were the descriptions of their pitchers, this team would win the division. Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, and Matt Wieters need to be healthy and effective for this team to compensate for young starters and a weak bullpen.

AL CENTRAL

1 CWS – I like this team a lot. I know there are questions marks in the bullpen, but I really think they will sort themselves out and really not concerns. Jake Peavy needs to be healthy, so do Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Edwin Jackson. That’s fewer question marks and a better rotation than any of their AL East rivals (except Tampa). While Bobby Jenks attempts to make the transition to set-up guy in the BoSox pen, I like the ChiSox bullpen of Matt Thornton, Chris Sale (think Daniel Bard), Sergio Santos, and Jesse Crain.There are a lot of good hitters on this team and Adam Dunn will be huge here. If Alex Rios and Paul Konerko do what they do best, this team will be awesome. I think that this Second City ballclub could be the second Chicago team to break a Boston team’s heart this year.

2 DET – The additions of Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit make this a team to be reckoned with. Keeping Miggy Cabrera sober and happy is no joking matter for this team. I love the outfield of Ryan Raburn, Austin Jackson, and Magglio Ordonez, with Brennan Boesch lurking in the background. Can’t wait to see if Will Rhymes at second is more like Dustin Pedroia or David Eckstein or a little big bust. My concern is the starting pitching after Justin Verlander, my AL Cy Young pick, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Phil Coke, and Brad Penny. But if Coke and Scherzer have good seasons and Porcello rebounds, this is a minimum 85 win team.

3 MIN – The Twins are tired of losing to the Yankees in the first round of the postseason, but they won’t this year. Ron Gardenhire‘s team are always good but their divisional rivals this year are better. Tsuyoshi Nishioka is my pick for AL Rookie of the Year. If I were building a team from scratch, I would start by choosing Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau wouldn’t be too far behind on the list. Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano are both good number two pitchers, but this is a league dominated by teams who will have number one starters and this team doesn’t have one.

4 CLE – The biggest question is when and if Grady Sizemore is healthy, how much can the Tribe get for him? The second biggest question is who will the Indians get for Fausto Carmona? The third biggest question is how much will the Red Sox have to pony up to get Justin Masterson back? The fourth biggest question is will the Indian fans appreciate the fact this is the last time for awhile they will finish ahead of the Royals? Shin-Soo Choo is a star, and the Indians rep to the All-Star team.

5 K.C. – Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera are the present. A prospect filled farm system is the future. Remember the name Mike Moustakas. He is not a Greek dinner, but the Royals third baseman of the future. The Phils should offer a lot for Joakim Soria, one of the best closers in the game.

AL WEST

1 OAK – While this feels like my ill-fated Mariners pick of last season, I love the pitching staff one through twelve. So you are not stuck doing a Butch Cassidy “Who are these guys?” imitation, learn these pitchers’ names: Rich Harden, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Brian Fuentes, and Grant Balfour. Hideki Matsui, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, Chris Carter will all try to help Daric Barton put enough runs on the board to provide the pitchers with wins.

2 TEX – After a magnificent over-achieving 2010, the very good Texas Rangers will battle for the Wild Card spot but I think they will fall short because of their pitching. Let’s see how well Adrian Beltre plays when his contract is not on the line. Josh Hamilton is great when healthy. I wonder what will happen with Michael Young.  I feel sad about Brandon Webb.

3 LAA – TL squared. That is, the acquisition of Vernon Wells was too little, too late. I still can’t believe the Sox have Carl Crawford. Peter Bourjos is a whiz in center but age is creeping up on Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter. Kendrys Morales hits when he’s healthy. Really, Tony Riggins, Carl Crawford in Boston, what were you thinking? The team can pitch however and Mike Scioscia is a great manager.

4 SEA – The good news is watching King Felix Hernandez, the best fielding infield in baseball, and the M’s will be better than last season. The bad news is that they will still lose over 90 games.

NL EAST

1 ATLTommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, and Derek Lowe are the front four and these are very good starting pitchers. Craig Kimbrel, Eric O’Flaherty, and Jonny Venters in the pen and they are very exciting young relievers. I say Jason Heyward does not have a sophomore slump and Dan Uggla will be huge in Atlanta, big homers compensate for E-4s. Freddie Freeman could be the NL Rookie of the Year. Chipper Jones could be comeback player of the year. Don’t forget All-Star Martin Prado.

