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As the first pitch of the 2011 season approaches, MLB.com solicited predictions from a panel of baseball insiders, consisting of reporters, broadcasters and former players. A consensus of their prognostications is below. Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts and make some predictions of your own in the comments section below.
Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez make for the highest expectations in Beantown since The Curse Was Broken. Sure, they have to do it on the field, but when Brian Cashman, your arch-rival's general manager, is talking you up in January, you know you're in good shape. Said Crawford, "Sky is the limit."
Chase Utley's future leaves uncertainty, but no more uncertainty than every opposing team's lineup will have when facing aces day-in and day-out. H2O (Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels) plus Cliff Lee equals a lot of wins.
The health of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer likely will determine whether the Twins, quietly as always, win a third straight AL Central title. That's old hat. The real trick in Minnesota would be making it out of the ALDS -- they haven't done that in five tries since 2002.
Pitching's the name of the ... Oh, who are we kidding. The Reds mashed their way to a division title last year, plating an NL-best 790 runs. If Joey Votto's back for more and Jay Bruce becomes Bruce Almighty, a repeat's in the cards. No pun intended, St. Louis fans.
Cliff Lee's gone, and so are a lot of balls that Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz hit. Add Adrian Beltre into the mix with C.J. Wilson leading the rotation, and the Rangers should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps quickly.
Apparently, the Giants won the World Series last year. Who knew? "I don't think we've got enough in our resume to be considered the favorite to go back to the World Series or the favorite to win the World Series," general manager Brian Sabean said. "And I think that's a good thing."
AL Wild Card
Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter aren't spring chickens anymore. But they and their team are still pretty darn good. It's the back end of the rotation, the Ivan Novas and the Freddy Garcias, that bring the question marks.
NL Wild Card
Bobby Cox's first year away from the helm could be a special one. These aren't the Braves of Cox's or Chipper Jones' heyday, but they're still Jones' Braves. "We feel like we have the kind of confidence that when we walk out on that field, we expect to win," the 18-year vet said. "That's a good feeling to have. That's the feeling we had the first 12 years I was here. We kind of lost it for a couple of years, but that winning mentality is starting to come back."
Anything less would be uncivilized. Or truly disappointing for the Nation. Come playoff time, it'll be on Josh Beckett and John Lackey to give the offense a chance to do its work.
No team has had more experience getting to the World Series in the National League in recent memory, and the Phillies know it. No player's lost more in the World Series the last two years than Cliff Lee, and he knows it. But the lefty's slow-playing it. "If we're saying right now we're going to win the World Series," Lee said, "that's kind of getting the cart ahead of the horse."
World Series champion
Another World Series title would bring the Red Sox's count to three in eight years. Greedy? Nah. "I've got two rings sitting at home," third baseman Kevin Youkilis said. "I never look at them. For me personally, I want as many rings as I can possibly have, because it means a lot of success and hard work paid off."
Miguel Cabrera, DET: If Cabrera's off-the-field troubles are behind him, an MVP-type season would be truly amazing, and, without a doubt, one of the best storylines of 2011.
Albert Pujols, STL: Are you surprised? Not only is Pujols the game's greatest hitter, he's in a contract year. He will make pitchers pay, and he will be paid.
AL Surprise Player
Kila Ka'aihue, KC: It turns out seven home runs in the Cactus League isn't enough to win regular-season hardware. But if the first baseman keeps on the pace, he'll net some easily.
NL Surprise Player
Pedro Alvarez, PIT: Generally, it's not a surprise if you have an excellent season after being drafted second overall years earlier. It can be a surprise to most of the world, though, if you have an excellent season on the Pirates.
AL Rookie of Year
Jeremy Hellickson, TB: He turns just 24 on April 8. His size isn't too intimidating -- 6-foot-1, 185-pounds -- but he's got the goods, at least when healthy: He battled hamstring and blister woes this spring.
NL Rookie of Year
Freddie Freeman, ATL: First it was Jason Heyward, now it's Freeman. "This opportunity doesn't happen that often, and it's something you want to enjoy and not take for granted," said Heyward, Freeman's Draft classmate. "We just want to come in doing more of the same, working hard and playing the game we love."
AL Cy Young
Jon Lester, BOS:Perhaps counter-intuitive to say a World Series-winner who won 19 games last year is in a leap year, but he is. At 27, he hasn't peaked. "In my book, he might be the best pitcher in the game," teammate John Lackey said. "He works his butt off."
NL Cy Young
Roy Halladay, PHI: He really can't get better. He just can't. A perfect game in the regular season, a no-hitter in the playoffs, last year's NL Cy Young. Still, Halladay says there's more to come. "You're comfortable with your teammates," Halladay said. "You're comfortable in the clubhouse. I know [the reporters] now. All those things make it easier."
Carlos Santana, CLE: Another young catching star to complement Buster Posey and Matt Wieters, Santana has a much better chance at a standout season than he does going a year without someone cracking a joke about the musician by the same name.
AL Manager of Year
John Farrell, TOR: Who will have stronger feelings? The Jays, for being glad Farrell's on their side now, or the Red Sox, for losing their revered pitching coach?
NL Manager of Year
Fredi Gonzalez, ATL: He has a lot of youth to look after, and the dauntingly large shoes left by his predecessor to fill. Still, there's no one more fit to make noise in the NL East than someone who managed there the previous three years.
Executive of Year
Doug Melvin, MIL: The Brewers are all-in with Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum on board and Prince Fielder in his walk year. He should get as much credit if the Brewers play into October as he would get blame if they don't.