The weather outside might not feel like it but the Major League Baseball season officially kicks off this week. The World Series champion Giants open the season on Thursday night playing their division rival Dodgers. The Orioles open on the road at Tampa Friday evening and the Phils entertain the Astros to kick off the 2011 season.
The Phillies come into the season with some real question marks in their batting order and in the bullpen. Chase Utley will start the season on the DL with a bum knee that could require surgery. This puts the whole Phils line-up in flux. Throw in Dom Brown being out for the first month of the season, after surgery on his wrist, and the Phils might struggle to score runs. Closer Brad Lidge also starts on the DL as well with a sore shoulder. Good news is Philly has the 4 aces. I also think GM Rueben Amaro has the green light to make a deal for a bat or a closer if he needs to pull the trigger come July. Don't be surprised if Joe Blanton or Cole Hamels is dangled as bait. I still like the Phils to go back to the World Series but it will be on the strength of their starting pitching staff.
Now the Orioles. Shocked to see a story in the newest issue of Sports Illustrated on skipper Buck Showalter. Maybe the national media will pay attention to the Birds. The additions they have made to the roster have a lot of question marks. Will Vlad be healthy for 162 games, will Reynolds strike out 200 times, will J.J. Hardy's offense make up for what he is lacking in defense? If the shortstop matches his slugging numbers of a few years ago then the Orioles will actually look at breaking the streak of 13 straight losing seasons. The young pitching will really be key. Will Arrieta, Bergesen, Tillman and Britton live up to their billing? If they do then the Orioles could be the surprise team of 2011. Lot of pressure on those young arms.
Here are my 2011 divisional and wild card picks
AL East-Red Sox
In my heart of hearts I see a Red Sox-Phils World Series but who would have figured that the Giants and Rangers would have played in the fall classic last year. PLAY BALL!