Offseason over. Spring training over. We’ve spent the last five months overanalyzing trades, waiting on Cliff Lee’s decision, shedding tears after Andy’s retirement announcement, debating the Gardner versus Jeter leadoff spot discussion, arguing over who deserves the #4 and #5 pitching spots, and just generally feeding our baseball withdrawal any way possible. Now, it’s finally time. The official 2011 Major League Baseball season starts in 24 hours. Warm weather is (allegedly) on the way and it’s time for another crazy summer of baseball drama. After being deprived (and cold) all winter, we will finally be able to watch our favorite sport more or less every day for the next six to seven months. It’ll be a wild ride, like always. There will be moments of pure bliss and moments where irrational rants will be unavoidable (I apologize in advance for those). The season is long and the inevitable ups and downs are always fun to look back on once the season is over and we know how everything plays out. But for now, tomorrow is best day of the year – Opening Day. The promise of warm weather and daily baseball is enough to make anyone giddy. There are no ups and downs here – Just blind (often biased) predictions and high hopes. So I’ve decided to join in and post my (admittedly possibly somewhat biased) 2011 American League predictions:
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Tigers*
AL West: Angels
Wild Card: Red Sox
*I’m really back and forth on the Tigers, Twins, and White Sox in the Central. It should be a fun race.
Okay, okay… Maybe I might reverse the AL East and Wild Card predictions. The Red Sox are healthy, have added some intimidating pieces, and have (less) pitching questions than the Yanks do. But they still have their questions. Ultimately, I think this race is going to be a lot closer than many seem to think. Those who have already counted out the Yankees are crazy. People seem to forget that the Yanks won 95 games last year with questionable pitching (Vazquez, Burnett, Hughes in the second half, Pettitte’s injury). To me, the Yanks’ pitching is more of a concern in the playoffs than it is now. Their offense and strong bullpen can hopefully carry them on days where the pitching is less than stellar. This most likely won’t hold as well in the playoffs where pitching almost always wins, but I won’t even begin to analyze October since we all know how much teams can change in six months.
As for specific Yankees, I’m really excited that Nova will have the chance to make an impression during his (hopefully) first full season in the Majors. No, he doesn’t have lights out stuff that makes him a flashy top prospect. But from what I’ve seen, he has very good potential. I was impressed by his last spring training start this past Friday in Tampa. I was at the game and it was clear that Nova didn’t really have his best stuff. Regardless, he battled and held the Astros to 2 runs. As a #4 starter, that is much more than you can ask for. I think poise is something that is often overanalyzed, but Nova has shown that he’s not easily intimidated (just ask Jose Bautista). Ultimately, I think Nova has some promise. Yes, he had his trouble after the fifth inning last year but that’s something he can improve upon as he gets acclimated in the Majors. I look forward to watching him grow this season.
I also look forward to Alex Rodriguez’s season. This is a pretty trendy thought right now, but if he can stay healthy, he’s going to have a monster year. The last couple of seasons, Alex has finally seemed to have found peace with himself. His personal transformation (in my opinion) has been endearing. But, these last couple of seasons, he hasn’t been 100% healthy. He seems to be in much better shape this season after having finally been given the green light by his Doctors to work out at full-strength this offseason. And while obviously spring training means nothing, WOW HAS HE BEEN IMPRESSIVE. Damn.
I’m so excited for the 2011 NYY season. I look forward to falling in love with new players (like Russell Martin). I’m excited to follow the prospects in the minors and anticipate their futures. I’m pumped up for the Yankees to prove the media wrong – For Jeter to have a bounce back season, for AJ to find his confidence again, for the pitching in general to work itself out, and for everyone to start to take the Yankees seriously as a threat for the AL East division. My hopes are high. Baseball is back. It feels like it’s been forever. From the last play in October, I start my countdowns – to when pitchers and catchers report, to when spring training games start, and finally to Opening Day. I can’t believe it’s finally here. GO YANKEES!