2 PHI – I wish I had the same amount of guts to pick Boston second. I just have a feeling that things are going to go slightly off. If  Cliff Lee‘s control is off, his game is off. How much time will Chase Utley need off? Will Dominic Brown come off the DL and hit ML pitching better? Will Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard stay off the DL? Brad Lidge is already on it. Having said all that, I think Roy Halladay will go B2B w/CYA and I can’t wait to see Doc, Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels go on a hot streak. This Wild Card team is made for postseason success.

3 FLA – Fashionable pick for many folks as the Cinderella team, but I say they will wait to go to the ball when their shiny new ballpark opens next year. They have some of the best pitchers whose names you can’t think of when naming really good pitchers: Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Chris Volstad. Javier Vasquez is back in the NL where he belongs. Hanley Ramirez could be the NL MVP. Mike Stanton is a stud.

4 WAS – We will be overwhelmed with “Is Jayson Werth the Money ?” headlines. Wait ’till next year. Definitely in the Albert Pujols hunt.

5 NYM – Yes, I’m off-mad about this team. I’m looking forward to seeing Brad Emaus play second. I’m expecting a huge year from Jose Reyes in his walk-year, but not sure he will end the year in Mets-hell.

NL CENTRAL

1 MIL – If there is a team to that just could go wire-to-wire in a division, this is it. While everybody is talking about Zack Grienke, the Brewers also picked up Shaun Marcum from the Jays and he too is a very good pitcher. And, with Yovani Gallardo, this is a very good staff. Meanwhile, while everybody is talking about Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, don’t forget Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, and Casey McGehee all very dangerous hitters. This is Fielder’s walk year and I think he could be the NL MVP.

2 CIN – Up until right before publication, I had the Reds winning this division, but winning it this year will not be as easy for them as last year. Starters Bronson Arroyo, Homer BaileyMike Leake, Johnny Cueto, and Edinson Volquez, all have up and down sides, as does Aroldis Chapman. On balance, this is the team to pick… but I think, probably not.

3  STL – The last thing the Cardinals needed was losing Adam Wainwright for the season. It only makes for an unpleasant season when they are trying to re-sign Albert Pujols. It would be exciting if in July Pujols gets traded to a contender. I don’t see Lance Berkman lasting the season in right. I also think the Tony LaRussa act is getting tired as team chemistry is becoming more of an issue here.

4 CHC – How soon will the Wrigley faithful be clamoring for Mike Quade‘s head? Too soon, I fear. Carlos Pena will have a better year than last year, but I think Carlos Zambrano will be a Yankee by the trading deadline. The third of the three Carlos to remember on this team is Carlos Marmol, perhaps the best closer in baseball in part because he’s always having to pitch out of jams he himself has created with wildness.

5 HOU – How soon will Brett Myers go from Opening Day starter to trade bait? The better he pitches, the sooner it will happen. There is nothing left to talk about on this dull team

6 PIT – The Somali pirates are thinking about re-branding because the Pittsburgh Pirates give them a bad name.

NL WEST

1 S.F.– This a great team, with great pitching, but repeating is not the easiest thing to do, as the Giants will find out. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, and Barry Zito (hope he’s okay after his car accident) make for a great rotation. The thinner Pablo Sandoval should have a better year but an older Miguel Tejada may not. Brandon Belt may be this year’s Butch Posey and that’s a very good thing.

2 COL – The Rox have two of the best players in baseball in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. With the great pitching of Ubaldo Jimenez this team could easily win the West or battle for the Wild Card slot. I see big seasons from Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge de la Rosa in the rotation. Ty Wigginton will prove to be a good pickup.

3 LAD – Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James Loney and that’s still won’t be enough for first-year manager Don Mattingly. There are too many inconsistencies throughout a season for this team.

4 S.D. – In 2010, the Padres finished 90-72. I think they will finish 72-90 in 2011. Mat Latos is the real deal but they should trade Heath Bell and call it a season.

5 ARI – Good luck Kirk Gibson not losing a hundred games. There is lots of trade bait on this club.

Heading to the Series

Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies

Getting the Ring

Chicago White Sox

One final word of advice

Ignore this column.