Orioles' lineup looks great on paper
As a diehard Orioles fan, I'm trying my best to keep a level head and have reasonable expectations for this season. But I just can't help myself -- every time I find myself thinking about the 2011 O's, I start feeling like that scene in "500 Days of Summer," where Joseph Gordon-Levitt is dancing down the streets to Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True." Do I need to get a grip on reality here or can the O's actually compete in the American League East?
-- Jesse O., Baltimore
I like the optimism and I absolutely love the movie reference. Here's the thing with the O's -- they are just so pretty to look at on paper. Seriously, just take a look at what their Opening Day lineup could look like:
1. Brian Roberts (2B)
2. Adam Jones (CF)
3. Nick Markakis (RF)
4. Vladimir Guerrero (DH)
5. Derrek Lee (1B)
6. Mark Reynolds (3B)
7. Luke Scott (LF)
8. Matt Wieters (C)
9. J.J. Hardy (SS)
Now that's a dashingly handsome lineup. I'm getting a headache just thinking about the headache the guy from "The Bachelor" would have figuring out who to give a rose to in a lineup like this. And if you really want to get lost in this Charm City dream, start convincing yourself that Jones is ready to make the leap to "franchise player" status, Wieters will finally make good on his all-world potential and that Reynolds is primed to return to his 2009 bashing form. Hey, it could happen.
If pitching and defense didn't exist and this season was solely determined based on which random team would be the most fun to play a complete season with in "MLB 11 The Show" on PlayStation 3, then yeah, I think the O's would win the AL East.
With that said, I see the Rays and Jays headed for down years, leaving third place primed for the taking for an 82-win, Tim Riggins-looking Baltimore squad.
Just give it to me straight -- Is there any chance the National League Wild Card isn't coming from the NL East?
-- Jared, Bloomington, Ind.
This might be the most underrated storyline heading into Spring Training. I have really strong feelings for both the Phillies and Braves this year and think each of these squads improved tremendously in the offseason. And that says a lot, as the Phillies (97) and Braves (91) won boatloads of games last season.
The Braves should easily build on their 91-win 2010 output with obvious improvements from Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson and a healthy Jair Jurrjens. Not to mention they Groupon-ed Dan Uggla away from the Marlins. Even if they only get 80 games from Chipper Jones, this team is primed for a 95-win season -- easy.
And then there are the Phillies, who somehow won 97 games last season despite down years from Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Raul Ibanez. There's little reason to think Howard and Utley can't bounce back to post the king-of-the-castle numbers we're accustomed to this year, Domonic Brown is the easy favorite for NL Rookie of the Year and, with Cliff Lee Version 2.0 now in the equation, it's hard to see them taking a step back.
This is total Bad News Bears for the Brewers, Cardinals and Reds, who will likely need to win the NL Central outright in order to make the 2011 postseason. The sad part is that I actually like each of these three teams. It just seems to me that each of them come with serious questions marks.
For the Reds, 2010 was one of those magical don't-stop-believin' years in Cincinnati where everything went right (Joey Votto wins MVP, the Aroldis Chapman experience, Scott Rolen's first-half fountain of youth). Can they really do it again?
The Cardinals are always a shoo-in for an 85-plus win campaign. But the Albert Pujols contract situation smells like it could be a serious distraction, Chris Carpenter is one awkward arm motion away from calling it a day, Colby Rasmus is still one of the most frustrating players to watch, and you can only ask for so many Cy Young-worthy campaigns from Adam Wainwright.
And then there are the Brewers. I don't think a single Major League team did a better job of turning a weakness into strength as Milwaukee did with its rotation by adding Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum into the fold. I also fully expect an MVP-type season from Prince Fielder, who should be (relatively) svelte and fully amped for his contract season. The only kicker for me is that they won just 77 games last year -- do Greinke, Marcum and a motivated Fielder equate to 15-20 more wins?
I know you're from the Detroit area and are probably still drying your eyes from the Eminem/Chrysler Super Bowl commercial, but would you really take Miguel Cabrera No. 1 overall in a fantasy draft for this season?
-- Justin, Oak Park, Mich.
For those of you who haven't done any research yet for your 2011 fantasy season, you need to know two important things:
1. It's a three-man draft this year -- Pujols, Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera will be the first three picks in your league. This is a fact.
2. Check out our MLB.com 2011 Player Preview -- Seriously, it's the best way to kill an hour at work or at home without even trying. Even if you've never played fantasy baseball, you'll love this thing (assuming you like fun).
Anyway, since the end of the Barry Bonds era, Pujols has been the no-brainer No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts every season -- and for good reason.
But if there's one simple strategy I try to follow every season it's that I'd rather give up on a player a year too early than a year too late. And while I fully expect Pujols to put together another all-world campaign this season, there are enough warning signs around that point me to jumping off the Pujols train.
For one, there is the unsettled contract extension, which is quickly becoming a hot-button issue and has the potential to be a season-long annoyance. Then there's the fact that Pujols saw his numbers drop across the board last season, underscored by a batting average that dipped 15 points and a slugging percentage that sunk 64 points. Sixty-four points is a lot.
Look, it's entirely possible, if not probable, that Pujols' 2010 performance was a statistical outlier and that his talent is so other-worldly that even in an "off year" he still managed to post a .312-42-118 season. But I'd just rather go with Cabrera, who is four years younger, just entering the prime of his career and has the more protection in 2011 than ever with Victor Martinez now in the lineup.
But that's just me.
Dave Feldman is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.